The Community Living Board – Fundy Region (CLB) began in 1979 as a committee of the (now defunct) Fundy Regional Council (FRCACL) of what is now the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL). Its initial focus was to make recommendations for a community service system for adults with an intellectual disability in the Fundy region. The then-Minister of Health had stated that Centracare would close in five years and would be replaced by an active treatment mental health hospital in which patients would not be kept more than one year in most cases or three years in any case.
At that time the only community services for adults or children with an intellectual disability (ID) were the Auxiliary Classes for certain children with ID or cerebral palsy, and some “sheltered workshops”. The original members of the CLB were all parents of children in the Auxiliary Class system. They knew that when their children left the Auxiliary Class system at the age of 21 they would become the full responsibility of their families; the only alternative was Centracare or a “sheltered workshop”.
In this context, the proposed closure of the old Centracare was of major importance. The promise – never kept – that the new hospital would not have long-term patients and would treat people, not just warehouse them, meant that there would have to be services in the community. To figure out what these should look like the CLB was given a great deal of help by the research arm of the national parent organization – the predecessor to the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL).
In a 1980 “Position Paper” CLB used forceful language to demand that persons with ID be treated as citizens with the same rights as other citizens – an unusual approach at that time – and that services to people with ID in the community be planned and provided by community boards on which ordinary citizens (such as the CLB members) must be “decisively present”.
In the early 1980s, the CLB began raising its own money in order to be really independent and do what it wanted so it started a bingo that was highly successful for almost two decades. It soon enabled the CLB bring speakers to New Brunswick to inform and change minds and change attitudes towards persons with ID. The most frequent visitor was Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger whose 1972 book Normalization – published while he was working in Canada – had introduced that concept to North America. Wolf, as he soon came to be known to us, and his assistant Susan Thomas, gave workshops lasting several days on many subjects in New Brunswick, mainly in Saint John but also in other centres. Some were in French. These workshops were intended for policy-makers and system and service managers rather than parents and those who worked with people with intellectual disability on a daily basis; they were hugely informative but they were also “high-level” and difficult to take in all at once.
In the early 1980s the CLB also commissioned a survey of community attitudes to people with an intellectual disability in the Fundy Region and in the rest of the province from a public-relations survey company. The results were surprisingly positive and the CLB was happy to send them to members of government.
In 1986, when three pairs of Saint John parents of children with intellectual disability initiated (successful) legal action under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms against the Province of New Brunswick because of discrimination against their children in the Schools Act, the CLB was able to assure the parents that it would cover all their legal costs, up to and including the Supreme Court of Canada if necessary. The Government (recognizing its obligations under section 15 of the Charter) changed the Schools Act with the introduction of Bill 85. This change in law saw the end of auxiliary classes in New Brunswick and was instrumental in leading our province on the path of what is now know as inclusive education.
Recognizing that it was important to influence the attitudes of young people, from 1987 to 1999 the CLB ran an annual essay contest for high school students in the Fundy Region. The essay contest was designed to help young people think about inclusion and its impact on our schools and communities. Each high school submitted its winning essay and the CLB then selected the grand prize winner who received a monetary prize and had her/his picture in the newspaper.
In the 1990s, the CLB retained from its roots in the Centracare deinstitutionalization process its interest in persons with ID who also had mental health (MH) problems, and two of its members served on the Region 2 Board of the N.B. Mental Health Commission (one as chairman). The CLB also continued its practice of sending its members to conferences and workshops where they could learn about current best practices in supports and services for persons with ID, and the latest research findings.
In 2006 the CLB reorganized, stopped running the bingo and invited several new and younger members to join it. It had realized long ago that attitudes and service systems would not change to meet the interests of the one to three percent of the population who have an intellectual disability. People with an intellectual disability will be safely included in the community of their choice as full citizens only when that community includes all its members. So the CLB motto today is Fostering Inclusive Communities. In recent years, CLB has supported the presentation of workshops in Saint John on a variety of topics related to inclusion.
CLB continues to support and undertake initiatives which are intended to enhance knowledge and understanding of inclusion so that all people – including those who have a disability- are able to participate fully in our society as full citizens.