Kristopher Blake, president of the People First Thompson Chapter, returned from the annual general meeting of People First of Manitoba in March having been re-elected as vice-president of the self-advocacy group for people with intellectual disabilities. But in mid-April, he was named the president after it was determined that the person who'd been elected to that post was not eligible for the office.
Blake, who had been also nominated for president, finished in second place in that election but the winner had not known that he was ineligible to run for president.
"I got a phone call from People First of Manitoba yesterday in Winnipeg," said Blake April 16. "They have officially named me the president. I'm very proud to be representing Thompson and Manitoba with People First."
Blake's first official duty as People First of Manitoba president will be to attend a board meeting in May. The position of president includes responsibility for overseeing the Manitoba chapters of People First and the opportunity to represent Manitoba at People First of Canada conferences. Following the two-year term as president, Blake will be eligible for election to the board of People First of Canada, he said.
People First has chapters across Canada and around the world, and has four local chapters in Manitoba, including two in Winnipeg, one in Brandon and the Thompson chapter.
Nationally and internationally, People First advocates for the closing down of mental institutions, which they say are often the site of abuse and neglect of people with intellectual disabilities, and for inclusion of its members in the communities in which they live.
"We're talking about human rights for people with disabilities," Blake says. "Locally in Thompson we're working with the City of Thompson as well as the public works committee on promoting wheelchair accessibility issues."
That work, says Blake, will be aided by a new piece of provincial legislation, Bill 26, known as The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, which was passed in December. Blake will be meeting with the Thompson Chamber of Commerce to discuss that legislation in early May.
"Before this new law came into effect any older buildings that were grandfathered did not have to be wheelchair accessible except if they underwent new renovations," said Blake. Now, he says, even older buildings will be required to ensure they are wheelchair accessible, which is something the People First Thompson Chapter would like to see at some local buildings, including the movie theatre.
"My future plans now that I am back from the AGM are to meet with the mayor and city council," says Blake, who would also like to raise the profile of the organization. "There's a lot of people who have not heard of People First."
To learn more the People First Thompson Chapter, contact Blake by phone at the Juniper centre at 204-677-2970 or by e-mail at email@example.com. To learn more about the provincial and national organizations, visit the People First of Manitoba Facebook page or www.peoplefirstofcanada.ca.
"The more likes we get on Facebook for People First of Manitoba, the more we can accomplish," said Blake.