Although this post is specifically about Vancouver, the larger conversation about institutional versus community living is very apropos. Read on…

“The City of Vancouver presented the 2013 Access and Inclusion and Cultural Harmony Awards [on November 21st, 2013] to celebrate the achievements of outstanding individuals and organizations. The Access and Inclusion Awards recognize individuals and organizations that demonstrate leadership and commitment to eliminating barriers for people with any type of disability.

Jill Weiss, a long-time disability advocate and chair of the City’s Persons with Disabilities Advisory Committee, received the award for her tireless efforts and commitment to improving the lives of people with a wide range of disabilities. Her work has supported individuals with mental health issues, developmental disabilities, seniors, Aboriginal people, and those who have been marginalized, victimized, and neglected.” – City of Vancouver Website

The following is the full text from the speech that Jill Weiss gave after accepting her award. This was originally shared by Paul Caune.

I ask you to read, forward to you contacts and to act on her very moving acceptance speech–especially those of you who work for the Vancouver Coastal & Fraser Health Authorities & the people of Vancouver:

“I would like to share this award with Vancouver City Council. There’s been a real change in Council: we’re seeing a real understanding by Council of the civil and human rights of people with disabilities and a real commitment to the equality of people with disabilities in Vancouver. And that’s made a real difference – we have the first adaptable housing bylaw in Canada, which means that everyone, regardless of their age or disability, will be able to live in housing in our city, and for the first time in our city’s history, equality of persons with disabilities is a guiding principle in the city’s Transportation Plan.

This deep and real understanding and commitment by Council to the equality of citizens with disabilities will make a difference to thousands of people for years and years.

But there is one important area where I think understanding is not complete.

This is the year of reconciliation for the city, and I have seen deep and real understanding of the pain and damage of discrimination, and a strong desire and commitment to ensure it does not happen again.

But it is happening again, and no-one seems to be noticing.

If someone had a twenty or thirty acre parcel of land that they wanted to gift to the city, and a condition of their gift was that an institution for aboriginal people would be built on the land, it wouldn’t even be discussed. Council would turn down the offer without any discussion because we understand that what happened to aboriginal people was deeply wrong, and we would not do it again.

But we are doing it again for people with disabilities. Vancouver Coastal Health has a 25 acre site and they want to build an institution for people with disabilities on that site – why are we even discussing this? Why is the incarceration of people with disabilities considered acceptable?

In this year of reconciliation, we’ve heard deeply moving stories of the pain and damage to aboriginal people, to Japanese/Canadians, to persons of Chinese ancestry, to Jewish people.

But where are our stories? Where are our voices of what happens to us when we are deprived of our liberty just because we need help. When will you hear our pain and our damage?

The United Nations has an international Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which clearly states that persons with disabilities have the right to live in the community, not in institutions. That we have the right to live in the community with the same range of choices as other people, and the right to have the services we need provided in the community without isolation and without segregation. This right applies to all people with disabilities – no matter how severe our disability is, no matter how much help we need, no matter if we’re able to speak or not.

The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities was signed by Canada and British Columbia consented to it.

It is crucial that Vancouver City Council abide by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and ensure that we are able to live in the community like everyone else.

We have not committed any crime. We have the right to live in the community like our peers, like our families, like you and the person sitting next to you.

Please hear our stories of pain, of isolation and of segregation. Please ensure it does not happen again here.

I was in a car accident when I was twenty-five years old. I was a dancer, athletic, musician. I lost everything.

For almost ten years I lived in a bed without help. The anaphylactic allergies I have now are from lying in a mouldy bed for years and years and eating the same food over and over because I couldn’t get up & there was no help

I know what happens to people with disabilities living without help because I lived it.

What happened to me is still happening to people with disabilities in this city every day.

I have a fire in my belly – & the fire in my belly comes from the knowledge of what happened to me, and my desire to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else

For me, the tragedy of my life has been replaced by the good that has come out of it and the fuel for my work comes from the deep knowledge of how all of us with disabilities struggle to have a life every day.

I can’t change what happened to me – I can’t change the years I lost, but I can & will change it for others

And so can you.

And that’s the challenge I leave you with.

I think most of us in this room have an image in our hearts of a different world – a world of fairness, of equality, of people connected to each other & the earth, a world where the color of your skin or your ability to move your arms & legs makes no difference –

And I just want to say that that world in our hearts — we can make that happen.

I urge all of you to reach deep into your heart and work for the world you really want.

Then this award will have the most meaning for me.”

JILL WEISS, her acceptance speech upon receiving the City of Vancouver’s 2013 Access & Inclusion Award

What do you think about what Jill has to say? Are you having the same types of discussion in your neck of the woods? Please comment below!

Photo Credit: Mau.D.