NOTE: The following is an op-ed piece from E. Anne MacRae, executive director of the Nova Scotia Disabled Persons Commission.
On Thursday, Aug. 29, Premier Dexter made an announcement of significant interest to Nova Scotians with disabilities and their families.
He described forthcoming changes to the Continuing Care and Services for Persons with Disabilities programs and gave an update on a much larger transformation of the Services for Persons with Disabilities.
In early 2013, government released “Putting People First,” a discussion paper on the need for the programs to work better together to deliver a variety of disability-related supports and services.
Historically, due to their complexity and the uniqueness of individual needs, delivery of these programs has not always met the needs of everyone requiring support. Reform was needed and this spring Nova Scotians with disabilities, their families and care-givers were invited to suggest ways that the programs could deliver a more person-centred service. The resulting advice was released Thursday in a “What We Heard” document that will guide the work of aligning the Continuing Care and Services for Persons with Disabilities programs.
While this work was underway, the department of Community Services set out to totally transform services for persons with disabilities. A committee worked over five months to create a road map to improve the way people with disabilities access government services. The committee was co-chaired by Wendy Lill and Lynn Hartwell, and facilitated by Dr. Michael Bach and Don Gallant from the Institute for Research and Development on Inclusion and Society.
The disability community would be correct in saying (and it has) that government has sought input on these issues before. Input was given and problems persisted that deeply affected the lives of people with disabilities. What is different now?
I think it began with the signing and ratifying of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It marked the first time that “first voices” were so involved in producing such a document. Their mantra was: “nothing about us, without us.” In both of these recent provincial initiatives, government has strived to meet this ideal.
Hundreds of first voices participated in the consultations on Continuing Care and Services for Persons with Disabilities. Within the Services for Persons with Disabilities transformation process, work was led by a community-government committee. The road map we – community and government – created together would be put forward to cabinet for approval. This was not an “us versus them” committee. It was truly a collaborative process of co-creation. It was “nothing about us, without us.”
I was excited by how determined everyone was to get it right. The fact of the matter is many families experiencing disability are at a breaking point. This recent announcement and the immediate actions being taken validate for me that their voices were heard and the urgency of the situation understood.
Across government, departments are seeking to better align their programs and services. This search for efficiencies is an opportunity to address systemic problems that limit the level and quality of service they deliver to those that need them. These opportunities only result in solutions when there is commitment from everyone with a stake in the issues.
Rev. Dr. Moses Coady once said “the first step in the being of anything is the theoretic or the vision of possibilities of the things that might be.” I believe that we’ve seen what’s possible in terms of engagement resulting in positive change and should expect – and be prepared to participate in – more of the same.
The Disabled Persons Commission will continue to seek your assistance and participation to support changes in government to better serve people with disabilities. Please visit http://disability.novascotia.ca to stay informed.