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Disabilities Supports Policy: a Blindness Perspective

Editor's Note: Editor's Note: The following article draws upon a presentation by Marie White, Chairperson of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) to the Board of the Consumer Organization of Disabled People of Newfoundland and Labrador (COD), SEPTEMBER, 2002, discussions at the Disability Supports Policy Forum in Ottawa March 2-4, 2003, and a Workshop held at the 2003 NFB:AE Conference in Montreal, May 16, 2003.

The Roeher Institute has defined the term "disability supports" as any good or service which assists a person with a disability to overcome barriers to carrying out everyday activities or to social, political, and cultural activities and economic participation. The goal is independent living as opposed to the older medical model goal of curing or rehabilitating a person with a disability.

There is no fixed list of disability-related goods and supports. A good or service becomes "disability-related" when it is used to assist a person or persons in overcoming barriers associated with a disabling condition.

The list of disability supports can include, but is not limited to:

Technical aids; Transportation; Job Coaching; Attendant support; Homemaking assistance; and respite and back up for family care givers.

People with disabilities require disability supports to achieve their social and economic potential. Data from the 1991 Health and Disability Limitation Survey (HALS), however, shows that one-half of the 44 per cent of people with disabilities who are not in the workforce cite barriers and disincentives as the reason;

25 per cent of Canadians with disabilities on income support programs cite loss of supports as a reason for not looking for work; and 36 per cent of people with disabilities had non-reimbursed out-of-pocket disability-related expenses.

Many existing supports are not portable across sectors. Supports that are provided in the home are often not provided in the school or workplace - making it impossible for a person to pursue training or employment options.

In other cases, supports are attached to specific forms of residential care, such as nursing homes or group homes. This creates problems for residents who wish to seek independent living arrangements.

For Canadians who are blind or partially sighted, the list of essential disability supports includes, but is not limited to: adequate orientation and mobility training; a nationwide Government-funded assistive devices programme, that includes adequate training on technology provided; full internet accessibility; availability of public transportation; access to regular community programs, including psychological support and counseling on disability-related depression; low vision clinics; universal design/usability of products and alternative format versions of product manuals; increased employment programs; paid readers at home and in the workplace to read print materials; Building Code standards that include adequate lighting and prevention of glare; standards for accessible vending machines; independence in voting; access to municipal recreation programmes and library services; accessible consultation methodology; and outreach/communications strategies to provide information on new initiatives.

The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and the Canadian

Association for Community Living (CACL), through support from the Government of Canada's Voluntary Sector Initiative, have launched a new project, "Connecting People to Policy." This Initiative's overall aim is to build the capacity of the disability community to engage with federal and provincial/territorial governments in policy discussion and development related to disability supports.

Canada's disability consumer movement has identified achieving greater availability of disability supports a priority issue. there remain some jurisdictional and delivery issues to be resolved. The Disability Supports Policy Forum held in Ottawa, March 2-4, 2003, identified four key areas that require further research and discussion: federal / provincial / territorial / first nations transfer payments, mobility rights, use of tax policy, and information and reporting. A second Disability Supports Policy Forum is expected to take place in late 2003 or early 2004, at which the results of this research will be discussed and further recommendations developed.