People with disabilities along with their families, friends and support systems, recently received some long overdue and welcome news: the three remaining Ontario institutions housing persons with intellectual disabilities will close forever on March 31, 2009. Since that announcement, the Southwest Regional Center near Chatham closed its doors October 30, 2008, having supported all its residents to move to homes in the community. It would be hard to find anyone involved in the Community Living movement today who would disagree with such an important and momentous decision. Indeed, plans are afoot at Community Living Ontario for a celebration to mark this triumph of humanity over pragmatism. After years of advocating, planning and just plain hard work, victory for self-determination has won out. Or has it?
At a recent Northwest Regional ACL meeting , a remark was made which sounded an alarm with me. During a discussion on Community Capacity, it was suggested that moving a “high-needs” individual in with a difficult-to-serve person somewhere else would not only combine supports but save money. This comment elicited no reaction from anyone, including the two Ministry officials present.
Why does this concern me? Well, imagine if you will a group of people a hundred years or so ago, sitting around brainstorming on how best to care for people with intellectual disabilities. I’m willing to bet someone came up with a very similar suggestion, all in the name of efficiency and economy. And from that idea sprang institutions, the very institutions we are still in the process of dismantling.
Should we be unduly worried by what may have been but a passing remark? Perhaps not. But I do believe we need to be vigilant. In these times of economic downturns and of Governments desperately trying to cut costs, we need to be alert to signs of the swinging back of the pendulum. Institutionalization did not spring up overnight. It developed because people allowed the rights of individuals, one by one, to be superceded by supposed benefits to society at large.
Community Living is an ideal whose time has finally arrived, but only after years of effort and struggle. It is up to all of us to safeguard and preserve it.
Anita Rasmussen, President, Kenora Association for Community iving