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Vital People: Disability society receives funding for case worker

The organization has about 400 clients and receives thousands of calls for assistance every year in British Columbia.
Paisley Pelletier, left, a case manager for the B.C. Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, works with client Sharon Borg. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

The British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society, the only Indigenous disability organization of its kind in Canada, has hired a case worker to serve the capital region thanks to funding from the Victoria Foundation.

The internationally recognized and award-winning national organization has been meeting the needs of clients with mental and physical disabilities for 32 years.

“Working with the Victoria Foundation has been incredibly easy,” said Neil Belanger, CEO of British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society. “They were flexible and understanding of our needs. We were able to use the funds to add a new case manager, freeing up time for the current case managers.”

The organization has about 400 clients and receives thousands of calls for assistance every year in British Columbia. While some cases can be closed in a few months, complex cases can take years to come to a successful resolution.

“We take a holistic approach to their health and disability-related needs,” Belanger said. “We work collaboratively with other agencies to ensure clients get the help they need.”

The organization is based in Victoria but serves a national audience, which include Inuit, Métis and First Nations people.

In the last census, Indigenous people make up 4.9 per cent of the Canadian population. According to a Statistics Canada survey in 2017, close to one in three First Nations people living off reserve, 30 per cent of Métis and 19 per cent of Inuit had one or more disabilities that limited them in their daily activities. By comparison, the disability rate was 22 per cent in the non-Indigenous population.

Belanger noted that the Statistics Canada disability numbers are likely on the low side, as the survey only sampled the urban Indigenous populations. He estimates the number would be closer to 35 per cent if the survey had counted people in smaller bands or more remote communities.

He noted that his organization deals with clients still coping with the historical trauma of colonization — struggling from the experience of being forcibly taken from their families and placed in residential schools.

People with disabilities can find access to programs and services easier in urban areas. It can be more of a challenge to deliver some services, such as home care, in more rural communities.

Another constant challenge is funding.

“Many times, we will find a program suitable for a client only to discover that it has been oversubscribed and there is no money left,” said Belanger. “It’s frustrating.”

Funding levels for accessibility programs vary by community. While First Nations do the best they can to improve accessibility in their communities, resources are stretched thin dealing with a multitude of priorities.

Although he credited British Columbia as the leader in relation to moving disability issues forward in Canada, Belanger said “much more work needs to be done”.

To be able to afford to deliver programs and services to their clients, the society forges alliances with partners in the community, such as the Victoria Foundation, to ensure that they get the necessary funding.

“Funding programs can help address inequities — and help change lives.”

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