Striking the Balance –
The Challenge to Balancing
Rights, Risks and Responsibilities

Kerry’s Place Autism Services offered a workshop on this subject before its Annual General Meeting on Saturday, 22 November 2003. 

Orville Endicott, Barrister & Solicitor, opened the workshop with an outline of the key principles, especially those that stem from the significance of Section 15, subsection 1 of the Canadian Charter of Rights (1982):
“Every individual is equal and under the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.”
Disabilities were added only at a late stage of the drafting of the chapter. Many of the rights are still subject to debate in the political arena and are still being tested in the courts. 

A new booklet prepared by the Ontario Association for Community Living spells out some of the key rights for disabled persons:
1. The right to a safe environment
2. The right to relationships
3. The right to privacy
4. The right to say no
5. The right to make decisions
6. The right to respectful support
7. The right to grow up
8. The right to self-advocacy
9. The right to reasonable risk
10. The right of access to community
11. The right to be disabled
12. The right to dream.

The translation of principles into practical everyday rights for disabled persons was the focus of the presentation by Bill Allerton, CEO of Accreditation Ontario. His emphasis was on the effects of the new approach to the rights of disabled persons on the traditional agency model that has inevitably tended to curtail individual rights. Clearly there are many challenges to administrators and staff in developing and supporting a broader and deeper sense of rights and responsibilities among the people in their care. 

One mechanism to enhance the process was suggested—the creation of rights committees. Such a committee within an agency could review and monitor emergency procedures, consider reports of abuse and neglect, develop policies to help in the exercise of individual rights, and ensure provision for receiving and resolving complaints. All committees would include some members who were not employees of the agency.

A half-day workshop could only provide some very basic outlines of the complex issues. Its focus was almost entirely from an agency perspective and gave little guidance to parents and others who have major responsibilities for care and individual development.

  • How can the general principles of rights be focused more clearly to recognize the distinctive qualities of each disabled person?
  • How can family members, teachers, care workers and friends “listen” to thoughts, wishes and dreams of people who may have profound difficulties in communication?
  • After listening, how can the carers learn to translate the thoughts and wishes into meaningful improvements in quality of life?
Clearly there is much to be done, and all of us—including family members and agency staff—need to be much more active in the search for ways to bring the legal principles into everyday living.

Gerald Bloomfield
Guelph, November 2003