I listened with anguish, but not disbelief, to your documentary about the tragic life and death of Betty Ann Gagnon. As well as being the parent of two boys with intellectual disabilities, I am also a long term member of L’Arche, an international federation of communities, founded by Canadian Jean Vanier, creating home and work with people who have intellectual disabilities. After more than 20 years of involvement in the disability field, I am more convinced than ever that people with intellectual disabilities are the most devalued and voiceless in our society. Often unable to articulate themselves using traditional means, they rely on others to speak for them, and as such have little or no power over their own message.
In L’Arche, as in People First and CACL, we are deeply committed to advocating for the rights of people with intellectual disabilities. Our advocacy is rooted in the passionate conviction that these individuals, often marginalized, overlooked and abused, are not a burden on the social safety net. Rather, they are full citizens with something to say and something to offer. And we ignore their contributions at our peril. If we desire a more welcoming, compassionate, and creative Canadian society – and I think we do – these men and women can be our teachers and our leaders. But as long as our systems continue to push them to sidelines their voices will remain unheard and their lessons unlearned. And they, like Betty Ann Gagnon, will be the victims of our collective neglect.