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RESPECTING RIGHTS – Statement to CRPD Committee Consultation on Deinstitutionalization

Respecting Rights is a project led by people labelled with intellectual disabilities. It is a project at ARCH Disability Law Centre, a legal clinic that helps people with disabilities in Ontario and Canada.

At Respecting Rights, people with disabilities work with lawyers and social workers. With the help of lawyers and social workers, people with disabilities create and lead workshops about human rights.

In Canada, when people with disabilities lived in big institutions, they had no right to make their own decisions. The institutions controlled their lives. Sadly, today many people in Canada still live in institutions or smaller places that operate like institutions. That’s why Respecting Rights’ workshops focus on people’s rights to make their own decisions. We talk about people’s legal rights to make their own decisions about spending their own money; about who they want to be friends or partners with; about what they want to eat, wear and do each day; and about health care decisions at the doctor or hospital.

Having our right to make our own decisions is so important to us, so that we can have equality and live full lives in our communities.

Our workshops are accessible for people labelled with intellectual disabilities. We learn through role plays, art, music, games and discussions. We learn together and have fun together.

At our workshops, we also talk about how people can advocate when agencies, services or families don’t respect their rights. Self-advocates support each other to speak up when their rights are not being respected. Our chant is: “It’s my voice, respect my choice”.

Another thing Respecting Rights does is tell government how to make services for people with disabilities better. We advocate for rights for people who get government services and a way to complain if our rights are not respected. We advocate for government to include people with disabilities in consultations about services. We want government to really listen to our ideas – we are people with disabilities, we use the services, we have good ideas for how services can be better.

During COVID-19 many people with intellectual disabilities have become very isolated and lonely. There wasn’t a lot of plain language, accessible information about COVID-19 and how to keep ourselves safe. Respecting Rights partnered with People First of Ontario and doctors at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Together we hosted weekly Zoom meetings for people labelled with intellectual disabilities. Lawyers and doctors gave plain language information about COVID-19 and answered people’s questions. We supported people to get connected on Zoom. People had time to connect with one another online.

We know there are still so many people who were isolated during COVID-19. This is just another example of the work we need to do to make sure that people with disabilities are truly included.

When I was in the institution, I had a dream that I would get out and live in the community. Now I’m living in the community. I’m not giving up my dream that every disabled person will be included in their community all over the world.

We want the Committee to make sure that their guidelines on deinstitutionalization include these points:

  1. Deinstitutionalization is not only about closing down large institutions. Institution is a state of mind – it still exists today in smaller community settings and group homes. Real deinstitutionalization must mean that people with disabilities have real choices about where they live, who they live with, and how they live their lives.
  2. People need to have accessible rights education and self-advocacy supports. These are important tools that will help people to have real choices.
  3. Disabled people must be involved when governments make deinstitutionalization policies. For example, governments should meet with disabled people regularly and make sure these meetings are truly accessible. Governments must make sure that people have accessible ways to complain when their choices are not respected. Complaints must lead to meaningful changes.

RESPECTING RIGHTS – Statement to CRPD Committee Consultation on Deinstitutionalization



June 9, 2021

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