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The We Count Too! campaign for increased and secure supports for persons who have a developmental disability — launched in the Windsor, Essex and Sarnia areas last month — is now on line. That means supporters of community living can send their own message to Premier Dalton McGuinty and his cabinet directly from www.wecounttoo.ca with a simple click of the mouse.

The unique campaign has been developed by individuals and families, developmental services workers represented by CUPE and their Community Living employers in response to chronic underfunding of the sector.

Since the mid-1990s, agencies have struggled with an initial 5% base budget cut followed by years with no increases. There were minimal base budget increases in 2004-05 and 2005-06, including some agency revitalization funding, but this did not even keep up with the pace of inflation.

Families who receive direct funding from the province have also experienced cuts in funding and support. They often have to make the choice to receive fewer hours of support in order to keep the support workers who know them and their needs.

A study conducted six years ago by KPMG on behalf of community living agencies showed that workers in developmental services earn 25% to 30% less than people doing similar work in hospitals, schools and other institutions. Recruiting and keeping developmental services workers has become increasingly difficult, said Xavier Noordermeer, executive director of Community Living Windsor, noting that some community colleges have even decided to postpone support worker diploma programs because of low enrolment.

We love our work,” said Brian Biggers, president of CUPE 4370, who works for Community Living Sarnia-Lambton. “But you can’t fault people for going to jobs that allow them to support themselves or their families. Right now, too many developmental services workers are carrying two or three jobs just to make ends meet.”

With consultations already underway for the next provincial budget, the families, workers and agencies joined forces to launch We Count Too! — a campaign to advocate for increased supports in the next budget.

They tell us, correctly, that funding for developmental services has increased,” said Noordermeer. “But it’s not enough to meet the demand so that persons with a developmental disability can get off the waiting lists and receive the services they need.

Our message to the province is a simple one: if you believe that every Ontarian has a right to be an active participant in our communities, you have to provide the necessary, adequate and secure supports to let that happen.

It’s a message that we will are asking people right across Ontario to take up and help us deliver.”