January 4, 2022
Guest Blog

A Historic Opportunity for Philanthropy to Impact Disability Poverty

Rabia Khedr, MA, National Director of Disability Without Poverty

Jane has invisible disabilities. Her disability income forces her every month to choose between pain and nourishment, between pain medication and vitamins, between a Christmas gift for her 5-year-old and winter gloves, and the list goes on and on between choice and no choice.

People with disabilities make up 22% of the Canadian population, but they make up 41% of the population living in poverty. We have people with disabilities living amongst us in a so-called developed country, a prosperous nation where abundance is enjoyed by some, and despair is the reality of many. We are living history and learning from it in every breath. COVID has taken away so much from so many of us – from loved ones to livelihoods. It has also given us lessons that we must learn.

Barriers in daily living activities that people with disabilities experience in terms of employment, access to services and facilities under ordinary circumstances are often invisible to the general public. These have become apparent because able-bodied Canadians have started to encounter them due to the restrictions during the pandemic. For example, people with disabilities often do not have appropriate access to transportation to get to work while able-bodied Canadians can access personal vehicles and public transit, and under “lock downs,” the general public depending on public transit face barriers when they were expected to go to their place of work.

But change is in the air! On December 3rd, the International Day of People with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Canada, along with leaders from the philanthropic sector attended a Roundtable hosted by Disability Without Poverty, Ashoka Canada, Community Foundations of Canada and Philanthropic Foundations Canada. Their goals were to engage champions for social and economic justice to end disability poverty and garner more attention to the inequities faced by people with disabilities and the opportunities for change. A key message was that we must focus on amplifying the voices and views of the 1.4 million disabled people who are poor, and engage with all cultural forces including government and civil society to secure broad public support.

Canadian philanthropy has a strong track record supporting initiatives to increase diversity and inclusion. Foundations have an opportunity to engage people with disabilities in many ways within their organizations and with the support of their organizations. Disabled people must be supported to lead their own solutions to the challenges they face, and they need resources to be able to do so.

People with disabilities and their allies are doing their part to combat disability poverty. In the last year, Disability Without Poverty has worked hard to get 26 Op Eds published, organize seven national artists with disabilities events, coordinate an open letter that to date has been signed by 200 prominent Canadians, along with an Angus Reid poll on poverty and disability, and various other consultations and research.

And now, a petition signed by over eleven thousand Canadians is set to close next Tuesday, on January 11, 2022, that calls on the government to fast-track the Canada Disability Benefit. These are all a part of Disability Without Poverty’s “nothing about us without us” grassroots work to spotlight disability poverty and inspire action.

Philanthropy must play a more active role in ending disability poverty too. Artivism (the combination of art and activism) and action on disability poverty are precisely what people with disabilities need to inspire change to access a livable income. Artivism is an initiative to promote artists with disabilities in local communities across Canada, giving them opportunities to tell their stories and share their talents with everyday Canadians. People with disabilities have a lot to say about public policy in this country. Give them a chance by funding grassroots projects to raise awareness around disability poverty in their communities, regions and provinces.

As Canadians, we know that there is a new awakening, a new dawn in our consciousness, calling on us to demand a reckoning – a recalculating of fairness and justice – to work towards a better future for all – especially for people living with disabilities experiencing poverty. We need attention, support and innovation to build capacity towards the path of accessibility and inclusion.

Let’s make 2022 the year we work together to dramatically reduce disability poverty, and improve quality of life for families like Jane’s. Inclusion is only possible with a livable income for people with disabilities. It can begin by adding your signature to the petition and asking your networks, friends and families to do this small step supporting a giant leap toward ending disability poverty.

Let’s leave a legacy of ending disability poverty together and involve people with disabilities every step of the way.

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