'I don't want them to be in a prison-like environment'

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Protesters at Breton Ability Centre call for province to move away from institutional model of care

SYDNEY RIVER — A Cape Breton mother of two special needs children said she worries about their future each and every day.

Cindy Carruthers, a spokeswoman with People First Nova Scotia, left, talks with other protesters during a demonstration against institutional facilities, Sunday outside the Breton Ability Centre in Sydney. Laura Jean Grant - Cape Breton Post

"I worry more about the future than I worry about today because at least right now I'm here to help them," Lisa Bond said of her two kids Zavier, 7, and Zander, 9.

Zavier is autistic and has other medical issues, and Zander has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, involuntary movement disorder and some learning disabilities.

"I don't know if they'll ever be able to live on their own — I hope they will but time will tell. If they can't (live on their own), there's going to be a day when I'm gone and I don't want them to be in a prison-like environment," said Bond, one of about 10 people who gathered outside the Breton Ability Centre Sunday afternoon, protesting the fact that institutions like it still exist.

A resident of Florence, Bond said she wants her children to eventually find a place to "live, not survive" and hopes they are able to find meaningful work.

"They may have special needs but they also have special abilities and there's no reason for them to be confined away from the community," she said.

Two groups, Advocating Parents of Nova Scotia and People First Nova Scotia, organized the Sunday protest outside the Breton Ability Centre and another at Quest Society located in Lower Sackville — two of six facilities in the province that they feel do not provide a positive environment for its residents.

Truro area resident Cindy Carruthers, a spokeswoman with People First Nova Scotia, said she was in Sydney to speak out for people with intellectual disabilities.

"They are full citizens and they deserve the things that we as citizens expect and appreciate such as living in your community, having your own place, having the freedoms to meet with a friend and have a coffee at Tim's, have an animal, go for a walk — basic liberties that they do not have at institutions," she said.

Carruthers, who has worked with people with disabilities for 25 years, said most regions of Canada are moving away from the institutional model of care but Nova Scotia lags behind.

"The alternative is already out there in the community. We have many successful small options homes and group homes. We have people living and working under the independent living program, we have alternative families, we've got lots of success stories out there but it's not available to everybody, and all we're asking for is let's have some consistency for our citizens," said Carruthers.

According to its website, the Breton Ability Centre provides quality services to people of varying disabilities and support them in learning and developing personal, social, vocational and educational skills to enable them to transition to other community living options and participate actively in their communities.

An official with the Breton Ability Centre wasn't immediately available for comment Sunday afternoon.

Organizations: Breton Ability Centre, People First Nova Scotia, Quest Society

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, Florence, Lower Sackville Sydney Canada

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