Sudden loss of disabled women’s leader – Maria Barile (1953-2013)

Monday, July 29 2013

July 26, 2013 (Montréal) - It is with profound sadness that we learned about Maria Barile’s death on the night of July 24th at Sacré-Cœur hospital at the age of 59. She was a major icon within the women’s rights movement and disability rights movement in Quebec and Canada.

Maria was ahead of her time in her vision of disability rights activism. “We cannot achieve social change by using the same structures that exclude people. Rather, it can be achieved by replacing these, with more egalitarian structures” she said at Action des femmes handicapées Montréal (AFHM)’s 25th anniversary conference in 2011. It is these structures that she worked her entire life to change.

Among the concrete changes she made were co-founding the DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada – DAWN-RAFH Canada - as well as being a co-founder of Action des femmes handicapées (Montréal) over 26 years ago; two institutions by and for women with disabilities to which she was passionately dedicated.

Maria has said: “The lesson learned from living with many barriers is that the impossible is possible if you look for other ways to achieve your goals.” This is what she aimed to do her entire life through her active involvement in projects linked to innovations in assistive technologies, universal design and the concept of inclusion practice. Maria was a strong supporter of equal access to education and information for people with disabilities. She always advocated for the autonomy and empowerment of women with disabilities through access to knowledge, education and information.

She spoke out against violence faced by people with disabilities, and women with disabilities in particular, and spent her entire life ensuring their voices were heard and their needs were met.

She was a woman filled with empathy, generosity and resilience. She has left us an invaluable legacy: her impressive career as an activist, her involvement in issues affecting women with disabilities, her optimism, and love of life.

At DAWN-RAFH Canada, Maria was recently working on a project linked to women’s shelters and transition houses for women who have experienced abuse. This project will be a catalyst for implementing the principle of universal design to ensure these essential services become accessible to all women. Until the very end of her life, Maria worked to find ways to support and assist women who have been victims of violence.

All of our thoughts are with you, Maria. We will miss you, but know that you will remain in the hearts of everyone who knew you and you will always be remembered for the path you have paved for those who will follow you.

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