Opinion: It’s Time for A Humane, Empathetic and Respectful Disability Benefit

Opinion: The application process is so long, onerous and costly, Canadians with disabilities often feel it’s designed to drive them away, rather than help them. It’s time for a benefit without barriers. Author of the article:Leonard Baker and Elizabeth Mulholland Published Jun 15, 2023

The proposed new Canada Disability Benefit is an historic opportunity to transform the lives of people with disabilities in Canada by lifting those who are working age out of poverty and setting a new more accessible, humane, and user-centred standard for income benefits.

To realize this opportunity, however, Parliament must pass Bill C-22 (the Canada Disability Benefit Act) before the end of this parliamentary session on June 29. It has been three years since the government first proposed the Canada Disability Benefit to much fanfare in its 2020 Throne Speech. Bill C-22 is supported by every political party and has now passed every parliamentary hurdle except final approval by the Senate.

In that time, people with disabilities have fallen even further behind. It’s time to pass this legislation.

The federal government must also fulfill its commitment to collaborate with the disability community to design and deliver a benefit that is truly accessible and responsive to their needs. A Benefit Without Barriers, a new report by March of Dimes Canada and Prosper Canada, can help.

Developed with people with disabilities and disability organizations, the report sets out principles and recommendations for the design and administration of the new benefit that are rooted in the hard-won experiences of those who have had to navigate Canada’s disability income support programs and are intimately familiar with the challenges these entail.

Their advice is designed to ensure that we turn a page on past mistakes and deliver a Canada Disability Benefit that leaves no eligible person with disabilities behind. Their voices must be heard.

The process of applying for benefits is fraught with barriers that cause many applicants to give up in frustration. Even those who are ultimately successful may also pay a steep personal price.

Barriers include lack of awareness and information, as well as long, onerous and costly application processes that are hard to understand and navigate, and undermine the self-respect, dignity and mental health of many applicants. Individuals with disabilities often feel government application processes are largely designed to drive them away, rather than help them access benefits they are entitled to. They and their families and caregivers feel distrusted by their own government.

Applying for disability benefits is also costly, requiring applicants to pay out-of-pocket for assessments by healthcare providers and associated travel if they live in a community without someone who provides this service. Other barriers like lack of government-issued identification, difficulty finding a physician, and housing insecurity, further compound these challenges, leaving people feeling discouraged and defeated.

In addition, most people with disabilities lack access to one-on-one help to complete applications, appeal decisions, and self-advocate – all of which are often needed to successfully access benefits.

Proving one’s disability can be exhausting and dehumanizing, especially when you have to do it over and over again to access different benefits – or to re-qualify for them, even when your disability is permanent and irreversible.

The new Canada Disability Benefit needs to be better than this if it’s going to meet its goal of eliminating disability poverty. It’s time for a humane, empathetic, and respectful benefit experience that, above all, does no harm to the people the benefit is intended to help.

Success requires that government engage directly with people with disabilities as it designs the benefit and its administration to understand and actively address the risks associated with different options. Only then can we be sure that the result will be a benefit experience that fosters respect and dignity and treats people with disabilities as valued members of society.

We can start by automatically deeming anyone receiving provincial/territorial disability income support, CPP-Disability, the Disability Tax Credit or Veterans’ disability benefits, to be eligible for the Canada Disability Benefit. The government can also ensure that all delivery staff are trained to the highest standard in how to communicate with and support benefit applicants and recipients.

Finally, the federal government can harmonize the Canada Disability Benefit with other federal disability programs and work with its provincial and territorial counterparts to protect benefit income from clawbacks. Our goal is to reduce poverty – not fill provincial/territorial coffers or simply move money between federal programs.

We can build a disability benefit without barriers and now is the time to do it. People with disabilities in Canada have waited long enough. Let’s get on with the job.

Leonard Baker is president and CEO of March of Dimes Canada; Elizabeth Mulholland is CEO of Prosper Canada.

Original at https://vancouversun.com/opinion/op-ed/opinion-its-time-for-a-humane-empathetic-and-respectful-disability-benefit