Disabling the Barriers

The International Day of Persons with Disabilities annually rolls around on the first week of December, a time of year when most of us are doing mathematic gymnastics, making sure we have enough funds for the Christmas season. It's not a stretch to imagine that many folks feel a little ... well, stretched. For a good number of people with disabilities, December is yet another month of trying to make ends meet, never mind the holiday season.

Living near the poverty line is a reality for many people with disabilities. The Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped - a program that started more than 30 years ago - provides $1,588 a month for a single person. If we do the math, we arrive at $19,056 a year for a single person on AISH. Based on the Low Income Measure After-Tax, a single person needs more than $19,000 (after tax), to stay above the poverty line.

I live with a disability--cerebral palsy since birth--and I use a wheelchair. From personal experience, I can safely say it costs more when you have a disability.

There are between 30,000 - 40,000 Albertans with disabilities on AISH.  While it's somewhat disrespectful to question any type of income support, the AISH amount still needs to be questioned. But perhaps more importantly, the fundamental needs for AISH should be re-examined and-- let's be really bold--what kind of incentives does AISH give to a person with a disability?  I am very mindful that finding meaningful employment for people with disabilities is very challenging. The myriads of challenges are far-reaching from simply getting to work, to accessibility and proper support at the workplace.

Can we imagine Alberta becoming a pioneer in employment trends for people with disabilities? I think there’s a great opportunity here.

So let's ask a few What if? Questions:

  • What if there were personal care attendants for people with disabilities on the work force?
  • What if new transportation systems for people with disabilities were implemented so people with disabilities could get to work on time on a consistent basis?
  • What if the provincial government initiated programs for people with disabilities to work from home, in an environment they are familiar with?

The possibilities are endless. People with disabilities have a fundamental right to become self-sufficient citizens, with the proper services to do so.

Poverty is an issue which is being tackled head on by organizations like United Way. With local and provincial governments both stating their commitment to addressing poverty, the timing is very good to discuss new approaches and ideas.

International Day of Persons with Disabilities is not only a day to celebrate the achievements of people with disabilities. It is also a time to celebrate the potential of people with disabilities, and even consider introducing new initiatives.

It is, after all, December when wish lists are compiled.  And if you never ask…    


Cam Tait is a semi-retired Edmonton Journal columnist.