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We Deserve to Work: Self-advocates bring play to New Westminster

There are half a million people with intellectual disabilities of working age in Canada — but only 25% of them have jobs.
We Deserve to Work, a play by self-advocates and theatre artists, explores the world of employment as experienced by people with intellectual disabilities. It's onstage at New Westminster's Massey Theatre Nov. 18 to 20.

A group of self-advocates is using theatre to share a message: people with disabilities are capable of working, and they deserve employment.

We Deserve to Work is onstage at Massey Theatre this November, with shows Nov. 18, 19 and 20.

The play is by the same team of self-advocates and theatre artists that created Romance, Relationships and Rights in 2019. The self-advocates, supported by the Community Living Society, Canadian Institute for Inclusion and Citizenship, and Massey Theatre, are now shining a spotlight on the world of work — and the obstacles people with disabilities encounter on the job.

A press release notes that research shows there are about 500,000 working-age people with an intellectual disability in Canada — but only one in four, or 25 per cent of them, are actually employed.

Dana Faris, one of the co-creators and actors, said a project like We Deserve to Work is important to spread the word and raise awareness that people with disabilities are capable of performing a job.

“The main message of this play is that everyone deserves a chance to work. It doesn’t matter who you are, whether you have a disability or not.  If we set our mind to it, we can do anything,” Faris said in the release.

The project began in January 2021, when the co-creators began the process of researching their play. They worked on that research over the course of months, working with a directing team to lead three focus groups with employment specialists, self-advocates and employers to help get ideas for the show.

From September 2021 to June 2022, the group used that material to devise a play and workshop it for a test audience.

“I’m very passionate about employment because so many times people (with disabilities) are getting generic jobs and their specific skills are being overlooked,” said Larissa Gunkel, co-creator and actor. “And a lot of times people are being treated like they aren’t equal, like not getting equal pay. … I want to make sure we have a voice, and so I’m very passionate about getting to put together this play.”

Jessica Schneider, executive director of Massey Theatre, said the theatre is pleased to be able to support the project.

“Access and inclusion in creativity and self-expression is a fundamental right of all people,” she said. “We’re very glad to support self-advocates to fully participate in the performing arts. We know seeing their projects on the stage can inspire others to be more inclusive employers and citizens.”

We Deserve to Work is one hour long, followed by a 20-minute talkback with the co-creators after each performance.

A reception will follow the Saturday performance; the audience can join the co-creators, creative team and project partners for light refreshments and conversation.


  • What: We Deserve To Work, an activist play by a group of self-advocates and theatre artists
  • Where: Massey Theatre, 735 Eighth Ave.
  • When: Friday, Nov. 18 at 12:30 p.m.; Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Nov. 20 at 2 p.m.
  • Tickets: $7 to $29, on an accessible sliding scale (please pay what you can). Call 604-521-5050, book online, or find more information at the Massey Theatre website.

Follow Julie MacLellan on Twitter @juliemaclellan.
Email Julie, [email protected]