Canadian Social Programs
– Persons With Disabilities Essay, Research Paper
Social Programs – Persons with Disabilities
Disability touches all Canadians. It does not distinguish between age, gender or socio-economic class. Persons with disabilities are our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our colleagues, our friends, our neighbours and ourselves. Approximately 4.2 million of us – one in six Canadians of all ages – have a disability. (see appendix A) In many communities the rate is even higher. For example, approximately 30 per cent of Aboriginal adults report a disability, more than double that of the national rate. (Feldman, p.67) The reality today is that persons with disabilities still face barriers that prevent them from participating fully in Canadian society. This is an issue that confronts us within families, in educational and training institutions, in the workplace, in community groups and in every other aspect of Canadian life. The social and economic development of our country depends on all Canadians having an equal chance to contribute their gifts and abilities. (Lucas, p.23) The Government of Canada and the provinces and territories recognize that removing the barriers to full participation faced by persons with disabilities is vital to that development. Indeed, governments have worked to remove the barriers that prevent full participation. They have done so individually, but also in partnership with other orders of government and with interested groups and individuals in all parts of Canada. The purpose of this essay is to outline the past, present, and future initiatives taken by the Government of Canada to reach the equal treatment of all Canadians, including those with disabilities, and to attempt to relate these initiatives and programs to the economic goals and policies of Canada.
In order to examine the various programs designed to assist Canadians living with disabilities, it is important to first understand the types of challenges that confront these persons. There are three main categories of issues that persons with disabilities must deal with on a daily basis. The first is the personal challenge of living with a disability and the individual barriers to full participation one must overcome. ( Challenges… , p.1) There are barriers not only to finding and keeping a job such as accessible transportation, physical access to buildings and facilities or access to training necessary for a job, but also in gaining access to the technologies that assist persons with disabilities to participate not only in the workplace but also in a wider society. The second is the attitudinal barriers that still exist among many people who do not understand that persons with disabilities can and do make a positive and meaningful contribution to our economy and our society. (Pierce, p.23) Too many people see the disability, and not the person. The third category is what is referred to as systemic challenges in many different areas, including employment, education, transportation, and many others. ( Challenges… , p.1) In many ways, these are the difficulties that persons with disabilities face because government policies and support programs originally created to respond to specific needs, have become complex and even confusing, and therefore, no longer serve any real purpose. These can present a real impediment or disincentive to persons making, or attempting to make, transitions in their lives. Many supports are not portable, and cannot follow people as they travel from home to school to work. This type of inflexibility often discourages or prevents people with disabilities from joining the workforce or taking training because they fear the loss of essential disability supports and services. (David, p.65) These barriers often prevent persons with disabilities from participating fully in their communities and in the workplace. As a result, persons with disabilities face much higher rates of unemployment than do other Canadians, even with the same level of education. (Hyde, p.75) The result is that there is a concentration of persons with disabilities at the bottom of the income scale. More than half of persons living with disabilities, have an individual income less than $15,000 a year. (see appendix B) This income disparity marginalizes this group and adds yet another challenge to individuals who are overcoming barriers to participate in the labour force. No matter what the challenge or barrier, the end result is still the same. Persons with disabilities often lose the opportunity to fully participate in society and the economy; and Canada loses the benefit of the creativity and contribution of persons with disabilities that would otherwise enrich all of our lives.
Historically, Canada has taken many initiatives towards reaching equal treatment of persons living with disabilities. However, the greatest developments have come in the last twenty years. (Martin, p.75) The International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 was a catalyst in launching close federal government co-operation with Canada s disability community and with the voluntary sector on disability issues. Since then they have shared a common commitment to achieve full access to social and economic opportunities for persons with disabilities as a matter of citizenship. ( The Government… , p.1) Federal action during the 1980 s worked to increase the economic and social participation of Canadians with disabilities in the lives of their communities. The inclusion of physical and mental disability under Section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in 1982 marked the first time that any national Constitution in the world referred specifically to persons with disabilities. This has become an internationally-respected model because it framed disability as a citizenship and human rights issue. It has led to a much greater understanding that equalizing participation adds to the strength and cohesiveness of our societies. (Abrams, p.23) Many new programs were created during this time, such as government efforts to improve accessibility in federally-regulated transportation services such as airlines and railways (Thomas, p.35); financial support for homeowners, landlords and others to make buildings accessible to people with mobility disabilities; and the creation of the Office for Disability Issues in Human Resources Development Canada as a focal point for federal disability action.
During the 1990 s, the Government of Canada acted on many of the priorities of Canadians with disabilities in areas such as employment, health, taxation and social development. In 1992, the government tabled an omnibus bill to address areas such as access to the electoral system, access to information in alternative formats, acquiring citizenship, and testifying in criminal court. (Stewart, p.54) Also, a ground-breaking multi-year project was undertaken with the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council to stimulate research in the area of disability. This government initiative supported hundreds of projects that improved access to housing, transportation, education and communications between 1991 and 1996.
In recent years, federal departments and agencies have continued to act on priority issues such as opening doors to employment and ensuring more accessible transportation services. In the past, it was difficult for people receiving Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits to return to the workforce without jeopardizing their supports. (Graham, p.35) This has changed – people can now receive benefits for three months after returning to work. They can volunteer or attend school without fear of losing benefits. As well vocational rehabilitation is starting to help more people return to work. Canadians with disabilities still find getting from place to place a challenge. However, our Canadian Transportation Agency has worked with persons with disabilities and the transportation industry to improve access to air, rail and ferry transportation through new regulations and codes. (Thomas, p. 36)
From the 1997 and 1998 federal budgets came funding for many new government programs. There was a $70 million allocation for the expansion of medical expense tax credits to help cover costs such as adapted vehicles; moving to accessible housing; sign language interpreter fees; and attendant care. $30 million went to the new Opportunities Fund, designed to help between 4000 and 6000 Canadians with disabilities find and keep jobs through projects that help improve employment opportunities for people with disabilities. ( Benefits and….. , p.2) And $12 million went to support organizations of Canadians with disabilities including a new Community Inclusion Fund that supports projects to improve integration of persons with intellectual disabilities into their communities. (Rathbone, p.45)
And the future looks even brighter for persons with disabilities. Many other government departments are beginning to follow the initiative and are creating new programs designed to work together towards one goal. The federal and provincial/territorial governments are working out details of the Employability Assistance for Persons with Disabilities initiative. The new initiative will emphasize improved employability. It will track and report the outcomes of activity such as the numbers of persons with disabilities who find and keep work. (Williams, p.17) The Minister of Justice tabled amendments to the Canadian Human Rights Act; the Criminal Code; and the Canada Evidence Act in October 1997. These will improve access to the justice system for Canadians with disabilities and introduce a duty to accommodate employees with disabilities for federally regulated employers. One of the most important tax documents for Canadians with disabilities is the Revenue Canada Disability Tax Credit Certificate (T2201). This form establishes the eligibility of individuals for the many tax deductions and credits related to the costs of disability.
The future directions for the Government of Canada will build on the framework contained in their current plan. The directions reflect the building blocks of disability supports, income and employment. (Ford, p.63) They also recognize the need for action on overarching priorities that will lay the foundation for sustained progress towards the vision of full citizenship for people with disabilities. ( Policy Directions….. , p.3) To succeed, the importance of building on joint work with provinces and territories is recognized. The Federal government is directing it s energy into five main areas of concern for the future. Through these concerns, the government will be able to advance a new approach to disability issues with all segments of society. (see appendix C) The government s social programs will reflect these concerns.
The first concern deals with increasing accountability and improving policy and program coherence. (Elmer, p.14) The Government of Canada is already working with provinces and territories to better measure progress. In other words, they re attempting to make sure everyone is working at the same level. The federal government will continue to work closely with the provinces and territories and plans to develop a department specifically for this purpose, which will issue regular reports on the status of social services involving Canadians with disabilities.
The second concern involves the building of the capacity of the disability community. (Policy Directions… , p.4) The disability community already plays an important role in identifying disability issues. The Government of Canada recognizes the importance of continuing to work with the disability community as well as the need to increase its policy and research capacity. To achieve this, the federal government plans to continue providing funding through the Social Development Partnership Program (Ford, p.64); promote and foster partnerships among disability organizations; provide and support events which encourage a community feeling; and encourage the flow of information and knowledge through improved research networks.
The third concern requires improved access and the removal of barriers to disability supports and income. The current system of supports is often too complex, and does not follow the individual where he/she needs to go. Disability supports include both the technical aids and human assistance that people with disabilities need to assist with daily living. (Graham, p. 36) In order to achieve these goals, the government will continue to improve the administration of the Canada Pension Plan (CPP) disability program, including better and more frequent communication with clients, as well as building on previous work to increase return to work opportunities.
The fourth concern is the enhancement of employability of persons with disabilities. ( Employability…. , p.3) Having a job is an important part of participating and contributing fully to a society. Yet, people with disabilities often face obstacles that keep them from participating in the labour force. In fact, for many people with disabilities, getting a job is one of their greatest challenges. There is already a high degree of collaboration among the orders of government, such as the agreement on Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities (EAPD). Nonetheless, it is recognized that further action may be required to improve the labour force participation of people with disabilities. The Government of Canada plans to encourage private and public sector partnerships in order to remove barriers to employment and self-employment. ( Employability… , p.3)
The fifth and final concern is the reduction of injury and disability rates by prevention and health promotion. (Ford, p.64) Whereas the above measures are intended to address the challenges facing persons with disabilities, this concern recognizes the importance of reduction of disability rates and the improvement of the health of persons with disabilities. Since injuries are a leading cause of disabilities in Canada, (Cameron, p.56) the Government of Canada will increase several initiatives aimed at reducing the incidence of injury in children, youth and seniors. This strategy will provide for a decreased disability rate, which will subsequently decrease government spending on disability programs.
By examining the various programs and initiatives organized by the Government of Canada, we can conclude that the federal government is quite determined to gain equal treatment for persons with disabilities. However, like many other areas of government social programs, spending money on disability programs benefits more than just those persons with disabilities. By initiating such programs as the EAPD (Employability Assistance for People with Disabilities), the government is increasing the level of employment in Canada. Not only do a lot more people with disabilities find jobs, but there will also be a need for more people to train those disabled persons, and help them get accustomed to their new lifestyles. With the creation of more jobs, will come an increase in spending, since more people will be earning more money and will wish to spend it. An increase in spending will lead to a higher level of economic growth, which is another economic goal of the Government of Canada. However, as in all situations, anything with an upside, must have a downside. With a higher level of economic growth, will come high inflation. High inflation may cause high interest rates, which could result in a less spend-crazy economy, and could possibly cause some people to lose their jobs. So, with the creation of new jobs, we could end up taking old jobs away from others.
Through this essay, we have examined the problems faced by persons with disabilities, here in Canada. We have seen how their problems have been handled in the past, through slow, and somewhat effective legislation. We have looked at the way they are treated in today s society, and we have glanced into the future of disabilities legislation, by examining the goals of the Canadian Government. And lastly, we looked at how the creation of disability social programs effect the economy of Canada as a whole.