I couldn’t remember the address. Deane and I stopped so I could check my phone for where we were going. As I looked up, I noticed we had stopped beside three very large, very tough looking guys who were standing in front of a male strip club. I decided to walk and dial.
We walked back up the street, passed a youth hostel to a once elegant stone doorway tucked between other unsavoury store fronts. Welcome to the world of adult disability. Gone are the well-funded buildings in tree-lined residential areas or world-renowned hospitals surrounded by other medical institutions.
We were on our way to our intake meeting for one of the two government funds that help support adults with disabilities.
Inside the unlabelled doorway was a discoloured hallway leading to a single elevator door. Signs in the elevator and in the hallways told us – in both official languages – that the area was monitored by a video surveillance system. Reassuring – I guess.
Off the elevator and down a winding corridor, we arrived at the office. At first glance all I could see was a large wall to wall counter with horizontal bars extending to almost shoulder height. As I approached, a woman looked up from behind a wooden part of the barrier. When I said we had an appointment, she asked for Deane’s social insurance number – so personal, also something I didn’t have with me. Eventually she found our appointment and told us to wait.
After about 10 minutes of watching a depressing headline news channel, a woman opened a door beside the counter and directed us to one of two or three doors on our side of the counter. When she realized I had to move a couple of chairs to maneuver Deane’s wheelchair inside, she came in to help.
By letting her door close behind her, she was then locked on our side of the barrier. This is very much an “us and them” design with physical barriers and locked doors. She had to wait for the desk person to walk through the back office and let her into their side again.
We sat in a bare office with another wall-to-wall desk, a computer and a phone. Our worker came in with Deane’s file containing the online application I had filled out. Once she ascertained that Deane could not sign for himself and that I would be his guardian, she said she had to get some other documents.
She picked up Deane’s file, leaving the desk empty and disappeared into the office for 20 minutes. I was left with the feeling that she didn’t trust me not to tamper with the contents of the file – despite being the one who filled it out in the first place. Gone was the team approach to Deane’s care.
Once she returned, I signed many documents and was instructed on others to be signed by various doctors. This was a routine to which I am very much accustomed. The whole atmosphere relaxed. I no longer felt under suspicion. As we were preparing to leave, she said that she could have come to us for a home visit to save us coming downtown.
That probably would have been easier, but certainly less enlightening. I know not everyone receiving disability benefits is in our situation – many are struggling to exist on subsistence benefits. I’m sure tempers flare at times and the workers must feel like targets for anger at a system they don’t control.
As we walked back to the car through the stark reality of life on the street, I thought about the transition we were in. Until now the touchstone of everyone we have dealt with has been that we are all working together, co-operating as a team with Deane and our family in the centre of it.
Now, as Deane becomes an adult, we seem to be deemed highly suspect. The assumption is not that we are going through the motions to receive funds for which we qualify, but that we are trying to cheat the system. Until now, any money we received came with apologies that it was not more. As an adult, it seems you should be grateful for whatever “the system” deems to give you.
The reality is people like to help cute little kids. Adults just aren’t as appealing.