Skills Society began in the early 1980s, after the Government of Alberta articulated a decision to “de-institutionalize” persons with disabilities who were living at the Michener Centre in Red Deer. Known then as the North West Task Force, members who would start Skills Society responded to the change in services and started providing support to individuals who lived in northwest Edmonton.
In 1980, the organization incorporated as the Society for Knowledge in Learning Living Skills (Skills Society) with offices in Jewell Manor — a walk-up apartment building in the Oliver neighbourhood. The apartment also provided accommodation and support to individuals who had moved from Michener. The Volunteer Services Program was established in 1984 with the intent to create opportunities for individuals in recreation/leisure planning and participation. Skills Society purchased homes to provide accommodation for individuals in transition or as more permanent community residences. The agency began working closely with the families of individuals with disabilities, in addition to the individuals themselves.
In the mid-nineties, Dave Hingsburger, an educator and advocate for people with disabilities, collaborated with self-advocates from Skills Society to write The Rights We Want, A Consumer’s Bill of Rights. A few years later a section on consumer responsibilities was added. These writings remain an integral part of Skills Society’s policies and procedures, and have been a part of the strong voice for self-advocacy that has emerged and grown as individuals communicate for themselves their expectations of living meaningful lives with the same rights as every citizen. The book Someone Like That by Curtis Gillespie, published in 2000, helped further expand social awareness of people with developmental disabilities.
A 2004-2005 human rights project at the Nina Haggerty Centre for the Arts produced the documentary film and book Through the Eyes of Artists. Take Six Productions, a film cooperative whose members included people with disabilities, created a small body of work about community life that Skills Society helped publish. Their film Hot Summer Road Trip: What’s Cool in Your Community? was profiled in several film festivals.
The new millennium brought a shift, from a focus on deficits, to one inspired by the gifts, dreams and hopes of the individuals we support. A “person-centred” approach to supporting individuals in their ability to participate, contribute and connect to their community began to evolve.
In 2011 a magazine project, Celebrating the First 25 Years – The Birth and Life of an Organization written by Carmen Adams and including A Family’s Story by Bob Adams, marked Skills Society’s quarter-century of service to the community. Quality of life remains our guiding principle as we continually learn what being, belonging and becoming mean to the lives of people with developmental disabilities. Project Citizenship is a new direction in the last 5 years, where people with disabilities are provided opportunities to contribute and connect in community life as full citizens.