It started with the question: “Where will Teresa live?”
We couldn’t agree on what was best for our disabled sister if she could no longer live in the family apartment in Toronto, Ontario, with our father.
In 2013, an Ontario government social worker declared Teresa “not capable” during a care assessment, and my sister lost her right to decide where she would live.
Teresa was put into a nursing home by two of her older siblings, acting as her guardians (apart from Teresa, none of my siblings support the telling of this story).
However, Teresa did not have any medical need to be in long-term care.
Within days, our father, my husband Bill and I helped her get discharged back into Dad’s apartment.
Teresa had a new capacity test done that determined she could decide where she lived and who would take care of her.
She moved in with us in December 2013. We relocated to Vancouver, British Columbia, in March 2014.
Bill and I helped Teresa to ask the care authorities for an apology for wrongful institution-alisation. Teresa said it had been wrong to put her in a nursing home.
On behalf of Teresa, the BC Civil Liberties Association wrote to the Ontario minister of health, saying: “We are gravely concerned that the government, through its actions, appears to condone the forced placement and mistreatment of developmentally disabled adults.”
After further publicity and campaigning, the health minister publicly apologised to Teresa in July 2016.
This story isn’t just about our family. It is about the difficulties that most people with disabilities face in exercising one of their most basic human rights: to choose where to live.
Freeing Teresa: a True Story About Fighting Ableism has taken 10 years to write.
What I didn’t know at the start was that Teresa’s experience was not unique – it’s happening around the world. I hope that by talking about it, change will happen.
And the tenth anniversary of freeing Teresa from the nursing home is a joyful and important reason to tell this story.
Freeing Teresa by Franke James with Teresa Heartchild and Billiam James is published by The James Gang
Franke James is an activist, author and artist