Celebrating Justin Clark & His Fight for Independence

An interesting article and discussion on CBC Radio published at the end of November about Justin Clark, an individual born with cerebral palsy, who sued his parents for the right to make his own decisions.

Justin Clark communicates via a Dynavox computer screen attached to his wheelchair. He reaches out and touches letters and symbols on the screen, which in turn, activates a synthesized voice. Clark took his parents to court when he was 20 years old to prove that he was a mentally competent adult and could make decisions about his own life. Although he sued them, Justin highlights that his love for his family was never in doubt.

Clark was born with cerebral palsy. When he was two, doctors advised his parents to place him in the Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls, Ont., a little more than an hour's drive from Ottawa. He grew up isolated from his parents and his five older siblings. In 1982, he won the right to leave the institution and make his own decisions about his future. The impact of his case — a pivotal moment in the Canadian disability rights movement — continues to be felt today.

Following the ruling, guardianship laws were re-examined, and in some provinces, rewritten. Disability rights advocates say there is still a long way to go, but Clark's case paved the way for other people with disabilities fighting to make their own decisions, rather than have legal guardians make them on their behalf.

Clark is now 56 and thriving. He has travelled widely — to Germany, Switzerland, France and to visit a brother in the United States. He sees his siblings and friends regularly, and corresponds with them by email. He loves his job at Computer Wise, where he designs greeting cards and calendars. Once or twice a week, he plays bocce at the gymnasium of an Ottawa rehab centre.

The example Clark set is one that we should all be thankful for. He took a bold step to change the course of his life and the lives of many others. He has clearly experienced the benefits of this and we're sure many others have as well.

To learn more about Justin Clark and his story, please read the original article and listen to the radio recording on CBC.