Contributed by Krystian Shaw, Publisher/owner of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter
Joanna Nefs is the CEO of the Autism and/or Intellectual Disability Knowledge Exchange Network (AIDE Canada). She is also the sister of a person who is autistic and has an intellectual disability. She recently connected with Krystian to share information about this great resource.
What is Aide Canada about?
AIDE Canada is about celebrating the rainbow of strength and experience that is the autism and/or intellectual disability community. We are an information-sharing platform where Canadians can go to find trusted resources, about autism and/or intellectual disability that are based on both science and personal experience. Our goals are to improve access to needed information about autism and/or intellectual disability for people who live in different regions, who speak either of Canada’s official languages, or who are faced with barriers to accessing information.
What are some features that stand out on the site?
Some of my favourite features are:
The free nation-wide lending library: Choose to borrow from over 2900 items including books, games, e-book and audio books. Have them delivered free of charge and with pre-paid return postage anywhere in Canada
Locate map: over 3000 programs and services related to autism and/or intellectual disability on a searchable map that covers every province and territory in Canada
Peer advice videos: over 200 quick access videos where autistic self-advocates and parents answer questions asked by our community members about social situations, life skills, relationships and parenting. Our database of articles, videos and toolkits has over 300 items available in both French and English, and is searchable by topic, journey stage, and keyword.
Live Chat available 12 hours per day where AIDE Canada staff help community members find the information and resources they are looking for.
What do you like about working for Aide Canada?
I love seeing the direct impact that our work has on the community. We get hundreds of social media likes, shares, and comments as well as emails and feedback from our surveys and focus groups. It’s very rewarding hearing the enthusiasm that people have for the toolkits, videos, maps and other resources that we have created. I love hearing from people who are excited about borrowing books from our library, or people who write to tell us that our locate map helped them find a new program in their area. Helping my community is the best thing about working for AIDE Canada.
What do people need to know about the site? What makes the website interesting and wonderful to read?
Some people are surprised to learn that all our resources are 100% free. This includes all the webinars and the lending library. We never ask for payment for any of our programs or services. I would love for more people to know about the great resources that we have gathered for our community. The range of topics that we cover (communication, education, mental health, finances, housing etc.) and the formats that we offer (books, articles, infographics, videos, webinars, research summaries) makes us pretty unique. This is particularly the case when you consider that our resources are all developed with the Canadian community in mind.
What is Ableism?
Ableism is discrimination in favor of people who are able-bodied and/or neurotypical. Some forms of ableism are obvious, like using accessible parking spaces without a permit, or wearing scents in a scent-free environment. But not all ableism is easy to spot. In the context of the autism and/or intellectual disability community ableism might mean assuming that someone who is non-verbal can’t understand you, or workplace employee evaluations that focus on “cultural fit” and exclude quantifiable outcomes.
How can people reduce stigma and discrimination and reduce bullying towards people with diverse abilities?
Employing people with disability and/or neurodiverse individuals is an important factor in reducing stigma and ableism. Last year about 50% of AIDE Canada staff and 50% of our leadership team were neurodiverse individuals.
Another key factor to reduce stigma and discrimination is education. I have already mentioned some of the great resources on our website for self advocates and parents, but we also have resources such as:
- Courses for police officers, and other first responders on working with our community
- Courses and articles for employers on how to support their neurodiverse employees
- A toolkit for professionals working at cultural institutions (museums, galleries, etc.) on making public spaces more accessible for our community
We also share and promote the great work that other inclusion and diversity organizations are doing through our social media channels.
How can people reduce Ableism?
Here are some examples of what we have done to minimize ableism on our site:
Our accessibility widget allows all users to change the look of the site it includes adjustments for contrast, colour, text size, dyslexia friendly fonts, and more.
Our connection centre: staff are ready to text or voice-chat with community members who would like assistance using our site
Being respectful of individuals’ identity language preferences: we ask each individual how they prefer to be identified and use their stated preference. Some of our self-advocate staff prefer to identify as autistic, others prefer to identify as a person with autism. If you see us using either term to refer to a particular person, it’s because we asked them, and they told us that this was their preference.
What does Pink Shirt Day in February mean to you and people with diverse abilities?
I think it probably means different things to different people. I wouldn’t want to speak for anyone but myself. To me it is a sign of progress and changing times. When I was younger teachers and parents just thought of bullying as a part of growing up. I am so grateful that Canadians are now choosing to see the harm that bullying does. I am encouraged by the many people are working to eliminate that harm by raising awareness of these issues and educating others.
To check out the web-site go to: https://aidecanada.ca/
This is an abridged version of an article which originally appeared in the February issue of the Kamloops Self Advocate Newsletter. Read the full newsletter here.