Queen's poll - Ontarians don't want to close institutions for those with intellectual disabilities


A new Queen's University poll measuring the public's attitude toward the provincial government's planned closure of institutions for people with intellectual disabilities suggests an overwhelming number of Ontarians do not want the institutions to close.

"We are working to understand what contributes to the attitudes that community members hold towards the integration of people with intellectual disabilities," says Philip Burge, assistant professor of Psychiatry, who oversaw the poll. "It appears that Ontarians do not believe there are adequate resources currently available in the community for those who would be leaving the closed institutions."

Southeastern Ontario residents surveyed reveal that:

  • 49 per cent do not know about the government's decision to close the institutions for individuals with intellectual disabilities;
  • only one per cent believe that institutions are the best place for most adults with intellectual disabilities to live;
  • 81 per cent do not think the institutions should close.

    The inconsistency in the data is attributed to the respondents' beliefs that there are not enough community services in place to support integration for people with intellectual disabilities transitioning from institutions.

    By collaborating with researchers in Boston the Queen's group compared its findings to findings from the Multinational Survey of Attitudes toward Individuals with Intellectual Disabilities conducted in 2002 with over 7,000 respondents from nine other countries. No Canadian jurisdiction other than southeastern Ontario has been surveyed to date.

    According to the international survey results, southeastern Ontario respondents present a similar picture of perceptions about major obstacles faced by people with intellectual disabilities and family members or agencies trying to promote their inclusion in the community.

    Southeastern Ontario respondents reported that:

  • 65 per cent perceive a lack of community services and 39 per cent believe that neighbours' attitudes are obstacles to inclusion in the community;
  • 72 per cent perceive lack of job training and 53 per cent believe that employees' attitudes are major obstacles to inclusion in the workplace;
  • 81 per cent perceive lack of school resources and 46 per cent believe students' attitudes are a major obstacle to school inclusion.

    When the government announced the impending closure of the remaining three regional institutions in September 2004, they promised $70 million to meet community-housing needs of approximately 1,200 individuals currently living in institutions. They also promised that about $40 million would be forthcoming to strengthen community-based services for people with intellectual disabilities.

    "The $41.1 million in funding announced by the provincial government last week is a good start towards specialized services and community integration for people with intellectual disabilities," says Mr. Burge. "But only 90 specialized spaces will be created across Ontario over the next two years for high need individuals who also have mental health issues and/or challenging behaviours -- and that is likely not enough."

    "We know that about 37 per cent of people with intellectual disabilities are dealing with mental health problems in southeastern Ontario which is almost four times the rate found among the general population: yet, only 8.1 per cent of poll respondents recognized that those with intellectual disabilities were more likely to become mentally ill than the rest of the population," says Hélène Ouellette-Kuntz, associate professor of Community Health and Epidemiology and Psychiatry, and a co-investigator for the study. "The need for specialized spaces with round the clock care is critical."

    Community Attitudes Toward the Integration of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities was designed to help researchers determine the degree and nature of the challenges facing organizations in the region that are trying to promote the integration of people with intellectual disabilities into our communities. It was adapted from the Special Olympics Multinational Attitudes survey that has been used previously in several countries, but never before in Canada.

    The telephone opinion poll was conducted over a three-week period, two months after the government announced its institutional closure policy in 2004. There were a total of 680 respondents, which represents 1 in 284 households, 1 in 626 adults across southeastern Ontario. Most results were either within +/-3 or 4 % 19 times out of 20, although the disagreement with the closure policy itself was within two per cent.

    Source: Eurekalert & others

    Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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