DISABILITY IS ABOUT PEOPLE, NOT POLITICS

My high school history teacher said there would come a time that I’d need to understand politics. And although I know bits and pieces of governmental bodies and systems, I can’t participate in dinner table discussions or understand news articles in a way I always hoped to. I want to learn more.

Now, thanks to Bill C-22, I have a reason to.

In its own words, C-22, called the Canada Disability Benefit Act, is “An Act to reduce poverty and to support the financial security of persons with disabilities by establishing the Canada disability benefit and making a consequential amendment to the Income Tax Act.” In plain words, this is what disabled Canadians have been fighting for, and even though it’s on the political radar with its second reading earlier this week, no one knows if it will even happen.

I can’t explain the details of C-22. I’m still learning about this myself even as I’m writing about it now. Nonetheless, I felt it was important to speak up, because this is an issue that directly impacts my life as a disabled person, and so many more lives.

Recently, I’ve been researching the statistics regarding blindness in Canada, and I came upon a list of such statistics from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind [CNIB]. Here, they list the numbers of Canadians living with sight loss in each province and territory. If you will, take a look through this list and I’ll see you in a minute.

  • Alberta: 160,000
  • British Columbia: 252,000
  • Manitoba: 57,000
  • New Brunswick: 37,750
  • Newfoundland and Labrador: 21,700
  • Nova Scotia: 49,500
  • Ontario: 681,000
  • Prince Edward island: 6,250
  • Quebec: 205,900
  • Saskatchewan: 43,000
  • Northwest Territories: 1,220
  • Nunavut: 1,280
  • Yukon: 1,400

A significant portion of the population, would you not agree?

However, this list doesn’t account for Canadians living with the myriad of other disabilities, physical, mental, emotional and invisible. Can you imagine what the number is? It’s 22%, or 6.2 million over the age of 15.

That’s almost one quarter of the Canadian population. And what is being done to support those people?

My people.

“Oh but Rhianna, didn’t you get a Covid-19 benefit?”

You mean the $600 one-time payment that we received, when able-bodied, working Canadians received $2,000? Yes, yes we did. Thanks government for covering less than half of my rent for one month.

And let’s not ignore rising costs due to inflation, and the income PWDs [persons with disabilities] receive from the Ministry that don’t account for this, and already keep disabled people below the poverty level. If you want to read a more detailed account of how the Ministry of Social Development and Poverty Reduction handles income for its disabled citizens, particularly after marriage, you might want to check out my four-part series here.

Am I over reacting? Am I making a mountain out of a molehill? [Whatever a molehill is… is it actually a hill where moles live? Someone tell me, I need to know!]

I don’t think so. Please let me offer another perspective from fellow disability advocates regarding C-22, the response from the Canadian government, and the heartbreaking outcry of disabled Canadians who just want to know that they are valued and be treated like equal citizens.
As a disclaimer, yes, I retweeted these posts, but that does not mean I take responsibility for the exact wording or the messages of other tweets on these accounts.

This is not about politics, elections or legalities. It’s about people. And it’s about time we start seeing it that way and treat each citizen like the equal, valuable member of society they are.

A WOMAN SAID SHE WOULD HAVE HAD AN ABORTION IF SHE KNEW HER DAUGHTER WOULD BE BLIND — A MINI MEMOIR

Disclaimer: This story deals with the subject of abortion. There is no explicit or graphic content, but if reading about abortion is difficult or triggering for you, I’d encourage you to think carefully about whether you want to continue reading or choose something else that I’ve written.
This is a true story that happened while I was in my second year of university. By telling this story, I am speaking up for the unborn children whose lives are ended due to disability. I am not seeking to debate or argue, so please leave such comments out of the comment section. Thank you.


My heart pounds and the tears sting my eyes. My partner reaches for me and I collapse into him. The room is quiet as the other pro-life club members look on in stunned silence, watching for my reaction. But I can’t react yet. I can only hold on to my partner for dear life. Life that had unknowingly hung in the balance for a girl just like me.

I meet her on the way to my health class as I crunch the leaves with a childlike joy. Upon seeing my white cane, she says, “I have a blind daughter. Can I ask you a question?”

“Absolutely! I’m Rhianna,” I say, offering her my hand.

“My daughter is only nine now, but I want her to have a good education. Seeing you here, I presume it works, but I don’t know how. Will she be able to do university?” She sounds both hopeful and apprehensive.

I want to hug her. She doesn’t know the ins and outs of post-secondary education with a disability, but who does until they’re faced with it head-on? I’m just so happy that she’s taking the time to find out.

We stand on the sidewalk, students bustling past as I detail my university experience — how I receive electronic textbooks, the accommodations provided for students for disabilities and the support offered by the Disability Resource Center on campus.

“Thank you,” she says, a genuine relief in her voice.

“No problem. Happy to help.” I say, and I run to my kinesiology lecture for which I am now almost late.

An hour later, in the pro-life club meeting, I excitedly relay my conversation with the woman with the blind daughter. “She doesn’t know much about blindness, but she’s determined to learn what she needs to for her daughter,” I say.

It makes me think of my parents, not knowing anything of disability until their four-year-old daughter gets diagnosed with bilateral eye cancer and then all are thrust into this new, unknown world. And with everything new and unfamiliar facing their family, they did the best they could—which was pretty great. I smile. My parents are awesome.

Valerie enters the room with a summary of her conversations around campus about the student body’s perspectives on the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

“I talked to this woman who has a blind daughter,” she says.

“I met her,” I say. “We had such a good conversation.”

“She told me that if she had known her daughter would be blind, she would have had an abortion.”

The silence is like thunder, but it can’t compare to my heart. How can this be? She would have aborted her own daughter? She was so determined to give her daughter a good life, yet she would have had an abortion and taken away that life by choice? And all because she was blind?

My mind starts spinning. Would my parents have aborted me had they known I would be diagnosed with cancer and be blind for the rest of my life? I know in my heart the answer is no, but the thought makes me sick. My parents may not have made that choice, but others have, and still might.

And now, all I want to do is hold this nine-year-old girl and tell her that she is enough, that she’s loved and she will have a good life.

After the semester, I leave the pro-life club, not because my position changed but because I’m not in a place where I’m ready to have these conversations and hear someone’s brutal honesty about people’s perceptions of the value of life, and particularly, disabled lives. Because I know that woman’s view is all too common, and it won’t be the last time I hear the same sentiments.

I just hope that woman’s daughter never has to hear it, especially from her own mother.