Until the late 1990s, Yukoners with mental disabilities were shipped south to institutions.
Now, many are shipped to Copper Ridge Place instead.
“Everyone else in the country is going the community living way and we’re going back to institutions,” said Judy Pakozdy, the mother of two disabled children and executive director of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome Society of Yukon.
Roughly 10 years ago, some parents with severely disabled kids formed the Evergreen Society and tried to change things.
“They worked hard with government to try and establish adult group homes in the community,” said Pakozdy.
But after seven years of consultation, they were unsuccessful.
“Instead (the government) built Copper Ridge, put in a children’s unit and called that inclusion,” she said.
Young children are being raised in an institution away from home.
“Little kids are living in there — how inclusive is that? It’s horrific.”
When they grow up, they move from the children’s unit to an adult wing.
At least the children’s unit is geared toward kids, said Pakozdy.
“On the adult side, with the middle-aged and old people, they are developmentally still children — and they lose their salt-water fish tank.
“It’s just a shitty deal.”
On Thursday, both the Canadian and the Yukon associations of community living are hosting a discussion on issues faced by the mentally disabled.
Canadian community living senior policy adviser Don Gallant is coming north to host the event.
Pakozdy won’t attend.
“I’d be up there banging my cane on the floor and I don’t want to do that,” she said.
The association of community living champions full integration.
It’s not as difficult as you might think, said Gallant from a Vancouver hotel.
“We don’t want to be creating institutions and we don’t want to be building large facilities that people with all the same label live in — it goes contrary to inclusion.”
Students with intellectual disabilities should be in regular classrooms and adults should be in regular housing, not in institutions, said Yukon Community Living Association president Joanne Stanhope.
But Pakozdy disagrees.
It’s complicated, she said.
“I just find it frustrating that people see it as an all-or-nothing situation when it comes to inclusion,” she said.
“Like the notion that the kids can’t have a separate classroom even though then they might learn something.”
Students with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder need separate classrooms, not inclusion, she said.
“They’re too disruptive in the regular classroom, plus the sensory overload for them makes it impossible for them to learn anything.
“You have to use your head in this situation.”
Pakozdy had two disabled children go through the Yukon school system.
“And they were not included no matter how much they sat in a regular classroom,” she added.
“My son says, ‘You know mom, these kids all know I’m different.’
“He was never invited to a birthday party after he was six. He said he didn’t care, but by God I cared — I cried about it.
“That’s what inclusion is to me, inviting the kids in the special class to your birthday party.
“That’s why I’m not going (to the public dialogue).”
In the territory, there is not enough support for people with disabilities, said Pakozdy.
“There really aren’t 24-hour housing options available unless you’re looking at institutionalization.
“And it’s difficult for people with disabilities to live by themselves.”
There are some adult group homes, but Pakozdy’s clients, struggling with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, have never been accepted.
It’s hard for people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to prove they need 24-hour support, she said.
“So they end up with minimum supported living, but that’s not enough to keep them safe.”
It’s hard to create the necessary services to allow people with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder to live good lives in the community, said Gallant.
“It’s not a great expectation,” he said. “It’s no more, no less than we all expect, yet for people with intellectual disabilities it’s a challenge to be able to provide those services that allow people to live ordinary lives.”
Community inclusion is important, said Pakozdy.
“But the way they do it here may not necessarily be safe.
“There are inadequate supports for a person with a disability to be included within community activities.
“So they’re targeted by people who recognize they’re disabled.”
Canada is full of examples why things need to change, said Gallant.
“Thousands of people with intellectual disabilities are forced to live in institutions right across the country,” he said.
“We still have unacceptable levels of children who aren’t able to attend school with their non-disabled peers on a full-time basis.
“There are embarrassing rates of unemployment around people with intellectual disabilities. And, over and over again, people with intellectual disabilities have to use specialized programs and services instead of being part of the normal typical community.”
The public discussion with Gallant and the Yukon Association of Community Living takes place Thursday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the multipurpose room at the Canada Games Centre.