Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Community-Based Cooperative Ventures for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Academic journal article The Canadian Geographer

Community-Based Cooperative Ventures for Adults with Intellectual Disabilities

Article excerpt


The lives and landscapes of people with intellectual disabilities changed dramatically over the last three decades of the twentieth century. A large number are no longer warehoused in asylums stuck away in rural settings (Radford and Park 1999, 13-14; The Roeher Institute 1996). Others have emerged from formerly embarrassed households to be much more visible in our towns and cities. Families, volunteer groups, social service agencies, school boards and governments have mobilised in the name of integration and equity to assist them to become part of our community life. Many of the disabled now live on their own and many hold minimum-wage employment as dishwashers and the like. Although one governmental motivation to deinstitutionalise the handicapped was to cut its social service costs, another side of the picture has emerged which is much more positive--namely that these people can contribute to society and not be seen as burdens.

In our view, the changes in the lives of people in this population rank with those of the lives of women, gays and lesbians, people of colour, those with physical disabilities and other minority groups who have achieved a measure of civil and human rights and opportunities not held in the past. Although progress has been made, more is to be done. As many people with intellectual disabilities prove over and over that they are capable of far more independence than many had expected, they, and we, gain a vision of greater changes that are possible. Group homes, sheltered workshops and other day programs were steps away from asylums, but now we see that, as originally conceived, they are not enough. We see further that, although many people in this population have gained, far too many have fallen through the cracks of the social service systems.

Some advocates believe that empowering or enabling the mentally disadvantaged can best take place through a process of integration--or normalisation as it is sometimes called--with those of a wide variety of backgrounds into schools, communities and workplaces. Along with this is a focus on individuals, each with distinctive needs and desires who, by exercising their rights, can become better enabled to participate fully in the life of their neighbourhoods and society at large.

With Toronto as our focus, we will consider how the need for these changes can be brought to public attention through the establishment of community based initiatives; how the urban infrastructure can be supported by public action, through 1) simple but effective provincial government legislation and procedures for incorporation of various types of small cooperatives and business partnerships; 2) dedicated subsidised and cooperative housing; 3) transportation systems accessible to housing, workplaces and retail markets. Over the past decade community groups in downtown Toronto have developed several distinctive projects. Those described here focus on housing and employment that have been made feasible by the existence of the Cooperative Corporations Act of Ontario, the City of Toronto's housing and transportation policies, and grants from the province and foundations. The presence of a moderate amount of subsidised housing and a reasonably accessible transportation system already makes some independent living and participation in the community possible.

The discussion is based on our own concerted participation in promoting and developing the projects described. This takes a step beyond participant observation to what we suppose might be termed participant activism. A participant observer comes from the outside; we are on the inside as parents and organisers. The opportunity for writing this paper arose when the editors of this issue invited us to submit it. We could have written this for any number of journals since all the aspects considered would be of interest to any person of whatever profession who is concerned with disabilities, especially intellectual disabilities. …

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