Poverty and People with Intellectual Disabilities (April 24, 2008)

More than 100 people made it “standing room only” at Metro Hall in Toronto on the evening of April 24 for the launch of a series of public dialogues on poverty and people with intellectual disabilities organized by the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). The event was co-sponsored by the Social Planning Network of Ontario (SPNO) and the Colour of Poverty. Opened by Bendina Miller, CACL President, and moderated by Catherine Frazee of the Ryerson School of Disability Studies, the session featured:

  • Peter Clutterbuck of the SPNO talking about the poverty reduction campaign that SPNO and other provincial partners have launched in Ontario and how important it is that people with intellectual disabilities become engaged in the campaign with their own stories and experiences.
  • Grace-Edward Galabuzi of Colour of Poverty outlining issues on the racialization of poverty and how it must be addressed in a poverty reduction strategy.
  • Doris Rajan of CACL reporting on data that shows people with intellectual disabilities have much higher rates of unemployment and poverty than the average in Canada.
  • Peter Park, founder and advisor to People First Ontario (PFO), explained the multiple impacts of poverty in the everyday lives of people with intellectual disabilities.

Those assembled included people with disabilities and their family members, community workers and volunteers. A number of the participants made powerful statements about their experiences and struggles for inclusion and equity. Key points from several statements made were:

  • The inadequacy of benefits from the Ontario Disability Support Program to meet everyday living needs even when individuals have strong relationships and supports from friends in the community.
  • The unfairness of parents constantly having to apply for renewal of benefits for their disabled adult children, while government offers no security to families about what will happen to their children when the parents are gone.
  • The hardship of a single mother who immigrated to Canada and works hard to support her child who has special needs and receives only $200 a month of government support for him.
  • A parent who noted that whether it is race or disability “oppression is oppression” and that we need to “raise the bar for people with disabilities” so that it is not seen as okay to treat them unjustly.
  • People with disabilities want to work but can’t get jobs, and if they do get part-time work it is not enough to live on and can affect their other support benefits.
  • The difficulties of families new to Canada from other countries in accessing what they need from the system to support their children with disabilities re made more complicated when they do not speak English well.
  • In some communities people with intellectual disabilities are actively engaged with other community allies in anti-poverty work.

Michael Bach, Executive Vice-President of CACL, thanked all for their open and honest contributions and announced that this was the first of a series of public dialogues that would be held across the country as part of CACL’s 50th anniversary program.

Catherine Frazee summed up the evening well by noting that the statements made had been very “moving” but in a “mobilizing” rather than sentimental way, and that all should be emboldened now to speak out more publicly on the issue of poverty and to join with others fighting against poverty in order to secure “decent lives for ourselves and for each other.”

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