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Definitions & Terminology

Intellectual Disability

Intellectual disability is a term used to refer to the challenges that some people face in learning and often communication. These challenges are usually present from the time they are born or from an early age. Often the most serious challenges people with intellectual disabilities face are the stereotypes, negative perceptions and discrimination by others in response to unique and different ways of learning and communicating.

Intellectual disability was at one time called mental retardation. People who have an intellectual disability tell us they resent being labeled by this term. “Label jars, not people” we are often told. For this reason, we always refer to people for who they are, as people first. Preferred terms are:

  • intellectual disability
  • developmental disability

About 2% of the Canadian population has an intellectual disability.

Plain Language

People with intellectual disabilities have requested that all materials produced by CACL are written using plain language.

Our Commitment to Self-Advocacy

Our Association believes that people with intellectual disabilities have the right to participate in all decisions which affect their lives. For this reason, people with intellectual disabilities play a vital role in the decision-making process at CACL; they provide us with guidance and advice on how the Association can best serve the interests of people with intellectual disabilities. Self- advocates hold three positions on our Board of Directors.

Community Living

Community Living is a simple concept; most of us experience it every day. We live in integrated communities, we work with our peers, and our children go to school with their neighbourhood friends.

However, for the 750,000 Canadians who have an intellectual disability, these simple things that we take for granted are not a reality. Although people with intellectual disabilities are capable of learning in regular schools, working at real jobs, and contributing to our communities, they are often excluded simply because of their disability. People with intellectual disabilities want to participate in all of these activities, they want to contribute to society and they want to lead normal lives in the community. Yet 30,000 people with intellectual disabilities still remain in institutions and are unable to fulfil their dreams and ambitions. Community living, on the other hand, will allow all Canadians, regardless of their disability, to reach their full potential as citizens.

Benefits of Community Living

The benefits of Community Living are real and measurable. Given the opportunity, people with intellectual disabilities can be productive in communities, pay their own way, and contribute to society as a whole. Currently, 343,000 people with intellectual disabilities do not have the opportunity to work and to pay taxes; they could be doing both. The total cost to society of segregating people with intellectual disabilities has been estimated to be $4.6 billion annually in lost productivity and unnecessary social assistance payments. By accepting the contribution that people with intellectual disabilities can make, we can begin to build stronger communities.

Community Living not only makes good economic sense, it benefits people with intellectual disabilities. It makes it possible for people with disabilities to live at home instead of in cold, distant and impersonal institutions, by living with their families, where they can share in the pleasures and accomplishments of everyday life. Through community living, experiences such as gaining an education in a regular classroom, working in a real job, and living independently, once denied to people who have an intellectual disability, become possible. Community living enables people with intellectual disabilities to lead lives of achievement and dignity.