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"I am from a family of three brothers and five sisters in Nova Scotia. I was put into a class for people who are mentally retarded but I proved them wrong. I did learn. My uncle believed I could read and write and he taught me.

When I was living in the institutions I went to a sheltered workshop. The difference between the workshop and a real job was that in the workshop I worked for eight hours a day all week for $10. People thought that I couldn't do anything so they had me packing dolls. I did really silly, boring jobs. If people keep telling you that you can't then you start believing it all. Geoff, my best friend, failed to follow the rules. The staff decided he should go to a large institution. They put a straitjacket on him and now he's dead. He gave up.

In the workshop I had to sign a document to say that I was permanently unemployable. At the age of thirty-one, I got a job with People First. It was my choice; it was what I wanted to do. It's an office job but also involves lots of traveling. I travel and talk to people in the community who have learning difficulties. I tell them stories.

Pat Worth
Pat Worth

They don't have friends and I bring them faith and hope. A real job is going to work where people call you an employee. It's getting a real check that you can live on. No one has the right to tell you that you are unemployable.

We want to be considered as average employees, trained on the job. Yes, it may take us a little longer, but so what? Heck with that!

People First helped me. It's a matter of human spirit. You can't live without it. Maybe I'd be dead if I was still in the institution. People First stands for active involvement, citizens, real jobs, doing real work, respect, being seen as people with power over our lives, learning new things, making friends. We say look at our abilities, not our disabilities, and we want to share our vision with you. We are people first. We do not want to be poor all our lives. We want to be part of the community.

People First taught me what real self-advocacy means. It means having a real job and having a real home. I don't want to be labeled anything but "a human being;" that's what I am.

Everyone wants to live in the community and have a job of their own choosing. We have joined the Employment Equity Coalition and joined in a rally on Capitol Hill. We said that we didn't want sheltered workshops anymore.

We've taken on other issues, like opposing sterilization. The case of "Eve" went to the Canadian Supreme Court and People First members went to the Court to support her.

Believe in yourself and people will believe in you. I can now do so many things that I wouldn't have thought I would be able to do. We have a vision, real goals and ideas. We can make decisions; we don't need to be talked at. Sure we need help sometimes – but not people telling us what to do. We can contribute and we want the community to listen.

Patrick Worth lives in Toronto, Canada.