Everyone has keys. Take a moment and consider what your keys represent to you? Keys can lock and unlock doors, secure our homes and belongings, or represent access to something important. They are a physical representation of the control we have. Now, imagine not having a key. Imagine being told that you cannot have a key because you might hurt yourself or someone else. You are dependent on others to open doors for you, secure your home, and grant you access to the things that are important to you. You are not in control of your own life – you lack power.

Many years ago I worked at Woodlands. Woodlands was an institution for people with diverse abilities that was open from the 1950s until the late 1990s. It was one of the last facilities in Canada to close, and it sheltered over 1,000 residents during its existence. Woodlands closed due to community members’ efforts to have persons with developmental disabilities accepted into society rather than being institutionalized.

On my first day of work, I was instructed that this skeleton key was the “most important” thing given to me. My instructions were clear: “don’t misplace it because it locks all of the doors and keeps the residents in”. In a nutshell, my main duty was to make sure that residents did not escape. While the skeleton key was a physical object, it also represented something much larger. It was a symbol of the power that society had over the lives of people with diverse abilities.

I was employed at Woodlands in the mid-eighties, which was a turning point for people with diverse abilities. Institutions were being closed, and the rights of people with diverse abilities were becoming more established through the community living movement. Little did I realize at the time, that this skeleton key and everything it represented would serve as a stepping stone.

Today this skeleton key is a reminder of an era where locking people away was an accepted social policy. Thankfully, consistent advocacy has resulted in community inclusion being the accepted social policy. Inclusion is based on the belief that, when we include everyone in our community, we all benefit. People with developmental disabilities bring unique gifts and talents to the table, and when they are allowed to share them, everyone benefits. Through the continued advocacy of organizations and individuals, we can continue to move forward, unlock the power of inclusion, and create a world where everyone has access to the key that unlocks their full potential.