Our statement on Toronto’s 30-year plan: City must prioritize supported independent living for autistic & intellectually disabled residents

On February 24, 2022, one of our members spoke to the accessibility-focused meeting of the City of Toronto’s Our Plan team–the City’s new 30-year plan for urban planning, sustainability and quality of life in the Six. Here is her statement:

I’m Anne Borden King from Autistics for Autistics Ontario, the autistic-led advocacy group. We are not a parent group, we’re a group that’s led by and run completely by autistic people. We’re thankful to the city for recognizing the importance of neurodiversity and inclusion. I’m going to talk today about housing access, since segregated housing approaches really circumscribe the entire lifetimes of many autistic and intellectually disabled people in Toronto.

When inclusion committees talk about accessible housing, they pretty much almost always forget or leave out intellectually disabled people. In fact, the Ontario Auditor General found that 89 percent of housing funds in this sector go towards segregated housing, where developers get funds to build things like houses on remote streets where autistic and intellectually disabled people are grouped, segregated from regular community life.

These residents have no choices about even basic daily decisions. Families place their adult children in these group homes not because they want to, but because they’re told it’s their only choice. These spaces are not regulated or meaningfully inspected–and a lot of abuse happens there, including by the people who work there, since security background checks of staffers are not required by law. Sometimes people who work there end up being jailed for violence against the residents.

This is not safe, accessible housing. This is institutional living and it has no place in Toronto in 2022.

We know there is another way because programs in other cities are doing it, where autistic and intellectually disabled people have their own apartment, choose their own roommate and have their own support workers, as many people with other disabilities can. Programs in Ottawa and in the US, for example, have been shown to work well and benefit intellectually disabled people because they can live in the community instead of being segregated. This also benefits the community!

Toronto’s government can do something. Our City can make its commitment clear: that institutions and group homes are not the answer, and commit to replacing them with supported independent living, with a clear deadline for doing so. It can develop pilot programs based on best practices, where intellectually disabled people can have the choices they deserve. The City can, in its inclusion documents, make it a mandate–instead of segregated units being built, to prioritize supported independent living– for people with intellectual disabilities.

Please consider this and we hope you’ll reach out to Autistics for Autistics to access our inclusion reports and recommendations. Thank you.