"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

~ Niccolo Machiavelli, historian and writer

Saturday, September 26, 2009

'Shaking My Head'

Six months ago, I opened a Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) for my oldest daughter.

Deposited the amount ($1,500) that would garner the highest government contributions for the year. It's not like I would be able to deposit that much (or necessarily any) ever year but while I had access to the funds it seemed like a good idea. Sure, there were a few problems with the process at the time but I still felt like I had make a good choice.

Yesterday I went back to the Royal Bank to open a second RDSP for my youngest daughter. Which reminds me, as a side note, don't ever let anyone tell you that an individual with 'just' a learning disability will not be eligible for the Disability Tax Credit. Not only are they eligible but I have the living proof in my own home.

Dealing with the same sales rep as previously, we got to chatting. I suggested that he should be a pro at opening RDSPs by now. And was very surprised when he told me that he had only opened one more after mine (which was his first).

Six months and he had only opened one other RDSP?

So we chatted some more. Guardianship (and the cost of obtaining same) was definitely an issue for some of those whom he had talked to. I can certainly understand that. Some have real philosophical objections to the issue. Others simply can't afford the cost of hiring a lawyer. Those are legitimate issues. Ones which I hope to see progress on in the near future.

As a matter of a fact, I know of one family locally who is preceding with a guardianship application on their own. Well, not entirely on their own. With a little bit of help from their friends. It always helps to have precedents to work off. Still, it will be interesting to see how well it works for them.

I am pretty sure that judges are not use to see individuals applying for guardianship appearing on their own. Without legal counsel. Oh, the travesty. Hopefully, it will open the door to others taking the same course. I will let you know how they make out, if that's okay with them.

But back to my story. A little later, I asked the sales rep if he could tell me the current balance in my oldest daughter's RDSP. The one I had opened and made a one-time deposit of $1,500 in last February.

Would you believe it was over $6,000?

Not a bad return on investment for $1,500 deposited 6 months ago. I deposited the same amount ($1,500) in my youngest daughter's RDSP yesterday. And now I will sit back and watch it grow.

So here I sit shaking my head. Other than the guardianship issue, I honestly don't understand why more people aren't making use of the RDSP.

Hello! We're talking free money here, people. If the federal government is willing to thrown free money at my child, who am I to refuse?

PLAN put a lot of time, effort and hard work into having the RDSP move from a good idea in someone's head, through the political and legislative process, to become reality. And yet my sense is that (for some reason I cannot fully comprehend) a lot of people are not making use this incredible opportunity.

What? Is there anything more you need to know?

*Walks away, shaking head*

Monday, September 21, 2009

Response to Gov't Throne Speech

Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities

Nova Scotia Speech from the Throne Disappoints Disability Advocates

The NDP Government’s Speech from the Throne last Thursday is disappointing for disability advocates and consumers. Government priorities indicate a commitment to inclusion and to leadership in social change. It promises to protect Nova Scotia’s most vulnerable and to recognize its citizen’s intrinsic value and the richness they bring to caring and compassionate communities. Unfortunately, with all the discussion of inclusion, diversity, and social change, there is not one mention of persons with disabilities in this speech.

“This is gravely disappointing because being left out of discussions that speak to making life better for the citizens of Nova Scotia is what persons with disabilities have become accustomed to in this province. Unfortunately, this speech does not point to the change in approach to disability issues we had hoped for in an NDP Government”, says Cynthia Bruce, Provincial Coordinator of the Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities (NSLEO). When considered in conjunction with the government’s response to the recently reported cases of abuse in Pictou County, it is even more disturbing. It indicates that the rights and well being of Nova Scotia’s 200,000 citizens with disabilities are not a priority for this government.

NSLEO Chair, Joan Levack says, "We strongly urge Darrel Dexter and his Cabinet to listen to the disability community and commit to the swift development and implementation of a disability strategy which will recognize the intrinsic value of persons with disabilities and which will guarantee flexible and individualized supports within a responsive and progressive system". With at least half of Nova Scotia’s families being affected in some way by disability, this is the only way to ensure this government provides a better deal for these Nova Scotia families. NSLEO looks forward to working collaboratively with this new government in a solution focused approach to ensuring this better deal, and we urge this government to engage the considerable leadership potential of the disability community in this process.

For further comment, please contact:
Cynthia Bruce, Provincial Coordinator
Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities
902-679-9147
leocoordinator@eastlink.ca
Joan Levack, Chair
Nova Scotia League for Equal Opportunities
902-538-0110
jlevack@ns.sympatico.ca

Personally, I would be willing to cut our new NDP government a bit more slack. It's still very early in the game and although I might just be naive (and a tiny bit desperate), I have to believe (at least for now) that the NDP will come through for us. At least, in part.

BUT. And this is a very big BUT, I think it's imperative that the disability community (that's us, by the way) get out there and make sure they hear our concerns. Again. Remind them about why we elected them. And what needs to be done.

Whether it's with regard to education, community services or some other issue. I see this as a prime time (indeed, what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity) to get our voices heard by someone who may actually listen.

We made history once. Now we need to make it again.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Re-opening Pandora's Box

You might recall our previous discussion around the Protection of Persons in Care Act. Initially passed in 2004, the Act did not come into force until October, 2007.

Across the province, 1,625 residents with developmental disabilities are housed at licensed group homes and residential centres that are covered by the Act; apparently, one of the highest per capita rates in Canada.

And since it's passage, we have been hearing reports about investigations following complaints.

The most recent being the nineteen cases of abuse confirmed at the adult residential care centre located in Riverton, Nova Scotia.
The list of founded abuse cases at Riverview — which means an incident is accepted as having happened — includes four instances where staff physically harmed residents.

The 89-year-old centre houses about 100 residents with varying mental disabilities, including Down syndrome and long-term mental illness, with some residents sharing rooms and living in what are called "secure units." It also includes several smaller detached homes.

The cases of abuse were investigated under the Protection of Persons in Care Act, which defines physical abuse as actions "resulting in pain, discomfort or injury, including slapping, hitting, beating, burning, rough handling, tying up or binding."
The Riverview situation involved two founded cases of neglect by staff, defined as failure to provide adequate care; two cases of emotional abuse by staff, defined as "causing emotional harm," by actions such as intimidation or humiliation; and eleven cases were of residents abusing other residents, with 10 of those listed as instances of "non-consensual" sexual contact and one of physical abuse.

Disability groups are, predictably, up in arms.

READ MORE

Friday, September 18, 2009

Rumour Has It ...

Rumour has it that both TD Canada and Scotiabank will soon be offering Registered Disability Savings Plans (RDSPs).

With Royal Bank of Canada, Bank of Montreal, and CIBC all offering RDSPs to their clients, many have wondered when TD Canada Trust and Scotiabank would be offering the plans. According to a number of sources, it sounds like both financial institutions will begin offering RDSPs sometime in the fall of 2009.

With the December 31st deadline for the 2009 Grant and Bond fast approaching, these financial institutions will most likely begin offering the plan well before the deadline to ensure their clients do not miss out on 2009 federal contributions. As soon as TD Canada Trust or Scotiabank officially announce the launch of their products an update will be sent.
Which, I know for a fact, will make some of our regular readers happy.

And, just for the record, let's not forget that December 31st deadline for the 2009 Grant and Bond.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

'The Eating Game' - Free Information Session

Remember that post from last year about The Eating Game?
Jean Nicol, a [former?] resource teacher in the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board (who apparently has a degree in nutrition and has spent 25 years working with autistic children) has has created a meal-planning tool to help autistic children overcome fussy eating habits.

It's called The Eating Game (Get Awesome Meals Everyday).
Well, you might just be intereting in knowing that the Provincial Autism Centre is hosting a free information session by Ms. Nichol on Tuesday, September 29, 2009, at 6:30 p.m. at the Provincial Autism Centre, 1456 Brenton Street, Halifax.
Created to support people with a broad range of eating challenges, The Eating Game is a resource filled with planning tools, food pictures and suggestions for use that support and encourage people in making optimal, healthy food choices.

The Eating Game is being used around the globe, not just by individuals and families, but by Occupational Therapists, Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Speech Therapists, Nutritionists, Early Interventionists, schools, preschools/daycares, Public Health and Group Homes.

Based on Canada's Food Guide, this solid and balanced approach to daily meal planning will leave you wondering what took you so long to start using The Eating Game.

For adolescents or adults who don't need the visual support provided by the food pictures in The Eating Game, the solution might be found using The Eater's Choice Daily Meal Planner.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Never Give Up

Update:
Press Conference

There will be a press conference at 10 a.m. on Friday, September 18th, in the Terrace Room of the Citadel Inn, Brunswick Street, Halifax.

Speakers will include friends, families.advocates and people who are at risk pf being institutionalized because of a label.

All who are concerned are urged to attend.

Mary Rothman
Executive Director
Nova Scotia Association for Community Living

~ ~ ~ ~

These people don't.

Disability Rights Coalition Calls For Immediate Review Of Operations At Outdated Government Funded Institutions: Continued Violations of Rights of Residents Can No Longer Be Tolerated

Halifax, Nova Scotia – September 11, 2009 –The Disability Rights Coalition expresses its outrage and demands the government of Nova Scotia to immediately convene a full, independent review of operations at the Riverview Adult Residential Centre in Riverton, Nova Scotia. This demand is in light of the 19 cases of abuse against residents with intellectual disabilities and mental illness at the Riverview Adult Residential Centre in Riverton, Nova Scotia, and the 22 other reported cases of abuse at other institutions throughout the province as reported in the news earlier this week.
I will likely post more on this topic later but I did want to get this press release out right away. So go ahead and read the rest of it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Spelling Lessons

Update: It's good to see that at least one court gets it.

It struck me that there are some people and businesses out there that obviously require some remedial spelling lessons.

Granted, it's a big word but is it really that hard to comprehend?

A-C-C-O-M-M-O-D-A-T-I-O-N-S

First, two autistic elementary school students had to go to court in Illinois to win the right to bring their service dogs to school with them. And these lawsuits followed others in California and Pennsylvania over the same issue.

For anyone not familiar with service dogs for children with autism, these dogs have been shown to calm the children, ease transitions and even keep the students from running into traffic.

Apparently some schools, however, in all their infinite wisdom, don't "believe" these animals are true "service dogs" — essential to managing a disability — but rather are simply companions that provide comfort.
School districts say they are not discriminating, just drawing the line to protect the safety and health of other students who may be allergic or scared of dogs.
Right.

Not that that's so much of an issue with service dogs for the blind. What about hearing and signal dogs, seizure alert/response dogs and mobility assist dogs that help the physically disabled?

In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (1990) defines a "service animal" as "any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability, including, but not limited to, guiding people with impaired vision, alerting people with impaired hearing to intruders or sounds, providing minimal protection or rescue work, pulling a wheelchair, or fetching dropped items".

If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government. And just to be clear, a service animal is not a pet. The ADA requires businesses to modify any "no pets" policy to allow the use of a service animal by a person with a disability. *

But let's not let that worry us any. After all, it's not like the schools did. Go read this article about how/why schools are challenging autistic children on the issue of bringing their service dogs to school with them. Fortunately, to date, the schools appear to be losing the battle.

* In Canada, the net effect would be the same by virtue of each province's Human Rights Act.

READ MORE

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Perhaps It's Time ...

A column in one of our local (read very local) newspapers last week by Kings West MLA Leo Glavine most definitely grabbed my attention. Unfortunately I can't yet find it online. So I will just have to liberally quote and paraphrase.

Entitled, as are all his columns in this paper, "From Province House to Home", it starts with the observation that "This week, 1300,000 Nova Scotian children return to school", continues by noting that despite the US educational document, "No Child Left Behind", students do, indeed, fall through the cracks and advises that Mr. Glavine has been hearing from "a growing number of educators and parents who think the way inclusion is practiced could be an obstacle for a wide range of students, especially those with cognitive impairments or learning disabilities, from achieving success."

Now if that's not enough to get your attention, I don't know what is.

Mr. Glavine considers the NS Dept of Education's definition of "inclusion"
... an attitude and a value system that promotes the basic right of all students to receive appropriate, quality educational programming and services in the company of their peers
as a good statement, reflecting the attitude of a society that values all individuals, and acknowledges each student in the province deserves a quality education.

And athough Mr. Glavine states that this should be practiced in all classrooms in Nova Scotia, it appears that he believes this is not happening.

Without individual instruction, these students would spend most of their time sitting in a class, failing to understand what is being taught and unable to complete daily tasks and assignments. In the five years as an education critic for my party, I have heard disheartening stories of children with developmental delays or a variety of other cognitive impairments who, in early year, were a year behind in normal progress and, by junior high, were performing two years below grade level. The common denominator: they were not behaviour problems they received no EA or individual support in a constant manner.
Some interesting statements follow:
The courts have made several rulings on this issue: inclusion must be practiced from the perspective of the student. [ED. I beleive he might be referring to the Eaton case with this comment which we discussed here.] To state that inclusion can only be age-related (as in Nova Scotia) is short-sighted. Inclusion should be a secondary goal to learning. To apply inclusion in a manner that limits or prevents attaining educational goals is not what the legislature intended, and would suggest we are putting institutional needs ahead of student needs.
Giving credit where credit is due, there be a fair bit of meat in those comments.

Mr. Glavine ends the column by calling upon the new government and the new Minister of Education, Marilyn More, to work to provide the highest level of special needs education.

It's easy, I suppose, to wax poetic on what should be done when you are not, in fact, a member of the governing party. Just ask the NDP ... I've always thought they've been pretty good at that over the years.

Now don't get me wrong, I most definitely am a fan of the party. At least provincially. But my point is that now that we do have a NDP government provincially, perhaps it's time.

Perhaps it's time to expect more than a little more from our educational system.

Perhaps it's time to demand more than a little more.

Perhaps, for once, we will actually be listened to.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year'

In honour of which we have added a new set of links to the sidebar.

You will find them about halfway down sidebar on the right hand side of the page entitled "Helpful Links - Education". Courtesy of The Nova Scotia Partnership on Respite, Family Health, and Well-Being.

And speaking of heading back to school, while parents of children with special needs may have strong feelings one way or the other (or both) as to whether this really is 'The Most Wonderful Time of the Year', I doubt many will be complaining about the fact that the Nova Scotia government has extended the tuition support program for another year.

Originally set to be a three-year program it was extended to four years. And now five. Do I hear six? Going once, going twice...

If you want to know more about the program [Trust Me. You Do.], check out the Department's website and scroll down the page on this link.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

'All Aboard The Bus' - Some Troubling Thoughts

I put off blogging about this particular issue because, quite frankly, it troubles me. I had hoped that discussing the matter with others in the disability community and taking some time to mull it over myself might help to settle my thoughts, but to no avail.

It started when I stumbled across this story last week - I was completely unaware that Metro Transit had a history of offering blind and visually impaired passengers free passes on the Halifax buses.

Apparently they were about to pull the plug on the practice after receiving "informal complaints from disabled folks who said it wasn’t fair that one group was getting complimentary passes, but not others". Combine the complaints with the fact that some $420,000 in possible revenue was at stake and some feared the die was cast. End of the day, however, Halifax Council, for whatever reason, caved and the free bus passes for the visually impaired continues.

Here's my problem. I really am not sure on which side of this issue I sit, either legally or personally.

Legally, we all know that sec. 15(1) of the Charter prohibits discrimination on the basis of "physical or mental disability". So if free bus passes are given out to the blind but not, for example, to the mentally challenged, aren't those with intellectual disabilities being discriminated against?

And legally, is this really any different than allowing a blind person's support person to travel for free without having a similar policy for individuals with other disabilities?

Actually, despite how it may appear at first blush, I would answer probably not.

If a disabled person is unable to access a mode of public transportation (be it bus, aircraft or taxi) without the assistance of a support person, then to make that person pay two fares to access a system that the rest of the public can access by paying only one fare may well be discriminatory.

And if a public transit provider was to have in place a policy whereby they allowed individuals with one type of disability (ie. blindness) to have a support person travel for free but did not allow those with different disabilities (who also validly needed the services of a support person to access the mode of transit) to do so, I would say they were only helping to pound the nails into their own coffin.

READ MORE