Putting People with Disabilities at the Centre of Pandemic Recovery
Story by Stacey McLachlan
Illustration by Ashley Mackenzie
Neil Belanger is not surprised at all that people with disabilities were impacted more severely by the pandemic. “Persons with disabilities have always faced systemic poverty,” says Belanger, the executive director of the BC Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. “They’ve been marginalized and largely ignored.”
Now, as BC slowly moves into reopening, critics say the disabled community continues to be disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and the ripple effect of lockdown, even as the rest of the province looks hopefully to the future.
Disability income should be at least $2,400 a month
“During [COVID-19], persons with disabilities experienced increased isolation. There was more limited access to transportation, or to places where they’d access the internet or meet socially,” says Belanger. For those with disabilities, the shutting down of services and massive job losses meant less support, higher expenses, and magnified mental-health issues. Beyond widespread financial support like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), the province did take broader measures to help people with disabilities, including a temporary $300.00 bump that is now permanently capped at $175.00. For someone with medical or service expenses beyond the typical able-bodied person, it’s simply not enough. “We believe anyone on disability income should be getting $2,400 a month at a minimum,” says Belanger.
The pandemic’s effects on the Accessible BC Act
Disability activists aren’t quietly accepting this lack of consideration and support. Many community members are still reeling from the devastating effects of the pandemic, and now there’s a new layer of vigour in the fight for inclusion. Sam Turcott, Executive Lead for the Accessibility Directorate for BC’s Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction, has gotten a great deal of feedback from the disability community and has used that insight to help inform new BC accessibility legislation.
“We heard loud and clear about the concern for available support,” says Turcott. For many, it wasn’t just about lo