British Columbia

Voters with disabilities disappointed, frustrated by B.C. election campaign

Disability advocates are frustrated that the B.C. election campaign hasn’t shone a light on many of the issues that matter to voters with disabilities.

Accessibility legislation, poverty and children with special needs among hot-button issues largely ignored

Albert Ruel, a blind advocate, has been fighting for improved access and inclusion and human rights protection for people with disabilities for the past 30 years. (Submitted by Albert Ruel)

Albert Ruel is tired.

The blind advocate has been fighting for improved access, inclusion and human rights protection for people with disabilities for the past 30 years. And he's frustrated that the B.C. election campaign hasn't shone a light on many of the issues that matter to voters with disabilities.

"There's not a lot of appetite to actually do something meaningful about the immense discrimination that we face every day in our lives," Ruel said.

The lack of accessibility legislation in the province concerns the retiree, who participated in a provincewide consultation on what the legislation should contain earlier this year.

"The B.C. Disability Act was meant to hit the Legislative Assembly this fall, but now we've got a snap election," Ruel said. "So all of that talk, all of that lip service, all of that study again and still we have nothing." 

Right now, only Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia have accessibility legislation in place. People with disabilities and advocates like Albert Ruel believe it's critical that B.C. pass its own legislation to remove barriers to inclusion for the more than 900,000 B.C. residents who identify as having a disability.

Although the Green Party pledges to introduce its own accessibility legislation and despite assurances from the NDP that it would pass the long hoped-for legislation in its first session if elected, he's unconvinced.

"I'm really worried about what will happen going forward," he said.

Cynthia Lockrey is a parent advocate and mom of an eight-year-old with autism. (Submitted by Cynthia Lockrey )

Cynthia Lockrey shares the sentiment when it comes to autism assessments. The parent advocate and mom of an eight-year-old with autism is deeply concerned that publicly-funded autism assessments in B.C. can take up to two years. But the situation is very different if people can afford to pay for private assessments, creating a two-tier system.

"That's really limiting who and when kids get support," Lockrey said. "We know that by supporting kids with special needs, they'll have more confidence, more skills and the ability to reach their full potential. 

"But right now in B.C., we're not doing that." 

While autism assessment hasn't been mentioned specifically in the platforms of the three major parties, the Liberals promise to Increase supports and earlier assessments for identifying learning needs. 

The Green Party platform includes improving access to speech language pathologists and psychologists and developing new resources for students with special needs. And the NDP pledges to build on mental health supports for students and staff and better support children and youth with special needs and their families.

Lockrey remains skeptical. And she doesn't know what else to do to get the B.C.government's attention.

"Parents are exhausted trying to raise these amazing kids," she said. "Please stop ignoring children with special needs. We've had enough governments in B.C. who've ignored these kids." 

Living in poverty with disability 'soul crushing'

For Heather McCain, advocate and executive director of the non-profit Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods, living with a disability on limited disability benefits is devastating and soul crushing.

"Being a person who lives in poverty in a city filled with so much wealth is a constant ongoing emotional assault," McCain said. "We are not even at the poverty line for those who are on disability and that is unacceptable." 

Heather McCain is an advocate and executive director of the non-profit Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

McCain describes trying to live on a fixed income as a juggling act. And it's affecting far too many people with disabilities and their families.

"People with disabilities have to constantly be weighing where they put their money — and it's never over," McCain said. "We're constantly having to juggle these choices. And if you are part of a family or if you have other people, oftentimes you're making decisions that benefit them but put yourself at risk."

Poverty reduction gets a mention in a few of the major parties' election platforms.

The Greens pledge to increase income support levels, beginning with making the $300 crisis supplement permanent and indexing assistance to inflation; as well as a few ways to reduce clawbacks for people on income assistance.

And the NDP promises to use its Poverty Reduction Plan and the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Basic Income coming later this year to determine the best approach to reducing poverty long-term.

A search for "poverty" in the Liberals platform did not produce a result. McCain says it's time for the next government to see the big picture.

"The information is out there. The expertise is out there. We need action." 

Tap here to listen to the CBC's Cathy Browne discuss the issue on The Early Edition.

About the Author

Cathy Browne

Journalist

Cathy is a photographer and visual artist currently working on CBC's Vancouver morning radio show, The Early Edition.

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