Province hiring its first advocate for people with disabilities

The province is hiring its first advocate for people with disabilities. 

“The advocate has to be able to represent the voices of Albertans with disabilities and their families,” said Minister of Community and Social Services Irfan Sabir.

“The focus of the community is that the advocate (must) understand the issues of the disability community and help them navigate the system and help them resolve the issues they’re facing,” he said.

Unlike the child and youth advocate, who reports to the legislature, this position will report to Sabir’s office directly on policy issues.

The province’s health advocate also reports to a minister. Some critics say that’s the reason the office has no real clout. The health advocate has no ability to conduct investigations or escalate complaints.​

‘Not for us, without us’

Groups that work with people with disabilities say they support the new office.

“It’s definitely needed, because there needs to be accountability on all levels,” said Sahana Parameswara, executive director of the Gateway Association, a family and employment resource centre. “This is just one way of providing that. This doesn’t answer all of the issues, but it’s definitely a start.” 

While the minister said the new advocate’s office was created with input from the disability community, Parameswara said community members need more than that — they need to be an active part of the office itself.

“It’s not just about having token voices or five-second opinions,” she said. “But (it’s about) actually creating space for self-advocates to be permanent advocates at all levels and be part of the conversation on day one, and not be invited to the table later.

“Self advocates are very much about ‘not for us, without us.’ “

Legislation passed in 2017

In December 2015, Alberta Human Services undertook a province-wide consultation on the Persons with Developmental Disabilities system.

The survey of more than 2,000 people, led by Sabir, resulted in 11 recommendations to improve services and accessibility, which were released in October 2016.

One of those recommendations was to create an independent disability advocate office.

Legislation to create the advocate’s office was passed last year.

Sabir said his ministry this spring consulted with almost 1,500 people with disabilities, their families and organizations to find out what the priorities for the office should be. 

The advocate will be expected to provide an annual report to the minister.

The job posting is open for the next three weeks.

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