KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – People First Nova Scotia is a wonderful self-advocacy group whose members believe that people with intellectual disabilities should live in their community, rather than being warehoused in large institutions.
Members are keen to travel to to Florida to attend an international conference for self-advocates. The group has started a fundraising drive, and hopes to raise enough money to allow seven Nova Scotia chapter presidents and a summer student to make the trip in late October.
To find out more I joined several chapter presidents and members at the beautiful Windsor riverfront.
“I am really looking forward to going to the conference, because I want people to hear my voice,” says Leta Jarvis, president of the Truro chapter, and a survivor of five institutions in Nova Scotia.
Jarvis was only seven years old when she was first institutionalized. Thankfully those days are over. She has been living independently in the community for the last 20 years.
“I want to explain what I went through, and establish relationships so that afterwards we can talk back and forth on the computer, and work our problems out together. I am really looking forward to the conference and I think it will be good for me,” says Jarvis.
I initially encountered the People First folks when I started reporting on the cases of Nichelle Benn and Amanda Murphy for the Halifax Media Co-op. Benn and Murphy are two young women with intellectual disabilities who were institutionalized at the time and faced criminal charges and incarceration for relatively minor scuffles with staff.
People First members were always there in support of the two women, be it during the court cases in Dartmouth and Antigonish, or when rallying at Province House. More recently they spoke out in support of Landon Webb, who challenged Nova Scotia’s Incompetent Persons Act, and won.
These examples illustrate the important work of People First Nova Scotia in raising awareness about people with intellectual disabilities, says Jolene MacKenzie, a summer student employed by People First who also hopes to make the trip.
Another thing we do a lot of at People First is outreach. We organize BBQs, and take part in parades and other community events, adds Tammy MacMilan, president of the Kings County chapter.
Most powerful of all is the mutual support and sense of community that People First membership provides.
“I have an intellectual disability, but I try not to let it stop me from going places, or meeting new people. Even when you don’t want to speak out, you need to express your opinion, so that people know that you’re a person,” says Windsor chapter president Evelyn Oatman.
“I think it’s important we have our own voice just so that we feel we’re an individual and not having a label put on us. People First is just another step in learning how to do that,” says Oatman.
Please donate to help the People First members make the trip to Florida. Any donation, no matter how small, is deeply appreciated.