A new chance for disability reforms

Posted on October 2, 2020 in Inclusion Policy Context

Source: — Authors: ,

TheStar.com – Opinion/Contributors

We all know someone with a disability who may have seen a glimmer of hope in the throne speech last week. A friend who battles depression, a nephew with autism, or perhaps a co-worker with multiple sclerosis.

But despite being surrounded by people with disabilities, we often don’t see the impact of disability on their lives. Disability income support programs often reflect this lack of understanding of the real experience of disability.

The federal government’s proposed Disability Inclusion Plan could offer a great step toward true inclusion or could reinforce the problems of current programs. For this plan to work, it needs to be grounded in principles that ensure no one is left behind.

Inclusion for people with disabilities must be both economic and social. A program focused solely on facilitating employment devalues the worth of individuals when they cannot work.

Disabilities impact individuals in different ways at different times, and they should be able to move in and out of the labour market with a flexible income support program. Programs that force people to continually reapply for benefits create barriers to sustained economic engagement.

An income adequate to keep people out of poverty cannot be understated as a means to social inclusion. Those without employment should be able to live with dignity and participate in their communities. Those who work often require extra funds to reach the poverty line and meet basic needs. Disability should never mean isolation, hunger or homelessness.

The federal plan cannot and will not stand alone. For federal and provincial programs to provide adequate income, punitive clawbacks by one program of another’s funds must end. The current treatment of EI, CPP-D and earned income leaves Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) recipients respectively worse off, no better off or marginally improved.

Benefits should stack onto each other not cancel each other out. Income supports should also work in tandem with housing, employment, childcare, and other programs to lift people out of poverty.

An inclusive plan would address individual needs and recognize individual barriers to inclusion. Every person’s story is different, and a disability support program, like health supports, should have the ability to recognize and address individual needs.

Equity must also guide the allocation of resources, ensuring the specific needs of, and barriers faced by, people from marginalized communities, including those who identify as Indigenous and Black, are addressed. This will require responsive and flexible program planning and delivery.

If done correctly this plan would meet the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, including the right to work, which Canada is duty-bound to uphold. There is no inclusion when a person’s fundamental rights are violated.

For example, ODSP recipients are effectively deemed to be in common-law relationships after three months of cohabitation whereas it takes three years for non- disabled persons to be deemed common-law by the province. This has created a barrier to forming relationships, which may partly explain why over 80 per cent of people on ODSP are single.

Underlying all this is probably one of the most divisive and difficult conversations in the disability rights community — the definition of who is actually disabled. Restrictive definitions of disability have created barriers to support for many. Currently, definitions vary by program and level of government.

The definition for ODSP appropriately focuses on a broad assessment of functioning to determine disability and provides a good model for other programs. It falls in line with the lived experience of having a disability.

Change, however, will require more than just an appropriate definition. In practice, documenting functional limitations has been difficult for doctors who are trained to see symptoms and make diagnoses, and harder still for programs to adjudicate fairly without regard to gatekeeping or quotas.

This new federal program could represent a historic moment for persons with disabilities in Canada. Without input from the broader disability community, it could result in further marginalization.

Those who know the system best, those who live with disabilities, must be included in the design of the new benefit. We hope the federal government is ready to grab this opportunity to advance the human rights and dignity of people living with disabilities.

Gary Bloch is a family physician in Toronto and an associate professor with the University of Toronto Faculty of Medicine. Laura Cattari is senior policy analyst for the Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction.

Tags: , , , , , ,

This entry was posted on Friday, October 2nd, 2020 at 9:05 am and is filed under Inclusion Policy Context. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply