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Focus on opportunity not ability: Norman Kunc

Disability speaker and consultant presents BACI keynote
Thursday February 23, 2012 — Camille Jensen

Burnaby, B.C.  — When supporting people who have a disability, people often focus on what the person can do in order to create more opportunities for them. But what if people focused on creating opportunities for people to increase their ability?

This was the challenge Norman Kunc presented at the Burnaby Association for Community Inclusion’s (BACI) general meeting Feb. 21.

To demonstrate his point, the long-time disability consultant and speaker shared a lesson he learned at the age of 20. At the time, Norman was supporting a young woman named Catherine whose family wanted her to be accepted in a regular classroom.

Catherine had a developmental disability and was unable to speak or go the bathroom. Her family spent 10 years trying to train Catherine to use the washroom by herself, but all their well-intentioned efforts were unsuccessful.

Norman Kunc presents to BACI members, families and staff during a general meeting Feb. 21.

Despite this, Catherine’s parents wanted her in a regular classroom concluding “it might not be better, but it can’t be worse.”

Norman recalls this work as testing his own belief in inclusion. Here was a 14-year old girl who couldn’t speak, and couldn’t use the washroom. How would she fare in a regular classroom, thought Norman.

Norman remembers that he had to keep repeating to himself “I believe in inclusion.”

Catherine was placed into a regular classroom and within three months she had learned how to use the washroom by herself. She also started brushing her hair in the bathroom mirror just like the other girls in her classroom did.

Norman says this experience reinforced a fundamental truth for him: that human beings are social creatures and need to belong, a need comparable to oxygen.

“Our need to belong transcends any physical or mental ability, and Catherine needed to belong,” says Norman.

“Despite all the hours of work and life skills and reinforcement and programs and behaviours (Catherine received in the past), everything wasted her time. It was wrong. What was wrong was that we were focusing on ability before opportunity.”

Norman suggests the disability sector can benefit from rethinking the relationship between ability and opportunity. For example, how can people learn to be in community without being in community?”

Norman likens it to learning parenting skills without being a parent.

“We need to work on opportunity first,” says Norman.

And what will happen if we begin to makes this shift?

“We will see growth that will leave us dumbfounded and godsmacked,” he says.

Norman presented BACI’s keynote presentation to BACI members and their families as well as staff. He was followed by BACI member Jordana Pratt who performed a comedy skit, and BACI president Merrilyn Cook who gave a president’s update.

If you have feedback on this article, please contact the newsroom at 800-294-0051, or e-mail camille(at)axiomnews.ca.

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  1. What happens when we shift our understanding of disability? « BACI Blast - March 1, 2012

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