Friday, January 05, 2007

Human Rights for People with Disabilities: Accommodation in Nova Scotia

(This photograph is by Richard Bailey, It's of a man named Peter who has Down Syndrome - a true English gent. He has such a beautiful home and - look closely - a fantastic taste in waistcoats.)

In December 2006 the United Nations adopted the 'Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities'. This has to be adopted by 20 countries before it becomes international law, but with luck it should be active in a year or so, and will provide concrete instructions that flesh out the bones of the human rights already laid out in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

With this in mind, I've drafted a letter further outlining my concerns about the housing situation in Nova Scotia. This time I was writing on behalf of the NSDSS. This is just the draft version, in the final letter we changed it to read 'special needs' and 'intellectual disability' rather than 'learning disability' because those are the terms normally used here in Canada:

I am writing to you on behalf of the Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society. We comprise more than one hundred men, women and children who have Down Syndrome, their families, support workers and associated professionals. As you can imagine with such a large group, our backgrounds, beliefs and experiences are diverse. We have two things in common; our lives have all been affected by an extra chromosone, and we are all citizens of Nova Scotia.

As such, we call upon you, our representative in the Nova Scotia Government, to ensure that the rights of adults with learning disabilities are fully met in this province. As you are no doubt aware, in December 2006 the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This document outlines the steps that need to be taken to ensure that basic human rights are afforded to people who have disabilities.

In particular, it states that adequate provision should be provided to ensure that people can live independently and be included in the community (Article 19):
"a) Persons with disabilities have the opportunity to choose their place of residence and where and with whom they live on an equal basis with others and are not obliged to live in a particular living arrangement;
b) Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance necessary to support living and inclusion in the community, and to prevent isolation or segregation from the community;
c) Community services and facilities for the general population are available on an equal basis to persons with disabilities and are responsive to their needs."

There are three issues that gravely concern our membership:
• The proposed creation of an institution to house vulnerable adults at the Cobequid Centre,
• The lack of housing choice for adults with learning disabilities - in particular the lack of small options housing in Nova Scotia,
• The lack of a formal consultative process with the learning disabled in matters which affect their basic human rights.

It is our conviction that large scale living arrangements lead to segregation, isolation and unhappiness for those who are forced to live in them. Large group housing schemes create the impression of 'work' rather than 'home' for staff and carers, this is inevitably reflected in their attitudes and they can treat residents as 'chores' rather than people whose homes they have entered. No matter how well intentioned the management of these large group homes is, practical physical care - rather than person-centred care - becomes paramount, the respect for individuals that is installed in a home environment is lost, and low level abuse can easily become commonplace. In addition, citizens with disabilities are segregated from the greater community, sending the message that 'they' are different and should not be part of society as a whole.
This is what one resident said about living in an institutional setting at which he was subject to horrific abuse: "Being in the institution was bad. We got beat up at times but that wasn’t the worst. The real pain came from being a group. I was never a person. I was part of a group to eat, sleep and everything... it was sad." (Source:
In the short term a large group home might be the cheaper option for housing large numbers of citizens, but at what price?

We call upon you to do everything in your power to lift the moratorium on small options housing. Age appropriate schemes for adults living as part of the community must be reintroduced. Living with foster families does not constitute an age appropriate solution for adults and it is shameful that people should be forced to live with their parents throughout their adult lives. These current schemes do not provide the opportunity for people to choose their own living arrangements as outlined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Other provinces throughout Canada have successfully managed their budgets so as to provide workable, inclusive housing choices for all. We believe that citizens of Nova Scotia should also be able to live within the community, in their own homes, no matter what their intellectual capability.

We are concerned that the policies of your department are not reflecting the needs and wishes of people who have learning disabilities and their families. The Nova Scotia Down Syndrome Society believes it is crucial to actively involve people with disabilities in the decision-making processes about policies and programs that affect them. We would like more information about the consultation processes that you currently undertake and would be happy to contribute to any working parties or committees that will inform future plans.

This is the province that during 9/11 so impressed the world with its response to the housing needs of stranded airplane passengers. People offered their homes, and even their own beds to help those in need. The people who live in Nova Scotia do not want to see the most vulnerable members of our communities shut away, risking abuse and subject to misery. It is a poor reflection on such a community if our leadership fails to adequately address the housing needs of people most at risk.

Thank you for taking the time to hear our concerns.


Sara said...


I live in Calgary and Our son was born with Down syndrome. May I add your blog to mine ?

Sara said...

what a great letter!!!!

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