About People First of Ontario
People First of Ontario is a provincial organization of men and women labelled with an intellectual disability, supporting each other to reclaim our rights to be recognized as full citizens of Ontario. We do this through:
- Peer Support
- Sharing Our Personal Stories
- Developing Leadership Skills
- Promoting Our Rights to Choose Where and With Whom to Live
- And Making Sure Our Voices are Heard and Respected
In the 1970’s many of us experienced all of the things that happened to people who were “labelled”….
- We lived in institutions and group homes.
- We went to special schools.
- If we worked, we worked in sheltered workshops with no pay.
- We were separated from our families.
We did not have the same rights as everyone else.
- We were not allowed to vote.
- We were not allowed to get married, or have sex.
- We had no control over everyday decisions in our lives.
- We could not decide where we would live, or who we would live with.
- Some of us were abused and hurt by people who worked in the institutions, schools, and group homes.
- We were left out, made fun of, and called names.
- It hurt. It made us sad…..and ANGRY!!!
…..and so People First began! At the end of the 1970s we did something about it.
We got together at conferences. We met with other people from all across Canada and the United States.
And then we started to form small groups of people in communities all across the country.
We would get together to share our stories and experiences. We would learn about other people’s experiences.
We talked about what was important to us.
We talked about what could do to change things.
We talked about how important it was to be able to:
- Speak for ourselves
- Make decisions for ourselves
- Educate other people (including the government) about our rights to live as citizens
We stood up together and began to take charge of our own lives!
And in 1982, People First of Ontario was formed!
During the 1980s, local People First groups formed across Ontario and Canada. It was an exciting time.
We were speaking up and being heard.
We shared our stories with each other.
We began to feel that “we are not alone any more”. There were other people who knew what we had been through.
Many stories were sad and painful. But there was a difference.
Now we could help each other.
Together we could speak out against the injustices that we experienced.
And speak out we did:
The Name Change
One of the things that people shared was how painful the “R” word had been in their lives.
In the 1980’s People First spoke out to demand that the Associations for the “Mentally Retarded” change their name to Associations for “Community Living”.
The “Eve” Case
Eve was a young woman had been labelled. Her mother wanted her to be “sterilized” – this would mean she would have an operation to prevent her from being able to be pregnant.
It is a basic human right to be able to control what happens to our own bodies.
People First spoke out to protect Eve’s right to have control of decisions that affect her body.
Getting People Out of Institutions
We spoke out and worked with other people to close all institutions.
We have worked to move people into the community where they belong.
The last large institution in Ontario closed in 2009!!!
Work and Fair Wages
The history of sheltered workshops has meant that we worked for little or no pay.
ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Payment) is designed to keep us poor.
For many years People First has spoken out about employment and fair living wages – REAL JOB for REAL Pay!
Stopping Abuse and Neglect
There have been many of us who have been hurt by the people who are supposed to support and help us.
Many of us have been punished and hurt to change our behavior.
People First has spoken out in court about our rights to be SAFE from harm.
People First has been the place where we feel safe enough to speak about what is really happening in our lives
Our stories and experiences are important. They are powerful.
We have learned that we are powerful when we stand together and speak out.
We know that TOGETHER WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE!