UN Global Forum Considers Deinstitutionalization
On June 12, Connie Senior, YAI’s Assistant Coordinator of Sex Education and Clinical Curricula Development, went to the United Nations to discuss how to transition people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) out of institutions and into the community.
Held during the U.N.’s annual review of the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD), the side event, “Persons with Intellectual Disabilities and Institutions: Lived Experiences and Ways to Achieve Deinstitutionalization,” featured an international panel of self advocates and I/DD professionals, including Senior.
During the event, Senior explained that to successfully achieve deinstitutionalization for people with I/DD, countries must provide support at every level.
“What is very important is government involvement,” Senior said. “Funding at the national, state, and city level — as well as foundation grants and funding — are key for deinstitutionalization.”
Senior noted that only with robust investment can we build the social services and train the staff needed to help people with I/DD live healthier, happier, more independent lives. Senior described YAI’s approach to integrating people with I/DD into the community, from housing assessments that help people decide where they want to live, to support in every other aspect of their lives from budgeting and cooking to vocational training and socialization.
“It’s important for people to have social capital in their community so they can integrate and build their own support circles,” she said. “We also need teach support staff to open up more opportunities for learning and decision-making to people with I/DD so they can make informed choices about their lives.”
Senior added that helping those with I/DD understand their rights enables them to advocate for themselves so they can lead more free and self-directed lives.
Indeed, this ability to self-advocate is what ultimately liberated two of the event panelists from long-term institutionalization. Diana Zgherea, a self advocate from Keystone Human Services International and Robert Martin, a self advocate and member of the UN CRPD Committee, were both institutionalized for decades.
At the panel, Zgherea spoke passionately about how leaving the institution changed her life.“In the instiution, I was afraid to say what I thought,” Zgherea said. “In the community, I am free to express myself. In the institution, I didn’t have any rights. In the community, I am treated with respect and dignity. In the institution, I wasn’t called by my name, I was called by my family name, Zgherea. In the community, I am called Diana, and that makes me feel loved.”