A Dream is a Powerful Thing


Surrounded by majestic mountains in Banff, Alberta, in May, 2000, the Canadian Association of Rehabilitation Professionals (CARP) reflected on its 30 years as an association that supports members who provide rehabilitation services.

The year was 1970: eight-track tapes and the INTRODUCTION of floppy disks; Pierre Elliot Trudeau was Prime Minister and, at the request of Québec Premier Robert Bourassa, he imposed the War Measures Act, allowing it to overrule civil rights in order to deal with the FLQ October Crisis; Richard Nixon was President; and the war in Vietnam was still raging.

These were significant world events that will affect our lives forever. But another significant event occurred in 1970 that will never be earmarked in history, yet forever changed Canada’s rehabilitation community.

On May 7, 1970, the Minister of Consumer and Corporate Affairs granted a charter to the Canadian Association of Rehabilitation Personnel. The original charter stated: “Membership in the Corporation shall be limited to persons interested in furthering the objects of the Corporation to unite those persons engaged in the field of rehabilitation of the handicapped and disadvantaged…”

As the Founding President of the Association, Jim Larkin said, “Those who took the initiative in establishing CARP, although ’counsellor-oriented,’ recognized that they were living in a multi-interdisciplinary era of rehabilitation. It is with this in view that CARP was founded on a broad base uniting all those in the field of rehabilitation.”

CARP members have kept the founders’ dream alive. In the year 2000, the association has evolved as an umbrella organization representing professionals who are employed in many facets of rehabilitation.

As we reflect on the history of an organization with members who provide services to persons with a disability or disadvantage, we need to focus on some of the issues they face every day and our attitudes towards them.

Organizers of the 2000 CARP National Conference challenged delegates not only to think outside of the box, but to work there as service providers. During a welcoming address, I described an incident that occurred at an organization that provides supported community living.

A supervisor related to her director what she thought was shocking news. The residential staff had caught a couple in bed together — and let’s just say they weren’t sleeping!

She was asked, “Was the bedroom door closed?” “Yes.” “Did you knock before going in?” “No.” “Did either of them appear to be in pain or an unwilling partner?” “No.” “Were they using condoms?” “No.”

The director said, “We have a problem!”

The supervisor said, “I told the staff you would see it my way.” Was she wrong!

The organization developed sexuality guidelines with input and direction from people accessing services. Educational sessions were offered, as some people had never been taught the concepts of privacy and boundaries. Condoms were purchased and made easily available. Support staff learned to respect a closed door. The change process was tough, but the organization stayed the course.

Today, the people receiving services with this organization are able to enjoy full participation as human beings. Most importantly, the association was able to provide them with knowledge. When people with disabilities are denied access to sex education, they become perfect victims, because they can’t report what they can’t say.

I’ll never forget the story of one young lady who found the words and the confidence to speak about the sexual abuse she had suffered while in an institution. She said she thought what the person did to her, more than a few times, was wrong, but, “What could I do? He had the keys!”

“He had the keys”… It took the service providers a while to decipher that message, but they listened, questioned her and provided her with supports. They got results. Keys hung from the staff person’s belt; he had access to every nook and cranny, every room, in the institution. He had power. He was to be obeyed!

All professionals who provide supports and services to persons with a disability have keys. They have access to files with more information about the person than probably has ever been accumulated at one time. While file entries are meant to be objective, they can become clouded by personal beliefs, or even just a bad day. Remember, there is a real person connected with the file.

As organizations grow and change, let’s never lose the dream as stated in 1970 by Dr. Bruce Young, who presented the keynote address at the first CARP National Conference: “We are a work-oriented society. Therefore, all means possible must be taken to provide meaningful living, not just survival, to all handicapped and disadvantaged citizens.”

That was 1970! That’s still the dream!

(Judy Marshall is National Executive Director of CARP. For more information, please contact us at 7030 Woodbine Ave., Ste. 500, Markham, ON, L3R 6G2; tel.: (905) 940-9156; fax: (905) 940-8496; e-mail: info@carpnational.org; or check out the website, www.carpnational.org.)


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