The Quest Regional Rehabilitation Centre in Lower Sackville. Photo: questsociety.ca

A report issued yesterday by the Disability Rights Coalition says there remains “a mismatch” between government rhetoric on providing services to disabled adults and the frustrating reality faced by many families. 

Back in 2013, in response to Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Convention respecting the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, a government-community task force produced a report known as the Roadmap to bring Nova Scotia into compliance with the UN Convention. The McNeil government accepted recommendations to end the warehousing of disabled people in large institutions and commit to developing small options homes for four to six people in their home communities. 

But since then, not a single institution has closed and the “progress report” from the |Disability Rights Coalition describes the pace of change as “glacial.”

“Contrary to its commitment to the Roadmap in October of 2013, the Nova Scotia government through its Disability Supports Program, is assisting fewer people with disabilities in 2021 than in 2013/14 when it committed to the Roadmap, dropping from 5,184 to 5,033 people,” says the report.

At the same time, says the report, more people with disabilities face longer delays in accessing supports and services for Disability Supports Programs. 

Numbers supplied to the Coalition by the Department of Community Services show the wait list has grown from 1099 in 2014 to 1,915 in 2021, an increase of 74%. Most people with physical or intellectual disabilities do receive some help from government but 536 people currently receive no services at all. (Services range from financial support to families caring for disabled adults at home, independent living arrangements in a group home with supervision, or placement in a full-service Adult Residential Centre). 

Commitment fading?

The Disability Rights Coalition acknowledges “while the number of persons residing in institutions has dropped by between 15%- 24% since the 2013 Roadmap commitment was made to close these institutions, progress is slow.”

In fact, the report released yesterday asks whether the Liberals may be retreating from their 2013 commitment to close large institutions by 2023. 

The Coalition says sometime in May of this year, 2021, a policy that restricted admissions to institutions earmarked for closure quietly disappeared. The Coalition says the policy can no longer be found in online versions of the Disability Supports Program Policy Manual.

The Halifax Examiner asked the Department of Community Services for an explanation for the change but we did not receive an answer. Instead spokesperson Carley Sampson replied “for further comment I would encourage you to reach out to the appropriate political party.”

That’s not very satisfying if you are an physically or intellectually disabled adult whose future living arrangement may rely on whatever political party forms the next government and whether you can trust politicians to deliver on commitments they make during an election campaign. Four year cycles are a problem.

“As a person with disabilities who has felt at firsthand the effects of government policy that exclude me from the supports I need to live in the community and who has been segregated and excluded because of my disability, I am calling on the province to do what is right by 2023 by closing institutions and ending waitlists,” says Vicky Levack. 

Levack is a writer who is dependant on a wheelchair because of cerebral palsy. She who has been living in a Halifax nursing home since her early 20s because she requires daily nursing care. She’s 30 now. Approximately 300 disabled adults who are not seniors live in nursing homes because they have no other option. 

In its report, the Disability Rights Coalition says “there is still a 30-month window for the province to meet its Roadmap ‘equity and inclusion’ commitments. To do so, however, requires immediate and concrete government action.”

“At the current rate of providing community based supportive housing, many people on the waitlist will be dead before they are able to leave segregated housing in an institution,” said Claire McNeil, legal counsel for the Disability Rights Coalition. (The group successfully won a precedent-setting Human Rights case a few years ago that accused the Department of Community Services of discriminating against three intellectually disabled adults who were locked-down in the Emerald Hall unit of the Nova Scotia Hospital despite having been assessed as capable of living in a placement in the community. One of the three died before the case was heard).

 “The numbers in the Report tell the story in a way that cuts through the political & bureaucratic rhetoric — the province is on a path to, once again, push people with disabilities into the shadows. That is neither equity nor inclusion. And it is certainly not respecting their human rights,” said McNeil.

Call to action

In Oct 2013 when the government accepted the Roadmap, it gave itself 10 years, until 2023, to implement it. Here’s the action the Disability Rights Coalition is demanding now:

• Commit to a firm, three-year budget, on an immediate basis, in order to end wait times so that all eligible Disability Supports Program applicants will receive immediate access to appropriate supports and services to meet their needs under the Social Assistance Act, in accordance with the Roadmap, including 806 new independent living options in the community by December 31, 2023;

• End institutionalization of people with disabilities now and close all institutions for people with disabilities by 2023.

A spokesperson for the Department of Community Services confirms there are presently 500 people with disabilities living or “warehoused” in large institutions such as Adult Residential Centres and Regional Rehabilitation Centres (RRCs). The RRCs include Quest in Lower Sackville, the County home in Waterville, and the Breton Ability Centre in Sydney. 

Another 382 people live in smaller Residential Care Facilities operated by Community Services; that number has declined from 450 people in 2013. Last October, the Department of Community |Services announced it would close Harbourside in Yarmouth by 2022 once it has found alternate placements for 27 residents.

 This year’s provincial budget did contain an additional $46.7 million increase for “equity and inclusion” programs that support adults and children with disabilities, as follows:

• $20.4 million increase to continue to move more residents out of Adult Residential Centres and Regional Rehabilitation Centres into community based settings

• $12.5 million increase to the Disability Supports Program for residential and community-based programs

• $10.4 million increase in Disability Support Program to move participants out of hospital settings 

• $2.9 million increase to the Flex at Home Support Program to support more people with disabilities who live at home with their families

• $500,000 increase to continue providing one-to-one job coaching for adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders

The efforts of the last government should be kept in mind during the next few weeks when all three political parties are seeking support from voters.


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Jennifer Henderson

Jennifer Henderson is a freelance journalist and retired CBC News reporter.

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  1. You can throw the province’s vaccine rollout as another failure for the disabled. As someone who lives with a disabled person I can attest that it was *much* more difficult to get a vaccination if you were disabled. When vaccines were available, they were quickly told that they were only able to give vaccinations in the arm. If that was impossible for the person they eventually set up one place where they could go get the vaccination elsewhere (leg etc). This meant that although their age qualified them for a vaccine, they were denied it because of their disability, with booked appointments being regularly cancelled. Hours and days of phone calls ensued to no avail and their first vaccination was much later than it should have been. In other provinces, such as Ontario, nurses were sent to the homes of the disabled to give them their vaccine. Here, they were not afforded that option and had to wait for the one place which was allowed to give a shot somewhere other than the arm..

    Having said that, they did eventually get vaccinated, but there were more hoops to jump through and the arrangements took longer.