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Public Forum Tackles Abuse of The Disabled

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Toronto Star, June 11, 2005.

Some 120 people crowded the halls of the Law Society of Upper Canada last week to talk about dignity, respect and the rights of people with disabilities to live free from abuse.

What can you do if you are being maltreated by service workers or others responsible for helping with personal care?

What happens if you report that abuse? What can authorities do?

These questions were central to last week's public forum presented by the Law Society and ARCH, a legal resource centre for people with disabilities. It followed a story in the Star in which artist Anne Abbott spoke out about a widespread pattern of emotional abuse against people with disabilities.

Abbott, who has cerebral palsy, is quick to point out that many personal care assistants are sensitive, considerate and respectful of dignity. But others are abusive in many subtle and not so subtle ways.

Among other things, they may handle fragile bodies roughly, use unnecessary force doing simple things like brushing hair, leave people stranded on the toilet for hours, threaten, shout or otherwise try to intimidate.

So what do you do if you are the victim of neglect, harassment or emotional or financial bullying?

How do you go about telling someone you feel scared and humiliated? How can you be sure that telling won't put you or your pets at greater risk?

"It may be hard to decide if you should tell someone," says ARCH, which offers a range of advice pamphlets. "You might be scared of what people will say or do if you tell ... of how your abuser will react or that you will lose some of the supports you need."

But reporting abuse may be the only way to stop it, to restore your sense of dignity, the group notes. It also may protect other people from being abused.

Speakers at the forum, moderated by Jos Bouchard, equity adviser for the Law Society, included ARCH staff lawyer Lana Kerzner, Fran Odette, project coordinator for the women with disabilities and deaf women's program at Education Wife Assault, Nevina Crisante, counsel to the Ontario Victim Service Secretariat at the Ministry of the Attorney General, and Gwen Reid, an abuse counsellor and sexual assault survivor, who spoke about her experience as a witness at the criminal trial of her assailant (where the witness box was inaccessible to her wheelchair.)

Abbott, whose courage to speak out has helped focus renewed attention on preventing abuse, says little has changed with the personal assistants supplied to her by Tobias House Attendant Care. But she intends to keep fighting for justice. As does ARCH.

"This is only the beginning," says executive director, Phyllis Gordon.

If you are in danger, the Assaulted Women's Helpline has a 24-hour crisis line for both men and women. Call 1-866-863-0511 (voice) or 1-866-863-7868 (TTY).

Other sources for information include:

ARCH: See http://www.archlegalclinic.ca (opens in a new window) or call 416-482-8255 (voice) or 416-482-1254 (TTY) or write 425 Bloor St. E., Toronto, Ont. M4W 3R5.

Community Legal Education Ontario, which offers simple, clear booklets on everything from elder abuse to consumer rights. Most are free. See http://www.cleo.on.ca (opens in a new window) or call 416-408-4420 or write 119 Spadina Ave., Suite 600, Toronto, Ont. M5V 2L1.

National Clearinghouse on Family Violence: See http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/ncfv-cnivf/familyviolence/or (opens in a new window)or call 1-800-267-1291 or write 1907D1 Jeanne Mance Building, Tunney's Pasture, Ottawa, Ont. K1A 1B4.

Education Wife Assault: See http://www.womanabuseprevention.com (opens in a new window) or call (416) 968-3422 (voice), (416) 968-7335 (TTY) or write Suite 220, 215 Spadina Ave., Toronto, Ont. M5T 2C7.

The Advocacy Centre for the Elderly: See http://www.advocacycentreelderly.org (opens in a new window) or call 416-598-2656 or write 2 Carlton St., Suite 701, Toronto, Ont. M5B 1J3.

The Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: See http://www.onpea.org (opens in a new window) or call 416-978-1716 or write 222 College Street, Suite 106, Toronto, Ont. M5T 3J1.

Reprinted with permission--Torstar Syndication Services.