Roundtable on Social and Economic Inclusion: Views of Canadian Seniors

March was a busy time for CCD and for me personally. The end of the month, I was in Ottawa for three separate meetings: Seniors roundtable with Minister Duclos; an engagement 2 day session in preparation for Canada’s 3rd Universal Periodic Review (UPR3); and wrap up meetings with Alliance project and other organizations that conducted consultations regarding the upcoming Accessibility Legislation. On a personal note, as many of you have been following my PhD progress, I completed the requirements to meet PhD candidacy. This means that shortly will begin conducting interviews for my dissertation research—very exciting times! Below is an update on some of the activities in Gatineau and Ottawa including some information about procedures for two upcoming significant events for the disability community and human rights.  Over the coming days, CCD will provide a series of blogs on the events we have been attending. 

Roundtable on Social and Economic Inclusion: Views of Canadian Seniors

A number of experts and government met in Gatineau, Monday, March 26, 2018 with The Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Families, Children and Social Development for a roundtable on the social and economic inclusion of seniors. There were three presentations as an introductory panel to set the tone of the day. Panelists were: Ilyan Ferrer, Assistant Professor, University of Calgary; Dr. Norah Keating, University of Alberta; and Nora Spinks, Chief Executive Officer, Vanier Institute of the Family. Attendees at the roundtable were mostly professionals and academics. I was the only representative from the disability community at the event.

There were many important issues that I drew attention to during the day. One was the importance of a disability lens for policy and programs affecting seniors in Canada. Of particular importance, there are differences in the needs of disabled Canadians who are aging compared to aging Canadians who are becoming disabled. The needs of our community members are often quite different than those who experience disability as part of the aging process. Of note, I asked government to be aware that often people living with disabilities throughout their life experience the effects of aging 20-30 years earlier than non-disabled Canadians. In part, this is due to the impact of life-long poverty, however, to some extent this is also reflective of our disabilities, and of our access (or lack of access) to appropriate healthcare and services throughout our lifespan. We respectfully ask the government to consider this in creating flexibility in age criteria for accessing programming for seniors.

A few other issues that I drew attention to included:

The impact of poverty and underemployment on our access to retirement savings

• In Canada, to have a disability means you will likely live in poverty. Equally true, living in poverty increases the incidence of disability. It is a vicious cycle and one that must be changed.  CCD had a 5 year research grant, called Disabling Poverty, Enabling Citizenship, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Council to investigate how to break this cycle. The results were published in a downloadable e-book.  (Available at (

• Due to the impact of various barriers some people with disabilities, as compared with their nondisabled contemporaries, have less participation in the labour market, where they may contribute to some form of retirement pension program.  Thus, the concept of a basic income program has found some support in the disability community. 

• Seniors with disabilities, along with single women who live alone, Aboriginal seniors, immigrant seniors, gay and lesbian seniors experience higher than average levels of poverty and Statistics Canada data on the poverty of these groups is not readily available (Ivanova).

• Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefit – At age 65, the Disability Benefit is converted to the Retirement Benefit. When this occurs, recipients experience a reduction in the amount of income they receive. People who have disabilities have extra costs related to their disabilities. (CCD) (The extra cost of disability: the money a person with a disability has to pay to be able to enjoy the same standard of living as a person without disabilities. (Dumais))  The extra costs of disability do not disappear when a person reaches 65. (CCD) CPPD recipients whose benefit has been converted to the retirement benefit just have less money with which to meet these costs.

• Due to lack of income, people with disabilities have to make hard choices. Statistics Canada informs us that 4 in 5 persons with disabilities report using at least one aid or device. Cost was the most common reason respondents identified for not having aids and devices.

I made a point to discuss with Minister Duclos the impact of certain models of understanding disability. In particular, how the charity and medical model affect our dignity in accessing services and equipment. Many people who require equipment are made to jump through the hoops of government partial funding and then charity groups in order to access items we require to participate in economic and social opportunities. I challenged the government to consider a human rights approach to policy and program development.
It is important for government to also reflect on the importance of appropriate funding for caregiver services and for robustly funded palliative care for individuals with disabilities who are aging. Too often, we hear of individuals who are pressured to consider accessing the Medical Aid in Dying (MAiD) legislation. I referred the Minister to a recent article by Ing Wong Ward [] for a beautifully articulated reflection on end of life care. We are concerned that the lives of people with disabilities are less valued and do not want people to feel pressured to end their lives early because they do not have access to appropriate care, and may feel that they are a burden on their families and friends.

There were so many issues of concern discussed in which I attempted to draw attention to with a disability lens including: housing, safety, employment, food security, health, transportation, and attitudinal barriers.

A few final points I made were related to language and assumptions about relationships. The government often uses terms like independent/dependent—I encouraged them to consider instead thinking about the term interdependent as a better measure of people’s experiences.  When we were discussing violence and aging, the term intimate partner violence came up, again, I encouraged the government to consider using the terminology of “interpersonal violence” which better reflects the experiences of disabled individuals who may experience violence from family members, caregivers, or service providers as well as from partners.

Finally, I suggested that the government needs to consult more broadly with consumers on issues. Experts and researchers are important, but for a better understanding of the issues of any group, diverse members of that group must be consulted to understand the issues being experienced on the ground. Consulting only service providers and expert researchers suggests a paternalistic approach to the needs of a vibrant and vocal group. Nothing about Us Without Us!

Sources and References:

Baker, D. Cross, G. Establishing the Right to Palliative Care in Canada.
Canadian Association of the Deaf. 2015. Seniors.
Ivanova, Iglika. 2015. Poverty and Inequality among Seniors. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives – BC Office.
Council of Canadians with Disabilities. 2003. “Canada Pension Plan Disability Benefits.”
Council of Canadians with Disabilities. 2007. From Vision to Action: Building An Inclusive and Accessible Canada: A National Action Plan.
Dumais, Lucie, et. al. 2015. “Extra Costs of Disability.”
Echenberg, Havi. 2012. Canada’s Aging Population and Public Policy: The Effects on Community Planning.
Government of Canada.  2016. “Age Friendly Workplaces: Promoting Older Worker Participation,”
Government of Canada. 2016. “Plan Your Future Today; Live the Life You Want Tomorrow.”
National Advisory Council on Aging. 2004. Seniors on the Margins: Aging with a Developmental Disability.
Ontario Human Rights Commission. 2000. “Discrimination and Age: Human Rights Issues Facing Older Persons in Ontario.
Statistics Canada. 2012. A profile of persons with disabilities among Canadians aged 15 years or older, 2012.
Statistics Canada. 2017. “Infographic Canadian Survey on Disability.”