It’s Been a Year of Losses in the Disability Community

It’s been a year of losses in the disability community. Early last year, we lost Dianne Pothier, a leading activist in the area of disability and law, and my dear friend and mentor, Pat Kelln, a woman who worked tirelessly to address violence against women with disabilities. And in December 2016, we lost international founder of Disability Rights Promotion International (DRPI), Bengt Lindqvist, a man I have quoted and had hoped to meet in person one day. And this past weekend, we lost two disability activists in Canada—Teresa Daw, president of ARCH, and Claredon Robicheau, human rights change maker, CCD Council member and friend. I am personally struggling with such profound losses in our community. These are the people I look up to and seek out advice from during struggles when the bureaucracy seems insurmountable, or when internal conflicts seem to drown the solidarity. These are people that I read their work and want to do more and build a better world with.

How to make sense of the loss of such leaders and mentors? I don’t know. What I have tried to do is reflect on their words and their work. I have tried to work with the same passion in this field of disability and human rights, and I am working on a way to honour their legacy (and our many leaders and mentors that are still with us!). Today, I spent nearly two hours on the phone with a young woman who I mentor, and who has become a friend over the last year. We reflected on the losses and on the things these leaders have taught us and that they have left as their legacy. She said something that really struck me, personally. She said: “you are honouring their legacy in the mentoring you do, in the activism you are so passionate about, and in the way that you are modeling as chair of CCD, and board member for NEADS” (I paraphrase her words). But I was struck, in my grief, of how clearly she can see the imprint of these leaders in my own work. Thank you, Roxana. You teach me as much as I ever could teach you.

I am still struggling with this new loss. Claredon was a man that stood strong in his convictions about equality and access, he made certain that he was the change-maker in his community, in federal work and internationally. I just saw him in Ottawa. It was so busy. I thought I would have time to hang out and catch up in Winnipeg this coming June, at our AGM. Dear Claredon, I am going to miss your support and advice. I will miss your smile and our random conversations in the parking lot outside the venue in Winnipeg (when we both would go out to seek some fresh air and sunshine).

To the other mentors and friends in my life, if I haven’t said so in the last few months how much I respect and value you, please know that I do. It’s been a busy and difficult time. This is no excuse; therefore, I am going to try to be better at reaching out.

Thank you to all of you that are working for equality in the disability community. I love you and honour you.

With great respect,

Jewelles Smith.