When it comes to budgets; I’m not an expert. When it comes to city planning; I can’t say that’s my top skill. What I can say, and what needs to be said is that budget cuts will impact Toronto’s disability communities. I am a disability activist, social worker, health enthusiast and a supporter of all things for youth and youth-led initiatives and the next generation so perhaps I’ll start there.
Families with children with disabilities
For families that include a child with disabilities, they will be less able to access, accessible, adapted and inclusive recreation programs because of the proposed cuts to recreation subsidies this year. It’s not just about the cuts themselves but also that children living with disAbilities need accommodations to learn, explore, grow and rebel-rouse as kids. Many of these kids need extra support and extra support comes at a cost.
This includes the need for someone to attend with them, or have an inclusion facilitator for that camp, swimming program, or reading club. Often this inclusion happens only with the advocacy of a caring parent or family member in already all-too-limited spots. Sometimes recreation cannot take place without specific accessible transit as well. It is well-known that many families that have a child with disabilities have less access to money. This is largely because of the cost of having to attend medical appointments, afford medications and purchase accessible equipment, many of these costs are not fully covered by the government. So families, already cash strapped will have less of an opportunity for subsidised recreation if these cuts come to fruition.
What’s more, families with disabled children can’t get day care spaces due to the ever-increasing shortage that exists in the city.
Youth with disabilities
Let’s talk about youth. Youth with disAbilities, especially if they are accessing or more often than not trying to access the developmental services sector are at a particular disadvantage. In August 2016 the Ontario Ombudsmen, Paul Dube presented the report, Nowhere To Turn which highlighted the systemic issues for these young adults. The report speaks to the lack of housing, work and community-based options for youth labelled as developmentally disabled. So the province has not invested adequately in support services for youth with disabilities and now the City of Toronto is threatening to do the same. This is unacceptable.
Here in lies the problem: when any youth is denied a training, a job, a home and the chance to hang out and form relationships in the community, this impacts their health and their self-concept as well as that of the community many years down the line. As a result, some youth programs that were promised to fund will be cut for this year. The truth is, youth are not at risk in the face of supportive systems and policies; the city budget can recognise this.
Safe spaces for all
At a recent press conference, many advocates in the violence against women sector spoke to the lack of housing for women and families fleeing violence and people with disabilities in particular. No matter how you slice it; exposure to violence and intimate partner violence, especially, shares a nexus with the experience of disability. Without going into detail this is because a sense of safety and trust in the world for woman and children who may have had that shattered. Many shelter spaces in Toronto do not include accessible rooms and none of them offers attendant care for those who might need it. As more than 80% of women with disabilities have been victims of violence, I can only guess that the reason abused women’s shelters have not implemented attendant care as a right is because they are currently at capacity and grossly underfunded. Since 59% of women living with disabilities are living in poverty being under-housed is very commonplace. This is a human rights issue with devastating consequences that needed to be addressed yesterday.
The city must put a gender-specific lens in the budget
For children, youth, mums, dads, grandpas, young male role models, and persons with disabilities that want to access crucial services such as counselling appointments, libraries, public parks and access to social services we have a TTC fare increase to try to juggle. Again!
As a wheelchair user, less than half of the TTC service is accessible, yet I and others who use mobility devices pay the same amount of money for the service. What’s more; the accessibility plans that the TTC has proposed are years behind the already ridicules 2025 deadline set out by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It sounds unfair because it is!
The disability communities are rarely at the top of mind for policy-makers and the political elite. And as a consequence, the disability community has been left out of the Toronto mayor’s budget this time around.