A group of people are making an effort to make life better for those with special needs in the community.
People First North Grenville is not new. The self advocacy organization, which is committed to creating a supportive environment for people with intellectual disabilities in North Grenville, has been around for over 30 years. People First started in Canada in 1973 with a conference that was held for people who had lived in the country’s institutions. Canada’s first self-advocacy meeting was held in 1979 and gave people with disabilities the opportunity to talk about the things that were important to them, take a stand for what they believed in, and figure out ways to become more interactive with the community.
People First North Grenville hosted the Eastern Ontario People First meeting in May, which brought together various People First groups from the area. Deputy Major Jim McManaman attended the meeting and was so impressed with the group that he invited them to come make a presentation to council. President of People First North Grenville, Wayne Richer, says they jumped at the idea. “We wanted to let them know who we are and get to know them as well,” he says.
On May 21, 2019 People First North Grenville made their presentation to council and it was met with lots of interest and enthusiasm. Member of People First North Grenville Linda Antoniak spoke about the word “retarded” and how much it hurts people with all types of disabilities. “I can do what everyone does,” she told council. “Call me Linda. I’m Linda Antoniak.”
One of People First North Grenville’s main initiatives right now is to “Bury the R.” Wayne says he feels like he has been shot every time he is called retarded. He loves to watch stand up comedy, but he says many comedians use the “R” word like water. “They don’t know what it’s like in our shoes,” he says. “They just want to get a reaction from an audience.”
The members of People First North Grenville have created a giant “R” which they are getting people to sign in solidarity and that they will physically bury later this year. All members of council took the time to sign the “R” after hearing their presentation.
The members of People First North Grenville were encouraged by the support they received from council. People First North Grenville advisor Bruce Paterson says that by and large North Grenville is a very respectful place. He says they hear a lot of stories from People First groups in larger communities where those with disabilities are consistently denied jobs and called names. “We have a lot of amazing partnerships in the community,” adds another advisor, Kaitlyn Utman.
That being said, President of People First North Grenville Wayne Richer says he would really like to go into schools to talk about bullying and accepting those that may be a bit different. “Kids can be cruel,” he said. Most of the members of People First North Grenville were the subject of bullying when they were in school and Wayne says he fears it may be even worse now because of technology and social media. “Today we have internet and phones,” he says. “It’s a lot worse than it was.”
People First North Grenville holds monthly meetings where they plan fundraisers, events and talk about how the needs of those with disabilities can be better served in the community. This includes accessibility, affordable housing, jobs and transportation. “We want to make our town safer for everyone,” Wayne says. “Some people can’t speak for themselves, so we are their voice.”
To learn more about People First North Grenville visit their website at www.peoplefirstng.wordpress.com and to keep up with what they are doing in the community. Find them on Facebook under People First North Grenville.