Inspired by the formation of the National Society for Crippled Children (later Easterseals) in the US three years earlier, Easter Seals in Canada had its beginnings in the province of Ontario on November 28, 1922, when 10 representatives from seven Rotary Clubs throughout the province came together to form the Ontario Society for Crippled Children (later Easter Seals Ontario). As was the case with their US counterpart, this organization’s concern was the lack of services and resources available to children with physical disabilities, and its goals were to ensure adequate treatment and raise public awareness about the needs of these children.
Over the next 34 years, similar organizations that would eventually become part of the Easter Seals family were established across Canada. In 1937, the Ontario Government turned to Easter Seals for expert assistance following a devastating poliomyelitis (polio) outbreak. That same year, Easter Seals in both Ontario and Nova Scotia opened the first Canadian adaptive camps for children with physical disabilities.
Today, Easter Seals and its ten independently governed provincial affiliate organizations have offices and provide programs and services to people living with disabilities in provinces and territories all across Canada, and plans are well underway to celebrate Easter Seals’ 100th anniversary in 2022.
Spotlight on some of the programs of Easter Seals Canada
Easter Seals Canada, the national office of Easter Seals, supports its provincial partners through national fundraising campaigns and awareness initiatives. In addition, it offers the Disability Travel Card for people with permanent disabilities who require the assistance of a support person when travelling by certain Canadian rail and coach carriers.
Another national program is the Access 2 Card, which allows people with permanent disabilities to receive either free or significantly discounted admission for their support person at member movie theatres, cultural attractions, and recreation facilities across Canada. Since its inception in 2004, the Access 2 program has grown to approximately 50,000 cardholders nationwide.
Also offered by Easter Seals Canada are the 21st Century Leadership Skills Program for young adults aged 15-29, and the AccessABILITY Program, providing financial assistance to the families of children under 14 years of age who may not have the means to purchase the specialized mobility and technology equipment their children need to be able to participate fully in their communities.
At the provincial level, Easter Seals provides many programs and services, which vary from province to province to meet the needs of local communities. The following are just some examples of the types of programs and services available through Easter Seals’ provincial partners.
. Assistive and Adaptive Technology – equipment loans and financial assistance to individuals and families
. Education and Training, as well as scholarships and bursaries
. Sport, Recreation, and Leisure – sledge hockey, wheelchair basketball, boccia, and more
. Rehabilitation and Occupational Therapy
. Residential and Respite
. Summer Camp
The programs most sought after and accessed are the Access 2 card (nationally), assistive and adaptive technology, and summer camps (provincially).
While Easter Seals in Canada does not provide programs and services specifically for veterans, those programs and services that are available for adults with disabilities are equally available to veterans, who are welcome to contact us for information and assistance at any time.
The effect of COVID-19 on Easter Seals’ programs
As has been the case for many organizations across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated the interruption and cancellation of many Easter Seals in-person programs in 2020. While virtual alternatives were a solution for some of these programs, such as summer camps, other programs simply could not be offered at all. The pandemic has had an impact not only on client-directed programs, but also on the fundraising efforts of Easter Seals and its supporters all across Canada. Traditional fundraising events, such as golf tournaments and galas, could not be held and, like summer camp, prompted a number of creative and safe alternatives, such as virtual galas, online silent auctions, socially-distanced marathon/walkathon events, and even a butter tart driving tour of southern Ontario.
Despite these creative solutions, and despite the continued generosity of Easter Seals’ corporate and individual donors, 2020 has been financially difficult for the majority of people and businesses, often leading to a domino effect. Many of the Access 2 Card partner venues have had to close or modify their operations for health and safety reasons, which has led to a decrease in the sales and renewals of the card. A number of corporate donors have seen their own revenues decline sharply as a result of the pandemic and have not been able to offer the same level of financial support as in the past. Several provincial Easter Seals programs, as well, have had to be put on hold or be cancelled outright. Even if the pandemic were to magically disappear overnight, it will take time for all involved to return to where they were before COVID-19 hit.
Every summer, more than 6,000 kids living with disabilities attend one of 14 specialized, fully-accessible Easter Seals camps across Canada.
At camp, every child – matter their disability – receives the encouragement and support they need to challenge themselves, build confidence and make the most of their abilities.
Camp is a special place where kids can just be themselves and focus on their abilities…not their disabilities. Camp is a place where everything is accessible and there are no boundaries, no barriers, no limits to what they can achieve. Camp provides a sense of freedomand independence in an environment where anything is possible and there is no such thing as disability.
Camp is a place of “yes I can!”