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The 1960's

By 1961 BCACL had grown from seven founding members in the mid-fifties to 49 local chapters. By 1969 we had grown to 60 chapters which included 55 school programs, 23 adult programs and 22 preschool programs. Clearly this was a decade of tremendous growth. By 1961 we were receiving an average of two thousand pieces of mail per month, making communications one of our most important activities. It is interesting to note that in 1961 we began producing "Our Children", a publication which was distributed to parents, government, and professionals. Its primary function was to provide parents, local chapters, and other associations with a useful tool for sharing information.

Like the 1950's, the 60s were characterized by many issues and challenges which were dealt with and overcome. The four that stand out are: the development of residential placements; the growth of adult programs; the phenylkenouria initiative and the birth of the BC Mental Retardation Institute.

As we look forward to the closure of the two remaining large institutions - Woodlands and Glendale-by the end of 1996, it is interesting to note that in this period of history we were faced with having to lobby for the development of institutional placements even as we created the first services in the community that would prevent our family members from having to use them. This dual approach was necessary because of the critical lack of services for families in many communities.

Our primary lobby in the early sixties was for small regional residential settings, close to family and friends. As an organization we knew well by then the huge cost to the individual and family of enforced isolation caused by distance and lack of access. The parents who had come together to found BCACL in 1955 had used persistence and growing lobbying power to secure schooling for their children. Their attention was now turned to almost a total lack of community supports.

In the early 60s BCACL"s membership had reached more than fifty chapters. The organization had developed a strong presence with the provincial government and was actively lobbying for alternatives to large institutions. By the end of the 60s there were approximately a dozen member associations operating small and medium size residential settings, mainly for children and young adults.

Another major issue which was one of the main thrusts of this decade's challenges was the need for day programs for adults. Once we had succeeded in getting young children into the schools our attention was increasingly directed to those who were leaving school and who were faced with nothing to do during the day. By 1969, 23 adult programs were operating in B.C. Again, the lobby for funding was long, arduous, and persistent. One factor that appears to have helped our lobby get the provincial and federal governments" attention on this issue was the fact that disabled veterans had secured rehabilitation programs and services after World War 2. At a national Special Adult Services Workshop chaired by the Canadian Association for Retarded Children (CARC) in 1967 we presented our rationale to the government representatives in attendance this way: "If disabled veterans can be considered for rehabilitation, why not individuals who have been congenitally or otherwise disabled?"

This was the same year the Canada Assistance Act was signed, enabling the provinces to cost share rehabilitation (and other) expenses with the federal government. With the advent of cost shared arrangements the negotiations between ARC BC and the province heated up. Slide presentations from the Elford Occupational Center in Victoria and from Tranquille School in Kamloops, as well as a film (produced by CBC) of the Ladner Farm Centre were used to try and convince government of the legitimacy of our claim that training could and would make a difference.

After a 10 year struggle success was finally achieved in 1970. The Department of Welfare agreed to pay a training fee ($50.00 per person) for workers in adult centres. It is interesting to note that prior to that success when there were no government funds available for adult services in the 60s, ARC BC appeared before a board of the Department of Labour in support of an appeal by Beacon Services, New Westminster, opposing a minimum wage ruling.

In addition to the prevailing concerns of residential placements and adult day programs, the 60s were a time when the concept of preventing certain kinds of mental retardation was receiving attention. Dr. Robert Guthrie, a parent and biochemist, became very interested in one of the inborn errors of metabolism called phenylkenouria (PKU) which causes a mental handicap.

PKU is the result of the inability of the body to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. An excessive build up results in progressive damage to the brain of growing infants. If detected early, (at that time, there was no known way to do this) a specific diet during the growth period of the brain was understood to prevent the damage from taking place.

Dr. Guthrie is credited with having developed a reliable and economical test for PKU which became mandatory for all newborns in the United States in the early 60s.

In 1962 ARC BC took up the issue and began a concerted lobby for the test to become mandatory in B.C. Four years later this lobby was taken up by the Canadian Association for Retarded Children (CARC).

By the end of the decade success had been achieved and the test was made available. Since that time, babies born with this inborn error have been able to prevent a resulting handicapped condition. However, it is now known that when these adult women become pregnant their babies will be born with birth defects unless the mother again uses the restricted diet prior to conception and during the pregnancy. This understanding is credited to Dr. R. Guthrie, Emeritus Professor University of New York - Buffalo and Dr. Richard Koch, Medical Geneticist Los Angeles Children's Hospital and University California School of Medicine.

The mid-60s also saw ARC BC contribute to the founding of a legacy project that would mark Canada"s Centennial. To honor this occasion the BC Mental Retardation Institute (BCMRI) was created.

The Institute linked all three of British Columbia’s universities in the study of mental retardation as it affects medicine, education, home economics, social welfare, recreation and physical fitness, psychology and nursing.

ARC BC contributed some of its own initial funding and was ultimately successful in achieving ongoing funding from the provincial and federal governments. By 1970, BCMRI was a well-known research institute that had achieved national and international respect.

And finally, the first of our many name changes occurred in 1969 when the membership of ARC BC voted to become the B.C. Association for the Mentally Retarded (BCAMR). It was a fitting closure to a decade that had been marked by change, growth, and achievement.

Perhaps the growing awareness of the potential of the individual that is evident throughout the history of our movement, and especially in some of the progress that belongs to the 60s, is captured in the words of Jurgen Hesse who was quoted by Miss Edna Oram, a social worker from Vernon. She spoke strongly in support of work settings for adults at the national Special Adult Services Workshop in 1967, and at one point stated:

If we take people as they are,

we make them worse

If we treat them as if they were

what they ought to be

We help them to become

What they are capable of becoming.

Surely this wise woman must have seen a glimpse of the future.