Sunday, February 16, 2014

Thirty Years Later, Part 2

This is an addendum to the blog post I wrote last Monday: "Thirty Years Later," in which I reflected on a battle Paul fought long ago, for changes within the institution he worked at.

One morning this week I asked him if he had read it. He smiled and said that he had, then a faraway look came into his eyes and he began to share other changes that he had worked for.

"The men would be lined up for showers naked, often by young female staff."

He told me how he managed to get housecoats for the men. They all were ordered in blue, but at least they had the dignity of being clothed while waiting in the hallway. 

In order to find office space for the Occupational Therapy department, the plan was to order bunk beds for the people on the ward where the offices were to be built. Paul successfully fought to block this plan, saying that the bunk beds would not only be a safety hazard, but that it would be wrong to take precious space from people that had so little.  The offices were built elsewhere.

The last thing he mentioned was getting locks on the lockers in which people kept their personal belongings. I can only imagine what it meant to have a key to the locker where your things were kept safe.

Ontario's last institution closed in 2009 and on December 9, 2013, the premier of our province, Kathleen Wynne, apologized on behalf of the government of Ontario for the pain and suffering of people who were institutionalized. She said, "Their humanity was undermined; they were separated from their families, and they were robbed of their dignity." A successful class action law suit is awarding compensation for this pain and suffering, but acknowledgement alone is a powerful thing.

Institutions remain in some other provinces, but their days are numbered. In Saskatchewan, for instance, the government is closing Valleyview, a centre that is home for 200 people with disabilities, by 2016. 

Our agency has a vision statement that guides us in our work with people with developmental disabilities:

People with exceptional needs belong to communities in which their God-given gifts are valued and respected.

We are on the journey to fully realizing that vision of belonging, but it takes only a glance back to see how far we have come.


Dave Hingsburger said...

I'm glad you wrote these two posts to remind us what one courageous voice can do. The battles the Paul fought, and won, made significant changes in the quality of life for those who lived in the institution. I know that he must have faced awful pressure to conform and accept, thank heavens that he didn't waiver.

Belinda Burston said...

Your comment meant a lot to Paul as I read it to him, Dave. I deeply respect his courage in going against the flow if necessary when something is wrong, which qualities you share, Dave, in abundance.

Susan said...

And though there have been countless and immeasurable improvements, we still need courageous voices today as we work to achieve that vision of "belonging" in a world where power differentials exist and therefore the potential for disrespect, mistreatment, and abuse, (sometimes very subtle) is always there. Thank you for sharing Paul's story. It is encouraging and inspiring.

Anonymous said...

I love to think about God's timing - placing Paul there and equipping him with the vision and courage to push through barriers - attitudinal and otherwise. We need to be praying that we'd all be visionaries, not losing sight of the dream in the busyness of checklists and the tyranny of the urgent.
Thanks for sharing the difference.


Belinda Burston said...

Yes, Susan, the voices are still needed for sure, and the work is far from over! It's like the Civil Rights Movement; we can hardly believe that in our lifetime, people were treated so inhumanely and that it took such a battle for the rights that seem so obvious to us now. And we do have to guard against the subtle disrespect that people may be blind to, helping them see.

Belinda Burston said...

Deborah, I hear you about those checklists etc. all intended to accomplish safety and dignity but often keeping us so busy that we have no time to open people's eyes and hearts.

Anonymous said...

Your account of the change Paul made in regards to the housecoats made me tear up a bit. At points in my life I was completely dependent on others for my physical needs. A couple periods of such need those in care of me took my body, my nakedness, my exposure, my vulnerability, my pride all for granted. Total lack of respect for my privacy. Their philosophy was that it didn't bother them why should it bother me? I encountered that same mentality in a hospital 2 years ago. When I requested privacy, they said "we see it all the time, don't worry about us, this is an every day event". May be and every day event for them but not for me. We need more people like Paul that recognize and put into motion ways to treat people with respect and dignity. Bless you both as you work to make things better, step by step.