Julie Bourque is thriving. The young woman, who is currently doing an internship at a daycare centre, where she disinfects the facilities in the morning and helps out with 18-month-old babies in the afternoon, has a boyfriend.

She takes Zumba classes, has lived alone in a condo for seven years and sits on the board of directors of the Société québécoise de déficience intellectuelle (SQDI).

Bourque said she is privileged because her intellectual disability is mild, which allows her to communicate easily. Her contagious joy, perceptible at the end of the phone, means that she has not faced too many difficulties in integrating into society.

But the young woman, who is also a national ambassador for the SQDI, would like the same to happen to other people who, like her, live with this disability on a daily basis, regardless of the severity of their disorder.

"These people deserve to be known, and they deserve to have their place in society," she said in an interview ahead of the 35th Quebec Intellectual Disability Week, which begins this Sunday with the theme of the dignity of people. "We should not be afraid to open up to them, it represents a lot of great opportunities and it would make more people go to work."


It is true that the labour shortage has meant that individuals previously shunned by employers now have a chance to make their mark, acknowledges Chentale de Montigny, executive director of the Compagnons de Montréal.

"The labour market is becoming more open to people who are different, and this is closely related to the dignity of these people, who are trying to find their place in society, to feel useful and not left out," she said. "When the workforce was more plentiful, employers were less inclined to give different employees a chance. We are now seeing some great discoveries being made, and many employers who are taming this new pool of candidates say they are pleasantly surprised."

The woman who has been working with this clientele for seven years now says that she has seen a certain openness towards it.

"Not so long ago, intellectual disabilities were still very taboo; people were hidden away, we didn't talk about them," said de Montigny. "But this vision has evolved and we are benefiting from letting go of the taboos and discovering the other person."


It is by showing this openness that people living with an intellectual disability - there are some 174,000 of them in Quebec - will be able to live fully in dignity.

"For most people, this dignity is taken for granted, we don't even notice it anymore," said Amélie Duranleau, Executive Director of the SQDI. "We need to be aware of the fact that the life course of people with an intellectual disability should be easier and more inclusive in order to promote their development and autonomy."

It is why, she said, Quebec Intellectual Disability Week is still relevant, even after 35 years.

"It is a week of celebration of diversity, but also a week of awareness, so that inclusion and dignity of people is something that is lived 365 days a year," said Duranleau.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on March 19, 2023.

This story was written with the financial support of the Meta Fellowship and The Canadian Press for news.