Equality and Justice
For People With Disabilities

Jean Vanier’s Legacy: Living with and Learning from People with Disabilities

Published on July 16, 2019

Jean Vanier’s Legacy: Living with and Learning from People with Disabilities

Jenna Smith, uOttawa Law Student, May, 2019


In a world that is faced-paced and competitive, the life of Jean Vanier is a contrary example of what it looks like to slow down, to seek out transformative relationships, and to reconsider what defines human ability and success. 

Born a Canadian citizen in France, Jean Vanier was a Catholic philosopher, a veteran of the British navy, and the founder of L'Arche communities, where he lived as a member in Paris until his death on May 7, 2019. Jean Vanier believed that through mutually reliant relationships between those with and without intellectual challenges, people could learn about their own weakness and strengths and, in doing so, challenge what it means to be human. It was this belief that led Vanier to renovate a small home in France in 1964 and live alongside two men with intellectual disabilities, staring what would become the first L’Arche community. 

At L’Arche, individuals with disabilities share life together with the assistants, and through caring relationships, members support one another to achieve their goals and contribute their gifts to the community. Today there are 149 communities and 14 projects in 37 countries around the world. 

In Ottawa, the L’Arche community began in 1972 and today there are 30 core members and 18 assistants. You can learn more about the work of L’Arche Ottawa here and find out how you can get involved. 

The love and attention given to the vulnerable in society, which defined the life of Jean Vanier, is a reminder of the unique beauty and joy that those living with disabilities have to offer our society. What is required of us in order to recognize this beauty is a willingness to slow down, listen, and learn from each other. 

You can read more about Jean Vanier’s legacy here and listen to an interview with him on the OnBeing Podcast here


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