New Brunswick

'It's been rough': Disabled struggling during pandemic with no supports

Most of us are finding it difficult to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for people who live with intellectual and physical disabilities the challenges have been great, and the supports have been few.

Mother of special needs son wonders why people with disabilities have been ignored in emergency relief efforts

Christine Roberts and her son Jayden Moore, seen here at the Moncton Geekfest in September, are struggling at home with none of the regular supports available to their family during the pandemic. (Submitted by Christine Roberts)

Most of us are finding it difficult to cope during the COVID-19 pandemic, but for people who live with intellectual and physical disabilities the challenges have been great, and the supports have been few.

"I will tell you I didn't think it could get worse but apparently it can," said Christine Roberts of Moncton, who is caring for her son and trying to make ends meet on social assistance.

The single mother lives with 16-year-old Jayden, who is on the autism spectrum and suffers from a sensory disorder that makes him highly sensitive to noise and light.

Since the pandemic began, all of the help Roberts depended on has disappeared.

Family members who used to stay with Jayden while she ran errands are now in self-isolation, and a support worker who would take her son out for four hours every Wednesday afternoon is no longer able to visit.

"That routine and that relationship has fallen apart and Jayden doesn't have too many social outlets to begin with," Roberts said.

"Jayden has had the same support worker and has seen him almost religiously every week so that was a big hit and I'm seeing it in Jayden — I seen him self harm. That hasn't happened in years."

No help targeted at those with disabilities

Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability N.B., a registered charity that helps people with physical disabilities, said her 15 staff are busier than ever working to find clients the support they need.

"Our phones are ringing off the hook," she said. "We're off the charts — I could hire five more people to help serve the province right now."

She says many families are missing the regular support of care givers and many others are dealing with job losses and food insecurity.

Haley Flaro, executive director of Ability New Brunswick, wants to see more government supports introduced for families and individuals who are struggling during the pandemic. (CBC)

Ability N.B. has mostly found "community based" solutions, as opposed to anything coming from government.

For instance volunteers are dropping off groceries for people, and the United Way is finding extra funding for things like special nutritional needs, delivery services and cleaning supplies.

"They're being exponentially impacted," she said of families and individuals who live with disabilities.

"Families who rely on respite care for children with complex disabilities and the respite isn't available. Families that their respite was having their child go and be active in school…there's so many things that people are experiencing right now and the impact on families is probably what's keeping me up at night." 

Christine Roberts says it is lonely during the pandemic with no support worker coming in and no family available to help. She and her 16-year-old son, Jayden Moore, go for walks to pass the time. (Submitted by Christine Roberts)

Flaro said while government workers have been flexible during the pandemic, she would like to see supports specifically directed at those with disabilities.

She points to British Columbia where people on social assistance and those with disabilities will receive an extra $300 per month in April, May and June to help them during the COVID-19 crisis.

In Ontario, a one-time payment of $100 for groceries and cleaning supplies was provided to those who rely on the Ontario Disability Support Program.

CBC News asked the Department of Social Development whether any supports would be made available to New Brunswickers with disabilities, but no one responded to our request.

All four party leaders have formed a COVID-19 committee that discusses the provincial response to the pandemic on a daily basis. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Green Party Leader David Coon, a member of New Brunswick's all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19, said to date, there have not been any programs targeted to people with disabilities.

"This year's budget will provide a small increase for those with disabilities living on income assistance," he said.

Anxiety rising

Roberts said extra money for food, and money to pay for home delivery would ease some of her stress.

One of her biggest worries is going to the grocery store or pharmacy with Jayden when government is asking just one family member to go out to pick up supplies.

"For families like me that's devastating because while Jayden looks like an adult, and is the size of an adult he's not an adult…leaving him home is not an option."

Roberts explains that her son needs routine and to know what to expect and with things changing everyday it is difficult for her to prepare him for even a basic trip to the pharmacy.

Christine Roberts has been overwhelmed trying to follow all of the rules for physical distancing at stores, while also trying to keep her autistic son calm and explain to him where he can stand. (Ingrid Rachael Blakey)

"I've already got yelled at at one store because I wasn't standing behind the proper green tape," she said. "I'm trying to moderate Jayden and get him OK while I'm getting screamed at which is increasing his anxiety — but what do you do?"

She would like to see grocery stores offer a special time every week for families like hers, similar to what's being offered for seniors and those with compromised immune systems.

'This is going to last a while'

Flaro has asked the provincial government to make more funding available to non-profit groups and charities like Ability N.B., but worries that with the state of emergency continuing, this will be a long term challenge.

"While New Brunswick's rates have been flattening, we're really hearing from clients that things are escalating and the economic impact is going to not just be a bubble, this is going to last a while with job losses."

She hasn't suggested it yet, but says she believes there will need to be a joint government - community group that would focus on "our most vulnerable populations as this continues."

Christine Roberts, a single mother and volunteer in Moncton, is calling on government to provide more support for families and individuals who live with disabilities. (Vanessa Blanch/CBC)

Roberts says for her, any help would be welcome right now.

"Why were we missed in the emergency relief effort when those needs [of disabled people] are just higher?"

About the Author

Vanessa Blanch is a reporter based in Moncton. She has worked across the country for CBC for 20 years. If you have story ideas to share please email: vanessa.blanch@cbc.ca

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