To live an inclusive life means to belong, participate, and be valued on an equal basis with others in all aspects of personal, social, spiritual, cultural, economic, and political life. This cannot be fully achieved for anyone without inclusive communities and an inclusive society. This means the conditions are in place for all persons to live an inclusive life, without discrimination based on disability, gender, race, indigeneity, sexual orientation, religion, or other grounds on which people are so often systematically devalued and disadvantaged.
Informed by the systemic exclusion that people with intellectual disabilities and other marginalized groups face, IRIS’ mission is to foster and support transformative social development. Guided by principles of full inclusion and human rights, we carry out research to identify issues and policy options. We foster social innovation to re-imagine inclusion and design new ways to meet unmet needs. Through capacity-building we strengthen leadership and constituencies for transformative change.
The following principles guide IRIS’ day-to-day work:
- Elevate voices of people who are marginalized and centre their lived experience – Diverse people with intellectual and other disabilities, as well as other marginalized groups are the experts on their own needs, lives and aspirations. Listen deeply.
- Use a gender+ and distinction based intersectional approach – An anti-ableism, anti-oppression, anti-racism, anti-black and Indigenous racism, feminist, and decolonized starting point is the best way to reveal structures of exclusion and
- Seek understanding of why people are systemically marginalized – This means working from a trauma-informed starting point and appreciating historic legacies of systemic inequality, including ableism, racism and colonialism.
- Strive for collaboration and solidarity – Common ground and understanding is made possible by respecting and valuing distinct needs, histories and identities.
- Be accountable for convening safe, ethical and respectful spaces – This means using a holistic, preventative, empowerment- based, relational, person-centred and directed, culturally grounded approach to our work.
- Abide by rigorous standards of research and knowledge translation, and recognize multiple methods
- Act with humility – Be active listeners and
- Grow trust with all with whom we work – Understand and respect that people think, learn, share and communicate in different ways, and at different paces. There needs to be a safe, inclusive space for all.
The IRIS staff, board and consultants also seek to align their work to four core values:
- Self-determination – all people, in all their diversity, can guide their own lives and make decisions about what matters to them, if they have the respect and support to do so.
- Equality – all people are deserving of and have a right to equal respect, recognition, value and
- Equity – historically-shaped harms against people with intellectual disabilities and other marginalized groups must be confronted and redressed.
- Inclusive community – people flourish and thrive in communities that value everyone’s differences and contributions, where solidarity and belonging leave no one behind, unheard, unsafe, or alone.
IRIS Role and Approach
IRIS produces and facilitates knowledge sharing, network building, training, and convening to advance inclusion.
IRIS carries out its mission through three main roles:
- Research – literature reviews, policy consultations, law and policy analysis, policy benchmarks and indicators, case study research, demographic trends, and preparation of policy briefs outlining policy issues and proposals for reform.
- Social Innovation –convening and facilitating learning and social labs, community-based systems design, learning resources development, and designing, piloting and prototyping strategies for social change.
- Capacity Building – convening and hosting community forums, partnership and leadership development, design and delivery of train-the-trainer strategies, platforms to build solidarity and constituencies for social change.
The Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society (IRIS) was established by Inclusion Canada (formerly the Canadian Association for Community Living) in 1969 to provide research, new ways of thinking, inspiration, and education to advance the well-being of people with an intellectual disability. Known then as the National Institute on Mental Retardation (NIMR), and later as L’Institut Roeher Institute, in its current form IRIS continues to be grounded in the lived experiences of people with an intellectual disability.
Over the years, the board and team at the Institute came to recognize the value of linking with the broader disability community – changing systems, laws, policies and practices could only be achieved with a broader view of the many ways in which society disables people.
We continue that growth and renewal. In December 2023, IRIS re-launched with a broader membership and a new board of directors, as Inclusion Canada stepped back from its founding role. The IRIS board and team are grateful for their founding the Institute, their support and contributions over the years, and look forward to future collaborations.
Today IRIS remains anchored in the lived experiences of people with intellectual and other disabilities and their families, and more broadly in the experiences of people who are marginalized. We recognize that people with disabilities are not a homogenous group. People have many identities, and may be excluded on account of their disability, their racialization, Indigeneity, migrant status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or their multiply constituted identities. We believe that successfully challenging exclusion only comes with collaborating and learning across the boundaries that divide us, that marginalize people in multiple ways, by design.
Marginalization has a long history in Canada and jurisdictions around the world, structured through colonial legal and economic systems and other structures of power that exploit some groups, and that reject people with intellectual disabilities and others – through eugenics, institutionalization, segregation, denial of human rights and systematic violence – as not worthy of belonging or contributing.
IRIS remains committed to revealing the sources and dynamics of marginalization. We continue to convene spaces and build infrastructure for collaborative research, social development, and solidarity-building to achieve transformative change.