According to Statistics Canada, 6.2 million Canadians are estimated to be living with a disability. People with disabilities are likely to be living in poverty – this figure is as high as 30% - due to societal barriers including discrimination, access to education and employment, and protective social programs. Stats Canada reports a mere 40-59% in employment, depending on the severity of the disability, as compared with 80% of the rest of the population. Those in employment are more likely to be underemployed, earning less money and having inequitable access to opportunities. The additional cost of a person living with even a moderate disability can be significantly higher than someone who is not. Moreover, the global pandemic has adversely and disproportionately affected this group, who remain at a disadvantage regarding most Sustainable Development Goals.
The Government of Canada has announced the creation of a Canadian Disability Inclusion Plan to address long-standing challenges facing Canadians with disabilities, and a national COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group to guide government action on disability inclusion in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Accessible Canada Act
“Our hope is a Canadian Disability Benefit helps get rid of red tape, protect the dignity of Disabled Canadians not having to prove their disability and poverty status, and is an opportunity to expand the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act” – Member of the Disability Action Hall, Calgary
Disability Action Hall is an advocacy organization based in Calgary, Alberta. With nearly 50% of Calgarians living in poverty also living with one or more disability, the group has found that disability often is hidden or undiagnosed due to the inability to prove disability status, the need for expensive medical tests, difficult administration processes and communication barriers, and poor design of infrastructure that shapes how people carry about their daily lives.
Much of Calgary’s experience stems from the successful design of the city’s low-income transit pass and its fair entry system. Lessons learned are based on asking crucial questions – Is it available, accessible (easy to apply for and to receive) and is it fair for those who need it? Does it connect with other benefits so as not to penalize or jeopardize access to other forms of benefit? As well, is there a built-in mechanism for continuous monitoring and improvement? And importantly, the design is informed by the people themselves.
As government at all levels plays a role in creating programs, policies and structures that are accessible, inclusive and complementary, national and local organizations have a vital role in elevating the voices of people with disabilities contributing to these designs.
People living with disabilities, like all Canadians, deserve to live with dignity. Combined with continued local-level work to build more accessible and inclusive communities, a well-designed and well-implemented national benefit serves as an important pathway to ending disability poverty.
A special thanks to the contributions of Colleen Huston from Disability Action Hall and Laura Cattari from Hamilton Poverty Roundtable