Thank you for reaching out with these questions and engaging your membership in the important decision of choosing the next group of MLAs’ to lead our Territory. I took some time with these questions and even had some conversations with friends and constituents. I have also had my own experience with hidden disabilities.
I realize we still have a long way to go to ensure that people with disabilities aren’t just in our communities but are a part of our communities. We have a real crisis of inequality and access and frankly we haven’t been very creative or collaborative in changing that.
1)What do you think are the key barriers facing people with disabilities in the NWT?
Key barriers facing people with disabilities in the north include physical barriers that prevent access to the same activities and services as others:
• Ramps, elevators, accessible washrooms
• Public transportation
• Poorly maintained sidewalks or no sidewalks (in communities)
• Hilly, rocky terrain in communities which means no access to the outdoors or on-the-land activities
There are also social barriers, which are less obvious but have the same impact. Their social world is shrunk down to close family and care givers.
2) How have you engaged with people with disabilities in your campaign? What steps have you taken to make your campaign more accessible? Do you have a campaign office and is it accessible?
I make an effort to reach out to people with disabilities by going to events specifically focused on the issues. For example, I went to the FASD awareness event. FASD is a very complicated disability with many implications for our territory. I don’t have a campaign office and I use tools like social media and ads which I hope are reaching people and they feel they can come to me with specific problems.
3) Are you familiar with the Disability Action Plan released by the 18th Assembly? What are your priority items for this plan? How do you plan advocating for these items?
I am very familiar with the Disabilities Action Plan from the 18th assembly. I think we did a good job of setting goals within a GNWT mandate such as addressing poverty and building awareness. We focused on laws and service delivery in the setting of the goals but the reality is that we need inclusion on a deeper level than just what GNWT can do. We need organizations, communities and individuals to see this as their issue too.
We need to make stronger social networks with people who are not staff or family members. We need to ensure access to the same services across the board. People with disabilities need a valued role in our communities and organization. We need to recognize individuals as competent and contributing to broader goals. I think, just like all of us they need this to build their confidence, adds to their mental health.
For all of us, it lessens negative attitudes, breaks down stereotypes, stigma and discrimination. Making these types of changes through partnerships and dialogue helps us achieve the bigger goals of combating poverty, unemployment, and healthcare access issues.
In my role, I would try to build relationships that would help us do that. We need to be working hard to move EVERYONE a little along the continuum. We need to make sure that whole communities are participating in accommodation, transportation and advocacy, organizations changing the culture of their workplaces, schools and mission statements. So, people with disabilities take part in many activities in many settings and they can be as involved or as separate as they want.
4) Are you familiar with the extended health benefits programs operating in the NWT? Are you committed to eliminating discrimination from the Specified Disease Conditions Program and introducing comprehensive supplementary health insurance for low income residents?
I know that there are many issues with EHBP and equity. I am committed to removing systemic barriers to health equity and access across the board. This is going to take time and the help of organizations like yours that raise issues of access and may have some solutions that we will need to look at and consider.
5) Are you committed to repatriating people with disabilities who are from the NWT back to their home communities/regions who have been sent out of territory for care? How will you work to increase the services and supports available to people with disabilities in the NWT to ensure that all residents are able to live with their own families and within their own communities?
Lack of access to medically necessary services in Yellowknife and the surrounding communities means that people have to make life-changing decisions to access care. They have to move to Yellowknife or Edmonton or place our children, sisters, brothers, parents in long-term care or guardianship so they can get the services they need on a reliable basis. This is a current reality for many who live in the north. I think, as a health system, we need to understand from a client perspective what the impacts of this are and do what we can to ensure people are cared for safely and with the right supports in place to minimize the impact on their lives.
6) How do you plan to engage with the needs of people with disabilities in your constituency if you were to be elected? How do you plan to ensure that policies and programs implemented by the 19th Assembly are accessible to all NWT residents?
I think it would be important to ensure that all new policies and programs should be looked at through the lens of “How does this impact on people with disabilities?” We need to have a common list of considerations even when policies and programs don’t seem to be relevant to people with disabilities. If we aren’t using that lens we can miss things and sometimes create policies that have unintended consequences for people with disabilities.