Living with a Disability in an Intentional Community

By Gary Kent, PLAN parent


My wife and I have lived for almost a decade in an intentional community called cohousing, a type of collaborative housing in which residents participate in the design and operation of their own neighbourhood.

As it is a conscious commitment to community, cohousing offers many creative options for folks in how they choose to live together. One of the very first things we did as a community before the houses were built, was to establish a set of shared values. Using a consensus process our 31 families came to an agreement that diversity would be one of our most important values. Our dedication to diversity and a commitment to supporting each other have been, I believe, very important in creating a nurturing environment for one of our members with a disability.

Sophie (not her real name) was diagnosed with Delanges Syndrome before her first birthday. Despite a bleak medical prognosis and many challenges for her nurturing family, she has thrived. She completed her secondary education and was eager to establish an independent life of her own. This is a rural community and there are very few opportunities for people with disabilities to live independently. Sophie has quite highly developed language and cognitive skills and was resistant to being labeled. It was challenging for her to make friends with other young people and she felt somewhat isolated as a result. She was not interested in assisted living and her parents felt that living in an apartment by herself in one of the villages some distance from the family home was not a satisfactory option.

Our cohousing community was in its forming stage at this time and only a short distance from Sophie’s family home. Our values of diversity and mutual support presented a very viable living option for Sophie and her family. They purchased a home, where surrounded by neighbours she has lived for the past 8 or so years. Her parents are within walking distance and are very active members of our community.

Over the years Sophie has become a solid and contributing member of our community, supporting and being supported by her many neighbours and friends. Sophie has volunteered her skills with figures and computers to process and pay our community’s many invoices.

Through a connection in our community she augments her pension with clerical work at our local community school. She has some part time work at Canadian Tire as well. Most importantly she is a valuable and respected member of our community and has developed close relationships with several families. In many ways she has achieved her goal of independence.

It would be an exaggeration to suggest that Cohousing is a panacea. There is no question that Sophie has flourished here but so have most of us in one way or another. Over the course of our lives many of us will experience some form of disability and I feel that the support that is often provided by an intentional community can assist all of us in becoming more able.