It was earlier this year when parents of autistic children across Ontario won a major battle against the province, convincing the Ford government to scale back on cuts to autism therapy funding.
Friday morning, another small but dedicated group of patients and parents gathered on the front lawn of Queen’s Park inspired by and hoping to mimic that success.
The group, organized by the Ontario Disability Coalition, is calling on the province to fund therapy for all disabilities and develop a provincial disability program.
Organizers say too many people with disabilities and their families are receiving little to no government assistance and paying heavy out-of-pocket expenses for therapy.
Mariah Robinson is a six-year-old from Hamilton who lives with cerebral palsy. She wears braces on her legs and gets around with the assistance of a walker and the arms of her mother Melissa Lawler.
“The struggles we find (are) mostly with physiotherapy. Not having direct funding to private therapies,” says Lawler of her daughter’s expensive treatment.
“We only receive one hour a week, which is bare minimum for a child trying to strength train… and that’s through OHIP funding.”
Theresa Sanders made the trip to Queen’s Park from Barrie in support of her 16-year-old daughter, Jessica, who has lived with various disabilities since she had a stroke at the age of two.
Sanders says they get whatever help they can from various charities and other agencies, but that it all only goes so far.
“The conversion on wheelchair vans is tens of thousands of dollars, and there is no funding for that, March of Dimes does help but… it’s extremely expensive,” says Sanders.
“We pay out of pocket for speech therapy we’ve paid for since (Jessica) was three. We’ve paid out of pocket for physiotherapy since she was 10.”
It’s even harder to find help when doctors can’t come up with a diagnosis.
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“If you can tell me what I have, I’ll give you $20,” jokes Quentin Zimmerman.
The 29-year-old suddenly fell ill six years ago, losing his ability to walk, but at best, his ailment has only been classified as a neuromuscular disorder of unknown origin.
With no diagnosis, Zimmerman says he fails to check so many of the boxes necessary to receive even minimal funding for the symptoms he has, and he says something needs to change.
“When people need something, they need it, and diagnosis cannot be a barrier to that. We can clearly demonstrate that the things that we’re asking for are necessary for healthy development as human beings.”
Children, Community and Social Services Minister Todd Smith met privately with some of the group Friday morning.
“This morning I had the opportunity to sit down with the Ontario Disability Coalition, hear personal stories, and discuss how to improve outcomes for children and adults with disabilities,” he said. “It was a productive conversation, and I will consider today’s feedback very closely as our government works to make life easier for those living with a disability and their families.”
The group has more protests planned for the future and hopes to see its numbers grow over time.