HUMA Committee Report
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Episodic disabilities are the result of medical conditions or diseases that are prolonged and often lifelong but have unpredictable episodes of illness and disability. These episodes of disability can vary in severity and duration and are often followed by periods of wellness. Examples of chronic conditions and diseases that are episodically disabling include: arthritis, Crohn’s and colitis, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, multiple sclerosis, as well as some forms of cancer and rare diseases. All too often, these conditions have a negative impact on workforce participation and income security.
This report Taking Action: Improving the Lives of Canadians Living with Episodic Disabilities outlines the results of a study by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities (the Committee). The study follows a request contained in Private Members’ Motion 192 proposed by Mr. David Yurdiga (Member of Parliament for Fort McMurray – Cold Lake). MP Yurdiga told the Committee, “In Canada, support for persons with disabilities is built on a binary switch, either you can work or you cannot. However, life with episodic disabilities is not that black and white. Special requirements must be considered for people with episodic disabilities.” His motion asks the Committee to recommend legislative and policy changes to ensure that: 1) the needs of people with episodic disabilities are addressed in government policies that support people with disabilities more broadly, 2) their rights are protected and 3) they have equitable access to relevant programs.
Specifically, the report presents new data and research on episodic disability. It outlines the range of programs and legislation that provide supports, including: Bill C-81, An act to ensure a barrier-free Canada (Accessible Canada Act), Employment Insurance sickness benefits, Canada Pension Plan Disability, the Disability Tax Credit, and others.
The report goes on to explore witness testimony which speaks clearly to the need to expand the understanding of disability presently embedded in the federal government’s programs, policies, services and laws to include episodic experiences. Witness testimony also underscores the desire of people with episodic disabilities to remain active and productive in the labour force while recognizing that they need more support, including income support during periods when their disability prevents them from working.
The final section of the report presents conclusions and the Committee’s recommendations to Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) including recommendations for ESDC to work together with other federal departments and agencies as well as other levels of government to address the challenges facing people with episodic disabilities. Recommendations are organized around supporting labour force attachment, improving income security and working with provincial and territorial governments to further an inclusive understanding of disability that encompasses episodic experiences.