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.