For families with children who have sight loss, there are new challenges that are presented, so we are providing free access to educational games that have been designed for children who are blind. We are also ensuring families have access to 3D printers to ensure tactile learning continues. This is just the beginning to ensure that no child with sight loss is left behind.
This is a forever change for CNIB. Our virtual offerings are certainly here to stay. We have essentially doubled our program offering without doubling our workforce, and so, as we start our discussions about commencing in-person programs, we must keep the health and safety of our staff in mind, especially since so many of our staff live with sight loss.
In addition to the development of brand new virtual program offerings, our community’s feedback has also helped to develop a new advocacy effort that focuses on the albeit unintended yet nonetheless potentially dangerous consequences associated with physical distancing.
Shortly after the pandemic hit, we heard from participants who were receiving negative attention and facing discrimination while using sighted guides to access essential services. Many individuals who are blind or partially sighted rely on sighted guides to help them safely navigate the grocery store, the pharmacy, their doctor’s office and the bank, for example.
In response, we launched a public awareness campaign with significant media coverage. We sent open letters to legislators, police services, transit commissioners, and supermarket and pharmacy chains to ensure Canadians with sight loss receive the appropriate accommodations during this time. We also raised awareness about physical distancing and guide dogs. While guide dogs are trained to help their partner get from point A to point B, they do not understand physical distancing. These are not the only issues we've heard.
This pandemic has caused great anxiety for the disability community, including Canadians with sight loss. As part of a Canadian Council of the Blind survey, more than 80% of respondents were worried they may not be able to pay for groceries, prescriptions or even their monthly bills.
While we applaud the government and the opposition parties for approving legislative changes to create the Canada emergency response benefit program, it may not be available to many Canadians living on or below the poverty line because of the minimum $5,000 income required to qualify for the program. We understand that employment insurance is available; however, the CERB simply provides more money, and it would be very much welcomed by a population where the majority’s income is less than those without disabilities.
We also acknowledge the letter Minister Qualtrough sent to the provinces urging them not to claw back disability benefits, and we urge further advocacy from the federal government with the provinces on this most important issue.
I would also like to highlight that the CERB provides a monthly benefit of $2,000, but the Canada pension plan disability benefit provides a maximum of $1,300 with an average monthly payment of $971. CNIB strongly recommends modernizing the CPPD in line with the CERB. If a pandemic can show that Canadians, regardless of abilities, need at least $2,000 a month to survive, it should be no different for people with disabilities who are unable to work. Emergency response funding for people with disabilities is greatly needed today. If seniors have access to a one-time, tax-free payment of $300, people with sight loss deserve something similar.
With all of this mind, I would like to ensure that accessibility and inclusion is at the forefront of decision-making as the economy begins to reopen. Our world is inherently tactile, and this is especially important to Canadians who essentially see the world through touch. With a rapidly growing appetite to do everything in a contactless manner, we simply cannot eliminate the elements of a tactile world completely. There would be great dangers and barriers for Canadians with sight loss who rely on these elements to live safely and independently.
As we slowly lift physical distancing measures and reopen the economy, businesses small to large should look no further than people with disabilities to employ. People with disabilities live lives full of obstacles, and they are often left on their own to get over, under and around these obstacles to live successful lives. They are natural innovators and advocates. We believe this is exactly the type of talent organizations need at their table as they open their doors. This is not the time to put accessibility and inclusion on the back burner; it is the time to put it at the forefront, as it will create such incredible value to the Canadian workforce. This is not simply the right thing to do, I assure you; this is the smart thing to do for business.
This past winter, CNIB submitted a pre-budget consultation recommending the federal government fund CNIB's employment program called Come to Work. The program connects job seekers who are blind or partially sighted with employers who want to discover the full potential of Canada's talent. Now is the time to continue this critical work.
Finally, I must highlight the need for financial support for Canada's non-profit and charitable sectors. Since March, the CNIB Foundation, like many other organizations you have heard from already, has seen a significant decrease in donations. They are what we need to continue our business. Even with the help of the Canada emergency wage subsidy, everything we do to support Canadians with sight loss could very well be in jeopardy if we do not raise the funds we need. As a result of the pandemic, we expect to see our revenues continue to decline for the months and potentially years to come.
We are urging the federal government to prioritize financial incentives for organizations that serve the most vulnerable in our society, such as the many Canadians living with disabilities.
At this time I'd like to thank the chair and the committee members for giving us the opportunity to highlight the impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians with sight loss. I would be most happy to answer your questions.