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An Unsung Canadian and International Hero: Honouring Orville Endicott

Community Living Ontario and the Canadian Association for Community Living will honour Orville Endicott in Toronto on September 24th on the occasion of his retirement. We do not wish to steal any thunder from that pending event, but hope that many others will pay attention to his remarkable career and follow up with Community Living Ontario for additional information. The celebration will take place during the organization’s annual conference.

Orville Endicott (first to the right, back row) in 2008 celebrating Ontario's new legislation  Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act
Orville Endicott (first to the right, back row) in celebrating Ontario’s new legislation Services and Supports to Promote the Social Inclusion of Persons with Developmental Disabilities Act 2008

Over the course of a 35 year career as a human rights lawyer and advocate, among his many remarkable achievements, Mr. Endicott’s most familiar and lasting legacy may be his role in promoting supported decision-making for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The concept of supported decision-making recognizes that while a person may not have the capabilities to make informed and independent decisions for themselves at all times, everyone has the right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, and to have their voices heard, even if others have a role in making decisions on their behalf.

When Orville and others in the community living movement began to talk about greater autonomy and rights for people with intellectual disabilities more than 20 years ago, many people questioned both the efficacy and the practicality of such a step. Families themselves who were concerned for the safety and protection of their children were not certain it was achievable or even desirable for their sons and daughters to have a different role in their own decision-making.

Enter the Orville Endicott perspective: wouldn’t talk of “social inclusion” be nothing but empty rhetoric without a corresponding right to make decisions about one’s own life?

The challenge at hand was to help people see beyond the issue of capacity, and explore how it is that society can respect, and if necessary, facilitate the exercise of self-determination. This challenge took place in the context of a guardianship environment, a legal arrangement that renders the individual a virtual non-person. Orville and his allies, in Canada and across the world, championed the right to support for decision-making as fundamental to social inclusion as well as an issue of basic human rights.

Speaking in 2013 about his work, Orville’s comments closely resemble our own mission, vision, and values at LiveWorkPlay:  “Usually that means helping them gain access to appropriate supports to live, learn and work in an inclusive community, and to enable them to make decisions about their life with whatever supports they may need.”

It is in fact no accident that the Endicott perspective seems to connect directly to our guiding statements at LiveWorkPlay. Our vision, mission, and values are modeled on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (ratified by Canada in 2010) which in turn were developed by a remarkable collaboration of international experts and advocates. Mr. Endicott was right there in the middle of it all: thinking, speaking, writing, educating, presenting, discussing, and championing the rights and capabilities and possibilities of an included life for people with intellectual disabilities.

Any person who shares in this vision owes a debt of gratitude to Orville Endicott for his dedication and devotion to a better world.