Living with a disability has its challenges. While things are slowly getting better, for the most part, our communities were designed without accommodations in mind. Even with some building code and common design changes, there are still ‘structural’ impediments preventing people with disabilities to live independent and fulfilling lives.
One of these barriers is not physical at all, but rather a policy barrier. Most provinces and states in North America have disability support programs; income supports, that provide people with a disability with some basic and minimal form of financial welfare.
These income support programs, such as Ontario’s Disability Support Program (ODSP) use a two part test for eligibility:
- First, an Applicant must demonstrate that they have a long term disability impairing them from regular employment. This usually involves a supporting opinion from the Applicant’s physician;
- Second, the Applicant must demonstrate financial need based upon their income and assets.
It is with the second test where our communities are off-track. Within these financial tests, programs like ODSP also consider the disabled person’s spouse’s income and assets. Seem fair? Not really!
In the late 1800s, the United States, Canada and every other Western jurisdiction has passed a version of the “Married Women’s Property Act”. This was hard fought human and civil rights legislation that established that spouses are independent people; particularly, a wife was able to conduct her business without the permission of her husband, and husbands were not responsible for the debts of their wives. Today, for all other purposes, spouses (wives, husbands and same-sex spouses alike) are independent people for the purposes of contracting, bankruptcy, credit, privacy and all other aspects of their lives. Some jurisdictions have special rules upon divorce or for the matrimonial home – but income and assets are otherwise separate. Except if one of the spouses has a disability!
For spouses with a disability, their legal independence is removed. These welfare programs deprive disabled people of their independence, dignity and self-worth. If a spouse is, or becomes disabled and has no other income source they will not receive financial support from the state unless they are single. They become completely dependent upon their spouse for all of their support.
Such scenarios place these relationships under stress, leading to higher risk of separation, divorce and even abuse. European countries are providing their citizens with disabilities with a basic level of income support regardless of a spouses’ income. This insures that a person with a disability maintains a basic level of freedom, independence and autonomy.
In Ontario, Canada several disabled spouses who have had their disability support from ODSP reduced or cut-off because of their spouses’ income are challenging this practice through the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. They have retained lawyer, Eric Letts. As a human rights lawyer and Director of the Fair Parenting Project (http://www.Fairparenting.com) Letts has experience advocating against family status and marital status human rights abuses.
Further information about the court challenge is available from http://LettsLaw.ca.