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Tragic Death of Vulnerable Student with Disabilities in Trenton High School Last Month Triggers Intense Media Attention and an Emotional Queen’s Park News Conference

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

June 13, 2024

SUMMARY

The tragic as-yet unexplained death last month of 16-year-old Landyn Ferris while in a sensory room at the Trenton High School has sparked significant public and media attention. City TV broke the story on May 30, 2024. The AODA Alliance’s May 31, 2024 news release focused attention on the Ontario Government’s deeply troubling lack of effective oversight of school boards in this area.
On Tuesday, June 4, 2024, the Ontario New Democratic Party held a news conference at Queen’s Park. In addition to NDP MPPs Monique Taylor and Chandra Pasma, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky spoke at this news conference as did the Ontario Autism Coalitions Kate dudley-logue. You can watch this news conference online. We are getting the captions improved to ensure their accuracy as soon as our volunteers can get this done.
There have now been 867 days since the Ford Government received the final report and recommendations of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. It recommended major reforms to Ontario’s schools to tear down the many barriers impeding a third of a million students with disabilities. The Landyn Ferris case focuses attention on a specific safety issue which that report addressed, namely the need for provincial standards and oversight of the use of sensory or seclusion rooms in schools. So far, the Ford Government has not implemented any of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s recommendations.
Below are four articles in the recent media on this issue. The media is continuing to investigate this story. We are available to help them at any time. Send us your feedback. Email us at aodafeedback@gmail.com
Learn more about the AODA Alliance’s campaign to make Ontario schools barrier-free for all students with disabilities by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s education page. MORE DETAILS

CBC News May 31, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/trenton-student-death-dravet-syndrome-1.7221463 Family pursuing negligence lawsuit after son dies at Trenton high school | CBC News Loaded
Landyn Ferris had seizure disorder, was found unresponsive in a private room on May 14

Jodie Applewaithe CBC

A boy holds a carved jack-o-lantern above his head.

Sixteen-year-old Landyn Ferris died on May 14, 2024, after he was left sleeping unattended in a specialized room at Trenton High School. (Submitted by Josh Nisker)

A Trenton, Ont., family plans to pursue a civil lawsuit over the death of their 16-year-old son after he was allegedly left unattended in a private room at a local high school earlier this month.

Landyn Ferris was a Grade 10 student at Trenton High School who had Dravet syndrome, a rare type of genetic epilepsy that can cause seizures.

On May 14, he’d been sleeping alone inside a sensory room at the school when he was found unresponsive. It’s unclear how long he had been left unattended.

In a statement to CBC, his mother Brenda Davis said she feels “devastated and in the dark without him.”

The family intends to pursue a civil lawsuit for negligence, while the province’s Office of the Chief Coroner investigates the death.

Ontario Provincial Police were initially investigating as well, but spokesperson Bill Dickson said they are no longer involved as there’s no indication of foul play.

Landyn Davis lies in the snow in a green jacket.

Sleeping often triggered Ferris’s seizures, according to the lawyer representing his family. (Submitted by Kate Dudley-Logue)

‘An unspeakable tragedy,’ lawyer says

While the family is still considering the scope of the lawsuit, the school board will be one of the parties named in it, said Josh Nisker, a personal injury lawyer and founding partner at Beyond Law who’s representing them.

Before Ferris died on May 14, his mother had alerted the school that he couldn’t be left alone, Nisker said especially while sleeping, as that’s a trigger for his seizures.

Davis would sleep in her son’s bedroom each night to ensure he fell asleep and woke up safely, he said.

“We’re currently investigating all potentially responsible parties,” Nisker said. “Ultimately there is an issue here with supervision and attention provided to this child.”

The lawsuit has not yet been filed. Despite the ongoing coroner’s investigation, Nisker said legal action might be the family’s best chance at getting more answers.

“Sometimes it takes a tragedy like this, unfortunately, for positive change to result,” he said. “It’s an unspeakable tragedy.”

In a statement to CBC News, the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board said that “a comprehensive review of procedures and processes is underway,” as would be the case for “any tragic event in our schools.”

The board added it would provide support for students for as long as it’s needed.

More resources, oversight needed: advocates

Ferris’s death should spark further action, said the Ontario Autism Coalition, which has long called on the province to invest more into resources for children with disabilities.

“It’s often hard to blame the educators because our schools are majorly understaffed, under-resourced,” said Kate Dudley-Logue, the coalition’s vice-president of community outreach.

When it comes to sensory rooms, Dudley-Logue said the Ministry of Education does not have a policy on their use. Instead, it’s up to individual school boards to decide how they operate.

Those rooms which help to calm or engage students in sensory learning can be beneficial if they’re properly set up and monitored, she said. They should be populated with equipment that encourages physical stimulation, like bean bags, mini-trampolines or rocking chairs.

But children should never be left alone inside them, she emphasized.

David Lepofsky, of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says the aides that school boards provide to students with disabilities are a right not a privilege.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the teen boy’s death ‘cries out for strong provincial action.’ (Mike Smee/CBC)

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his organization has also been calling on Ontario to develop better policies for accessibility and safety policies for students with disabilities.

He said Ferris’s death “cries out for strong provincial action.”

“We need oversight and we need strong provincial standards,” Lepofsky said.

In a statement, Education Minister Stephen Lecce extended his “deepest condolences” to both family and friends of Ferris and the entire school board community.

“The police and school board have launched an investigation into this incident, and I know all parties will work together to ensure this tragedy does not occur again.”

‘My guiding light’

The Ontario Autism Coalition has been in contact with the family, Dudley-Logue said, initially to help them find legal support.

“All [Davis] really wants at this time is to make sure that she gets the answers that she needs and also to make sure that maybe there’s some meaning here in what happened and that this won’t happen to another child,” she said.

Parents of Ferris’s peers have started a fundraiser to help his family pay for funeral costs. Nisker said Davis is appreciative of the community support.

“He kept me soft-hearted even when I was mad at the world,” she said in her statement to CBC. “I hope I can hold onto that softness and use it as my guiding light.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jodie Applewaithe
Associate Producer

Jodie Applewaithe is an associate producer with CBC Ottawa. You can reach her at jodie.applewaithe@cbc.ca

Richmond News May 31, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.richmond-news.com/ontario-news/unimaginable-tragedy-teen-dies-after-being-found-unresponsive-at-ontario-school-8923456 ‘Unimaginable tragedy’: Teen dies after being found unresponsive at Ontario school

The family of an Ontario teen with special needs who died after being found unresponsive at his high school is planning legal action while seeking answers following an “unimaginable tragedy,” their lawyer said Friday.

Rianna Lim, The Canadian Press

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce says police and the Hasting and Prince Edward District School Board have launched an investigation into the death of a 16-year-old boy with special needs who was allegedly found unresponsive at his high school two weeks ago. Lecce speaks to journalists at the Queen’s Park Legislature in Toronto on Friday August 25, 2023.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

The family of an Ontario teen with special needs who died after being found unresponsive at his high school is planning legal action while seeking answers following an “unimaginable tragedy,” their lawyer said Friday.

Sixteen-year-old Landyn Ferris was found alone and unresponsive in a sensory room at Trenton High School on May 14, said Josh Nisker, who is representing the teen’s family.

Paramedics were called to the scene and tried to resuscitate Ferris, the lawyer said. The boy was then brought to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

They’re obviously beside themselves, Nisker said of the family. It’s an unimaginable tragedy for them to experience.

Nisker said Ferris had Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy. He said the family has very little information about what happened at the school.

All we know is that he was found at the end of the school day, cold and unresponsive, having been left in that room alone for some time, he said.

Nisker said Ferris was at risk of seizures while sleeping. He said Brenda Davis, Ferris’s mother, had previously expressed concerns to the school about the teen napping and had asked that he be properly supervised.

He said the family was told that Ferris was put in the room for a nap for an unknown amount of time before he was found.

His condition and vulnerabilities were known to the school, and the risk of seizure was known to the school, the lawyer said.

Nisker said the family plans to launch a civil lawsuit against the school board, and seek disclosure of records and policies related to Ferris’s death and care at the school.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board said, “the family is grieving, as are students, staff and the greater school community.”

The spokesperson did not comment on the status of a board investigation into the teen’s death, but said “a comprehensive review of procedures and processes is underway.”

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the death “an unspeakable tragedy” and extended his condolences to the family and friends of the student, as well as the entire board community.

“I know all parties will work together to ensure this tragedy does not occur again,” Lecce wrote in a statement.

A spokesperson from the Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed the death is being investigated.

Ferris’s death has sparked calls for action from advocacy groups in Ontario, including the Ontario Autism Coalition. The organization said the teen’s death highlights broader issues in the province’s special education system, including what they called inadequate funding and support.

“We are deeply sorry that this has taken place, but sadly, we are not surprised,” Alina Cameron, president of the coalition, wrote in a statement. “Landyn’s passing is a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities of children with special needs.”

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a disability advocacy group, argued Ferris’s death speaks to the provincial government’s lack of accessibility standards in schools.

“Ontario’s schools, like the rest of our society, are far behind reaching the mandatory goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act imposes,” David Lepofsky, chair of the organization, wrote in a statement.

The opposition NDP also called for action.

“We don’t need to wait for the results of the investigation into Landyn’s death to take immediate steps to make children safer at school,” education critic Chandra Pasma wrote in a statement.

Nisker, the family’s lawyer, said the teen’s loved ones are focused on getting answers.

“Ultimately, the family hopes that there could be some positive change that comes from this,” Nisker said. “Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for that change to hopefully materialize.”

City News June 3, 2024

Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2024/06/03/advocates-demanding-answers-after-tragic-death-of-boy-16-at-ontario-school/

Advocates demanding answers after tragic death of boy, 16, at Ontario school

Opposition leaders are demanding answers in the death of Landyn Ferris, a student with special needs who was found unresponsive at his high school. As Tina Yazdani reports, they are calling for more special education funding. By Tina Yazdani

Advocacy groups and political leaders are demanding answers after a 16-year-old student was found unresponsive at an Ontario school.

LandynFerris was in Grade 10 at Trenton Public High School. He was pronounced dead after being found in a private room, known as a sensory room, on May 14.

The NDP Critic for Children, Community and Social Services, Monique Taylor, was emotional addressing the tragic incident at Queen’s Park on Monday.

This is a heartbreaking story that many families fear, of underfunding and understaffing in our public education institutions. Premier, what steps will

your government take so that what happened to Landyn never happens again, Taylor asked in Question Period.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said investigations are currently underway.

The coroner of Ontario and the school board have launched an investigation into this incident, into this tragedy and I know all parties will work together to ensure this tragedy does not happen again, said Lecce.

Ferris has a rare type of epilepsy that causes seizures and are often triggered by sleep so he couldn’t be left alone. It’s alleged he was left unattended on the day he was found unresponsive.

Opposition leaders say the Ford government has chronically underfunded the education system and it’s hurting kids with special needs.

I think the education system sadly failed Landyn, said Green Party leader Mike Schreiner.

I’ve been thinking about the families, the many, many families of kids with special needs that have come to Queen’s Park over and over and over again and warned that something terrible is going to happen, added NDP leader Marit Stiles. It’s terrible it makes me really angry.

Amid the tragic death of Ferris, a new report has found that 46 per cent of high schools across Ontario reported shortages of educational assistants every day, prompting some principals to recommend special needs students stay home altogether.

That is unacceptable and wrong, said Schreiner. The government should step up and properly fund education assistants and support staff in schools.

Meanwhile, Lecce said they have increased special education funding. This year, funding is up roughly $170 million more than last year with 3,500 additional EAs hired. I know there’s more work to do and I look forward to doing it together, Lecce added.

Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie called Lecce’s response inadequate.

This is a minister that should be investing in education. Where are the teachers? Where are the special education teachers? asked Crombie.

Advocacy group, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance tells CityNews this incident reinforces the need for provincial oversight of school board.

There needs to be mandatory enforced provincial rules on when and how these isolation or sensory rooms are used, said Chair David Lepofsky. This is just one horrific example of the kind of circumstances that cry out for proper provincial regulation.

City News Toronto June 4, 2024

Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2024/06/04/mother-of-vulnerable-boy-found-unresponsive-in-ontario-school-speaks-out/ Mother of vulnerable boy found dead in Ontario school speaks out

I am broken’: Mother of vulnerable boy found unresponsive in Ontario school speaks out

The Ontario NDP and advocates are calling for action to protect vulnerable children, after the death of 16-year-old Landyn Ferris. As Tina Yazdani reports, an emotional statement was read on his mother’s behalf.
By Tina Yazdani

Heartbreaking words from a mother enduring an unthinkable tragedy were shared as a statement by Brenda Davis was read Tuesday at Queen’s Park.

Her son, Landyn Ferris, was pronounced dead on May 14 after he was found unresponsive in a sensory room at Trenton High School.

My last memory of Landyn is in a casket, surrounded by his favourite toys. Now I visit his grave every morning. I pick wildflowers for him alone. We used to pick flowers together, but now I leave them at his grave, reads the statement shared by Kate Logue with the Ontario Autism Coalition.

I am broken.

In the statement, Davis urged parents to hold their babies tight. My boy is gone, his laugh is a memory, his light snuffed out too soon. I will forever be haunted.

Landyn had a form of epilepsy that causes seizures and is often triggered by sleep, so he couldn’t be left alone.It’s alleged he was left unattended on the day he was found unresponsive.

She described the horror of that day in her statement.

I walked into the classroom to find my son on a stretcher, receiving CPR, his hand hanging to the side, fingers already blue That’s when it hit me. This isn’t a seizure intervention. This is resuscitation.

A coroner’s investigation is now underway. The school board is also investigating.

We’ll see what the investigation says. It’s unacceptable in my opinion, said Premier Doug Ford in his first comments on the tragic incident.

We know nothing at this point so I want to avert the instinct of making assumptions, added Education Minister Stephen Lecce.

CityNews has also learned that Lecce only became aware of the incident last week after CityNews reached out to him for comment.

Advocates say the Ford government shouldn’t wait for the results of the investigation to take action.

The overall issue of the vulnerability of these kids and the lack of proper safeguards for them, it demands action, said Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act AllianceChair David Lepofsky.

CityNews has learned that for two years, the Ministry of Education has not implemented recommendations aimed at setting and enforcing basic requirements for school boards to protect vulnerable students, including policies for the use of isolation or sensory rooms in schools.

There’s an expectation that all school boards in Ontario have a protocol. They’re expected to follow it, said Lecce.

Lepofsky said that is not good enough.

It should not be left to 72 school boards and God knows how many principals and teachers to have to figure out what those safeguards should be.

There are also calls for more funding for special education.

A child with a seizure disorder such as Landyn had shouldn’t be left alone at all, said Logue.
Ontario NDP leader Marit Stiles said there is currently one special education teacher for every 85 high school students in Ontario. Thatdoesn’t seem like a safe ratio to me.

I find that shameful. You don’t need a coroner’s inquest to start doing the right thing today and make sure children in our schools havethe supports they need, added Stiles. Liberal leader Bonnie Crombie agreed.

We can’t ever let this happen again. We need to invest in education. We need more teachers in the classroom.

Advocates have also called on the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) to also investigate the incident alongside the coroner, rather than just assisting.

Trudeau Government’s New Benefit for Canadians With Disabilities will Lift Just a Fraction Out of Poverty, Data Reveals

Mark Ramzy
Published: June 7, 2024

OTTAWA – It was supposed to drastically reduce poverty rates among Canadians with disabilities. But only a fraction will be lifted out of poverty.

Just 25,000 working-age people with disabilities will escape poverty as a result of the Canada Disability Benefit, about four per cent of those eligible at the height of its rollout at least three years from now, newly released government data shows. An additional 15,000 family members will also be lifted out of poverty.

Minister for Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera shared the data in a letter to the House of Commons human resources committee this week, after repeatedly avoiding revealing the figure when asked by media and opposition MPs.

The findings come as frustrated advocates have railed against the federal government’s funding of the disability benefit, arguing it was too little, covers too few people, and has too many obstacles to qualify for it.

“The numbers confirm what we knew to be true,” said Green MP Mike Morrice, who had requested the information. “The proposed Canada Disability Benefit is going to lift almost no one out of poverty, and the proposal they’ve put forward includes nothing of what the disability community was actually calling for.”

According to StatCan, there are 911,000 Canadians between the ages 15 and 64 with disabilities living in poverty, though the disability benefit will cover ages 18 to 64, and the government expects around 600,000 people to be eligible after the first few years.

The government uses the market basket measure, which employs a “specified basket of goods and services representing a modest basic standard of living,” to define the official poverty line by region and population. For a single person living in Ontario, the average is $27,097.

The Trudeau government has earmarked $6.1 billion over six years and $1.4 billion annually after that towards the $200 per month benefit, which will roll out in July 2025. But the newly released information is once again raising questions about whether the government listened to the disability community after touting its collaborative approach.

Khera’s office revealed in the letter she had not yet met with four of 13 provincial and territorial ministers to discuss the benefit, including her Ontario counterpart, despite suggesting the threat of provincial clawbacks were the biggest barrier to increasing the benefit.

“I’m surprised it’s actually going to lift anybody out. I’m outraged,” said Amanda Mackenzie, the national director for external affairs at March of Dimes. “If you’re a Liberal minister and you can get a meeting with Premier Danielle Smith’s minister, why can’t you get a meeting with (Ontario’s minister)?”

Asked about the letter at a news conference in Brampton on Friday, Khera defended the benefit as the “single largest line item” in the budget that will support “some of the most vulnerable, poorest individuals with disabilities in this country.”

“One of my biggest priorities right now is to make sure that we work alongside provinces and territories to ensure that there are no clawbacks to the benefits that we have put forward,” she said.

In 2022, prior to Khera being shifted to her current role, Employment and Social Development Canada acknowledged the disability community wanted a benefit that would reach $2,200 per month when combined with provincial supports, according to data obtained by the Star through an Access to Information request. While provincial supports vary, the benefit amount falls far short of what the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated was necessary to address that gap.

In an interview with the Star last month, Khera would only say the benefit would “close the gap” and the current funding for the benefit is just a first step intended to be built upon.

Mark Ramzy is an Ottawa-based general assignment reporter for the Star. Reach him via email:

Original at https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/trudeau-governments-new-benefit-for-canadians-with-disabilities-will-lift-just-a-fraction-out-of/article_b964a782-24d4-11ef-9b56-ab1cd5d6f3e3.html#:~:text=But%20only%20a%20fraction%20will,newly%20released%20government%20data%20shows.

Kitchener Woman Shares Challenges of Living on Disability Benefits

Colton Wiens
CTV News Kitchener Videographer
Published June 7, 2024

A woman in Kitchener living on disability benefits is sharing just how hard the process is, and hoping more can be done to help.

Amanda Kroetsch used to live well in British Columbia, but had to get away from a domestic abuse situation that left her with a brain injury about five years ago.

She returned home to Kitchener and stayed with family members to start.

She qualified for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) and the Canada-Ontario Housing Benefit.

Kroetsch eventually moved into a shared accommodation and then an attic space, but due to her injuries, she never felt like she could relax in the environment.

“I was waiting in line for the bathroom because I was sharing with so many people. I had to carry my dishes up and down if I used them. Just the logistics weren’t actually working for my well-being,” Kroetsch said.

Because of her needs from her injury she decided an independent one bedroom living situation would be best.

She was on the affordable housing list, but got off it because she could have ended up in a home that potentially didn’t work with her brain injury.

She began searching for a unit, but quickly ran into more challenges.

“There were times where we were kind of shunned or even just ignored or given a bit of a B.S. excuse of why we weren’t getting approved,” Connor Arnold, Real Estate Sales Representative for Kroetsch said. “So it was a lot more difficult than I had expected.”

Eventually, thanks to Arnold’s help, Kroetsch landed an apartment in Kitchener.

“I ended up having to have a co-signer and a guarantor on my lease, as well as someone who was willing to pay for the first three months upfront,” Kroetsch said.

“It’s my first independent living in almost five years. If you knew me, I used to travel the world. I lived in Japan when I was 19. I’ve got more stamps on my passport than you can imagine. So to be at this point where I’m feeling somewhat independent again is amazing,” Kroetsch said. “I finally feel like I’m in an environment that matches the life that I’m trying to create for myself.”

Throughout all of this, up until two months ago Kroetsch had no income, relying purely on benefits.

She receives $1,151.10 a month from ODSP and $944 through the housing benefit. She now has a working income of $1,169.04 from her job. After paying her rent, which costs $2,050 per month, and other fixed expenses, she is left with $789 for the rest of the month.

“It’s been really hard for me to try to work within the crazy budget that I have for housing and also try to find an environment that actually works for me and is helping to add to my healing journey,” Kroetsch said.

One issue is the percentage she gets for housing. Canada Ontario Housing Benefit pays a portion of the average market rent. For Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge, the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation puts average rent for a one bedroom apartment at $1,346.

“The average rents reported represent a weighted average of rents currently being paid by tenants occupying a unit, as well as the asking rents for unoccupied units,” CMHC said in an email.

“I have not seen a single one bed for under $1,700,” Arnold said.

Kroetsch reached out to both Kitchener Centre Member of Parliament Mike Morrice and Kitchener Centre Member of Provincial Parliament Aislinn Clancy about the situation.

Morrice said more funding needs to be available for people on disability benefits.

“40 per cent of people in poverty across the country are folks with disabilities. It’s a big reason why I’ve been advocating for the Canada Disability Benefit,” Morrice said.

According to Employment and Social Development Canada, it is planning to start paying a disability benefit in July 2025.

“The Government of Canada has engaged and will continue to engage with persons with disabilities on the Canada Disability Benefit and on the development of its first regulations,” ESDC said in an email.

On the provincial side, Clancy said more funding needs to be given to ODSP.

“Our caucus has continually called on the Ford government to raise social assistance rates above the poverty line to address this disparity,” Clancy said in an email.

Ontario’s Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services told CTV News ODSP rates will increase by 4.5 per cent next month.

“We are committed to improving social assistance delivery throughout Ontario to better help those in financial need or who have a disability,” MCCSS said in an email.

“All future increases for ODSP are now tied to inflation, with adjustments happening each year at the end of July,” MCCSS said.

As for rent, the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing said it understands residents are finding it challenging to find a place at a price they can afford.

“That’s why we’ve held the 2024 rent increase guideline at 2.5 percent, the lowest in the country and well below the average inflation rate of 5.9 percent,” MMAH said.

While her finances are still a challenge, Kroetsch is just happy to be on her own. She encourages anyone else in her situation to keep pushing for themselves

“Self-advocacy is so important. It’s so hard as a survivor to fight for yourself because often we got in trouble and hurt for standing up for ourselves. That help comes in the form that you least expect it,” Kroetsch said. “Just never settle. Just because you’re on disability, just because you’re injured, just because you’re dealing with a hard time, maybe you’re not working – [it] doesn’t mean that you’re not an extremely valuable, important human being and sometimes you have to be the first person to treat you that way.”

Original at https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/kitchener-woman-shares-challenges-of-living-on-disability-benefits-1.6918330

NWT Government Has No Plans to Develop Accessibility Act

Emily Blake, Tuesday June 4, 2024

The Northwest Territories government says it does not plan to develop accessibility legislation but is working to improve building standards.

Advocates and the City of Yellowknife have called on the territorial government to develop accessibility legislation, particularly to address accessibility standards for buildings.

One concern is the gap between the national building code, on which the territory relies, and accessibility responsibilities under the NWT Human Rights Act.

Frame Lake MLA Julian Morse raised the issue in the legislature last week.

According to the NWT Human Rights Commission’s latest annual report, he said, 59 percent of all new human rights complaints in 2022-23 alleged discrimination based on disability. He added more than 22 percent of the territory’s population is living with a disability.

“The government does have a mandated responsibility to ensure that these residents are provided equal opportunity to participate in society as fully as any NWT resident,” Morse said.

“When I was campaigning, one conversation I had with a constituent stood out to me on this matter. They pointed out to me that as well as it being a moral responsibility to work towards an equitable society, it also has real impacts on our economy and social fabric when persons living with disabilities leave the territory because accessibility is better in other jurisdictions. At a time when we are trying to attract residents to move here and stay, this is one more thing we can do to help make the territory a more attractive place to live.”

Caroline Wawzonek, the territory’s infrastructure minister, responded that she had tasked her department with looking at a building standards framework for the territory, including an accessibility provision. She said the plan is to begin working on a building act in the next fiscal year.

Wawzonek said so far, a working group has been created. The next step, she said, will be to develop a work plan to determine the size, scope and timeline for a building act.

“I would certainly hope that we could get to the point of an LP” – a legislative proposal – “soon thereafter,” she said. “Whether it would get all the way to being passed this assembly or not, again, will depend on the scope and size of the act.”

Premier RJ Simpson declined Cabin Radio’s request for an interview on the issue.

Agata Gutkowska, a spokesperson for cabinet, said the NWT government has no plans to introduce accessibility legislation.

Gutkowska confirmed the government is, however, working to advance a building standards framework, which she described as “a large, multi-departmental initiative requiring dedicated funding, resources, coordination and a substantive engagement process.”

The NWT currently does not have its own building code, nor any legislation that addresses accessibility standards for buildings.

Gutkowska said the territory plans on adopting the 2020 national building code, which includes several updated accessibility requirements, when it amends regulations under the NWT’s Fire Prevention Act this month.

Federally, the Accessible Canada Act came into force in July 2019. British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador all have provincial accessibility legislation, while Quebec has a similar act and New Brunswick has tabled one.

There have been other concerns about the 20th Legislative Assembly’s approach to accessibility.

The NWT Disabilities Council wrote to the premier in February, calling on him to reconsider the choice not to assign any of his ministers responsibility for people with disabilities.

Previously, one of the seven cabinet members had held that responsibility. Simpson told the legislature he had decided to eliminate portfolios that did not come with a budget.

The council wrote that “establishing disability as a unique and stand-alone cohort” rather than as a sub-group within larger portfolios is “foundational to a holistic, integrated and inclusive approach, which is needed to advance disability rights, equality and well-being in society.”

The naming of a responsible minister would recognize the complexity and diversity of disability issues and provide direction and coordination for effective policymaking and service delivery, the council argued.

“It provides a recognizable entity for disabled people to have their voices heard, to participate and to hold authorities accountable for upholding their rights,” the council’s letter stated.

In a written statement, Simpson told Cabin Radio the decision to eliminate the portfolio “was a mindful one.”

“Support for residents with disabilities is not just limited to one department or one minister and should be considered across various departments, top of mind for all of cabinet,” the statement read, adding that while no minister had been formally assigned responsibility for people with disabilities, that responsibility falls under Lesa Semmler’s health and social services portfolio.

Original at https://cabinradio.ca/185737/news/politics/nwt-government-has-no-plans-to-develop-accessibility-act/

Organizations Invited to Apply for Funding Under the National AccessAbility Week Call for Proposals to Promote Accessibility and Disability Inclusion

NEWS PROVIDED BY
Employment and Social Development Canada
May 29, 2024

GATINEAU, QC, May 29, 2024 /CNW/ – Every Canadian deserves to fully participate in a country that is free of physical, societal and attitudinal barriers. The Government of Canada is committed to invest and support community projects that help remove barriers to accessibility, increase disability inclusion, and provide greater opportunities for persons with disabilities across every province and territory.

Today, as part of National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) 2024, Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities, Kamal Khera, launched a new call for proposals (CFP) under the Accessible Canada Fund – NAAW stream of the Social Development Partnerships Program – Disability component (SDPP-D).

Under this new CFP, up to $2 million over two years is available to support up to 20 projects that will help:

improve understanding and knowledge among Canadians about accessibility and disability inclusion, including through NAAW activities taking place in 2025 and 2026; reduce stigma and attitudinal barriers towards persons with disabilities; and,
share best practices and lessons learned within the disability community on NAAW activities, to help support the broader culture change objectives of the Accessible Canada Act.
The Minister also announced that 12 organizations across the country received approximately $1.5 million in funding over two years as a result of the 2022 call for proposals under the same program.

The Accessible Canada Fund under the SDPP-D, supports the goal set by the Accessible Canada Act of building a country, free of physical, societal and attitudinal barriers, as well as the Disability Inclusion Action Plan, the Government’s blueprint for change to make Canada more inclusive for persons with disabilities.

Quotes

“In the spirit of “Forward Together: Accessibility and Inclusion for All”, this year’s theme for National AccessAbility Week, our government will continue to support actions and initiatives across the country that contribute to remove barriers to accessibility. Through the Accessible Canada Fund, we are partnering with key frontline organizations who are making a difference on the ground and leading the way on building an accessible and inclusive Canada for everyone.”

– Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities, Kamal Khera

Quick Facts

According to the latest 2022 Canada Survey on Disability, 27% of Canadians aged 15 and over-or about 8 million persons-report as having at least one disability.
National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) 2024, runs from May 26 to June 1, and is a nationwide week of recognition that celebrates the many social, economic, and cultural achievements of persons with disabilities. The theme for NAAW 2024 is: “Forward Together: Accessibility and Inclusion for All”.
The Accessible Canada Fund – NAAW stream under SDPP-D provides grant funding to projects that raise awareness of the importance of accessibility and disability inclusion in different sectors, workplaces and communities across Canada.
Under this new CFP, eligible organizations have until July 17, 2024, at 3 p.m. (EDT) to apply for funding by going to the Accessible Canada Fund – NAAW stream webpage at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/services/funding/accessible-grants-accessability-week.html and accessing the Application for Funding Form and instructions.
Through targeted investments such as the Disability Inclusion Action Plan, the Government continues to deliver foundational support to persons with disabilities. Budget 2024 proposes key measures to support persons with disabilities including investments to: launch a new Canada Disability Benefit; expand the disability supports deduction; ensure access to essential drugs and medical devices; create a new Youth Mental Health Fund; and improve recruitment and assessment processes for persons with disabilities through the Federal Internship Program for Canadians with Disabilities.

Backgrounder

Organizations funded under the 2022-2024 Accessible Canada Fund – National Accessibility Week stream call for proposals:

Alberta

John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights – (funding amount: $100,000) Northern Alberta Institute of Technology – (funding amount: $100,000)

British Columbia

Mainland Community Services Society – (funding amount: $99,600)

Manitoba

MLPD – Manitoba League of Persons with Disabilities Inc. – (funding amount: $134,332)

New Brunswick

Vie Autonome Painsule Acadienne Inc. – (funding amount: $99,828)

Nova Scotia

reachability Association – (funding amount: $94,894)

Nunavut

Nunavummi Disabilities Makinnasuaqtiit Society – (funding amount: $200,000)

Ontario

Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work – (funding amount: $190,556) YMCA Canada – (funding amount: $97,094)

Prince Edward Island

PEI Council of People with Disabilities (also known as ResourceAbilities) – (funding amount: $96,804)

Quebec

Native Women’s Association of Canada – (funding amount: $173,914)

Saskatchewan

Inclusion Saskatchewan . – (funding amount: $100,000)

SOURCE Employment and Social Development Canada
Original at https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/organizations-invited-to-apply-for-funding-under-the-national-accessability-week-call-for-proposals-to-promote-accessibility-and-disability-inclusion-832166759.html

Proposed Accessibility Laws Will Help Those ‘Being Left Behind,’ Says Advocate

Legislation would set accessibility standards and penalties for those who fail to follow them Savannah Awde, CBC News
Posted: May 19, 2024

The province has proposed laws to improve accessibility for public and private sector spaces, including standards and penalties for failing to comply.

Haley Flaro, the executive director of Ability New Brunswick, said it was a career highlight for her and her team to see the Accessibility Act tabled in the legislature on Friday.

“We had tears coming down our face,” Flaro said after the bill was introduced.

“I’m often told – we’ve made so much progress, and we have – but there are still too many people being left behind, and we have a lot of examples of that, unfortunately.”

Flaro hopes the proposed legislation will remedy that.

“It sets the stage for what government’s going to focus on. And there’s several – pillars in this legislation, like housing, transportation, disability services, built environment, and more,” she said in an interview.

“So it’s going to bring focus to those areas where we’re leaving people behind.”

Greg Turner, the minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the bill will set equity targets, processes for complaints and enforcement, inspection guidelines, and more.

“As you can see, there’s a lot of moving parts in this legislation,” he said in a Friday press conference.

“The goal behind the legislation is simple: To create the conditions for full and effective participation in society for all, by focusing on identifying, removing and preventing barriers.”

That’s especially important, she said, as the number of people living in the province with a disability has increased.

“New Brunswick has the second-highest rate of disability in Canada – at 35.3 per cent of the population, second only to Nova Scotia,” she said.

If the bill is passed, the province would also have to create an accessibility advisory board and accessibility office to report to the Department of Post-secondary Education, Training and Labour.

Turner said the office would support both the advisory board and the minister.

“It will have a role to play in education and capacity building, receiving and investigating complaints, and working on compliance and enforcement,” he said.

For Flaro, one of the most significant changes would be what she calls a “really progressive definition” of disability.

“Right now in the provincial government, the federal government as well, there are so many different definitions of disability that often exclude people,” she said.

“The new definition that’s been proposed in the act is very inclusive. For example, it now includes people with learning disabilities … so we’re really hopeful that this will set the tone for standardizing a definition across departments.”

Having that consistent definition across departments can make all the difference for someone trying to access support, Flaro said.

In a Friday press conference, Dan Mills, the deputy minister of post-secondary education, training and labour, said the department hopes to have the accessibility office and advisory board established within three months.

The department and others within the provincial government will create their own accessibility plans over the next 12 to 18 months, Mills said, with the first standards to come into effect in 18 to 24 months.

Turner did not specify when the province will begin to enforce accessibility plans in the private sector.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Savannah Awde is a reporter with CBC New Brunswick. You can contact her with story ideas at savannah.awde@cbc.ca.

With files from Shift NB

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/new-brunswick/advocate-accessibility-laws-1.7208980

‘Improperly Discriminatory’: Alberta Ombudsman Report Finds Systemic Issues Impacting Access for Persons With Disabilities

“It has been 10 years since the Court identified a flaw in the regulation affecting the rights of vulnerable Albertans, yet the department has not taken steps to remedy the situation. The ombudsman found this inaction to be unreasonable and unfair to vulnerable Albertans and those who care for them.” Author of the article:Cindy Tran
Published May 07, 2024

An investigation into the Persons with Developmental Disabilities program (PDD) by the Alberta Ombudsman has found systemic issues in how the program assesses eligibility based on intellectual capacity.

In a public report released on Tuesday, Alberta Ombudsman Kevin Brezinski said the investigation was prompted when Janice Zenari, acting on behalf of her son Evan, sent a complaint to his office. She said her son was denied PDD even though he was born with developmental disabilities and received support through the province’s Family Support for Children with Disabilities program until he turned 18. The PDD program determined Evan’s Full Scale Intelligence Quotient (FSIQ) was too high and he did not meet the requirements for supports.

Zenari later appealed to the Citizens Appeal Panel pointing out that basing her son’s eligibility solely on his IQ was not indicative of how he would function in the “real-world.” The panel agreed, however, they could not reverse the PDD program’s decision based on a 2013 Court decision.

Decade long short-coming

Brezinski said in the 10 years since the 2013 decision was made, he found that the department of Seniors, Community and Social Services had reviewed the regulation three times, yet no amendments were made.

“It has been 10 years since the Court identified a flaw in the regulation affecting the rights of vulnerable Albertans, yet the department has not taken steps to remedy the situation. The ombudsman found this inaction to be unreasonable and unfair to vulnerable Albertans and those who care for them,” the report said.

Over a decade ago, the Court of Queen’s Bench identified a similar legislative issue on an unrelated case and determined that, if IQ scores were unreliable, the regulation would be unfairly limiting PDD applicant assessments. According to Brezinski, the court emphasized the “flawed nature of the legislation.”

“It’s unfortunate that it took 10 years for that to take place. We would have hoped that once this ruling came forward and if it’s precedent setting, that the department would have taken action to change the regulation, but it didn’t,” Brezinski said.

Experts say adaptive function must also be assessed
According to the College of Alberta Psychologists (CAP) who were interviewed by investigators, adaptive function is “extremely important” when considering a person’s ability to function in a real-world environment. Additionally, they said over-reliance on IQ score for pervasive development disorders “does not align with contemporary clinical interpretive practices.”

The PDD program assists Albertans with developmental disabilities to access services to live independently. As it stands Albertans can apply when they are 16 and begin receiving benefits when they turn 18.

To be eligible applicants have to be over the age of 16 when they apply, have a developmental disability from before the age of 18, have significant limitation in intellectual capacity and adaptive function, and reside in Alberta.

The criteria for PDD are set out in the regulation and there are currently only two options for assessing intellectual capacity, the first is either an applicant’s IQ score is less than 70 or they are unable to completed the IQ test at all.

“This program does support a lot of people with developmental disabilities, but there are those in the autism spectrum that get missed because their IQ is slightly higher than the 70. (The department) need to change it so that they include looking at adaptive skills it’s so important,” Brezinski said.

At the end of his report, Brezinski provided two recommendations to the Deputy Minister of the department. The first is for the PDD to work towards amending the regulation to align with the current psychological standards for assessing intellectual capacity. He said the changes should be made “immediately” and no later than Sept. 30, 2024. The second, was for the PDD to reconsider Evan’s application for PDD based off the panel’s decision.

“I found section 3 of the regulation to be unreasonable and improperly discriminatory. The goal is to improve processes for future PDD program applications, as well as resolve the unfairness experienced by Evan,” Brezinski said.

Article content
He said the department will take his recommendations into consideration. The Regulation is up for review for a fourth time this September and Brezinski hopes this time they will make the necessary changes to the legislation.

Marie Renaud, Alberta NDP Critic for Community and Social Services, is calling on the minister to accept the recommendations and to begin “meaningful consultation.”

“When a person with disabilities is going through multiple appeals in their application to receive the supports they need, Albertans should be paying attention,” Renaud said.

Postmedia has reached out to the province for comment.

ctran@postmedia.com
X: @kccindytran

Original at https://edmontonjournal.com/news/improperly-discriminatory-alberta-ombudsman-report-finds-systemic-issues-impacting-access-for-persons-with-disabilities

Paris Promised the Olympics Would Be Accessible. The Clock Is Ticking.

The city, which put inclusivity at the center of its bid, has improved access for people with disabilities, but with the opening ceremony about 12 weeks away, obstacles remain. By Anne-Marie Williams
May 6, 2024

During a trip to Paris last November, Samantha Renke just couldn’t seem to find a taxi that could accommodate her motorized wheelchair.

“Every time I logged on, it just kept saying, ‘Unavailable, unavailable, unavailable,'” Ms. Renke said, recounting her struggle to book an accessible cab using the G7 taxi app. Eating out was also a problem for Ms. Renke, a 38-year-old British actress and disability campaigner who has a genetic condition commonly known as brittle bones: Too few restaurants had step-free access.

As Paris prepares to welcome around 15 million visitors – an estimated 350,000 with disabilities – for the Olympics and Paralympics, the city is still working to fulfill its promise to make itself “universally accessible” before the opening ceremony, on July 26.

“Paris will be accessible. We are rising to the challenge,” said Fadila Khattabi, the minister delegate for disabled people.

Paris put inclusivity and accessibility at the center of its bid to host the Summer Games, and the city has made a great deal of headway. For example, the newly built 128-acre Olympic and Paralympic Village, hailed by the organizers and advocacy groups as a shining example of universal design, offers accessible buildings, multisensory signage and zones for assistance dogs. The city plans to have 1,000 wheelchair-accessible taxis by the time the Games open (it had just 250 in 2022), and Uber will increase its fleet of accessible vehicles to 170, from 40.

Despite this progress, advocacy groups like APF France Handicap are concerned that the city remains unprepared for visitors with disabilities. For example, said Pascale Ribes, the group’s president, train and airline companies need to be notified in advance to accommodate passengers in wheelchairs.

And even that isn’t always enough, explained Ms. Ribes, who uses a wheelchair: Recently, she said, staff members at a Paris airport refused to bring her personal wheelchair to the jet bridge after a domestic flight. Another time she almost missed her connecting flight waiting for promised assistance.

A new urgency

France’s first law mandating accessibility in public spaces dates back to 1975, but effective enforcement has been a challenge. The Olympics and Paralympics have brought new urgency to the issue. “It’s not just accessibility for people with reduced mobility,” said Anne Hidalgo, the mayor of Paris, in an interview last month. It is about all disabilities, including sensory disabilities. “This will be a very important legacy of the Games,” she added.

Lamia El Aaraje, the deputy mayor in charge of universal accessibility and people with disabilities, has worked to make shops, schools, public services, cultural and sports facilities, and buses and trams accessible across the city. In the last 10 months, at least 1,750 bus shelters have been renovated to be compatible with bus wheelchair ramps.

Unfortunately, even this hasn’t always made life easier for people with disabilities. Ms. Ribes recounts instances when buses have parked too far from the curb, making it impossible for the ramp to reach the sidewalk. On crowded buses, wheelchair users may have difficulty gaining access to the two places designated for them.

The Olympics and Paralympics have also driven change at the city’s two main airports, which have added changing areas, sensory rooms and zones for assistance dogs. The airports are also working toward a long-term goal: transitioning from assisting passengers to removing the barriers that prevent disabled fliers from being autonomous; this includes letting passengers use their own wheelchairs, instead of airport wheelchairs, on jet bridges.

The city’s extensive Metro system poses its own special challenges for visitors with disabilities, with only one line (No. 14) fully accessible. This line, part of the ambitious Grand Paris Express project, will serve Orly Airport this summer. Other lines incorporate tactile paving, which has textures that help blind and visually impaired people, and more than half offer audio and visual announcements inside the trains.

Two suburban lines, RER A and B are also considered accessible by the regional transport agency. RER B serves both airports, though Ms. Ribes says people with disabilities still often need assistance on this line. For the Games, the city will also offer what Ms. Ribes considers temporary solutions: 200 shuttles for wheelchair users and their companions between Paris train stations and sports sites.

‘The law is not enough’

Since the 2012 Games in London, there has been a significant shift in the Olympics’ approach to accessibility. For those Games, access was integrated into the construction of new sites. But starting with the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, a big move toward sustainability meant that Paris 2024 used more existing venues instead of building new ones. This has posed both challenges and opportunities for accessibility.

The Paris 2024 committee has reserved 280,000 tickets for spectators with disabilities, and the venues themselves will be accessible. Many, but not all, of the events will have audio descriptions in French and English, and the organizers are being as inclusive as possible, said Julien Zelela, a board member for the French Federation for the Blind.

French regulations require 4 percent of hotel rooms to be accessible, but the total number of such rooms in Paris is unknown. Airbnb (which has 13 accessibility filters) and Vrbo (which has a wheelchair filter) also offer accessible listings in the Paris region.

The Paralympian and wheelchair rugby player Ryadh Sallem acknowledges that hotels are making efforts to be more accessible, but said, “When we want to host a major competition, it becomes very problematic; sometimes we need to book several hotels” for a group of athletes.

Despite the progress, one barrier to accessibility remains stubbornly persistent: public attitudes.

“The law is not enough. We really need to change mentalities,” Ms. Ribes said. For example, cabs have refused to pick her up, she said, telling her that her wheelchair would dirty the vehicle’s interior. Last year, an Uber driver was accused of attacking a blind man for getting into his car with a guide dog. Since then, Uber has made its 40,000 drivers in France watch a short disability awareness video. In anticipation of the Games, other companies, including the operator of Paris’s airports, the Accor hotel group and the G7 taxi service are providing their employees with training on disability awareness.

With the Games about three months away, Mr. Sallem is cautiously optimistic about their long-term benefits for the city. The Olympics and Paralympics have made everyone think of accessibility “as an investment,” he said, “a project for the future.”

Catherine Porter contributed reporting.

Original at https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/06/travel/paris-olympics-accessibility-disabled.html

Understanding and Accessing Canadian Disability Benefits

JILLIAN ROBERTS
SPECIAL TO THE GLOBE AND MAIL
PUBLISHED April 24, 2024

As a practising psychologist, I wish there existed a single resource where Canadians could familiarize themselves with the diverse social assistance programs funded by our taxes. Many of the families I work with need to be made aware of the available governmental support or guided through how to obtain it. And as a mother of a child with special needs, I myself was keen to learn about the Canada Disability Benefit introduced in the 2024 budget. So here is an overview of how to obtain the CDB – and other disability supports.

The new federal Canada Disability Benefit would pay an additional $2,400 a year – or $200 a month – to Canadians eligible for the existing Disability Tax Credit. They must also be aged 18 to 64 and live on a low income.

There are different ways to qualify for the Disability Tax Credit. When it is given for impairments in mental functions, the individual’s daily life must be markedly restricted 90 per cent of the time owing to a diagnosed mental condition that has lasted for at least a year. It can be challenging to interpret what “markedly restricted” means. One way to understand the term is that daily tasks take you three times longer to complete than someone of a similar age without the impairment, even with the right therapy, medication and devices.

When I see complex situations where there is more than one mental health or developmental diagnosis, I often question whether my patient is eligible for the DTC. I usually answer that question with an evaluation of adaptive functioning – how well a person handles typical life demands and how independent they are in everyday activities.

Suppose you believe that you or your child might qualify for the DTC owing to impairments in mental functions. The next step is to arrange for a psychological, psycho-educational or neuropsychological assessment conducted by a registered psychologist. If an evaluation indicates that a person is eligible, they can apply for the Disability Tax Credit.

Disability benefits can also be applied retrospectively. If there is clear evidence of when the challenge started, the psychologist can document that time, not just when the condition was diagnosed. Given that assessments can often take a long while, this is important to note, as you may be eligible for benefits going back several months or even years.

When a person is granted the Disability Tax Credit, they can open up a registered disability savings plan, intended to help with long-term financial security. Depending on the situation, other benefits may include eligibility to identify as a person with a disability on the Home Owners Grant, thereby reducing property taxes on a principal residence. Additionally, the therapies and support services that assist with the condition may be recognized as deductible medical expenses on personal income tax returns

Moreover, if a child has a diagnosed disability, it could lead to designation or identification as a student with special learning needs at school. Sometimes, schools receive extra funding from a provincial ministry of education when a student has severe or complex learning needs. The student’s school would develop a personalized learning plan, often called an individual education plan (or an individualized program plan in Alberta). It documents individualized goals, changes to learning and any extra help required. It also serves as a tool to monitor the student’s progress.

If you are a postsecondary student, having a diagnosed disability may qualify you for permanent disability funding, provided that you have applied and qualified for a student loan. This funding often includes financial assistance to acquire assistive technology. You may also be eligible to receive support services through your postsecondary institution’s centre for accessible learning, including academic accommodations such as later deadlines and extended exam times.

A documented disability may also enable a person to receive accommodations for entrance exams (such as LSAT or MCAT) to professional programs, and for postdegree professional exams to license in a particular profession. Further, a person may be eligible for workplace accommodations. In Canada, there is a duty to accommodate a disability, as Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms contains guaranteed equality rights.

The introduction of the Canadian Disability Benefit offers some relief for Canadians facing documented disabilities. Critics contend (and with good reason) that it falls short of adequately addressing the needs of this demographic. Nonetheless, for the families I work with, every little bit helps.

Dr. Jillian Roberts is a research professor of educational psychology at the University of Victoria. She is also a practising registered psychologist in B.C. and Alberta. She is known for her expertise in navigating the complexities of emotional and mental well-being.

Original at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/investing/personal-finance/household-finances/article-understanding-and-accessing-canadian-disability-benefits/

Disappointment Widespread Over Budget’s Proposed $200-Month Disability Benefit Funding

Rachel Aiello
Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter
Published April 17, 2024
Advocacy groups across Canada are expressing widespread disappointment about the amount of funding earmarked in the 2024 federal budget for the long-awaited Canada Disability Benefit.

On Tuesday, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland revealed that the Liberals were finally ready to roll out funding for this federal income supplement.

The government has allocated $6.1 billion over six years and $1.4 billion ongoing, including the costs to deliver the benefit. This funding would provide for a maximum benefit amount of $2,400 per year.

However, as stakeholders have been quick to realize, with the benefit estimated to be offered to 600,000 people with disabilities, the proposed maximum benefit would be just $200 per month, or as March of Dimes Canada estimates, “just $6.66 per day.”

“This budget doesn’t begin to fulfill the government’s promise to lift people with disabilities out of poverty, let alone the ‘promise of Canada’ – a fair shot at a prosperous future,” said March of Dimes Canada’s President and CEO Len Baker, in a statement.

While celebrating the important step taken to launch this benefit, Daily Bread Food Bank CEO Neil Hetherington said there remains a “clear need” to increase payments.

“It is imperative that this program helps people with disabilities live above the poverty line,” he said in a statement.

Forty-one per cent of low-income Canadians live with a disability and 16.5 per cent of the disabled people in Canada live in poverty, according to Disability Without Poverty. Reacting to the budget, the group’s national director Rabia Khedr said this benefit was supposed to “offer real hope” but has instead fallen short.

Last week, an Angus Reid Institute survey indicated overwhelming support for the benefit but that just one-in-20 respondents were confident the government would follow through.

Green Party co-leader Elizabeth May called the inclusion of this funding in the budget “check-box politics.”

“It’s there But when you look at the details and say ‘what, $200 a month? And not starting until July 2025, with further conditions for eligibility?’ We called for an end to legislated poverty for people with disabilities. That’s not in here,” May said in her post-budget reaction press conference.

NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh has also said he wants to get some clarity from the government on this funding before determining whether his party will back the Liberals on this budget.

“People waited for a year and a half for the disability benefit, and it’s only $200, at a time when the cost of living is so high? What’s the plan to increase that?” Singh said in an interview on CTV News Channel’s Power Play on Tuesday.

In a November report exploring the potential costs of the new benefit, Canada’s Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated that it would take up to $14,356 a year per person to close the gap between current social assistance people living with disabilities receive, and the poverty line.

Groups are also concerned about the threshold for eligibility as outlined in the budget, warning that it will only cover fewer than half of those currently receiving disability income support.

Under the plan, low-income persons with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 64 who have a valid Disability Tax Credit (DTC) certificate will be eligible.

“Using the DTC as the only access point is concerning when there are other valid ways to verify disability,” said Baker added. “Asking people with disabilities to jump through additional hoops to access financial security benefits they’re entitled to is harmful and traumatizing.”

Hetherington said expanded eligibility “will be necessary to effect meaningful change.”

According to the budget , the government plans to issue the first payments in July 2025.

The budget also vows coverage for the cost of medical forms required to apply for this financial assistance, and to consult people with disabilities on the benefit’s maximum income thresholds and phase-out rates.

However, “the benefit design will need to fit the investment proposed in Budget 2024.”

Work has been underway on making this new stream of financial assistance a reality, for years.

After passing legislation in June of last year, by September Minister of Diversity, Inclusion and Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera still couldn’t say when it would come into effect, stating her focus was on getting it “right.” This prompted petitions for an interim “emerge relief benefit” that never came to fruition.

Faced with questions on the subject on Parliament Hill on Wednesday Khera defended the plan as a “major milestone” and a “key benefit,” but conceded it is a “starting point.”

“There’s always more to do but I will say, you know, if you look at the budget this is the largest single item that you will see, $6.1 billion. This is around building a social safety net around persons with disabilities,” she said.

When pressed on whether the federal government will increase the benefit in the future, Khera wouldn’t say.

The government has framed this federal income supplement as a legacy social policy that will help hundreds of thousands of low-income, working-age people with disabilities, meant to supplement existing provincial and territorial benefits.

However, ambiguity remains about the potential for cross-jurisdictional claw backs, with the federal government stating they are still calling on provinces and territories to agree to exempt the Canada Disability Benefit from counting as income in relation to qualifying for other supports.

On the premise that “every dollar matters to those living with a disability,” the government states in the budget that it “aspires to see the combined amount of federal and provincial or territorial income supports for persons with disabilities grow to the level of Old Age Security (OAS) and the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS).”

Questioned on her way in to a Liberal caucus meeting, MP Pam Damoff said the government is aware that advocates are disappointed and while she too would have liked to see additional funding, “it’s more than we had before.”

“It does open the doors of conversations with provinces and territories as well They need to come to the table on this,” said Damoff, who was one of the dozens of Liberal MPs who had written to Freeland before the budget asking for it to include funding for the benefit.

“This isn’t a sole federal responsibility to make sure people are not living in poverty. And I do get a little frustrated when everything is dumped on our backs. Provinces need to step up for some of the most vulnerable people in the country, and we’re working to fill that gap, but it’s not solely on our shoulders.”

Original at https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/disappointment-widespread-over-budget-s-proposed-200-month-disability-benefit-funding-1.6850825