Opinion: I Live With Cerebral Palsy; The Canada Disability Benefit Would Be a Lifeline for All People With Disabilities

Author of the article:Calgary Herald
Published Dec 20, 2023
By David Oliver Wudel

I live with cerebral palsy and experience a physical battle daily. But the financial burdens that affect me and my loved ones create even more barriers. This is the reality for many Canadians with disabilities across the country.

Adequate disability benefits are critical to our quality of life – and our survival.

It’s time politicians at all levels of government listened to the voices of Canadians living with disabilities and truly understand our needs. Since 2020, we’ve been promised the Canada Disability Benefit – a federal income program to top up provincial disability benefits so that we are no longer living in deep poverty.

We are still waiting.

Living with cerebral palsy means a steady physical ache at the best of times, paralyzing pain at the worst. I have limited use of my hands. I struggle to hold a coffee cup let alone feed myself.

I have virtually no use of my legs – I’m using a motorized wheelchair which, when I first got it, gave me the freedom to be in the world, but now puts me at risk of being stuck on the sidewalk or in an elevator simply because I do not have the thousands of dollars required to replace it; it’s more than 10 years old now, and repairs are costly and increasing in frequency.

My life is filled with joy and privileges. But my life is also far from easy.

There have been moments, due to the physical constraints of my disability, where I have found myself without work for long stretches despite a background in communications and a history of employment. This reality amplifies the emotional effect and financial burden I, and those close to me, endure when I am unable to work. In these times, the constant effort to prove my need for assistance and the reliance on the kindness of others for basic necessities weighs heavily.

Unfortunately, the system is designed to keep people with disabilities in a cycle of poverty.

I live in Calgary in a congregate living setting, one of only a few buildings in the city dedicated to individuals with significant mobility and cognitive barriers. It is a province-run facility that takes 70 per cent of a person’s total income, regardless of what that income is. I have a basic suite (less than 500 square feet) with an accessible bathroom and a stovetop. They provide two meals a day and round-the-clock care for any of the 45 residents who require it.

If I manage to find work, my rent increases in proportion. If I make “too much” (more than $1,000 per month), my provincial Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped (AISH) payments are clawed back. Currently in Alberta, AISH is $1,787 or just over $21,319 in annual income – well below the official poverty line in both Canada and Alberta.

I value my contribution to society but, within this system, the more I contribute, the less I earn. There is no way out of poverty.

The promised federal Canada Disability Benefit is an opportunity for transformation, empowerment and the ability to truly enrich society by lifting people with disabilities – if not out of poverty – at least up to a poverty line, where we may have some autonomy and freedom.

I challenge those who have been elected to see beyond political rhetoric and fully grasp the humanity affected by your decisions. Truly hear the authentic voices of individuals like me who rely on disability benefits to navigate life.

Unleash the actions required to ensure that no individual with any disability faces the choice between rent or food, medication or repairs to a mobility device. We can choose to create a society that cherishes the dignity and worth of every person, regardless of their abilities or constraints they face.

This life is all I’ve ever known. It’s not easy. But my journey stands as a testament to resilience. I am the embodiment of hope and strength. But none of these things make my life any less precarious.

Please do not give up on people like me. Make the Canada Disability Benefit a reality.

David Oliver Wudel lives with cerebral palsy and is a resilient advocate for inclusion and fights poverty in the disabled community.

Original at https://calgaryherald.com/opinion/columnists/opinion-i-live-with-cerebral-palsy-the-canada-disability-benefit-would-be-a-lifeline-for-all-people-with-disabilities

Manitoba Fails to Gain Ground on Accessibility: Report

By: Katie May
Posted: Friday, Dec. 22, 2023

Ten years after Manitoba adopted accessibility laws meant to enhance disability rights in government organizations and workplaces, the province has yet to achieve the “significant progress” envisioned by lawmakers.

The Accessibility for Manitobans Act, introduced in 2013, set a 10-year deadline for Manitoba to make “significant progress” on implementing the legislation and creating and following accessibility standards.

It hasn’t, according to a recent independent review of the legislation, despite the work that’s been done to start a regulatory framework for provincial accessibility standards. The independent review, which was released Dec. 5, included 27 recommendations to improve Manitoba’s accessibility laws.

In response, the provincial government didn’t immediately promise to adopt the recommendations.

Families Minister Nahanni Fontaine, who is responsible for accessibility, said the government is reviewing the report.

“It was an NDP government who passed (the law) in 2013. I’m very proud to continue our commitment to accessibility for all Manitobans,” the minister stated.

“Many of the report’s 27 recommendations will require community consultation, strategic planning, and allocation of government resources to implement. As the minister responsible for accessibility, I am carefully reviewing all recommendations to determine how they can align with our government’s priorities and the ongoing efforts to make Manitoba a barrier-free province.”

David Kron, executive director of the Cerebral Palsy Association of Manitoba and an advocate with Barrier-Free Manitoba, said the recent review makes him optimistic about the future of accessibility in the province.

“Continuous improvement is all I’m looking for,” Kron said, saying he supports the recommendations. “It’s not going to be a panacea all at once.”

Kron and disability advocates have requested a meeting with the minister. They want the government to adopt the recommendations and get working on a complaince enforcement process under the legislation.

When faced with an inaccessible business or a workplace practice that violates their rights, Manitobans with disabilities must file a complaint to the Human Rights Commission.

The goal is that someday soon, accessibility standards will be an accepted reality in workplaces and many spaces in the province, similar to how workplace health and safety committees are viewed, Kron said.

The recommendations focus on the need for more staff and a bigger budget at the provincial accessibility office and accessibility secretariat if the standards are to be effective. By the time the next five-year review rolls around, the government should be able to prove it funds the accessibility office to the same level as other regulatory offices, the review recommends.

It also seeks to expand the spaces and organizations where accessibility standards will apply in Manitoba by recommending the province create an interior-built environment accessibility standard, rather than applying only to public spaces.

The recommendations state accessibility standards should apply to workplaces with at least 20 employees. A previous report applied it only to workplaces with 50 or more employees.

The recommendations also call for the premier and cabinet ministers to publicly speak out about the importance of accessibility in Manitoba.

The report, which is the second mandated five-year review of the legislation, was completed by an independent reviewer in July and was submitted during the previous legislative session.

“Manitoba has not likely seen significant progress in achieving accessibility since 2013. We appear very much still in the early stage of this journey,” states the report.

“The main barrier to implementing the (law) appears to be a lack of government leadership from the top. This has translated into inadequate resources, a lack of co-operation and involvement across government and a resulting gap in knowledge and awareness on the part of both the government and the public, including people disabled by barriers and affected organizations.”

katie.may@freepress.mb.ca

Katie May is a general-assignment reporter for the Free Press.

Original at https://www.winnipegfreepress.com/breakingnews/2023/12/22/manitoba-fails-to-gain-ground-on-accessibility-report

Blind Leader Wins $2 Million Settlement Over Inaccessible California Parks Website

By Kristopher Nelson
Post date December 1, 2023

Settlement ranks as one of the largest resolutions of web access litigation in the U.S.

SACRAMENTO, Calif., On behalf of Bryan Bashin-a blind camping enthusiast and leader in the blindness community-Relman Colfax PLLC and TRE Legal Practice are pleased to announce the settlement of innovative litigation aimed at ensuring the accessibility of public agency websites to visitors with disabilities. Judge Evelio Grillo of the Alameda County (CA) Superior Court gave final approval to a settlement valued at more than $2 million. In addition to securing a remediation remedy, the payment places this settlement in the ranks of the largest resolutions of web access litigation in the United States.

Mr. Bashin alleged Conduent State & Local Solutions and its subcontractor US eDirect developed a reservations website for the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) that was nearly impossible for blind campers and other people with disabilities to use, and did not conform to the accepted Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (“WCAG”) set by California law and the contract. While promising instant and equal access to reserve campsites, cabins and other amenities in more than 300 state park facilities, in practice blind users could not compete for those opportunities because non-disabled users navigated the website easily and booked all of the most sought-after reservations. As far as counsel is aware, this is the first time a disability rights plaintiff has used a state False Claims Act to secure the level of accessibility promised under state law.

Mr. Bashin claimed that Conduent and US eDirect knowingly developed an inaccessible website and falsely claimed payment of tens of millions of dollars over a six-year contract with DPR. He also alleged that the defendants’ actions deprived him of access to DPR services in violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act.

After more than two years of intensive discovery and briefing, the parties reached an agreement in principle and negotiated detailed terms concerning how the website would be remediated and secured approval by California agencies and the Superior Court. The agreement provides for defendants to fund an accessibility audit by the nationally renowned firm Prime Access Consulting and requires that US eDirect remediate the website at DPR’s direction so that blind and other disabled users will have equal access to DPR parks and facilities.

“My objective to get California’s parks website fixed will be realized by this settlement,” said Mr. Bashin, “Additionally the settlement will send a very strong message to those contracting with the government that false claims of accessibility will be made at their economic peril.”

We look forward to the day when all Californians with disabilities will have the same equal chance of reserving this state’s beautiful parks through an upgraded reservation system.

About Relman Colfax PLLC

Relman Colfax is a national civil rights law firm that uses litigation to combat systemic discrimination and segregation on the basis of race, national origin, sex (including sexual orientation and gender identity), disability, and other protected classes. We seek remedies for individuals and organizations that have been harmed by those forces.

In furtherance of its vision of a more just, inclusive and equitable society, the firm pioneered the use of the False Claims Act to enforce civil rights guarantees in its litigation against Westchester County (NY) and has been a leader in requiring accessibility in publicly-funded programs, as in its litigation against the City of Los Angeles (CA).

About TRE Legal Practice

TRE Legal is a civil rights law firm that fights against discrimination and specializes in the rights of the blind and other disabled people to access employment, education, government programs, public accommodations, accessible technology and all other aspects of society. TRE Legal’s founding attorney, Timothy Elder, is a longstanding leader in the organized blindness movement, the National Federation of the Blind, and an avid technology enthusiast.

Media Contacts

Timothy Elder, telder@trelegal.com (415) 873-9199, or Michael Allen, mallen@relmanlaw.com (202) 277-5551, for further details.

Original at https://trelegal.com/posts/cfca-unruh-settlement/

Transportation Agency Penalizes Air Canada for Violating Disabilities Regulations

By The Canadian Press
Posted Dec 21, 2023

GATINEAU, Que. – The Canadian Transportation Agency says it’s issued a $97,500 penalty to Air Canada for violating the Accessible Transportation for Persons with Disabilities Regulations.

The penalty of $97,500 is for several violations of the regulations.

The agency says that on August 30, Air Canada failed to assist a wheelchair user to disembark its plane.

The passenger, who has spastic cerebral palsy and can’t move his legs, was forced to disembark on his own.

As well, the CTA says Air Canada failed to ensure that its personnel periodically checked in on the passenger while he was waiting in the terminal.

Air Canada acknowledged in November that it violated Canadian disability regulations, and apologized to a British Columbia man who was forced to drag himself off a flight in Las Vegas this summer.

Original at https://kitchener.citynews.ca/2023/12/21/transportation-agency-penalizes-air-canada-for-violating-disabilities-regulations/

Why are Canadian Airlines Failing Passengers With Disabilities?

Spot checks by the regulator would put the airlines on notice since they could face serious consequences for failure to discharge their obligations. By Star Editorial Board
Tuesday, December 12, 2023

Sometimes sorry seems to be the easiest word.

Thanks to Air Canada’s poor treatment of passengers with disabilities, the national carrier is certainly getting good at saying it. After multiple egregious incidents, including one in which a man with cerebral palsy was forced to drag himself off a flight, Air Canada was quick to offer its “sincere” apologies.

Amid the flurry of negative publicity, Air Canada also issued a hastily crafted news release announcing “a series of measures to reduce barriers . . . for customers with disabilities.” It also acknowledged that it “sometimes” fails to meet its obligations, for which it offered “a sincere apology.” There’s that word again.

Not to be outdone, either in its shoddy treatment of disabled passengers or its displays of contrition, WestJet offered a “sincere” apology to a Paralympian who had to perform the Olympian task of lifting herself up to the plane, stair by stair, since a jet bridge wasn’t available.

Discount carrier Flair Airlines has also been doling out the apologies, including for leaving an elderly woman with a prosthetic leg at the gate and damaging a women’s wheelchair.

These incidents reveal that mistreatment of passengers with disabilities — and the perfunctory mea culpas — aren’t limited to Air Canada. Nor are they recent phenomena; “discrimination and unacceptable treatment,” as the federal transport committee recently called it, has been occurring for years, decades even.

Consequently, following a motion by NDP MP Taylor Bachrach, the party’s transport critic, the committee said that it will invite the CEOs of Air Canada and WestJet to testify. But if past is prologue, we know what to expect: “Sincere” apologies, followed by promises to improve services — in other words, the same rinse and repeat routine the airlines have been performing for years.

Clearly, more conspicuous displays of contrition aren’t going to do the trick. The only thing that will is regulatory change which, fortunately, the committee seems to understand. In addition to the CEOs, the committee plans to hear from federal Transport Minister Pablo Rodriguez and Auditor General Karen Hogan, and to study the regulatory regime surrounding accessibility.

That study will no doubt find that the regulator — the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) — has consistently failed to ensure the airlines fulfill their legal and ethical duties toward passengers with disabilities. The years-long “discrimination and unacceptable treatment” of such passengers is a testament to that fact.

While the CTA stresses that its role includes “monitoring compliance with regulations,” problems with accessibility are typically handled reactively, by responding to passenger complaints. It’s up to passengers to lodge a complaint, which is then followed by a long, arduous procedure involving contact with the airline, facilitation or mediation and, ultimately, adjudication before a panel.

Most passengers have neither the emotional nor the financial means to pursue this process to the end. Many never even bother to make a complaint in the first place, and a few bypass the complaints process and approach the media, which leads to apologies and promises to do better. And the problems continue to fester.

Instead of expecting passengers to police the airlines, lawyer and disability activist David Lepofsky argues that the CTA ought to step up and proactively enforce the law itself, by conducting “regular, unannounced on-site spot audits of airlines.”

Such “secret-shopper” visits would effectively put the airlines on notice, since at any moment they could face serious consequences for failure to discharge their obligations. It would therefore be a lot more effective than simply waiting for complaints, most of which will never materialize.

It would also effectively end the need for all the “sincere” apologies. Because treating all passengers, including those with disabilities, with dignity and respect means never having to say you’re sorry.

Original at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/why-are-canadian-airlines-failing-passengers-with-disabilities/article_1e986dd0-9869-11ee-9f22-67ec7cc8d0be.html

Critics Caution Against Plan to Expand Medical Assistance in Dying to Those With Mental Illness

The Canadian Press
Staff
Published Dec. 17, 2023

Hope is what kept Laurel Walker alive as thoughts of suicide overwhelmed her, and that is exactly what she says would be stripped from people battling the same darkness if Canada forges ahead with plans to expand medical assistance in dying to those with a mental disorder.

Proponents of the expansion, set for March 17, maintain that providing MAID to people with an incurable physical illness without giving the same right to those with an irremediable mental illness amounts to discrimination on the basis of a disability. Critics counter that there is insufficient evidence to predict whether or not someone will recover from a mental illness.

Recent comments out of Ottawa suggest expansion is not a certainty. Justice Minister Arif Virani said Wednesday that cabinet will consider the input of a joint parliamentary committee, medical experts and other stakeholders in deciding “whether we move ahead on March 17, or whether we pause.”

Walker, 44, said her biggest concern is that vulnerable people languish on long wait lists and can’t afford to pay for psychological care that is not publicly funded.

“That is a disconnect, and for that reason I think it’s irresponsible to go ahead with MAID for mental health,” said Walker, who developed anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder in her 20s, when she was hospitalized.

Her struggle with depression began in high school but she said the care she needed was not available in her home province of Nova Scotia. It took about 20 years for her to secure treatment at a private in-patient facility in Ontario.

“I attempted suicide in 2005. I ended up locked down at the hospital. I wouldn’t have been able to rationally make a decision, but I could apply for MAID (soon),” said Walker, adding she has not needed any mental health services in the public system since completing treatment a decade ago.

“I remember my dark times, and it felt hopeless. The fact that I considered ending my life, and tried, it’s so sad to me. People living with a mental health issue, who would even consider MAID, are in a great, great deal of pain.”

Allowing MAID without adequately funding treatment for people who may repeatedly end up in emergency rooms is akin to saying there is no hope, she said.

Canadians have had access to MAID for incurable physical illnesses or disabilities since 2016. Five years later, following a Quebec court decision, the law no longer required a person’s natural death to be reasonably foreseeable. But people with a mental illness would not be eligible until March 2023, providing time for an expert panel on mental illness to make recommendations on safeguards and guidance.

However, the expansion was paused in February for a year after some psychiatrists and national groups, including Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), the country’s largest psychiatric teaching hospital, raised concerns including the need for better access to care. Since then, a curriculum has been introduced to guide MAID assessors and providers.

A parliamentary committee on MAID that is expected to submit its recommendations to the Senate and the House of Commons by Jan. 31 reconvened in November, when it heard testimony from experts including psychiatrists wanting an indefinite halt to euthanasia for people with a mental illness. A repeated fear was that doctors and nurse practitioners would use their personal values to assess eligibility though it may not be possible to distinguish a MAID request from someone wanting an assisted suicide.

The Canadian Centre for Suicide Prevention agrees, saying there is a need for consensus on the definition of irremediability for any mental disorder affecting people who are not dying.

In an emailed statement Friday, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health said it was “pleased that the government is considering a delay in extending MAID eligibility to people whose sole underlying medical condition is mental illness.”

“At this time, the health-care system is not ready and health-care providers do not have the resources they need to provide high quality, standardized and equitable MAID services,” Dr. Tarek Rajji, chair of CAMH’s medical advisory committee, said in the statement.

However, Dr. Konia Trouton, president of the Canadian Association of MAID Assessors and Providers, said the country’s first nationally accredited MAID curriculum, launched in September, includes a section on mental illness to help clinicians determine if someone is seeking suicide.

“We believe the health-care system is ready for March when we anticipate the current restriction will be lifted,” Trouton said by email on Friday.

“CAMAP as an organization representing the professionals who do this work, think the clinicians are ready,” said the family doctor, who has been an assessor and provider of MAID in British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario.

Doctors and nurse practitioners who are new to MAID would have 27 hours of online training, along with 12 hours of workshops. Those with experience get six hours of education, Trouton said in a previous interview before Virani’s comments.

The curriculum trains clinicians to differentiate between “an acute preoccupation for suicide and a request for assisted dying” by considering factors including the type of treatment the person has had, how they fared and whether they tried it, along with any medication, for an “appropriate duration,” said Trouton, adding that depends on the particular illness.

People whose death is not reasonably foreseeable must already be assessed by two independent doctors or nurse practitioners. If neither is an expert on the applicant’s medical condition, they are required to consult a specialist. The same safeguard will apply to people with a mental illness, Trouton said.

Dr. Jitender Sareen, head of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, said he and many of his colleagues believe a psychiatrist should be involved in the assessment. But he said the expert panel’s draft of a regulatory standard did not call for that requirement.

Trouton said provinces and territories could decide they want a psychiatrist to make a MAID referral, or be involved in a patient’s care, but that remained to be seen.

Various jurisdictions say they will not put all their plans in place until Ottawa introduces legislation. Quebec, however, has barred the expansion of MAID, saying a mental illness does not qualify someone for a medically assisted death.

As for concerns about lack of treatment, applicants would be informed about available options, Trouton said, and those without a family doctor would be connected to a primary care provider.

Dr. Gary Chaimowitz, past president of the Canadian Psychiatric Association, said that while lack of access to treatment is a “massive and very important issue,” he did not believe that would be “an avenue to get MAID” for those seeking suicide.

A survey by the association in 2020 showed 41 per cent of members who replied agreed or strongly agreed that people with a mental illness should be considered eligible for MAID, Chaimowitz said. The survey was sent to 2,056 members, and 474 of them responded.

It also found that only one quarter of respondents disagreed or strongly disagreed that it is possible for a mental disorder to be considered irremediable.

Dr. Sonu Gaind, chief of the psychiatry department at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, is among those against expanding MAID. He said Belgium has legislative requirements for due care and that there should be “no reasonable alternative” before someone is approved for euthanasia, but Canada has no such safeguard.

“We just say the person needs to be informed of available treatment options,” Gaind said.

“I don’t think it’s responsible for us to be saying we would look at providing death to someone who isn’t dying before we ensure that they’ve had access and opportunity for standard and best care to try to help alleviate their suffering.”

He said evidence from Europe suggests women with a mental illness, especially those marginalized by “social suffering” due to poverty, lack of housing and community supports, would be most at risk if MAID is expanded without strong legislative safeguards.

“For psychiatric euthanasia, you see twice as many women — about 70 per cent, compared to 30 per cent for men. It parallels the two-to-one ratio that we see of women to men who attempt suicide when mentally ill, and most of them don’t complete suicide. And most of them don’t try again either. That’s a pretty concerning thing.”

Rather than treatment, ongoing care and community services, MAID would be a cheaper alternative “so people can die with dignity” when they don’t have the supports to live that way, he said.

The federal government said in 2021 that it would better track who is accessing MAID and how it is being delivered. But no such information was included in the latest annual report on MAID, released in October, showing 13,241 people died by euthanasia last year.

Health Canada said it is working with provinces and territories to collect data on what was discussed and the services — such as counselling and housing — that were offered to people when they were assessed for MAID.

“These new data will be included in future annual reports,” the regulator said in an email.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, support is available 24/7 by calling 988.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 17, 2023.

Canadian Press health coverage receives support through a partnership with the Canadian Medical Association. CP is solely responsible for this content.

Original at https://www.ctvnews.ca/health/critics-caution-against-plan-to-expand-medical-assistance-in-dying-to-those-with-mental-illness-1.6691311

Advocate Says Regina Councillor was Right to Oppose Proposed Accessible Waterslide Budget Cut

Cut would delay upgrades to waterslide at Wascana Pool
Tyreike Reid, CBC News
Posted: Dec 15, 2023

A disability advocate is backing a Regina city councillor who lashed out during a council meeting after another councillor proposed cutting the budget for an accessible waterslide.

Ward 7 Coun. Terina Nelson made strong remarks during council’s budget debates on Dec. 14 after previously approved upgrades to the slide at Wascana Pool were called into question.

“You all make me sick,” Nelson said. “How dare you take this away from the disabled community, the community that was so excited to finally go down a god damn waterslide.”

The upgrades would include a new elevator system to take people up to the top of the waterslide.

Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens moved the amendment, citing cost concerns.

The project was originally expected to cost $550,000 when it was unanimously approved by council earlier this year. Now the costs have increased to $1 million.

Stevens said that money should go toward funding other accessibility upgrades at city facilities.

Nelson argued vehemently against the idea.

“This is not fair, and I hope you’re all ashamed of yourself,” she said. “Because you didn’t build proper doorways, and because you didn’t build proper entranceways, now we’re suffering for it. Shame on all of you.”

Nelson’s microphone was briefly cut during her heated remarks, but she continued speaking.

Robin East, a disability advocate and founding member of Barrier Free Saskatchewan, is supporting Nelson, saying cuts to accessibility upgrades would be a setback for the disabled community.

“It becomes very frustrating, because the city is telling everyone in that city that persons with disabilities don’t count, they are second class citizens when it comes to how they are going to approach their budgets,” he said.

East said he has spent a lot of time advocating for accessibility upgrades across the province. He said it’s especially important that disabled children and their parents have accessible places to play.

He said Regina city council needs to consider the impact the proposed cuts will have on disabled children who wish to enjoy these spaces.

“The city really needs to look at what their real priorities are and consider that the people in the city should be of the highest priority and not the last priority,” he said.

East said accessibility upgrades should not come at the cost of delaying other upgrades that have already been approved. He said city council should cut costs in other areas of the budget.

Stevens’s amendment has not been approved by council and will be reviewed by city administration.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tyreike Reid is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan based in Regina. He can be reached at Tyreike.reid@cbc.ca

With files from Alexander Quon

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/advocates-criticize-proposed-accessible-waterslide-budget-cut-1.7061379

StatCan: Eight Million People, 27 Per Cent of Canadians, have at Least one Disability

By Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press
Posted Dec 6, 2023

The number of Canadians with at least one disability has doubled in ten years, a reality that should push governments to help reduce barriers to accessibility, says the head of a human rights organization.

Statistics Canada data shows that 27 per cent of people 15 and older – about eight million Canadians – reported having at least one disability in 2022, about twice the percentage of people who reported a disability 10 years ago.

Collected every five years, the StatCan numbers are important because they influence government policy at the federal, provincial and local levels, Heather Walkus, national chair of the Council for Canadians with Disabilities, said in a recent interview.

“At least eight million Canadians have a disability and we are still excluded, not able to join in with families and be part of the Canadian experience because of environment, because of attitudes, and because of the way the system is set up to ensure there’s no success or little success,” Walkus said.

Of the millions of Canadians with a disability, 72 per cent reported having encountered some form of barrier to accessibility within the last year; 60 per cent of the eight million said they had experienced barriers navigating indoor and outdoor public spaces.

Walkus, who describes herself as having “very low vision,” said much needs to be done to ensure everyone can navigate public spaces.

For example, when she recently attended a conference on disabilities in Ottawa, she was unable to use the hotel’s elevators. The buttons did not have raised lettering or braille, and riders were alerted by flashing lights when an elevator became available – leaving her unable to know when a cabin arrived. Inside the elevator, its sound system was “so muffled” she could not hear what floor she was on.

“I couldn’t even get up an elevator in 2023,” she said.

“That’s what people need to understand,” Walkus added. “We have ability, we want to live our lives, but we’re somehow still separated.”

The year 2022 marked the first time Statistics Canada’s national survey included questions on barriers to accessibility, Susan Wallace, an analyst with the agency and manager of the Canadian Survey on Disability, said in an interview. The survey, she added, asked people about 27 different types of barriers, involving building entrances, lighting or sound levels, public sidewalks, among others.

Accessibility problems span the country: a recent report from a University of Calgary-led project found that nearly 60 per cent of public spaces in Calgary, Vancouver and Ottawa are either inaccessible or partially inaccessible to disabled people. Called “Mapping our Cities for All,” the project’s goal is to help the federal government meet its goals of removing barriers for people with disabilities by 2040.

Walkus said Canada must also address the financial strain of those trying to sort out details of the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit Act, which became law in June 2023. The benefit is aimed at reducing poverty and supporting working-age people with disabilities through income supplements. Online consultations for the benefit opened Nov. 15 and close Dec. 21.

“The good thing is that it’s coming. The bad thing is we’re not quite sure when and how that will roll out,” Walkus said.

Wheelchairs, talking-program computers, and many other support technologies are expensive, Walkus said, adding that it’s becoming increasingly expensive to find accessible housing. “People need to understand that having a disability is not cheap.”

The number of Canadians with disabilities in 2022 was up by five percentage points since the last survey in 2017, when 22 per cent of Canadians, or 6.2 million people, reported having at least one disability. Statistics Canada said the increase can be attributed to the aging population and the rise in mental health-related disabilities among youth and work-age people.

The most common disability type is pain-related, at 62 per cent, followed by issues linked to flexibility and mobility, which is on par with results from 2017. The next most common disability is mental health-related, at 39 per cent – the largest increase in disability type between 2017 and 2022. The last survey found that 33 per cent of people with a disability reported that it was mental health-related.

Lyndsay Armstrong, The Canadian Press

Original at https://calgary.citynews.ca/2023/12/06/statcan-eight-million-people-27-per-cent-of-canadians-have-at-least-one-disability/

Wheelchair Curling ‘FunSpiel’ Returns for Second Year

CTV News
Dan Vadeboncoeur
Editorial Producer
Published Dec. 10, 2023

A sporting event putting a twist on one of Manitoba’s favourite games has returned for its second year, raising both money and awareness for a good cause.

It was the First Steps Wellness Centre’s 2nd annual Wheelchair Curling Funspiel at the Assiniboine Memorial Curling Club Saturday. Event organizer Jonas Mark said that while the winter weather kept some out-of-town competitors away, there were just as many teams registered as last year.

“No matter your level of function, whether you’re living with a disability or not, you can participate in wheelchair curling,” Mark said.

In this version of curling, all players must be seated in a wheelchair, use push sticks to fire off shots if needed, and there aren’t any sweepers on the ice.

Mark says the idea behind adapting the sport to wheelchair use was to show how people with spinal cord injuries can adapt as well.

“A lot of people get told that they’ll never do something again, or they’ll have a certain outlook on life based on their initial prognosis or initial diagnosis,” said Mark. “But we often see a lot of people in our clinic doing things that they were told they would never do.”

The First Steps Wellness Centre works to help people with spinal injuries or other neurological disorders live full lives. Mark says in order to do that, it’s important for people to try new things.

“I really hope people will take a positive experience away from it,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s challenging to try new things and step out of your comfort zone.”

“I think it’s very beneficial in the sense that people can experience something new and share it with their colleagues, share with their family and friends,” Mark said.

The event raised $10,000 last year, and Mark said they were close to that goal again this year. All funds raised will go towards supporting the centre’s activity-based programming.

Original at https://winnipeg.ctvnews.ca/wheelchair-curling-funspiel-returns-for-2nd-year-1.6681449

Ottawa Debuts Canadian Business Disability Network

Network is ‘national alliance of businesses dedicated to creating a barrier-free Canada’ By Jim Wilson
Dec 05, 2023

Ottawa’s new Disability Inclusion Business Council (DIBC) has officially launched an independent, self-governed business disability network.

Through the Canadian Business Disability Network (CBDN), industry experts – jointly resourced by member companies – will provide programs and services to help businesses in enhancing the accessibility of their workplaces, as well as the products and services they offer to clients.

“The launch of the Canadian Business Disability Network is a true testament to the government and Canadians’ commitment to building accessible businesses,” says Kamal Khera, minister of diversity, inclusion and persons with disabilities.

The network will “help Canadian businesses develop and share knowledge that will create a more accessible economy,” he says in the press release.

Addressing workplace barriers for people with disabilities

The DIBC was formed under the employment pillar of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan. The council’s aim is to address workplace barriers faced by persons with disabilities.

The 2022 Canada Survey on Disability found that 27 per cent of Canadians aged 15 and over – or about 8.0 million persons – report having a disability that limits them in their daily activities. An estimated 30.4 per cent of persons with a disability are not in the labour force.

Founding members of disability network

Several companies were announced as founding members, including EY, TELUS Health and IBM.

“We’re invested in creating workplace environments that are free of barriers and biases, while fostering independence and dignity to help unleash the full abilities of all Canadians,” says Jad Shimaly, chair, CEO and chief inclusiveness officer at EY Canada.

In June, the Canada Disability Benefit Act received royal assent after it passed unanimously in the House of Commons and passed in the Senate. The legislation allows the federal government to create the Canada Disability Benefit (CDB), which will supplement existing federal and provincial/territorial disability supports, according to the government.

Original at https://www.hrreporter.com/news/hr-news/ottawa-debuts-canadian-business-disability-network/381970