A Brock professor who has devoted her career to people with intellectual disabilities is receiving the Order of Canada.
Griffiths has spent years working to improve the lives of people with intellectual disabilities, particularly those with mental health issues. But it never occurred to her that she’d be honoured at this level.
“This award is shared with a lot of other people,” she said.
Much of Griffiths’ work has helped Ontarians with intellectual disabilities return to the community after living in institutions. Her passion for the cause stems back to the late 1970s when, while working at a community living organization in southern Ontario, she visited an institution. She saw larger children in cribs. One was sitting in feces. They sat bored, catatonic and unengaged.
“It was abysmal,” said Griffiths, who received the Order of Ontario in 2006. “I thought they should be living in the community, in homes just like ours.
Slowly, the province has caught up with Griffiths’ vision. Over the past 30 years, the focus has shifted from institutional settings to a community living, where people with intellectual disabilities live in and contribute to their communities. The transition was complete in 2009, when Ontario’s last three institutions closed.
Griffiths has made numerous contributions to the movement as a researcher and consultant. She is currently three years into a four-year research project initiated by the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services that evaluates how reintegration has impacted the lives of people with intellectual disabilities. She is doing the research with Rosemary Condillac, Frances Owen, Jan Frijters and Maurice Feldman.
Having people in the community, rather than in institutions, makes everyone’s lives richer, Griffiths said.
“We’re all unique and we each have our own special gifts and weaknesses,” she said. “Why wouldn’t we want these citizens to be involved and contributing in our communities? It is all about rights.”
Griffiths was a driving force behind the creation of Brock’s Centre for Applied Disability Studies. Before academia, she was director of the York Behaviour Management Program at York Central Hospital, where she developed an intervention model for people with intellectual disabilities who have challenging behaviours. She also developed treatments for people who engage in sexually inappropriate behaviours.
She has represented Canada for 15 years on NADD (Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities and Mental Health Challenges — North America) and is a founding member of NADD’s Ontario chapter.
“Dorothy is an internationally recognized expert who has devoted more than 30 years to advancing services for and recognition of the rights of people with disabilities,” said Thomas Dunk, Dean, Faculty of social Sciences. “We are extremely proud and grateful to have her as a colleague.”
Griffiths is among 50 new appointees to the Order of Canada. Others include Olympic gold medallist and hockey player Hayley Wickenheiser, author Malcolm Gladwell, and Samantha Nutt, co-founder of War Child Canada, who also holds an honorary doctorate from Brock.