London·Public Domain

'Special' prom has this disabilities advocate pleading 'Stop!'

I have no doubt that the DE Prom will be a big success. Everyone will have a good time and people will soon start planning for next year’s event. But before you do that, stop! Please. I beg of you. Talk to us. Learn from our experience and our mistakes.

'Please. I beg of you. Talk to us. Learn from our experience,' says CEO of Community Living Ont

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Chris Beesley is CEO of Community Living Ontario. He reached out after reading our coverage of Clarke Road Secondary School's first prom for students with developmental disabilities. 

On behalf of Community Living Ontario and the Community Living movement, I wish to apologize to the staff, families and especially, all the students of Clarke Road secondary school.

You see, in many ways, we invented the idea of special places for special people. But please understand, we did this with good intentions because it was much better than what was available at the time.

Back in the mid-nineteenth century, we in Ontario decided that it would be best if people with various intellectual and developmental disabilities were removed from their families and the rest of society, and placed in large warehouse-like institutions.

Special places for special people

Eventually, there were 16 of these places across Ontario, where countless thousands of people lived their whole lives. Many were abused. All were treated as sub-humans. And it was only ten years ago that the last of these places was closed.

In the mid-twentieth century, Community Living was started as families began thinking this was wrong and wanted to keep their kids at home and in their communities.

The problem was, there were no road maps, no precedents, and certainly no access to education. So we created schools in church basements.

Chris Beesley and his 24-year old son Mitchell (Provided: Chris Beesley)

Then, when the kids got older, we created sheltered workshops to teach skills for employment. After that came group homes and day programs: special places for special people.

Today, most of our local associations still provide many of these services in some form. But we're constantly learning and evolving, by listening to people and their families.

And you know what they're saying? They want typical. They want ordinary. They don't want special places.- Chris Beesley

They just want the support they may need, to access the everyday things of life in community.

They want to belong.

Let's talk about prom

Now, I have no doubt that the DE Prom will be a big success. Everyone will have a good time and people will soon start planning for next year's event. But before you do that, stop. Please. I beg of you. Talk to us. Learn from our experience and our mistakes.

Over the last seventy years, we've made pretty much every mistake that can be made. You've got a lot of good people with energy, commitment and good intentions, just like our founding families did seventy years ago.

So let's talk about how to include everyone in the prom.

And if we can figure that out, together, I'll bet we can figure out a whole lot of other typical, ordinary things so that people can live good lives, not just in the community, but as contributing members of the community.


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