Phyllis Fehr at the NCD Alliance Workshop: “Our Views Our Voices”

Dementia Alliance International (DAI) board member and ODAG Human Rights Advisor Mrs Phyllis Fehr represents DAI at the NCD Alliance Our Views, Our Voices workshop. This workshop has brought together people living with NCDs from across the world. The objectives are to:

  • Share the Our Views, Our Voices consultation results with participants
  • Contribute to finalising the Advocacy Agenda of People living with NCDs
  • Explore notions of community identity among people living with NCDs
  • Articulate the vision of the Advocacy Agenda
  • Discuss how to implement the Advocacy Agenda of People Living with NCDs

The workshop will result in the finalizing of the Advocacy Agenda of People Living with NCDs which will be launched at the Global NCD Alliance Forum. It will also serve to cultivate a group of people living with NCDs that will go on to champion the Our Views, Our Voices initiative.

Representing DAI, Phyllis was invited to present as part of the second workshop on Day one, on social justice. This is her speech:

Thank you for this invitation to speak today, representing Dementia Alliance International, whose members are formally diagnosed with dementia representing 44 countries.

It is also an honour to be here to represent the estimated 50 million people living in the world living with dementia, also listed as a Non Communicable Disease. We know there are a lot more people without a diagnosis, too often one they do not want, often because of stigma and social justice related issues. 

When I was 48 when I started noticing signs of dementia, but it took until I was 53 to get a formal diagnosis. Once I received this diagnosis I was told to go home, get my affairs in order and try to enjoy the time I have left.

I did this at first but it wasn’t good enough for me either. I still had my intelligence, I still had all my nursing knowledge, I felt I could use this to help others living with dementia and I initially did do this in Ontario Canada. I sit on the Ontario Dementia Advisory Group (ODAG), and am one of four co founders, as well as their human rights advisor. We are a group of people living with dementia advocating for policy change and social justice.

I also found Dementia Alliance International and joined them, and am now an active board member.

DAI was exactly what I was looking for. They are global, and they are the voice OF people with dementia. Kate Swaffer spoke at the WHO First Ministerial Conference on Dementia in March 2015, and placed human rights and disability rights onto the global stage. Many people with dementia are now actively working individually and collectively towards claiming them!

I have attended meetings in Geneva twice this year, once to speak at the opening of the 17th session on the Charter of Rights for People with Disabilities (CRPD) representing DAI. The next time as part of the civil delegation when Canada presented on their human rights issues for people with dementia. In their report back to Canada dementia was mentioned, which I believe was the first time that this is ever happened. This has given me further drive to stand up for people’s rights from a human right’s perspective.

We know the people with dementia are stigmatized in many different ways so they hide away to avoid that stigma. If we look back to the 60s people were with dementia were told to go home and that is what they did.

Let’s jump ahead to round the year 2000 when my mother was diagnosed with dementia; she too was advised to go home get your affairs in order. My mother hid her diagnosis for many years but at this time they were still very little they could do for people with dementia. In the end my mother ended up in a nursing home because of her diagnosis she was most times left in a chair and wasn’t included in anything.

But it is still happening today!

I too was given the same advice but because of my intelligence and my nursing background I refused to take it. Kate Swaffer has termed this Prescribed Disengagement®; it happened to her, and it is still happening to people being diagnosed today.

I’m going to stand up and fight this because there’s has to be a better way. When we consider the continuing breach of human rights for people with dementia, there is no other choice. For example, in Canada one of the provinces has decided and is taking it to the supreme justice in the province, to have it made into law that people with dementia cannot make decisions on their own due to their disease. This is wrong, as it contravenes our human rights; people with dementia do not instantly lose capacity to make decisions for themselves at the time of diagnosis. It is a violation of the human rights and the CRPD. So we are fighting this in Canada and will have to wait to see what happens because if they do make it a law then we will be going to court and fighting this as a human rights violation.

In the early stages of dementia we are able to do things, but we need support for the disabilities caused by the symptoms of dementia to find different ways to support us to live with dementia, not only to die from it.

We need supports that currently are not offered. Things are finally starting to change for people with dementia around the world you may ask why this is happening. This is happening because of people like the late Dr Richard Taylor and DAI’s Chair Kate Swaffer and many other persons living with dementia standing up to the social norms and challenging them. I hope by being here today I have been able to instill a little bit of knowledge on you about what people with dementia are going through. If you have any questions I am more than willing to answer them, if we have no time then please come up to me during one of our breaks I am open to talking to anybody about this disease process.

In closing I want to give you an analogy received from Brenda Avadian of The Caregiver’s Voice. She said as one [Phyllis Fehr] who lives with a non-communicable disease –dementia –

We’re doing all we can to raise awareness worldwide and make dementia “communicable” by finding strength in working together and sharing our stories for advocacy.

This struck a chord with me. People are still not made aware of it and I fully believe that the more it is spoken about, and the more we fight for our human rights, the better off people living with dementia will be. Thank you.

DAI’s Chair & CEO Kate Swaffer will be following up this as she has been invited to attend the Global NCD Alliance Forum on 9-11th December in Sharjah UAE, “Stepping up the pace on NCDs; making 2018 count.” where the Advocacy Agenda of People living with NCDs will be launched and where the NCD Alliance will be mobilising NCD civil society community and bringing together approximately 300 people to discuss  I am looking forward to seeing you in Sharjah, UAE.