December 3, 2019, marked the Annual International Day of Persons with Disabilities.

Since 1992, the International Day of Persons with Disabilities has been marked by the United Nations to promote the full actualization of rights and well-being of persons living with disabilities and increase awareness of the situations faced by persons with disabilities in every aspect of our social world. Understanding the social position of persons with disabilities is a crucial first step in addressing inequity and building a stronger, more vibrant, and inclusive society for all people.

Arthur C. Green/100.1 The Moose

With a physical presence in every region of the territory, the NWT Disabilities Council is acutely aware of the intersectional challenges facing persons with disabilities and their families in the NWT.

In the North, geographic isolation, racism, colonization, poverty, and trauma often intersect to intensify challenges faced by persons with disabilities and create significant barriers to social, political, economic, and cultural participation.

“We see this as children with cognitive disabilities are denied access to education, as elders are forced out of their homes into long term care,” The NWT Disabilities Council stated. “As youth are sent out of their home communities to access supports and everything in between.”

Despite the incredible strength, ingenuity, and resilience of persons with disabilities and their allies, in communities, persons with disabilities continue to struggle to have their basic needs met and rights upheld.

“The NWT Disabilities Council is committed to advocating for impactful policy change to strengthen our communities, increase diversity, and improve the lives of persons and families living with and supporting
disability in the Northwest Territories,” The NWT Disabilities Council stated. “One important part of this is working with our territorial government o ensure that persons with disabilities are represented at every table that decisions are made about this territory.”

“Our organization will be focussing our political efforts in working diligently over the next four years to drive change and reform in these areas,” the NWT Disabilities Council said.

More than one in five NWT residents have a disability and many more are indirectly impacted by disability as friends, family members and caregivers.

“As a territory, we can no longer afford to treat the rights and lived experiences of over 20 per cent of the population as an afterthought or ‘special interest group’,” The NWT Disabilities Council stated. “The needs of persons with disabilities must be addressed in every decision being made about the territory because we are present in every aspect of the Northwest Territories’ society.”

In response to the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, The NWT Disabilities Council stated, “We as an organization are making public our political commitment to our members, persons with disabilities, and our allies.”

Last month the Executive Director of the NWT Disabilities Council met and presented to newly elected members of the 19th Legislative Assembly.

“In this meeting, we presented the priority action items we will be advocating for over the duration of this Assembly,” The NWT Disabilities Council said. “While the challenges facing persons with disabilities are multifaceted and numerous, our organization worked diligently with our members and partners to develop three priority action items to concentrate our political efforts.”

These three priority items address some of the most complex issues facing persons with disabilities in the territory, particularly those facing intersectional barriers including poverty, colonization and social marginalization, The NWT Disabilities Council added.

“Our organization will be focussing our political efforts in working diligently over the next four years to drive change and reform in these areas,” the NWT Disabilities Council said.

These priority areas are:

1. Bringing NWT Residents with Disabilities Home—Addressing Residential Southern Placements

• Residential Southern Placements are contractual agreements made between the GNWT Department of Health and Social Services and Care Agencies in the Provincial South. Agreements are in place with over 15 agencies in Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia.

• Currently, the GNWT has a budget of 28.5 million dollars funding the Residential Southern Placement Program, which represents an increase of 77 per cent over the past 7 years. During this time, no investment in the development of in-territory residential supports for persons with disabilities.

• At least 93 per cent of persons in Residential Southern Placements are Indigenous. 100% of persons
in Residential Southern Placements have a cognitive disability.

• For adults in these placements, they can last between 1 year and more than 20 years. Only
15% of adults in placements have been out of the territory for less than 1 year; 23% have
been in placement for more than a decade.

2. Eliminating Discrimination and improving Access to Extended Healthcare

• The current extended health program for persons with disabilities is discriminatory under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, by granting access to necessary extended healthcare on the basis of disability-type rather than actual medical need. Access to prescription medication, medical equipment, and medical devices required for the maintenance of one’s disability or chronic health condition should be based on your medical need, not your specific diagnosis.

• The NWT has no supplementary insurance benefit (including prescription medication, medical aids, medical devices, vision care, dental care) for low-income residents, even those living on Income Support. The NWT is one of only two provinces/territories (the other being Nunavut) without some form of publicly-funded health coverage for prescription medication or medical supplies/equipment or vision care for low-income residents. The NWT is one of
only three provinces/territories without some form of publicly-funded health coverage for dental care for low-income residents.

3. Creating Pathways for Independent Oversight of Disability Programming

• The GNWT currently has no independent oversight of programming for persons with disabilities. Ensuring that programming and services are meeting the needs of people with disabilities and their families should involve independent, third-party review that directly engages with persons who access these services.

• The disability community in the NWT has made it clear that a Disability Ombud Position be enacted that includes supporting the council of persons with disabilities and parents/caregivers. This position should be funded by the GNWT and operate at arm’s length.

“We encourage our supporters to discuss these issues to increase awareness and to reach out to your elected officials and tell them that the priorities of persons with disabilities demand attention and public investment,” the NWT Disabilities Council said. “Moreover, we look to members of the 19th Legislative Assembly to express their commitment to work with our organization and fight for these important changes.”

Please visit  https://www.nwtdc.net/new-blog/19th- legislative-assembly-disability-priority-items-1 to learn more about each priority item.

agreen@vistaradio.ca

Twitter.com/artcgreen