Background & History

The Nova Scotia Association for Community Living (NSACL) is a provincial family based non-profit organization that works with and on behalf of individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families. We are dedicated to attaining full participation in community life, ending exclusion and discrimination on the basis of intellectual disability, promoting respect for diversity and advancing human rights to ensure equality for all Canadians.

In 1954, an ad was placed in the local Halifax paper inviting parents of children with intellectual disabilities (then referred to as mental retardation) to a meeting at the local YMCA. That event, 62 (+) years ago, marked the beginning of the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living. It marked the beginning of a provincial movement of parents who were concerned about creating a better life for their sons and daughters. From that humble beginning, our association has grown and evolved.

Concurrent to efforts in Nova Scotia, similar efforts were occurring throughout Canada, and in 1958, provincial associations formed a national body. Today the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living is a member of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), which is a federation of over 40,000 individual members, 400 local associations and 13 Provincial/Territorial Associations for Community Living.

The history of our Association, and indeed that of the larger community living movement, is one of continuing change. Change initiated and sustained by our families on behalf of their sons and daughters. Change that has witnessed much advancement toward full inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities and their families within all aspects of community and community life.

The early years of our Association saw much effort toward the creation of needed services and supports where none existed previously. At a time when our children were not accepted into public school, the Associations raised funds and opened classrooms for children with intellectual disabilities. To provide adults with daytime activities the Association opened and operated workshops and Activity Centres. While by today’s standards these services were totally segregated, at the time they represented a significant advance in the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. Through the years efforts continued and expanded to supporting adults to live in community, outside the family home and not in institutional settings, and through these efforts the group home model was introduced.

These advances were but the beginning of real and sustained change on behalf of persons with intellectual disabilities. The Association sponsored classrooms became the catalyst for the government of Nova Scotia to accept children with intellectual disabilities into the public education system. Over time and with the urging of NSACL, we have moved to an inclusive education model. Original sheltered workshops have slowly changed, again with support and advocacy from NSACL, from a training model to one that actively promotes and secures real employment in community. Institutions, once seen as the only residential alternative for people with intellectual disabilities are being replaced by a system that provided increased access to individualized supports and services enabling people to make decisions as to where and whom they live.

However, despite all of the progress over the years, parents continue to struggle for inclusive schooling, supported community living and employment support. We know there is still much left to be accomplished before people with intellectual disabilities can fully reclaim their rights as equal citizens. Our Association now works in partnership with many other groups to promote the citizenship of people with disabilities. It is as imperative that families, self-advocates and friends continue to come together and work within our communities to build on the foundations that have been laid.

Today the Nova Scotia Association for Community Living remains committed to ensuring that individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families have the support they require to live full and inclusive lives in community.


  • We support families to become leaders for inclusion and equality.
  • We create resources about how to make inclusion work—at home, at school, in the workplace and in the community.
  • We help communities to increase their capacity to include everyone.
  • We build awareness of the capacity and value of people with intellectual disabilities as full and contributing citizens.
  • We challenge myths and preconceptions about the value and contributions of people with disabilities.
  • We advance policies and practices to government and community organizations that enable and promote the full inclusion of persons with intellectual disabilities in all facets of community life.

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