Real Inclusion

Real Inclusion Can Thrive Here – with – Community Living South Muskoka

Who is Community Living South Muskoka? 

Glad you asked! We are a not-for-profit Developmental Services organization that empowers people with intellectual and 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.  Incorporated in 1967, Community Living South Muskoka and our team of approximately 165 staff members, supporting 467 people and their families in the South Muskoka region.  

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 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 Community Living Movement 

Canadians with mental and physical disabilities who, despite having significant needs, have lived on the periphery of society for decades (Nyanjom, Boxall, & Slaven, 2018) (Health, 2018) (Insights, 2013). Historically, this demographic has experienced an isolated and marginalized existence in the institutionalized confinement of asylums and hospitals (Pedlar, Haworth, Hutchinson, Taylor, & Dunn, 1999); arbitrarily labelled insane, idiot and ignoramus (Health, 2018) experimentation with treatment was common and often cruel, people with disabilities experienced exclusion from society based on qualities that were misunderstood and misdiagnosed (Pedlar, Haworth, Hutchinson, Taylor, & Dunn, 1999).

In a contemporary Canadian context, the mentally and physically disabled have seen their legislative rights improve: in 1981 the report entitled Obstacles was the first publication in Canada to document disabilities and their subsequent barriers; 130 recommendations were made in the federal report including the need for a long-term data collection strategy that would capture data on the disabled demographic in Canada (Canada T. G., Canadian Survey on Disability Reports, 2018). In 2005 the province of Ontario became one of the first regions in the world to enact legislation focused specifically on accessibility: The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was designed to define goals for public and private organizations that support the disabled population (Insights, 2013). In December 2018, the Government of Canada proposed the introduction of accessibility legislation called the Accessible Canada Act, designed to improve the accessible lifestyle of Canadians in areas of federal jurisdiction (Canada T. G., Proposed Accessible Canada Act – Summary of the Bill, 2019). This proposed legislation includes the establishment of accessibility standards like the ability for an entity to enforce accessibility law, and the right for a wronged person to complain and be entitled to compensation based on mistreatment (Canada T. G., Proposed Accessible Canada Act – Summary of the Bill, 2019).  

Despite the legislative progression in 2019, a mentally or physically disabled person’s social equality remains subject to our society’s perception of the demographic (Insights, 2013) (Nyanjom, Boxall, & Slaven, 2018) (Pedlar, Haworth, Hutchinson, Taylor, & Dunn, 1999). We have a duty to study the inequality that exists in our industry so that we can understand how our future decisions will affect society’s perception of the mentally and physically disabled. To dismantle the stigma associated with the mentally and physically disabled, we can begin by examining stigma through the lens of a disability definition. According to the Towards an Accessible Future: Ontario Innovators in Accessibility and Universal Design (TAF): 

“Disability refers to the negative aspects of the interaction between individuals with a health condition (such as cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, depression, injury) and societal and environmental factors (such as negative attitudes of others, inaccessible transportation and public buildings, and limited social supports). Therefore, disabilities are not defined in terms of specific categories of individuals, but rather as the interactions between people and the societies they inhabit” (Insights, 2013, pp. 06-08). 

This interpretation proposes that our understanding of a disability is defined by our interaction with it, therefore, our societal perception of disability can be altered if we do things to change the perception of the disability altogether.

The Town of Bracebridge is already a unique community with a history of providing support for their developmentally disabled residents. The Community Living South Muskoka agency was founded in 1960 by families from the region concerned that their children’s needs were not met in the traditional academic environment (Muskoka C. L., About, 2017). In 1961 the Bracebridge United Church began to offer their classroom space to these families so that their children could learn in a safe space (Muskoka C. L., About, 2017). Volunteers and certified teachers joined the cause, teaching classes and offering classroom management support. Soon a Building Committee formed and over the next several years successfully fundraised enough capital to build the Victoria Street School which opened in 1968 (Muskoka C. L., About, 2017). Soon after the school opened, it received support from the Board of Education which allowed for the diversification of program offerings and allowed for the Building Committee (which would later become Community Living South Muskoka) to branch out into the community and support a myriad of initiatives across the region that involved both children and adults with mental and physical disabilities (Muskoka C. L., About, 2017).

Community Living South Muskoka (CLSM) is an agency that serves the developmentally disabled population of South Muskoka from their head office in Bracebridge (Muskoka C. L., About, 2017). In the South Muskoka region, CLSM supports education programs, operates ten (10) twenty-four (24) hour support homes, Supported Independent Living, executes fundraising events, offers employment skills training and leadership skills development, and Passport and Respite services for more than five communities, 150 families and 467 unique individuals.  

Real inclusion matters here.

Who We Serve and Why? 

Today, Community Living South Muskoka provides 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 risk 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 a residential setting, and people who need additional support while participating in the community. 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. 

So, 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 South Muskoka offers services and supports that include Children & Youth Services, Community Participation Supports (CPS), Employment Services, Family Home, Residential Services, Respite, Passport, and Supported Independent Living (SIL). Review our more comprehensive Service Directory by clicking here.

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 have a developmental disability. 

Real inclusion belongs here.

Current Realities of Community Inclusion

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 the social structures and systems meant to support everyone equally can sometimes cause more harm than good. Which is why, when advocating for or learning about community inclusion, it’s crucial to use an equity lens to better see the full picture. The image below reminds us that equity is the fair distribution of resources based on people’s uniqueness; everyone has different wants and needs because they have different life experiences.  

As was mentioned, the dark history of institutionalization is alarmingly recent and, unsurprisingly, not well known. If this is the first you are hearing about Canada’s inhumane and unjust treatment of people with developmental disabilities, know that you’re not alone, and that we are grateful for your willingness to learn and to be an advocate for change. It’s Maya Angelou’s powerful words, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better,” that reaffirm our shared commitment to building a more inclusive world for all. This next image proves why our continued efforts are needed. It shows us how effective institutionalization was at isolating and segregating people, and how it resulted in the systematic exclusion of people with developmental disabilities in all areas of community life. One of its countless repercussions is a society that is generally ignorant of, and lacking empathy for, the disability experience. It’s fueled harmful myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities that have only built larger barriers to their belonging. We believe that this is the greatest threat to the community living movement. 

The movement is driven by the firm belief that everyone deserves to have the power and freedom to live the life they want for themselves and be fully embraced by the community they call home. In theory, this belief is widespread, but the unfortunate reality is that we have a long road ahead of us. Even in 2024, less than half of school-aged children and youth with developmental disabilities receive an inclusive education that meets their needs. A quality education, wherein essential skills for communication and socialization are developed, is foundational to building a meaningful life in community. 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’s a glimpse of the harm that stems from this exclusion:

Financial Insecurity

Precarious Housing

Social Isolation

To face even one of these issues is daunting, but when their cumulative cause and effect is considered – and intersectionality is factored in – only then do we begin to see the scope of the marginalization that people with developmental disabilities experience today. It should come as no surprise that many took a drastic hit to their quality of life during the COVID-19 pandemic – when existing challenges with finances, accommodations, and loneliness became heightened, and even insurmountable for some. Arising from this is a major concern with people’s vulnerability in considering or pursuing Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD) as the only pathway forward in place of the support that they need [but are not receiving]. Incredible efforts from advocacy groups and organizations at provincial and federal levels have helped to shed light on these issues, creating awareness for both lawmakers and the public. However, radical change takes time, especially when it involves unlearning ways of thinking so deeply embedded within the systems and structures that are meant to support everyone equally. Remember that it’s an equity lens that allows us to see that while we may face the same storm, we’re all in different boats 

Thankfully, it’s not all bad news. Funding distribution for the sector has begun to take an equity-based approach, giving more control to the people who are receiving supports and services rather than to the agencies and organizations that provide them. With more control comes more choice – more freedom to look beyond the services that have long-supported people with developmental disabilities, and instead choose community-based providers and resources that have no eligibility criteria or strict policies to adhere to. While this means that service providers and the sector itself have a lot of re-imagining and pivoting to do to keep up with the changes, it’s a large step in the right direction for the people and families who have historically had most, if not all, important life decisions made without their input.  

As people and families begin to explore what their communities have to offer, and seek the opportunities, places, and activities where they hope to find belonging, the onus falls to the community to embrace differences, embrace empathy, 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: 

  • Think carefully about the words you use and choose inclusive language e.g., “She is crazy!”, “That was insane!”.
  • Learn about the past so we do not repeat it. 
  • Challenge stereotypes and myths. 
  • Get to know people with developmental disabilities in our community. 
  • Advocate alongside people with developmental disabilities and their families to lift their voices. 
  • Make sure vital Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion conversations in our community include disability. 
  • Invite people with developmental disabilities to your groups, clubs, and organizations – and make them feel welcome and included when they get there. 
  • Celebrate Community Living Month. 
  • If you are an educator, join the inclusive education movement. 
  • If you are an employer, create disability-inclusive hiring and workplace practices with real work for real pay.
  • If you are an employer, hire high school students with disabilities, too, since paid work while in 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 (Ontario Disability Employment Network
  • If you are a landlord, consider people with developmental disabilities and their families as real candidates for your rental apartments.
  • Think about the inclusive community in which you want to live – and then build it.

We can do this together. Community Living South Muskoka 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  and make CLSM the “Go To” expert for those impacted by a developmental disability, so real inclusion can thrive here. 

Resources for Further Reading 

Community Living Ontario 70th Anniversary Book:
A (Not So) Complete History Of Community Living Ontario (

List of disability-related terms with negative connotations: is powerful, free, online software that improves reading, learning, and teaching for plain language:

Truths of Institutionalization:
Module One – Truths of Institutionalization

Open Future Learning (Facebook Page):

Community Living Ontario:

Inclusion Canada:

Inclusive Education Canada:


Ontario Disability Employment Network:
ODEN, 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:


Alison Pedlar, L. H. (1999). A Textured Life – Empowerment and Adults with Developmental Disabilities. Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Canada, G. o. (2019). Accessible Canada Act. Government of Canada.

Elisabeth Cloutier, C. G. (2018). Canadian Survey on Disability, 2017: Concepts and Methods Guide. Statistics Canada.

Hadi Salah, I. A.-D. (2013). Towards an Accessible Future: Ontario Innovators in Accessibility and Universal Design. Toronto: MaRS Discovery District and the Government of Ontario.

J Nyanjom, K. B. (2018). Towards inclusive tourism? Stakeholder collaboration in the development of accessible tourism. Tourism Geographies – Taylor & Francis.

Muskoka, C. L. (2017). About. Retrieved from Community Living South Muskoka: