History of Atlantis

Gang of 19 poster

Atlantis, the lost city, is and always has aimed to be a place where people with disabilities could establish their independence with community support. Early in 1974, a group of concerned people with disabilities along with their non-disabled allies, began educating themselves to the plight of the young disabled adult. They found that the majority (some as young as twelve) who were living in nursing homes were virtually trapped in a stagnant and paternalistic prison where civil rights were blatantly violated, medical care was poor and impersonal, and individual initiative and self-direction were aggressively discouraged. The group that later became Atlantis began looking for alternatives to lives these people were faced with.

The first attempt, kick started by the Reverend Wade Blank, was to create a special youth program in a nursing home with a mission to provide normalizing educational and social experiences. The program was mostly successful in terms of individual liberation, but it soon became apparent that the humanistic goals of the Atlantis group were in direct conflict with the philosophy of the profit-based nursing home industry. It was then that the Atlantis Early Action Project was conceived, in 1975. The goals were to allow every disabled individual, regardless of the extent of their disability, the same rights and responsibilities of their non-disabled peers. Such rights include the freedom to choose a lifestyle and fulfill personal goals in education, employment, and personal growth. Atlantis also sought to facilitate freedom from a punitive traditional system that stigmatizes the disabled and segregates them from the mainstream of society.

The planning started in January of 1975. Public housing units were leased from the Denver Housing Authority in the Las Casitas Development. Funds from the Colorado Division of Vocational Rehabilitation were secured to renovate the apartments and make them accessible to wheelchairs. In June, the first eight residents moved in. All were former patients in nursing homes eager for the opportunity to make lives for themselves in the community. In June of 1975, the Atlantis Community was born as an alternative to the nursing homes and state institutions the disabled were forced to live in.

At that time, many people with disabilities were denied the right to an adequate education or meaningful employment. Many were sent to non-accredited, segregated “special” schools, or to sheltered workshops where they were paid five cents per hour to count fish hooks or untangle old phone cords. Nursing home residents were often provided with no meaningful activity whatsoever. Atlantis sought to assist the individual in fulfilling whatever goals they outlined for themselves. And while Atlantis has seen many different programs, grants and staff members come and go over the years, this core principle has always stayed the same.