Despite 15 years of consultation and program development, it also marks another day when PEI fails to meet its commitment of inclusion and human rights for persons with disabilities.
Islanders with disabilities have the lowest incomes, receive only minimal supports and have their human rights abused on a daily basis without recourse.
“Government will take today to press release their commitment to the disabled while in fact only giving lip service to the real problems faced by those living with disabilities,”
Due to their disabilities, many Islanders with disabilities are living on social assistance which is 40% below the cost of living. More than half of the people on social assistance are there because of their disability.
“Income supports for the disabled on PEI are inadequate,”
PEI provides additional supports in the PEI Disability Support Program (DSP) which includes assistive devices such as wheelchairs and hearing aids, employment and educational supports, and community inclusion supports.
DSP supports are good to very good, except they are not adequate to assist the disabled to stay in their own homes. They do not cover the costs of supports for autism and other severe disabilities. They do not cover drugs which forces some to forgo DSP assistance for social assistance which does include prescription coverage.
DSP is not universally available to those living with disabilities. Only 5% of Islanders with disabilities can access the DSP. The government uses a series of regulations to exclude or reduce needed coverage.
For instance, a child with autism cannot get assistance until they are professionally assessed. PEI restricts assessments to keep children out of the program for two or more years, when they most need support.
Another example is seniors with disabilities. People who pass their 65th birthday are not allowed to apply for assistance which excludes 8,980 of PEI’s 22,000 people living with disabilities.
“There is no other social program that only serves the needs of 5% of its population,”
PEI does not have laws similar to the US ADA or Canada Employment Equity Act to assist qualified people with disabilities to obtain employment, get off social assistance and maintain their dignity as full members of PEI society.
“Governments lead by example and law,” said Pate. “PEI does not have an active program to include Islanders with disabilities in the Provincial civil service. In comparison, 8% of the Federal civil service on PEI is comprised of persons with disabilities.”
“Inclusion and human rights do not happen automatically or by the goodwill of mankind,” said Pate. “They need a legal basis and regulatory enforcement. The PEI Human Rights Act is one of the slightest laws of its kind in Canada.”
The PEI Human Rights Act contains 17 pages and prohibits some discrimination in employment and accommodation. Complaints to the HR commission usually require hiring a lawyer and can take 5 to 10 years to wind their way through the legal system.
“PEI is placing the human rights burden on the weakest members of society to protect themselves. This is a human rights abuse in itself,” said Pate.
“It is ironic that the Speaker of the PEI Legislature ousted the only journalist with a disability from the Press Gallery this year,” said Pate. “What clearer indication could we have of the attitude of the government towards the human rights of people with disabilities?”
“Premier Robert Ghiz campaigned on showing respect for Islanders with disabilities,”
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