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Liberals answer our pre-election questions

It is well recognized that there are barriers in Canadian society that people with disabilities are facing on a daily basis. People who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted face barriers such as transportation accessibility, access to the built environment and access to print materials. What is your party prepared to do to reduce and eliminate these barriers? The Liberal Party of Canada believes disability inclusion benefits everyone. When Canadians with disabilities have equal opportunities to contribute to their communities, to have the same quality of service from their government, to work, and to enjoy the same quality of life and choices as everyone else, we build a stronger country. This is why a re-elected Liberal will continue working to improve the lives of Canadians who are blind, deafblind, and partially sighted and continuing to work towards a barrier-free Canada. Over the past six years, the Liberal government has taken action to work towards a more accessible Canada. Among many other accomplishments we legislated the Accessible Canada Act to make Canada barrier-free. This Act involves identifying, removing, and preventing barriers in federal jurisdiction in the priority areas including employment, the built environment, information and communication technologies, communications, procurement of goods and services, the design and delivery of programs and services and transportation. A re-elected Liberal government will proceed with the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act and the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada. This will include working across federal departments and agencies to uniformly adopt the definition of “disability”. Further, we have started the important process to develop and implement a Disability Inclusion and Action Plan (DIAP). The objectives of the DIAP are to: ● Improve the social and economic inclusion of Canadians with disabilities. ● Reduce poverty among Canadians with disabilities. ● Contribute to the realization of a barrier-free Canada. ● Improve access to federal programs and services for persons with disabilities and ensure that disability inclusion is considered in all Government programs, policies and services. ● Foster a culture of inclusion and a shift away from attitudes of disablism and discrimination. To ensure these objectives are fulfilled we will continue our work and investments to implement this ambitious plan. Budget 2021 has already committed $100 million to the Enabling Accessibility Fund, which helps remove barriers in workplaces and community spaces. In June 2021, we tabled legislation for the Canada Disability Benefit and recommit to tabling it under a re-elected Liberal government. Additionally, a re-elected Liberal government will implement an employment strategy focused on supporting workers and employers, creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and building business disability confidence. Further, we are committed to making permanent funding to support services that ensure equitable access to reading for Canadians with print disabilities so that more Canadians are able to fully participate in all activities.

Since many Canadians were eligible for the CERB (up to $38,000), and disabled Canadians receiving the Disability Tax Credit were given a paltry one-time payment of $600, what is your party prepared to do to reduce the chronic level of poverty among blind, deafblind, partially sighted and otherwise disabled Canadians? If elected, when can we expect this to happen? We recognized from the beginning of the pandemic that persons with disabilities would face additional costs and require financial support as a result. In response, our recovery measures included persons with disabilities, including the following examples. First, with the Canada Emergency Student Benefit nearly 350,000 Canadians received the $750 per month top up because they had a disability or dependents under 12. Second, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit helped hundreds of thousands of persons with disabilities who lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic, providing them with up to $38,000 in benefits. Third, we established the one-time pandemic payment for persons with disabilities to help with additional costs beyond the CERB or social assistance that Canadians with disabilities were already receiving. To address the chronic level of poverty among Canadians with disability, the Liberal government committed to the delivery of the Canada Disability Benefit in the 2020 Fall Economic Statement. In June 2021, we tabled Bill C-35 setting out the framework for benefit as a direct monthly payment to low-income Canadians with disabilities ages 18-64. A re-elected Liberal government would reintroduce this legislation, while modelling it after the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS). The Disability Benefit would reduce poverty among persons with disabilities in the same manner as the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit. These benefits will be designed in consultation with persons with disabilities and negotiated with provinces and territories to ensure that these new benefits do not affect other provincial/territorial supports. As one of our first steps following the announcement of the Benefit in 2021, the Liberal government met with provinces and territories, outlining our position that a new Canada Disability Benefit should not result in a reduction in other provincial or territorial supports. We also know that we need to modernize our approach to disability across all government programs – based on dignity, equity and respect. That is why the Liberal platform is the only platform that commits to adopting the definition of disability as legislated in the Accessible Canada Act, across all federal disability programs.

Many medical devices are currently not usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians. Will your party require Health Canada to approve only devices that are usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians? Will you commit to working with the provinces and territories to ensure all prescription and other healthcare information is made accessible? As part of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan and through the work of making disability inclusion a priority, the Liberal Party of Canada is committed to ensuring that a disability lens is applied on all key policy initiatives in order to reduce barriers. This includes our work to ensure we have a healthcare system that is inclusive for all Canadians. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Liberal government knew that it was imperative that health care information was made accessible. It is why we led the way by ensuring that the daily public health briefings were supported by ASL/LSQ interpretation and why we appointed the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group (CDAG) to identify and help rectify areas in our response, including the health response. For example, early in the pandemic, the CDAG identified a gap in procuring clear masks and reported challenges with persons with disabilities being incorrectly triaged when they were admitted into hospitals. We immediately responded, by securing and distributing clear masks nationally and sending guidelines and principles for Provinces and Territories to consider and adopt in the early days of the pandemic. It is important that levels of government continue to ensure that all healthcare related information remains accessible, and a re-elected Liberal government will continue to make that a priority. With regard to medical devices and disability supports, they vary depending particularly on the needs and requirements of the individual. While it is important to ensure that all devices aspire to be accessible to all, there are very real circumstances that a particular device may reduce barriers for one individual, but may not reduce barriers for another. This is not a reason to not approve that device, but rather a need to provide other devices that better meet the needs of the second individual’s personal requirements. In this spirit, a re-elected Liberal government will continue to stand up for our public health care system, improve access to family doctors, and increase access to health services for those living in rural and underserved communities. Doing so will provide more Canadians with disabilities with access to quality doctors and care teams who are best trained to identify and provide the most appropriate medical devices and supports that meet the individual’s needs.

As you know, job creation and “building back better” are major preoccupations for Canadians and, as you are aware, our community suffers from an approximate unemployment rate of 75%, what is your party prepared to do to increase the level of employment for those of us who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted? The Liberal party is the only party that has committed to the development and implementation of a comprehensive disability employment strategy. Consultation and development of the strategy is already underway, and started shortly after it was announced in Fall 2020. This employment strategy will focus on supporting workers and employers, creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and building business disability confidence. The Liberal government has already laid the groundwork for the strategy with early investments in organizations and sectors who are at the forefront of this important work. In 2021, we provided over $36 million in funding to national disability organizations who are looking to build out a sector of disability experts, represented and developed by Canadians with disabilities, to improve services, supports, and employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Further, we have made historic investments in the Opportunities Fund, a program designed to support training, skills development, and services that connect persons with disabilities with long term and sustainable employment opportunities. A re-elected Liberal government will continue to work with Canadians with disabilities to develop and implement this robust employment strategy in order to support broader economic participation of this highly productive and innovative segment of our population.

The National Housing Strategy requires that a mere 20% of new housing starts be accessible. As this is woefully inadequate, given the fact that our population is aging, by how much is your party committed to increasing this target? We know that Canada needs more affordable housing for vulnerable people including persons with disabilities. That is why a re-elected Liberal government is committed to increasing both the accessibility and affordability of housing across Canada. Our plan is to build or revitalize an additional 250,000 homes over 4 years. As part of this plan, we commit to permanently increase funding to the National Housing Co-investment fund by a total of $2.7 billion over 4 years, more than double its current allocation. These extra funds will be dedicated to helping affordable housing providers acquire land and buildings to build and preserve more units, extending the model of co-operative housing to new communities, accelerating critical repairs so that housing supply remains affordable and is not lost, and developing projects for vulnerable groups, such as women, youth, and persons with disabilities. We also know that people with disabilities want to live independently, in the homes they grew up in, in the communities that support them, for as long as possible. But accessibility challenges at home can force persons with disabilities to move out of their homes prematurely. Sometimes small changes like installing a handrail or widening a door frame can make a huge difference. That is why a re-elected Liberal government would double the Home Accessibility Tax Credit, to $20,000, putting up to $1,500 back in the pockets of Canadians who need it most. Finally, we will adopt a consistent approach to disability inclusion across the Government of Canada. This includes putting a disability lens on Government of Canada decision-making, including this and any future commitments to housing and other national programs like childcare and infrastructure.

Disclaimer:

This blog is curated by the AEBC, but welcomes contributions from members and non-members alike. The thoughts, views, and opinions expressed in the Blind Canadians Blog are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the AEBC, its members, or any of its donors and partners.
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