I cannot count the times I saw my father read the stock markets page in the Edmonton Journal right after supper when I was a young boy. Dad was a risk taker, and although I wasn’t privy to his financial portfolio, he was a great provider for our family.
I didn’t fully understand my father’s philosophy until much later in life. A close relative told me I was the reason there were lines and x’s, which only Dad could decipher, all over the stock pages.
I live with cerebral palsy. And back then, the mid-1960s, kids with disabilities were, thankfully, moving out of intuitions and living in the community with their families.
Still, there were many unknown factors and financial stability led the list. Employment opportunities for people with disabilities didn’t exist, structurally or attitudinally. Not till the late 1970s did people with disabilities slowly, but surely, make inroads in the workforce.
Parents — and God bless all of them — have dreams for their children to be independent and successful. Having financial security goes part and parcel with that.
On Monday I thought of Dad sitting at the kitchen table, undoing the top button of his white shirt, pulling his narrow tie down, lighting another cigarette and making his infamous scribblings.
Monday was when Community and Social Services Minister Irfan Sabir made what I view as a monumental announcement for Albertans with disabilities, with new policies for the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped program, commonly known as AISH.
Under the new formula, people on AISH will be able to receive financial gifts such as inheritances, beneficiaries of RRSPs and other lump-sum payments, without losing access to AISH benefits.
One could argue, and with success I think, the former guidelines were somewhat discriminatory to people on AISH. They were hampered from such fundamental gifts of family money simply because of their disability. Every cent had to be reported to AISH workers to make sure everyone was staying in the guidelines. If they passed a certain threshold, their AISH benefits were curtailed.
Is that fair? You decide.
More importantly, though, people with disabilities had very little chance to get ahead in life. If they did, it was taken away.
Nobody gets rich on AISH. The maximum AISH payment rings out at $1,588 per month, or $19,056 a year. Moreover, the costs of living with a disability are often hidden but, they all add up.
The new law, Bill 5, will clearly pave a new feeling of security for parents of Albertans with disabilities.
People with disabilities and their families have persevered, some in unthinkable conditions, to see a future. That future just got a little brighter this week. Unsung heroes like my parents can hopefully focus on what they do best — parenting — rather than have additional worries.
The announcement also shows the prominence people with disabilities have today. With the shift in attitudes over the decades to seeing people with disabilities as contributors to communities, and seeing supporting them as an investment rather than a cost, the landscape is sure to change.
I do, however, having a question as I depart.
Take a good look and sound of the name: the Assured Income for the Severely Handicapped.
Is it time, perhaps, for the name AISH to be rebranded to give it a fresher and more positive feel?