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 KITCHENER, Ont. – Over 20 Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members who work in developmental services from all over southwestern Ontario gathered in front of Minister of Community and Social Services (MCSS) John Milloy’s constituency office on International Day of Persons with Disabilities to speak on the impact of provincial underfunding on services to adults with developmental disabilities. They were joined by family members of supported individuals as well as disability rights activists to have their voices heard.

“We find ourselves here today, on International Day of Persons with Disabilities, to draw attention to the 23,000 individuals and families across Ontario who find themselves on waitlists for services and supports as a result of a continued lack of funding for those with developmental disabilities,” said Sarah Declerck, Coordinator of Social Services for CUPE in Ontario, at yesterday’s rally.

December 3 has been promoted by the United Nations as International Day of Persons with Disabilities since 1992 – for two decades, the day has been recognized to increase awareness on disability issues and to gain support for the dignity, rights and well-being of those with disabilities. This year’s theme, “Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all” comes at a time when cuts in Ontario have meant fewer recreational activities for supported individuals and cancelled community-based inclusive activities, cuts to staffing hours sacrificing quality of care and a crisis in access to supports for ageing family members and individuals with developmental disabilities.

“Recently in Sarnia, two families were left with no other choice but to surrender their loved one with a developmental disability behind at an agency because they could not continue to wait for access to services, added Declerck. Families should not be forced to make those kinds of decisions – the government needs to do the right thing and invest in those services.”

Joanne Smithers, a front-line developmental services staff with CUPE went on to say that “when it comes to removing barriers and creating an equal society for all, my government has failed. They have a responsibility to ensure that people with developmental disabilities are able to live inclusive lives in their communities and under this government, waitlists have grown, direct support hours are shrinking, and agencies are seeing staff recruitment and retention issues. Budgets to agencies have been frozen and staff are asked to do more with less. We have even seen quality and quantity of food decrease which is unacceptable.”

A recent survey conducted by the employer group of Ontario Agencies Supporting Individuals with Special Needs (OASIS) found that quality of care to vulnerable Ontarians is rapidly declining due to lack of funding, putting increased pressure on agencies to cut services. The survey of 139 agencies revealed major changes to program delivery methods, program closures and cuts to staffing hours and positions.

Helen Garten, the parent of a young adult with a developmental disability who is also a front-time worker in the sector has been on a waitlist for seven years. “I am pleading with the government of Ontario to stop ignoring the needs of people with disabilities, Garten said. My daughter just wants a chance to be able to move out and spread her wings like other young adults do.”

Minister Milloy was out of town on government business but the group was able to sit down and speak with his Communications Assistant, Kelly Milne, who assured them their concerns would be passed on to the Minister.

“With a budget frozen at 2009 levels, we are seeing this situation become more and more critical, concluded Declerck. What will it take for this government to honour its commitment to inject adequate funding to ensure quality services and supports for people with developmental disabilities?”

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For more information:

Marjorie Savoie, CUPE Communications: (613) 864-9924