By Daniel Tseghay
On October 3rd, the BC Liberals announced a Job Creation Plan that they claim would benefit people with disabilities. The project, in alliance with the Rick Hansen Foundation, WorkBC Employment Services Centres, and the Victoria Disability Resource Centre, would temporarily employ 14 people as “access assistants.”
“Participants will complete about 90 on-site accessibility surveys of medium- and large-sized buildings and community locations in Victoria and the Lower Mainland,” reads the press release. “Through this work, participants will have an opportunity to apply inclusive design principles and gain skills in the professional field of accessibility through training, field experience and user testing.”
Paul Gilbert, an organizer with the BC Disability Caucus, however finds this project uninspiring. The fact that it applies to only 14 people in a province of 4.6 million people is one problem. But, more than that, it provides training in an industry people with disabilities may not want to work in long-term.
“Given that we have a building code that requires accessibility, and they did intense auditing on businesses in the 80s, they’ve just taken an old program and re-used it,” Gilbert said in an interview with Rankandfile.ca. “And these people will develop skills that aren’t useful anywhere and somehow that will help them become attached to the labour market.”
Gilbert worked as a vocation rehab consultant for nearly two decades and has seen such projects before, calling them “just cosmetics.”
“They’re not approaching the fact that people are marginalized by employers because of prejudice,” he says. “If someone can tell you have a disability from your application, only 2 per cent will call you for an interview.”
Providing workshops and counseling in the narrow field of accessibility auditing won’t address that deeper problem, according to Gilbert.
This indifference to the struggles of people with disabilities within the labour market is in the context of a labour force participation rate which hasn’t increased in decades across Canada. The rate for a single person with disabilities is $375 for rent a month in one of the most expensive housing markets in the country, and $608 for other expenses.
This amount still leaves 100,000 people in the province living at half the poverty line. Exemplifying the kind of math the BC government engages in to appear like they’re making strides is what happened last month. As of September 1st, the disability rate went up by $77 a month while they simultaneously clawed back the yearly transit pass which cost people with disabilities only $45 a year. Now they will pay $52 a month, or $624 a year.
People with disabilities will now find it even harder to travel to work, engage with their community, and complete errands. “The disabled have been on the fringe of society for a long time,” says Gilbert. “And the government doesn’t seem to care.”
This Job Creation Plan is just one more instance of this government’s indifference.