People With Disabilities Face Additional Barriers at Tax Time

Accountant advises learning what health expenses can and cannot be claimed John Loeppky, CBC News
Posted: Mar 26, 2024

Spring brings fresh flowers, melting snow and, like it or not, a looming tax deadline. Navigating taxes can be difficult at the best of times, but for disabled people, there can be added complexity.

According to the Government of Canada’s most recent data, more than 1.4 million disability tax credit (DTC) certificates had been issued by the end of 2022. The DTC is one of the main tools the Canadian system uses to administer disability support programs, with the actual number of disabled people in the country being much higher – eight million people aged 15 or above at last count.

Amber-Joy Boyd, who works in the advocacy and health space in Saskatchewan, said that dealing with taxes and accounting professionals has led to experiences with ableism in the past, including an interaction that led to changing accountants.

“She actually said some very disparaging things to me about people with disabilities, about the amount we work in general,” Boyd said. “Basically, she was like, ‘Kudos for you for having a side gig,’ as if people with disabilities can’t do whatever we want and that I was somehow doing extra just because I wanted to make status quo money.”

Boyd said the complexities of having a disability, earning both self-employment and regular income, and navigating tax-based programs like the disability tax credit mean that going with a tax professional is a better plan, even if websites and tax programs are becoming more accessible.

“I think people shouldn’t be so afraid of taxes. If I just had my T4 and my disability tax credit certificate, like if that was it, I could do my own taxes.”

There are various community efforts to reduce barriers for people with disabilities when it comes to filing their taxes. Andrew Schmidt, a manager at Regina’s First Steps Wellness Centre, said bringing education to the community through a tax workshop has been on his priority list since his parents faced their own barriers after a motorcycle accident in 2011.

“Financial things change. And why not? Like, why not be aware of the programs that are available? What you can and can’t claim. What types of federal and provincial programs there are. And so we’re professionals in the exercise room, definitely not in the financial realm.”

While First Steps is primarily focused on rehabilitation programs for children and adults with disabilities, it regularly holds events to support community knowledge building.

FSWC hosted its second version of the workshop, led by local accounting firm MNP, last week. Missy Murray, a chartered professional accountant and manager at MNP who helped organize the event, said her advice is for disabled people and their support systems to focus on what health expenses they can and cannot claim.

“Some of the bigger ones are like home renos and stuff for making your home more wheelchair accessible” People can get the doors for their bathtubs. So just some larger expenses that people may commonly pay for their home, but they don’t realize that they can actually submit those for taxes.”

She added that the CRA’s processes themselves – like applying for the disability tax credit – can be a barrier for many people.

“I think it’s just a lot of administrative [effort], to be honest. Usually, once we submit some of these expenses, especially right now, there’s a lot of CRA letters coming asking for audits,” Murray said.

“My biggest piece of advice is just keeping all the support [material] that you have in regards to these expenses in case, you know, years down the road or in the next year, CRA ask to look at it.”

Boyd hopes that, in the future, those in power will make a more concerted effort when it comes to education so that more people with disabilities can have an easier time filing their own taxes.

“There’s places that the government could be getting that information out to people with disabilities, like, ‘Hey, you have to do your taxes too, this is what you need to know,'” Boyd said.

“I think that’s kind of a missing market for people.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John Loeppky is a freelance journalist, writer, and editor who currently lives on Treaty 6 territory in Saskatoon. His work has appeared for CBC News, the Globe and Mail, FiveThirtyEight, Insider, Defector, Healthline, and many others. He can be reached at John@Jloeppky.com.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatchewan/disabled-people-tax-time-1.7151033