I have learned that my family is not alone.  I have gained a sense of community, support, and understanding I feel more hopeful for a truly inclusive life.” – New Brunswick series participant.

A few years ago, Inclusion Canada engaged in a process of revitalization as a grassroots family advocacy federation, inclusive of individuals with an intellectual disability, parents and siblings, and others allied in common cause.  Inclusion Canada’s defines “family” as two or more people, living together or apart, related by blood, marriage, adoption or a commitment to support one another.

The revitalization process recognized the foundational and historical roots of Inclusion Canada rested on its grassroots and the important role families play.  As a result, we determined we needed to foster and advance family leadership. But the kind of leadership development to enable families to effectively pursue an inclusive life and to contribute to and take action within the social movement that is required to realize a just, inclusive and welcoming Canada.  As a means of enabling the development of family leadership and strengthening the movement for inclusion, the decision was made to launch a national family leadership and movement development series.

Inclusion Canada acknowledged the impactful work of Inclusion Alberta in developing and implementing a Family Leadership & Movement Development Series, which it began in 1999. Over the past two decades, hundreds of families, including individuals with intellectual disabilities, have participated in, and benefited from, this series. As a result, Inclusion Canada has benefitted from this Series process and content being well established, effective, and internationally recognized. The series is purposefully designed to deepen critical thinking and empower families.  It emphasizes leadership is inherent in the pursuit of an inclusive life for all, and that achieving social change requires collective effort from everyone.

The Series had been conceived of by Bruce Uditsky, then CEO of Inclusion Alberta, inspired by his learnings and collaboration with Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger.  Bruce teamed up with Dr. Anne Hughson, a professor in Community Rehabilitation & Disability Studies at the University of Calgary and together they developed the process and content for the Series.  Later others were invited to learn to deliver the Series, one of whom is Robin Acton, Inclusion Canada and Inclusion Alberta’s Past-President. Bruce now serves as a Senior Advisor to Inclusion Canada and CEO Emeritus at Inclusion Alberta.

Screenshot of Inclusion Alberta's website's page on Family Leadership

Leveraging Alberta’s successful experience, it made sense to engage Bruce and Robin in adapting, an already proven and effective Series. They have been instrumental in striving to make it relevant across the country and to develop a national training team to advance the provision of the Series to willing provinces and territories.  In addition to Robin and Bruce the other members of the national training team are Krista Carr, Inclusion Canada’s Executive Vice-President and Dianne Cormier-Northrup, Inclusion Canada and Inclusion New Brunswick Board Member. This is the core team, who are learning to deliver the Series and train others in the future so that the Series can eventually roll out across the country.

The Series spans five weekends, typically spread over eight months, demanding a significant commitment from both participating families, presenters and facilitators. Sessions normally run from Friday evening through Sunday afternoon. Childcare and teen support options are available either on-site and/or in families’ homes.  Families incur no costs aside from their time.

The Series is interactive and participatory with individual and small-group exercises and discussions facilitated by experienced facilitators, often family members themselves. The learning process, in addition, to the small group exercises and large group discussions, includes presentations by family members sharing their life journey and articles, videos and journaling.  There is an expectation that between weekends, families will act on what they’ve learned or contemplated and share what has unfolded in the course of their lives. 

“The visioning weekend was really inspiring. The third weekend really struck me and I think it has made a big change in how I look at situations.” – New Brunswick series participant.

A room of tables
Robin Acton addressing the room

Each weekend is organized by theme with related content:

  1. Leadership & Inclusion
  2. Crafting a Vision & Taking Action
  3. Seeing Things for What They Are
  4. Bureauractic Systems, Inclusive Alternatives & Collective Advocacy
  5. Sustaining Hope & Possibilities

The Series has several core principles and values. Some of which are a belief that families, driven by a clear vision and heartfelt commitment, are key to achieving inclusive lives.  Similarly, uniting with a shared vision and values, and rallying like-minded allies, fosters a robust social movement for inclusion. We recognize the invaluable lived wisdom participants bring to the process. We prioritize creating a safe environment for challenging yet essential discussions, ensuring every participant has ample time to grasp topics and concepts thoroughly.

The First Series – Inclusion New Brunswick

Inclusion New Brunswick generously offered to support the first Series outside of Alberta with content relevant to Inclusion Canada and New Brunswick. This first Series allowed Inclusion Canada to obtain feedback from Inclusion New Brunswick and its family participants as to the value and relevance of the Series and what might need to be further adapted to benefit other provinces and territories given the regional variations in our country.

The Series began in November 2021 but due to COVID interruptions concluded in September 2022. Inclusion New Brunswick determined the family participants and small group facilitators as well as managing all the logistics. Saturday evening ‘kitchen parties’ were spontaneous and often organized by participants.

I definitely feel more empowered and supported in my inclusion goals for my family.” – New Brunswick series participant.

Inclusion Canada’s goal, perhaps a necessarily lofty one, is to offer and deliver the Series in every province and territory over the next several years.  As we work on rolling the Series out, we wanted to give our readers a better understanding of the Series but the best way to do that is to share some of what family members had to say about their experience.  We were encouraged by the contributions of participants and how they intend to implement their knowledge and leadership in advocating for inclusion in their communities and collectively within the inclusion movement.

Participants and the National Training Team at the last Family Leadership training weekend, which took place in Moncton, New Brunswick
Pictured are participants and the National Training Team at the last Family Leadership training weekend, which took place in Moncton, New Brunswick

A participant’s perspective:

“This is what we’ve been looking for. These are the people we’ve been trying to find.  We are really not alone anymore,” Jason Green, a New Brunswick family participant.

The Green family took the opportunity to summarize what the five weekends meant to them.  This short video best describes their journey and learnings.

Click here to read a sample of the program from one of the weekend sessions.

Inclusion happens when the lives of children and adults with an intellectual disability unfold no differently, immersed together with their peers without a disability in the same pathways and experience of life common to us all. 

The Family Leadership & Movement Development Series aims to give families and self-advocates the knowledge, awareness, and skills to realize this vision. 

The Inclusion Canada Series in New Brunswick was a success, and we look forward to expanding this series across our federation.  Stay tuned for more developments as the Series is expanded and rolled out.