December 3, International Day of Persons with Disabilities (IDPD), is a day to promote the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities and to increase awareness of the barriers persons with disabilities face in all areas of society. The United Nations’ theme for this year is, “Leadership and participation of persons with disabilities toward an inclusive, accessible and sustainable post-COVID-19 world.”
In Canada, just over one-fifth of the population has one or more disabilities, a figure which is rising with our aging population.
During the pandemic, people with disabilities in Canada experienced the worst effects of the economic downturn. According to a Statistics Canada survey conducted in summer 2020, over one-third reported experiencing a temporary or permanent job loss or reduced hours since March 2020, and many suffered a significant loss in income.
During the worst of the pandemic, the federal government provided financial support to Canadians through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). But many people disabilities were left out. For example, many people with disabilities did not qualify for the CERB. And while the government provided a $600 covid payment for Disability Tax Credit recipients, many people on provincial disability supports were not eligible for that payment.
The current programs and income supports in place are woefully inadequate to meet the needs of people with disabilities, resulting in high levels of poverty. According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, over one-quarter of Canadians with disabilities (1.6 million) were unable to afford required aids, devices, or prescription medications.
In June 2021, the federal government tabled the Canada Disability Benefit Act to create a new federal disability benefit. That bill died when the election was called. In the recent Speech from the Throne, which outlined the government’s priorities for the current session of Parliament, no mention was made of supports for people with disabilities nor whether the government would introduce this bill again. The government has also previously promised to move forward with universal pharmacare, but also did not include this as a priority.
Our recovery from the pandemic must be inclusive of people with disabilities. This means that people with disabilities must be part of the decision-making process and their inclusion must be a priority when policies are developed, not afterwards.
On IDPD, CEIU calls on the federal government to make a clear commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities and move forward now with the implementation of a Canada Disability Benefit and a universal pharmacare plan. We also call on our governments at all levels to include the voices of people with disabilities in their post-pandemic recovery plans.