Strengthening Support Systems for Individuals with Disabilities during COVID-19
The pandemic has had drastic effects on practically every aspect of our lives – more so on our financial situations. According to a survey done by FP Canada, 41 per cent feel their financial health is in a more precarious situation now than when the pandemic began. And while the federal government was quick to provide much-needed support to those affected by COVID-19 through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit or CERB (for which a total of 27.57 million applied), for people with disabilities, their efforts to provide aid were simply not enough. This is especially evident considering that a large number of them now have to rely more on personal support workers and food and grocery delivery services because of accessibility issues.
It’s more than numbers
For people with disabilities, it wasn’t merely their financial situations that were affected, but also their physical and mental conditions.
For example, a Toronto resident with mobility issues was scheduled to have a surgery on her legs to improve her movement abilities before COVID-19. She also regularly attended an exercise program with March of Dimes Canada to help with her physical situation. However, at the onset of the pandemic, both of these were cancelled and her mental well-being has been affected because she hasn’t received the support systems she has relied on pre-pandemic.
One size fits all
David Lepofsky, the chairperson of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says that the federal government’s solution was a “one size fits all” approach, which is why it doesn’t work for those with disabilities. People with disabilities have their specific set of needs, which are different from those without disabilities. However, these needs were not considered in coming up with CERB and other pandemic-related benefits and the federal government chose to take the quick and easy routes.
Higher costs of living
Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, insists that a large percentage of the disabled population is not getting support services expected from provincial health departments or social services, including CERB.
At present, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit received the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that doesn’t help much for those with disabilities who will need to rely on food deliveries or in-house care support.
When one factors in the higher costs of living these days, it becomes apparent that money doesn’t go as far as it used to. Thus, most Canadians with disabilities, many of whom are within the poverty line or on the verge of it, continue to struggle.
A survey done by Statistics Canada involving respondents with disabilities between June and July last year showed that half of them are having difficulties making ends meet. A whopping 61 per cent of them said they are unable to meet at least one financial obligation due to the pandemic, including prescription medication, housing payments, and utilities.
On the other hand, 44 per cent were having a hard time paying for groceries, while another 40 per cent were struggling to provide personal protective equipment for themselves.
Nearly one-third of the respondents said they have lost at least $1,000 a month since the pandemic began.
Advocates believe that the federal government owes it to the disabled community to think of them and put their needs under consideration in a post-COVID world. Apart form prioritizing them to get the vaccine, people with disabilities will greatly benefit from other changes.
Advocates believe that financial support should be provided to a person with a disability to access opportunities in the community, like everyone else.
Employment options for people with disabilities should be free of any barriers, physical and otherwise. The public and private sectors should commit to hiring more people with disabilities, and agree to a national basic annual income for those with disabilities.
With the country still under the effects of the virus, it’s time for the federal government to take action to lessen the burden for people with disabilities.