A guest post from the John Humphrey Centre and the Self Advocacy Federation.
In response to the Mayor’s Task Force on Poverty, the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights (JHC) brought together young Edmontonians to provide direct input into EndPovertyEdmonton strategy. With three out of ten Edmontonians living in poverty being children, JHC felt it was essential that in the process of creating a plan for the City of Edmonton, the voice of children and youth needed to be included.
In 2014, the Youth Action Project recommended to the city that a larger strategy of community education and engagement around issues of dignity and poverty were needed to truly address stigmatization and marginalization. We identified Global Dignity Day (3rd Wednesday of October every year) as an important opportunity to cultivate conversations on dignity and human rights. EndPovertyEdmonton, The John Humphrey Centre and community partners like the Self Advocacy Federation (SAF) host an annual event to honour stories of dignity through art and dialogue.
We try to respond to conversations and issues we hear in the community, so this year we decided to focus on the dignity and voices of those within institutions, whether the prison system, long term care facility, child welfare or other institutionalized experiences. Individuals and communities impacted by these systems are often underrepresented in our conversations and public spaces and it is vital that we make room for these important perspectives and stories. This year’s event will combine art showcases, performance, advocacy learning circles and a film and panel discussion on dignity within prisons.
Here's what SAF community member Amy has to say about dignity...
Disabling the Abled
By Amy A. Park
How would it feel if you were cut off from your friends and family? How would it feel to be seen as such a burden on society that you have to be locked away somewhere? How would it feel if your life consisted of staring out a window; wishing, wanting to be out doing things that normal people were doing? And how would it feel to be stripped of your right to choose?
Would it feel lonely? Sad? Miserable? Disabling?
Ask any person with a disability that has lived in an institution and they will tell you that all of the above is accurate. Institutions are like prisons. Residents are forced to do free labour inside and outside of the institution. In many cases people are treated horribly by the staff. And the hallways are so bleak, so lacking of any kind of cheerfulness that it makes you wonder how someone wouldn’t get depressed being in there.
Institutions, in the past, have taken away people’s futures. Have taken away any chance of them being able to start a family, have kids of their own. Sterilization, thankfully, no longer exists. But the sad reality of it is it wasn’t very long ago that it DID exist. It wasn’t very long ago that a doctor had a legal right to choose a person with a disability’s future.
There’s a word that I absolutely hate, the word disabled. When I hear that word it makes me think of institutions and what they do to people with disabilities. The definition of the word disabled is to make it no longer work. The idea that something is broken, irreparable, is to say it’s disabled.
What do institutions do to people with disabilities? They disable them. This idea that they are somehow broken and therefore are useless. The idea that they cannot be fixed so they shouldn’t be able to live as a member of society.
Well I have a disability and I am not broken. I don’t need to be fixed. And neither does anyone else with a disability. Which is why the Day of Dignity is so important. Because no matter who you are, no matter your gender, your race, if you have limitations, we all deserve to be treated with dignity. Some people with disabilities have been disabled by institutions and it is not ok. People with disabilities deserve to live as a valued, respected, dignified member of society. They deserve the same opportunities, chances, triumphs, failures as any other human being on the planet.
So we need to stop trying to fix people that are not broken.
We need to stop disabling the abled.
For more information on Day of Dignity, please visit: https://www.jhcentre.org/yeg-peace-week/
Please note –the views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of EndPovertyEdmonton.