Guest Editorial
BY: John Dunford
DATE: August 17, 2004

May was Community Living Month. But supporting such a spirit-giving, life-affirming organization, and providing opportunities for people with intellectual disabilities, goes on all year.

Thankfully, Community Living Campbellford/ Brighton is in the forefront of the beautiful Community Living movement, numbering 100 affiliated associations and growing.

The program is so worthwhile, the work so important, the people who benefit directly from the organization and the volunteers/donators so special, words don’t do them justice.

People with intellectual disabilities deserve full inclusion and integration in all aspects of our local communities and society.

This includes: “the right to live, to go to school, to work, to enjoy recreation — belongs to all,” Community Living rightly declares.

And while we’ve made progress, there’s still much more to do.

Let’s not forget it wasn’t that long ago we preferred to institutionalize people with intellectual disabilities — in other words, we locked them up as though they were criminals. Some still are treated this way.

Some were segregated in school and, as adults, are not connected to the community. They didn’t get — and in some cases still don’t — the opportunities most of us have taken for granted.

Every single one of us, whatever obstacles life has thrown our way, whatever way the dice was rolled or the circumstances we happened to be born into — each one of us has special talents, abilities and skills unlike anyone else. We all have contributions to make to our family, our community, society.

Even the term “intellectually disabled” is a mere label; it doesn’t come anywhere close to capturing the person behind the word. How he or she, like everyone, has ambitions, dreams, hobbies, the need to work and time for leisure and fun and relaxation, and experience the frustrations, anxieties, successes and failures that we all have. It’s called the human condition, and the innate need to live a meaningful life.

It is our duty to be inclusive, to help “all persons live in a state of dignity,” as Community Living eloquently states, and “share in the elements of living in the community, and have the opportunity to participate effectively.”

Those words are wondrous, and to mean something, there has to be concrete action. That’s where Community Living and you come in.

People with intellectual disabilities, like most people, need jobs. Employment allows us to feel productive and worthwhile. Work has real value. The fact is, people with any kind of disability — physical or intellectual — need to be involved like anyone with part- or full-time work if they are able.

And when given the opportunity, employees with intellectual disabilities have average or higher attendance records, 90 per cent average or above in performance ratings, 97 per cent in safety, and are five times more likely than others to stay on the job. That means they’re loyal.

Community Living helps people with intellectual disabilities find jobs and so much more — they offer training and consultation in areas of family support, education, employment, human rights, community participation, advocacy and self-planning.

They also have much-needed public education and awareness campaigns. (See, it works).

By being inclusive, we are contributing to a diverse community which, as Community Living says, respects the dreams and aspirations of all its members.

This isn’t just about developing empathy, but expanding our own humanity.