IMMIGRATION/DIVERSITY REPORTER Published On Thu Dec 3 2009
Canada must end institutionalization of mentally disabled people and invest in their quality of life by improving access to jobs and social supports, says a new report to be released Thursday.
Only a quarter of Canadians who have a mental disability and live alone are employed and a staggering 73.2 per cent of them live below the poverty line, says the report by the Canadian Association for Community Living, a national advocacy group for the rights of the mentally disabled.
There are an estimated 750,000 Canadians with an intellectual disability.
“Our future must begin with a recognition that for an unacceptable number of people, the experience of disability is still one of exclusion, isolation and poverty,” says the report, released in Ottawa on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities
Of those employed, less than 20 per cent work full-time and their average income is less than half of that of Canadians without a disability. Significant numbers remain enrolled in segregated day programs or workshops, and parents of disabled children often complain of inadequate planning and counselling to help them make the transition from high school to work places.
While the majority of people with mental disabilities rely on government support, the same system also penalizes them.
“Paradoxically, even with the minimal benefits that social assistance provides, for many, a transition to paid employment often results in a financial loss,” says the association, which calls for significant changes to social assistance programs that allow them to keep more of their earned income, while offering a comprehensive program of ongoing disability supports for employment.
“Only then can we realistically expect to have significant positive impact on (their) employment rates,” the report states.
The Ontario government has just appointed a panel to review its welfare system, which includes government supports for 260,000 disabled people in the province.
The report also cites other ongoing barriers to education and technical training that contribute to the high poverty rate among people with mental disabilities.
“This outcome is not surprising when we consider that persons are excluded from education and training opportunities and denied the supports they need to go to school, get a job and keep a job,” it says. “It is inexcusable in a prosperous country like Canada that the most likely outcome for persons with intellectual disabilities is one of poverty.”
Advocating for inclusion and integration, the association also urges the closing of Canada’s remaining large government-operated institutions for mentally disabled: Valley View Centre in Saskatchewan, Michener Centre in Alberta and Manitoba Development Centre in Manitoba. There are still more than 900 people living in institutional care across Canada.
The total number of such facilities has dropped from 31 to three since 1986.