Real Inclusion can thrive here with Community Living Huntsville

A green graphic with photo of 2 smiling people, Community Living Huntsville logo, and text that reads: real inclusion can thrive here

Who is Community Living Huntsville?

Glad you asked! We are a not-for-profit Developmental Services organization that empowers people with developmental disabilities at home and in the community. We believe people with and without disabilities deserve to live as respected, included, and contributing community members, together.

Founded in 1962, Community Living Huntsville and our team of more than 80 staff members support more than 300 people and their families in North Muskoka.

As a Developmental Services organization, we support children and adults who have developmental disabilities, which can include autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, fetal alcohol spectrum disorders, intellectual disabilities, and more.

How do we help? We champion skill-building and choice so people can live with independence and dignity. We advocate alongside people, families, and community partners for disability rights and equal opportunity. We assist people and families to navigate systems to access the supports and services they need. We promote and enable real community inclusion so people with and without disabilities can live side-by-side as neighbours, coworkers, and friends.

We work hard so real inclusion lives here.

It hasn’t always been this way.

The History of the Community Living Movement

Ontario’s first institution to house people with developmental disabilities, Huronia Regional Centre in Orillia, opened in 1876. Others followed. Ontario was not alone – institutions like these existed across Canada, the United States, and other countries. Families, including those in Huntsville and area, were counselled to send their children to these institutions under the guise of access to specialized education and treatment. Few alternatives, if any, were available.

As a result, thousands of children and adults were systematically segregated, mistreated, and often abused in these overcrowded, dehumanizing, government-run institutions. People had little to no choice, privacy, or dignity in their daily lives. At Huronia Regional Centre, some died and were buried in graves marked with numbers rather than names – or no markers at all. The Government of Ontario would later formally apologize for the decades of neglectful abuse at these institutions.

We now know that, with access to the right support and services, people with developmental disabilities can make their own choices and live independently in their community. We know this thanks to the families and people with disabilities who championed the community living movement.

Grassroots action started to build in North America, including Ontario, in the late-1940s and early-1950s. In 1951, a group of parents in Toronto started what would become Community Living Ontario. In 1962, a group of parents in Huntsville would follow suit, creating what would become Community Living Huntsville and sparking an ongoing movement toward community inclusion in North Muskoka.

People with disabilities increasingly raised their voice as self-advocates, too. By 1981, they would launch Ontario’s first People First chapter:

“The demands of People First members were clear. They did not want to be sent away to institutions. They wanted the right to be educated in regular schools. They wanted to make their own choices about where and with whom they lived. And they wanted real jobs for real pay.” (Community Living Ontario, “A (Not So) Complete History of Community Living Ontario: Celebrating 70 Years of Possibilities”, 2023)

The community living movement created a shift in societal attitudes toward welcoming and including people with developmental disabilities in community life. In 1987, the Government of Ontario would commit to closing its institutions for people with developmental disabilities. The last three – Rideau Regional Centre in Smiths Falls, Southwestern Regional Centre in Chatham-Kent, and Huronia Regional Centre – closed in 2009.

The decision ended an era of segregation and institutionalization that had ripped holes in people, families, and communities for 133 years. There is much still to be done – and everyone has a role in supporting the progress of the community living movement, so history does not repeat itself.

Real inclusion matters here.

Who We Serve and Why

Today, Community Living Huntsville provides community-based services and support to a wide range of children, teens, adults, and families. We serve families who have children with developmental disabilities, developmental delays, or risks of developmental delays, youth who are transitioning from children’s services to adult services, adults who live independently in the community, adults who need support in community-based group home settings, and people who need support to participate in community life.

All the services and support that we offer add quality to the lives of the people who access them – and open doors to opportunities that may not otherwise be available to them because of continued barriers in our communities and government systems.

What are Developmental Services?

Developmental Services are different from health care and personal support work. Our services focus on empowering people to develop the skills, confidence, and relationships everyone needs for independent living and an authentic community life that matters to them. Our staff might coach people on self-care practices, communication skills, employment skills, social interaction, and more, while assisting them to create personal plans, promoting their participation in meaningful work, volunteering opportunities, recreational activities, education, and self-advocacy, and encouraging real relationships with their fellow community members who may or may not have disabilities.

Our skilled and highly trained staff members also work in a cooperative way with community partners and services providers, so people can navigate systems and receive complete and thorough support to meet their needs.

We also advocate alongside people and families for disability rights and inclusion. This means promoting access to education, employment opportunities, housing, and community resources, protecting a person’s legal rights, and ending discrimination.

Community Living Huntsville offers the following services and supports:

Our support can be short-term or lifelong. A person may need support only at certain times in their life or continuously throughout their life. It depends on the person – and their community.

It is all about equal rights and opportunities for growth so that both people and communities can reach their full potential.

Why are We Needed?

Our communities have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go in building disability-inclusive communities. And the need is growing. Statistics Canada states that, as of 2022, roughly 27 per cent of people in Canada – more than 1 in 4 people – has a disability. That is up from 22 per cent in 2017. Of those, roughly 5.7 per cent – about 623,300 people – live with a developmental disability. That is an increase from 5.1 per cent in 2017. About 100,000 people in Ontario, including people who live in North Muskoka, have a developmental disability.

Real inclusion belongs here.

Current Realities in the Community Living Movement

There are many factors at play that, when combined, threaten to slow the progress of the community living movement, and even undo the work that has already been done. Before we can hope to address these factors fully, we must first acknowledge that existing social structures and systems – even those meant to support everyone equally – can sometimes cause more harm than good. So, when advocating for or learning about community inclusion, it is crucial to focus not only on creating equity within our social structures and systems, so people’s individual needs are met, but also on breaking down the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating fully in the first place.

The dark history of institutionalization is alarmingly recent and, unsurprisingly, not well known. If this is the first you are hearing about the inhumane and unjust treatment of people with developmental disabilities, know that you are not alone and that we are grateful for your willingness to learn and to be an advocate for change. Maya Angelou’s powerful words reaffirm our shared commitment to building a more inclusive community: “Do the best you can until you know better, then, when you know better, do better.”

One of the countless repercussions of institutionalization is a society that is generally unaware of, and unempathetic to, the disability experience. This is the greatest threat to the community living movement. This disconnection between people with and without disabilities has fuelled harmful myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities, which has only built bigger barriers to inclusion.

Everyone deserves to live with dignity, share in every element of living, and have equal opportunity to participate. In theory, this belief is widespread, but the unfortunate reality is that we have a long road ahead of us.

According to Inclusion Canada, even in 2024, less than half of school-aged children and youth with developmental disabilities have access to inclusive quality education. Inclusive education helps students with and without disabilities develop essential communication and social skills, both of which are vital to building a meaningful community life into adulthood. Statistics show that people with developmental disabilities are likely to face greater challenges because they are denied these building blocks in their early years. Here are some examples of the harm that stems from this exclusion:

  • Unemployment and Financial Insecurity
    • Paid work while in high school is the No. 1 indicator of job success after graduation – even more than co-op placements, strong social networks, or an employed parent or guardian – yet students with disabilities are chronically underemployed
    • Only 25% of working-aged adults with developmental disabilities are employed in the regular workforce, despite people wanting to work, due to discrimination, attitudinal barriers, and misconceptions about workers with disabilities
    • As a result, nearly 50% of working-aged people with developmental disabilities depend on provincial social assistance programs
    • Social assistance and subsidy programs often come with strict parameters and limit people’s potential to earn more income
    • In Canada, 75% of adults with developmental disabilities live in poverty
  • Precarious Housing
    • People with developmental disabilities will wait 10-times longer for affordable housing than average
    • People with developmental disabilities are admitted to long-term care facilities 25 years earlier than people without developmental disabilities
    • 7% of people in long-term care are people with developmental disabilities who are under age 65
  • Social Isolation
    • People with developmental disabilities have an average of 3.1 people in their social network – people without disabilities have an average of 125
    • 85% of young adults with developmental disabilities say they feel lonely most days

It should come as no surprise that the COVID-19 pandemic made these realities worse – existing employment, financial, housing, and social challenges deepened, insurmountably for some. Advocates continue to shine light on these issues at the provincial and federal levels, though radical change takes time, especially when change involves unlearning thoughts, attitudes, and misconceptions that are deeply embedded in our systems and communities.

But change is on the horizon. The Government of Ontario has announced its Developmental Services reform plan, called Journey to Belonging: Choice and Inclusion. The government’s multi-year plan aims to empower people and families through easier and fair access to services and supports that are based on a person’s needs, while providing people and families with more direct access and control over their funding to choose and purchase their services and supports.

While there is much still unknown about the province’s plan, we are confident our organization and our team will remain innovative and resilient leaders in providing quality person-directed supports and services to community members into the future. At the same time, the province’s plan suggests a greater emphasis on the role of family, social networks, and communities in ensuring people with developmental disabilities fully belong in their communities and are supported to live the lives they choose.

The onus falls to the community to embrace empathy, embrace diversity, and create meaningful inclusion for every person – without exception.

Real inclusion starts here.

The Future of Community Inclusion

So, who is responsible for the progress of the community living movement and the future of community inclusion?

All of us, including you.

Every community member, educator, employer, service provider, organization, group, government body, and more has a responsibility to build a welcoming, accessible, and inclusive community. Our communities need our action now – and into the future.

How can you support the Community Living movement? Here are some ideas:

We can do this together. Community Living Huntsville and our community partners will continue to support and advocate alongside people and families to champion real inclusion in our communities because community is where everyone belongs.

Let’s work together to inspire possibilities so real inclusion can thrive here.

Resources for Further Reading 

A (Not So) Complete History Of Community Living Ontario (

Wikipedia: List of Disability-Related Terms with Negative Connotations – a plain-language resource

Truths of Institutionalization: Past and Present

Open Future Learning (Facebook Page)

Community Living Ontario

Inclusion Canada

Inclusive Education Canada

OASIS (Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs)

Ontario Disability Employment Network

“Here’s How We Can All Make a Difference for Youth Who Have a Disability and Want to Work,”

“When You Understand the Diversity of Disability, You Can Be More Successful With Inclusive Hiring,”

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