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From December 1-3, we're celebrating the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities. Film festivals will be held in 5 locations across BC. Stay tuned for details!

Our new report shows the continued systemic use of restraint and seclusion in BC schools. Read more.

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

The 1990's

The '90s, a landmark decade that signaled the end of B.C.'s large institutions. For more than a century it had been common practice in B.C. to segregate and confine people with developmental disabilities in large institutions. But in 1996 that practice finally came to an end when Glendale institution in Victoria and Woodlands institution in New Westminster closed their doors. On October 21, 1996, the last two residents of Woodlands institution moved to their new homes in the community.

The experiences of those who lived in the institutions have not been forgotten. Following the closures, BCACL supported the Self Advocacy Foundation (SAF) in producing a film that would break the silence about systemic abuse in institutions as it sought acknowledgement and restitution, giving testament to the courage, endurance, dignity and creativity of the former residents. From the Inside/OUT! became an award-winning multimedia art show that told the stories and expressed the views of 28 former residents of B.C.'s large institutions. The exhibit eloquently makes the case against life in institutions while contributing to an important but little known chapter in B.C.'s social history.

Attached to Woodlands was a cemetery where over 3,300 former residents were buried. When the construction of Queen's Park Hospital began in 1977, adjacent to the Woodlands property, the cemetery was closed and re-designated as a park. At that time, an estimated 1,800 grave markers were removed and all but a few hundred were "recycled" or disposed of. Some were used to construct a barbeque patio on the Woodlands site for the use of staff. Others went off site for use at construction sites, and others were used to build retaining walls for the creek flowing through the Woodlands property.

From the Inside/OUT! brought the cemetery's fate to light and in the late 1990s, BCACL and BCSAF secured an agreement from the provincial government (through what was then the Ministry for Children and Families) to work jointly to restore the cemetery site. Efforts began to create a fitting memorial to those buried there and to publicly recognize the changes that have led to a better life in community for those who were once institutionalized.

The ’90s was a significant time in community living history because individuals with developmental disabilities were finally living outside institutions, in community. But this advancement came with challenges. Work needed to be done to insure that supports were in place for those now living in community.

During the ’90s, BCACL advocated for a better definition of disability in income support legislation, the creation of a community training program to increase access to health care for adults with developmental disabilities, and new landmark guardianship legislation. All three were achieved.

In 1996, as a result of lobbying by the Ad Hoc Coalition (BCACL, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities and the Canadian Mental Health Association, B.C. Division) the B.C. Government eliminated the GAIN for Handicapped program and introduced the Disability Benefits Act as part of a comprehensive overhaul of income assistance in B.C. The Disability Benefits Program Act included a definition of disability that no longer required an individual to prove they were "permanently unemployable" and had exhausted all possible avenues for retraining and rehabilitation in order to qualify as having a disability. Instead, qualification for disability benefits focused on a person's functional abilities and needs and the ongoing costs associated with the disability. Like all income assistance recipients, applicants with disabilities were also required to demonstrate financial need.

As institutions closed, individuals with developmental disabilities were living in community and accessing community-based health care services and supports. However, a 1996 report, "A Summary of Important Health Issues for Persons with Disabilities in British Columbia,” (1996), released by the British Columbia Ministry for Children and Families and Ministry of Health, confirmed that individuals with disabilities were not always appropriately treated nor supported when attempting to access health care services. Among its findings, the report revealed that "There is, perhaps, a general lack of distinction between disability and incurable illness,” and "Personal, competent and aggressive medical advocacy has been required in order to safeguard the lives of some individuals.”

Believing that all individuals with developmental disabilities and their families must receive equitable access to health care services, BCACL, in partnership with Health Services for Community Living and the Public Guardian and Trustee, launched a province-wide community training program to increase access to health care for adults with disabilities. The program would turn out to be hugely successful, reaching over 100 service providers, MCFD staff, and Ministry of Health Services staff.

1999 saw the proclamation of major portions of B.C.’s new guardianship legislation, which represented the culmination of many years’ of collective work by the Community Coalition for the Implementation of Adult Guardianship Legislation. The landmark legislation upheld the rights of people with disabilities to have supported decision making, enshrined in law. It was the first of its kind, anywhere.

BCACL had been an active member of the coalition, which included several provincial advocacy organizations for seniors and people with various disabilities, as well as hundreds of individual “consumers.” The new regulations and policies paved the way for self advocates who have never entered into a legal contract before to make a Standard Section 7 Representation Agreement. With the assistance of lawyers, the Enhanced (Section 9) Representation Agreements are available to individuals who have large trust funds and/or complex medical issues that may require “end-of-life” decision-making powers.

In 1997, the Community Inclusion Fund (CIF) was launched under the National Strategy for the Integration of Persons with Disabilities. The primary aim of the Initiative was to strengthen community capacities to secure inclusion and citizenship for people with intellectual disabilities and their families. BCACL joined the national project and in the late 1990s, the Government of Canada and provincial/territorial governments signed In Unison, promising to turn two decades of government commitment into real change in public policy for people with disabilities.

Building on an idea first conceived by members of the Victoria Association for Community Living, BCACL launched a provincial community development initiative called "Celebrating the Spirit of Community Living" in 1996. This project encouraged members of community living associations and their community partners to plan events during the month of October which would celebrate the gifts and talents that people with developmental disabilities bring to their communities. The project generated great enthusiasm and the idea began to expand. Inspired by the tremendous success of others, organizations across the province and country began to adopt October as a time to celebrate community living. The BCACL Board of Directors first endorsed October as Community Living Month in June 1998.