The Latimer Case: The Reflections of People with Disabilities - A Parental Perspective

A Father's Concerns

by Brian Stewart

Forty plus years ago my parents were told not to take me home. Those concerned for my parents' well being, the medical profession, could not see my life as being worth living. Born with Cerebral Palsy, their vision was that I would not have a future and they did not, would not, or could not, see a place in the community for me.

Today, I am a parent. Three of my chosen children have Cerebral Palsy, ranging in age from 8 to 12. At their births they, too, had parents who were advised to leave their child behind and get on with their lives. No one had a vision for these children. The happiness and blessings which each child brings into the world were not spoken of, nor seen. If a child is born this day with a disability, (God forbid) their parents too, are asked if they really want to take on the responsibilities of raising a child with a disability. They will be given no vision of a happy future, and hope and joy shall be sorely lacking from the discussion and decision.

Many persons, including family members, neighbours, service providers, doctors, and educators who will not share in the joys and gifts of your child if he or she is disabled. These people with no vision, people who devalue your child, will be by far the most prevalent. As a parent of a child with a disability, you are told, how wonderful you are, what superhuman traits you possess for being able to parent such a child. Logically you know these comments are said with compassion and naivety. But as parents you hate these remarks. For they are usually from individuals who have not taken time to acknowledge the gifts and joys which are received by the parent from the child. Once again your child and family are devalued.

My daughter is twelve years old and is quickly becoming a beautiful young woman. She has many disabilities, including Cerebral Palsy, blindness, and developmental delay. I have extreme difficulty with my vision of her future.

I get scared. I know services and programs do not yet exist to meet her needs. She is in grade 5, and each and every step to get her into programs and to gain staff commitment and involvement has been a struggle. Many question her right to be educated, to be an active participant in the community.

I am disabled, so I know that systems can change. I know the work of lobby groups and consumer groups work. One can only imagine the nightmares and anguish it is for parents who have not been part of our movement, who do not know adults with disabilities.

What do I need and want to happen?

First, let me say that I have an inner rage. The Latimers have received much written and financial support from hundreds of people across the country. This support is a strike against myself and my children. I need a public forum from which to address them. Their narrow perception, their limited vision and their actions are a great injustice needing to be addressed. To not address these people would be very wrong; they have attacked us; we must make them understand the brevity of their statements and actions.

Secondly, I need the Courts to protect us and our future generations. Latimer must serve out the appropriate sentencing for taking a life. He must not be permitted to devalue a person's life just because of a disability and a lack of his vision.

Thirdly, I ask adults with disabilities to reach out to parents and to include them in their associations. Provide them with role models. Most importantly provide them the vision.

Many people cannot, or do not wish to, accept that others can achieve similar standards and contributions having additional physical or mental challenges. Of even greater difficulty for many people is to acknowledge that traditional standards and contributions are not essential for an individual to live a meaningful and fruitful life.

Those of us gathered here today are colleagues, building a community which is better, stronger, integrated, and more accommodating. Yet it is of great sadness that we are brought together to fight for the most basic of rights ...the right to live.

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