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Letter: What year is this, really? No more warehousing of children who live with intellectual disabilities!

Breaking ground for a building in Sydney River that will house four children between the ages of two and 18 who are Autistic or living with intellectual disabilities.  Photo Facebook.

The intent of provincial health/education systems to build a ‘new’ institution to warehouse children who live with disabilities smacks of historical injustices, inequities, and disrespect given to some of the most vulnerable members of our society, namely children who live with autism and intellectual disabilities. 

See also: Building for people living with intellectual disabilities will segregate children as young as two years old from family, community

Bravo NSACL, Nova Scotia Association for Community Living! Perhaps some would still know this ‘organization’ as Nova Scotia Association for the Mentally Retarded- NSAMR. There is yet, the unfortunate use of the ‘R’ word in our communities.

And bravo, Patricia Neves, Acting Executive Director of NSACL for raising the alarm, to advocate, once again, for the families and individuals of this ‘voiceless’ group. History should have taught us that, or do world and national ‘declarations’, let alone legislation, mean nothing? 

My family and I, and I am certain many others of similar mind and history, take this latest action on the part of the government as a personal, familial, and societal assault on these most vulnerable citizens. This is a group that seldom is granted a personal voice and that faces many obstacles advocating for themselves. Note how this group of citizens frequently intersects with every other group of those ‘disenfranchised’ in our communities. 

What year is this, really? Walk in my shoes… Is it the 1930s? My dad’s/uncle’s family immigrated from Ukraine. Uncle was prohibited from attending public school of the day, because of his characteristics of what we now call autism. He was raised and lived at home in his Glace Bay community until his mother’s death in mid- 1960s. Ironically, some years later, Uncle lived out his final several years in a care home in Sydney River, a proposed location of this ‘new’ residence. 

Maybe it’s the 1960s? School-aged children who have intellectual disabilities are routinely institutionalized, as are children of other communities and marginalized groups. Many children living with disabilities were removed from their homes, of course under a variety of circumstances, prohibited from attending school and mostly ‘hidden’ from any family or community ‘inclusion’. 

It’s the 1980s, perhaps? 1987 – Luke Elwood – ‘winner’ of a court case, with a decision that led to legislation and the eventual closure of almost all Nova Scotia institutions for children, legislation that intended to enable Luke, and all children like him, to attend their neighbourhood schools within regular classroom settings. 

Or perhaps, it’s the 1990s? 1990 – Our son, born with the visible “disability of Down Syndrome”, (later diagnosed as having autism, as well) was deemed eligible, at the age of 11 hours, by ob-gyn physician providing care, to be ‘placed in an institution’. But, were not these being closed for the sake of dignity and inclusion? 

1996 – Nova Scotia legislation was passed and Special Education policy was enacted, through the diligent efforts of the renamed NSACL and Integration Action Group, a coalition of parents and educators, led by Wendy Lill, Richard Starr, and others. On paper, this legislation gave all (supposedly, all) children learning opportunities with and among peers in their communities, Labelled “inclusion” – inclusive education, in theory, and on paper, this was intended to enable all children to remain with their families and to be educated, in their neighbourhood schools, with their peers, with provision of appropriate educational ‘supports’( Special Education policy) 

Maybe, it’s the 2000s, the years of my own children’s schooling. In spite of bureaucratic and institutional expressions to the contrary, based on my deemed ‘expertise’ and educational activity in this field, ‘inclusive schooling’ has never truly happened, here in Nova Scotia. In fact, conditions for many students who have cognitive differences, including autism, learning disabilities, and intellectual disabilities, have regressed to become closer to the conditions in schools, pre special education 1990s’ legislation. So-called ‘inclusion’, a well- documented failure under the true definition of inclusion, since that time of legislation, special education in Nova Scotia has these students segregated from peers, especially in secondary schools. Many are segregated and housed in special classes, rooms, learning centres, for significant times, to limit and exclude them from opportunities of participation with their peers. 

Well no, gosh, we are living in 2020. Never mind inclusion? Does that matter? 

Needed immediately: Equality and respect Black Lives Matter! Action, if even ‘good trouble’ required. Indigenous peoples and communities matter! Action beyond ‘apologies’,required. Seniors and elders, their care, matter! Action, not just ‘reflection’ required. Disenfranchised groups of citizenry matter! Action, not ‘tokenism’ required. 

Urgently needed, immediately: Dignity for children and adults  who have intellectual differences and disabilities! Action, societal and community conscience required 

Or, perhaps we should return to the NSAMR name for the advocacy for those who do not seem to matter! Perhaps more ‘institutions’ will keep out-of-site, out-of-mind our actions (rather inactions) of the 21st century. 

Step-up to add your voice for those who have none, to stop this human rights travesty. 

Kathy Myketyn

Kathy Myketyn retired in 2013 after 35 years of teaching. She is a practitioner of truly inclusive education, and a volunteer advocate for individuals and families. Living the challenge.

See also: Archie Kaiser: NSACL says farewell to a People First Nova Scotia friend

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