Save lives road sign.

Heather Aldersey, Associate Professor and Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Disability Inclusive Development, talks about how COVID-19 has impacted Canadians with disabilities disproportionately and offers an avenue to reduce inequity for persons with disabilities.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted for us the deep societal inequities facing particular segments of our society. Equity-deserving groups saw the disadvantages that they already experience further exasperated. When speaking about the challenges that families with members with disabilities face, a parent researcher with whom I work expressed: “the faucet was leaky in the best of times, and the pandemic just turned a drip into a deluge”.

The Canadian government’s 2020 speech from the throne also recognized that for those in Canada already struggling, the pandemic has made the burden heavier. Specifically, the Canadian government noted that COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Canadians with disabilities, and highlighted long-standing challenges. In response to this, the government has promised to bring forward a Disability Inclusion Plan which will include among other items a new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors.

Given that the government seemed to treat people with disabilities as an afterthought in its immediate COVID-19 pandemic response (e.g., its one-time benefit of $600 in the fall was critiqued both for its low dollar value and the delay in its provision) and arguably continues to do so, a Canadian Disability Benefit would be a welcome development.

There are still many unknowns around what exactly the Benefit will look like. Canadians with disabilities must hold meaningful seats at decision-making tables to enable the development of a Canadian Disability Benefit that would provide an adequate standard of living and that recognizes the extra, disability-related costs experienced by members of the disability community.

Following the throne speech, many disability advocacy organizations have sprung into action to try to ensure their voices are heard by decision-makers. One such organization, the Plan Institute, together with nearly 20 partner organizations, put together a series of webinars to educate the community about the proposed new benefit and how persons with disabilities and their families and communities might go about shaping it to best serve the interests of those who live the reality every day. I would encourage everyone to visit this site and view the webinars for greater learning around this benefit and what needs to be considered in its creation. Persons with disabilities and their allies are key to identifying the critical ingredients that we will need for the Canadian Disability Benefit to successfully eliminate poverty and reduce inequity for all Canadians with disabilities – I hope the government is listening.