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Tour seeks input on disability issues

Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Don McRae - Black Press files
Social Development and Social Innovation Minister Don McRae
— image credit: Black Press files

The B.C. government has begun a province-wide tour to collect ideas for improving conditions for disabled people, particularly by improving their job prospects.

Social Development Minister Don McRae attended the first session Monday evening in his home community of Courtenay, which drew a capacity crowd of 70 people. He plans to attend other ones in the B.C. Interior and Lower Mainland in the coming weeks.

The ministry has also established a website for public comments, and one of the more frequent suggestions is for B.C. to increase its social assistance payment to disabled people. That now stands at $906 per month, including a rent subsidy.

McRae said in an interview that major cost items like that will have to wait until B.C.'s economy improves. Meanwhile, efforts to increase employment are showing promise.

B.C. has increased the amount of income that can be earned without reducing disability benefits from $500 to $800 a month. McRae said he wants to expand on a pilot project that allows people to earn more than that for part of the year, so they can take advantage of seasonal work.

McRae, who had "social innovation" added to his title when he was appointed to the ministry last year, said he was encouraged by a meeting with a Tim Hortons franchise owner from Ontario who now employs one out of four people with disabilities in his stores.

Employees average less than a year in those jobs, but disabled employees stay an average of five years, which saves substantial money on training.

"It benefits the disability community, and it also helps his bottom line," McRae said.

Input from the community meetings and website comments are to be used for a policy paper that will be presented at a public forum in June.

Meetings are scheduled for Prince George Tuesday and Wednesday, and in Quesnel Wednesday evening, for people registered to attend.

Other meetings include Kamloops Feb. 4, Vernon Feb. 5, Kelowna Feb. 6, Richmond Feb 11, Port Moody Feb. 12, Abbotsford Feb. 13, Cranbrook Feb. 18, Fort St. John Feb. 20, Terrace Feb. 24, Vancouver Feb. 25 (for hearing impaired people), and in Victoria Feb. 26.

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