The Un-Making of Difference: The Winding Road of Deinstitutionalization in Ontario, 1960-2018
MetadataShow full item record
The institutionalization of people with an intellectual impairment lives in the shadows of Canadian history. In Ontario, in the late 1800s and early 1900s, social and medical ideas about human difference emerging from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries resulted in the massive push toward segregation and institutionalization of all kinds of “undesirable” types of people, including those with a physical and mental impairment. Although institutionalization itself, as a “solution” for people without an intellectual impairment came under early fire by medical experts and policy makers, these arguments were not applied to children or adults with an intellectual impairment. I will argue that the appeal of institutionalization, which persists despite decades of irrefutable evidence about its extraordinary harm, continues to exist because the beliefs and attitudes of those who made the decisions to institutionalize in the first place continue to circulate, and to dominate our thinking about what is “best” for people with an intellectual impairment. These attitudes fundamentally deny that people who have an impairment are “persons” in the same sense as those who do not have an impairment are. My thesis outlines the various elements which have shaped attitudes toward people with an intellectual impairment since the late nineteenth century, and the ways these attitudes (medical, social, and political) were built into the physical landscape of the province, in the shape of congregate institutions. Using oral history interviews with many of the survivors of these institutions, I argue that these attitudes about personhood are fundamentally wrong, and detail how the agency and activism of the intellectually impaired, themselves, was a crucial element in institutional closures and the crucial (yet unfinished) shift toward community living.