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Interviewing Researchers: Fred Ford, by Sheenagh Morrison

April 30, 2012
Fred Ford and Carol Dauphinais speaking at the demolition of the last tower of Woodland's School - B.C.'s last institution

Fred Ford and Carol Dauphinais at the demolition of the last tower of Woodland’s School – B.C.’s last institution

In our first of a series of interviews, Sheenagh Morrison talks to Fred Ford about his research and the various roles he’s been engaged in over the years with and for people with disabilities.  In the following months Sheenagh will continue to interview researchers and research students on their disability related work, from the perspective of a self advocate.  Given his knowledge of the history of disability in B.C. and around the world, Fred was a great start to this project.  

1)     You’ve been a good friend to people with disabilities for a long time, in a bunch of different ways.  What are you currently doing that has to do with them?

I teach Disability Studies at the University of Victoria. I include people with disabilities (some of whom are my friends) as presenters in several classes for this course. Some of my students also have disabilities or have family members with disabilities.

I meet people with disabilities in a number of other things I’m involved in. Not all of these people are “friends” but they all give me insights into what is like in the community (and in services) today and how far we have to go to achieve community living and make the UN Convention Rights a reality for everyone.

I am a member of the CACL-People First of Canada Task Force on The Right to Live in the Community. I work with and share ideas other members of the TF (many of whom have disabilities) about how to promote community living, close the remaining big institutions and other institutional settings.

I have had involvement over the past couple of years with BC People First – advising regarding Woodlands and being involved in the “demolition ceremony”. I’ve also had involvement with BCACL regarding the “history plaques” being planned by the New West City Council – those still need work if we are to tell the real history of Woodlands!

I am in touch with many people with disabilities on a more casual, informal, friendly basis.

2) What do you think research brings to people with disabilities?

Research brings opportunities to improving our understanding of what’s going on around us, whether it is research about how our behavior affects the environment or about the experiences of people in the community (or in places like institutions). There are a lot of myths and lies out there about people with disabilities. Research sometimes helps to dispel myths and give people a more realistic understanding. It is also important to remember that research can be done badly and can create myths and misunderstanding. A hundred years ago, some people did research to try to show that disability was inherited and that people with disabilities were a threat to society. The Jukes and The Kallikaks are the names of two of those studies. Although there were lots of mistakes and false information in these studies, the studies were used in BC and other places to convince politicians that people with disabilities should be sterilized. On the other hand, research has shown that living in the community results in better health and other outcomes than living in an institution. Research has also led to the creation of technology and assistive devices that make the world more accessible to people with disabilities. So, research can bring helpful solutions to society or it can bring great harm to people. Giving people with disabilities meaningful roles in research is one way to help ensure that myths and lies about disability are not created or reinforced.

3) What kind of educational opportunities would you like to see for adults with disabilities? For their families? For those who support them?

No matter what the topic or field of study is, education is needed in order to prepare us for whatever we wish to participate in. Education can help people prepare for work – and for life. Educational opportunities should be accessible to people with disabilities. We need to remove barriers and give all people the opportunity to participate at whatever level they can. Some families want information about disability-related topics and this should be available and easily accessed. We all want different things, but we all want meaningful activity. People with disabilities have a harder time getting jobs – I’d like to see people who want jobs get the training, support and work opportunities to make that a reality.  Families and people who work to support people in the community should have easy access to training. Pay levels and educational requirements have decreased for community support workers over the past 10 years. If we as a society truly respect and value people with disabilities we need to provide education and training so that those supporting people with disabilities have an understanding of the history of our treatment of people with disabilities, an understanding of values, ethics and rights and the skills needed to support people in effective, respectful ways.

4) Can you tell a brief story about one of your friends who has a disability and what you think they bring to their community?

My friend Carol Dauphinais wrote a book about her life called Living with Labels and Lies. Carol’s book tells about her experiences growing up in an abusive, neglectful home, being mistreated in institutions and then making a life for herself in the community. Working in the health care system in Vancouver, Carol brought an understanding of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of services and she also fought for the rights of her co-workers as a union steward. Carol’s book and her presentations to students and people in the community help them to understand how cruel, abusive and harmful service systems can be and how important it is for professionals to protect the rights and well being of children and other vulnerable people. Carol’s life is an amazing example of survival and dignity.

5) Is there anything else you’d like to say?

 Thanks for asking these questions! It has been a privilege for me to be involved in the lives of people with disabilities. I’ve met some wonderful people and I’ve seen a lot of changes since I started out working at a big institution in Ontario more than 40 years ago. One of my favourite quotes is George Bernard Shaw’s statement that “what we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history”. This is true in the community living field. Many people today don’t know what has been done to people with disabilities in the name of care, treatment, research, mercy and good intentions. Many people don’t know about the great things done by the pioneers of the movement or the obstacles they had to fight against. We need to keep learning and teaching this history and its lessons. We also need to do a good job of supporting all people to live in the community with the supports they need. If we don’t plan carefully, provide good services and fight for people’s rights, we will slide backwards into institutional approaches and practices. We need to keep challenging ourselves and each other to challenge the myths and to fight for social justice, now and for the future. Here is a poem I wrote a long time ago with some of my thoughts about the institution where I worked and one of my more productive days there…

Today I Killed a Thousand Flies

Today I killed

A thousand flies.

I shit you not

I tell no lies

A hundred down

Before sunrise

Nine hundred more

Would be my prize

Before the sun

Is down and dies

No forewarnings

No goodbyes

Just swatter fall

And swatter rise

On the walls

Or as she flies

Some were quick

And some were wise

I think that some

Were bloody spies

I spared the ones

That crawled on thighs

Or buzzed around

The hollow eyes

Of every soul

That lives and dies

Within these walls

Or screams and cries

Or wails a thousand

NOs or WHYs

I killed one dead

For every lie

That built this place

And wrecked these lives.

I shit you not

I tell no lies,

Today I killed

A thousand flies.


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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jule Hopkins permalink
    June 1, 2012 8:49 am

    Sheenagh and Fred – great interview and information. Fred really liked the story of your friend, you inspired me to get her book and read her story.

    Good questions Sheenagh.

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