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One-to-one with Joshua Myers


Joshua Myers is the Executive Director of the BC Centre for Ability (BCCFA). Under the leadership of Joshua Myers, the BC Centre for Ability designs and delivers community-based programs for persons with disabilities. They are on a quest to foster inclusive communities where every person thrives at all stages of life. Based in Vancouver but serving nearly 5,000 people across BC each year, they offer a wide range of programs to support people with disabilities to achieve personal goals and be meaningfully included in all aspects of life.

Can you tell us about the mission and goals of the BC Centre for Ability?

Our mission is to lead in the design and delivery of community-based services for persons with disabilities. As one of the province's largest disability-serving agencies, and host to the largest child development centre in BC, we feel it is our duty to be at the forefront of service design and delivery to ensure that British Columbians are able to access the best services possible.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the non-profit sector, particularly in disability support and advocacy?

My professional background is as a Social Worker and I began working with adults with disabilities in residential services during my undergraduate degree. Through my Masters I spent a lot of time at rehabilitation centres, intensive care, and neurology units specifically with people with brain injuries.

From there, my career has straddled the health and social services sector but—with the exception of a stint in a corporate support role at a local health authority—my work has always centred around children, youth, and adults with disabilities. I am passionate about helping people realize their potential, but also helping society understand the construct of disability from a place of strength and possibility rather than limitations.

Much of what is disabling in our world has to do with attitudes, beliefs, biases, and the built environment rather than something inherent within people.

Could you share some success stories or impactful moments from your time as Executive Director of the BC Centre for Ability?

I have been the Executive Director since 2019 and surviving the pandemic notwithstanding, I am really proud of our organizational growth over the last 5 years. We have grown our impact in so many important and innovative ways. We launched BC's first student-led physiotherapy clinic with the University of British Columbia. This clinic provides low barrier access to physiotherapy services to children aged 0-5 who would otherwise be waiting on a waitlist. Students allow us to increase our capacity to serve while also creating an environment that encourages them to pursue pediatrics as a career – and hopefully, eventually with BC Centre for Ability. I am really proud of our new rural and remote outreach therapy team, which is a team of Occupational Therapists, Physiotherapists, and Speech Language Pathologists who travel the province and provide rural outreach and virtual services to remote and underserved communities across BC. Again, providing access to critical services that are otherwise lacking or non-existent in some communities. Finally, I am really proud that we were just named lead agency for Foundry in Burnaby which will provide access to critical primary care, mental health, and substance use services to youth and young adults in that community.

How has the BC Centre for Ability adapted and responded to the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Luckily, we had already begun a digital transformation process in 2019 which meant that when we were forced to go digital with some of our services we were able to adapt quite quickly. The other advantage was that we could spend more time supporting the rest of our sector to adjust and adapt, which as an organization we pride ourselves on leading in the sector locally and provincially. We also continued to serve most of our clients in-person, given the work we do, so there was a lot of care and planning around how to maintain our in-person services while keeping everyone safe. We developed practice guidelines and standards for doing our work virtually and from that came a number of research projects focusing on developing best practices for virtual therapy that are now being implemented. We sustained our virtual therapy capability and have added it to how we serve rural and remote British Columbia through our outreach program.

What are some of the most pressing issues facing individuals with disabilities in British Columbia today, and how is your organization addressing them?

One of the more pressing issues for children and youth with disabilities is inclusion in childcare and the school system. Right now, we have so many children waiting to access childcare because of space and personnel challenges to meet the unique needs of kids with disabilities. There are also childcare providers who are not accepting kids with disabilities because of perceived challenges and biases. We also have students with disabilities being excluded in school, either segregated in the school or classroom, being regularly sent home or not attending school at all. 

Our organization works with families to help them understand their rights, supports, and options in childcare facilities and schools. We train hundreds of childcare providers each year in order to facilitate inclusion and increase confidence in supporting children with extra needs within those environments. We provide millions of dollars of funding on behalf of the Government of BC to recruit and place early childhood educators in childcare facilities in order to enable access for kids with disabilities and allow for parents to be able to participate in the workforce.

In what ways does the BC Centre for Ability collaborate with other organizations and stakeholders to better serve the community?

We collaborate regularly with other non-profit organizations, health authorities, post-secondary institutions, the business community, corporate sponsors, and governments. Some of the partnerships we're most proud of are in our adult employment programs, where we partner with local businesses, large and small, to help them apply an accessibility and disability inclusion lens to their diversity, equity, and inclusion commitments. Whether that's providing training to leadership and staff, working with HR departments on policies, practices, and inclusive hiring strategies, workplace accommodations, or how to talk to employees about their needs. 

Our Coast Capital THRIVE Program is a great partnership with Coast Capital that provides support to post-secondary students with disabilities with the transition to the employment market. This unique program provides individualized job and career coaching to clients, and then we leverage the relationships we have in the business community to facilitate recruitment and hiring of qualified candidates with disabilities. Canada as a country has one of the highest percentage of people with disabilities who hold post-secondary degrees who also are unemployed or underemployed. Canada also has a significant shortage of skilled workers, and the Coast Capital THRIVE Program aims to solve this issue by linking qualified individuals to employers who are needing talent and who want to diversify their workforce.

What are some upcoming initiatives or projects that the BC Centre for Ability is excited about?

We are really excited about being named lead agency for one of 10 new Foundries across BC. Foundry Burnaby will be led with BC Centre for Ability but will be in partnership with Fraser Health, Burnaby Primary Care Network, and a large, diverse group of non-profit partners who will collectively provide comprehensive health, mental health, and social services to youth and young adults in Burnaby. 

We know that 75% of youth develop mental health and substance use concerns by the age of 24 and Foundry is removing barriers and increasing access to health and wellness resources for young people ages 12-24 and their families/caregivers across BC. It will take time to develop the service model, find and develop the physical space, and launch the Foundry, but we are excited to begin this work and look forward to working with the community to make this resource a reality for young people in the city.

How can businesses and individuals in the Greater Vancouver region support the work of the BC Centre for Ability and contribute to a more inclusive society?

People in our community can help in a few very concrete ways. First, although we are primarily government funded, we are also a registered charity and have a fundraising department. The funds we raise through our generous donors and corporate sponsors are used to develop innovative services or enhance existing services to reach more people and have a greater impact on the community. We invite any individual, group, or business who believes in the work we're doing to help us extend those efforts by donating to any of our campaigns that resonates with them. Second, businesses can reach out for support and guidance around their inclusive workplace strategies with an accessibility and disability inclusion lens. Finally, we would love to add to our list of businesses that are willing to work with us to help provide employment opportunities to the many talented clients we serve every year. A great example of a GVBoT member who has gone above and beyond in their work with us to provide opportunities for people with disabilities is Tru Earth, who was recently awarded a 2023 Business Distinction Award for Growth Over $5 million. They are a great example of a company that can generate revenue, add value, and do good in the world.

As a leader in the non-profit sector, what advice would you give aspiring professionals looking to make a difference in their communities?

I would encourage aspiring professionals to give the sector a chance. The non-profit and public sector in general is such a broad sector that offers a diverse range of employment opportunities and experiences from small grassroots organizations to large non-profits, NGO, and government or crown entities. I would spend time assessing what matters to you and whether you want to have an impact at a local, regional, provincial, national, or international level. I would also look at board of director or volunteer opportunities as ways to get acquainted with organizations or sectors that are of interest, as well as to build your professional network.

What message would you like to share with our audience about the importance of supporting non-profit organizations like the BC Centre for Ability?

It's important to support organizations in the community like BC Centre for Ability because we provide critical services to your neighbours, friends, family, employees, and perhaps yourself directly. We believe in the work we do and the impact we're having in the community; we also believe in our ability to lead change, design innovative programming, and solve some of the more significant social challenges we face through the generous support of our community members. Be our cheerleaders, open doors for us, help us make connections, support the people we serve, and if the capacity is there, become an investor in our mission.

This One-to-One is part of our newest initiative, the Community Spotlight Series. As part of our mandate to champion and celebrate businesses in the Greater Vancouver region, we, as a non-profit ourselves, want to use our platform to shine a spotlight on our non-profit members. Each quarter, we'll recognize a Vancouver-based non-profit that offers programs and services that improve the social and economic well-being of citizens in our community. This quarter, we're featuring the BC Centre for Ability. Learn more about the Community Spotlight Series here.

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