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DASCH: A Champion of Equal Rights and Independence for People with Disabilities


History of The Disability Rights Movement in Canada


Canadians with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) are among the most marginalized and minimized groups in our society today. Until recently, individuals with IDD were confined and segregated from society in mass institutions, akin to asylums of the distant past for those with mental illness. In Ontario, the last institution was closed in 2009 and in Manitoba, there are two institutions still open today.


Society’s perceptions on intellectual disabilities began to shift in the 1980s, where greater emphasis was placed on becoming part of the community, rather than being in the community. The movement highlighted the importance for communities to become more inclusive and welcome diversity. In 1996, Manitoba’s Vulnerable Person’s legislation was passed, protecting the rights of adults living with IDDs and acknowledging their rights and capacity to make choices. In 2007, the United Nations signed the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, a treaty which ensures the full legal protection of human rights for people with disabilities. This marked a shift in viewing people with disabilities as objects of charity to individuals entitled to equal rights in society.


Research has clearly demonstrated that integrated housing, when individuals with IDDs live independently or semi-independently in the community in their own apartments, leads to better outcomes and quality of life. Within this model, IDD people choose their home, roommates, personal support staff, and are enabled to make their own daily life decisions. Despite this, less than 20% of the federal housing budget for IDD Canadians is allocated to programs for integrated housing. Instead, many Canadians with IDDs are placed into long-term care homes which are intended for the elderly and do not enable independence.


A New Frontier for People with IDDs


DASCH (Direct Action in Support of Community Homes) addresses this gap. DASCH is a non-profit established in 1974 that is dedicated to exploring and meeting the residential, day program, respite and foster care needs of youth and adults. DASCH is currently under the leadership of Chief Executive Officer, Karen Fonseth. They operate 60 locations throughout Winnipeg with 192 clients for whom they offer 24/7 support as well as programs including social, educational, and employment training to adults and youth with intellectual disabilities.


Since the movement from institutionalization to community living evolved, various advocacy groups, including DASCH, have made large strides to empower people with disabilities. Their model is to provide individualized support and focus on understanding what the person wants to do and assisting them in achieving their goals. DASCH’s mission is to build a community where people with intellectual disabilities are valued and are enabled to live life to its full potential. They have proved the concept that IDD people thrive in the community. In fact, DASCH has helped transition several clients from these Manitoba institutions to the community.


Karen told us of one of their IDD clients that came from an institution and had previously been kept in a 5-point restraint. “It was heartbreaking.” DASCH was advised that he would not be able to integrate into the community or ever have roommates. Within one month of being in a DASCH residence, he was doing so well that he had roommates moved in. Two months later, he was volunteering and began to work. This situation brings to light the significant difference in environmental context of an institution compared to integrated community housing, and the profound difference that it can have on an individual’s quality of life and ability to demonstrate their value to society.


DASCH's Incredible Programming Empowers Residents to Live Up to Their Potential

Launched in January 2020, DASCHWorks provides their clients a three-step process of vocational training which equips them with the skills necessary to secure successful, competitive employment that will strengthen community inclusion and engagement. The program is tailored to the individual and begins with an assessment of their strengths and career interests. The assessment is followed up with classroom training on general employment skills, such as resume writing, time management, workplace relationships, etc. Finally, their students are given technical skill development with practical assessments, where they access real tools and equipment that emulate the workplace. The program offers 170 different packages which cover extensive career paths including data entry, woods and metal projects, food services, custodial services, assembly production, tills and money management, and many more. Watching their students become gainfully employed and independent is one of DASCH’s proudest accomplishments. DASCHWorks had immediate success after launch, with an annual intake of 40 clients.


DASCH’s Indigenous Cultural and Spiritual Enhancement Program (ICSEP) was developed to help Indigenous residents reconnect with their culture and heritage. One DASCH resident felt inspired to learn the Cree language, which prompted DASCH to initiate the Language Table at their Indigenous Library. Since 2019, three additional homes have incorporated language learning into the ICSEP programming. ICSEP engages clients in Indigenous activities including crafting classes, sweat lodges, smudging ceremonies, sharing circles, fishing trips, medicine picking trips, and full moon ceremonies. They have also connected DASCH clients with advocacy workers and Elders from other organizations including Life’s Journey.


During the COVID-19 crisis of 2020, many of DASCH’s programming was put on hold due to the inability to gather in-person. DASCH quickly pivoted to fundraise for virtual recreational and health programming to maintain engagement among clients in absence of day programs, services, and sports. Their virtual programming garnered a 94% participation rate and DASCH’s COVID-19 fund raised money to purchase outdoor activity equipment, crafts and games, and iPads to connect clients with their families and loved ones. Their ability to quickly mobilize resources to accommodate the new socially distanced landscape was an essential piece of ensuring that DASCH’s clients remained engaged and happy while safely isolating.


Inspiring Leadership and How You Can Help



Under Karen’s leadership as CEO, she has nurtured DASCH to become one of the largest NPOs in Canada. 18 years ago, when she started, there were 55 staff with a $1 million operating budget and today the organization has a multi-million dollar budget with a staff base of 700+. Her business acumen has bolstered the scale of the organization, and we are immensely inspired by DASCH’s mission to building a community of inclusion for IDD people.


If you felt inspired by this article, please consider getting involved in one of the following ways:


1. Donate. Donate to support their programs or gifts-in-kind that provide opportunity to learn (computers, iPads, etc.)

2. Volunteer

3. Advocate for and learn more about people with IDDs in Canada

4. Follow them on social media to hear about their ongoing work:

· Instagram: @dasch_inc

· Facebook: @DASCH.MB.CA

· Twitter: @DASCH_Inc

· Linkedin: DASCH

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