Board member hopes to break down barriers

Onkar Biring (right) joined fellow Board Members Barbara Carle Thiesson, Dan Smith and Eileen Stewart for a visit to Courtenay and Campbell River to learn more about CLBC funded services.

Onkar Biring, a CLBC Board member since 2015, was excited to travel from his home in Surrey to Vancouver Island to join other board members touring CLBC funded services in Courtenay and Campbell River.  A full-time wheelchair user, his day began with 20 minutes of airport security where he was manually searched (his small black chair is unable to go through the metal detector), and 30 minutes on the tarmac being transferred gently by three muscular Vancouver airport staff to his seat on the plane.

“There are obstacles to being a traveller when you use a wheelchair, not the least being that you have to put full trust in the people who are moving you from your chair to the plane and back again,” said Onkar from his seat at the front of the plane. “But I see travel as an opportunity to raise awareness of what it’s like to live with a disability. It’s a way of removing barriers.”

Learning about how barriers are being broken is one reason small groups of CLBC board members tour B.C. communities at least twice a year.  Unless you talk to someone with a disability and see the world through their eyes, it’s hard to know the impact barriers can have – whether they are steps up an airplane, challenges for finding a home or job, or unconscious attitudes.

Onkar was joining board colleagues Barbara Carle Thiesson, Dan Smith and Eileen Stewart for this visit to Campbell River and Courtenay to see different approaches to housing, employment and being involved in community that have been developed by Campbell River and District Association for Community Living, Courtenay service providers, and families and individuals.

Palmer Place and Ironwood Place are inclusive housing projects in Campbell River where people of all ages, abilities and experiences live in clean, bright independent apartments around communal spaces where they can garden, share food and stories, and keep each other safe and connected. In a light, cheery room filled with schedules, inspirational posters and comfortable seating, board members met with twenty youth in the Helping Young People Procure Employment program who crowded around to share stories of success and challenge when looking for work.

And later in the courtyard of a Courtenay coffee shop, under gray skies and scattered raindrops, board members had coffee with a young couple who met through the Friendship Project, a grassroots group started by families that builds people’s connection to community through volunteer, recreation, and community activities.

After a final stop at the Satori program where over 40 people of varying abilities go for work and take part in recreation and networking, it was time to go to the airport where Onkar again was lifted by ground crew into the plane for the flight over the choppy waters of the Juan de Fuca Strait.

Back on the ground in Vancouver, Onkar summed up his experience as he wheeled into his waiting taxi for the trip home. “Air travel is a hassle for everyone these days. But when I see the way people across B.C. are creating new opportunities, it makes me feel lucky to be a CLBC board member. We are all better off when people are included, in the air, on the ground and in community.”

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