Dee Dee's wheelchair confines her to home. Her family is fundraising for freedom
Government programs won't fund all-terrain pushchair that can traverse reserve's unpaved sidewalks, road
Dee Dee House spends most of her time in a rickety wheelchair, trapped in her parents' home on the Paul First Nation reserve.
A wooden ramp runs from her room to the yard, but it drops off onto grass and mud. Her wheelchair's worn tires can't make it out to the dirt road.
Injured as a baby, Diedre Faye House (her family calls her Dee Dee) can't walk or talk. With limited use of her arms, the 31-year-old relies on her brothers and her parents, now in their 60s.
What the family wants more than anything is a $2,500 all-terrain stroller, a mobility device that would allow them to help Dee Dee to do simple things, like visit her cousin across the road.
But the stroller isn't covered under the federal or provincial assistance programs Dee Dee is eligible for.
Her family has started a Facebook fundraiser, hoping to buy it themselves.
Being housebound is frustrating for Dee Dee and the rest of the family, said her cousin Mildred House, a frequent visitor.
"They can't take her out," said House, 24. "They can't go for a walk with her. She just basically sits there unless ... she has an appointment."
When that's the case, House said Dee Dee's brothers have to carry her and the heavy wheelchair to the family's nearly 20-year-old SUV, load her in, disassemble her wheelchair, load it, then reassemble it when they arrive.
A 'nonessential' item
The assistance programs available to Dee Dee through the federal and provincial governments consider the stroller nonessential.
But to the family, it's anything but.
"We're here trying to fundraise money for a stroller just so she can get around," House said of her cousin.
Dee Dee is eligible for non-insured health benefits through Indigenous Services Canada, but the stroller the family needs is not among the mobility aids covered by the program.
In an email statement, the federal department said it encourages clients and health providers "to explore opportunities to address health needs within the context of eligible benefits" and notes that Alberta's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program, which Dee Dee also qualifies for, has programs as well.
Alberta Health, which refers to the stroller as a jogging stroller, said it's not covered under Alberta Aids to Daily Living either.
"As jogging strollers are not considered basic medical equipment, they do not meet the program's mandate and are not provided," the provincial department said in an email statement.
Delay getting new wheelchair
Dee Dee's wheelchair is in poor repair. Most of the padding is ripped and the family often drapes blankets over it, so it doesn't poke and scratch her.
Under the federal non-insured health benefits program, Dee Dee is overdue for another wheelchair. The recommended replacement guidelines stipulate clients are eligible for new ones every five years, and hers is already much older.
"She was supposed to be getting a new wheelchair," House said. "But it just keeps getting pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed."
House isn't sure about the reasons for the delay, and people from the band's health centre who returned calls from CBC News said they were not authorized to speak about or had no knowledge about Dee Dee's file.
'There's so much she wants to do'
Given that the road isn't paved and there are no sidewalks, even a new wheelchair would not solve Dee Dee's mobility problems, the family said.
House said families on reserves caring for loved ones with disabilities face a unique set of challenges.
Neither of Dee Dee's parents work because their daughter requires 24/7 care.
"Living on reserve, they're limited," House said, who started the fundraiser for the stroller after her aunt told her about the difficulties they'd been having navigating the system.
"She's a happy girl. She's fun to be around," House said of her cousin. "There's so much that she wants to do."
House said Dee Dee's wants are simple.
"She always wants to come over and visit. She wants to come here. But she can't. It's too much work "
Her cousin recently communicated that she would like to go to the movies, she said.
"I was taking my daughter and my niece," House said. "Before I went to the movies, I went to stop by and see her.
"She started getting excited, and I asked her what's up. I'm like, 'Do you want to come with me?' 'Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!' And I'm like, 'OK, you know what? I'm going to get you a stroller, and when I get you that stroller, I'm taking you to the movies.' "
On Facebook, House has raised about $600 of the $2,500 needed to purchase the stroller.