A Progressive Conservative Government is committed to working together with the disability community and other government partners to offer services that meet the current and future diverse needs of Nova Scotians with disabilities. Our government and party believe that an important component to the overall health and support of persons with disabilities is consistent work towards independence.
Currently, as a government, we are working through various departments to offer programs that enhance the employability of persons with disabilities such as enhanced community accessibility, career counselling, campus-based supports, and educational support for our youth, technical aid assistance, addiction treatment, mental health services.
As was noted in our Throne Speech in November 2007, "The New Nova Scotia is our destination for this province for the year 2020... It is a place that offers everyone a fair shot at life's success, while helping those who need a hand."
We are currently working on many initiatives - some already in place, others being planned or improved - to assist persons with disabilities and help even the playing field in so many ways.
We have also proposed to establish a new Persons with Disabilities Allowance that recognizes that many Nova Scotians are unable to work due to a permanent disability. Necessary research on the initiative is underway.
Community Supports for Persons with Disabilities
Providing assistance for those who have special needs or disabilities is a key role of government. In the 2007-08 Budget, we directed an additional $2.2 million to Community Services to make their programs and services available to more individuals with disabilities. This funding will help improve client service delivery and better meet the needs of Nova Scotians with disabilities who depend on our support.
Through the Department of Community Services, we are continuing the renewal of the Services for Persons with Disabilities Program. Under this renewal initiative and through community consultation and feedback, it became clear that people wanted more choices. Our government responded with the introduction of three new programs for persons with disabilities. These types of program enhancements will result in a more responsive, accessible and sustainable system of supports for Nova Scotians with disabilities.
The programs are:
1. The Direct Family Support Program was introduced in January 2005;
2. The Independent Living Support Program was introduced in January 2006; and
3. The Alternate Family Support Program was introduced in June 2006.
The Direct Family Support Program provides supports and services to both children and adults with disabilities who live at home with their families. The intent of the program is to support and provide funding to eligible families to enable them to support their family member with a disability at home.
The Independent Living Support Program provides up to 21 hours a week of supports and services to eligible individuals with disabilities who are semi-independent and require minimum support in their own apartment or home. This program recognizes the potential of individuals and facilitates opportunities for continuing growth and personal development.
In March of 2007, our government announced it would be enhancing the Independent Living Support Program in Cape Breton. The program is currently offering support to about 25 individuals with everyday tasks such as maintaining a household, laundry, shopping, banking, preparing meals, and community access. This program is presently being expanded across the province.
In June 2006, the Alternate Family Support Program was introduced. We have now extended the Alternate Family Support Program province-wide to help families caring for adults with disabilities. Alternative Family Support is a critical program as it assists persons with disabilities to be supported in a private home setting. Alternative families receive financial support to help offset costs associated with care.
The introduction and expansion of three new programs for persons with disabilities offers more opportunities for Nova Scotians to remain with their families, to live on their own with support or in other family-type environments in their communities. Through individual support planning, individuals and their families participate in determining the most appropriate support option to meet their needs.
An ongoing review of residential options and adult day programs will further help determine an appropriate continuum of supports for individuals with disabilities. Residential renewal is being undertaken in order to support individuals with disabilities in the right program, the right place, and the right time; and in the least intrusive environment to enhance quality of life.
Vocational and other day-program services complement the residential and community-based support system. The continuum of vocational and day program services is offered to persons with disabilities in order to provide opportunities for individuals with disabilities to participate in employment or day-time activity programs. Currently, 30 Adult Service Centres located in communities across Nova Scotia provide services to approximately 1,771 individuals with disabilities.
Wheelchair Recycling Program
In March 2005, our government partnered with the Abilities Foundation to deliver a children's wheelchair program. Based on the success of the children's recycled wheelchair program, our government provided $1-million to the Abilities Foundation of Nova Scotia to enable adults with disabilities to receive the equipment they need to become more active and participate fully in their communities. Applications are available through the Abilities Foundation.
Because persons with disabilities often encounter barriers when attempting to access businesses and the services they provide, our government has assisted in making improvements through the Community ACCESS-ability Program. Since 2000, we have helped hundreds of community organizations throughout Nova Scotia make physical improvements, working with them toward a more inclusive society.
Past projects have allowed organizations to install elevators, automatic door openers, wheelchair accessible washrooms, ramps and specially-equipped swimming docks in buildings such as community halls, libraries and recreation facilities.
Under the Community ACCESS-ability Program, government will make grants of up to two thirds of the direct and indirect costs of renovations, installations, and/or equipment, with the sponsoring organization being responsible for raising at least one third of the improvement project's funding from other sources. The maximum grant available for individual projects is $10,000. Priority will be given to applications which demonstrate that the improvement proposed is part of an overall plan and commitment to the inclusiveness of persons with disabilities.
Potential project sponsors may obtain more information and application forms on the website at: www.gov.ns.ca/snsmr/muns/infr/access/access.asp or by calling
Enhancing Employment Opportunities
We know the percentage of those with disabilities who are active members in our labour market is too low. Employment Support Services works with a variety of partners, including employers and industry associations, to support recipients of income assistance and individuals who have a disability to secure employment. This activity may involve supports such as the creation of a subsidized job placement or supporting individuals to access recognized training.
As well, under the Labour Market Agreement for Persons with Disabilities, individuals may be eligible for funding intended to make their future employment more accessible. Accommodations of various types are considered on an individual basis. This support is also extended to people who are currently employed but are at risk of losing their job due to their disability.
As a government, we continue to work to make the provincial public service a more diverse workplace. By striving to become a more diverse workforce, we are providing a more effective public service to the citizens of this province. We are making in-roads through initiatives like the Diversity Talent Pool which helps to increase representation of designated groups in the public service through short-term, casual job placements. In 2007, 49 positions were filled through the talent pool, an increase of 40 per cent from 2005-06.
On December 3, 2007 - International Day of Disabled Persons - our government led a panel discussion on including more disabled people in our province's workforce. As the executive director of our Disabled Persons Commission noted of the initiative, "There has never been a better climate in Nova Scotia for hiring people with disabilities. We know there is a skills shortage and Nova Scotians with disabilities are truly an untapped resource that can help Nova Scotia businesses fill their employment needs." We want to take advantage of this opportunity for our citizens.
With regard to the Affordable Housing Agreement Phase II, we called for proposals under the New Rental Housing Initiative of the Canada-Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Agreement in November 2006, inviting not-for-profit organizations and private developers to submit proposals to build new affordable rental housing for individuals, families, seniors and persons with disabilities. This will provide hundreds of low-income Nova Scotians with access to more affordable homes.
In addition, the New Rental Housing Program funded under the Canada/Nova Scotia Affordable Housing Agreement incorporates "visitability" requirements. The intent is to allow individuals with disabilities to independently access the homes of their non-disabled peers. Visitability ensures that the principal spaces in a building, the entrance, entry-level floor, and washroom facilities are accessible to a person in a wheelchair. The design requirements also allow for future adaptations of dwelling units should residents experience reduced mobility.
Housing Adaptation Programs
Nova Scotians continue to tell us they want as many supports in their homes and communities as possible. Our Strategic Framework - developed with the input of more than 1,400 Nova Scotians - is a plan that contains a range of services for individuals of all ages and their families, aimed at assisting people to remain in their homes and communities as long as possible. In our Budget Address of 2007, we confirmed that we will make all provincially-owned buildings in Nova Scotia barrier-free for public access by 2020.
There are currently three specific housing adaptation programs targeted at keeping individuals with disabilities in their own homes:
1. Access-A-Home program - This is a provincially-funded program that provides grants to home owners to assist them in making adaptations to their homes for wheelchair use. The amount of assistance depends upon total household income. The maximum grant available is $5,000.
2. Home Adaptations for Seniors' Independence (HASI) - This is a federal-provincial cost-shared program that provides assistance to home owners and landlords to help pay for home adaptations to enable low income seniors to continue to live in their homes independently. Up to $3,500 is available and it is non repayable.
3. Residential Rehabilitation Assistance Program for Individuals with Disabilities - This program provides assistance to home owners and landlords to undertake accessibility work to modify dwellings occupied or intended for occupancy by individuals with disabilities. Program funding is provided jointly by the federal and provincial governments.
Support for Technical Aids
In 2006-07, we changed the program to allow eligible Nova Scotians who will require a wheelchair in the near future to get the help they need sooner to make their homes accessible. By increasing income limits by 30 per cent, from $30,000 to $39,000, we allowed for a greater number of Nova Scotians to take advantage of this assistance. The maximum amount of assistance is also increasing by 66 per cent, from $3,000 to $5,000, making more-extensive work possible.
We also intend to improve accessibility and mobility for seniors who live in senior citizen housing units. We are installing 13 new elevators in buildings across the province to improve the quality of life and mobility for many living in seniors' housing.
We provide financial support and services to cover basic expenses such as personal needs, shelter (increased rate for single persons) and special needs benefits. These may include such items as eyeglasses, emergency dental and prescription drug coverage. Opportunities are made available for disabled persons in receipt of Income Assistance to work with Employment Support to assist in moving towards independence and self-sufficiency.
The personal allowance and shelter rates for recipients of the Employment Support and Income Assistance (ESIA) program have increased over the past four years, with proposed increases annually for the personal allowance based on the Consumer Price Index (CPI). The personal allowance has increased from $180 in 2001 to $204 in 2007. The 30 per cent wage incentive for persons who are employed has also been extended to cover Income Tax returns. The special needs requests for all eligible ESIA recipients, including persons with disabilities, are considered on an individual basis.
Enhancing the lives of all Nova Scotians is a priority of a PC Government. We will continue to work to find additional solutions to transportation, housing, employment, social and recreation issues, by consulting with individuals with disabilities and groups representing people with disabilities to enhance their lives and their independence.
Accessible transportation options continue to expand. For example, through the Canada-Nova Scotia Agreement on the Transfer of Federal Public Transit Funds:
. Cape Breton Regional Municipality invested close to $350,000 on capital improvements toward regular transit buses that are accessible to people with disabilities.
. Kings Transit directed over $320,000 to purchase two feeder buses and to enhance its bus camera security.
. Five accessible mini-vans or buses are being added for rural community transit organizations, at a cost of just over $170,000.
Our government directed $10,000 to the East Hants Alternative Transportation Service to help with the purchase of a new wheelchair accessible bus. The new bus will serve area residents - seniors, those in nursing homes, disabled residents and others who need accessible transportation services.
We will continue to work with the federal government and interested municipalities to increase the capacity of public transit services - by bus, ferry or rail - in high traffic or remote areas.
Self Managed Care
Our government and our party are committed to helping all Nova Scotians remain independent, active and healthy. Our government established the Self Managed Care Program in 2005, under the mandate of the Department of Health, Continuing Care Division, to promote and support individual initiative, self reliance and self sufficiency. The program allows people to remain independent and in their community as long as possible by providing them with up to $3,500 a month to manage their own support services.
Enhancing Educational Opportunities
Post-secondary education offers a positive step up for those seeking employment. This is no less true for those with disabilities. The Progressive Conservative Party is committed to the expansion of accessibility to post-secondary education.
Currently, the province offers a provincial access grant for students with permanent disabilities; there are grants available through the Nova Scotia Community College and the Department of Community Services and employers.
Our government is also focused on making student loans more affordable for students with reduced means such as lowering the required parental contribution to be eligible for student loans, expanding the criteria for those eligible for interest relief, and lowering the rate of interest paid by students through a direct lending program.
Our universities and colleges are also working in line with the province to remove physical, systemic or academic barriers a student may encounter while attending the institution.
In "Blueprint for Building a Better Nova Scotia", our party outlined the development of a new tuition support program for special needs students with Individualized Program Plans. This process has been developed to provide eligible students with the opportunity to attend a designated special education private school.
The intention of this support is to provide options for students with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Learning Disabilities (LD) to access education outside the framework of the public school system.
We then committed an expansion of three years for the program in the 2006 election campaign and kept that promise.
In 2007, we acted on another commitment made during the 2006 campaign: to review services for students with special needs. In December 2007, the Minister announced our response to the review recommendations. This includes the development of a new strategy to provide enriched programming to students with learning disabilities. The department will hire a learning disabilities consultant, who will review the latest research and best practices from around the world related to learning disabilities, and work closely with specialists inside and outside the department. We are committed to providing appropriate programming designed to meet the needs of all students. As the Minister noted, "These initiatives are about understanding the needs of students with learning disabilities and developing strategies that respond to these needs."
Students with learning disabilities make up the largest group of pupils receiving student support services from school boards. Some students with learning disabilities also receive assistance under the Tuition Support Program, which helps pay tuition at designated special education private schools. The program will continue until the Minister is assured an equivalent or better program is available through the public system. Meanwhile, the Tuition Support Program will undergo a thorough review. The Minister has also ordered the program's designated schools to:
-- join the province's learning assessment program if they grant high school diplomas; and
-- use the provincial Individual Program Plan report card. This will help ensure students with learning disabilities in the private and public systems are being evaluated using the same criteria. It will also allow parents to monitor their child's progress and provide accountability in issuing high school diplomas.
The Individual Program Plan report card will be implemented by all of the province's public schools beginning Fall 2008. The Minister's Review of Services for Students with Special Needs began its consultations in April 2007. The committee, chaired by retired school administrator Walter Farmer and including former educator Miles MacDonald and Acadia University education professor Lynn Aylward, held public meetings and received more than 1,000 written responses before compiling its report. The committee put forward 27 recommendations on a wide range of issues affecting students with special needs, including professional development and training of teachers, programs and services, and resources. The complete response to the review can be found at: www.gov.ns.ca/ministersreview.ednet.ns.ca.
In this the year we commemorate the 250th Anniversary of responsible government in Nova Scotia, it is important to note another area where there have been improvements made, but where more can be done to ensure those persons with disabilities are not presented with unnecessary barriers.
Elections Nova Scotia works to ensure the polling stations across Nova Scotia are accessible. Of course, each of our candidate's campaigns makes a concerted effort to provide assistance to get those who need help to the polling stations.
Provincially, the PC Party has a TTY/TTD line so that Nova Scotians who are hearing impaired are able to contact our provincial headquarters. If an individual requests assistance, we endeavour to assist or get their request attended to through a local campaign office. Also, we now have closed caption election advertisements.
Our government looks forward to receiving additional recommendations in the future as our all-party Select Committee on Participation in the Democratic Process sets out to hear from all Nova Scotians as to how we might increase voter participation.
Since 1999, our government has been committed to ensuring our province is more accessible and inclusive. While there are many advances, there are still areas where we are committed as a party to ensure changes are made so those with disabilities are able to access the same services as those who do not face similar challenges.
Your Society's work is based on the life and legacy of a strong and determined individual - Mr. Stewart. We owe it to people like him who, even though they had to deal with injustices, are able to overcome those barriers and make positive changes in our society. Our government will continue to honour that legacy by leading by example and working with our communities to allow them to make necessary change for the better.
I thank you for allowing me a forum to share our party's policies, our government's actions to date, as well as those initiatives being planned or underway.
Thank you, again, for your patience.
Rodney J. MacDonald, Premier
Province of Nova Scotia