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Building momentum for the Canadian Disability Benefit – an interview with Sherry Costa of the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities

Sherry Costa. Contributed.

KJIPUKTUK (Halifax) – In the fall of 2020 the federal government announced a “new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors”. We do not yet know when it will be available and what it will look like, but we know it’s necessary and urgent. Many people with disabilities live in deep poverty.

To build momentum for the benefit, the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities (NSLEO) will be leading conversations in Nova Scotia on the Canada Disability Benefit in a series of provincial discussions with first voice, family, friends, and allies.

Reporter Kendall Worth spoke with Sherry Costa, who is the Provincial Coordinator at NSLEO.

Q: Sherry, I have known you for a long time and I know that you have been involved in the disability community for many years. Can you talk a bit about your involvement?

As someone who experienced a life altering accident at a very young age, I have been involved in the disability community to varying degrees my entire life, beginning as a patient in both Nova Scotia’s and Ontario’s health care system.  

Along the way, as surgeries passed 200, I became a self-advocate and learned how and when to use my voice to direct my own treatment. I recognized that it’s not what happens to you; it’s what you do with it that matters most. This is our strength. I don’t have an interest in the disability community – I am a part of it. I am in it and of it.

Q: How is NSLEO connected to things like wanting to see the income assistance rates here in Nova Scotia increased, and advocating for a future Disability Benefit?

The Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity’s expertise is through first voice perspective on provincial issues that affects the daily lives of Nova Scotians with disabilities focusing on equity and inclusion. 

The reality is that current income assistance rates are not equitable and while some costs are covered, they do not appropriately capture the additional costs associated in living with a disability resulting in a quality of life that is at or below the poverty level.  For families of persons with disabilities, poverty begins very early, and a disability benefit would change the face of childhood disability poverty.

The Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunity is the province’s only cross-disability policy research and public education organization comprised of persons with disabilities. The organization acts as a catalyst for change, a conduit for information and advocates for legislative changes on issues that impact persons with disabilities. Living with a disability should not equate to living in poverty.

Q: How has the League been involved with the Canada Disability Benefit since it was first announced? 

The Federal Government initially announced a Canada Disability Benefit early in the Fall of 2020. Since then, community-based groups, led by Plan Institute based in British Columbia, participated in a series of webinars to begin first voice discussions and build momentum. 

 The Building Momentum for the Canadian Disability Benefit 2020 videos are available here with ASL & closed captioning included. 

 session 1session 2session 3session 4

The ultimate goal of the Canada Disability Benefit is to end poverty for Canadians living with a disability. This will be the most significant advance in supports since the 1960s therefore it is imperative that, Nothing About Us, Without Us is the foundation to direct and frame it. 

In order to live up to its potential there must be widespread first voice engagement of persons with disabilities and this has already begun with collaborations across Canada between organizations, coalitions, groups, and individuals. 

The Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities will be leading conversations in Nova Scotia on the Canada Disability Benefit in a series of provincial discussions with first voice, family, friends, and allies.

Q: I have written quite a bit about the need for a disability benefit, and how income assistance isn’t enough. I also believe that persons with disabilities should be able to receive this benefit and still be able to work at part time jobs. What do you think a good amount for the allowance would be?

While a definitive amount is yet to be determined, it must be guaranteed to be adequate with incentives for employment rather than disincentives for working. The base amount should also reflect the additional costs associated with a disability, ultimately it should be comprehensive and inclusive and will be defined by first voice.

See also: People with disabilities must be at the table to help guide us on this very scary path – An interview with Sherry Costa

Kendall Worth is an award-winning anti-poverty activist who lives with disabilities and tries to make ends meet on income assistance.

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