How do we measure the value of an included person?

The four members of The United Church of Canada delegation to the 9th Annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion.
The United Church of Canada delegation to the 9th Annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion in December 2018. From left to right: Kristopher Tavella, Cameron Watts, Adele Halliday, and Colin Phillips.
Credit: Courtesy of Adele Halliday

How do we measure whether inclusion has been achieved? This was the question posed to the attendees of the 9th Annual Federal Policy Forum on Inclusion on December 3, 2018 in Ottawa. I was a privileged attendee as a representative of The United Church of Canada, along with others: people with disabilities, families, workers, advocates, and policy developers.

As noted by the Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL), which sponsored the event, our country is “currently involved in several exciting initiatives with the potential to significantly impact the lives of individuals with a disability positively.” The CACL cites three policies that are critical to the inclusion of people with disabilities:  the proposed Accessible Canada Act, Canada’s Poverty Reduction Strategy, and Canada’s National Housing Strategy. The practical outcomes of such policies tend to go unmeasured, making it difficult to determine their impact. This year’s forum asked if proposed solutions are translating into real inclusion based on, and informed by, the lived experiences of people with disabilities. The theme was “What Gets Measured Gets Done.”

As Christians, I believe it’s our task to echo the question implicitly posed early in the day: “How do we measure the value of an included person?”

Consisting of a series of panel discussions, the day was a study in contrasts, from the optimism of setting policy to the disheartening realization that some perspectives were missing.

The issue of affordable housing for people with disabilities was an example of optimism. The federal government has a goal of everyone in Canada having a home by 2030, and that it cost no more than 30 percent of their net income to live in that home. To that end, it announced it would build up to 60,000 new units, refurbish and repair up to 240,000 existing units, and build 2,500 new units devoted to independent living for those with developmental disabilities. But we were also told, based on the 2017 Canadian Survey of Disability, that 22 percent of Canadians aged 15 years and older live with a disability. Less than one percent of the proposed units seems meagre.

Other challenges emerged as we learned about poverty reduction. For example, how do we redefine what is called the “Market Basket,” a concept for measuring what it costs to live somewhere above or below the poverty line? There is hope that this concept will take into account the differences between the cost of living in rural and urban areas. What does that basket represent in Toronto, where it now requires $80,000 in annual income to enter the housing market, according to one presenter? What does it represent across the wider Toronto area, where the average cost of a one-bedroom apartment, according to another, is $1,200 a month?

There also was no mention of what the Market Basket concept means for Indigenous people living on reserves across the country. You have to dig into the federal website on poverty reduction to find out that Canadian government agencies are in conversation with Indigenous communities to determine the cost of their living requirements. Their “basket” has yet to be defined. Clear challenges and shortcomings remain to be addressed.

I attended the forum not as an expert but as a United Church minister looking for ways to enhance the lives of people in our faith communities. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on the difference between compliance-based regulations like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the indicators that we are making a difference in people’s lives. Do we tick boxes or see people?

And, I appreciated the reminder that home, for better or worse, is part of our identity. “Foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Matthew 8:20). Too many Canadians with disabilities are at risk of also having nowhere to lay their heads.

—Cameron Watts is the minister at Forest Grove United Church in North York and Co-Chair of Faith in the City in Toronto. This piece will also appear in the upcoming Spring 2019 edition of Mandate.

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