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Our history

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In the beginning, children with disabilities were literally kept hidden. Parents were often torn between a love for their child and a shame or desperation that often led them to send sons and daughters away to institutions. Some were even advised by doctors to "pretend this one died and go on with your life." Some parents found that because of a lack of resources, and pressure from others, they were simply unable to keep their child at home. The parents who refused to send their child away were often left with the soul-destroying task of facing an uninformed public-including their own family and friends-and trying to meet their child's needs without services or support. With such a gloomy start, it is no wonder society has struggled with how it views people with disabilities and how it responds to their needs and those of families.

In Saskatchewan in the early 1950s, a few determined parents joined a groundswell that was beginning to rumble worldwide. It is the way of societal change that these sweeping movements seem to begin in very different places, yet almost at the same time. When nothing was available, including an education for people with intellectual disabilities, parents began to demand it. Moreover, they began to create it. Mothers volunteered to teach tiny groups of children in church basements or their own living rooms. People like John Dolan, a farmer from Girvin, began to speak up about making things right for people with disabilities, including his own daughter Norma. He drove from farm to farm to talk with other parents at their kitchen tables. He put a small plain ad in a newspaper and asked other parents to come forward to a meeting to talk about education for their children. The Saskatchewan Association for Retarded Children was born.

By 1958, similar groups in other provinces banded together to form a national federation, the forerunner of the Canadian Association for Community Living. By 1960, in Saskatchewan, Dolan and other parents celebrated a victory when special education classrooms moved out of church basements and volunteers' homes to join the school system. Over the next four decades, a growing array of services and supports in the community for people with intellectual disabilities became the expectation of families. Services were established, pilot projects were initiated and funded; community boards sprang up to oversee these programs and branches of the Association worked actively on a local level to make lives better.

The Association itself was growing and evolving, examining its role and philosophies. In the 1980s, at the insistence of the Saskatchewan Association for the Mentally Retarded and its provincial, territorial and national counterparts, laws began to change. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other human rights legislation began to reflect the rights and dignity of people with intellectual disabilities. In 1988, the Association-now known as the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living-successfully lobbied for changes to the Saskatchewan Human Rights Code to include protection for people with an intellectual disability. The focus of the Association's efforts had moved from establishing services to a context of human and civil rights.

People with disabilities themselves began to speak out about what they desired in life. The self-advocacy movement-in much the same way as the parent movement before them-began to evolve and identify issues of importance. Challenged by these voices, the Association for Community Living learned that it must, too, change its thinking. The Association came to realize that we must speak with people who have intellectual disabilities, not always simply on their behalf. And where the dreams and desires of people with disabilities perhaps differ from those of their parents, the Association knows that the individual with a disability needs support to make their decisions.

Today, there is an appreciation for supporting the abilities and strengths of individuals and their families, providing the supports they need to meet their responsibilities as members of their communities. We take pride in what the last five decades have created for people with intellectual disabilities and their families, but we want to do better in the reality of today's society. We continue to listen to people with disabilities as they talk about their needs and dreams, to the voices of families, and to people in the community who want to be part of building an even better place in which to live.


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