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 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.
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.
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.
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.