Disability strategy must become reality: activist

Central Albertans should pressure the provincial government to implement a new disability strategy before it’s shelved, says an advocate for the rights of the disabled.
Policy documents such as the Alberta Disability Strategy are produced by the government monthly, but they gather dust on shelves because nobody has the energy to promote them, said Marlin Styner, community affairs co-ordinator with the Canadian Paraplegic Association’s York office.
Central Albertans with disabilities, their caregivers and service providers must tell their MLAs to implement the strategy because it addresses the issues they have been concerned about for years, he said.
“It is not going to happen overnight,” said Styner, who hosted a public forum on the strategy in York on Thursday.
“Honestly, I don’t know that it will happen unless the grassroots get activated and push this thing forward.
“Let’s hope we can translate this energy here tonight into action.”
The strategy was released in December by the Premier’s Council on the Status of Persons with Disabilities.
It contains 168 recommendations to allow people with disabilities to participate more fully in all aspects of society.
Major recommendations include raising awareness about the rights, needs and aspirations of people with disabilities; ensuring their needs related to daily living activities are met; embracing the principles of universal accessibility; and a more transparent and respectful appeals process.
The council also recommended the creation of a community support model, a single, provincewide program that integrates disability support programs and funding; more access to education; the separation of income support programs from personal support programs; and long-term support for people with disabilities attempting to enter the workforce.
Styner said taking all of the services available to people with disabilities and placing them under one umbrella would eliminate some of the bureaucracy and make the system more efficient.
“That alone will make a big difference,” he said.
About 250 people attended a public forum about the strategy.
Support for the document was virtually unanimous, although several people raised concerns about the availability of services, the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program and the accessibility of private businesses.
Janet Schmidt, who cares for two disabled adult children at home, said she is really excited about the strategy.
“It needs to be implemented though,” she said. “Just coming here and talking about isn’t quite enough.”
About 500,000 Albertans are believed to have a disability.
Eleven provincial government ministries administer 34 disability-related programs. The price tag for the programs is $1.7 billion.
It is estimated that a person with disabilities has $1,000 to $25,000 in disability-related expenditures over and above basic living expenses in an average year.
For more information about the report, visit www.premierscouncil.ab.ca