Researcher/consultant Donna Michal has had a long-term relationship with the Special Needs Project. She was a member of the national advisory committee that started it all, and was one of the project's first advisors (a role she still has today). She has been a facilitator for the special needs section of CUPW's child care course, and more recently helped with the research for developing the union's new project for children with disabilities who are transitioning into adulthood.
Needless to say, the Special Needs Project is special to her.
"The great thing about the project is that it's individualized. A parent might need tutoring or child care and that's fine as long as they qualify for the program. It is also great that the program has advisors. While being an advisor is a commitment, it is not full-time. Those of us who are advisors have been able to continue to do it even as other things in our lives changed. So there has been this ability to meet families' individual needs and also have some continuity of support."
Since the Special Needs Project began, the union has continued to respond to the needs of parents, says Michal, whose work as a consultant focuses on early childhood issues.
"Benefit package changes that have been brought forward because of the members' needs and the development of the Moving On Project are two big examples."
But she feels the same cannot be said for governments, who are in a position to provide the most support to the most people. Government programs that support families vary across the country and even within cities and provinces and territories. There just isn't enough support for policies and programs that would really make a difference for families across Canada who have children with disabilities.
"I hear how parents struggle so much to get what they need for their children. Even when services are available, it's still a struggle for parents. But what I've noticed about the Special Needs Project over the long-term is how supportive and responsive the union's been."