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Belonging starts with fair, equitable and transparent access to developmental services

This year, Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) celebrates its 10th anniversary.
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This year, Developmental Services Ontario (DSO) celebrates its 10th anniversary.

As a Program Supervisor with DSO, Marnie Colosimo works with a team of Assessor-Navigators that have facilitated referrals for thousands of adults with developmental disabilities to Ministry-funded services in the districts of Algoma, Kenora, Manitoulin, Rainy River, Sudbury and Thunder Bay. “Before DSONR, families struggled to find information about what Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS) programs were available in their community,” she says. DSONR is a one-stop shop that completes intake, confirms eligibility, completes the application package and refers adults with developmental disabilities to services and programs. “In the past, families added their names to numerous wait lists and knocked on many doors, unsure of where to go. This left families exhausted and in crisis as a result of the barriers to accessing supports,” Colosimo explains.

Colosimo’s family life gives her perspective that informs her work with DSONR: “My uncle was born with a developmental disability... when I look at him through the lens of my experience with DSONR, I think he would have had so much more exposure and skills if he wasn’t placed in an institution and had the person-directed, community-based support model that exists today,” she shares. Later as an adult, her uncle was deinstitutionalized and placed with a host family in the Thunder Bay area. “We saw so much growth in his skills and happiness during that time,” she adds.

Following the path laid by the disability justice movement in the 1960s, the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services closed its doors on the final three remaining institutions for adults with developmental disabilities at the end of 2009. The growth of DSO in this past decade is marked not only by the evolution of services, but by the society largely adopting a more compassionate view toward adults with developmental disabilities.

Changes to legislation and the assessment process have acted to reduce regional barriers, promote collaborative relationships between agencies, and offer services that build on the strengths of the individual and their existing support networks. “The Supports Intensity Scale is a standardized tool that is used across the province to measure an individual’s needs and to collect information that is used to refer them to MCCSS programs. Everyone follows the same process with the same tools, ensuring individuals receive fair, equitable and transparent access,” says Colosimo.

Even with this growth, Colosimo still believes there is room for improvement. “If people knew more about developmental disabilities, maybe they would be more welcoming and less afraid of people,” she explains. “Ultimately people need to be open and accepting of others' differences. People with developmental disabilities deserve to truly belong as full citizens in our community.”

To access Developmental Services Ontario, call 1-855-376-6673 or email