Oddly I am more nervous at a conference where I am a host rather than a conference where I am the speaker. As the guy up front talking, I can be blissfully unaware of all that goes on with registration, with sound, with the various needs of the various attendees. As a member of the team putting on the conference, there's always one more thing to think about, to worry about, to make sure gets done. If Rose is reading this this morning I know she is rolling her eyes at what I just wrote, because if I think of something, worry about something, I tell her and she makes sure it gets done - but I digress.
Mark Pathak and Geradine Monaghan were here in Toronto presenting on the Liverpool Model for supporting people with disabilities in telling their stories in court. Their model has been spectacularly successful, by the numbers, in that they have supported many people who have been victimized and have seen their testimony turn into convictions of abusers, rapists and victimizers. The stories, though most with victorious (although not always happy) endings, are incredibly painful. People with disabilities, men and women, brutalized, victimized and raped. People chosen for assault most probably because the perpetrator expected them to be a good victim, a silent victim.
I imagine the look on the face of someone, whose face shows a mixture of arrogance and brutality, reacting in shock when someone they thought simple gives complex testimony. I imagine the look on the face of the defense attorney when someone they thought weak has the power of truth. I imagine the face of someone with a disability hearing that their brutalizer will go to jail based on the strength of their strength. Such imagining helps me get through the presentation.
Just after lunch Vita's Executive Director, Manuela, breifly describes the work being done at Vita and then the Vita Personal Development Committee gets up to do a presentation about the educational programmes we have in place for those with disabilities in our care. Abuse prevention, relationship training, anger management and self esteem. Mark had made comment earlier in the day, not knowing that he was perfectly setting up the team, that so many of the people he supported through the court system didn't have vocabulary that enabled them to well tell their stories, they'd been denied the dignity of words like 'penis' and 'vulva'. So many didn't know about the word 'no' and the word 'rights'. His little comment must have been echoing in the ears of those watching the Vita team present. It became clear that here, at least, that wasn't true.
Then the Rights Committee, comprised of people with disabilites who recieve service, along with their support team, got up to present. The entire committee had been invited to attend and the acting president Ryan came up and addressed the audience followed by eight or nine other members of the committee. They each carried a placard that had a right they thought was important. They received and enthusiastic round of applause that they had earned and deserved.
They proved that people with disabilities need only opportunity and support - with those two things they can go places that have been barred to them for years.
Places like ... the halls of justice.