UNB Alumni
Telling our #ProudlyUNB stories

The mindset shift needed for an inclusive community

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Feb 20, 2023

Category: UNB Fredericton , Kinesiology , Inspiring Stories

Sarah Wagner (MASRS’11) has leaned into a big challenge in New Brunswick. As executive director of Inclusion NB, her task is to take the lead in creating opportunities for people with an intellectual or developmental disability to live full and valued lives in all aspects of society.

Sarah says that the non-profit organization is a one-stop-shop in providing support and advocacy for persons with an intellectual or developmental disability (I/DD) and their families on issues such as inclusive childcare, education, recreation, employment and housing. “We are here to make sure that people with an I/DD and their families have the option to choose the supports they need to live meaningful lives and participate in our communities as valued, contributing members.”

You wouldn’t think that in 2023, this would be a tall order. But Sarah says it still is.

“For real change to happen it takes a mindset shift. We want the individuals we support to belong to their community, not to the ‘system’. They are valued members of the community who have much to offer. It’s heartbreaking to hear stories from parents who have difficulty finding inclusive activities for their children, or whose other children are participating in sports and recreation activities without options for their child with an intellectual disability. What needs to happen is that our communities become ready to receive them as part of their overall programs. It’s a shift, for sure.”

But Sarah is celebrating a couple of big wins recently that she believes will be game changers.

In December 2022, New Brunswick passed a historic and transformative new law – the Supported Decision-Making and Representation Act - which will empower people with intellectual disabilities to make their own decisions through supported decision making. “New Brunswick is now one of the few jurisdictions in the world to provide a court-recognized ‘supported decision-making’ alternative to guardianship, which recognizes that when people have decision-making supporters who know them well and can interpret their wishes and preferences, they too can exercise the right to decide just like anyone else. This new law replaces the incredibly outdated Infirm Persons Act and ensures adults with a disability can make decisions – big and small – about their lives, with support if needed, and to have those decisions respected by others and the law. We’ve been working with government and other organizations on helping to shape this bill for a long time, so it’s very exciting to see it happen.”

The other good news is that in early February 2023, Bill C-22 unanimously passed third reading in Canada’s Parliament and is now working its way through the Senate. If it clears the Senate, the Canada Disability Benefit Act will provide a tax-free, monthly payment to low-income Canadians with disabilities under the age of 65. It would be the first federal guaranteed income supplement for working-age Canadians with disabilities and is meant to top up W

With support from Inclusion Candaa, Inclusion NB was one of many organizations across Canada to push this bill forward and pressure MPs to vote for it. “This will be a huge boost to the over 2,600 New Brunswick families we support. Most disability support amounts haven’t risen with inflation or are lagging behind actual inflation levels. Our clients overwhelmingly live in deep poverty. 75% of people with an I/DD are unemployed."

Sarah says she loves this work, and because of that, it doesn’t feel like a job. She got an inkling of what inclusion felt like after graduating from UNB with a master's in sport and recreation studies. "I worked for Recreation New Brunswick where I supported municipalities across the province to implement equitable and inclusive practices in their communities. This was a pivotal experience as I saw firsthand from a policy perspective the challenges our communities faced with inclusion.  There is also a capacity gap in the sector - this led me to my role with Inclusion NB."

Sarah credits her UNB degree and experience as well. “My journey at UNB helped position me really strongly – my thesis was understanding community experiences in sport and leisure for those with autism. The skillset I developed is so transferrable in the space of community development.” She comes back to UNB’s kinesiology faculty regularly to guest lecture current students. “It’s one of the best programs for learning how to develop partnerships and work within the community development space. In New Brunswick, we’re small enough to foster meaningful collaborations between various organizations and drive things forward. My experience at UNB helped me understand that.”

Although it’s a continual challenge, Sarah feels optimistic about the impact Inclusion NB is making. “I lean into the challenge because I love community-building. I always wanted to make an impact at the grass roots level, and it’s immensely fulfilling to see the impact of this work.”