Invisible and Forgotten in the COVID-19 Crisis: Canadians with Intellectual Disabilities

While Canadians are well informed of seniors’ vulnerability to COVID-19 and all too aware of its devastating and life-threatening impact, the same cannot be said for individuals with intellectual disabilities, leaving them in harm’s way.

The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and its provincial and territorial associations have been raising the alarm and pleading for governments to act and protect the lives of individuals with intellectual disabilities, just as they have for other vulnerable populations. Governments have rightly committed to protecting those who are homeless, people experiencing domestic violence, and seniors yet remain unmoved by the comparable needs and risks of people with intellectual disabilities.

However, to the virus, individuals with disabilities are neither invisible nor forgotten. As families and those who provide support to people with intellectual disabilities, we are forced to conclude that individuals with intellectual disabilities are not equally valued and their lives are expendable.

“The blatant disregard of the value of my daughter’s life and others with intellectual disabilities is unconscionable and should never have been possible in this country,” stated Robin Acton, CACL President and parent of an adult daughter with intellectual disabilities. “Every day across this land, politicians and health authorities attempt to reassure us. With each passing day, my daughter and others with intellectual disabilities remain invisible and forgotten. My anxiety and fear mounts.”

Whether they live in their own homes, with their families, group homes or residential facilities, the vast majority of individuals with intellectual disabilities require personal support workers. Without these supports their very lives are at risk at the best of times, so it should not be difficult to understand their vulnerability to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many cannot fully isolate from others due to their disabilities or living arrangements and therefore have a higher risk of contracting the virus.

The personal support workers who continue to provide support are among the many unsung Canadian heroes, yet remain unrecognized and unsupported. They are deserving of additional wages as they risk their lives in the support of vulnerable Canadians. They continue day after day in their commitment to be in the homes of individuals with disabilities, without essential guidance from health professionals, access to needed protective personal equipment (PPE), or measures to address COVID-19’s impact when it strikes an individual they support and/or themselves. These resources and measures, which need to be available to families as well, must be brought to bear today, not tomorrow.

Although proposals have been made to government by CACL and its member associations, plans still do not exist to ensure a trained workforce is available when individuals or staff become ill or to provide alternative living arrangements for those who require isolation. Government is only taking action when there is a COVID-19 crisis in a residential facility. As a result, lives will be lost which might otherwise have been saved.

Recently, Minister Carla Qualtrough announced the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group to which Krista Carr, CACL Executive Vice-President was appointed.

Mrs. Carr stated, “I will be seeking a nationally coordinated approach with the provinces and territories that is immediately responsive to individuals with disabilities, their families and those who support them to ensure they are no longer invisible, forgotten, or treated as if their lives do not matter.”

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Media Contact: Marc Muschler, Senior Communications Officer, CACL,
The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) is a national federation of 13 provincial-territorial associations and over 300 local associations working to advance the full inclusion and human rights of people with an intellectual disability and their families.

CACL leads the way in building an inclusive Canada by strengthening families, defending rights, and transforming communities into places where everyone belongs.

CUPE Manitoba, Inclusion Winnipeg, Inclusion Westman, Children’s Coalition Keep Education Assistants and Support Staff Employed During the COVID-19

Manitoba – Workers and disability advocates are calling on School Divisions to keep Education Assistants (EAs) and other support staff on the job during the COVID-19 crisis.

“Education Assistants are providing critical support to children with disabilities during the COVID- 19 virus crisis,” said Janet Forbes from Inclusion Winnipeg.

“The COVID-19 virus puts children with disabilities at greater risk due to existing health conditions, reliance on outside support and disruptions to daily routines.”
“Families are more isolated than ever and there is so much work that needs to be done to support those children and their families who may not be used to instruction from home.”

As the union that represents 5,000 school support staff in twenty-four school divisions across Manitoba, CUPE is ready to work with School Divisions to help ensure there are no layoffs to Education Assistants and other support staff.
“CUPE has reached out to School Divisions to see how we can work together to help EAs either work remotely from home or find creative ways to support their students during this crisis,” said CUPE Manitoba President Abe Araya. “With so many students studying at home, we need a strong, fully-staffed education system to get these students the support they need.”

“It is important that all students have access to the supports they require to learn at home during this time,” said Amanda Hamm of Inclusion Westman. “We know that Education Assistants have a role to play in providing this needed support especially in terms of supporting students with additional needs. We are calling on schools to provide this consistent support to all students so they can continue their learning at home.”

In a letter to School Superintendents, the Education Minister suggested that “savings generated as a result of the closures of schools must be held in a separate account”. It is CUPE’s position that this is not a time to generate savings, rather it’s a time to support staff and be creative.

“School Divisions in Manitoba have already budgeted for their staff for the year, and those staff need to be focused on helping students succeed,” said Araya. “Many students and their families face additional challenges working remotely, and addressing those challenges cannot happen without school support staff.”
This position is also endorsed by the Children’s Coalition, an advocacy organization for children with disabilities.

CUPE Manitoba represents approximately 5,000 education support staff in twenty-four school divisions across Manitoba, including EAs, custodians, maintenance and trades, secretaries, library techs, mechanics, bus drivers, international student support, school liaisons and more.

Inclusion Winnipeg is a registered charity which, for 60 years, has been dedicated to making life better for children and adults living with intellectual disabilities.

Inclusion Westman is a not-for-profit organization committed to enriching the lives of people who live with an intellectual disability in the Westman region by promoting their full inclusion in the community. The work we do benefits not only the individuals with intellectual disabilities and their families, but the community in which they reside.

The Children’s Coalition is a network of organizations which exists to unite the voice of families in matters that have a direct impact on their supports and services. The Coalition is committed to working in partnership with community-based agencies and government departments including Family Services and Housing, Education, Citizenship and Youth, and Health, to achieve a coordinated network supporting the full inclusion in community life of children with disabilities and their families.

Abe Araya, President, CUPE Manitoba – 204-509-5923
Janet Forbes, Executive Director, Inclusion Winnipeg – 204-953-5876
Amanda Hamm, Executive Director, Inclusion Westman – 204-573-1210
David Kron, Chairperson, Children’s Coalition – 204-250-4226

Support Letter from Trustee Chen

Canada's First Poverty Reduction Strategy Promising for People with an Intellectual Disability

TORONTO, ON – The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) welcomes the release of Opportunity for All – Canada’s First Poverty Reduction Strategy and its significant focus on social inclusion and the tremendous potential it appears to offer persons with an intellectual disability.

CACL looks forward to the implementation of the Strategy and to working with the Government of Canada over the coming months and years. It is critical for government infrastructure to maximize the effectiveness of its investment. As the Poverty Reduction Strategy and its various initiatives unfold, we encourage the Government of Canada to keep the lived experience of people who have an intellectual disability in mind and included.

“Persistent poverty remains, and it can only be addressed by both income and disability-related supports,” said Joy Bacon, President of CACL.

Some indicators of an approach inclusive of persons with an intellectual disability could include – but are not limited to – representatives from the intellectual disability community on the advisory council, up-to-date data on persons with a disability within the Strategy’s Gender-based Analysis Plus (GBA+), and the inclusion of current out-of-pocket expenses that persons with a disability spend to be added to Canada’s Official Poverty Line calculation known as the Market Basket Measure. CACL is pleased to see that the Canada Income Survey will be designed to be able to report on income and disability. We strongly recommend that sufficient data be collected to be able to track progress by type and range of disability.

In addition, CACL hopes that the Government of Canada takes leadership with its provincial and territorial partners to ensure that Canada’s first national Poverty Reduction Strategy is implemented to its fullest potential.

“It is critical to know we are making a difference. CACL remains committed to exploring and advancing conversations about the unmet needs for income support for persons with an intellectual disability,” said Krista Carr, Executive Vice-President of CACL.

CACL welcomes the focus of the strategy on inclusion and looks forward to working with the Government of Canada. We also echo Mile Corak’s, Economist in Residence at Employment and Social Development Canada, forward in the Strategy that, “Credit is due, not when budgets are spent, but when outcomes we care about are efficiently and effectively achieved.”

CACL is composed of ten provincial and three territorial associations, with over 400 local associations spread across the country and more than 40,000 members. CACL leads the way in helping Canadians build an inclusive Canada by strengthening families, defending rights, and transforming communities into places where everyone can belong.

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Media Contact: Agata Zieba, Senior Communications Officer, CACL,

Proposed Opportunities Act Would Have Positive Effects for Persons with an Intellectual Disability

The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) commends the recent introduction of The Opportunity for Workers with Disabilities Act (Bill C-395) in the House of Commons. The Opportunities Act would ensure that persons with disabilities never lose more in benefits and taxation than they gain as a result of earning increased employment income.

“Only 25.5% of working-age people with an intellectual disability have any paid employment compared to the national average of 75.5%. This legislation helps break the link that exists between persons with an intellectual disability and systemic poverty,” said Joy Bacon, President of CACL.

Canadians with an intellectual disability are among the most vulnerable in Canadian society, with many persons already living in poverty and excluded from paid employment. ‘Clawback’ rules in social assistance are part of the problem, creating disincentives to work. Nearly half (43.7%) of working-age people with an intellectual disability were on provincial or territorial social assistance as their primary source of income at some point in 2009.

“Ending poverty of persons with disabilities is a shared responsibility between both federal and provincial/territorial governments,” said Krista Carr, CACL’s Executive Vice-President.

The Government of Canada has begun the process of developing a national poverty reduction strategy. Should Parliament not pass the bill into law, we would encourage integrating the proposals within the federal government’s national poverty reduction strategy.

People with an intellectual disability are far less likely than others to have access to paid employment and disproportionately rely on government sources of income assistance. CACL believes the provisions of Bill C-395 are a strong evidence-based response to their long-standing poverty and labour force exclusion. Adopting these provisions, by one means or another, would bring much needed federal leadership to the issue of income security for people with disabilities along with a framework for federal-provincial/territorial collaboration that has been lacking for far too long.

National Housing Strategy Makes Historic Investment: 2400 New Affordable Housing Units for People with Developmental Disabilities

Today Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the National Housing Strategy, with a target of 2400 new affordable housing units that enable community-based independent living for people with developmental disabilities. The Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and People First of Canada (PFC) welcome this historic announcement.

Joy Bacon, CACL President said, “We are thrilled with the Prime Minister’s announcement today. A dedicated investment to create at least 2400 new affordable housing units for people with developmental disabilities will have a transformational impact on building inclusive communities right across this country.”

Kory Earle, President of People First of Canada said, “An equal right to housing is long overdue. Far too many people with intellectual disabilities are homeless, and dying unnecessarily. Canada used to invest in institutions for us. Finally, the government recognizes we deserve a home, in the community, just like everyone else. We are incredibly grateful to the Prime Minister and Government of Canada for hearing our voice and heeding our call. To be part of this national strategy truly means we belong as equal citizens of this country.”

This investment will be welcomed in communities across Canada. Krista Carr, CACL Executive Vice-President said, “Our local and provincial/territorial associations stand ready to partner with all levels of government, with other community sectors, and with housing developers to develop and activate the plans needed to reach this target. It is an extraordinary opportunity, a watershed moment in Canada’s recognition of the rights and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities. There is a lot of work ahead. But we have the capacity and partnerships ready to make this happen.”

Never before has the Government of Canada so clearly recognized the housing needs and housing rights of this group. We estimate that over 100,000 Canadians with intellectual and developmental disabilities currently live in precarious and vulnerable housing situations in Canada – over-represented among the homeless population; living with aging parents who can no longer manage and too poor to live more independently; congregated in residential facilities that deny basic housing rights; and, placed in nursing homes and long-term care because they are unable to access affordable and supportive housing in the community. The consequence is hugely disproportionate social isolation, economic exclusion, poverty, preventable deaths and victimization among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Canada.

Law Commission of Ontario Rejects Proposals to Advance Rights of People who have an Intellectual Disability

On March 8, the Law Commission of Ontario released its long awaited Final Report on Legal Capacity, Decision-Making and Guardianship. The report goes to some length to flatly reject detailed proposals it received from the Coalition on Alternatives to Guardianship, which includes Community Living Ontario, People First of Ontario, People First of Canada and the Canadian Association for Community Living. For over 25 years, the Coalition has called on governments to provide an alternative to guardianship because for so many people it stands as a fundamental violation to their human rights, a reality the United Nations acknowledged over a decade ago. Guardianship removes people’s power over their own lives.

The Coalition recommended the Law Commission of Ontario recognize supported decision-making as one option for situations where people are unable to make personal decisions independently, and we provided a comprehensive draft statutory framework developed by legal experts.

“The reforms we put forward would give legal recognition to what so many people and families now do in practice, which is interdependent decision-making guided by a person’s will and preferences,” said Chris Beesley, Chief Executive Officer of Community Living Ontario.

Supported decision-making is legally recognized in British Columbia, the Yukon, Manitoba and increasingly in jurisdictions around the world. As well, it has been recognized in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which Canada ratified in 2010.

“The Law Commission failed Ontarians who have an intellectual disability and their families, because everyone should be able to have power over their own lives, regardless of whether they need support or not,” said Kory Earle, President of People First of Canada. “The reality is that many people who have an intellectual disability cannot even change their address with the Canada Revenue Agency or open a Registered Disability Savings Plan without a guardian being appointed. We’re asking the Government of Ontario to follow the lead of other provinces and territories by providing a third option, so that we have more of a say when we go to the bank, speak with our doctor or participate in the community in other ways.”

The Coalition has recommended a series of robust safeguards to protect people under supported decision-making, including specified commitments by supporters, enabling the appointment of monitors, notification of a supported decision-making arrangement being put into place, measures to investigate situations of harm, abuse or neglect, and the creation of a special tribunal to consider complaints and to mediate disputes among supporters and individuals.

“The Law Commission adopted all these recommendations, but only for those under powers of attorney. It says it would be too complex to extend these safeguards to supported decision-making, where people are not able to appoint a power of attorney. Instead, it calls for more research,” stated Brendon Pooran, Principal at PooranLaw Professional Corporation. “I receive calls from families every day in my practice looking for an alternative because their son or daughter cannot appoint power of attorney and the costs and complexities of guardianship, not to mention that it removes their family member’s legal personhood, rightfully prevent people from pursuing that option. People who have an intellectual disability should not be required to forfeit their right to make their own decisions due to gaps in our legislative framework.”

Extensive studies on supported decision-making have been conducted in Canada and internationally, the practice has been in place in other provinces for years, and it is recognized by the United Nations. As far back as the early 1990s, the Coalition has called on the Government of Ontario to include the option of supported decision-making when the Substitute Decisions Act was first introduced. At that time, it was the government who called for more study.

In response, Community Living Ontario developed detailed proposals and the Canadian Association for Community Living also produced a major report titled Alternatives to Guardianship. However, the government failed to act on any of the recommendations. Since then, calls have grown in Ontario to introduce supported decision-making, including from the Ontario Legislature’s Select Committee on Developmental Services in its 2014 Report. We trust Premier Kathleen Wynne and Attorney General Yasir Naqvi will finally take the necessary leadership, go beyond the Law Commission of Ontario’s far too limited vision, and enact significant and meaningful change to at least recognize the rights of all Ontarians to inclusion, citizenship and equal respect for the right to legal capacity.

Zero Project highlights Canada's Ready, Willing & Able Initiative as a 2017 Innovative Policy on Employment

Zero Project and Ready, Willing & Able Initiative logos
Ready Willing and Able Group Photo

Canada’s Ready, Willing & Able Initiative has been awarded as an Innovative Policy on Employment, Work and Vocational Education and Training. The Award was presented by Martin Essl, Founder of the Zero Project and Alexandra Wandel, Director and Vice-Chair, Management Board, of the World Future Council, in the United Nations Office in Vienna, on the evening of February 23. Ready, Willing & Able is a national initiative of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) and Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorders Alliance (CASDA) and their member organizations, in partnership with the Government of Canada.

Canada’s Ready, Willing & Able Initiative was highlighted at the Zero Project Conference 2017, which focused this year on disability-inclusive employment, work, and vocational education and training. The Zero Project Conference was attended by more than 500 experts from more than 70 countries, discussing innovative solutions – Innovative Practices and Policies – that support employment, decent work and meaningful vocational education and training of persons with disabilities.

Don Gallant, National Director for the Ready, Willing & Able Initiative, and Monika Bertrand, Executive Director of Employment and Social Development Canada were in Vienna to accept the award.

“We are thrilled to be honored by the Zero Project, as an Innovative Policy for 2017,” said RWA National Director Don Gallant. “RWA represents Canada’s first truly employer-focused, demand-driven employment model. The great success we have achieved to date is a direct reflection of the commitment by the Government of Canada to supporting innovative policy exploration, the strength of our partnerships across the country, and the dedication and efforts of the RWA delivery team.”

The Award for Canada’s Ready, Willing & Able Initiative is based on a selection process based on the criteria of innovation, impact and scalability, which involved more than 1,000 experts with and without disabilities from all over the world. Fifty-six Innovative Practices and 11 Innovative Policies were selected this year worldwide.

Canada’s Ready, Willing & Able Initiative is also included in the Zero Project Report 2017, which can be downloaded at

Report on National Housing Strategy Holds Promise for the 100,000 Canadians with Intellectual Disabilities

The over 100,000 Canadians with intellectual disabilities in need of affordable, quality housing and flexible supports to enable their full community inclusion can find some hope in a national housing report released in Ottawa today. The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development and Minister Responsible for Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation launched the report, titled What We Heard: Shaping Canada’s National Housing Strategy. It draws on ideas from the ‘Let’s Talk Housing’ national consultation with thousands of Canadians and organizations. The report’s guiding principles and strategies emphasize key priorities for Canadians with intellectual disabilities and their families, including strategies that: respect people’s housing rights, including the right to choose your own home; result in inclusion; and connect affordable housing to community supports, school and jobs so people can participate in their communities, be safe and lift out of poverty.

Joy Bacon, President of the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), which actively participated in the consultation and submitted a brief on housing needs, said: “Renewed federal government leadership for affordable housing and community inclusion is long overdue. Thousands of Canadians with intellectual disabilities and their families desperately need affordable housing and community supports that result in inclusion. This report gets the direction right. Now, we urge the government to line up the investments, develop the partnerships and activate its transformative potential.”

Michael Bach, CACL Executive Vice-President, who was at today’s launch, taking place on National Housing Day, said: “The Minister sent a very clear message. This government is committed to making housing markets and communities work for people, for all people and families. The government knows the solutions lie in local communities and appears committed to a national strategy to tap that potential. We’ve heard the message. It responds to the call for action by us and so many others. Let’s get to work.”

To help advance the right to housing in inclusive communities, CACL and People First of Canada have joined forces to launch ‘My Home My Community’. We promoted our ideas through the ‘Let’s Talk Housing’ consultation. And we are sharing success stories of people with intellectual disabilities who are blazing pathways to their own homes in inclusive communities. On this National Housing Day, we are pleased to share the story of Josh.