An initiative of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Alberta (CPAA), the Calgary Ability Network (CAN) is a collaboration of organisations, businesses and advocates from the disability community in Calgary, a city in the Canadian province of Alberta.
Established in 2007 with pilot funding from United Way, the objective of the initiative was to address root causes, address policy, system and attitude change for people with a disability.
By bringing together stakeholders from across the disability community, including agencies, persons with disabilities, caregivers and government, CAN was developed to coordinate cross-sector efforts.
“Each organisation faced similar resource constraints and complex barriers that stagnated progress,” explains CPAA Associate Executive Director, Mezaun Lakha-Evin.
“We acknowledged that we could accomplish far more working together towards our shared goals, than working on our own.”
CAN’s main objectives are to:
- build and strengthen community capacity
- impact policy, decision-making and systems change
- create action plans which will improve the quality of life for persons with disabilities.
Bringing it to the table
Emerging issues are brought to one of the five working groups or ‘tables’.
“Issues are identified through focus groups, agency feedback and needs from persons with disabilities,” explains Mezaun.
The tables are made up of a broad representation of agencies and individuals to ensure they are a collective resource for best practice, knowledge and information.
The working groups reflect the participant’s area of expertise and include:
- Poverty reduction – working towards the vision that all Albertans have a liveable income. This table involves 36 organisations and 11 persons with lived experience.
- Transportation – advocating for best policy and practice around provision of transportation services that are appropriate, accessible, affordable, equitable and inclusive. This table involves 17 organisations and 9 persons with disabilities.
- Human rights – working towards increasing human rights awareness in support of people with diverse abilities. This table involves 22 organisations and 9 persons with disabilities.
- Recreation (health and wellness) – working to increase awareness about the value of recreation for persons with disabilities, and to leverage their collective capacity to meet the recreational needs of the disability community. This table involves 56 organisations and 19 persons with disabilities.
- Newcomers – working with settlement groups to assist newcomers with disabilities to navigate the system, address gaps and put forward strategies to support families. This table involves 38 organisations and 11 persons with disabilities.
The tables identify priority issues, make recommendations for action and develop advocacy plans.
Meetings are held in accessible locations in the community once a month for two hours. Minutes, documents, articles and resources are uploaded to the CAN website and social media afterwards as a matter of public record.
CAN has also worked with the Community Development Unit, Alberta Culture and Tourism to develop new strategic plans for the five tables, including a review each one’s mission, goals and outcomes.
Investing in relationships
Obviously, building a network as large and significant as CAN took a lot of ground work through some really intensive consultation and engagement.
“This was challenging and time consuming, as a personal relationship had to be built with over 130 stakeholders, many of whom are still with the network 10 years later,” explains Mezaun.
“Barriers to this collaborative included gaining consensus from key stakeholders, funding for the initiative and leadership. The CPAA’s reputation in the community led to trust and respect for CAN.”
Other challenges included deciding what issues would be prioritized as workgroups, as well as reassuring stakeholders that the time they invested in the tables would be beneficial.
“Strong outcomes have been key in demonstrating that the time and effort our members put in is vital to achieving the success we have had to date. It will remain vital as we grow and continue to work together to influence policy and decision making that will impact the community we live in.” – Mezaun Lakha-Evin
The sheer number of agencies and individuals engaged in the Network is staggering, and it is testimony to the comprehensive groundwork CPAA has put into establishing CAN.
“The biggest achievement to date has been getting a cross section of the disability community on board. It’s also been the continuous recruiting of agencies and individuals, working together, and identifying best practices that influence policy and decision-making so we’re creating a more inclusive society for all,” says Mezaun Lakha-Evin.
Other successes for CAN include:
- involvement in the Alberta Health Services Patient Care Services Consultation, where CAN informed best practice for management and discharge of persons with complex disabilities
- providing a disability lens on the United Way Poverty Reduction Strategy for people who struggle with long term poverty
- Hosting an Accessible Transportation Forum which resulted in several recommendations being adopted, including a dedicated cab company for persons with disabilities. A sliding scale fare structure for the Calgary Transit Low Income Monthly Pass has also been implemented to help eliminate financial barriers to participation in the community
- University of Calgary Adapted Recreational programs for kids and adults
- Inclusion Alberta: Bill 205 Analysis – involvement in reviewing proposed amendments and limitations of ‘Bill 205: Advocate for Persons with Disabilities’.
In April of 2018, a networking event was held with participants from the five working groups to celebrate CAN’s achievements. Participating members provided feedback which emphasizes the significance of CAN’s role in bringing everyone together to work towards the greater good.
“Keep encouraging engagement for diverse involvement.” – Participant
“Bright future ahead. Amazing organisation. Thank you for driving change in our community.” – Participant
In light of CAN’s success in the city of Calgary, it is now working with other cities in Alberta to extend the initiative province-wide. This move will broaden CAN’s collective impact to make even more of a difference in the lives of people with disabilities in Canada.