This opinion piece is by John Loeppky, a disabled artist and freelance writer/editor in Regina.
Imagine if getting new shoes cost you $7,700.
That every time your Yeezys, Nikes, or — if you're my father — Champion boat shoes wore out, you were on the hook for the equivalent of a 2008 Ford Edge.
Being physically disabled, particularly on the Prairies, is a bit like living in the worst version of those popular Mastercard commercials.
- Cost of massage for one month: $200.
- Cost of a titanium wheelchair that you can't move without: $7,700.
- Cost of a van conversion: $40,000.
- Having Cerebral Palsy? Priceless.
In my community, this is known as the crip tax.
Yes, crip as in cripple, and tax as in that shared social responsibility that many don't think folks like me pay.
Crip tax is a linguistic substitute for the hidden costs of living with a disability. For those of us who have reclaimed 'crip,' it's a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry; it's a stage whisper; and it can be in an open letter. Whenever it's used, crip tax is a term that demands attention.
Canada's disabled people are paying more for housing, more for care and more for the necessities of life.- John Loeppky
Being disabled is far more expensive than people think, even when it comes to the most basic of needs.
According to Statistics Canada, one in five people in this country have at least one disability. A 2017 study also found that 59 per cent of disabled people were employed compared to 80 per cent of those without disabilities.
A case study
Consider this hypothetical scenario: David has a disability. He is living on the $25,000 a year he makes as an administrative assistant.
By the way, $25,000 is more than any provincial support program provides in Canada. And making $25,000 per year, unlike many people's experience with programs like Alberta's Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped or the Ontario Disability Support Program, actually sneaks into livable income territory.
Is that a critique of government? Yes. Am I the only one saying it? No. Does it bear repeating? Until the end of time.
As social programs in this country rarely allow for any kind of meaningful savings — God forbid us disabled people have any kind of breathing room — let's assume David is spending right to his monthly income of $2,083.
Let's start with where David will live.
It's notoriously hard to find affordable accessible housing. Rental costs vary across Canada, but where I live — Regina — a one-bedroom apartment currently averages $930 per month, according to Rentboard.ca.
That's nearly half of our monthly budget. Think that rent sounds high? Basement suites are generally cheaper but stairs are no friend of David's (or mine for that matter). Those lower level suites sure are real big hits with property developers, though.
This imagined scenario isn't very imaginary for the millions of disabled people across Canada who are barely getting by right now.- John Loeppky
So, David has a roof over his head – it may be leaking and our renting agent might ask us if we're physically able to have children when we're being shown around the place, but damn it, at least it has a roof. And if, like my editor, you were curious whether this actually happens, let me assure you that I'm writing from personal experience.
The next not-so-easy question: How is David going to feed himself? Pre-cut food, a necessity for many, costs more. Getting food delivered — also a key for many — is an added cost, too. Delivery costs $5 to $10 a pop.
Say David, who lives alone, spends $300 per month on groceries. That leaves him less than $900 to spend on gas, vehicle repairs and catheters – yes, peeing costs money for some of us – as well as every other expense, like the Internet and utilities.
That leaves next to nothing in the monthly budget for any semblance of entertainment or relaxation.
This imagined scenario isn't very imaginary for the millions of disabled people across Canada who are barely getting by right now. Canada's disabled people are paying more for housing, more for care and more for the necessities of life.
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We're also doing more with less. That's because on top of all these costs, there's a major income gap that affects many in my community. Many disabled people on provincial benefits sit below Canada's deep poverty line. The median income for disabled people, according to Statistics Canada, is almost $5,000 per year less on average when compared to non-disabled Canadians, regardless of income supports.
Everything has a cost, but for disabled people that's quite literally the case. A lack of resources during a pandemic isn't a thought exercise, like it seems to be for many government ministers, it's a life and death proposition that won't just float away when a vaccine comes around.
And yet society still wonders why disabled people are poor, even when the data repeatedly confirms this stark reality.
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