New advocacy group launching with public presentation

An advocacy group by and for people with intellectual disabilities is launching in Thompson and the public is invited to a presentation introducing the organization July 26 at the Juniper Centre.

"For the public presentation, there is a group coming up from Winnipeg, including People First of Manitoba president Valerie Wolbert," says People First of Thompson co-ordinator Kristopher Blake. "I really encourage those that may not be involved with the Juniper Centre directly who have intellectual disabilities to come out and see this presentation as well as the rest of the people of Thompson. The event is free of charge and all are welcome to attend."

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The public presentation begins at 7 p.m..

The goal of People First organizations is to promote equality for all people who have been labelled, which is what the groups call people who have been variously identified as mentally handicapped, developmentally disabled, cognitively challenged and intellectually disabled over the year.

"People First is an organization that was formed because some of the people in our communities felt that they were not considered as people first," People First of Canada explains on its website.

Blake says People First is also dedicated to de-institutionalization and community inclusion. De-institutionalization supports the right of people with intellectual disabilities to live as a part of mainstream society, while community inclusion supports the right to participate as full and effective participants in society.

"De-institutionalization is so important because [institutionalization] basically prevents people from seeing the world of disabilities," says Blake, who recently set up an information display in the City Centre Mall to help generate publicity for the new chapter.

Part of the public presentation on People First of Thompson will be a screening of a video known as "The Freedom Tour," which Blake admits may not be to everybody's liking.

"This video contains graphic material and may be upsetting to some viewers," said Blake.

A documentary that raises awareness about institutions, "The Freedom Tour" was produced by members of People First in partnership with the National Film Board, and provided the opportunity for People First members to learn all aspects of the filmmaking process, from sound, editing and camera work, to interviewing, working with the media, and more. It was shown simultaneously in more than 30 Ontario locations on March 31, 2009 to mark the closing of that province's last three institutions housing people with intellectual disabilities.

Blake, a resident of Thompson for nine years, says he has seen the local population of people with disabilities grow tremendously during that time.

"I think it's a good thing coming to Thompson for people with disabilities," says Blake. "I'm very proud to bring it to the community. I know that it will be a big help."

For more information on People First of Thompson, Blake can be reached at the Juniper Centre at 108 Nelson Rd. or by phone at 677-2970 between the hours of 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., Monday to Friday. His email address is k.blake.mb.@live.com. More information on People First of Canada can be found on the organization's website at www.peoplefirstofcanada.ca.

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