I sat across from Paul recently at a meeting at work. He was challenging us to think differently about supports to people with disabilities.
My mind went back thirty years to when he was in his last months at Pine Ridge, the institution he had worked at for almost 13 years and was then helping to close.
During his time working there, he was always in a battle for improvements, always a visionary who drove change. He petitioned for a "village area" on the institution property, where several portables gave people an opportunity to live in a more homelike environment and get ready for the next step--living in the outside world--the community.
He fought for breakfast to be cooked on the large wards on the weekends, so that the men who lived there would have the pleasure of smelling bacon and eggs cooking. It also meant that they could sleep in later on those days and not miss breakfast--simple things that most people take for granted.
Before this, some people did stay up later on Fridays and Saturdays and were tired, but the night shift would still get everyone up early in order to change the bed linens as the day shift didn't like having to do it. It was a short change for staff, which meant that those who had worked until 11.00 p.m. the night before were back at 7.00 a.m. and not always in a good mood. The weekends, as a result of short fuses all around, were times when there were many angry outbursts.
When Paul asked for breakfast to be cooked on the ward, many said that it would be impossible to manage. How could 52 people fit into the small dining area available? He said that if his guess was correct, people would get up as they woke up, not all at once--and that is exactly what happened. The dining table never had more people around it than would fit, and the atmosphere changed from tense to relaxed.
In the mid 1980's a wind of change began blowing...a wind that would bring the closure of Pine Ridge and the eventual closure of all institutions in Ontario.
Thirty years later we still need to be challenged. What are we perpetuating just because we've done it that way for years? What do we need to speak up about that could and should be done differently but is tolerated because systems don't change easily? How can we break through barriers in our thinking so that we can see beyond what is, to something so much better that we haven't even imagined it yet? Something that is as radical as breakfast on the ward, thirty years ago.