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LiveWorkPlay Delegate Jennifer Harris Provides Testimony To United Nations Human Rights Commisioner

PRESENTATION BY JENNIFER HARRIS, LIVEWORKPLAY DELEGATE, to United Nations Human Rights, Office of the High Commissioner, Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, online regional consultations with people with disabilities and their representative organizations in the Caribbean and North America regarding Article 19 “Living independently and being included in the community.”

“From isolation, invisibility and segregation into inclusion of people with disabilities in the community. Identifying and overcoming barriers to the successful process of deinstitutionalization”

June 8, 2021 hosted in Jamaica, via Zoom


My name is Jennifer Harris, I am here today representing the LiveWorkPlay organization based in Ottawa, Canada. LiveWorkPlay is a charitable organization that helps the community welcome and include people with intellectual disabilities, autistic persons, and individuals with a dual diagnosis to live, work, and play as valued citizens. I am one of 10 self-advocates who comprise 35% of the voting membership for the election of our board of directors. Along with local and provincial partners, LiveWorkPlay is also a member of Inclusion International, so that we may both learn and contribute to inclusion everywhere in the world.

Historically, residential institutions in Canada housed thousands of people with intellectual disabilities in horrific conditions of abuse, with lives that ended too soon, laid to rest in numbered or unmarked graves. They are gone but they are not forgotten. Part of our reason for being here today is to honour their memory.

The CRPD is a wonderful document, but the language of the Convention lacks sufficient clarity for enforcement. For-profit entities as well as non-profit organizations that do not share our vision are rebranding group living as “intentional communities” or using other deceptive labels to promote a vision of a “happy place” where people with intellectual disabilities can all be together – but excluded from others. This places individuals and families in impossibly compromised positions, whereby the offer of these newly organized institutions is difficult to resist, because they are languishing on waiting lists and there are no alternatives available to them. We must take these institutional solutions off the menu, and appropriately redistribute our limited resources to truly individualized and inclusive outcomes.

We recognize that General Comment 5 goes a long way towards clarity, but it is mostly descriptive, and we need the power of a more prescriptive CRPD declaration. We need a concrete directive, for example: if buildings or housing communities comprise more than 10% of residents with intellectual disabilities, this does not reflect the composition of the community at large, and therefore violates Article 19. We would be honoured to assist in the work of developing more powerful United Nations tools for promoting included lives in our own community and beyond. Thank you.