1950’s A call for education
1957: E W Lacey
Myth: Individuals with an intellectual disability are sick.
Fact: Having an intellectual disability does not automatically throw one into ill health. Most people with an intellectual disability are healthy and well.
THE ARC FORMED IN US
During the 1950s individual community based services, often created and operated by parents association, began to appear in large numbers. In the US, parent groups throughout the country met in Minneapolis, MN in 1950 to organize an organization called The Arc. The Arc was meant to raise awareness about children with an intellectual disability and end the stigma many faced. During this time parents who had a son or daughter with an intellectual disability in the US and Canada were being pressured to put their young children into large institutions.
Dr. W.A. Plenderlaith, representing the Department of Education, told delegates and parents at an event, “Government does not wish to go into the field of education for retarded children and believes it is better to leave the matter in the hands of the organizations who are dealing with it.”
His counterpart from the Department of Health, Dr. A.M. Gee, was a bit more inspiring and for his time, somewhat visionary.
“EVERY CHILD HAS THE RIGHT TO DEVELOP HIS POTENTIALITIES TO THE MAXIMUM,” HE SAID. “EVERY EFFORT SHOULD BE MADE TO PREVENT HIM BEING CUT OFF, BY THE SPECIAL PROVISIONS MADE FOR HIM, FROM HIS FAMILY, FROM OTHER MORE NORMAL CHILDREN OF HIS AGE, AND FROM THE COMMUNITY IN GENERAL.”
The New Brunswick Association for Community Living was established by a number of local associations from around the province whose members saw the benefit of having a provincial federation. Members included people who had an intellectual disability, family members, professionals, neighbours, and friends. At the time of its creation the organization was called the Canadian Association for Retarded Children – New Brunswick Division. The name was later changed to the Canadian Association for the Mentally Retarded – NB Division or CAMR-NB for short. This type of language is extremely problematic by today’s standards, but this was the accepted label at the time.
Most local associations, city specific organizations, were created to be sponsoring societies under The Auxiliary Classes Act (1957). These classes provided education and training to students considered unable to benefit from regular education and were not accepted in the regular school system because they had an intellectual disability or cerebral palsy. At that time, children who were judged to have an intellectual disability or cerebral palsy were not accepted in regular schools. They were assessed by the local mental health clinic and based on their score they went to segregated auxiliary classes in church basements or to another building not connected to the regular school system.
Many children who had an intellectual disability were deemed to be ‘uneducable’ by doctors. Auxiliary classes, often run by local associations, gave children ‘instruction and training.’ Many parents were disappointed by the level of education being taught in the auxiliary classes and felt their children deserved a higher quality of education. Some children were denied entry into the auxiliary classes. For example, children with autism were originally excluded from auxiliary classes until a Mrs MacMurray of Lorneville petitioned the then Minister of Education to allow her child with autism into the classes.
Over the next twenty-five years Auxiliary Classes were established in many parts of the province. With few exceptions they were operated by local branches of CAMR-NB. But there was growing discontent. Some parents were unhappy with the non-academic “life skills” curriculum in the Auxiliary Classes and felt that their children should be allowed to go to the schools that they supported with their taxes along with other children. Some parents felt that if their children were segregated from other children until age twenty-one they would probably be segregated and isolated for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, some parents felt their children were “safer” in the Auxiliary Classes than they would be in the mainstream school.
Myth: Individuals with an intellectual disability cannot make decisions for themselves.
Fact: Individuals with an intellectual disability can and do make decisions for themselves. They have a right to be integrally engaged in all decisions that affect them. By providing such opportunities, individuals are given the chance to develop good decision making skills.
In 1958, along with other provincial associations, NBACL helped to form the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). The goal of the national organization was advancing the inclusion and human rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families.
This year saw a critical amendment to the School Act, which enabled public school boards to take over full responsibility for the education and training of “moderately retarded” children. This was the first time in Canada that educating children with ‘special needs’ was recognized as a public responsibility. The Act also permitted school boards to accommodate society classes and the individual student grant was increased by 50%.