Every day we meet people who are living with intellectual disabilities in our community. Some people are working at various jobs. Others are elderly and now retired. Several are living independent, happy lives after years of being hidden away in large provincially operated institutions. Young people with intellectual disabilities are living at home with their parents while attending day care and school as they work to mature into independent, happy adults.
There is one thing many adults with disabilities have in common. They live on pensions that condemn them to lives of abject poverty. Disability pension provides basic shelter and living costs. Most people with an intellectual disability live on about $1,000 per month to pay for rent, utilities, food, clothing, transportation, etc. Approximately 16 per cent of Canadians have a disability and 49 per cent of adults who have a disability are not employed. That number is higher for people who have an intellectual disability. Helping people get jobs has many benefits including less dependency on social assistance and offering an opportunity to contribute to the tax base.
Another issue greatly affecting people with disabilities and their families is lack of support. Over 100 people in Huron and Perth counties are waiting for some kind of support for day-to-day living. Recently, the Ministry of Community and Social Services, which provides most of the funding to support people with intellectual disabilities has instituted a long, complicated assessment process that must be completed before any supports are made available. People are going to get slotted into boxes with funding based on the needs identified by bureaucrats who do not really know them. This sounds like a great race to the bottom, prove the most negative aspects of a person’s potential and receive the most supports. People in St. Marys value people for their contributions to community life, always seeking to enhance those positive contributions. But there is never enough money available to hire people to accomplish that. Here in St. Marys, and across this province thousands of people and families are on long waiting lists hoping to get relief from difficult situations. They will wait for years.
More than 50 years ago community members and parents of children with intellectual disabilities, in St. Marys and across Ontario started thinking about ways of keeping children living in their home communities rather than being lost forever to the prison-like provincial institutions. Those people got us to where we are now: integrated communities, institutions all closed, and at least talk about fully integrated schools. But serious concerns are building like storm clouds in the west. Our local Association for Community Living receives virtually all its funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Our association cannot play the same advocacy role that those parents did 50-plus years ago. In some jurisdictions in USA services to people with intellectual disabilities have been privatized and contracted out to the lowest bidder. Under those conditions only the services outlined in the provincial assessment reports would be provided. People would not have real opportunities to grow and mature. Our local Association could disappear altogether if the Ministry of Community and Social Services decides to consolidate services in larger centres.
Young people with intellectual disabilities deserve opportunities to live full and productive lives in our community. Parents and friends of these children need to begin advocating for them now. Dream of the best possible lives for your children then organize and agitate to make sure those dreams are realized. Promote the best interests of your children in the community, in the schools, to elected officials and to Community Living St. Marys and Area. Be aggressive, organize and start now.
On behalf of the Board of Directors
Community Living St. Marys and Area