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The Role of Taxation in Enhancing the Self Sufficiency of Persons with Disabilities in Canada

Date: 
Saturday, December 1, 2007

A Brief Submitted to the Standing Committee On Finance Pre Budget Hearings

SUMMARY:

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC), a national, not for profit organization of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, calls upon the Government of Canada to take the lead to forge a new, comprehensive National Economic Strategy to alleviate the chronic levels of poverty and unemployment that continue to plague Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted in our affluent country.

INTRODUCTION:

Taxation is important to all Canadians. It must be fair, progressive, and it must contribute to the redistribution of wealth. Taxation must also bring in sufficient revenue to enable governments to provide needed programs, especially in the areas of health, education, research and development, job training and social services.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians/L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national, not for profit organization of Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Founded in 1992, our work focuses on improving public attitudes and providing advice on public policy issues to improve our overall quality of life and to achieve the promise of the International Year of the Disabled Person 1981 ... "full participation and equality."

FEDERAL LEADERSHIP:

The concept known as "trickle down economics" has, for the most part, simply not "trickled down" to Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Too many of us continue to live at or below the poverty line. Therefore, government intervention in the economy is of great importance to our community.

The Prime Minister and Provincial Premiers need to demonstrate a new level of urgency and leadership to alleviating both the economic plight and level of unemployment of persons with various disabilities, including Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted, by implementing a comprehensive National Economic Strategy that will overcome the chronic and unacceptably high levels of poverty and unemployment that we continue to face in our affluent country.

WHAT STATISTICS TELL US:

This grave reality of unemployment and poverty was re-enforced by a CNIB National Study entitled, "An Unequal Playing Field: Report on the Needs of People Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired Living in Canada," released on November 2, 2005. Of 352 adult consumers living with vision loss who took part in the study, 57% of adult participants were working age (21-64 years) and 43% were seniors (65+).

48% of all adult consumers reported gross annual incomes of $20,000 or less, regardless of marital or family status.

While About 19.5% of working-age consumers had completed one or more university degrees, 17.8% had successfully completed high school, and 14% had achieved a community college diploma, only a mere 25% of consumers aged 21 to 64 reported that they are employed, and 49% reported that they do not have jobs.

FEDERAL/PROVINCIAL/TERRITORIAL LEADERSHIP:

The new National Economic Strategy should include the calling together by the Prime Minister of leaders from the federal/provincial/territorial governments, business, labour and organizations "of" persons with disabilities to develop a heightened commitment, new programs, and forge a new partnership. It must address the needs of persons with various levels of disability, and should work actively to achieve employment and income rates among persons who are blind and otherwise disabled that are roughly equivalent to those of non-disabled Canadians.

Making THE FEDERAL PUBLIC SERVICE A MODEL EMPLOYER:

A long-term employee in the federal public service observed:

"I can't move higher because I have not had management experience, and I can't get management experience without opportunities. I am in a position where I have found myself before - no one knows what to do with me. Very demoralizing."

Unfortunately, her situation is by no means unique!

The Treasury Board of Canada must take steps to transform the federal public service into a model employer. These steps should focus on four major areas:

  • Recruitment - Develop an aggressive proactive recruitment plan to increase the representation of persons with various disabilities at all levels of the federal public service, including persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. -Retention - Review job descriptions to ensure that job requirements are current and job-related; develop a targeted program of internships; re-establish a central fund for covering the costs of needed assistive devices and adaptive technology.
  • Promotion - Conduct an ongoing awareness program with managers to remove attitudinal barriers. and remove barriers to performing real work and seeking promotions. - Workplace Accommodations - Accommodating employees is a very individualized process. The affected employee, who often knows best what is needed, must be directly involved. Technology and other solutions are available, and must be implemented.

TECHNOLOGY:

Information and Communications Technology (ICT) that is fully accessible and usable will increase an organization's bottom line and support the employment of all groups of Canadians. Changes to existing ICT can make it impossible for current employees, particularly employees who are blind, deaf-blind or partially sighted, to use new technology, which threatens experienced employees and prevents new hiring. The Government of Canada should invest in the development of new assistive technology, and restrict purchases to information and communications technology (devices and software) that is usable by all employees.

TRAINING INITIATIVES:

Currently, the Employment Insurance Program (EI) offers some re-training and other employment supports. However, these initiatives are available only to EI recipients. This has the effect of doubly penalizing many individuals with disabilities who have not had the opportunity to accumulate sufficient labour market attachment to qualify for EI benefits. The criteria for training programs must either be extended to also include historically disadvantaged groups such as persons with various disabilities, or new and targeted employment support programs must be initiated.

To help overcome the effects of marginalization, a variety of employment readiness programs must be available that are targeted for persons with various disabilities, including individuals who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. Work experience programs are particularly important for persons with limited exposure to the labor market or who have lower levels of education.

REDUCING POVERTY:

The National Economic Strategy must also take meaningful steps to deal with the chronic level of poverty that continues to be the life reality of so many Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

The Government of Canada must work with the Provinces and Territories to significantly reduce the economic disincentives in existing social assistance programs. Earning ceilings for current social assistance recipients must be significantly increased. Disability supports and benefits after return to work must be maintained. Rapid re-instatement to income security programs must be available if one should lose one's paid employment.

FUNDING NEEDED ASSISTIVE DEVICES:

The Government of Canada should assist all provinces and territories to establish a program of life-long Disability Supports, that would cover many of the costs directly associated with one's disability. These initiatives should include programs similar to Ontario's Assistive Devices Program, to cover part or all of the costs of needed assistive devices. These programs should be available throughout one's lifetime, and individuals must have the opportunity to gain training on adaptive technology.

TAX CREDITS:

The current non-refundable Disability tax Credit (DTC) does assist many working age persons with disabilities. The AEBC believes the DTC should be increased and automatically fully indexed on an annual basis.

The current DTC, however, does not benefit the thousands of Canadians with a disability who do not work. The Government of Canada should create a new Refundable tax credit-the Accessibility Tax Credit-similar to that of the Child tax Credit and the Goods and Services tax credit, that would also be indexed annually, and that would not be clawed back by the Provinces and Territories.

CONCLUSION

Disability issues cut across virtually all levels of government, departments and sectors of our society. To move forward, collaboration and commitment to a long term comprehensive National Economic Strategy is required. Employment initiatives are needed but they alone will not achieve the intended results. They must be accompanied by initiatives in other areas, such as disability supports, income security, training, and the removal of disincentives in income security programs. Disability needs are individual and a more positive climate must be created where the individual is encouraged and supported to take risks and experiment. Flexibility, consum er involvement, and coordination are the critical elements of any successful initiative to address disability issues. Governments, business, labor and the disability community must work collaboratively to find new solutions. This work requires a long-term commitment. The AEBC is anxious to play a role in realizing a new day for Canadians with various disabilities, including Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

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