On June 24, CUPE Ontario celebrates Developmental Service Worker Appreciation Day—a day dedicated to recognizing the crucial work done by workers in developmental services to support people with intellectual and physical disabilities.

CUPE Ontario recognizes the important role workers in developmental services play in supporting individuals with developmental disabilities, their families, and more broadly, our communities. Frontline workers ensure that Ontarians with developmental disabilities can live meaningful lives. They support these individuals’ daily needs, provide care, and lead day programming in the community.

Workers in developmental services and the people they support are often ignored by decision makers, particularly the government and especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic. For years, cuts to the sector have been made worse by growing societal barriers that prevent the full participation of people with disabilities. These factors have reinforced our history of social exclusion. Workers in developmental services are truly the bridge between an inaccessible world and people with developmental disabilities that they support. Yet, workers in developmental services too often work low-paid, precarious, and part-time jobs. Staffing is astonishingly under-resourced, leading to above average turnover rates for those in this field. Theirs is precarious labour, and many must work two or three jobs just to get by.

Ford’s Conservatives have gone to extraordinary lengths to deny the realities of developmental services. In 2019, the Ford government announced a $1 million spend on a private contractor to find ways to cut costs in the developmental services sector. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the exclusion of developmental service workers and people with disabilities has become even more vivid. Workers are still being encouraged by employers and government agencies to rely on fabric face masks in lieu of adequate personal protective equipment. Additionally, social, and physical distancing measures have confined people with developmental disabilities to their homes.

While COVID-19 has quickly created a new world for us all, it also presents organizers, politicians, and decision-makers with the possibility of great social reform. This reform begins with the inclusion of those most often pushed to the margins of our society as we collectively usher in a new world that is accessible and inclusive to all.

Developmental Service Worker Appreciation Day is more than just acknowledging workers in developmental services—it is about all of us re-affirming our commitment to fight for inclusion and accessibility.

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