In 1996, a group of people began to kick around the idea of setting up a not-for-profit, charitable organization that could seek funding for projects that would improve the quality of life for consumer/survivors in Toronto. The group was particularly interested in creating an organization that would provide work and educational opportunities. Most of the group were associated in one way or another with A-Way Express, a consumer/ survivor-run courier business. Because of its organizational structure, A-Way Express is unable to be registered as a charitable organization, thus it was not possible for the agency to raise funds through organizations and individuals that required charitable receipts for their donations. Thus, a major catalyst for Accent on Ability was the need to raise funds through these other sources, funds that can then be directed to increasing opportunities and improving the quality of life for A-Way members and, by extension, other psychiatric survivors.
In 1997, the group formed the first Board of Directors. Among the members of this first board was Helen Smith, the mother of one of A-Way Express’ founding members, Richard Smith. As the new Board members brainstormed for a name for the new organization, Helen Smith came up with ‘Accent on Ability’. All felt this was a highly appropriate name, in that it clearly explained the organizational philosophy, i.e. that it placed an emphasis on the ability of those who would benefit by its work, rather than on their disabilities.
In 1998, Accent on Ability was registered as a charitable organization. Since then, the agency has been involved in a number of projects that have improved opportunities and the quality of life for a number of psychiatric survivors. A key project was the Ontario Trillium Foundation-funded ‘Leadership Project’. This project brought together consumer/survivors through a range of workshops on topics such as, finding and keeping work, physical fitness and ethnic identity and mental health. Since the outset, Accent on Ability has been involved in small fundraising initiatives. The funds raised have gone to a variety of uses, such as purchasing clothing, presents and paying for training courses. In recent months, members of PhACS, (Physical Activity for Consumer Survivors) have joined with Accent on Ability and this has extended the organization’s interests into the area of recreation and physical fitness.
Recently, Accent on Ability was successful in obtaining a second grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation. These funds will go directly towards supporting A-Way Express’ efforts in developing a business/marketing plan, offering computer training, upgrading computers and upgrading the A-Way website.