Kids and adults with special needs deserve better
Community Living Hamilton plans new centre to ease the caregiving burden
Race, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation: all have captured headlines. If diversity is Canada’s strength, our sesquicentennial presents a prized opportunity to celebrate and promote inclusion and equality.
After all, Canadians seem to widely embrace the notion that we are richer when everyone is at the table. But what about Canadians with an intellectual disability? How often are they at the table? How well are we helping them contribute and lead fulsome lives?
Here’s the reality: At least one in 50 Canadians has an intellectual disability.
Chances are you know someone with severe autism or Down syndrome or other special needs who faces significant barriers to independent living. Or you may know their family members who carry an enormous caregiving burden.
Just one in four adults with an intellectual disability is employed, compared with over half of people with other disabilities. As many as 40 per cent of working-age Canadians with intellectual disabilities have never worked, and almost half struggle to live on provincial/territorial social assistance.
Their lives are too often marked by social isolation, poverty, barriers to health care and public services, and violence and abuse.
And yet we know that including these Canadians and helping them build great lives benefits everyone.
In schools, inclusiveness has been shown to make all children more compassionate. In Canadian organizations, inclusion is on the rise, credited with greater employee engagement, better recruitment of talent and stronger branding.
Surveys in Canada and the U.S. show people with intellectual disabilities demonstrate high attendance, satisfactory productivity, loyalty and dedication to their work. In return, through their contributions and achievements, these workers gain greater independence and self-esteem as they develop essential new skills and capabilities.
It’s a compelling case for inclusion. And yet, how do we get from here to there?
The answer is in inclusive and welcoming communities and neighbourhoods, in caring parents and other family members, in government funding and private donor support, and in dedicated staff and volunteers.
The solution also lies in vital community services and supports such as Community Living Hamilton.
CLH proudly serves 1,400 people with intellectual disabilities — and their families — in our community each year. It is Hamilton’s largest, not-for-profit entity serving people with intellectual disabilities.
Believing everyone should be able to live with dignity as citizens of our community, CLH offers a breadth of services such as day programs, respite care, employment support and life-skills training. The goal is to enable these Canadians to realize their full potential, including having the freedom to go to work, to vote and volunteer, to make one’s own decisions, to practise religious beliefs, and to have friends and people who care.
A large part of the work at CLH focuses on caregivers. Without relief, caregivers and families sometimes reach the end of their tether. They often feel they can’t continue when the challenges become too great.
Respite care is a vital safety valve for the pressures of caring full time for a person with a disability. CLH offers day and night respite services for children and adults at several locations. There, they and their families find highly skilled, caring staff. They find peace, security, comfort and safety.
Unfortunately, the need is greater than current resources accommodate.
Alarmingly, more than 250 children and almost 600 adults and their families are waiting for respite care. Children’s families face a wait time of about 17 months for respite, while adults’ families wait almost twice as long.
To help fill this yawning gap, CLH has embarked on a transformational project: a new, larger centre of 23,000 square feet that will provide urgently needed capacity for shortand long-stay respite for up to eight children and teens as well as eight adults at a time in single-bed bedrooms.
Staff will be able to co-ordinate support for all ages and provide continuity of care as children become adults. At the centre, children and adults will continue to have distinct space and entrances as well as specialized programming, each in an intimate homelike environment.
To help make this state-of-the-art care centre a reality, CLH plans a fundraising campaign. It deserves the support of the people of Hamilton and other Golden Horseshoe communities that have shown generosity over the years with support for education, health care and cultural projects.
With greater capacity at CLH, we can ease the caregiving burden on local families.
We can help alleviate caregiver stress and its related health challenges.
We can ensure that families are supported and cared for, and that we have a richer, more diverse community where everyone is included and has a chance to realize their full potential. What could be better?