I am a woman with a disability.
Do you believe I have a right to exist?
If you answered yes, proceed to next question. If you answered no go back to reading Mein Kampf.
Do you believe my life is of equal value to yours?
Yes – proceed. No – go back to studying eugenics or lecturing at Princeton.
Do you respect that practitioners of science-based medicine (medical doctors) possess the best understanding we have at this time regarding health-related matters?
If The Secret made sense and vaccinations don’t, you should probably sit this one out. The yeses proceed.
Finally, do you believe the value of your own life should be measured in more than your ability to perform whatever tasks you perform at work?
If you answered no, I am very sorry for you.
If yes – great let’s talk about the BC Budget.
This week, Mike de Jong, B.C.’s Minister of Finance proudly unveiled the provincial government’s new budget.
Some applauded. Some promoted.
The Vancouver Board of Trade, appointing themselves the professors of public good, even graded it.
They gave it an A.
People dependent on disability benefits to live were -according to de Jong – also going to be very happy and bursting with gratitude.
‘You’re getting a raise.’
And Mike de Jong is giving us ‘the freedom’ to make our own ‘choice.’ Yay freedom!
Not only that – Christy Clark is lifting us up.
Unfortunately, with this budget Christy Clark and Mike de Jong didn’t say ‘Let them eat cake’ – they said ‘Let them eat cake crumbs.’
People on PWD receive a maximum of $906/month – that’s the maximum, regardless of the cost of living where you live. In case you are reading this from another part of the world – Vancouver real estate is a skyrocketing mess and the rent for even a portion of a shared room with no wall and only a hanging sheet for privacy is double the $375/month maximum allocated for rent on PWD.
The BC government has not increased the PWD in 9 years.
The announced – with much fanfare about being ‘the measure of a society…’ $77 increase was far from adequate to start with.
You can always tell when it is a five week month in my neighbourhood. The streets are teming with people hunting for cans, or tucked into doorways hiding their faces, averting your eyes, shamefully holding out an upside down baseball cap. They are disabled and poor and hungry. $77 is not enough to fill their bellies or restore their dignity – they need more.
Sadly they will end up with less – most won’t get the additional $77/month.
Of the 100,000 people receiving PWD in BC, 35,000 will only end up with $25/month increase and an additional 20,000 with only $11/month.That’s because around 35,000 people with disabilities currently purchase a $45/year bus pass. Now they will have to pay $52/month for in addition to a $45/year administration fee. An additional 20,000 people currently receive special transportation assistance of $66/month – and under the new BC Budget they will lose that – thus making their net gain from this ‘raise’ $11/month.
So basically the Christmas bonus turned out to be a subscription to the Jelly of the Month Club.
Now, going back to those questions you answered yes to-
You believe I have a right to exist.
We know that rights are meaningless unless they are enforceable and plausible. For example we don’t bother giving people the right to sprout wings and fly – because they can’t.
And we wouldn’t really have the right to vote if the government didn’t bother to organize elections or only set up one voting booth for the entire country that was open for one hour on one day. The right to vote is predicated on the possibility of voting.
My right to exist is thus predicated on the possibility of my being able to acquire what I need to exist.
On a basic level, as a living organism – a mammal – in order to exist I require food, clean air and water and shelter. As a human being I would argue in order to stay alive I also need clothing ; access to medical care (which includes necessary medicines, scientifically based therapies appropriate to my condition and dental care). I would further assert that in a country such as Canada, for my own welfare and to co-habit space with other humans I need education, haircuts, grooming supplies, laundry, transportation and hopefully, a few of the things that make life worth living – libraries, art, film, music, sports, etc. Additionally as a person with a disability, in order for me to live I require specific items – like a wheelchair, adapted housing, accessible transportation, etc.
Many people on PWD currently cannot afford to even meet the basic needs of a mammal, let alone those of a human being.
That should concern everyone – because we have already agreed my life is of equal value to yours. If you do not want the government to treat your life as disposable and worthless, then you should also believe they have no right to do so with mine. If you believe you might have something to offer, then so might I.
‘But you could work if you really wanted to’ some argue.
People who say that are wrong and ignorant because first – science, second – ablism mixed with Amazon capitalism.
You cannot receive PWD without a diagnosis and explanation as to why it is necessary in the opinion of a medical doctor. Here is a sample of the form. And, since we have agreed that we respect the role of medicine and science, then the government’s ‘raise’ in PWD benefits is pretty much the equivalent of opening up a flash voting booth for an afternoon in Toronto’s Eaton’s Centre and calling it a federal election.
By not providing the funds necessary to safely house and feed and care for oneself, the BC government are, in effect, denying people their right to exist.
Even though we already agreed my life has equal value, I somehow can’t help but feel that with this budget I am once again obliged to prove it. And I don’t know how to do that anymore because frankly since becoming disabled and falling into poverty, many of things that gave my life value and certainly those that brought me purpose and happiness, are gone.
Removed not by disability – but by poverty and prejudice.
If you believe in the importance of science you will know the distinction between causal and correlation is an important one.
If the manifestations of prejudice and poverty were eliminated, truthfully I think I would not feel terribly disabled.
I will likely always miss dancing – but the addictive high and meditative zen I got from running could be replaced with rowing. I would travel – not fancy hotel travel – low-budget explore travel. Some people in wheelchairs go places most walking people would struggle with- and some women have literally climbed mountains in wheelchairs. Mount Kilimanjaro to be precise.
Well, I may have to concede being a war correspondent is out – maybe – but then again, someone with a disability would be uniquely qualified to cover the stories of the people whose photos are used by all sides of the political spectrum to prove their point. They are people – not props – and their words were not blown away with their limbs. But the point is, we adapt our dreams – we – meaning people with disabilities – are pretty good at finding ways to adapt. You – meaning the ‘abled’ – seem to suck at it.
Some people simply can’t work at all – but I believe most people could and would welcome opportunities to share their talents and skills.
Many of us volunteer.
I feel like I shouldn’t need to say this but – not many people want to be excluded from participation in society. The segregation and isolation is largely a consequence of human-made physical, systemic and cultural barriers that prevent or inhibit our participation – put in place by a society that was never intended to include us – barriers built by the same people who wrote and celebrated this budget.
Not only do most employers not hire people with disabilities but an Angus Reid survey found half of Canadians apparently think it’s understandable if they don’t – thus acceptable.
Honestly, if you eliminate the jobs I physically cannot do, the ones I would never be considered for and the employers who are located in inaccessible buildings – or as was the case of one I encountered recently – an accessible building with no accessible washroom – it doesn’t leave much left to apply for.
Thus again, I go back to – people with disabilities in British Columbia are being denied the right to exist.
So what should the budget have said – well, this petition lays out part of it – please sign it. The demands are fair, reasonable and should and could be met immediately.
But there is more – much more – that can be done – and it could mean not only less people on benefits, but a better, healthier community for everyone.
In announcing a ‘raise’ in PWD rates as a good news story, Mike de Jong basically took a selfie of himself handing someone in a wheelchair a shiny new dime and captioned it “I’m trusting you to spend it wisely.”
I know I am supposed to be grateful but this crip just ain’t feein’ it.
My grade for the budget:
Mike de Jong – your fine print is long and the line item for disabilities in your budget is just so wrong, please review the objectives of this assignment and redo.
To be continued….
In Part Two I will share my ideas on what I think the government could do to give people with disabilities real choices. I hope you will come back to read and comment. I welcome your thoughts.