Now in month 4 (3? 6? time has lost all meaning) of the COVID-19 pandemic, an increasingly rugged-looking Prime Minister Trudeau and the Liberals finally unveiled a strategy to support disabled Canadians with increased costs brought on by the pandemic. It was a long time coming, but certainly a welcome announcement.
Having now reflected on the announcement for a week, and partly inspired by the surprise defeat of the bill yesterday, I felt it was time to share some thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of the legislation and offer some suggestions on what comes next.
A one-time $600 cheque
For a Prime Minister who is incredibly focused on image and media management, it was quite odd to see Trudeau scream the quiet part and whispering the loud part during the announcement. I’m flabbergasted that the pull quote for this plan is a one-time $600 payout to those qualifying for the disability tax credit. $600?? One time?? What?????
While obviously helpful to cover the increased supply costs it speaks volumes that the federal government approximated disabled people only require a fraction of what those receive from CERB/CESB. Which, by the way, are monthly. Not one time.
Now in a perfect world where disabled people are ALSO receiving CERB/CESB, this added benefit would help to cover some of these additional costs. However, and it’s a pretty big however, there are tons of disabled people who do not qualify because they cannot work/go to school. For these people, the most vulnerable who are dependent on programs like ODSP, this one time payment doesn’t even get them to the low income cut-off for ONE MONTH let alone riding out all the other months of this pandemic.
Worse still, this benefit is tethered to being an existing recipient of the Disability Tax Credit with the benefits being distributed via the CRA on this year’s tax return. The problem here is there are a fair number of disabled people who are unaware/unregistered for the DTC or are currently trapped in the bureaucratic nightmare of “proving” their disability to qualify for the program. I’m assuming the government tied the relief to the DTC because they aren’t given access to enrollment names/numbers of provincial support programs and those programs have different definitions of “disability” from province-to-province which could further skew experiences of disability from coast-to-coast-to-coast. A solution to this problem could be to support qualifying Canadians to quickly get access to the DTC with reduced documentation requirements or, perhaps, relying on enrollment in income support programs to stand as “proof enough”.
While any help is good help, it is just really deflating to once again have disabled people drawn up as needing and being worth “less” than nondisabled Canadians. The support offered here pales in comparison to the levels of relief being offered to nondisabled populations which were fair easier to access.
Perhaps we should start renting out our bodies as pop up shops to just qualify for corporate rent relief?
Investing in accessibility
The part of this announcement that I find really interesting is the part that isn’t getting any headlines. Down a couple bullet points is a commitment to invest $15 million for community organizations to “improve workplace accessibility and access to jobs”. This is a great idea because it helps make Canada a more accessible place AND helps more disabled Canadians enter the workforce, something that is going to be REALLY important as we come out the other side of this. Always a great investment.
Stated a little less quietly is the 3rd plank of the plan, which involves $1.18 million for “5 projects” around access and tech. This is another good idea that should pay off down the line as access to cyber space is JUST as important as access to the meat space. I’m a liiiiiiittle lukewarm on the limited info about these projects though.
- a “visor” for eye to text translation
- accessible debit machines (so we can spend our $600?)
- arm support to hold adaptive devices (???)
Without being too pessimistic there are already a fair number of big eye tracking projects (including Windows 10 native support for tobii) and there are tons and tons of mounts/arms already on the market to affix laptops, tablets and phones. Moreover these “tech” investments do little to resolve the broader issue of inaccessibility once online. A lack of WCAG 2.0 compliance and the reliance on user-generated alt-tags continues to make the online world inaccessible for some.
To even use alt-tags on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter, one has to dig through menus to ‘activate’ the feature. How many people reading this blog even know HOW to put alt tags on their social media images? Without these tags, images remain inaccessible to screen readers used by people with limited or no vision.
The other question I have here is whether or not this government investment means the resulting technologies will be low cost or free for disabled people in Canada? Or will all of the results of these investments be privately controlled and sold on the free market? As soon as you attach a “medical” or “special needs” label to a device the price SKYROCKETS. Case in point, voice-to-text software was/is regularly sold for hundreds of dollars. Everyone else get to enjoy Siri/Alexa/Cortanna for the cost of the device…and your privacy, I guess?
At the same time, I’d love to see more government grants in the innovation/tech world tethered to accessibility requirements. On the whole, a positive move.
Good effort, Trudeau & pals.
Revenge of the politics…
Yesterday opposition parties blocked the Liberal’s bill containing this disability benefit program, meaning (for now) it is not happening. Without getting into the weeds, all three opposition parties did not agree with the omnibus-style of the bill presented by Trudeau, featuring not just the disabled people relief plan but also legislation around tracking and punishing CERB fraudsters. The Bloc & NDP supported a move to pull out the disability benefit and deal with it on its own, however the Conservatives would not support that change and everything was sent back to the drawing board.
There’s politics being played on all sides here, yes, but at the end of the day the refusal of one political party, the Conservative Party of Canada, to discuss the legislation means that disabled Canadians must now wait even longer before seeing any sort of direct support from the federal government. The blame lays squarely at their doorstep for not being willing to even discuss the legislation.
Conservatives are arguing this was all just a sneaky ploy by the Liberals to move forward unpopular legislation under the cover of disability benefits but, honestly, I have to call malarkey on this defense. There was a clear pathway forward to deal with just the disability portion of the legislation but, instead of doing right by disabled Canadians, it was decided their issues with the Trudeau government trumped our need for support.
Interesting that Andrew Scheer wasn’t a willing to hold back CERB, CESB, or any of the other pieces of legislation that generated millions of dollars of relief for pretty much everyone by disabled Canadians.
Why is it always disability supports/programs that URGENTLY require caution and deliberation?
Why are the needs of others believed to be obvious, urgent and without question and ours are not?
Why are we always forced to the back of the line, only to be offered whatever scraps remain?
The answer is simple: ableism.