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July 13, 2016

Chase the ACEE


One of the best thing about Independent Living Nova Scotia (ILNS) is simply the name. In this Province, so burdened with Dickensian attitudes towards people with disabilities, someone thinks self-determination is important.

So the current dispute about the government withdrawing support for one of ILNS's important programs warrants thoughtful examination.

It seems to begin with a government task force which produced a report From School to Success: Clearing the Path on June 21.

By creating this task force, you created a unique forum, where everyone had an equal voice: students and youth, a teacher and principal, university presidents, community college senior staff, senior school board staff and elected representatives, an apprenticeship board member, African Nova Scotian and Mi’kmaw representatives, and business and industry leaders.


Excerpted from the letter to the Ministers, by the task force 

Everyone except people with disabilities. I wrote earlier about the complete lack of representation of people with disabilities on this panel and virtually everywhere in government. ILNS, with arguably the most experience in this area, was not represented.

At the same moment that the report was being released, the Halifax Regional School Board (HRSB) was handing down a death sentence for Access to Community Education and Employment (ACEE), a post high-school transition program run for a dozen years by ILNS.

ILNS is an advocacy and support organization with an excellent reputation. Former and current board members include Speaker Kevin Murphy and the first winner of the James McGregor Stewart award Sarah Dube. Almost 90% of their funding is from government, including $260,000 from the Departments of Education and Community Services for ACEE. The grant is administered by HRSB for some reason.

There is evidently some personal antipathy between ILNS and HRSB. Says CTV:


The school board says Independent Living Nova Scotia hasn’t met its objectives and is now threatening legal action.

In a letter dated June 28, Halifax law firm McInnes Cooper says the school board could choose to seek repayment of more than $220,000 – the full cost of the ACEE program – but will accept a sum of $58,145 by June 8.

Lawyers! Always helpful. This seems heavy-handed, fitting this definition pretty well:

A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) is a lawsuit that is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.

Sherry Costa, Executive Director of ILNS and her staff believe that complaints about what they considered bullying by the HRSB representative on the program team is what triggered HRSB’s funding withdrawal. Based on the threatening letter, this isn't hard to believe.

If accountability is really the problem, let's have it all on the table. If they're going to close a signature operation, we need to understand the reasoning. Or is it really about something else?

Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, the Community College system has a similar program called Achieve which gets an endorsement in From School to Success. Bringing ACEE under the umbrella of the Community College system might be defensible, but NSCC doesn't have an unblemished record in understanding the dimensions of disability. A Human Rights Commission complaint about NSCC's policy towards a person with a learning disability was only resolved last December.

Based on that decision, one would have to say that flexibility is not the hallmark of the Community College system.

The second best thing about ILNS is the opportunity to see people with disabilities in positions of responsibility, working and leading lives worth living. (watch the clip) This concept seems to have completely eluded the panel in From School to Success and I would be surprised if it's incorporated in the Achieve Program. Just like any other lesson you might draw from life, it's hard to imagine yourself in a position where there is no one like you.

It will not take long for the taxpayer to lose the $58,145 HRSB is demanding. Staff are already being laid off. Government supports, foregone taxes, decreased economic participation - all the reasons ACEE is worth funding in the first place are thrown to the winds. Off with their heads!

Employing people with disabilities is the best deal imaginable, with the potential for saving taxpayers millions. Even if only half the ACEE graduates have remained employed over the years, the net savings is $6 million. See chart.

Note to Ray Ivany: You have to create a $94,000 a year job to match the taxpayer benefit of moving one person from government support to minimum wage.

The third best thing about ILNS is that the first wheelchair team in the Blue Nose Marathon just raised $5,697 for them. A nice endorsement and an event that raised the profile of people with disabilities enormously. Who will make those connections when ILNS is driven to close its doors?

In sum, a long running program to enhance employability of people with disabilities, delivered by people with disabilities, given free rein by three arms of government for many years, probably saving taxpayers substantial sums is suddenly canceled in favor of a program endorsed by people, none of whom are people with disabilities and who confuse education with supply-chain management.

People with disabilities need an explanation. More importantly, we need Independent Living Nova Scotia. We created it, we need it, it works, it’s a symbol of self reliance. It’s in jeopardy through yet another misguided Government action.

You can read more in the Nova Scotia Advocate.

If you made it this far, you can sign the petition.



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