The Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region was the first Independent Living Centre in Canada. It was founded by the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) in 1982. The organization came together under the direction of Henry Enns, a social worker and wheelchair-user who was a pioneer when it came to challenging stereotypes and combatting condescending attitudes toward people with disabilities.
He envisioned a societal focus on ability as opposed to DISability, and aimed to bring people with disabilities out of the margins of society through self-direction and a widespread promotion of accessibility.
Enns eventually went on to become Executive Director of the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies in Winnipeg.
With these ideas in mind, Enns banded together with ideological allies like Ray Schlegel, Executive Director of Mennonite Central Committee, Brice Balmer, a Mennonite pastor, Carol Shantz, a wheelchair user and member of the Mennonite Church, and John Enns, a Waterloo Region school board trustee.
In the face of much adversity, this group of hardworking and enthusiastic individuals set forth to create opportunities for housing, self-advocacy, full community participation and freedom from discrimination for individuals with disabilities.
It wasn't long before they began to succeed.
In the winter of 1983, a tenant moved into the first accessible apartment in the Mooregate Assisted Living Project in Kitchener, marking the debut of the Attendant Services program--a program which would eventually grow to include Outreach services in 1985.
Also in 1983, the Kids on the Block program got its start when volunteer puppeteers began performing fun and educational presentations on disability issues to children throughout the region.
In its first year, the Kids on the Block performed at 37 schools, 55 churches and 38 other community events, and would one day evolve into the Public Awareness and Education program, of which Kids on the Block are still an integral part.
The role of the Independent Living Centre developed throughout the 1980s, and in 1984, funding was obtained from the Government of Canada to run more of Henry Enns' visionary programs, including Information & Referral, Peer Resource and Individual Advocacy.
These programs form the foundation of ILCWR's Access and Awareness department, which are still readily offered and well-utilized to this day.
Today, the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region provides direct service to well over 500 people every year, along with countless other community members who aim to remove barriers for their neighbours with disabilities. In addition, ILCWR is now one of 26 Independent Living Centres across the country, and the only Centre to offer Attendant Services to its constituents.
ILCWR continues to uphold the vision of our founders to this very day, through our core values of justice, dignity, teamwork, welcoming and respect. Our vision statement, “Together, freedom through access and choice,” is a defining philosophy which honours our beginnings, and sets the stage for a promising future of helping people with disabilities achieve independence.
Reaching For More: The Evolution of The Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region
To learn more about the tribulations and victories of the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region, there is no better way than than to read Gary Nyp's book, Reaching For More: The Evolution of The Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region.
Nyp spins the tale of a handful of pioneering individuals who clung to a brash ideal and determinedly forged ahead in the face of stiff resistance.
"Reaching for More" is an excellent time capsule for our centre and a joy to read.
To order, your copy, call 519-571-6788 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
$18.00 (plus $2.00 postage)
Also available in CD ROM format ($20.00)
Cheques payable to:
Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region (ILCWR)
127 Victoria Street South, Suite 201, Kitchener, ON. N2G 2B4
Credit card purchases available by phone.