People First is part of the self-advocacy movement.
The movement began in Sweden in 1968 when a Swedish parent’s
organization for children with developmental disabilities held a
meeting. The organization had the motto, “We speak for them,”
meaning parents speaking for their children. The people at the meeting
decided they wanted to speak for themselves and made a list of changes
they wanted made to their services.
Over the next five years meetings like this took place in
England and Canada.
In November of 1973 the British Columbia
Association for Retarded Citizens sponsored the first convention for
the “mentally handicapped” in North America.
The convention had for its theme “May We Have A Choice”.
Two staff workers and three residents from the Fairview
Hospital and Training Center in Salem, Oregon attended this
convention. They came back to Oregon excited about the possibility of
people with developmental disabilities speaking for themselves and
organizing a similar convention.
The Canadian convention had been organized by
professionals and the people from Oregon dreamed of a convention that
was planned by people
with disabilities, with assistance from helpers only when needed.
On January 8, 1974, the People First movement
began in Salem, Oregon, with the purpose of organizing a convention
where people with developmental disabilities could speak for
themselves and share ideas, friendship and information.
In the course of planning the convention, the small group of
planners decided they needed a name for themselves.
A number of suggestions had been made when someone said,
“I’m tired of being called retarded – we are people first.”
The name People First was chosen and the People First
self-advocacy movement began.
The first People First Convention was held in
Oregon in October 1974 and 560
people attended. From
this convention the idea of self-advocacy began to grow and spread.
Within five years, Oregon had 1000 People First members, Nebraska,
Washington and Kansas had growing memberships and people from 42 other
states were asking for assistance to start their own groups.
In 1984 the first International Self Advocacy Leadership Conference
was held in Tacoma, Washington.
then, international conferences have been held in London, England
(1988), Toronto, Canada (1993), Anchorage, Alaska (1998) and
Northampton, England (2001).
People First and the self-advocacy movement has grown into an
international movement in 43 countries, with an estimated 17,000
members or more.
In the United States alone, there are estimated to be well over
800 self-advocacy groups.
Some of these are supported by local or state organizations
like the Arc but many others are independent. In
some states local groups have banded together and have formed
statewide organizations. A national organization, Self-Advocates
Becoming Empowered, was formed in September 1991. Many of these groups
call themselves People First but others have different names like
Speaking for Ourselves, United Together, or Advocates in Action.
the name, the message is clear:
PEOPLE FIRST AND WE CAN SPEAK FOR OURSELVES!