N.W.T. disabilities framework misses the mark, says Yellowknife woman

Elizabeth Portman has often spoken up for people with disabilities in in the Northwest Territories. She says she’s had a hard time finding anything positive to say about a framework that will guide the territory when it comes to accessibility and inclusion over the next 10 years.

Gov't faces criticism that it did not consult with enough people with disabilities

The Northwest Territories has released a framework on improving services for people with disabilities. (Alex Brockman/CBC)

A Yellowknife woman with multiple sclerosis says the N.W.T. government's new disability framework is inadequate.

The document, produced by the Department of Health and Social Services, outlines a broad plan for how the government plans improve services for people with disabilities.

Elizabeth Portman often speaks out for people with disabilities in the Northwest Territories. She says she's had a hard time finding anything positive about the framework, which will guide the territory on this issue for the next 10 years.

Among her concerns is that people may have trouble accessing the document itself — it's only available online in a PDF format, which can be difficult for people with visual needs to use.

She also feels the framework frames disability as "a disease or medical failing."

"Being different is not a medical issue that needs to be cured," she said.

The document states the territorial government consulted groups such as the N.W.T. Disabilities Council, the Yellowknife Association for Community Living, the Foster Family Coalition of the N.W.T. and the N.W.T. Seniors Society, but Portman questions whether there was enough of an effort to contact people with disabilities themselves. 

She also said she's not convinced how the government will follow through the goals outlined in its framework. 

"The Northwest Territories is great at frameworks and action plans, but it has a long history of failing to do what they say they will," she said.

"There was a five-year plan before and it was just left to rot on the vine."

For these plans to work there needs to be ongoing monitoring along with input from people with disabilities and adequate resources, she said. 

One thing she would like to see going forward is self-assertiveness and advocacy training for people with disabilities and their families.

"People don't know their rights, they don't know how to assert themselves. It's very intimidating, very scary to challenge authority," said Portman.

'Robust evaluation' involved, says N.W.T. Disabilities Council 

Denise McKee is the executive director of the N.W.T Disabilities Council.

She defended the government's consultation process, saying there was a "fairly robust evaluation" of services and programs for people with disabilities in the territory.

That included talking to people with disabilities and their families about "everything from housing to income security to disability supports across every community." 

'There's a lot to do' 

Victorine Lafferty, the director of seniors and continuing care at the Department of Health and Social Services, said the government did its best to consult as widely as it could, including people with disabilities and service providers. 

That included an online survey, a 1-800 number, and co-ordination with government service officers to reach people in the communities, she said. 

Lafferty said the government will use the 10-year framework to create two five-year disabilities action plans. The first is expected to be released when the legislative assembly sits in May and June. 

"It's a broad issue, there's a lot to do," said Lafferty. 

"We have to have a starting point and as much as we'd love to be able to address everything today we have to look at resources and capacity." 


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