This is the first in a series about disability policy in BC. Part one is intended to deal with why we need a dramatic shift in approach.
We have a new provincial government in British Columbia. Will it offer us a new approach to disability policy? If so, what should it be?
In keeping with his party’s election promise, the new Premier, John Horgan, announced a $100/month increase in disability benefit rates effective September 2017.
Keeping a promise is important, but not only will this not lift those on disability benefits out of poverty, it isn’t the kind of shift that indicates the ‘Better BC’ the BC NDP and BC Greens envision includes disabled people.
As a disabled person living in poverty, it was a huge relief to wave farewell to the BC Liberal government. The harm the BC Liberals caused to disabled people in this province is not even marginally understood or appreciated by most of the non-disabled public or media.
Housing, poverty, homelessness, healthcare, education, etc. – disabled people disproportionately suffered the negative consequences of the previous provincial government’s ineffective and/or outright harmful policies on all these issues.
That said, neither the Green Party nor the NDP offered us disability platforms to vote for, with the notable exception of the creation of a Ministry for Mental Health and Addictions. Mental health issues and addictions are included under the disability rights umbrella and I am relieved to see this positive change for people who are part of this horrifically under-served segment of the population.
But in terms of a platform that laid out how this government intends to represent the 14% of the population that is over-represented in poverty and faces a unique array of systemic barriers with a minimal patchwork of services – none has been offered.
Part of that could be because in B.C. we don’t have a history of understanding disability as a distinct area of public policy.
Obviously under the BC Liberals disabled people had representation – Michelle Stilwell, Sam Sullivan and Stephanie Cadieux are three BC Liberal MLA’s who are wheelchair users. And the BC Liberals seemed to have a close relationship with some disability charities and organizations.
But representation without legislation is of minimal benefit to the vast majority of disabled people. Relationships with foundations, while likely mutually beneficial to both parties, are not necessarily representative of the larger disabled population’s needs and are more likely to result in well publicized and isolated projects than effective public policy.
I urge Premier John Horgan, the BC NDP, Andrew Weaver and the BC Green Party to use this opportunity to make the dramatic shift towards data-driven, publicly funded programs and enforceable provincial disability rights legislation.
The NEW Approach
Since we live in a time when an idea doesn’t exist unless it has a cutesy name – I am tentatively and somewhat reluctantly calling this the ‘PDQX2 Disability Rights Policy.’
Principled-Public, Data-Driven, Qualitative and Quantitative – PDQX2 Disability Rights Policy
Historically programs and services for disabled people fell under the domain of charities. Many still do.
And even as public funding for programs developed, charities and foundations continued to be regarded as the voice of disability.
They act as lobbyists for whatever that charity determines to be their particular priority for the particular focus of a particular campaign for the particular people they believe they represent in whatever particular geographic catchment area they cover.
These organizations can be very helpful if you have a diagnosis that has a charity and if that diagnosis is sexy enough to be of political use – which is too often based on whether it is interesting in some way to the public (celebrity involvement and/or can pull-off stunts that amuse and entertain – though now we call those awareness campaigns).
There are other differences to consider. The majority of people with spinal injury are male (68.4% Ontario stat), while the opposite is true of autoimmune disease (75% are female). Does this lead to an imbalance in funding and services?
What about regional distribution and the specific barriers faced by disabled people living in rural areas?
How well are we servicing the needs Indigenous disabled people?
What happens when racism is added to ableism?
There is also the ongoing damage caused to disabled people as a result of the flip sides of the same fundraising coin – inspiration and pity porn.
It is not that the work of many of these charities can’t be helpful.
But even at its best this approach is not a substitute for or basis for developing and delivering effective and equitable public policy and programs that prevent and prohibit systemic discrimination, create guidelines and ground rules and address the needs of all disabled people.
Because many of these charities and foundations are based on a diagnosis or condition they perpetuate the public and political application of the medical model of disability, instead of focusing on the social, political and physical barriers that prevent us from living meaningful and fulfilling lives as members of the community.
This division also impedes the coming together of disabled people as a voting segment of the public whose specific concerns need to be recognized and addressed by the platforms of political parties.
Legislation won’t eliminate the need for these foundations. They will still be very necessary to fill the gaps and enhance what is offered publicly.
But relying on these charities to help formulate policy around housing, transportation, income, employment and the specific healthcare, education, and discrimination and barriers faced by disabled people results in piecemeal projects and gestures.
In contrast, public policy predicated on disability rights is based on the social model of disability. It acts as a means for uniting disabled people based on their common experience of ableism and it empowers individual disabled people as autonomous citizens.
Legislation gives us direct access to the system, rather than requiring us to wait for an organization to make the barrier we are facing or need that is not being addressed part of a campaign.
It moves the public dialogue about disability from:
and changes it to:
‘this has been declared discriminatory, disability rights are written into law end of story.’
I don’t have to parade my suffering.
I don’t have to wheel up ten mountains.
I don’t have to find someone famous to care.
Disability rights legislation and with it evidence-based funding, gives power to individual disabled people to speak and act for ourselves.
We become citizens not causes.
This is the end of Part One. I hope people will comment and engage and that this becomes a conversation about future disability policy. In Part Two I hope to talk about the ‘How’ – and specifically what are the next steps the provincial government needs to take.