Chloe

A digital painting of Chloe, a young Caucasian woman with slight wavy chin-length hair, wearing light teal glasses, a denim jacket, and a pink shirt. There is one strap from a backpack or purse on her left shoulder. She is looking at the viewer with her lips slighly parted. Her face and hair are rendered in bright and pale shades of pink, and her jacket is dark blueish green, with the stitching in a lighter blue. The background is decorative with a pattern of drawn daisies outlined in white and small dots against a turquoise background.
Chloe

Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I live in Victoria, colonially known as Victoria, on what is the unceded and stolen land of Lekwungen speaking people, and I grew up in Esquimalt, which is the land of the Songhees speaking people. I ended up on disability at a pretty young age, I know I look like I’m like 16 but I’m 32 (laughs), so I ended up on disability when I was about 23 after repetitive gaps from working. I went on quite a few health absences, and I went on medical EI quite a few times, and then I ended up on WCB a few times. . .  I guess I kind of got on disability before I could really process my own illnesses, or my own disabilities, so I kind of got on it for necessity, like I just realized there was a point where I just needed to be able to pay rent. Like I just needed to be able to live.

I got on disability before I ever really identified as someone who has a disability, or who is sick, and so I kind of went through that process (of getting on disability benefits) while living in poverty, that was a result from it (the disability). And, I mean that’s been a lot, it’s something that I never really addressed until the last two or three years I guess, and it’s been a lot to work through. I have stage four Endometriosis,  and I also have PMDD, Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder, which was wrongly diagnosed my whole life. They thought it was Bipolar Disorder, then they thought it was Borderline Personality Disorder. I don’t know how many prescriptions I’ve gotten for Lithium in my lifetime, and then just got home and burnt the prescription. Then, January of 2020, I finally got into a gynecologist,I finally got a real diagnosis. And it was really just like 16 years of medical gaslighting, and being an hysterical woman, really.

 So no, (not enough money to meet basic needs), basically no. My personal experience with it is that it’s not accessible, which is already a giant bureaucratic barrier for people that have disabilities that have chronic illness, and have mental illness. It’s not accessible. So when I first applied, I applied with my doctor, and I got denied. Then I went to the advocacy program in Victoria called “Together Against Poverty Society,” TAPS, and I got an advocate. And that was the first time, honestly, that anyone’s ever said to me, “What you’re going through is real. What’s happening to you is real. You need help, you need to be able to pay rent. I’m going to help you do this.” And then within one week I got accepted onto it (disability assistance), and I got all the back pay. 

So one thing that I find really important to share with others is the importance of having an advocate. And finding an advocate can be super tricky sometimes. A good thing to do is just talk to other people on Disability and ask where the advocacy programs are in your cities. I know that there’s some in Vancouver and I know that there’s some in Victoria, and I’m sure that there are others in BC.

How broken is the system if you need an advocate outside of the system to help you even get into the system? So, it’s a broken system. So I got onto it, and then trying to access like, even what your health coverage covers . . .  like, does my health coverage cover this? Can I get dental? Can I do this? Even accessing that information, you almost have to apply (for the coverage) to get the information. So once you’re in the system you have to apply for all these other little systems, and no one really tells you at 23 that you’re going to be on it until you’re 65. Like no one ever tells you that you’re going to be designated a person with disabilities. 

And, unfortunately in the eyes of the British Columbia government, we’re not equal at all. We don’t have equal living, we don’t have equal access, we don’t have equal rights in many ways. And I think that the social security nets, and the disability nets, it’s almost like a web of negligence. And people that are on it, like nobody on disability has enough to pay rent, nobody on disability has enough to pay rent and then eat, like it’s surprising when you talk to someone on disability who doesn’t have that one week out of every month where they can’t eat. 

When they (the BC government) cut the $300 in half there were so many people in town that didn’t know until they got the checks, because they only announced it in the presser and not everyone has access to the presser. Not everyone has the Internet, or has a computer, or even is living indoors, so a lot of people got their checks and were like, “What?” And there could have been a letter going out, or communication, or some outreach to people without addresses. The technology disparity is really something that I think also adds to the disappearance of people, because they just don’t even have access to the Internet. And we’re all living in the same communities, and people I think just assume that everyone’s got an iPhone, and everyone’s got the Internet, everyone’s got a laptop, and it’s just not the case. 

I personally don’t believe that that is a functioning society. I don’t believe that that’s a functioning government, that will force people into poverty, and then say like, “Oh look, we’re putting all this money into mental health care, and here’s a new suicide hotline,” and what about precursors to those situations? Like the effect of poverty on your mental health is astronomical, and the amount of people who are on disability and on social assistance that are unhoused, that are living in parking lots, in tents, in doorways, as a direct result of what the government is doing. To me it’s at the point where, you know 300 To Live is so important, and these are things that we need in order to survive, but I’m almost at the point where I’m frustrated with asking an oppressive system to let me survive, and I almost just want justice at this point.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

To me, justice looks like an equality between people that are ill and people that aren’t.  And I mean equality in the sense where we have working opportunities, we have housing that is stable and secure and affordable, we have medical care that is accessible and affordable to us. I recently needed to get a mobility aid, and I had to go through mutual aid, like someone in town ended up getting it for me, and again it just highlights like, if the only way we get what we need is from outside of this system, then this system is inherently flawed.

It would be a society shift, it really would, and I’m gonna quote Mia mingus here, but like the politics of interdependence is something that has really empowered me to realize that when we’re looking out for each other, and we’re collectively taking care of each other in a sense where we’re going through systems that don’t cause more harm, and people can access care . . . Like if people deal with suicidal ideation or things like that . . . A lot of the time people don’t reach out for help because of fear of institutionalization, or nonconsensual crisis response, or police, or mental health checks. Or literally getting, like in in the case of Victoria, with mental health checks, the police will literally tear gas you out of your apartment. Or people have died as recently as last Christmas, the previous Christmas, of them using impact munitions and riot control munitions just to get people out of their house on mental health checks. So when there’s a system like that, no one’s getting help, no one’s getting care, no one’s getting support. And I think a way to move forward, where everyone does get that care, would have to move away from institutionalization, to move away from police enforcement, and it would have to move away from the criminalization of just being sick.

I don’t know who said this, but, “An army of sick people can’t be defeated,” and I really do believe that in a sense, that we have so much power. Even if we feel like we don’t have any power because we spend all day vomiting on the toilet, and we live in poverty because our government doesn’t see us as having any value in the capitalist system . . . but I think that if we just say to that, “No. We’re going to organize, we’re going to work together, we’re going to read together, we’re going to talk together, we’re going to dream together, we’re going to come up with ideas to support each other. I think those actions right there can empower us to realize that we’re not what they tell us, we’re not disposable human beings. And one day I think they’ll see it, and they’ll know that it’s been negligence on their half. I mean, they might never know because sometimes people just can’t ever accept these things, but if they don’t know then at least we know.

Do you have thoughts about the role of non disabled or ill people in this movement?

I think it’s a role that everyone can play, to move away from the structures of institutionalization, and move away from the disposability of people that are sick and disabled, and the disappear-ability, if you will, like people being disappeared into institutions, or jails, or homes or whatever it is. A movement takes everyone, and in any little way that people have. I think that a lot of people who are able bodied, like, you know someone who is sick, or you’ve worked with someone who’s sick. And listening is really important, and learning, just reading about ableism, reading about microaggressions of ableism. Reading about why maybe saying to someone you work with, “Oh you’re so lucky you only get to work 4 hours a day,” why that could be harmful.

 And it’s almost a duty, to educate yourself. And you can educate yourself in whichever way that means to you. If people are having trouble reading or can’t listen to books on tape like, there’s many different ways that people can learn, and it can be really scary and daunting . . . but I think it needs the approach of a collective movement. For a little while there, people would message me only when I was really really sick, and reach out and see if I was OK. And I think people need to check on people all the time, whether they’re sick or able bodied, and not just in crisis modes. It needs to be like a collective all the time type thing.

Care seems like a recurring theme in what you’re talking about.

Yeah, and and also like the way that we offer care, but also acknowledging that it is hard for people to accept care. A lot of people that are sick and disabled have a lot of medical trauma, or a lot of trauma associated with the people that they thought were there for them. And it creates this tendency in yourself, that it’s hard to accept support, and it’s hard to accept care. I think internalised ableism really grinds people down, and it makes us believe that we’re nothing. It’s almost a radical act to not believe them. Because of the governments that you’re living under, and the forced poverty, and the $375 for rent, and the $25 crisis grant if you’re in crisis, and all these things are adding to us really just accepting that we’re disposable. And I think it’s almost a radical act to say, “I’m not disposable, and I’m going to fight against that. It’s hard to have the energy to do that when you’re also battling all these other things. I always find it really important when I see people doing work when it’s not easy to do the work.

Some days it’s just like OK I’m just gonna submit to this society and I’m just gonna let it all run me over because it’s just the energy of doing it. A lot of people, they don’t want to fight these systems. Like I don’t want to fight against the BC government, I don’t want to do any of these things, I just want them to give me justice. But that doesn’t happen, and that’s not gonna happen, and we do have to fight it. And I think there’s a common misconception a lot of the time too. It’s like direct actions, or sit ins, or occupations or things, like that. A lot of the time, people on the front lines who are literally chaining themselves into these situations, they’re not doing it for fun. They don’t want to be there.

It’s this stand that people, some people have inside, that says, “You have to make the stand. You have to do this” And it’s this inner dialogue almost. No one wants to put themselves in harm’s way to talk about harm. And it’s difficult.

Likes / Loves

Cats, reading, I watch a lot of TV, Law and Order. For colours, I wear black and white a lot but also bright floral vintage dresses in the summer and I use neon colours when I make art. She recommends reading Care Work: Dreaming Disability Justice by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha.

Sheldon

A digital painting of Sheldon, a young Caucasian man with short brown hair, brown eyes and light stubble on his chin, whose face and shoulders are pictured. He is wearing a purpleish brown shirt. He is giving a slight closed mouth smile. His skin is rendered in shades of coral. The background is decorative navy blue, with a wood grain pattern.
Sheldon
Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I live in the downtown Eastside. I do not work because of my health conditions. I would like people to know that not all disabilities are visible as in you can’t see all disabilities including many mental health disabilities that lots of people struggle daily with. It is hard. Very hard to have some of these conditions.

I definitely do not have enough to live a normal life and even support my basic needs. Independence is nearly impossible as most people on disability benefits have to rely on food banks, rent banks, and other ways such as begging family for help. I have even had many times where I’ve had to panhandle and beg for money in the streets. Food costs are rising. Clothes are getting more expensive. But disability benefits stay the same or are even reduced sometimes. Medical care is hard because no dentist wants to accept patients with just disability insurance. Same goes for eye doctors. I also cannot access certain recovery programs for my illnesses because the government will not cover them

People with disabilities are human. Just like you. It only takes one accident, illness, or mental health issue to cause you to be disabled. I pray that disability is increased to at least reach the poverty line plus more access to medical treatments that can change a person’s life.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

A disability payment equal or larger than the poverty line for sure. Better access to medical services and mobility aids and counselling, treatment programs, dietary supplements that have a more open application process not just denied all the time. A government that has a disability strategy not just talks about it to get votes then does nothing. A chance at equality.

Likes/ Loves:

I like the color blue and green. I love playing on my smartphone or watching tv. I love nature and the sea going to beaches. I’m a pretty simple guy.

Anonymous

digital illustration, two faces in profile faceing each other, both shades of blue, against a black backdrop

Please share what you would like people to know about your experience accessing or relying on the Disability Assistance Benefit.

$375 is not even close to enough money for rent.

I spent years in awful and traumatic situations due to not having enough money to get myself out of it. Even if you want to start your own business, it’s not even enough to start that.

It is degrading trying to scrape enough money together for basic needs. It makes you feel guilty when you want to “splurge” and a splurge is like, going to McDonald’s or something cheap like that.$5 is considered a lot to spend on an item, very degrading and messes so much with your self esteem. Makes you feel useless and causes worse mental health issues and suicide ideation.

You feel guilty at outings when you can’t afford to buy yourself a meal, or drink etc. You start to live in fear and fight or flight mode which worsens mental health and can lead to addictions to cope. If you go shopping and forget say, to get enough toilet paper or something, you’ve screwed yourself over for the whole month.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

Homelessness becomes a huge problem as people can not afford housing. Waiting in the line for the food bank is degrading and they are unable to accommodate allergies. People eat things they are intolerant to just to survive. I heard about one lady who ate gluten because she had no choice, and she sadly died from it.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

Enough money for rent. Enough money for food. Extra in case of unforeseen circumstances that require money to help you such as infestations of bedbugs or rats, or whatnot.

Anonymous

Please share what you would like people to know about your experience accessing or relying on the Disability Assistance Benefit. 

Government, Wow, you are sure quick to help everybody, …..except the disabled!

DISABLED LIVES MATTER, TOO!

A one time payment of $600, and yet people collecting CERB and other government benefits are able to actually afford groceries. The cost of groceries has skyrocketed. Living on a Gulf Island, we are limited in our choices of grocery stores and the so called “sales”, are what people on the mainland pay regularly. We, too, need facemasks and sanitizers, as they are now mandatory in ALL public spaces. 

Disabled Canadians are made invisible, our stories remain untold, and the world is left with the impression that we do not exist and have no experiences worth knowing about! No one said EVER, ” I want to have a PWD designation, when I grow up!!”  “I want to have a permanent life time brain injury”,  Or “I want not to use my limbs, or I want to sit all day in a wheelchair”  “I want to dedicate my entire income to rent, . . . food and heat ,”. . . Well, I had better stock up on blankets!  I can’t afford a heater to heat my place.

Let’s never forget our CRPD (UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities) Article 28 right to an adequate standard of living and social protection . . . This needs to be embedded in legislation to make it a reality for persons with disabilities in Canada.

From the United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) Article 28 – Adequate standard of living and social protection  

1. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their families, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right without discrimination on the basis of disability.

2. States Parties recognize the right of persons with disabilities to social protection and to the enjoyment of that right without discrimination on the basis of disability, and shall take appropriate steps to safeguard and promote the realization of this right, including measures:

a) To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to clean water services, and to ensure access to appropriate and affordable services, devices and other assistance for disability-related needs;

b) To ensure access by persons with disabilities, in particular women and girls with disabilities and older persons with disabilities, to social protection programmes and poverty reduction programmes;

c) To ensure access by persons with disabilities and their families living in situations of poverty to assistance from the State with disability-related expenses, including adequate training, counselling, financial assistance and respite care;

d) To ensure access by persons with disabilities to public housing programmes;

e) To ensure equal access by persons with disabilities to retirement benefits and programmes.

Mr. Prime Minister, and your parties that lead this fine country, you are in BREACH of the United Nations Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Persons with disabilities are normally excluded, even in discussions on human rights.

For instance, most human rights commission complaints in Canada are grounded in disability discrimination. Yet, we weren’t even noted as a priority by BC’s Human Rights Commissioner in her recent province wide meetings.

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.” ― Arundhati Roy  

 DISABLED LIVES MATTER, TOO!  

Living on provincial Disability in British Columbia is challenging. Our present legislation is designed for people on Welfare assistance and does nothing to help a “Person With Disabilities”. The $800/month that one is allowed to make without any deductions is a Welfare incentive and does nothing for the person who cannot commit to an employer due to their illness/disability. People are forced to live below the poverty line. We believe that in the case of the $800, that should be automatically added to the disability cheque without having to go out to work since the reason the person is on disability is because they CANNOT work.   

DISABLED LIVES MATTER, TOO! 

Vanessa

Vanessa, a young Caucasian woman with long wavy hair. Vanessa and her clothes are rendered in shades of orange, brown and warm yellow. Her head is tilted slightly to the left and her mouth is closed giving a very slight smile. She wears an unzipped coat over a hoody. Her eyes are light turquoise. The background is decorative with outlines of succulents in different shades of turquoise. ⁠⠀
Vanessa
Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I am 22 years old and located in the Eastern Fraser Valley. I am very fond of animals. My hobbies include hiking, creating art, photography, dog sports, and more. I am very inquisitive and enthusiastic. I have ASD, ADHD, and comorbid psychiatric disorders. Although not immediately apparent, my disabilities effect nearly every aspect of my life. I have an amazing partner who takes the time to understand and support me.

The disability amount covers my basic living expenses but not much else. My medication options are limited to what is covered by PharmaCare. I’ve already used up my dental coverage and I need more work done. Therapy is probably the number one thing that can help reduce the impact my disability has on my life. Unfortunately, therapy is expensive and isn’t covered by disability assistance.

Because of the low earning exemptions, my partner can not live with me. If we were declared common law, my disability amount will be deducted dollar for dollar for any combined earnings over $14,400 per year. They are essentially expecting two adults to live on $30,000 per year in one of the most expensive provinces in the country.

Likes / Loves:

Warmer yellows, deep blue-greens, succulents, cats, Australian Cattle Dogs.

George

Digital illustration of George, a young Caucasian man who is holding his cat, and whose upper body and face are pictured. He is facing  to the right and his face is turned to the viewer, smiling. He wears glasses and has short hair, and a moustache and beard. He wears a white t shirt and two beaded bracelets. He is rendered in warm brown and peach tones. His cat is rendered in dark blues with orangey brown eyes. The backrgound is decorative with blues and greens and the shapes of mountain ridges.
George
Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I live right now in Chilliwack, BC. I’m from Maple Ridge and have been in Chilliwack  for two years now. I grew up in Maple Ridge, and lived there pretty much my whole life.  I’ve had multiple brain injuries from concussions from snowboarding to hockey, and then a tad more recent one in July in a car accident.  I’ve been on Persons with Disability, the PWD, for almost two years now and I was approved for the CPP disability a few months ago. I have existing mental health issues with anxiety disorder, mood disorder, and manic depression, and with all the 9 braint injuries my brain hasn’t been able to heal and I still have post concussion syndrome now, as well and likely CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), as most doctors have told me. So yeah, it’s been a journey since the last, I think 2011 was my first major concussion, and like I’ve had times where I feel good, and then a lot of times where I’ve felt bad. And like anything good, I usually have to recover from.

I guess my first  introduction to the Persons With Disability (benefit)  was in late 2015, I had a really bad mental breakdown and I was in a psychiatric hospital for two weeks. And that’s when they diagnosed me with all my disorders, and the post concussion syndrome. When I got out of the psych ward there wasn’t a lot of follow up, like a recovery plan, or like guidance on what I should be doing,or if I was OK to go back to work. It was just like, “Oh, see how you feel.” And all this medication, which wasn’t helpful. 

So getting out of the psych ward, I went right back to work, and it immediately became too much for me. So I had left work and I was on EI for a while, and then once I ran out of EI I was forced back to work. So I started taking my yoga teacher training, ’cause that was what I thought I could see myself doing. I started my teacher training in 2016 as well, and that was really difficult for me, like I had failed the exams three different times. Just the studying and physical work, it was too much for me to be honest.

I met a teacher and was helping her out with her studio, and before I knew it I was helping her manage the studio, and I was doing way more than I could take on. Of course that led up to another big breakdown. I stayed with that until 2018, and I had to take breaks in between, but by 2018 I had another breakdown. My partner had left me, and just leading up to that I was becoming more unstable. I was telling her that I might have to go on disability, or look into that, and that kind of scared her, so she left me and then I was just super overloaded, and I left the yoga studio.

I went back to my old job before the concussions, which is woodworking, like in finishing. But I had left that job earlier because it was too much for my brain. But I went back ’cause I wasn’t in a great place and it was a way to make more money, and that was the big thing. So I did that, and within a month and a half I fainted in my shower and had another concussion. Yeah, so I think that was number eight. After, like . . .That one, and the other concussion in 2014 were ones where things changed a lot for me, and my symptoms were much more severe. I wasn’t able to stand for long periods of time, and my symptoms were a lot worse, and so I started to look for disability help, and I found a brain injury person in Maple Ridge, who I actually turned out to know. I’d gone to school with her daughter, so she was able to help me out to get on to Persons With Disability. Before that I hadn’t even known about it. 

Oh yeah, in 2016 I had applied to CPP disability * but they declined me two different times, and after they declined me in 2016, like they didn’t even tell me to apply for PWD. There was no like, “Oh, you should pursue this,” it was just like, “We can’t help you out.” And then after I appealed it (unsuccessfully), but I went back to work and then I ended up having another concussion ‘cause it was too much. So yeah, after I guess January 2019 is when I was approved for the PWD, and I was living with a roommate at the time, so my rent wasn’t as bad and things were a little more manageable. But then our place got demolished because they were building a property there, and I moved elsewhere. My parents live in Chilliwack so I was trying to be close to them. I found a cheap apartment in Chilliwack, but the money that I got from PWD was not enough to cover all of my living costs. I would cover rent and my bills and stuff for my cats, and then I would just have like maybe $80 – $100 for groceries. Then that would be it and I was like getting $1235 from them, and then after the COVID bonus came in, the extra $300 has definitely been helpful. But yeah, I don’t know how long that’s going to last**. Without that COVID bonus the last year would have been a lot tougher for sure.

The thing that sucks the most was because CPP declined me in 2016 twice, I went back to work unready until I had another breakdown in 2018. I was then approved for PWD in 2019, then had to re apply for CPP, was approved for CPP on the third try (in 2020), then the retro payments from CPP went to PWD. Since I should have been on CPP to begin with, starting in 2016. The retro pay was $13,997, but most of it went to PWD, instead of being paid out to me. I only received $1600.  There were three years where I should have received CPP disability pay (2016-2019) but I didn’t get anything. If I had been approved in 2016 I would have gotten that money, I probably would have saved the two concussions/breakdowns for sure, and the challenge of applying for both disabilities that I went through. I could have used that money for so many things, but yeah PWD left me $1600 and took close to $13,997. 

Now my payments for PWD are like $400 and whatever, and then I get $817 from CPP. So now I’m getting two different checks, and they’re both two weeks apart,. So even when I get the first one from PWD it’s not enough to cover my rent, I gotta wait till the other one comes in two weeks. So it definitely made it more difficult having the two of them, and also losing that money that I had paid into (CPP).

With the COVID bonus, it’s like I’m getting $1500 a month now from PWD and CPP, but before that, like the $1235 a month was not enough. My rent is now $865, which is pretty cheap, and I’m living in like the ghetto apartments in Chilliwack. There’s a lot of issues in the building, like my neighbour smokes cigarettes in his unit, and the smoke comes into my unit, so I’ve been trying to find another place to live. But everywhere, rent is just obviously so high, and I haven’t found anywhere near the amount I’m paying right now. So yeah, it’s been stressful having to live in a smoke filled unit, but I can’t even afford to move anywhere else. This is all I can afford, unless I get a roommate, which was also very stimulating with my symptoms and all that. So yeah, the money has never been enough, and at least once a month my parents will help me out with either groceries or if I need any extra money they usually send me over some. But yeah, I am definitely relying on people. I have one close friend, and he usually helps out with food and stuff like that too. Because I usually don’t have any extra money, like all the money I get goes to bills, groceries, and it’s all gone by the time I would have anything left for me. 

The COVID bonus has definitely been helpful, so yeah I guess if they can keep that going forward, you know, increase the payment, that would be huge. But also accessing the benefits has been tricky as well. When I was approved for both disabilities, I didn’t get like a list of all the benefits that I got. Like I had to go onto Google and then track down the PDF documents, and every time I would call to talk to somebody it would be wait lines of over an hour usually, unless you call like first thing. I still haven’t accessed any of the benefits from both disabilities (disability coverage PWD and CPP) ’cause I don’t know how to get them or what’s available. And I actually just figured out how to use the PWD dental benefits, but that took a while and like I had to get my OT (Occupational Therapist) to help me out to get that information.

Is there anyone who you can ask for help from the government?

I’ve always been on my own . . . like now, because of the car accident ICBC’s paying for treatment for me, so I get to see an occupational therapist weekly. She’s been helping me out since July now, so that’s been more helpful. But that was through ICBC. 

I have called PWD in the past, but usually they’re not really helpful, or I don’t get through.

So you don’t have anyone assigned to you, it’s just whoever answers the phone?

Right.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

I guess more money and more assistance that’s easily available. Like yeah, having a case manager for each person with a disability, I think that would be a good start. I guess more money to lower the cost of living as well. I think treatments would be another thing that should be covered as well. I still don’t know what other things I’m entitled to with the disability benefits.  My experience with ICBC lately, I have a case manager and she approved all these treatments, and that system has been more helpful than the disability system. I think the biggest thing would just be to increase the monthly checks for sure.

Likes/ Loves:

 I really like nature like trees, mountains, rivers, lakes. My two cats are like my life, so definitely cats. When I’m able to watch TV I like to watch movies and TV shows, and then I game for a certain amount of time. But I also have been playing a lot of chess lately, which has been very helpful for my thinking process. I play online  on an app on my iPad, and then I have an actual board that I’ve been playing with against my friend. We just take pictures of them and say like “Knight to 8 three,” and then we gotta work it out on the board so that’s been fun.

*CPP = Canadian Pension Plan Disability Benefit 

* *The additional COVID funds were decreased by half in December, and will be discontinued in March

Vicki

A digital painting of Vicki, a young woman of Taiwanese descent, who is smiling and looking down at the viewer. Vicki is rendered in shades of pinks and purples, wears pink glasses and braided pigtails, and has a pattern of shih tzu dogs on her sweater. The background is light blue with a light source coming from the top right corner.
Vicki
Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

My name’s Vicki, I am from Vancouver, BC, and I am 25 years old. I am a Special Olympics athlete for swimming. I am a sunshine person, I really love to talk to people, and I have a reading disability. A reading disability, is kind of . . . other people learn fast, I am the person who is learning very slow. 

I live with my mom. Right now I am currently working, so I help my mom with bills and some groceries. Usually my mom, before I don’t have job, so my mom paid for everything. Now I have job and I help my mom out.

We moved from Taiwan, and I started my grade seven here. I also speak Chinese.

Right now I’m pretty much independent on transit, I can go on transit by myself. I am exploring a new community with my community connector, they are helping me to try to meet new friends, try to go to different communities and learn new bus routes together. 

Food is ok, but the housing, the rental, is kind of not enough, because my rent is $1200, so the benefit, the PWD money, everything just goes to the rent. Sometimes there is no money left over for the food. And the transit, I am on the BC bus pass program, so every year they renew for us. The medical, I have the health benefits (MSP), so the government covers certain medicine for me. 

One day, if I’m ready, I want to live by myself. Because my mom always says, “I will not live with you forever. I will pass away someday, so you maybe need to live by yourself.”

Sometimes my uncle helps us out, because my dad passed away when I was 12 years old, so right now it’s only my uncle helping us out. 

I feel that some physio therapy doesn’t have enough coverage for disability people, because some people want to go to physio therapy but it’s so expensive, they check the benefit and it isn’t covered, so I think physio can hopefully be covered for us. So we can pay less. 

Would you use physiotherapy if there was more coverage?

Yes.

Are there other things you would use if you had coverage?

Eye, because I had surgery last November. Because I was diagnosed with Strabismus, so I had eye surgery. So maybe they could have benefit to cover surgery and eye check up, that way we don’t have to pay out of our own pocket. And dental, I would go more if it was covered.

My mom’s English is not very well, so we usually have a translator when we talk to the government.

Is there anything else you’d like people to know?

I am the person who really likes to explore a new community, and I am the girl very involved in the community, and I just love to share my story, share my passion with them together. So don’t be scared if you have a disability, don’t be scared because everybody has a different kind of disability, but everyone is living in the happy world together. 

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

I dream all the disability people are all holding hands, after when the COVID is done, just like holding hands in a big circle and celebrate with each and every body, saying, “You have a different kind of disability.” Everybody can hold hands, celebrate together, and then cherish every moment together. Hopefully the job placements can open to more disability people to see how great they are. Hopefully the job people open up more for us, the opportunities.

Likes / Loves:

I really love dogs, because I had a dog in Taiwan. Her name is Trouble, she is a white dog and she loved to kiss and cuddle. She is a Shih Tzu. My favourite colour is sky blue. And I like pink. And I like swimming. 

Michael

Digital watercolour painting of Michael rendered in reddish browns for Michael and light green - grey for the background. Michael smiles at the camera while he sits on a log at the beach. His phone is in his left hand and his right hand is in his lap. Behind him is the ocean and mountains, and some people walking in the distance. He is middle aged, Caucasian, and wears sunglasses, a brown t-shirt, black shorts, dark running shoes and a an orthotic leg brace on his right leg.  He is bald with gray and white hair.
Michael

Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I was born with Sturge Webber Syndrome. I had operation when I was three years old that removed the region of brain where seizures were coming from. Since that time my right hand and foot has not worked and I have no right side peripheral vision. I have been on disability assistance since I was 19 years old. I got a job with Mission Possible in 2016 and have been employed ever since.

Before I got my current job I had a very hard time making ends meet. I had a very hard time finding a place to live, I rarely paid my bills on time, and I depended on money from members of my family to feed my self. I have had a very hard time finding any kind of employment up until recently. When I was in my twenties I decided to go back to school because of this. I have a university degree but my job has nothing to do with it. The medical coverage offered by the government works for my needs, prescriptions are covered, they pay for eye glasses every three years and orthotics like leg braces are paid for. The one complaint I would have is the inadequate dental coverage.

It has been my experience that many landlords do not consider disability assistance a valid source of income. In the past few years it has been an uphill battle to find any place to go when I have had to move. Another part is the ridiculously low amount the government provides people to live on. I am tired of living very close to high crime areas because that is the only option available to me. I want to live like an adult in housing situation of my choice, to have a wife or not without fear of being punished* for doing something that is clearly looked down on by the people to write the rules.

If you succeed, your reward is being put back into the same situation. I think that the government is far too fast acting when it comes to reducing income assistance payments. I think Disabilty Assistance should not be an connected the same ministry as IA (Income Assistance).

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

I would like to see all people with disabilities be able to participate fully in society. I would like to see everyone who is able to work have a job. I would like the province to not punish clients or their income support programs for people with disabilities for being successful. For those who are not capable of holding down a job, they should have enough to live comfortably in the home of their choice.

Likes / Loves:

I grew up with cats in the house. My favorite colour is green. I love hockey and baseball. I am always walking.

* People with disabilities who are married or live in common law relationships lose out financially. Two adults with disabilities who are married or common law have their benefit combined, losing $113.78 from the benefit and $180 from the shelter allowance.

Matthew

Digital painting of Matthew's face and shoulders. Matthew is a middle aged Cuacasian man with dark hair. He is wearing a bucket hat and hoodie in shades of navy blue, as well as glasses, and is smiling at the viewer. The background is decorative in reds and pinks.
Matthew
Please share about yourself, your experience with the Disability Assistance Benefit, and anything else you would like people to know.

I’m located in downtown Victoria, living in a 2 bedroom apartment with a wonderful lady who also has a disability and became my wife (even though my family disapproved and refused to attend the wedding). My initial disability is Epilepsy, but it got treated with Brain Surgery which stopped the seizures, enabling me to get a driver’s license. In 2010, I acquired a new disability. . . dropfoot in my left leg, but I can still drive. I just had to give up things that require two legs that work properly.

Before I turned legal age, my Parents and my Doctors all made the decision that I belong in a Care Home for people with Disabilities. Being under legal age at the time, they didn’t need my consent for any of it. I even got sterilized (so that I’m unable to be a dad) as my parents agreed with the doctors that’s what’s best for me. I got classed Unemployable and got put on Disability Income the moment I turned 18. When I graduated High School (1982) I got placed in the Long Term Care Home everyone had decided was best for me. The care home knew how much I was getting, so they made sure to charge me that exact amount in Rent, leaving me with nothing. Each time the cheques went up a bit, residents were notified that the cost of rent is going up a bit too.

 At age 24, I had my first of two Brain Surgeries, which reduced my seizures from 3 or 4 a day down to weekly, then monthly. Since I took a lot of Cooking Classes in School and worked in the School Cafeteria, I got moved to a Group Home where each Resident had a turn at preparing the meals for a whole week, then it was someone else’s turn. Two years later, I was free of seizures and took Driving Lessons without my Parents knowing. Two more years went by and I took an Independent living Program that would get me living in an apartment on my own, once again without my Family knowing. 

They were not happy as they had gone through lots of work to get me into that Care Home, and wanted me to stay there for the rest of my life, just in case something bad happens to me. I joined a Church and met a man who had a basement suite for rent. He let me have it for half the amount I get on Disability Income, so I could use the other half for food, a phone line, hydro, etc. 

Life went well until I got hit my another vehicle from behind, and pushed out into traffic.  Both of my legs and arms were broken and had metal plates put in, and a few chunks of my spine had to be put back in place and wired together. But I lost the use of my left leg from the knee down and it didn’t return. So I was starting over with another disability, but this time requiring mobility aids like knee braces, a back brace, a wheelchair, a walker, crutches, and poles installed inside my apartment. 

Unfortunately I did not get an Insurance payment from the accident in money, because I’m on Disability, or the Government would have seized it. Instead, ICBC will cover the cost of any Medical Services that a Doctor says I need. They paid for a power wheelchair, a homecare worker to treat my wounds, and physiotherapy.

During that time of healing I met a wonderful lady on a dating site. A year later, we decided to try living together! I found an apartment building where the Landlord let me have an apartment for less because I’m on Disability Income. At Christmas, in front of everybody at Christmas Dinner, I asked my girlfriend to marry me, and she accepted! 

My wife also has medical problems and PWD status, so our disability payments were combined, raising the amount we get to feed two mouths, not just one. We have each other and that’s all we really need, although it would be nice to have some friends to hang out with. People who don’t judge us on our financial status, and don’t try and convince us to buy expensive clothes if we want to fit in.

Financial hardship is a big challenge, so much that I look online for surveys that pay people to participate.  I tried a number of websites that promise you’ll get paid for every survey completed, but there’s always a catch to it… after spending half an hour answering loads of questions, it asks where I’m from, and when I give my address, it tells me I don’t qualify.

But the biggest challenge is when I was called in to have my Disability income case updated, and they’re now cutting my monthly cheques down.  All because of my wife’s former husband, who has now retired.  I don’t know how it works, but even though she’s married to me, she gets a portion of his retirement money ($500) and the Government is deducting that from our disability income, dollar for dollar.

Having $300 on top due to COVID helped, but it still makes it hard to pay rent and bills, then divide up the rest by four weeks to see how much we can spend on food this month.  Before this big reduction, we were getting by with just under $80 a week.  Now it’s HALF that!  On TOP of that, the COVID is now being cut in half to $150 per month, and then March is the Last One!

Looks like we’ll have to go back to the Mustard Seed Food Bank, or the Salvation Army for Food.  In the Summer, there are programs where Farmers donate their produce, creating grocery bags with an assortment of fresh produce, handed out to people in need.  But like I said, that’s only in the Summer (July, August, September).

As for medical costs, I try to avoid seeing my Doctor as much as possible, as he’ll prescribe something that is not covered, costing me about $50 or $60.  Avoiding things like that helps to save money and store it in a secret spot at my place.  Every month when a new deposit is made (Disability Income) I withdraw what was left before the deposit and add it to the box.  Usually it’s under $20.

I used to participate in the Special Olympics, but had to quit that, as the prices for each sport kept going up, and then there were uniforms and sports equipment of your own that you had to purchase to be on that team.  For example, to go curling you need a team shirt, team jacket, team track pants, curling shoes, and a curling broom.  There are so many things I would like to do again, but it costs too much now!

Instead, I enjoyed using the recreation pass to go swimming for free, or go use a fitness gym, but none of that’s available now.

Every once in a while, my Mom will give us some money for activities she knows I enjoy like a pass to the museum, or tourist attractions if I go and visit her enough.  My Dad died two years ago, and she’s lonely (understandable).  She’s afraid of giving us any more, because she doesn’t want us to get in trouble and have more money taken off our Disability Income.  She prefers to support us by getting us things we really need, like a new pair of shoes.  

As for the apartment we’re in, I moved in here in 2010, and by getting such a good deal, I wouldn’t be surprised if we stayed here for another ten years. Out of pure interest, I’ve looked at other apartment rentals online, and they’re so expensive!  my Rent is $1250, but so many places downtown are $2000 and up!

I keep looking online for Jobs, but they all want fully trained and licensed people with many years of experience.  Even volunteers need certain talents or skills (example: able to type 50 words per minute).  So I look at places that help people find jobs, only to find out there’s an age limit of 18 to 35.  I’m 58 and never had a real job except working in a gift shop 2 years ago, but only 1 day a week (Sundays) so the owner could go to Church.  But my wheelchair got in the way of customers, so I got replaced.

I’m sorry how each paragraph always ends on a bad note.  Sure, I wish I could do something, or have something, but I’m forced to return to reality…. I can’t, and I have to accept it.  I can’t afford food sometimes, and I have to accept it.  I tried going to “Our Place” downtown for a free dinner, and had my back pack stolen off the back of my wheelchair, just by waiting in line. 

I think being “Low Income” has changed me into a Boring Individual, for instead of going places or doing things  simply because others are doing it, I have to look at the price tags, and ask myself if I really need that, because everything I pay for, takes a meal or two out of my kitchen.  Thank God for Kraft Dinner!

I really hope this extra $300 does NOT stop.  I’ve seen lots of sites where people are saying we need it to continue, but I have doubts on whether the government cares.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

 Public Awareness and Support around Employment. You can’t just tell people with Disabilities to get a Job, if you’re not willing to hire one!

Before my accident, I did a lot of performing on stage in a Men’s Barbershop Quartet which was lots of fun. But after the car accident that put me in a wheelchair for a long time, I got replaced. I ended up being the Full Time Director of a Men’s Choir, and I loved it! 

I just wish this was a paid Job! Being on Disability, you’re allowed to earn a certain amount on top of your monthly cheque, but the hardest part is finding someone willing to hire a person with a disability! I’ve applied to many places, and they’ve all told me things like… “We want to Draw Customers IN… Not Drive them AWAY!!!” (branch of Starbucks)

Take the Challenge…. Go into ANY large shopping mall, and see if you can find ONE store that has hired someone with a disability to work there! You’d think shopping malls would be the perfect place for people in wheelchairs as the stores don’t have doors to open, or stairs to climb. But store owners still prefer to hire Young Skinny Good Looking Ladies.

Ask every Store Owner if they have someone with a Disability in their company, and if they don’t, ask them why!

Likes / Loves:

Bright Flouresent Colors, Tie Dye Shirts, The old Boston Pops Music, Boating, Golf + Curling as they’re non violent sports (no body checking)

Anonymous

Please share what you would like people to know about your experience accessing or relying on the Disability Assistance Benefit.

It’s not enough money to survive. Also, if you’re working, you can’t make enough money to survive legally. I have to do sex work to pay for my medical marijuana because it’s the only medication that works and it’s not covered. I can’t claim my sex work income for taxes or I will be cut off disability and lose my housing.

 I can’t afford to move out of social housing because disability doesn’t give me enough to pay for a decent apartment and take care of my expenses. I have lived in the same sro for 4 years. I have no hot water. I can’t find housing I can afford unless it’s social housing. I’m sick of being sober and being surrounded by drug users.

What do you dream support for people with disabilities could look like?

 I wish people with disabilities would be able to work as much as their disability permits with no income cap. I wish we were given enough money to pay for basics like food and medicine. I wish we were given enough money to last a month, not just a week and a bit. I wish we were given more money for housing, not just $375. I wish all medications, including medical marijuana, were free.

BC residents with disabilities have also been invited to share their experiences in a web only component of the project. This is one of those entries.