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Erin Holland Recipient of the 2014 IL Social Inclusion Award

Volunteer wants to make folk festival for all folks

By Bonnie Belec: The Evening Telegram
December 5, 2014

Erin Holland: Recipient of the 2014 IL Social Inclusion Award

Award winner says if it is more accessible, people with disabilities will come

For Erin Holland it’s what she didn’t see at the Newfoundland and Labrador folk festivals in St. John’s that led her to the Independent Living Resource Centre looking for guidance.

What she received was encour­age­ment and support from a community of people ready to act on her idea of making the festival a truly accessible event for all members of society.

“So many people face so many barriers every day. I have a strong belief the community is better when all people are able to participate in this kind of event, so it was really exciting to start something to make that happen,” said Holland, this year’s winner of the Social Inclusion Award for Independent Living.

The community development worker from British Columbia, who has a fondness for this province, said she was inspired by people with disabilities to develop her plan to im­prove the accessibility of the festival, beginning with last summer’s event, which was held in Bowring Park.

Holland said she went to one of the past festivals with a friend, who had limited mobility, so trying to navigate the park made it easy to spot the obstacles people with physical disabilities would encounter.

“We both volunteered at folk festivals in Vancouver and we noticed here, there weren’t a lot of people with visible disabilities attending the festival and we felt like there should be and more could be done to open it up,” said Holland, who is completing a financial literacy project at Stella Burry this week.

She said while some progress was made towards improving accessibility in 2014, the plan is far from over. Holland said accessibility will now be a major component of the planning process for future festivals.

“We’re just starting the process. Organizers did their best to address what they could, but this is the first year there was a real inclusion initiative with a separate volunteer team, as well as training sensitivity for all the volunteers,” she said.

Because of the co-ordinated efforts of everyone involved at last year’s festival, Holland said, they were able to provide listening devices for people who are hard of hearing, there were designated areas for people with physical disabilities and certain areas were kept clear for them to get through.

“It was really exciting,” Holland told The Telegram Thursday.

“So many people got involved. I was sort of hesitant at first, but in the end so many people made it happen and went above and beyond. We’re already talking about next year,” she said.

Holland was one of three people and one business recognized Wednesday — the United Nations International Day for Persons with Disabilities — during the Independent Living Resource Centre’s (ILRC) awards ceremony at Government House.

ILRC executive director,Wayne Penney said the awards were initiated about seven years ago to acknowledge people and businesses that demonstrated good practices around inclusive living.

“It also raises awareness about the barriers people face, as well as the contributions people make towards including people with disabilities in all aspects of society,” Penney said.

According to a news release handed out at the ceremony by the centre, the Social Inclusion Award is presented to a person or group of individuals who have worked towards a more inclusive environment by creating opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in areas such as sports, the arts, education, government services and the wider community.

“I was absolutely honoured and thrilled,” Holland said about receiving the award.

But even more than that was how the idea of accessibility for the festival brought everyone together to make it happen.

“It was challenging, but we were really excited and everyone, the community groups, volunteers, they were all excited and committed. So we’re hoping this summer we will be able to move forward in Bannerman Park and go public that it is an accessible event,” she said.

The other 2014 Independent Living Awards recipients are: Jennifer Rimmer, the Cecilia Carroll Award for Independent Living for a person with a disability; Jonah Browne, Independent Living Young Leader Award for a young person with a disability, under 30 years of age; and Target Ltd. for the Business Award.

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