Patrick Worth Says…

Photo of Pat Worth
Patrick Worth
(former President of People First Canada and Ontario)

It is with deep regret that we inform you that Pat Worth, one of the founding fathers of People First, and a past President of People First in Ontario, passed on unexpectedly on Nov. 11.2004. He was an author and speaker of renown having moved audiences in many countries around the globe. Pat was the President of Worth Consulting.

Pat Worth was a Board Member of the Marsha Forest Centre. We honour and miss him.

Articles by Pat Worth.

1) Dare to Dream     2) The Damageof Labels     3) A Time to Reflect

Transcripts of two talk by Patrick Worth in 1988:
* the Keynote at TASH in Washington, Dec. 8 1988
* conference talk – April, 1988

Dare to Dream

About a month ago, I had a very distinguished honour in sharing the platform at The Community Living Ontario Conference with Hurricane Carter. For those of you not familiar with his name, he was an American Black person who once had a very promising career in boxing before he was branded a murderer and spent many years in prison for crimes that he did not commit.

It was indeed a great privilege to share the speaking duties with such a brave person who never gave up his fight for freedom, just as I never did and a lot of other people who got labeled. I think it was very unfortunate that he was not in the room while I was speaking because I don’t believe that he understands the term, institutionalization or deinstitutionalization and how it affects the lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

He spoke about his own prison. While it is true that he certainly had a prison, his prison was behind bars, and although it was due to discrimination, he had a right to appeal. His conviction and his sentencing were decided by a Judge & Jury. The conviction & sentencing for people with intellectual disabilities has always been decided by society at large. We have never had any place to appeal except to the hearts and the conscience of people in society.

I feel that Mr. Carter didn’t truly understand what he was signing that day when he was signing the petition to close down those facilities. Institutions for people who have been labeled are designed to promote a process of labeling, segregation and lumping people together. It is based on an old belief that has existed from one generation to another. Institutions promote and renew the belief that people with labels “can’t learn, and can’t make friends with other people”. Our crime is that we were judged as people who couldn’t lead a fully inclusive life or contribute to the lives of others.

Hurricane also didn’t talk about the support group that worked so hard to help him gain his freedom. I refer to the people in my network as champions because they work so hard and unselfishly stick their necks out and continue a courageous fight for people with disabilities to be considered as citizens with rights in public and private lives in their own communities. This freedom is not achieved without support from other people and especially people who take a great amount of risk with helping us to achieve our dreams.

Hurricane was pushing the audience to dare to dream. He is following his dream today. A lot of people who have been labeled still have never been given a chance to dream. They can’t even dream about a life of having the right to walk down the street in their own neighbourhood. They still live where neighbourhood decisions are made about us and not with us.

That day, I did my best to convey my message, as I always do, that nobody ever makes it in any kind of life entirely alone. We all need chances to develop good strong relationships that will empower our lives in our own communities. This is how we lead productive lives. This is how we begin the journey as powerful citizens.

I admire Hurricane Carter for enduring a life of prison walls and isolation. I’m sure there were times he felt like giving up. But, just like David Milgard who also spent 22 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, he is a free man today because he had people in his life that didn’t give up on him and always believed in him.

This is the kind of advocacy that needs to be in the lives of people who have been labeled

An institution is not just a place; it is the way people think.


The Damage of Labels

As I think about how we label people, I think about my life as a young boy and how a label took away my identity as Patrick Worth. I was not known by my name; I was known by a label called retarded. I was put in a segregated school system because my parents and a lot of professionals thought that I could never learn in an inclusive environment, Because of a label, I was put in a segregated sitting where I didn’t learn the things that I wanted to learn, including reading and writing.

I was never really able to dream as a child. We all have dreams about what we want to be when we grow up. We are not given that chance when we teach people in society about labels instead of being human. I still remember getting on the segregated bus, waving goodbye to my brothers and sisters, and watching them go to their neighborhood school with their friends.

I remember sitting on the porch at night watching the kids play street hockey, wishing that I could be invited to play. I never got invited. Do you get angry at the kids for their ignorance, or do you get angry at the parents and adults who teach their children that we are too different? When people are stereo typed, people in society come to know the person by a label. Our identities, our gifts & our strengths are never recognized.

I remember at night, I sometimes prayed that Martin Luther King would come and rescue me. He took the courage to talk about his dreams and his ambitions. My dreams were all locked inside a label. Its important to know that this label followed me from childhood to adulthood. I lived in a group home and started going to a day program. These were all segregated systems that were based on labeling people as not being able to do anything.

Some of the labels that are used today are just as harmful. High Functioning & Low Functioning. I recently learned in Norway, from people (delegates) representing their own countries, that these are the most commonly used labels to identify people with disabilities in the world today. This is truly sad.

I have been told many times that I am an exception, and that others will never be able to reach my potential. I find that ironic when I look at my past – a young boy who was not supposed to be able to learn anything. I guess I was classified as low functioning then. Now all of a sudden, I am high functioning. I am neither high functioning nor low functioning. I am who I am! I am Patrick Worth.

Nobody has to reach my potential. Everybody should be recognized for their own potential. Everyone has the right to dream and to explore their own gifts. No one should be held back by a label. The universal labels of High Functioning & Low Functioning are holding a lot of people back from finding out about themselves and what they are capable of doing. Even today, those labels are often used to institutionalize people with disabilities.

Developmentally Delayed! While it is true that not all people have the same kind of thought process, it is not because they are delayed or developmentally handicapped. Their thought process is just different. We don’t have to stereotype people because they don’t think the same way as we do. I think that there are times when we all struggle to have a clear thinking process. When we struggle with difficult problems and decisions, sometimes our thinking is not clear because we don’t have a clear process. We would not want to be labeled because we don’t think the same way as other people do.

These are just a few labels that I hear today, but they have some of the most devastating affects. When I think about those institutional labels, (I call them institutional labels), I think about extreme poverty it causes in people’s lives – in so many different ways.

Before I started working at Options and running my own business, I was sitting at home, just waiting for that disability pension to come in. I had been doing public speaking for a long time – but for free. That was because people really couldn’t understand why they should pay someone who had been labeled. So in a way, I was still being labeled. I was not valued for what I was offering. The kinds of labels that people with disabilities have had to wear are institutional poverty labels. Although I had friends, I was very disconnected. I felt institutionalized in my own home because of a poverty label. My life became a real life when people from my circle started getting together to talk about how I could start running my own business, Worth Consulting. Now I travel to many different parts of the world; delivering keynote speeches; facilitating workshops and so on. I work at Options part time. I am a Network Facilitator with a unique role as a self advocate to help individuals to pursue their own goals in life. Although still uncommon, this represents a great change in service providing systems across the world.

When I think about freedom today, I think about a world without labels. When you think about it, we have all been labeled in some way. Take the time to think about how it felt for you when you were labeled. Try to imagine what your life would have been like if you had to live with that label – every day.

Good strong relationships are usually developed when people are seen and viewed as equal to each other. I dream that some day, we will all be able to see each other by our true names, for who we really are, in a world without labels. That would be a great day for the world, filled with real relationships for all of us.

A Time to Reflect

Today, while I was just sitting outside eating my lunch and feeding the birds, I thought about the things that I had said about freedom and peace. I have done a lot of thinking and soul searching about my trip to Norway. For awhile, when I closed my eyes, I could imagine what people were feeling when I delivered my keynote speech. The applause for my accomplishments was certainly heart warming. But I also had the feeling that people are not in touch with themselves very much. When I looked across the room and saw the tears, it is as if that human emotion had been locked inside a lot of people for along time. I felt today that if I reached out with my hand, I could welcome the tears all over again.

When I reflect on the discussions that followed, I realize that the people, especially those in high positions in life, are also locked inside their own institutions. Maybe, for a few moments, I helped them to feel for vulnerable people in a way that actually made them vulnerable themselves. Even though some people disagreed with me and acted with prejudice, its easier to act that way than to admit the harm that people, in their positions in life, have done to create the sense of powerlessness in the lives of many. As I reflect on the lives of politicians, and that’s what I really got to do in Norway, I have come to the realization, that because of our own ignorance, we all make up the political arena in some way.

I wish I could explain, very simply, why this trip has affected me so much. Words just don’t seem to describe it. I am troubled about the fact that the world does not seem to be a friendly place for people with disabilities. Discrimination and basic ignorance get in the way of real human emotions. I think it is sometimes easier to label people, rather than to explore the human contact that says, “I have a name”. Maybe I welcomed people in to feel that kind of human contact for a while. Real inclusion does not exist without human contact. People with disabilities have not been embraced into society. What we have done instead, we have embraced institutional communities and systems. We have to embrace the hearts of vulnerable people and let our hearts embrace those hearts. Each and every person has to take the time to look inside themselves. Take a hard look at where you can invite people who have been isolated from human contact in to your life. Being a professional is important; being human will always be more important. I invite you to reflect in your own way, the importance of inviting a person whose been labeled into that part of yourself that makes a powerful difference in the lives of people who have not felt that kind of power in their lives. This is something that we can all do, if we take the courage to just release ourselves from locking up our hearts in institutional environments. If we lock up the part of ourselves that is the most human, what do we have to offer? Inclusion is about exploring that one part that is most human about everybody. It involves people who are willing to open up some of the most personal parts of themselves and take a risk. I talk about the human struggle with building relationships because it is a human struggle, and that is the most important part of any human relationship. Take some time to reflect within yourself. It could be the most important thing that you could do for someone who has never felt the real, human, inclusive contact.

Take some time and reflect.

Patrick Worth