Barb Goode – Unsung Hero of the Disability Movement

IMG_0105I sat with Barb Goode during the Paralympic Opening ceremonies last Friday. As tributes were paid to Terry Fox and Rick Hansen I couldn't help but reflect on Barb's pioneering role in breaking stereotypes toward people who are labeled mentally handicapped. And the unfairness that so few know about her when the barriers she faced were as formidable as Terry and Rick faced.  In some ways the obstacles she has overcome and is still confronting are more insidious because they can't be fixed with a wheelchair, a ramp or a prosthetic.

Within the hierarchy of disability Barb is dealing with the least understood and the most under appreciated – developmental disability.

In fact when she started her career as an advocate people used deeply offensive words like retarded and moron.  That these terms are no longer in common usage can be linked to Barb's leadership.

Barb has been proving people wrong for decades.  She considers herself a self advocate which means you want her on your side if you are fighting for your rights.   She was one of twelve Canadians profiled in the 1981 Obstacles report which began the International Year of Disabled Persons.  She worked on the ground breaking Rights Now project in British Columbia doing grass roots community organizing among folks with disabilities.  In 1986 she led the Supreme Court intervention in the case of Eve. The subsequent Supreme Court decision prevents the sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities for non-medical reasons. 

Given Canada's sad history of enforced sterilization of people with intellectual disabilities Barb's intervention is a milestone on par with recognizing the damages of residential schools for aboriginal children or the internment of Japanese Canadians.  

In 1992 she became the first Canadian with a disability to address the UN General
assembly.  Many would consider that the peak of their career.  Barb of course doesn't see it this way. If you ask her for the
highlights of her advocacy career she will say, 'meeting so many
interesting people'.  Like many effective leaders it is her relationships that define Barb. She is the ultimate net-worker – her address book contains more entries than anyone I know.  She never forgets birthdays and special occasions and knows how to throw a good party.

When I first met Barb she gave me a vision of what my daughter Liz could become. As I got to know her I saw her as a role model for all my children.  Now she inspires me to become a better person.

She is self effacing to a fault.  And eternally vigilant.  When she reads this she will gently scold me, ' to use 'plain language'.  And that is why the BC Representation Agreement Act, is noteworthy not only for its progressive content but also for being readable to non- lawyers and lay people.  You can thank Barb for sparking the move to plain language legislation in British Columbia.

She sums up her career as, 'Doing things people didn't think I could.' That's clearly the message of the Vancouver Paralymic Games.  As you watch the closing ceremonies tonight, spare a thought for one of the foremost builders of the modern day disability movement. A hero who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Terry Fox and Rick Hansen.

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  1. Lauri Thompson

    Barb is one of the toughest, most practical, warm-hearted, humble, thought-provoking, paradigm shifting people I know. Thanks for taking the time to celebrate her here.

  2. Avril

    Hear, hear!!

  3. Denis Bell

    Thanks, Al, for profiling Barb. A delightful person and great friend. Humble to a fault. Sensitive. Wonderful sense of humour. Remarkable history and endless connections and experiences in both the disability world and the big wide world beyond. A more genuine human being cannot be found.

  4. David Roche

    I look forward to a time when I get to sit next to her!


    David, that’s what I felt when I sat down beside Barb. I thought how lucky to have Barb as my bench mate for such a spectacular occasion.

  6. Lisa Kleefman

    I just read this article as Erin sent it to me while we were discussing what an amazing friend and woman Barb is.
    She phones me most Friday’s just to tell me she hopes I have a good weekend. Her thoughtfulness and humor has deeply enriched my life and I’m so glad I can call her my friend. I had NO idea about the other stuff in your blog, but knowing Barb, it doesn’t surprise me one bit.

  7. Al Etmanski

    Barb is the ultimate host and embodies hospitality. Since she is also a capable and successful advocate she is powerful. Love and power – a potent combination!

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