From institutions to community living for persons with disabilities: perspectives from the ground Human stories

Cathy's story 

Balcony with plants

I was up in the main house [of an institution for women with intellectual disabilities] at first. I don’t know why; my mam just told me it would be better for me.

It was big dorm rooms up there. Eventually I moved down to [another unit] and I got my own room.

The staff were still on duty at night though, they used to open the door at night, checking you were OK. There would have been a lot of people in that house.

When they first started talking about moving out into the community, I wasn’t too sure about it. I didn’t know what I was going to face. But I said, sure, I’ll give it a go.

I moved into a house with four other girls. That didn’t suit me at all, though, they expected me to do everything.

Adele's story

Holding handsMy story is not easy to tell. I was born in 1957, I don’t know why my mother abandoned me, maybe she was poor or maybe she didn’t want me. As soon as I was born I was sent to a Catholic institution.

Then one day, I was called and they told me that I could go and live in a flat and that I could choose whom to share the flat with. I discarded so many names and then I said yes and, my friend Francesca said yes, that it was fine for her too and we moved.

When we saw it for the first time, the flat was empty but cool, then we chose the colour of the kitchen and I chose light blue. There was the light-blue kitchen as I wanted it to be.

Jean's story

Holding hands I’m quadriplegic - I cannot move either my arms or my legs. I am from a family of seven and it was not easy to manage my impairment. So when I was five, I moved to a big institution in a large town – my father moved with my whole family to be closer to me.

At the beginning it was difficult: I felt disoriented and I missed my family. But later I found my feet. In the institution I met people living with the same condition and I became aware of the difficulties I was going to face.

I graduated as a business secretary. When I was 18, my father died and I needed to work. The disability benefit wasn’t enough. We created a cooperative society to obtain jobs to carry out in the institution.

In 1982, I found an external job. I wanted to work and I wanted a real job, with other people.

Romeo's story

PizzaI was the son of a single mother who left me with my grandparents because she wasn’t able to take care of me. I spent my early childhood with my grandparents and three young and single uncles in the countryside.

I went to school up to secondary school after I had failed four times in primary school.

A difficult period began; I started drinking, did occasional jobs, and started working as a pizza man for a long time. It is a confused period, of drinking, messy days and I often slept in the street because I was too drunk. At home the relationships got tense: my uncle drank too and sometimes beat me.

I thought I was another person and sometimes when I drank I slept out during the night ... it was a life that could not continue for a long time ... in that period I didn’t work much. I started working when I was 20.

During this period, I got in contact with a “lady of the province”, who maybe was a social assistant who pointed me out to the local Mental Health Centre, where I met Dr Romano who sent me to the family shelter created by the institution.

Paul's story

Pouring coffee into a mugI had been living in an institution since I was seven.

I was chosen for relocation to supporting living and underwent training in the training flat. The training apartment looks like a regular flat, with its own living room, kitchen, bathroom and equipment such as washing machine, unlike all other ‘rooms’ in the institution.

I learned new skills like cooking, cleaning, taking care of money.

Several months ago, other clients and I moved together to our own supported living flat in the centre of the town, where I live with five other people (two in one room).

There is also one room for instructors, who have been living with us (one at a time, altogether four rotating in shifts).

I was afraid of living outside of the institution for the first two weeks, but then I settled very well and now I am not afraid anymore – except for the fact of living on the highest floor.

Martina's story

Wooden carving of a house on a key ring with keysBefore I moved to the [supported living] flat, I lived in an institution.

The main difference is that in the institution I had to share a room with seven other clients – all of them were girls. The boys had a different room in the same section of the building.

Now I share a room only with one girl – she is my best friend.

Last year, I was told by the director of the institution that I had been selected as one of six individuals for deinstitutionalisation.

The director had a meeting with all of us and explained the process of training and moving to the flat. They provided us with information about what it would look like and what we can expect. I was asked whether I would be willing to move to the flat and I agreed; I was looking forward to moving to the flat.

As the first step, we moved to a ‘training flat’. The director described the whole process to us – that we would go to the training flat to learn all the skills necessary for independent living and, after that, we would move to a supported living flat, outside the institution.

Peter's story

Tiling a wallI come from a village in eastern Slovakia. I still have a grandmother there, who I occasionally visit.

Before coming to my social services home, I lived in the children’s home in the nearby town. Looking back, I mainly remember the strict rules applied there. I was allowed to go out only for two hours a day and if I broke those rules, I was punished; I was not allowed to go out the next day.

When I was 18, I had to leave the children’s home. According to the rules, when somebody finishes their education and becomes adult they have to leave.

The home’s director arranged for me to move to a social services home.

I currently live in the supported living flat operated by the institution. I share my bedroom with one roommate. This does not grant me the privacy I dream of. The kitchen is next to my bedroom, we make our own breakfast together there.

All names used in these stories are pseudonyms.