On June 23, 2021, CUPE Ontario celebrates Developmental Service Worker (DSW) Appreciation Day—a day dedicated to recognizing the vital work done by workers in developmental services to support persons with developmental disabilities. This day is even more important this year as developmental service workers reflect on and share their challenges and sacrifices throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

As COVID-19 rapidly spread in Ontario, developmental service workers across the province were forced to deal with inadequate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), were initially excluded from pandemic pay and did not receive vaccine prioritization – all of this despite the frontline and crucial role in supporting people with disabilities and their families that puts them in close contact with vulnerable individuals.

Because of the chronic precarious work in development services, workers also suffered from significant cuts to hours as a result of necessary health and safety measures that limited the number of agencies they could work for. All of the systemic issues in this sector, fueled by years of under funding and a fundamental disrespect for the people who do this important work have long needed to be addressed by the Ontario government, but were made all the more obvious during COVID 19.

The pandemic also brought huge challenges for important day programs—that support adults with developmental disabilities through educational, skill building, and vocational skill enhancement activities—which were closed initially for public health reasons and then in some cases either remained closed or are threatened by permanent closure. Adults with developmental disabilities have been particularly isolated from friends and family during the pandemic. Like all of us, the loss of social networks increases stress, but for some individuals that results in behavioral challenges that have added stress to an already overworked and under-supported workforce.

This year, CUPE Ontario marks DSW Appreciation Day to recognize the contributions and hardships experienced by developmental service workers. We also take this moment to issue a rallying call to government, employers, disability rights advocates, unionists, families and members of the public to recognize that developmental service workers are still heroes and that we must take action to support people with developmental disabilities:

  1. Sign the online petition calling for improved funding to the developmental service sector, the enhancement and protection of day programs, mandatory WSIB coverage for all workers in the sector, and meaningful and participatory consultations to inform service reforms.
    Sign and share the petition here: cupe.on.ca/dswappreciationday/.
  2. Show developmental service workers your support by updating your Facebook profile picture with CUPE’s new frame to raise awareness and encourage action leading up to DSW Appreciation Day.
    Update your Facebook profile picture here: link.
  3. Share a message of thanks to developmental service workers—record a short 30-second video or make a sign expressing your appreciation for workers. Post the video or photo on social media using #DSWAppreciationDay2021 and email your content to Paul Whyte, CUPE Communications Representative, at [email protected].

Frontline workers ensure that Ontarians with developmental disabilities can live meaningful lives in the community. They support these individuals’ daily needs, provide care, and lead integral community programming, safeguarding their right to live fulfilling, independent lives enshrined in the community living model. For far too long, workers in developmental services and the people they support have been ignored by decision makers.

This DSW Appreciation Day, we continue and amplify our call for real recognition and significantly increased funding, improved supports, and a profound commitment from our government to respect people with developmental disabilities, their families and caregivers and the workers who support them.

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