Lethbridge advocates say people with disabilities largely overlooked during COVID-19 pandemic

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Disability support workers and care givers say this vulnerable population is being largely overlooked during the COVID-19 pandemic. Taz Dhaliwal speaks with a mom, who has three children with disabilities, to find out about the challenges she's facing. – May 27, 2020

Support workers and caregivers in Alberta say people with disabilities are being largely overlooked during this pandemic due to the lack of support and funding they are receiving.

Bridges Consulting is an organization in Lethbridge that helps connect people with disabilities to behavioral aides and other supports. It says the pandemic has hit its staff and members especially hard, with both decreased funding and reduced staffing hours.

Rebecca Wever, a program coordinator with the centre, says this year they’ve had to work with a budget that has about 60 per cent less government funding compared to last year.

READ MORE: ‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities

In addition, many of the behavioral aides that work with them are in university and because of the current health and economic climate, many of them have returned home early, which has contributed to the centre’s staffing numbers being reduced.

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Further, the health risks associated with COVID-19 have also detracted some workers from wanting to work for the organization this summer.

“Finding the staff that want to work is also quite difficult because it’s only one house they can work in, so we have to figure out who wants the most hours, and the families that have the most hours, so it’s just a balance between that,” Wever said.

She says the company decided to limit staff to working in one household during this time instead of multiple places, in an effort to reduce risk of transmission.

Wever adds that prior to the pandemic, most of their behavioral aides were working 10 to 20 hours and now many of them are working five to 15 hours a week.

Amber Dagenais is a Lethbridge mom who receives support from the organization. She has three children with disabilities ranging from depression, anxiety to ADHD and autism.

“They are a lot more anxious, they are more stressed out. They haven’t been doing any school work at all,” Dagenais says.

Dagenais says her children work with a behavioral aide for six hours a day, however, it’s not a replacement for school.

“It’s been stressful because they’re home more… and they’re used to going to school and that was their routine and that’s been a big change for them, not being able to go to school,” she said.

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“It has helped having a bit of support doing behavioral, but it’s not the same.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Federal panel aims to ensure Canadians with disabilities included in response

The mom adds she’s deeply worried about how they’ll be able to transition back into things come September.

Mark Davids, the executive director of the Southern Alberta Individualized Planning Association (SAIPA), which also provides supports to people with disabilities, says the pandemic can certainly bring out more feelings of anxiety and depression for this vulnerable population.

“Now one of the most important things would be to keep a routine within your home. It’s very tempting right now to not get dressed for the day, keep pajamas on at home and watch TV all day,” Davids said.

Davids also said having a routine in place can help create a sense of normalcy.

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