From the Winnipeg Free Press– OPINION–Among the many praiseworthy contributions made by Jean Vanier during his lifetime, perhaps the most important is that he helped change society’s views on the value of people with disabilities.
Among the many praiseworthy contributions made by Jean Vanier during his lifetime, perhaps the most important is that he helped change society’s views on the value of people with disabilities.
Mr. Vanier, who died Tuesday at the age of 90, put his passion into action by founding L’Arche, communities where people with developmental disabilities live and work with those who come to assist them. Winnipeg models his concept with six L’Arche houses, two L’Arche apartments and a L’Arche café that welcomes the public.
Mr. Vanier explained the crucial priority that everyone involved in L’Arche is nurtured with kindness: “Every child, every person, needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.”
That’s a radical departure from the bad old days when many people with developmental disabilities were confined to institutions that were fenced off to reinforce the isolation from the surrounding community. Inside these structures, residents were subjected to treatments that were then in vogue but are now considered cruel, including sterilization, chemical injections, straitjackets and imprisonment in small rooms for time-outs.
There remain a relatively small number of people with developmental disabilities in institutions in Manitoba, and we trust the treatment they receive today is more humane than the barbarism of the past. But the more modern attitude is to unlock the institution doors and move toward community settlement and social inclusion.
Perhaps no one does social inclusion better than Mr. Vanier’s network of 154 L’Arche communities situated in 38 countries on five continents. At L’Arche, people with intellectual disabilities are integrated into local neighbourhoods through jobs and social and volunteer opportunities. Inside their homes, they are celebrated for who they are, not just tolerated.
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