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Don’t Forget the Invisibly Disabled in the Canada Disability Benefit

 

By GJ Huxley

Now that the Liberals have won a renewed mandate, it looks like the Canada Disability Benefit will be back on the table. Just before Parliament recessed for summer, the Liberals tabled legislation for the benefit as part of their “Disability Inclusion Action Plan” (DIAP), first introduced in the 2020 Speech from the Throne.

Such a benefit promises to be historic — a first for any federal government, and an acknowledgement that more needs to be done to lift Canadians with disabilities out of poverty.

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 and deserve an equal opportunity to participate in society.

Let’s make sure not to leave people with invisible disabilities behind.

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 treatment unfortunately didn’t help. 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 and 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.

Such stigma affects how medical professionals interact with us as well.

Even when I was in university, registered by my doctor as a disabled student, receiving accommodations that helped me succeed academically, my doctor refused to validate my disability in other contexts. He was adamant that, although I needed supports as a student with a mental health condition, once I got my degree, identifying as disabled would only be an obstacle then. If only it were that easy.

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 didn’t meet the criteria.

I’m one of many Canadians who fall through the cracks of existing disability supports. The Canada Disability Benefit offers a path forward.

Now Canadians need to pressure the federal government to take all forms of disability poverty seriously, including invisible disabilities like mine. That’s why Disability Without Poverty, a grassroots organization led by disabled people, has newly launched. Together, we are calling for some basic principles to be included in the coming disability benefit — which can’t come too soon for many of us.

Eligibility for the benefit should be simple and consistent across the country, a separate application should be available for those who are not already eligible for existing programs, and the new benefit should be implemented without delay.

We need to modernize our social security net; creating supports that are accessible to the invisibly disabled should be part of that agenda. 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.

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By GJ Huxley

Gj Huxley (he/him) is a freelance writer living in the national capital region of Canada. He is a proud supporter of the Disability Without Poverty movement.

This post was previously published on Quoimedia.com and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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