Centred Content

The treatment of people with a developmental disability over the years is a mirror of an evolving social consciousness away from segregation or elimination of people who are different from the mainstream and towards a sense of citizenship.

In many western industrialized societies, the interest in measuring intelligence that gave rise to the IQ test was followed by a classification system that included categories for those of below average IQ, specifically, moron (IQ of 51 – 70), imbecile (26 – 50), and idiot (0 – 25); These terms were softened and classifications changed to mild (IQ of 55 – 70), moderate (40 – 54), severe (25 – 39), and profound (0 – 24) retardation.

The thinking behind classification, coupled with the fear that the capacity of society to sustain itself would be compromised by “inferior” genes contributed to “solutions to safeguard society” such as isolation through institutionalization. The eugenics movement, which sought solutions to the perceived social problems, contributed to the rise of intervention by some governments such as laws against procreation and enforced sterilization. This trend culminated with the elimination of people with a developmental disability in the gas ovens of Nazi Germany. Today, regulated eugenics continues in some parts of the world such as China, where restrictions on marriages involving persons with certain disabilities and diseases was enacted in 1994.

Pictures and stories about poor living conditions in some institutions began appearing in the 1960’s. A book of pictures, taken secretly in an institution in the United States and published under the title, “Christmas in Purgatory”, was one of many revelations that lead to a public outcry and precipitated the community living movement. This was the beginning of a continuing shift to citizenship rights for people, regardless of disability.

Families, many of whom, had placed their child with a developmental disability in these institutions, began to press for change in the form of local support programs and smaller residential options. As these programs grew into agencies, there was concurrent evolution of social policy in the form of Medicare, the Canada Pension Plan, the Canada Assistance Plan, and funding for post-secondary education. Citizenship rights became enshrined in such legislation as the Canadian Bill of Rights. These developments provided the background for continuing movement towards full community citizenship for people with intellectual disabilities.

More recently, the UN Declaration on the Rights of persons with intellectual disabilities, signed in 1971 and the Ontario Human Rights Code, made explicit, the citizenship rights of people with a developmental disability.

Today, the movement to community living continues as people with a developmental disability become integral members of their respective communities and participants in recreation, education, employment and civic opportunities. Community living is founded on the belief in the inherent value of all human beings and reflects values of inclusion, respect, person-centred planning and quality of life.

Participants in the Ontario Partnership find that the long term care system shares very similar values to the developmental services system and it is on this foundation that the dialogue between the sectors takes place.