Myths about people with developmental, physical and intellectual disabilities being incapable of living independently have been around since industrialization. During per-industrial periods, many people with disabilities worked on farms by modifying how they took on certain chores, to adapt them to better suit their abilities. As work itself became standardized, disabled bodies began to be more medicalized. They were seen as unproductive, as they didn't fit the uniform mold of labour emerging. Because of this, many people with disabilities were taken away from their families and communities and placed in institutions.

Historical abuses

People with disabilities were patronized, dehumanized and sent to large isolated complexes to live their lives. These places were filthy and overcrowded. People were trapped, treated like objects and given no control over their daily lives. Physical, sexual and emotional abuse were common.

New Beginning

The de-institutionalisation movement was started in the United States by students with disabilities. They believed that even if a person may need assistance in daily activities, the person with the disability should be able to control that care. That means seeing people with disabilities as consumers of services, who can choose how their every day life should go.

The movement moved to Canada, led by people with disabilities who were forming collectives within institutions as well as parents and allies. As abuses surfaced and people with disabilities demanded inclusion, community living options were developed. People with disabilities started moving out of institutions and into assisted living communities.


There are still 900 people with disabilities trapped in institutions in Canada. There are still institutions operating today, and some provinces have even let their commitments to shutting down their facilities slide. Though many people with physical disabilities have been liberated through generations of activism and lobbying, many people with intellectual and developmental disabilities have been left behind.


Institution Watch - Some institutions are still up and running though many are slowing closing. Institution watch keeps track and tells the stories of the people forced to live in these places.

Independent Living Canada - Independent living is an alternative to institutions that allows people with disabilities to make choices about how they want to live their lives. People with disabilities are regarded as clients of services, not patients being cared for. 

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