Alberta

20 June, 2022

Resilient. Disability. Luck. Fight. Tired. Promise. Hope. 

Highway with trees on left and hill to the right

My name is Andrea van Vugt and I’m a Community Organizer for Disability Without Poverty in Alberta. When I think about the work that I’m doing as a community organizer, these are the words that come to mind:

Resilient. Disability. Luck. Fight. Tired. Promise. Hope. 

I was born and raised in Alberta. The prairies, rivers, mountains, farms, and cities that make up this beautiful place are home to many hard-working resilient people.

I am disabled. Some people prefer to say that I’m a person with a disability. Whichever way you say it is fine by me. As a result of my disability, I have lived in poverty, which is also described as “low-income”. 

I became disabled in 2003. At the time I was working a full-time job and receiving a livable income with healthcare and long-term benefits. As a 19-year-old I understood that my benefits were important, but I had no idea how important. 

Then I had my first seizure. Then I was in the hospital. Sitting in offices, lying in machines, talking with doctors, and eventually I was told that I have neurological disability. Epilepsy. For me this means that my brain is scarred, I take a lot of pills, and sometimes I grind my teeth, walk in circles, say odd things, fall over, lose bladder control and/or lose consciousness. Epilepsy can be scary and embarrassing. 

When I was diagnosed with epilepsy, I had healthcare coverage and full employee benefits. I started receiving those benefits just three months before I had my first seizure. That was luck. I do not know what else to call it.

It was not that I was working harder, stronger, faster, or longer than people without those benefits. It was luck. My luck meant that I received support at the onset of my disability. It meant that most often I could afford food, shelter, transportation, and medication. Meeting these basic needs should not be about luck. What if you are unlucky and you don’t have benefits? Then what?

A woman with short brown hair is smiling. She stands in front of a forest, wearing a black and white short sleeve top, while holding a pair of sunglasses.
Andrea in Fish Creek Park

That is when you fight. Not fight like punch someone in the face fight. I mean fight as in action and advocacy. Fight for food. Fight for shelter. Fight for transportation. Fight for medical care. Ultimately, fight for dignity. For years, that is what the disability community has been fighting for. We fight. Mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, uncles, cousins, friends, lovers, spouses, doctors, nurses, caregivers, teachers, politicians, journalists, artists. The list goes on. Those of us in the disability community and our supporters continue to fight.

And many of us are tired. We are tired of disability being a predictor of poverty. Do you know that 41% of people that are in poverty in Canada are people with disabilities?

I no longer live in poverty, but many people with disabilities do. I know how hard it is, and I know that many people can’t break the cycle. It’s simply not possible. 

In 2020, the federal government made a promise to the disability community that disabled people would no longer have to live in the cycle of poverty. The government said that an approved portion of the disability community would receive a Canada Disability Benefit to fill the income gap that forces so many of us into poverty. 

That’s why I’m proud to be working with Disability Without Poverty. I’m representing and organizing for a community I know and love.

And so, we are waiting. People with disabilities in poverty are waiting. Even though we are tired, we are resilient. We are resilient and we are fighting to have that promise fulfilled. 

We hope you will join our fight. 

Help us create a Canada where disability exists without poverty.

Write an email to your Member of Parliamentary (MP) now demanding quick action to create a Canada Disability Benefit.

To find out who your MP is and how to contact them, click here. If you have questions, need help creating a conversation with your MP, or would like to chat about Disability Without Poverty, please send me a message: [email protected]

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