Often projects are placed in categories, however arbitrary they might be. Though I lean toward focusing on Warm Hearth as a home as opposed to a project of any sort, there are times when we must be identified by our focus and values.
So, more than any other category, I consider Warm Hearth to be a human rights project. We care about the health of our residents, yes. And we do advocate on their behalf. But mostly we care about ensuring that they have the rights any human being should have. They have the right to loving care, to shelter, to healthful food, to peace, to community, to equality in society and to dignity, to name a few.
When I consider Warm Hearth as a human rights project I am implicitly saying that our residents deserve to receive human rights irregardless of whether they have a disability or not. Their disabilities are impediments to realizing their rights.
Our residents are not in need of “charity” in the sense that it is usually used today, with connotations of helplessness and a hierarchy of abled versus disabled, us versus them. They are, and always will be fully human and should not be considered “misfortunates”. In the same way, we should not consider ourselves their rescuers. Inherent in this approach is a kind of subtle condescension that I would like to avoid.
Rather, our residents have the same rights as any one else and the distinction is just that they might need assistance in realizing those rights and obtaining equal treatment in society.
Within this framework, our residents do not so much need support as access to that which they are already entitled. They do not need charity. They need equality. This might seem like splitting hairs, but I believe it is a posture that offers more dignity to our residents and clarity to the issue of disabilities and society. Sometimes changing words and frameworks does alter our perspectives, over time.
In light of this, I will end with a definition of disability that Warm Hearth uses. This definition exhibits, if considered carefully, the small distinctions that move us away from harmful assumptions about people with disabilities.
Our definition of disability:
“Limitations in carrying out activities of daily living and to participating in the social, economic, political and cultural life of the community.
Such limitations may arise from:
- a physical, sensory, intellectual, emotional or other personal condition such as a long-term health problem;
- societal stereotypes about such human conditions,
- ways of organizing social, economic, and built environments that, in their effects, exclude or impede the participation people with such conditions.
(taken from The Roeher Institute, Toronto, 2001)