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Student Leadership Guidebook

Leadership in the Canadian Disability Movement

While all of these things were happening in the United States, Canadians with Disabilities were beginning to organize themselves as well. This effort began in 1976 with the establishment of the Coalition of Provincial Organizations of the Handicapped (COPOH) 4. Another significant milestone was the founding of the Canadian Association of Independent Living Centres (CAILC) in 1985. This signalled a new era in the Canadian disability movement.

"Having a board position set aside for a person with a disability in the Student Association makes representation easy at that level." (Student, University, Manitoba, National Approach to Services Project)

Canadian issues were different from those of the U.S. They had no social programs for their disabled citizens. Canada had many, but they weren't meeting the needs of disabled citizens. Self-advocacy efforts in the U.S. were often merged with the creation of new services. In Canada, however, alternatives to pre-existing but often inadequate or inappropriate service systems were the focus of organizations of people with disabilities.

CAILC's mission statement contains the key concepts reflecting the values of the Independent Living movement: "To promote and enable the progressive process of citizens with disabilities taking responsibility for the development and management of personal and community resources."

As noted above, by the mid-1980s, Canada had a well-developed self-advocacy track record. The most organized and vocal of the Canadian organizations was the COPOH, along with its affiliates. COPOH focused on collective solutions, but recognized there was a gap in support to individuals from the disability rights movement. Recognition of this gap is what led to the creation and mobilization of Independent Living Centres (ILCs).

ILCs with membership in CAILC are committed to offering programs in four core areas: providing information on available services, developing and delivering "peer" support, "coaching" and advising people on strategies to get what they need, and developing programs.

Students of human behaviour recognize that the primary ingredient in having any kind of personal power is having access to information. Because of this, Centres tend to use information and referral programs as a point of entry for all other programs.

A second primary ingredient towards a better concept of yourself is knowing you are not alone. In ILCs, peer counselling, advising, or support often goes beyond simply matching up one person with a disability with another. A peer could be anyone sharing similar interests, values or activities as your own.

"The major thing to be done is policy development so that all professors allow all students a fair and equal education. There is no such thing as a disabled student coordinator. This position is deemed unnecessary. In my opinion, it is necessary. The student union was supposed to maintain a disabled student committee, but they have not and so these very important issues are left unaddressed." (Student, University, Ontario, National Approach to Services Project)

Individual advocacy distinguishes ILCs as "consumer run" groups from consumer advocacy groups. It includes activities such as teaching life skills, organizing and training volunteer peer advocates, and calling or writing people regarding specific issues. It means working together with others, but never taking personal responsibility for them.

Service development and delivery includes research and planning, setting up demonstration programs, evaluation of service delivery, co-ordination and development of consumer monitoring mechanisms. It is the combination of all these ingredients that assures that the member centres of Canada's Independent Living Movement will continue to provide innovation and service at the local level.

In conclusion, hopefully it is clear from this brief sketch that the efforts of people with disabilities to improve access and to achieve full integration have met with many obstacles along the way. They have, nonetheless, been underway for a long time and will continue until the goals of the movement are achieved. There have been many leaders, both Canadian and American, who have struggled to lead the movement forward for over three decades. As students and future leaders this information will, hopefully, challenge readers to continue the work of the many leaders of the disability rights movement that have gone before you!


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