Contributed by Vania Huang

Less than 50 years ago, the doors to basic human rights were closed to many members of our community who lived their lives in institutions – whose voices were muffled by the walls of segregation and for whom freedom has been so tirelessly fought.

The People First Movement began with a group of parents who decided to take action because they believed in the right of their children to marry, to vote, to work, and to feel like they belong. They advocated ‘deinstitutionalization’ – removing people from residential institutions and replacing them with networks of community-based services. Disability rights activists and their allies have lobbied all levels of government to enact barrier-free policies and legislation for people with disabilities, not only in the area of housing, but employment, transportation and education as well.

Greater awareness of disability issues over many decades has led to the enactment of progressive legislation to secure certain rights and opportunities. Some highlights include:

  • On December 9, 1975, the United Nations issued the Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, which outlined key rights for people with disabilities and encouraged member countries to enact legislation and promote initiatives to safeguard these rights and opportunities.
  • The UN International Year for Disabled Persons, celebrated in 1981, represented a high mark in the pursuit of disability rights in Canada.
  • We now celebrate the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities every year on December 3rd as a day to continue raising awareness of disability issues among policymakers and the wider public.

Great strides have been made towards inclusion for all thanks to the many individuals who have advocated for their rights and for those of their loved ones. Last week, we introduced you to Barb Goode, who was the first person with a disability to address the UN general assembly. Today, we invite you to remember and reflect on the progress that has been and is still to be made in the movement for inclusion.