Kids and adults with spe­cial needs de­serve bet­ter

Com­mu­nity Liv­ing Hamil­ton plans new cen­tre to ease the care­giv­ing bur­den

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - SHERRY PARS­LEY Sherry Pars­ley is ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Com­mu­nity Liv­ing Hamil­ton. May is Com­mu­nity Liv­ing Month across On­tario.

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?

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