Self-Advocacy from the Ashes of the Institution


  • Sue Hutton ARCH Disability Law Centre
  • Peter Park Human Rights Advocate
  • Martin Levine Self-advocate
  • Shay Johnson York University
  • Kosha Bramesfeld University of Toronto



Self-advocacy, human rights, institutionalization, intellectual disability, disability advocacy


This paper explores the oral histories of two survivors of Canada’s institutions for persons labelled with intellectual disability. Both of these men survived the abuses of the institutions and went on to become committed to rights advocacy for others labelled with an intellectual disability. They were determined to tell their stories and act as change agents so that no one else experiences the abuse they did. In this paper, Peter and Martin tell parts of their stories, including their journey toward self-advocacy. This paper provides a space for these truths to be revealed in the time of class action law suits that are underway for these survivors. No opportunity was provided for the class action members to tell their stories in court, so this paper contains pieces of the narrative that survivors want people to know. Their stories are told in both narrative and art form. These artifacts highlight common themes of institutional abuse and isolation, but also of remarkable resiliency and strength. Their stories serve as an important record of the history of institutionalization in Canada and help to shape a better understanding of the roots of self- advocacy, including the importance of “nothing about us without us” (Charlton, 1998). 



How to Cite

Hutton, S., Park, P., Levine, M., Johnson, S., & Bramesfeld, K. (2017). Self-Advocacy from the Ashes of the Institution. Canadian Journal of Disability Studies, 6(3), 30–59.



Oral Histories