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In 1991, 4.2 million Canadians, 16% of the population, had disabilities. This represents an increase from 1986, when 3.3 million people, 13% of the overall population, had some degree of disability. In 1991, Ontario had the fourth largest proportion, 16%, of its population with disabilities.
To meet the growing needs, in the spring of 1986, the Handicapped Action Group Inc. (HAGI) of Thunder Bay and the Physically Challenged Sub-Committee of Kenora completed a research study regarding the needs of persons with physical disabilities in the Kenora area. The Physically Challenged Research Report focused on 8 areas, which sought to improve the quality of life for physically disabled adults.
Areas of particular concern focused on transportation, housing, recreation and attendant care. There was a general recognition by the HAGI and Sub-Committee that if an individual was able to make choices regarding his or her personal lifestyle, incentives were required to encourage self-determination and acceptance of responsibility. These factors are inherent in assuming control over one’s life.
Since the inception of the HAGI in 1972, the purpose of the organization was to improve the living conditions of persons with physical disabilities. Over the years, people with disabilities moved to Thunder Bay from communities such as Kenora to access services provided by the HAGI. One particular service - attendant care.
In the fall of 1986, the HAGI began providing attendant care in Kenora. Two consumers received services for a total of 25 hours per week. The program soon began to grow and a waiting list developed in the Rainy River District.
In the fall of 1988, the program expanded to meet the needs of people requiring assistance in the Rainy River District. Consumers residing in Fort Frances, Rainy River and Atikokan began receiving attendant care.
In 1989, consumers on the waiting list in Dryden were removed and services were provided.
In 1991, the process of incorporation began. A conference - "Taking Control - A Consumer Challenge" - was held in Kenora and proved to be very positive and successful. A membership of 125 was developed and consisted of people from both the Kenora and Rainy River Districts.
In the spring of 1992, the 1st Annual General Meeting was held. A Board of Directors was elected, representing Sioux Lookout, Red Lake, Dryden/Ignace, Atikokan, Fort Frances/Rainy River, Kenora, Keewatin, Jaffray Melick, First Nations, and three members at large. According to the organizations By-Laws, the Board is 51% represented by persons with physical disabilities.
Northwestern Independent Living Services Inc. came into existence on April 1, 1993. The program now provides over 700 hours per week of attendant services to approximately 60 consumers throughout both districts.
As well as providing support services, NILS members serve on various outside committees and boards. These other affiliations with local and provincial organizations give the members the opportunity to advocate for greater participation in determining their lifestyle. NILS continues to look for direction from the general membership and strives to improve the living conditions of all persons with physical disabilities.
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