Main photo: (From left) People First Huntsville vice-president Marjory Curry, president Katharine Kristiansen, member Glen Slater, and acting advisor Chris Jordan-Stevens (Kate Quinlan)
Not so long ago, someone diagnosed or labelled with an intellectual or developmental disability would likely have been placed into an institution where they had few, if any, rights and freedoms. Now, thanks to advocacy groups like People First Huntsville, they have a much stronger voice.
Glen Slater, an active member of People First Huntsville, explained that he spent most of his time in bed while institutionalized in a nursing home before moving to his current residence where he now has an active life, participating in the local community garden and hanging out singing with friends.
People First Huntsville is part of an international organization which, as described by the local chapter’s president, Katharine Kristiansen, is a self-advocacy group that “speak up for people’s rights, and if they have an issue we can help deal with it.”
They promote equality for all people and to assist those labelled with a disability in speaking up for themselves and making their own decisions. The group also helps its members in learning about their rights, abilities and strengths.
In Huntsville, the group meets monthly to discuss and set goals and strategize to solve problems such as the lack of accessible transportation or the still-common use of the “R” word.
People with disabilities may feel excluded if a location is not physically accessible to them or if the use of inappropriate language is tolerated. Unfortunately, according to some members, accessible transportation is still a significant problem in the Huntsville area. People First Huntsville is working on a Community Transportation Survey to determine how they can help improve local transportation services.
Although fighting for their rights and standing up to injustices is a large part of their work, People First Huntsville also sees the benefit in celebrating successes.
Recently, People First Huntsville created and donated gift baskets to community members who are making their programs, businesses and services accessible and welcoming to people labelled with having a disability. The congratulatory baskets included a variety of items such as handmade jewelry and gifts and were delivered over the holiday season as a thank you for their commitment to inclusion.
The fact that People First Huntsville is run by those labelled with a disability makes it a “potent advocacy group,” said Chris Jacob-Stevens, the advisor for the local chapter. As an advisor, he takes a back seat to the members, helping out with mostly administrative tasks, transportation, or at a member’s request.
Marjory Curry, the current vice president of the local chapter, wants people to know that, “We are people with disabilities but we are people first. We are a non-profit organization and we run throughout Ontario.” The entire non-profit, from the local chapter right up to the international level, is run by individuals who have been labelled with a disability. People First Huntsville is seeking new members to help in their continued efforts.
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