CBC Manitoba

The Disabled

One in six or 170,000 people in Manitoba live with a disability, and 18.9 per cent of families where the income earner has a work-limiting physical or mental disability have a low income.

Consider this: On average, a Canadian with a disability earns about $10,000 a year less than those without a disability.

While almost nine percent of Canadians with disabilities are unemployed, advances in workplace inclusion have increased the employment rate by 4 per cent between 2001 and 2006.

Blog- Laurie Helgason

Laurie Helgason is an active mother of two who once earned $4000 monthly. But she injured both feet, landing awkwardly during a kickboxing class and ended up in a wheelchair. She receives a monthly disability pension of $1029 from her former employer and supports her family that amount. He husband is currently unemployed after losing his job two years ago. Laurie, who is fighting cancer, is the head of the Disabled Women's Network in Manitoba.

Day 1

Hi I’m Laurie and this is a picture of how my life looks to me. Yesterday was a very eventful day with only a few problems. I was on CBC Radio in the AM and I went to the legislature to connect with government on the rights of women with disabilities. Had a good conversation with Greg Selinger and Jennifer Howard at least I know their heart is in helping. Just persuading from there on and keeping the small voices alive of women with disabilities. I came home and watched the CBC news to see how that had gone and I was fairly pleased with the message.

Even getting my friends and family there for the award ceremony Monday night was hard most of my friends are also disabled and all of us live in poverty. Most had to try for free tickets and I was finding it hard to listen to all of the women that couldn’t be there because of cost. John and I couldn’t even afford the tickets for our kids but they said to forget about it they would take care of them. On top of everything was drink money and cokes are 2.00 each for four of us that is $8.00. I was worried that the kids and hubbie would need another drink the evening was so long. It was a wonderful moment getting the award for women’s rights from my peers. I spoke about how hard it was to break those barriers but how much better it was to know that other women were in the same struggle. Then I spoke about the difference in being disabled and suddenly not even having a voice. Last I made a plea to the women’s community to help the forgotten voices of women with disabilities to be heard.

You know last night reminded me of how all of my able bodied friends left me when I lost my mobility and how awfully lonely it is to be a woman with a disability living with all those losses. I used to hike every weekend. I had a place in the forest where I fed deer carrots and apples in the winter and they always were there waiting for me. I wonder who feeds them now and how many months they waited but I never returned. I remember every single hike and kayak ride and the extreme pleasure of being amoung nature. I was also a life member at Fort Whyte but now I can’t even get there. It is fully accessible but no buses go to these wonderful places like Bird’s Hill and Fort Whyte so if you are lucky enough to afford a vehicle and you are disabled you can go there but the rest of us just get to dream...

Day 2

Wow! Did that ever take a lot out of me. I spent a full day yesterday running around so today I am exhausted. I slept until 2 pm then was back in bed by 4:30. Very tired from everything. My breathing is very problematic right now and it turns out I have an ear infection for the first time in 20 years but I just can’t afford any more medicine so I warmed up some mineral oil, tested it on my wrist and used a cotton swab as an ear dropper. Ear ache was gone in an hour. I’m already on antibiotics for my chest. Being poor you get to know a lot of home remedies that actually work. Like when the kids got lice we couldn’t afford the treatment so I mixed mineral oil with vinegar and wrapped up hair and head (leaving face out) with plastic. 3 hours later unwrap rinse and comb. No more reoccurrences.

I got a few phone calls today but other than that did nothing. Too tired. Was in bed and asleep by 9 pm. Tomorrow I will have to write my heart out as I have a paper due.


Day 3

I had another amazingly busy day. CBC called and wanted to know what I thought about that Manitoban in Australia being beaten. I tell you my blood just boiled at some of the insensitive remarks around how the disabled are always whining about something. Not CBC but the general public has no idea how we are forced to live.

When I lost my mobility after having worked for 35 years my whole lifestyle disappeared. No, the government doesn’t look after you. No things aren’t cheap for us. And again no we have to for the most part pay for our own mobility aids. Food costs are horrendous. With special meds that require special diets we often can’t follow our own diets given to us by doctors that personally don’t pay for the food. We are supposed to. That’s a laugh. Here it only the 12th of the month and we are out of options. No money for anything now.

John and I were asked to a low income art show at 10 each but just don’t have it. Doesn’t much matter our elevator is not working at all so I am stuck at home. At least I am for the last day and possibly till late Friday. Our friends are coming for dinner this weekend thank goodness for pasta. Talk to you all later.


Day 4

Yay! Another day with no elevator. There are two of us in wheelchairs down here and this has gotten to be a real problem. I finally decided to call the elevator company and asked if they could do anything for us. Apparently they could but no one thought we needed it. So they came and put it into manual service meaning we can go up and down the one floor. Now I can get out!!! So tomorrow I’m going into the office at SMD.

Today has been another difficult breathing day. I am very tired just from the act of breathing. John and the kids are going to volunteer at Winnipeg Harvest starting April 6th. We need more than me to keep going. It’s going to be a fish dinner tonight as a luxury. We are having tilapia with rice and frozen veggies. The whole meal is 12 for four of us but still above our budget. Yesterday was soup. Tomorrow will be macaroni. I read that Simon and Garfunkel tickets were going on sale. Then I saw the prices. Wow! Two tickets would buy a lot of oxygen. I have to rest again. Man, this living and breathing is so hard.


Day 5

Oh boy! This has been a really hard day. My breathing is not getting better - it is getting harder all the time. I’m exhausted just putting on three articles of clothing and can barely stay awake in my chair. I need a lot of rest but today I will not get any. I have been for the most part taking it easy this week and working at home but now I must go into the DAWN office to work. No one has been in there in a month or more. Usually Emily and I share the load but this last few months neither of us has been well enough to go in.

I finished a package for the Women’s Advisory Council so I stopped there first and picked up not only posters but brochures on Women’s World Congress 2011 that I am presenting on Monday night. It is a half hour presentation but a real good one. Then I headed towards the office. No money for lunch today but I am bringing something to drink along.

I’m totally exhausted. I have used my puffer eight times in the last hour and a half it is making no difference. I did the bare minimum at the office and left at 5, then stopping at Extra Foods for some needed groceries. I found out steam meals were on for $2.99 and wanted to buy three but John wasn’t sure we had enough money when I phoned him. Sure enough, I get to the cashier and there isn’t enough money left in the bank. John walked over from home with a $10 bill but with what was left in the bank it wasn’t enough. So we dumped our change and came up with another $4 and then tried the bank and finally we could pay for the groceries including the three dinners. Now we have 37 cents to last until payday. Sure hope we don’t run out of medicine or we’re screwed. I suspect that because my breathing is so bad they are going to want to give me something for that. Unfortunately we won’t be able to get it until payday and I will have to learn to get along with less breath and more sleep.

This is my last blog and I know we haven’t talked about all the struggles we go through on less money. Some people think we are worthless and that we should be satisfied with what charity we get. But I would like people to wake up and smell the coffee. If someone such as myself can lose everything just by going into a wheelchair it can happen to anybody. I have worked since I was 11 years old and suddenly my ability was discounted and my disability became an issue for everyone but me. It can happen to anyone.