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Much Remains to Be Done When It Comes to Quality of Life and Safety

As International Day of Persons with Disabilities approaches, Hamilton’s Sarah Jama takes stock CBC News Posted: Nov 30, 2017

Sarah Jama says there is much to be done when it comes protect and provide quality of life for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Sarah Jama is an outreach coordinator at the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion and a disability justice activist in Hamilton Ontario.

Hamilton has the largest population of people with disabilities in our province.

While this is something to celebrate, especially with International Day of Persons with Disabilities around the corner on Dec. 3, this statistic is also a reminder of our failures as a city to protect our most vulnerable populations.

‘Disability justice and inclusion cannot be limited to adding ramps or other forms of design shifts.’ – Sarah Jama

If you lived with a psychiatric disabilitya mental illness that significantly restricts the performance of major life activities, such as learning, working and communicatingbetween the early 1800’s and late 1890’s in Hamilton, you would likely end up at the Hamilton Asylum for the Insane for your entire lifespan.

If you were born with a developmental disability, you might have ended up at Orillia Asylum for Idiotsa couple of hour drive from Steel City. In 1968, at the height of its operations, the Orillia Asylum facility had 2,600 residents.

Institutional abuses

As a young woman with cerebral palsy, a developmental disability that affects mobility, I probably would have been another resident at this asylum.

These institutions were established in direct response to the eugenics movement that was quickly making its way across Canada, spreading the notion that people with disabilities are disposable and should be hidden from sight.

These institutions have documented cases of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse lodged against them by thousands of patients who were forcibly admitted.

In Orillia, patients were given numbers, not names, when they died, often by way of abuse or malnutrition, and many were buried in a mass grave nearby undocumented.

These institutions were supported by dehumanizing legislation, like the Alberta Sterilization Act, which allowed the sterilization of people with disabilities without their consent or knowledge.

This unjust treatment of people with disabilities continues today in various forms. According to Statistics Canada, people with disabilities are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than other Canadians.

Violence is common

We have also seen cases arise where students with disabilities have pointed out the inadequate treatment of students by teachers with little understanding of proper de-escalation tactics, like what has been reported recently with Ivan, a child who has been expelled more than supported due to autism related behaviour issues, or like what has been reported by the Twitter account @HWDSBKids– an account set up by students to shed light on the case of a child with autism who was handcuffed and taken out of a public school facility by police, with use of force.

With conversations around accessibility and inclusion becoming more prevalent, including in legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), it is easy to forget or overlook how commonly violence is experienced by people with disabilities.

Conversation needed in community

According to Statistics Canada, people with disabilities face two times the normal rate of violence.

Disability justice and inclusion cannot be limited to adding ramps or other forms of design shifts.

Our community needs to discuss the high rates of violence against disabilities that have occurred in our country, past and present. The rhetoric around disability Justice in Canada needs to be about our quality of life and right to live equally, free of violence.

On December 1st, at the Momentum: Disability Justice (Un)Conference, people with disabilities from across the province will come together in Hamilton to discuss these issues, and to discuss the future of the disability justice movement, in commemoration of the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. This event will take place from 9AM 5PM at the Lincoln Alexander Centre.

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