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‘Desperation and fear’ of Northerners with disabilities

The Northwest Territories is failing residents with disabilities and must urgently adopt a new action plan.

That’s the verdict of the NWT Disabilities Council, based on the most comprehensive survey of disabled northerners in years.

More than 300 people responded to the council’s survey between February and April this year, including 34 from Hay River and 164 from Yellowknife. Kakisa was the only NWT community not represented.

Presenting its findings to Moose FM ahead of publication on Friday, the council said the territory must replace its old disability action plan – introduced in 2008 – and move quickly to cover growing gaps in services across the board.

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Some statistical highlights include:

  • Almost a third of respondents who are living with a disability “do not feel happy, comfortable, and safe in their current living situation”;
  • 29 percent of parents and caregivers who responded feel like resources and supports have not been explained to them;
  • 31 percent of people with a disability who took the survey claim they are living in poverty;
  • More than a quarter of those people say they were refused an interview, a job, or a promotion “because the employer was uneducated about or biased against people living with disability”.

“There’s a definite and absolute need to come up with a new action plan that starts to address some of the issues that are growing bigger and haven’t been addressed,” said the council’s executive director, Denise McKee.

“The status quo is not going to address anything any more, and that’s where we have been for the last couple of years.”

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In full: 2008 NWT action plan for persons with disabilities (pdf)

Territorial government departments have already received copies of the survey results.

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McKee said the bulk of responses depicted a territory where residents with disabilities often live in poverty, can’t afford appropriate housing, and continue to feel stigmatized by the broader community.

“It’s desperation and fear,” she told Moose FM.

“I know those are two strong words to use, but that was one of the hardest things when we were putting this together – reading some of the quotes from people who are really living it day-to-day.”

One respondent, for example, replied to a question about education as follows:

“Everything was a struggle. Everything. Nothing was easy or straightforward. The amount of effort, energy, time, and cost I had to put into getting my rights and accommodation weren’t worth it. I got too discouraged to continue. Depressing as hell.”

That quote, among many others, is contained in the council’s full 128-page final report on the survey. The report examines five key areas: education, employment, disability supports, income, and housing.

Five main recommendations are made:

  • Comprehensive research to obtain an accurate figure for the number of people living with a disability in the territory, and their needs;
  • A territory-wide accessibility project, including an assessment of all buildings, both public and privately owned – with funding for modifications where needed;
  • A reassessment of income support to ensure people prevented from working by their disability can afford to live comfortably;
  • Address concerns around the affordability and accessibility of housing “as soon as possible”; and
  • Work to implement the council’s updated version of the 2008 disability action plan.

“The one thing that stands out for me is that time waits for no man,” said McKee.

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“Perhaps there’s fear on the government side as well, that if we start addressing some of these issues, what is the cost factor? What will it mean if we start doing things?

“But clearly people are saying this needs to move ahead. Action plans are meant to have action.”

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