Persons with disabilities face many challenges in accessing public programs for financial aid or disability supports – or from being trapped in them once eligible. In a recent report Disability Policy: From Remedies to Rights (Dec. 2018), Sherri Torjman lays out the bureaucratic Catch-22 :
When applying for any disability benefit, program or service, it is always better to be deemed as incapacitated as possible. The more severe the disability, the better off the applicant from an eligibility perspective. The implication in practice is: Doing worse means doing better…. The reverse (perverse) is also true. Individuals who are able to improve their circumstances often get penalized, especially if they are eligible for some form of income support. In this case, doing better means doing worse..”
Doing worse means doing better… While eligibility criteria differ according to the different definitions of disability used by each program (such as workers’ compensation / WSIB, Ontario Disability Support Program, Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit, Disability Tax Credit), they all are based on individual functional capacity, the assessment of which is subjective. The author proposes policy fixes for the current system, with safeguards introduced to improve the assessment process, reduce questionable denials and inequitable treatment, and reform of the appeal process.
Doing better means doing worse … When new treatments or technology reduce the impairment, and individuals receiving income support try to improve their financial situation, all too often supports are reduced – meaning they rarely come out ahead. Among suggested policy remedies: removing the provision of disability supports from income programs, including social assistance; fast-tracking reinstatement of income benefits if a work experience is not successful.
A human rights approach
The author, formerly with Caledon Institute of Social Policy, goes beyond proposing solutions to program contradictions. She addresses also, under a broader social model of disability, the need for a human rights approach to ensuring full participation in the community. Canada’s obligation under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities calls for measures that target the physical, policy, and attitudinal barriers that segregate or exclude persons with disabilities. These obligations involve universal design and welcoming communities, reasonable accommodation, and authentic inclusion related to education, housing, and the labour market (Article 27).
Work and disability
Promoting equal employment opportunities and ensuring employment does not jeopardize access to income support and benefits are among key challenges also addressed in the Draft Canadian Strategy for Disability and Work developed by the Centre for Research on Work Disability Policy (CRWDP) and partners. See details of the upcoming consultation (March 25) on the draft strategy with Toronto injured workers.
- Richards, Amanda. 2017. Where Did They Go? Scoping the Ability to Track Social Assistance Outcomes for Injured Workers. Waterloo: University of Waterloo.
- Ontario Network of Injured Workers’ Groups. 2016 Oct. Submission to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (reviewing Canada’s compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Kaministiquia: ONIWG