Posts Tagged "disabilities"


Unshovelled sidewalks isolate people with disabilities, accessibility consultant says | CBC News

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The danger of navigating snowy sidewalks can confine people living with disabilities to their homes, says accessibility consultant Amy Amantea. 

“We’re isolating people. We’re shutting them off. We’re closing them off getting to medical appointments, getting essential goods in their homes.”

Amantea, who is a resident of North Vancouver and sits on the North Shore advisory committee on disability issues, is partially sighted with two per cent vision. Walking around her community over the past few weeks has been a challenge. 

“I sense the snow differently, not necessarily with my eyes but under my feet and I find it quite treacherous to walk and to navigate with my white cane.” 

In North Vancouver, property owners must remove snow and ice from sidewalks in their perimeter within 24 hours after snow has stopped falling or before the snow accumulation reaches 10 centimetres. 

Amantea said even though homeowners and businesses are responsible for shoveling their sidewalks, many pathways in her neighborhood go days without being cleared. 

“I find that that doesn’t get done in a very timely manner. For me, the consequence is that I can’t get to my bus stop in a safe way. I can’t necessarily navigate to the local grocery store.” 

Amantea said municipalities need to step up, either by better enforcing the rules or by contracting people to shovel sidewalks. 

“There’s never any penalty for folks … if we want to encourage the right thing, we kind of need to enforce those penalties.”

Amantea said a community forum to help people identify and check on people in their neighborhood with disabilities during extreme weather events would be a worthwhile endeavour. 

“This is the one time where I use that dreaded H word. I am not a handicapped person, but I get handicapped by my environment.”

Snow angels to the rescue

A group of volunteers in Vancouver called the Snow Angels shovel sidewalks for residents that are unable to clear snow on their own, including those with limited mobility and seniors. 

The program matches people that need assistance with a volunteer in their area. 

Volunteer DJ Lawrence said the snow angels have had a busy week. Lawrence said they have about 82 volunteers on their roster and are always recruiting more. 

“It’s good fun. it’s good exercise. It gives you an opportunity to help people in your community and helps people that do have mobility challenges to get out and around,” said Lawrence. 

In the City of Vancouver, property owners and occupants are required to clear snow and ice around their property by 10 a.m. the morning following a snowfall. 

After a record snowfall in the city in 2019, 244 property owners were charged with failing to do exactly that.

“People are starting to understand you’re supposed to have them cleared by 10 in the morning and that helps everybody in the community,” said Lawrence.


Growing concerns over new ‘hub’ service model for B.C. children with support needs, disabilities

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Vancouver –

The province is facing growing questions and concerns over a decision to move to a new service model for B.C. children with support needs and disabilities.

Advocacy groups and parents are worried about what the change will mean for their current supports, and they’re calling for more consultation.

The government has said the new “one-stop family connection hubs” will provide services from birth to age 19, and will not require a diagnosis.

Individualized funding for families to use for support will be phased out by 2025, when the government said hubs will be available province-wide.

The president of the board of directors for Autism B.C., Kaye Banez, said her nine-year-old son Lazarus, who is on the autism spectrum, has benefited from the support provided by the individualized funding. She said at the age of four, he was able to start developing his musical talents with the help of a behavioural interventionist.

“From there, he just bloomed,” she said. “He has this ability to see music at this capacity that is beyond average…music is his language.”

Banez said after an autism diagnosis, children under six are eligible for $22,000 each year in funding supports for approved resources. Children over six receive $6,000 a year.

“It is so critical to have that option to be able to form a team that actually addresses your children’s needs,” she said. “We had a lot of calls from parents who are deeply disturbed about taking away that autism funding…a lot of despair that the system that is working for them is being taken away.”

Down Syndrome B.C. (DSBC) has also released statements on social media that expressed concern about the change.

“Releasing a ‘plan’ with no details of execution has only added to the stress and uncertainty experienced by families of a child with a disability,” the group said. “DSBC will continue to advocate for family directed care that serves the needs of all disabled children.”

Banez said her group only had a half-hour conversation with the minister of children and family development in the days leading up to the announcement, and she is calling for more direct consultation.

“There (have) been no answers from the government about the specific logistics about how these hubs are going to be operating,” she said, “When you say that immediately my child will have services, what do you mean by immediately? How are needs going to be assessed?”

The issue has also been raised over the past two days in the legislature, with leader of the opposition Shirley Bond calling the move a funding “clawback.”

Minister of Children and Family Development Mitzi Dean told CTV News she understands that families have concerns.

“What I really want to express to families is the service will still be there,” she said. “We have a long transition time, and we’ll support families in making the move from the current really fragmented programming into the new system.”

Dean described the new model as a “public system that creates a safety net,” and added not everyone lives in areas where they have the supports they need, and some aren’t able to put together the team their child needs on their own.

“We’ll be talking to families as we work through their transition,” she said. “We’re still working out how the implementation is going to roll out.”

The first hubs are scheduled to open in 2023, in northwestern B.C. and the central Okanagan, before becoming available province-wide the next year.

Salmon Arm parent Zev Tiefenbach said he found it hard to find supports for his son, who has Down syndrome and other complex needs, and is hopeful that may change for others.

“To me, the big benefit of the hub system that they’re proposing is that it’s needs-based,” he said, and added he reached out to the ministry about two years ago with his concerns, and they contacted him prior to the announcement to see if he would provide feedback. “What the ministry does for implementation is going to be very, very, very critical.”

Tiefenbach said when his son was around four years old, they tried to find supports to help him with eating, walking and talking.

“We started to look around for what services were available to him through the public system. And there was not much,” he said. “So he was getting maybe a minuscule amount as compared to what was needed for him to be able to reach those kinds of benchmarks…we were a little bit astounded that we couldn’t get access to kinds of services, critical services for his development.”

The province said the new system will be able to help around 8,300 more children, and when the first two hubs become available, families currently accessing individualized support will be given the option to opt in. The government said they can also choose to continue with their current support, but that option will only remain until 2025.

Banez said there are also concerns about timely access to services under the incoming hub system.

“We have seen this in other jurisdictions, where wait lists upon wait lists are happening for thousands of children to get services,” she said. “Not just children who are autistic, but for the whole disability and diverse needs community.”

Banez said Autism B.C. is encouraging families to get in touch if they have concerns.

“My son Lazarus is nine, and he’s had the same behavioural consultant since he was three years old,” she said. “To lose that support, I cannot even fathom how I would explain that to him.”


People with invisible disabilities face constant struggle to be recognized, advocate says | CBC News

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Eileen Davis was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when she was 29 — but it wasn’t apparent to anyone who saw her. 

“I kept hearing, ‘Oh, but you look fine. You look great. It’s just arthritis. Oh, you’re young, it’s OK,'” Davis said. 

Davis said the fact that her illness wasn’t apparent made her delay getting care. 

“I actually denied care for a bit because I felt like I didn’t need it … It took a while for me to actually accept that I was living with a debilitating condition,” she told host Gloria Macarenko on CBC’s On The Coast.

Today, Davis advocates on behalf of people suffering from invisible disabilities — which include rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, bipolar disorder, autism, fibromyalgia and epilepsy, among others.

“There are so many [conditions] where you can’t tell somebody might be living with them just by looking at them,” she said. 

This week marks Invisible Disabilities Week, which was started to address some of the barriers people with such disabilities face — like not being believed they have a disability in the first place.

“When people can’t see [the issue], they tend to diminish the severity of the disability. That can be really difficult for somebody who’s actually going through it because research suggests that those who have a strong support network actually have better outcomes,” said Davis.

The pandemic has in some ways made the issue more important, Davis says. It’s often the people who downplay these disabilities who also downplay the risk of COVID-19, she says.

“When I’m out and about and I need to keep my social distance and make sure those people around me are vaccinated or wearing a mask, sometimes they may downplay the severity about catching COVID-19, or even just the flu or any respiratory illness,” she says. 

Davis says the most important thing she wants people to take away from her experiences is not to make assumptions about what someone might be going through, despite their outward appearance. 

“Any time you see somebody sitting on a bus or a SkyTrain and they’re in a seat for seniors or people with disabilities, even if they’re young, they may still be dealing with a disability,” she said.

On The Coast6:47National Invisible Disabilities Week

Arthritis advocate Eileen Davis on National Invisible Disabilities Week. 6:47


Amid federal election promises and perks, more than 6 million voters with disabilities feel ignored | CBC News

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Michelle Hewitt can’t contain her frustration.

The co-chair of Disability Without Poverty, a national movement dedicated to securing a federal disability benefit for low-income Canadians with disabilities, is discouraged that important issues have been ignored during the federal election campaign.

That’s despite the fact that the disability community represents more than 20 per cent of the Canadian population — more than six million potential voters.

Financial inequality is at the top of their list of concerns.

“Ten per cent of all Canadians live in poverty,” Hewitt said. “And of those 10 per cent, four of them are disabled. It’s been frustrating to see that CERB payments were set at $2,000 as a living wage, while welfare payments to disabled Canadians were well below that — $700 less in B.C. alone.”

“We’re fed up,” Hewitt continued.

Bill for disability benefit shelved

Disability Without Poverty has analyzed the major parties’ platforms for how they would support Canadians living with disabilities.

There was a glimmer of hope in June, when the government tabled Bill C-35 that set out the framework for the creation of a monthly Canada Disability Benefit for low-income people with disabilities. But then Parliament was dissolved for summer, and the election was called. It left the community discouraged and unsure of what would happen next. 

“I think all of us are sitting here with our heads in our hands with great worry for what’s going to happen,” Hewitt said. “People who live in poverty cannot wait any longer.” 

Neil Belanger agrees that poverty is at the root of all of the issues that confront people with disabilities. He’s executive director of B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. And for his community, issues like employment equity are compounded by systemic racism.

“Each of the parties talk about the importance of employment, but they don’t talk about what’s necessary for persons living with a disability,” Belanger said.

“We already know that there is systemic anti-Indigenous racism. We already know there’s discrimination against persons with disabilities. So it’s a huge barrier for the individuals that we serve to actually get a job.” 

Neil Belanger is the executive director of B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. (Submitted by Neil Belanger)

Belanger noted that change has been a long time coming.

“Persons with disabilities should be running in every election, and in leadership roles within government,” Belanger said. 

“Who better than them to talk about accessibility? Who better than them to talk about what it’s like to live in poverty? And who better than them to talk about their experiences of racial discrimination and discrimination based on disability? No one.” 

Wildfires, heat waves

The lack of a living wage can also impact Canadians in emergency situations.

Jewelles Smith is coordinator of communications and government relations with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. The organization is challenging the incoming government to ensure that people with disabilities are not forgotten during the planning processes for future emergencies or left out when disasters occur. 

“I think it’s important to think about when we talk about climate response and emergency preparedness is the fact that many people with disabilities don’t have the extra income to purchase fans and air conditioners at a moment’s notice like we saw happen in the summer,” Smith said. 

Jewelles Smith and her service dog DaVinci. She is the communications and government relations coordinator with the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. (Submitted by Jewelles Smith)

There’s also a significant gap when it comes to accessible information.

“This past summer, when we had the emergency evacuations related to the wildfires in the West, I was hearing that information wasn’t being shared with people with disabilities in an accessible manner, including no ASL or SQL interpreters,” Smith continued. 

‘Do better’

She added that people didn’t always know how to access things that they might need, including accessible transportation, or where to access medications, plug-in equipment or oxygen, or how to take care of their service animals. 

Although all of the major parties did reference disability in their platforms, Smith noted that words aren’t enough.

“We need to do better in so many areas,” Smith said. “There’s not a single election issue that doesn’t directly affect the lives of people with disabilities.”

Listen to Cathy Browne talk with CBC’s Stephen Quinn on The Early Edition about how the federal campaign is addressing the needs of people with disabilities:

9:25Voters with disabilities frustrated about being largely ignored during the Federal election campaign

During this snap election campaign, BC voters with disabilities say their needs have been largely ignored. Coming up, our story producer Cathy Browne shares what she’s heard from three concerned voters in the latest installment of Access Denied. 9:25


People with ‘invisible disabilities’ are being left out

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Governments, especially at the local level, slow to adopt closed-captioning for the hard of hearing

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After years abroad, Steffani Cameron returned to Ottawa to a disappointing welcome. Despite being hearing impaired, Cameron regularly enjoyed live theatre and, to mark her homecoming, she’d planned a night at the National Arts Centre.


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But without captioning, the threads of audio that reached Cameron’s hearing aids weren’t enough for her to piece together and she struggled to understand the performance.

“I didn’t hear any of the dialogue, I missed 90 per cent of what was going on in the show,” she said. “I came home crushed. This experience that I thought was going to be my Canadian welcoming home and everything just left me … depressed.

“I mean, I saw opera in Croatia, and it was completely closed-captioned.”

Closed-captioning transcribes audio to text, both spoken words and non-speech elements such as sound effects and speaker identification.

Cameron works part-time doing captioning, seeing firsthand how captions improve the accessibility of film and television. But when attending conferences and council meetings, where captions are hardly ever offered, she is always aware of the difference they would make.


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Captioning is essential for the deaf, deafened, and hard of hearing — people like Cameron — who are nearly five per cent of the population, or 1.3 million Canadians, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. The Canadian Association of the Deaf puts that number much higher, at 10 per cent, estimating that 3.8 million Canadians have hearing loss, with more than 380,000 estimated to be profoundly deaf.

Canadians aged 65 and older, 18 per cent of the population, are more likely to be affected, with 12.2 per cent of seniors reporting a hearing disability. Canada’s seniors will make up 23 to 25 per cent of the population by 2036, driving an even greater need for communication accessibility.

Accessibility is an issue that worries many.


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Also affected are those who speak English as a second language and those with learning difficulties.

The B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, outside Victoria city hall.
The B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, outside Victoria city hall. Photo by CHAD HIPOLITO /PNG

“An informed citizenry is necessary for democracy to flourish,” said the B.C. seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie. “It starts with not just engaging in elections — it’s engaging every day and understanding what’s going on.”

Local government affects our day-to-day lives more than the federal or provincial governments, said Mackenzie. But at the local level, communication accessibility is at its weakest.

Step 1 is the recognition of these “invisible disabilities,” she said. “We need to start pushing the envelope to have that broader understanding that a disability is more than just somebody with physical mobility limitations.”


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Vancouver, Surrey and Richmond are among B.C.’s largest municipalities, each with a large tax base, and yet none captions council meetings. Victoria, a city of just 92,000, has captioned its council meetings since 2019.

At $10,000 a year for auto-generated captioning, a fraction of Victoria’s more than $260 million budget, Mayor Lisa Helps sees its cost as far from prohibitive. In terms of accessibility, she describes it as “low-hanging fruit.”

“Closed captioning is one thing that councils can do to send the signal that the city is working on accessibility,” Helps said. “It’s really important to me as mayor because we want Victoria to be an inclusive and welcoming place — regardless of people’s ability.”

“It’s about inclusion, having a stronger and more robust democracy. Building an inclusive city creates resilience and creates diversity. And the more people we have engaged in, and able to participate in, council discussions … the better and more resilient democracy we’re going to have locally.”


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It takes time and money to address barriers to physical accessibility, Helps said, but that isn’t the case with captioning.

In Vancouver, communications manager Kirsten Langan said that captioning of council meetings is “currently being reviewed by staff” and that the process was “put on hold last year due to budget restrictions resulting from the pandemic.” In Surrey, communications project manager Amber Stowe said the city is “in the process of exploring options,” with only a few events captioned.

Commitment to hearing accessibility varies among other local decision makers, such as park and school boards, regional boards like Metro Vancouver, and transportation authorities like TransLink that all play large roles governing our daily lives.


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At Metro Vancouver, “various options for closed captioning are under consideration,” said communications specialist Greg Valou.

At TransLink, which operates across Canada’s largest single transit service area and oversees more than 250 million rider journeys annually, board meetings have been captioned at no cost through YouTube since 2016. The decision to publish to YouTube “was a natural one,” centred on the accessibility of the platform, said TransLink spokesperson Gabrielle Price. “We wanted to ensure that anyone who wants to participate could participate.”

Recent changes to federal legislation pave the way to developing accessibility standards Canada-wide, but without a clear framework for regulation and enforcement, compliance cannot be guaranteed.


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Regulation is possible. For example, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission has required Canadian broadcasters to caption 100 per cent of their programming since 2007. Yet accessibility remains unregulated in many other Canadian sectors.

The 2019 federal Accessible Canada Act aims “to make Canada barrier-free by Jan. 1, 2040.” But it applies only to organizations under federal jurisdiction. And any standards set as a result of the Act are voluntary and become mandatory only if and when these standards are turned into regulation — something that could take years.

It’s all “aspirational,” Mackenzie said of the federal legislation. “It’s not a bad thing, but it doesn’t get to the meat of what we are going to have to do to improve it.


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“For people with physical disabilities, we’re miles ahead of where we were 30 years ago. … So maybe the next 30 years is going to focus on these ‘invisible disabilities.’”

Carla Qualtrough, federal minister for disability inclusion, did not respond to calls.

Retired physician Hugh Jones, at age 78, has relied on hearing aids for over two decades. Before then, he “managed to limp along,” doing what was necessary to cope with his worsening hearing, such as sitting close to those speaking at meetings.

“I’m fortunate that I can afford the really sophisticated hearing aids,” he said. Their price is out of reach for many. But even with hearing aids, he still experiences barriers to accessibility due to the acoustics of some locations, a difficulty closed-captioning would help overcome.


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Provincially the schedule for ensuring accessibility regulation is little better than at the federal level. MLA Dan Coulter, B.C.’s parliamentary secretary for accessibility, says that change “might be a ways off” and that “standards generally take about two years to develop.”

According to the 2021 Accessible British Columbia Act, these standards are to be developed by an 11-person provincial accessibility committee, and deadlines are loosely defined.

“There is sort of a 10-year timeline that’s laid out in the legislation,” Coulter said. “We don’t want to set up artificial deadlines for anything … there’s no possible way that we could identify every single barrier in society and say we’ll be able to remove them in 10 years.”


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To Coulter, the B.C. law enables further steps. “It’s like a skeleton and now (the B.C. government) needs to put meat on the bones.”

But Gabrielle Peters, who calls herself a disabled writer and consultant, said not enough is being done.

Peters was contracted by the Broadbent Institute to do a report to help develop the accessibility legislation in B.C. But when the Accessible British Columbia Act was introduced in April and passed in June, she didn’t see her work reflected in the legislation.

The most important parts of accessibility legislation — clearly defined deadlines and enforcement mechanisms — remain weak, she said.

The Act does allow for inspections and fines for non-compliance. The extent of enforcement is vague, compliance is mandated only for the provincial government and “prescribed” organizations, there is no mechanism for complaints to be submitted by the public and there are no timelines for implementation.


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“What’s the point? It’s like a wish. It’s like, you might as well open your window and look for a shooting star to wish on,” said Peters.

The Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility, formerly the Western Institute for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, works to eliminate communication barriers across B.C.

CEO Christopher Sutton of Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility.
CEO Christopher Sutton of Wavefront Centre for Communication Accessibility. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

“Legislation doesn’t exist in every province or every jurisdiction,” said Wavefront CEO Christopher Sutton, “so there is not really a lot of consistency.”

Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, the oldest legislation of its kind in Canada, establishing the goal of achieving provincewide accessibility by 2025 and requiring Ontario businesses and non-profits submit compliance reports every three years. Manitoba, in 2013, and Nova Scotia, in 2017, followed suit, passing their own accessibility acts.


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“When I’ve worked with municipalities on accessibility, the people that are working on those portfolios, very knowledgeable, very excited, they’re passionate about it,” said Sutton. “But getting it up to the city, the general manager or the city manager, or the budget makers, that’s the challenge. … At the end of the day, a lot of people see the cost for accommodations to be very burdensome, but generally it isn’t.”

YouTube offers free auto-generated captioning, though the quality can be poor if not monitored and edited. Other providers offer auto-generated captioning, supplemented by artificial-intelligence software, for about $10,000 a year. Human-generated, real-time captioning costs $150 an hour or more.


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“We need to incorporate accessibility as a budget line item. … It’s a cost of doing business,” Sutton said.

New Westminster city councillor Nadine Nakagawa.
New Westminster city councillor Nadine Nakagawa. Photo by Jason Payne /PNG

In January 2020, New Westminster Coun. Nadine Nakagawa tried to bring closed captioning before her council as part of a motion to address a range of accessibility issues. She worries that, if left to the discretion of municipal governments, changes will be less likely to occur.

“And If we’re waiting for people from the disabled community to raise this, we’re functionally excluding them from being able to be a part of community discussions to start with,” she said. “It’s a way that the status quo replicates itself.”

With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, priorities shifted. Nakagawa’s motion was set aside.


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Accessibility of local government is also of concern to immigrant settlement groups, but they are more concerned with language accessibility. To the Immigrant Services Society of B.C., doing away with lesser-known acronyms and government jargon would increase accessibility across the board.

In 2019, Canada welcomed more than 341,000 new permanent residents. And, some 21.9 per cent of the population had immigrant or permanent resident status in 2016, according to StatsCan.

“What would help more than anything else is a commitment from the (city) councillors, who are doing the speaking, to speak in plain language,” said Lisa Herrera, lead instructional coordinator for the society.

When barriers to accessibility are removed, everyone benefits, she said: “If you make something accessible to the people who have the disability, or the people that would have trouble with accessibility, you actually make it more accessible for everybody.”


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To people such as Steffani Cameron, the changes needed are clear — and clearly beneficial to all.

“If we’re making it so that it’s only easy for people who are perfectly healthy … then our society is being geared to those people as well, because you’re not hearing everybody who needs to have their voice heard,” she said.

“Until you mandate it, people don’t do it. Nobody’s going to do it unless it’s profitable, and it isn’t profitable to (care) about the hearing impaired.”

Tyson Burrows is a 2021 recipient of the Langara College Read-Mercer Journalism Fellowship. This story was produced through the Fellowship.



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B.C. rejects calls for individualized air quality supports for people with disabilities and those at risk from wildfire smoke

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Though there is widespread consensus that wildfire smoke has become an annual health issue for thousands of high-risk British Columbians, the provincial government is rejecting calls for individualized air quality measures and defending its one-size-fits-all approach.

CTV News Vancouver has spoken with several people with disabilities and the BC Lung Association, who all agree that the long-term issue of poor air quality during annual wildfire smoke should prompt the province to consider air purifiers an essential health device for those with relevant health conditions.

“I would not be surprised to see more people with underlying conditions going to emergency rooms,” said Dr. Menn Biagtan of the BC Lung Association, noting that the thousands of British Columbians who’ve had COVID-19 are now included in that category.

“I think one of the lessons we’re going to learn from this wildfire season is that air purifiers (should be) available for those who really need it or cannot afford it. I would be in agreement with that, and that should be included in the plan.” 

Disability researcher and policy analyst Gabrielle Peters raised the issue with the province last year, penning a letter to several ministries and urging them to consider an extension to the BC Medical program.

“Disabled people are disproportionately likely to live below the poverty line and already facing extraordinary costs because of COVID-19,” she wrote last fall. “It is simply not possible to purchase air purifiers at this income level.” 

The Ministry of Health rejected the idea of providing air purifiers to individuals in its response to Peters, saying it was too complex and expensive to do so and that the government was focussed on community centres and shopping malls as centres where anyone could find relief during periods of poor air quality. The ministry reiterated this position when CTV News asked about the issue on Wednesday.

“Due to these unique individual considerations when purchasing a portable air purifier, the provincial government does not provide portable air purifiers to the public,” wrote ministry staffer, who said no interviews were possible on the issue.

“BC Housing has an Extreme Heat and Wildfire Smoke Response Protocol for social housing buildings managed by BC Housing, including the creation of cooling rooms, regular checks on tenants and providing tenants with information about how to stay cool and protect themselves from smoke.”


While the smoke from wildfires may be an unpleasant annoyance for many people, for others, the weeks of fine particulate matter in the air can have serious health consequences. 

“I get migraines and respiratory distress that triggers heart problems for me,” said Q, a disabled person in Chilliwack with a connective tissue disorder and COPD, among other complex health issues, which are aggravated by wildfire smoke.

“I am likely to faint if I do go outside; I have been hospitalized with wildfire smoke exposure.” 

For those living in the Okanagan, the impacts have been even more intense and long-running.

“I know so many disabled people who, like me, are reluctant to seek medical care unless it’s a crisis since we spend so much time and energy navigating the system,” wrote Kelowna resident Shaunna Muckersie, who has permanent lung damage after mistaking a serious cough in 2018 as wildfire-smoke-related, when she actually had a lung abscess and double pneumonia.

“I am very lucky in my living situation in that I have been able to acquire an air purifier to run in my bedroom,” added Muckersie. “I genuinely don’t know what I would do otherwise. The mall and library are not safe for me now because of COVID, and as my disability has gradually worsened, I have had difficulty driving at times.”


The BC Lung Association includes wildfire smoke prominently in its “State of the Air” report, urging British Columbians to start preparing for issues before the smoke sets in.

“Exposure to wildfire smoke is associated with a range of acute effects, particularly for those with respiratory diseases,” note the report’s authors. “Evidence of longer-term health effects is also starting to emerge.”

Biagtan reiterated the advice to stock up on medications, have a “clean air room” in each home and make sure that anyone investing in an air purifier gets the right size for the space they want to use it in. She also advocated using the DIY option the B.C. Centre for Disease Control is recommending for those in a budget. It costs just $60 in materials. 

“lf you’re planning to go out, look up the Air Quality Health Index,” she added. “If it’s high, stay indoors and seek clean air shelters. If your symptoms are worsening, consult your doctor or go to the emergency room.”


Peters would like to see wheelchair-accessible hotel rooms reserved for Interior Health residents to be able to escape the intense smoke near their homes, pointing out that unless the flames from a wildfire threaten someone’s home, they can be living in a fire zone for weeks with horrendous air quality and little escape if they don’t have the money or social connections to stay elsewhere.

She added that without access to air purifiers, high-risk people with compromised immune systems, cardiac conditions, various lung issues and physical disabilities can take up critical acute care resources.

“Research has shown emergency room visits and hospitalizations go up when there is wildfire smoke in the air,” wrote Peters. “We also know that (fine particulate matter) can cause both immediate acute symptoms and long term health effects.”

And while the argument that supplying air purifiers is more economical than a hospital stay doesn’t appear to be part of the government’s calculus, Q doesn’t think the government is taking into account the people who feel invisible in their health struggles, which are amplified each summer.

“The government has to rethink messaging and how we’re involved with these decisions,” Q said. “We really do get left on the sidelines. The greatest effects (from wildfire smoke) are against the people who are not cared for and not remembered by most of society.” 


Why Vancouver’s common ‘no-pets’ clause presents particular challenges for tenants with disabilities | CBC News

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Megan Milton was going to couchsurf with a friend for a month, but a month turned into four because no one would rent to an unemployed woman with a dog. 

In February 2020, Milton had a well-paying office job and rented an apartment in Vancouver. Then within a week, she lost her job and received an eviction notice. After the COVID-19 pandemic struck in March, Milton found it increasingly hard to find a new job or a dog-friendly apartment within her budget.

Milton, who is visually impaired, faced a hard choice: give up her dog who provides her with emotional support, or move into her friend’s dining room until her financial situation improved. She chose couchsurfing.

“By the technical definition, I was homeless. And that happened mostly because I wasn’t able to find housing with the dog,” said Milton. 

Milton is just one of many Vancouverites with a disability who struggle to find housing, especially when they have a pet. Because her pug is not a certified service dog, Milton cannot take advantage of the exemptions stated in B.C.’s Residential Tenancy Act for disabled people with service animals.

For Milton, giving up her pug, which is named Dog, was never an option. She says he helps her get out of the house when he needs to go on a walk and has kept her company through the social isolation of the pandemic. She describes him as her “best bud.”

“He’s there for all the struggles, when my Doordash order is 45 minutes late, or, you know, literally being homeless. He is there to be a shoulder to cry on,” she said.

Milton has since found a job and now lives in a pet-friendly shared house — but the possibility of another eviction now hangs over her head. She says her landlord will likely put the house up for sale in the spring and she will have to look for housing again. It would be her third no-fault eviction in as many years.

No-pets clauses

Finding a rental home without a no-pets clause has long been a challenge for tenants in Vancouver.

According to the B.C. SPCA, 25 per cent of dogs and cats they receive are surrendered because their owners can’t find pet-friendly housing. This amounts to 1,150 pets that end up at a shelter every year. 

In a 2018 report, advocacy organization Pets OK B.C. stated that even though more pet-friendly housing is being built, much of this housing stock remains inaccessible to middle-class renters.

Milton says giving up Dog, who kept her company during social isolation and helps her get out of the house, was never an option for her despite the hardships she has faced trying to find housing for them both. (Veronika Khvorostukhina )

The situation is particularly challenging for people with disabilities because of the legal grey area between the province’s Residential Tenancy Act and Human Rights Code when it comes to tenants who have pets that aren’t certified as service animals, according to lawyer Robert Patterson.

“Under the Residential Tenancy Act, a landlord is allowed to restrict pets,” said Patterson, a legal advocate at the Tenant Resource and Advisory Centre. 

But, he added, the B.C. Human Rights Code states that landlords also have a duty to accommodate disabled tenants who rely on their pet in connection to their disability — whether the animal is certified or not. 

Patterson says that the two pieces of legislation don’t give a clear answer to situations in which a tenant is advised by a medical professional to get an emotional support animal, but their landlord doesn’t allow pets.

“I think there’s a good argument that a landlord should respect the human rights of the tenant and permit them to have a pet,” he said.

Human rights perspective

B.C. Human Rights Clinic director Laura Track says in some cases, no-pets clauses can be a potential violation of disabled people’s right to equal housing.

Track says expanding certification to different animals is not the answer.

“I don’t think certification is helpful,” she said. “And, in fact, I think it confuses the issue even more, because landlords and other service providers, even stores and restaurants, think they only have to accommodate a certified animal. And that’s just not true.”

The solution, according to Track, is for landlords to work with disabled tenants on an individual basis to make sure their right to equal housing is respected. She says stratas and landlords often don’t understand their duty to accommodate a disabled tenant.

“And so they think, well, we have a policy that says ‘no pets’ that applies to everyone and no exceptions. And they don’t understand that they have to make exceptions, sometimes in order to accommodate people with disabilities,” Track said.

In October 2020, Vancouver city council passed a motion to ban no-pets clauses in rental housing contracts. Now the province has to decide whether to amend the Residential Tenancy Act accordingly. 

But Milton is not optimistic that a change in the law would protect tenants who have pets. 

“There is inherently a power imbalance between renters and landlords and we’re never going to be protected,” she said.

8:12Dog owners wish more landlords would toss them a bone on rentals

Laura Track and Robert Patterson speak with Stephen Quinn about why they believe landlords should be more accommodating to dog owners. 8:12


Families’ ‘worst fear’ realized in investigation into Victoria charity for adults with disabilities | CBC News

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Reading about what was uncovered during an investigation into the care provided to developmentally disabled adults by two nurses at Victoria’s Garth Homer Society has been a troubling experience for Jennifer Baumbusch.

Baumbusch is an associate professor of nursing at the University of B.C. whose research focus is long-term residential care, but she’s also the mother of an 18-year-old who has complex medical needs and intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Our worst fear is that our children will be in the care of an organization and that we will be systematically excluded from their care, and then the outcome could potentially be death,” she told CBC News.

“It’s what keeps us awake at night.”

Late last month, the B.C. College of Nurses and Midwives issued a public notice announcing the conclusion of a three-year investigation into nurses Victoria Weber and Euphemie (Phemie) Guttin, both high-level employees of the Garth Homer Society (GHS).

The college says the investigation uncovered “serious concerns,” including that Weber and Guttin restricted their clients’ access to medication and medical professionals, and “effectively obstructed” parents from interacting with their adult children, labelling family members who advocated for their loved ones as difficult or even dangerous.

One mother who complained to the college, Margaret Lavery, has also filed a lawsuit claiming that Weber, Guttin and GHS “caused or contributed” to her 21-year-old daughter’s death, allegedly ignoring symptoms of a bowel obstruction for months.

For Baumbusch and other advocates, these revelations touch on some of their most pressing concerns about how people with developmental disabilities and their families are treated, as well as oversight of the systems that support them and a lack of options for care.

“For families who are working with any agency or organization, the fear and concern that you have is that when you advocate … that you are labelled and then shut out of that individual’s care,” she said.

“It’s especially frightening when you’re not able then to say, ‘OK, well, I would like that individual to live with me,’ because the system is unwilling and unprepared to give you the resources to do that.”

According to the college’s public notices, Weber and Guttin do not agree with all of the findings from the investigation, but they have agreed to the suspension of their nurses’ licences. GHS has also denied responsibility on behalf of the two nurses in Katrina Lavery’s death.

Former employee complained over treatment of families

The college’s investigation was prompted by complaints from three parents and a former GHS employee. All three parents — Margaret Lavery, Cyndie Bourke and Edith Artner — have told CBC they were appalled to learn that Weber and Guttin have kept their jobs as senior managers at GHS.

The society has said Weber and Guttin are “integral members of the Garth Homer team.” 

The former employee, whom CBC has agreed not to name, said her complaint was prompted by how Weber and Guttin treated certain parents.

A nurse herself, the former employee worked in the home where Bourke’s daughter Taryn was living, and said she saw how Bourke was painted as aggressive when she tried to raise concerns about her daughter’s care.

That didn’t sit right.

“Every parent is controlling when they have a child with a disability because that parent has dealt with that child for many, many years and has always been responsible for their care,” she said.

Cyndie Bourke was only allowed supervised visits with her daughter when Taryn, 32, was living in a home operated by the Garth Homer Society. (Submitted by Cyndie Bourke)

The former employee shared an email that Weber sent her in February 2018, outlining how she was expected to respond if Bourke visited and wanted to see Taryn.

In the email, Weber instructs the former employee to make it clear that Bourke will not be allowed unsupervised visits with her daughter and says that if Bourke refuses to leave the property when asked, the care workers should call 911.

“That was the last straw for me,” the former employee said, explaining that she called the college not long after that.

‘An ableist approach to our system’

According to Karla Verschoor, the executive director of Inclusion B.C., this kind of situation is not unique to Garth Homer Society.

“Negatively characterizing people and their families as difficult is a strategy used against many marginalized people to maintain control in complex situations,” she said.

“I think it’s very characteristic of an ableist approach to our system. And then I do think at other times it is consciously being done, and it probably stems from an arrogance that professionals know what’s best for the families.”

Ableism is discrimination against people with disabilities.

Both Verschoor and Baumbusch said what they’ve learned about the situation at GHS makes them concerned about oversight of facilities for adults with developmental disabilities.

“I think we’ve seen a failure in our existing safeguards system, and I’d be curious to know how it’s going to be addressed by the organizations involved,” Baumbusch said.

Katrina Lavery died of a bowel obstruction on Jan. 1, 2018. (Margaret Lavery)

Community Living B.C. (CLBC), the Crown agency that provides support for adults with developmental disabilities, cancelled its residential contract with GHS in May 2018 following Katrina Lavery’s death and arranged an emergency overnight takeover of five homes by a new non-profit provider.

A CLBC spokesperson said in an email that the agency takes the safety and well-being of its clients “very seriously,” and has safeguards including qualification requirements for service providers, standards for health and quality of life and regular monitoring.

In a written statement, Nicholas Simons, the minister responsible for CLBC, said he’s confident in the services it provides.

As her daughter enters adulthood, Baumbusch said she’d also like to see more funding and a greater variety of options to provide care and housing for adults with developmental disabilities.

“If an individual says, ‘I want to stay living here with these people in my family,’ or ‘I want to go live in an apartment with my friends,’ they ought to be able to do that,” Baumbusch said.


Girl with disabilities forced from Playland over mask policy | CBC News

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What was meant to be a fun day at Playland for Bobbie Dube and her seven-year-old daughter, Mikayla, turned out to be a big disappointment when the pair was forced to leave the park because Mikayla can’t wear a mask. 

Mikayla is non-verbal, has autism, and her mother says she needs to use a wheelchair.

Dube, who lives in Burnaby, B.C., had called ahead to book tickets and says when she asked about Playland’s mask mandate, she was told her daughter would not have to wear a mask given her disabilities. 

But after one ride, where the ride operator allowed Mikayla on without a mask, Dube says an attendant at the Vancouver amusement park told them they would be barred from any more rides.

“They proceeded to tell us that no one in the park would allow us to go on any rides because my daughter, who is seven, has special needs and can’t wear a mask,” said Dube. 

The pair’s experience highlights how challenging it can be for people with disabilities to get out and enjoy the simple pleasures in life that those without disabilities enjoy regularly, without planning ahead or worrying about accessibility. 

‘Happens all the time’

Heather McCain, the executive director of Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods (​CAN), says phoning ahead does not always ensure a hassle-free trip. 

“It’s exhausting to have to try to do homework before every trip. And even when you phone a business, such as in this case, you are not given the appropriate information,” McCain said. “And this happens all the time.”

Heather McCain is executive director of the non-profit group Creating Accessible Neighbourhoods. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

In addition to the miscommunication about Mikayla’s need to wear a mask, Dube discovered when they arrived at Playland on Sunday that the park’s ride accessibility program had been suspended due to COVID-19 protocols. The program allowed people who use wheelchairs to access rides using the exit so they didn’t have to wait in line and so they could store their wheelchair. 

But when Mikayla and her mom arrived at the kids’ roller coaster, Dube’s friend had to carry her. 

McCain says when businesses make changes such as those made at Playland, the onus is often placed on people with disabilities to find the flaws in those changes and fight them. 

“Unfortunately, the only way disabled people have power against businesses is to have a human rights complaint,” McCain said. “But that process is expensive, takes several years and is not accessible to many disabled people.”

Dube says she asked the ride attendants to explain why Mikayla was being asked to wear a mask when rules on Playland’s website say exceptions are made for infants or those with medical needs.

She said she was told there is “absolutely no exception.”

Laura Ballance, PNE spokesperson, said Playland does in fact make exceptions to COVID-19 rules that require guests over the age of two to wear a mask on rides and when waiting in line-ups. 

But she added that Playland’s COVID-19 safety plan requires all guests, regardless of whether they have a medical exemption, to wear a mask for the short period of time when an operator is in close contact with the guest while they check restraints and ensure proper riding position. 

Mikayla enjoyed one ride at Playland before she and her mother were told they weren’t allowed on more rides. (Bobbie Dube)

Ballance apologized for the “unintentional stress and anxiety” caused for the family, but said Playland is following COVID protocols. 

“We must adhere to both WorkSafeBC and the provincial health orders for both the protection of our guests as well as our staff,” Ballance said. 

B.C.’s mask mandate exempts people with physical, cognitive or mental impairments who cannot wear a mask.

Dube recalls that nobody stopped them or told them that Mikayla had to wear a mask when they entered the amusement park, went on the first ride, or when they were simply walking around. 

Dube says Mikayla has missed out on so much during the COVID-19 pandemic. While she thought Playland was something fun her daughter could do, it too has been crossed off the list. 


Halifax research group creates app to help break barriers for those living with disabilities

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A research group in Halifax is trying to make the city more inclusive to residents and visitors.

PEACH Research works to promote equity, accessibility and health in urban design and planning practices. It’s part of Dalhousie University’s school of planning and consists of faculty members, students and partners developing and executing projects to help design a better place for Haligonians to live, work and play.

One of those partners is Halifax-based non-profit reachAbility. It provides support and accessible programs to individuals facing barriers to inclusion and community participation. Each year, it hosts National AccessAbility Week (NAAW) to celebrate and recognize contributions made by people living with disabilities.

“Everyone in Nova Scotia and in Canada will have had, has or will have a disability,” says Tova Sherman, CEO and co-founder of reachAbility.

“Let’s find a reason to celebrate inclusion and the incredible things that people with disabilities achieve every single day in their workplace, in their lives, with their families and with their children.”

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Read more:
Halifax-based non-profit goes digital for week-long conference on accessibility and inclusion

During NAAW, the two groups hosted a virtual event on how to build a more accessible city. CANdid Access and Research for an Accessible Environment was hosted by Melanie Goodridge, pre-employment support navigator for reachAbility, and PEACH researchers Kate Clarke and Katherine Deturbide. The panel covered accessibility standards and barriers faced in the built environment, and highlighted their latest app, the CANdid Access web map.

The app allows users to share and access photos and information about the accessibility in their community.

“Take a picture of something that’s accessible/inaccessible,” Goodridge explains. “Then you give a little blurb on why and then it’s uploaded and put onto a map.”

The photos and information submitted by users of CANdid are added to the access map and can help those living with disabilities to navigate – or even avoid – certain parts of the city. Unmarked crosswalks, paved park pathways, construction zones and sidewalk conditions are some examples of what users may find on CANdid.

“It’s just a really great way to show features that are accessible versus features that are inaccessible,” says Goodridge. “You get a visual of how we can make it better and how we can change to meet the standards by 2030 of the Accessibility Act for Nova Scotia.”

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The Accessibility Act, passed in 2017, plans to improve standards for public buildings, streets, sidewalks, shared spaces and education. The standards are expected to roll out in 2022.

Read more:
Nova Scotia announces plans to support accessibility law passed in 2017

The hope is that the information collected through CANdid will one day land on the desks of provincial government officials who can make a difference.

“Nova Scotia does have some big targets to reach by 2030,” says Goodridge. “A lot of the work that the folks are doing at PEACH Research is a great way to start and an easy way for all of us to understand and digest what needs to happen so that moving forward, we can engage in our government, we can engage on a local level to see those changes being made.”

NAAW runs from May 30 to June 5. It is free and open to everyone and is available to access any time through the reachAbility website.  CANdid Access and Research for an Accessible Environment is available to watch through the reachAbility YouTube channel.

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