Written by: Carter Hemion, Peak Associate
Content warning: discussion of ableism and violence against those with disabilities.
Autistics United Canada and disabled community members hosted the Disability Day of Mourning last week to commemorate disabled lives lost at the hands of caretakers and family members. The event, hosted over Zoom and live-streamed on YouTube, was attended by people across Canada. In the last five years, over 700 people with disabilities have been murdered by parents, relatives, or caretakers.
The vigil remembered those murdered by sharing their names (if known), and information about their lives. Event organizer Allie, quoted disability advocate Gabrielle Peters, “Their lives have ended, but their humanity will not be erased from history.”
“Ableism is relevant and connected [to] every social issue [ . . . ] yet continues to be overlooked by many, including in spaces that strive for social justice and liberation,” said speaker Tami Starlight.
The event called to “actively [fight] against hierarchies of oppression and systems of supremacy,” and to recognize the value of “all bodies, brains, minds, and senses.”
Bridget Liang added that disabled people often hear their lives are not valued, and other marginalized groups of people share similar struggles. Disabled people should have the right to possess self-determination, said Liang.
The speakers explained that disabled self advocates have faced the belief that disabled lives are not worth living. Stories about the victims of ableist violence may sympathize with the perpetrators, sending ableist messages about whose lives are valued and promoting “an association of disability with suffering and death.”
Later, Bill McArthur shared his experiences at the Woodlands School, where he and other residents suffered abuse. He asserted disabled people belong “out in the community to participate to the best of their abilities.”
Several speakers, including McArthur and Peters, spoke in opposition to Bill C-7 — which aims to ease restrictions on disabled people’s access to medical assistance in dying. The bill would counter funding support systems and make euthanasia easier to access, instead of focusing on accessible care to disabled people. Speakers explained that the bill threatens disabled lives and continues a long history of eugenics.
The event closed with disability activist Laura Hershey’s poem, “You Get Proud by Practicing.”
It reads: “Remember, you weren’t the one / Who made you ashamed, / But you are the one / Who can make you proud. / Just practice, / Practice until you get proud, and once you are proud, / Keep practicing so you won’t forget. / You get proud / By practicing.”