Published in the Carleton Place Canadian, the EMC, and the Smith Falls Record News
For years people with an intellectual disability in our community have struggled against prejudice, segregation, and discrimination. Now, people with a disability throughout Lanark County are coming together to form a unified front and stand up for their rights. People First of Lanark County is a group of self-advocates and the new voice for people with an intellectual disability across the county. The group, which began last month, is affiliated with People First of Ontario and People First of Canada; the provincial and national organizations have won several landmark victories in recent years, addressing the provincial legislature, the Supreme Court of Canada, and several government committees.
Kory Earle, Vice-President of People First of Lanark County, is hoping that this organization will have the same kind of impact.
"People First is all about standing up for our rights," Earle says. "Our focus is to be able to change people's attitudes. That's what we're hoping to do."
Earle identifies several areas where he hopes to initiate change, with much of his focus currently placed on employment issues.
"We have the right to apply for a job, but we don't have the right to a job," Earle says.
"That's a big thing for us right now. Our committee is trying to change that."
With more than a dozen members so far in Carleton Place alone, People First of Lanark County consists of many people who have themselves faced different forms of discrimination within their communities. David McKillop, the organization's interim president, encountered various struggles growing up in an institution and later when he joined the workforce. Now, at the age of 55, he hopes to use People First to help inform and empower a younger generation. "I stand up for myself now; I stand up for my rights. And I want to show other people how to do it," McKillop says. "We want to let people know what their rights are, so people know what to do when they're on their own."
While the new organization is currently dealing with establishing much of its internal structure, it has also begun several fundraising initiatives to help get the group on its feet. There will be a carwash on August 16 in Carleton Place as well as a dance for the community on August 25, with the funds from both events going to support the new group. In addition, People First of Lanark County will be meeting with the O.P.P. on August 16 to educate the group on their rights, address different member concerns, and begin to foster a good relationship between the two parties.
Overall, Earle is very pleased with how quickly the new group seems to be taking form. "I personally think that everyone is very excited. We have a lot of people who have already spoken out on different issues," he says. "My vision is that people recognize that People First is here. And that wherever people with an intellectual disability go, People First is going to be there; to show Lanark County that we deserve to be here, and that we have equal rights with everyone."