2023 Fall Economic Statement Disability Inclusion Analysis

Despite the continued roll-out of enforcement measures under the Accessible Canada Act, the enactment of accessibility standards through Accessibility Standards Canada, the continuation of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan, and the landmark passing of legislation allowing for further development of the Canadian Disability Benefit, disability is only mentioned four times in the 2023 Fall Economic Statement and seven times in the accompanying Annexes. Of these mentions, disability is only directly discussed twice: in relation to childcare and the need for barrier-free housing – with no accompanying commitments or specific funding.

In the main statement, disability is only specifically discussed once in a brief add-on to the discussion of child care agreements with the provinces and territories, identifying a commitment to develop and fund an inclusion plan to support children with disabilities. Of the other three mentions, one is in a list of marginalized groups benefitting from more affordable housing, one is in relation to Veterans’ benefits, and one is concerning potential additional funding for students with a disability – albeit, alongside any dependents they might have.

While disability is mentioned more frequently in the Annexes, there is again little specific consideration to the disability community’s unique needs, barriers, and disproportionate financial burdens. In Annex 1: Details of Economic and Fiscal Projections, disability is mentioned twice to clarify its inclusion in aggregate measures such as the Child Disability Benefit and “Pensions and other accounts.” While in Annex 4: Statement on Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion, disability is mentioned 5 additional times, with 4 of these mentions being lists of marginalized groups and/or intersecting identity factors. Two mentions worth noting are the brief consideration of persons with disabilities’ need for barrier-free housing, and the inclusion of Indigenous persons with disabilities amongst other intersecting identity factors experienced by Indigenous persons.

With projections lasting into 2028-2029 and funding being promised for 2025-2026, the future of critical measures such as the Canadian Disability Benefit are deeply uncertain. 

At A Glance

Statement Mentions

Mention #1: Building More Affordable Housing

Disability is not specifically considered in this section, and is only briefly mentioned amongst a list of other marginalized groups benefitting from affordable housing investments. (22)

Mention #2: Supporting A Strong Middle Class

Disability is only mentioned in relation to Veterans’ Benefits being indexed to inflation to help Canadians keep up with the cost of living. (33)

Mention #3: Federal Investments to Support Canadians With the Cost of Living

In a number of hypothetical examples designed to show how federal benefits aim to make life more affordable for Canadians, disability is briefly mentioned in the case of a low-income student in Nova Scotia, where they could receive additional funding for specialized student grants and equipment if they have a disability. (34)

Mention #4: Delivering Affordable, High-Quality Early Learning and Child Care

The first explicit mention of disability is in only one brief sentence in the supplementary discussion around receiving affordable, high-quality early learning and child care: “Agreements with provinces and territories also include a commitment to develop and fund an inclusion plan to support children with disabilities.” (34)

Annex Mentions

Mention A1: The Child Disability Benefit is included as a footnote in Annex 1’s Table A1.6: The Expense Outlook to clarify its inclusion in the Canada Child Benefit. (82)

Mention A2: In Annex 1’s Table A1.7: The Budgetary Balance, Non-Budgetary Transactions, and Financial Source/Requirement, the discussion of the “Pensions and other accounts” line includes disability benefits alongside other benefits such as health care, dental plans, and veterans’ benefits. (87).

Mention A3: In the opening section of Annex 4’s Statement on Gender Diversity and Inclusion, disability is included alongside other groups disproportionately impacted by the higher cost of living. (107)

Mention A4: Under Annex 4’s subsection on Canada’s Housing Action Plan, disability is more meaningfully considered alongside seniors, those on fixed incomes, and women escaping intimate-partner violence. This discussion has the most in-depth discussion of disabled people’s unique needs: “Persons with disabilities also face unique challenges: according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 15.9 per cent of persons with disabilities were living in households in core housing need.” (107)

Mention A5: Continued in Annex 4’s subsection on Canada’s Housing Action Plan, disability is listed amongst other intersecting factors experienced by Indigenous persons who will benefit from the Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy. (109)

Mention A6: Again found in Annex 4’s subsection on Canada’s Housing Action Plan, persons with disabilities are included amongst groups benefitting from the Apprenticeship Service and the Union Training and Innovation Program’s promotion of inclusion and accessibility. (109)

Mention A7: The final mention of disability is in a list of low-income and vulnerable populations who would benefit from cracking down on junk fees. (110).

Breaking It Down

Chapter 1: Building more affordable housing

“Affordable and community housing play critical roles by providing the most vulnerable Canadians with a place to call home. People experiencing or at risk of homelessness, women and children fleeing violence, seniors, Black and racialized people, Indigenous people, and persons with disabilities, are among those who benefit the most from affordable housing investments. The federal government has been taking action to make investments that build and repair these types of homes.” (22)

The Affordable Housing Fund will repair/renew 129,000 homes and build 31,500 more. $1 Billion has been committed over three years starting in 2025-2026 to support non-profit, co-op, and public housing providers to build over 7,000 homes by 2028.

However, there is no mention about accessible housing – only making the programs themselves more accessible, “with faster approvals and other improvements to meet the needs of vulnerable populations.”

Chapter 2: Supporting a Strong Middle Class

Despite opening the section with language around strengthening social safety nets and building economies where everyone has a real and fair chance for success and listing a number of social security programs, there is no mention of the Canadian Disability Benefit.

The only mention of disability is in the brief discussion of Veteran’s benefits: “Veterans’ benefits, such as the Disability Pension and the Pain and Suffering Compensation, are also indexed to inflation.” (33)

Disability is mentioned in a hypothetical scenario designed to share available support programs: “A low-income student in Nova Scotia could receive more than $5,800 in additional support in 2023 thanks to increased Canada Student Grants and interest-free Canada Student Loans, the Grocery Rebate, and pollution price rebates. If they have a disability or dependants, they could receive an additional $12,800 in specialized student grants, plus an extra $640 per dependant, and up to $20,000 towards devices that support their learning.” (34)

Disability is again briefly mentioned in the discussion of affordable, high-quality early learning and child care: “Agreements with provinces and territories also include a commitment to develop and fund an inclusion plan to support children with disabilities.” (34)

Annex 1: Outlook for Expenses

Disability is briefly mentioned in a footnote to table A1.6: The Expense Outlook – covering projections in billions of dollars between 2022-2023 and 2028-2029.

In the following section, Major Transfers to Persons, the Canadian Disability Benefit is nowhere to be found among major transfers such as Employment Insurance (EI), the Canada Child Benefit, and Old Age Security. (82)

Disability is once again mentioned in the discussion of Table A1.7: The Budgetary Balance, Non-Budgetary Transactions, and Financial Source/Requirement. This discussion merely explains what financial sources are included in the forecast horizon: “Pensions and other accounts include a variety of employee future benefit plans, such as health care and dental plans, disability, and other benefits for veterans and others, as well as the activities of the Government of Canada’s employee pension plans, and those of federally appointed judges and Members of Parliament.” (87)

Annex 2: Statement on Gender, Diversity, and Inclusion

Near the end of the statement, disability is lumped in with other marginalized groups – and given no unique consideration throughout the statement: “We know that Canadians are continuing to face real challenges with the higher cost of living, including in accessing affordable housing. Vulnerable Canadians—including seniors, persons with disabilities, 2SLGBTQI+, Indigenous, Black, and racialized people—face these challenges in disproportionate, unique ways.” (107)

Disability is more meaningfully mentioned in the Annex’s discussion of Canada’s Housing Action Plan: “Investing in housing is crucial to meeting the needs of all Canadians—but housing challenges are even more pressing for some. This includes seniors, who represent 17 per cent of those in unaffordable housing, many of whom are on fixed incomes; women escaping intimate-partner violence; and persons with disabilities, who may require barrier-free homes… Persons with disabilities also face unique challenges: according to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, 15.9 per cent of persons with disabilities were living in households in core housing need.” (107)

In a breakdown of measures related to the Plan, Indigenous persons with disabilities are mentioned – an appreciated consideration given the disproportionate rates of disability Indigenous people face: “Continuing to work towards the co-development and launch of the Urban, Rural, and Northern Indigenous Housing Strategy will directly benefit Indigenous people living in urban, rural, and northern communities, especially Indigenous persons with disabilities, women and girls, and 2SLGBTQI+ people who are at particular risk of violence when experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.” (109)

In a following discussion of how housing investments support the construction sector, persons with disabilities are again briefly mentioned alongside other marginalized groups: “For example, federal investments such as the Apprenticeship Service and the Union Training and Innovation Program have promoted inclusion and accessibility for women, persons with disabilities, Black and racialized people, and Indigenous people.” (109)

In the discussion of supporting a strong middle class, disability is again briefly mentioned alongside other marginalized groups in relation to cracking down on junk fees: “Low-income and vulnerable populations, including Indigenous people, recent immigrants, persons with disabilities, and seniors, will disproportionately benefit, since higher fees may result in spending a greater portion of their income.” (110)

Nothing About Us

I’m having a moment. More likely a meltdown. All because of a media release on access to sexual and reproductive health. 

Before we get into why I am an absolute wreck right now, let me make three things clear:

One – I am a firm believer in access to sexual and reproductive health. To abortion, whatever the reason for it. To quality sexual and reproductive health information. I am proudly pro-choice. 

Two – I will always support other marginalized communities in their advocacy work for better access, opportunities, and outcomes. 

Oppression is not like pie – there’s more than enough to go around.  Public opinion and support and funding are all also not like pie – we as marginalized communities do not have to fight each other for our slice – we can just bake a bigger pie. 

And when one marginalized community benefits, we all benefit. Our struggles are intertwined, our people are diverse and deserve to feel fully welcomed in their communities.

And three – I don’t believe critiquing “good” things makes them any less good. In fact, I believe we need to critique these good, progressive measures to ensure things keep getting better for everyone. 

If we don’t critique things, if we settle for things the way they are – things won’t get better, they’ll just stay the same. And I’m here to tell you that I can’t survive more of the same. So many disabled people will die if we keep having more of the same. And the same is the continued marginalization and exclusion of disabled people.  

From progress. From funding. From opportunities. From decision-making positions. From meaningful inclusion in policy making and program design. From education. From employment. From society.

Now that that’s all been said, let’s unpack why I am mid-meltdown.

As someone with a uterus (we are not doing transgender, non-binary, and genderqueer erasure here!), I have a bit of a stake in sexual and reproductive health.

Actually, everyone does. You’ve all been born, right? (Not that I should have to argue the whole “everyone should care about this” angle but that is where we are right now.)

And as someone who is disabled and has a uterus, I’m pretty passionate about accessible and disability inclusive sexual and reproductive health.

So you might be able to imagine how I felt after reading a media release announcing significant increased funding for sexual and reproductive health for marginalized groups that didn’t mention disability once.

Now, I won’t list the marginalized groups that were listed because that perpetuates an us vs them rhetoric. It’s not marginalized group vs marginalized group, it’s all of us vs systemic oppression.

What I will list are a few words frequently mentioned throughout: 

  • “barriers”
  • “access”
  • “stigma-free”
  • “previous experiences of discrimination with the health care system” 
  • “accessibility of information and services for underserved populations”
  • “the right to make decisions about their own bodies” 
  • “increased risk for poorer sexual and reproductive health outcomes.”

It’s hard to describe what this feels like to someone who isn’t disabled, but to grossly oversimplify it: it’s almost like being picked last for dodgeball, but you aren’t even picked at all. And no one seems to notice. Or at least, they don’t speak up. 

(And this metaphor is unfortunately not so metaphorical – plenty of disabled people aren’t allowed to participate in gym class. Or they’re not invited out. Or they aren’t even allowed to leave their homes.)

So, here I am, not playing dodgeball. 

Less metaphorically, here the disability community is, once again, not being included in funding and programming designed to make programs more inclusive and accessible for marginalized groups.

And this one media release, while devastating for its disability exclusion alone, was a boiling point for me. 

Already in this awful little exclusionary pot was the fact that disability was almost excluded from the anti-discrimination clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. 

That the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities passing 61 years after the UN was founded. 

That Canada’s first federal accessibility legislation passing less than 4 years ago.

That most provinces and territories don’t even having accessibility legislation. 

That countless equity, diversity, and inclusion foundations, programming, and policy actively exclude disability. 

That actual human rights programs and offices and lawyers don’t adequately include and incorporate disability. 

Since we’re rolling with this boiling point pot of water metaphor, let’s talk about that obnoxious steam that fogs up your glasses and hurts your hand while you’re stirring – the accessibility washing.

Accessibility has finally seemed to enter mainstream discussions. And before you get all excited thinking this means great things for disability inclusion, I’ll have to stop you right there. Because accessibility is being used to mean affordability, or better outreach, or better responsiveness. 

Is that by definition correct? Technically! 

Is it at the very least a little messed up to hijack a word commonly associated with the disability community to exclude them from measures they could benefit from? Absolutely!

And this awful phenomenon is cruelly complimented by organizations, academics, and governments using accessibility to gloss over disabled people entirely! 

Instead of discussing harassment, discrimination, ableism, and stigma, it’s easier and more comfortable to discuss barriers in the built environment, communications, and technology! 

But barriers are created, maintained, and perpetuated because the world does not think about disability! So us disabled people are stuck in this gaslight-y purgatory where everything is about us, but nothing is for us.

Yes, accessibility benefits everyone. But by emphasizing this universal benefit over addressing the very real discrimination and barriers disabled people face, accessibility risks coming at the cost of further marginalizing disabled people. 

We are moving in the wrong direction, unrooted and unguided due to our conscious choice to ignore disability. 

And just like sexual and reproductive health services, I’m glad progress is being made – but I sure as hell have every right to criticize the fact that disability is being excluded.

I started writing this blog with me teeth chattering, with my chest quaking, with my breath shaking and tears rolling down my face.

I wrote the following at the start of my breakdown but kept it until the end. It’s unedited and it is straight from the broken heart of an exhausted 21 year old disabled queer woman who just wants to be included. Who just wants disability to be included without having to fight, and beg, and spend the rest of her life demanding change:

I am so tired of being an afterthought. I am so tired of being ignored. I am so tired of my community’s history being suppressed and hidden and unrecognized. I am tired of begging for recognition when we deserve so much more. 

I am so tired of begging for the scraps of inclusion. I am tired of begging for media attention because the media doesn’t care. I am so tired of trying to appeal to politicians because they ignore us because of an inaccessible democratic system.

And I am so tired of the sympathetic dismissive smiles and head nods from the people in power who will never understand what it is to be disabled. I am so tired of the public not caring about disability and not feeling the need to care. 

I. Am. So. Tired.

And I think about how I’m dedicating my whole life to disability issues and how daunting that feels sitting here at 21 sobbing my heart out after a media release. 

Just a media release. 

It’s so easy to pretend like it’s just a media release. 

I’d rather pretend it’s just a media release and not a symptom of society’s continued apathy towards disabled people. Of our continued oppression. 

I’d rather pretend this is a one-time issue and not an every day lived reality. But it is. And unlike what feels like the majority of the world, I don’t get the privilege of ignoring this reality.

It is so easy to accept things the way they are. It is so much harder to have to fight for change. And it’s still hard to fight for change when there’s really no alternative. 

It’s hard, it’s exhausting, it’s demanding, it’s all-consuming, and it is the only choice I have.

I am surrounded by brilliant disability advocates and activists fighting and working for change, and while I know the weight of the disabled world does not rest on my shoulders, I don’t feel like I’ll ever be able to walk away from this movement.

So please, stop making me have to fight. Stop making me have to beg. And stop saying nothing about us.