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Watch our 60th Anniversary video that honours and remembers the civil rights history of people with developmental disabilities in BC. Read more about our history here.

It's October: Join us

in celebrating

Community Inclusion

Month!

The 1970's

"Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will lay me down. Like a bridge over troubled waters, I will ease your mind.' Indifference, ignorance and prejudice - like stormy seas - separated our children from schools and other services..."

Thus begins our audio visual presentation by president R.E. McCallum and executive director D.N. Murphy reporting to the membership in 1971-72. The presentation went on to describe the many bridges that had been built and the many more yet to come.

They pointed to the bridge of education built in 1958 which had increased to an annual operating grant of $1.5 million and been matched by more than $2 million of community funds for the building of schools, workshops and residences. They cited the bridge of communication and liaison between government, other organizations and the BCAMR. This bridge had facilitated the cooperative development of standards of residential care between BCAMR, B.C. Mental Retardation Institute (BCMRI) and National Institute on Mental Retardation (NIMR), in-service training in the institutions of Riverview and Tranquille, long range studies for the training of workers in the field of mental retardation with Canada Manpower and an invitation, along with the Canadian Mental Health Association and Social Planning and Research Council of B.C., to join the Provincial Advisory Committee on Activity Centres set up at the request of the department of Rehabilitation and Social Improvement. The cooperative efforts on standards of residential care progressed throughout the decade and developed a monitoring tool with the Ministry of Employment and Income Assistance (then Ministry of Human Resources) which, by the end of the seventies, was used to evaluate services in various parts of the Province.

This type of involvement with government was only one of the many fronts that were tackled and worked on effectively in the seventies. From a retrospective point of view, the main achievement of this decade was the beginnings of change in consciousness regarding the possible abilities of our labelled sons and daughters and our responses to them.

As we took bold steps forward on their behalf, we were rewarded and amazed by their obvious desire to do and be more. Our eyes and hearts were opened further when Dr. Wolf Wolfensburger challenged us with his Principles of Normalization, Citizen Advocacy Program, and Program Analysis of Service Systems (PASS). As a Visiting Fellow at NIMR he was available to all Provincial Associations for training. BCAMR invited his expertise and concurred with our national organization, CAMR, which chose the Principles of Normalization, the development of Comprehensive Community Based Services (ComServ) delivery systems and integration into society as their goals for the seventies.

The first Citizen Advocacy Program was begun in B.C. as a pilot project in Victoria under the Greater Victoria Association for the Retarded, with staff trained by Dr. Wolfensburger. Before the decade was out ComServ was going full swing in two areas of the Province - Burnaby and the East and West Kootenay Region 5.

Staff for both these projects were funded by CAMR. Training requirements geared up as a result of ComServ, which, to demonstrate alternatives to institutions and the value of integration, required the development of all needed services to be where the individual and family lived and to be a part of the services for all members of the community wherever possible.

This training was sought wherever it was available, often out of Province. We wanted to develop our ability to respond, as a Province, to all the needs of our people. PASS workshops had been held in many areas with the result that a lot of people's prior conceptions were turned upside down. We were beginning to listen to the consumer!

As president A.M. Schmand commented during the 1973 AGM when people with mental handicaps were, for the first time, invited to speak, ‘It is delightful to have had the opportunity at this convention to hear from the mentally handicapped themselves. It is apparent here today that we are beginning to recognize the mentally handicapped as citizens like ourselves."

He went on to suggest that the clients themselves should be on the local association boards. This was further reinforced by Ms. Diane Richler, then Project Officer, Voluntary Association Affairs NIMR, when she commented the following year on the importance of the consumer in the decision and policy making of the Association.

One wonders, on looking back, just how prepared we were for how much like ourselves our labelled sons and daughters would turn out to be! There was the delightful incident at the Special Olympics held in Toronto in 1971 when three of our B.C. boys walked out of the hotel one evening to investigate the night life. They were discovered critically observing the topless waitresses in a local pub...A little girl from Kelowna had the proud duty of carrying the torch into the stadium for the opening of the Games and a B.C. floor hockey team won the Clarence Campbell Trophy. The contingent from all across Canada captivated the hotel staff and the 3,000 volunteers who assisted them during their stay. Many of these volunteers were off-duty metropolitan police.

Towards the end of the decade a Client Participation Committee was formed with Brian Beaudet as the chair. The purpose of the committee was to encourage the formation of People First groups around the province. At the 1979 AGM a report from this committee appeared for the first time in the AGM program book. This report announced the completion of the publication ‘People First Information Book’ which would go on to be used throughout the province to assist in the formation of many chapters of People First.

With our emerging awareness of the growing autonomy and subsequent vulnerability of the individuals labelled mentally handicapped, came concerns about their legal rights. A Legal Task Force was formed and was chaired by Mark Raetzen from the Department of the Attorney General. Issues before them included guardianship of adults, sterilization of minors, estate planning, the mentally handicapped offender, availability of legal services for people with mental handicaps throughout B.C., needed changes to the Public School Act, the Social Assistance Act, as well as changes to the Human Rights Code. At that time disability was not included in the Code. This was brought to our attention by a young man, David Jefferson, who had been denied employment on the B.C. Ferries due to his physical handicap. By the Fall of ’77 the Task Force had produced and published the first Legal Rights Manual for the Mentally Handicapped, written by Mark Raetzen and, by the end of the decade had prepared enough data on the other issues for the Board of BCAMR to address them in a decisive manner.

In the latter part of the decade, BCAMR formed an Education Task Force that proceeded to turn the education world upside down. Under the capable chairmanship of Phil Russell the concept of integration, with adequate support, that is so widely acknowledged today, began.

 

By the end of the decade Individual Education Plans were mandated for each student and Community Colleges were being lobbied to provide equal access to regular classes, and to create, wherever necessary, specialized programs. All ages were under the scrutiny of this committee. The Vancouver Association had piloted the first Infant Development Program in B.C. and BCAMR’s education committee was encouraging the development of IDP’s in other regions of B.C. following the tremendous success of the VRAMR example.

At the end of the decade the membership unanimously agreed that influencing government policy was a major priority for the BCAMR. A new committee, Analyzing and Influencing Government Policy’ (A&IGP) was formed. One of their immediate successes was the thwarting of a government initiative to begin to charge parents for services such as special needs day care, infant development, social work support and other children’s rehabilitation services. This committee lobbied each government party prior to the election in 1979 and received a commitment from each of them to support Community Living.

At this time we were becoming more and more aware of the power we had as a united organization to influence government policy in a way that would accommodate our sons and daughters in the mainstream of community life. The need for this unanimity and political effort by all members of the BCAMR was clearly enunciated by then - president Jack Collins in his farewell address to the membership in 1979.

"The political power of the BCAMR resides with you" he said, "not with the board or staff. We stress therefore, that we will achieve nothing if you do not work actively at the local level influencing politicians, government agencies and school boards to respond to the needs of handicapped persons. If we are going to be an influential body it will come about through the concerted efforts of volunteers throughout the province."