leadership

Photograph of Andrea van Vugt

Andrea van Vugt

Andrea van Vugt wants Canada to hear honest stories about the reality of living with a disability – regardless of what the disability is.

“The different disability groups sometimes can stay within their own circles. I think that this is a conversation that we can all have together,” Andrea says.

Andrea is the founder and president of the Disability Pride Alberta Foundation. She is also the Alberta Community Organizer for Disability Without Poverty.

Throughout her career, Andrea has prioritized building relationships with people who have disabilities and with the communities and organization that support them. She believes strongly in deliberative democracy and takes a grassroots approach to community organizing.

Andrea started the Disability Pride Alberta Foundation in 2016 with the mission to celebrate, educate, and empower the disability community. The non-profit organization has organized and hosted two Disability Pride Celebrations in Calgary. Disability Pride Alberta has a website that features articles about how disability impacts people’s lives. These articles are first-hand accounts written by people in the disability community, and they serve to empower, connect, and educate people about all kinds of disabilities and disability related issues.

Not all stories about disability are easy to tell. Andrea knows talking about the financial poverty and hardship many people with disabilities experience can be difficult, and that it can be risky to leave social assistance programs. She received Canadian Pension Plan Disability benefits for many years after she was diagnosed with epilepsy at 19. She later decided to return to school, and earned an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Mount Royal University with minors in Social Innovation and Non-Profit Studies.

“It’s really hard to get out of poverty, and you can’t always get out of it,” she explains. “You’re taught that the harder you work, the more you get. But that’s not how it is because sometimes where you’re at is situational and you can’t always choose the situation.”

Andrea says a national benefit is an important aspect of equality. “Equality includes wellness and wellness has to include finances, independence, confidence,” she says.

In addition to her role as Alberta Community Organizer for Disability Without Poverty, Andrea is pursuing a master’s degree in community development from the University of Victoria. She lives in Calgary with her husband Ethan and their rescue dog Winnie.