In the late 1940s a group of Toronto parents formed the first organized advocacy group in Canada to push for education and other services for children with learning (developmental) disabilities. This group, originally entitled the Ontario Association for the Mentally Retarded, eventually became known as the Ontario Association for Community Living as a reflection of the importance of social integration to its agenda. It is one of the largest and most influential advocacy groups in Canada.
The history of this group has been written primarily from an internal perspective, exploring in detail the challenges and responses children and families faced in institutional and community care. Historical analyses of the immense discrimination that children faced in accessing mainstream programs have been central in demonstrating the inequity engrained in the structure, mandates, and staffing of these programs. However, individual studies have too often ignored archival materials outside the organization under study. Without this expanded historical examination it can appear as if outside organizations were responding to pressure to change, but as a more comprehensive examination demonstrates the change was often rhetorical rather than meaningful.
This paper responds to these issues by examining one major challenge that the Association and children strongly advocated for in its early years - access to camping programs. Whilst 'normal' children were being encouraged to attend rural Ontario camps for physical and mental activities, children with learning disabilities were largely barred from these facilities at mid-century. Detailing the history of the advocacy movement for camping opportunities for children with learning disabilities, this paper will analyse the methods and rhetoric used, and the responses (and non-responses) from camps across Ontario.
This paper will draw on a variety of sources: oral history from individuals involved in the Association (including people with learning disabilities), the Ontario Association for Community Living archives, Girl Guides and Boy Scouts of Canada archival materials, newspapers and camping association magazines and the Ontario Camping Association's conferences, correspondence and newsletters. Through this historical case study, it will demonstrate that while advocates pushed for access to all camps in Ontario, they and their children found that the Association's camps were often more socially meaningful and established for some a cultural identity. In addition to providing the historical account of this movement, this paper will make connections to contemporary issues about camping programs facing the Association.
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Chair of the Social History of Learning Disability (SHLD) Research Group
School of Health, Wellbeing and Social Care
Faculty of Wellbeing, Education and Language Studies
The Open University
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