The Canada Disability Benefit Must be Accessible to the Invisibly Disabled

This article was edited and published as an op-ed with the support of DisabilityWithoutPoverty.ca – I am proud to support their mission and contribute my voice to the movement for disability justice in Canada. You can find the original publication here, and a French translation here.

I support a national disability benefit program because I know it’s the right thing to do. Ending disability poverty in Canada would improve the lives of countless people who, like me, too often fall through the cracks of our social institutions, but who deserve an equal opportunity to participate in society.

I’m a neurodivergent psychiatric survivor with an invisible psycho-social disability. In other words, my brain doesn’t function like most brains, but psychiatric treatments unfortunately caused more harm than good. Since adolescence I have struggled to access education and employment, and to create a dignified life that allows me to give back to society.

Social stigma against disability is pervasive, which can be particularly harmful to the invisibly disabled. We must constantly prove that we deserve support, and face scrutiny from those who suspect us of faking our struggles. The stigma is so widespread it’s taken years for me to admit, even to myself, that my mental health condition is disabling. Despite struggling all my life to fit in at school or hold a job, I had internalized the idea that it was shameful to need support or accommodations, and that I should be able to succeed without them.

My doctor seemed more worried about labelling me disabled than the possibility that I might end up poor and unemployed. But that’s what happened. I finished my undergraduate degree near the top of my class, moved on to graduate studies with the goal of becoming a professor, and then hit a wall. The accommodations that got me through undergrad were no longer useful in helping me meet the demands of a master’s degree. When the pandemic arrived, I left my degree unfinished to provide childcare for my son.

I looked for work, but nothing I found would accommodate my health needs and parental obligations. Like many disabled people trying to solve the money problem, I decided to pursue self-employment, but soon realized I would run out of savings long before I could launch a business. When I applied for the one disability benefit program that I thought I was eligible for, I discovered I was wrong. Because I wasn’t working while in university and then moved to a new province, I wasn’t eligible for either federal or provincial benefits.

I’ve only been able to get by thanks to the emergency response programs the government implemented to protect countless Canadians from destitution during the pandemic, and also thanks to the support of my family – but to rely on my family is not a long-term solution, and it’s not what I would call a dignified life.

So when the Prime Minister announced a new Canada Disability Benefit was coming, I felt cautiously optimistic that I wouldn’t be left to fall through the cracks; that I would be included in Canada’s pandemic recovery plan. Now, in the middle of an election, with the pandemic’s fourth wave looming over us all, and my employment insurance set to expire next month, that optimism is quickly evaporating.

Canadians need to pressure government to take disability poverty seriously. Disability Without Poverty is a grassroots organization led by disabled people that is committed to doing just that. I urge all Canadians to read their platform, get involved, and support the movement for disability justice. The principles that Disability Without Poverty has outlined to guide the government’s creation of a new disability benefit program are informed by disabled people themselves and offer a clear path to an equitable future.

These principles suggest that eligibility should be simple and consistent across the country, that a separate application be available for those who are not already eligible for existing programs, and that the new benefit be implemented without delay. These steps are essential for modernizing our social security net and creating supports that are accessible to the invisibly disabled. With a program in place to eliminate disability poverty in Canada, people like me would have a chance to thrive and give back to our communities, and that’s an opportunity that every Canadian deserves to have.

Gj Huxley (he/him) is a freelance writer living in the national capital region (NCR) of Canada. Contact him at gjhuxleywrites@gmail.com.

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