The NWT Disabilities Council is pushing the territory’s new crop of policy-makers to address the unique challenges faced by residents living with disabilities in the North.
Last month, Denise McKee, the council’s executive director, presented three priority action items to six MLAs of the newly-formed 19th Legislative Assembly.
“With the new assembly coming, (the meeting) was meant to present our concerted efforts in these core areas,” said Alannis McKee, director of programs at the NWT Disabilities Council.
The priorities, meant to be concrete and actionable, seek to break social and economic barriers – tied to poverty, discrimination and colonialization – experienced by people with disabilities in the territory.
The action items, crafted by combining regional data with direct input from the disabilities community, said McKee, urge elected officials to boost investments for in-territory residential supports and to end “discriminatory” extended health care practices. The creation of a government-funded, independent oversight position for disability programming in the NWT – there currently isn’t one – is also encouraged.
Concerns surrounding out-of-the-territory residential placements – where persons with disabilities receive long term care, often for decades, away from their communities in southern facilities as part of an agreement between the GNWT and provincial health departments and agencies – are raised in the first priority: “Bringing NWT Residents with Disabilities Home.”
The territorial government currently earmarks $28.5 million for the Residential Southern Placement Program, a budget that’s ballooned nearly 80 percent in seven years, according to the council.
“During this time, (there has been) no investment in the development of in-territory residential supports for persons with disabilities,” reads the council’s press release.
The council wants to see that change over the next four years.
“Eliminating discrimination and improving access to extended health care,” the second action item, can be addressed by lawmakers almost immediately, said McKee, by reforming extended health care benefits to ensure all residents can access the medication and care they need.
Currently, access to extended health care is granted on the basis of “disability-type rather than actual medical need,” a Charter-infringing practice, the council says.
“Access to prescription medication, medical equipment, and medical devices required for the maintenance of one’s disability or chronic health condition should be based on your medical need, not your specific diagnosis,” the priority states.
Despite these persisting challenges, McKee, who, along with the NWT Disabilities Council, works closely with the GNWT on a regular basis, is optimistic elected officials will listen, act and achieve real change over the next four years.
“We’re focusing a lot on intersectionality – looking at issues and their impact, especially on people in small communities, in Indigenous communities; people living in poverty with unique challenges,” said McKee.
While McKee said the MLAs who attended the presentation were receptive to the priorities posed, none have yet to formally committed to undertaking them.
MLAs Katrina Nokleby, Julie Green, Caitlin Cleveland, Rylund Johnson, Frieda Martselos, and Kevin O’Reilly attended the Nov. 4 presentation, which was open to all MLAs.
The council has since distributed the priorities to members not in attendance, said McKee.
By educating oneself, creating awareness and holding MLAs accountable – with a phone call or email – McKee said the public, too, can help to make the identified priorities become realities.
In the NWT, more than one in five residents report a disability, making up 20 per cent of the population.