Federal Budget 2024: Canada Disability Benefit

When the Canada Disability Benefit Act was introduced in June of 2022, it sparked hope for many, it made us believe that this would be a way of addressing poverty and enhancing the financial security of Canadians with disabilities.

When the 2024 Federal Budget was presented it provided 1.4 billion per year for the Canada Disability Benefit program. The program is based on a maximum benefit of $2,400 per year/$200 per month for low-income individuals with disabilities. While this is a positive step forward it falls far short of meeting the urgent needs of people living with disabilities in Canada.

There are over 1.5 million people with disabilities in Canada, this benefit program would only make the benefit available to about 600,000 individuals whose eligibility will be based on the Disability Tax Credit, to make matters worse the program will not be fully implemented until 2028 and only at the 1.4 billion level. This program will not adequately address the needs of the disability community in Canada. We can do better!

It’s crucial that we, as citizens of Canada, continue to advocate and work towards building a more inclusive society. We must be supporters, advocates, champions and allies to people with disabilities in our community. We need to continue to remind the government of their promise to people with disabilities, and to all of us that regardless of ability all people will be treated with dignity, and respect and seen as valuable, able and important.

Published by

Heather Lacey

Experienced Non-Profit Executive Director

Read Heather’s other articles here

Disability and Poverty: Social Justice Implementation of the Canadian Disability Benefit

Full Title: Disability and Poverty: Addressing the economics of Social Justice through the implementation of the Canadian Disability Benefit

Imagine yourself in the shoes of a person living with a disability; as you navigate the barriers to accessibility and inclusivity in the community, you are also struggling with the rising costs of living for day-to-day items, lack of accessible and affordable housing, and inadequate support services. But that’s not all—there are extra costs associated with managing your disability including non-covered healthcare services, assistive devices, and personal supports. Now imagine trying to manage all those expenses on a yearly income of $12,250, the typical income for a Canadian with a disability.

This is the reality for over one million Canadians with disabilities. In Canada, where we pride ourselves on our drive for a more socially just society, it is disheartening to see a significant portion of our fellow citizens struggling to make ends meet. According to a report put out by Statistics Canada in 2021, 16.5% of people with disabilities lived in poverty. This compares to 8.6% of people without disabilities who lived in poverty.

The Canadian Disability Benefit (CDB) is a crucial step towards elevating people with disabilities out of poverty in Canada. It will provide much-needed financial assistance tailored to their unique needs and challenges and will significantly improve their quality of life. However, this has not been a priority for the Federal government since 2020, and Canadians with disabilities can no longer afford to wait. We need the CDB to be budgeted for and implemented now, in 2024.

ABLE2 joins The Daily Bread Food Bank and over 40 other organizations in the Fund the Benefit campaign, to urge the Government of Canada to include funding for the CDB in their 2024 budget. Budgeting for and implementing the CDB this year is about staying true to our commitment to a more socially just society. It’s about providing people with disabilities the opportunity to improve their quality of life, and to be treated with dignity and respect.

Today, as we celebrate the World Day of Social Justice, I urge you to act now. Rally your communities, write your MP, tell them to include the CDB in the 2024 budget. Our fellow citizens with disabilities should not live another year in poverty. Everyone deserves the ability to live a fulfilling life and be seen as able, important, and valued.


Disability without Poverty. “2023 Disability Poverty Report Card.” 02 June 2022.

Statistics Canada. “Housing Experiences in Canada: Persons with Disabilities.” 10 June 2022.

CBC News. “Financial Support to Keep People with Disabilities Housed Falls Short of What’s Needed: Advocates.” 23 July 2023.

Published by

Heather Lacey

Experienced Non-Profit Executive Director

Read Heather’s other articles here

A chat with Maelle and Karlene: If you smell what the Rock cooking

I was looking forward to my chat with Maelle and Karlene, a somewhat recently established friendship formed through ABLE2’s matching program. We were to meet at a local Subway, a location that I understood held meaning for the pair as it was where they first met some 6 months or so ago.  

As I opened the front door, after being hit with a waft of the all too familiar Subway fresh bread smell, I scanned the room. I was not sure what they looked like, but I made my best guess and mumbled in their direction “Karlene and Maelle?” Seeing their responsive smiles, I knew I found them. 

My first impression: they looked natural and comfortable with each other, just two human beings sitting for a sandwich on an otherwise unremarkable late Sunday afternoon. 

With introductions out of the way, I got right into it. I asked Maelle what compelled her to get involved with ABLE2. With a smile, she described her busy professional life as a high school vice principal but that she had recently taken on revised duties that gave her a bit more time and flexibility in her life. She knew she wanted to make a difference in someone’s life, and ABLE2’s matching program stood out as a chance to have direct, meaningful and personal experience based on a one-on-one connection. 

I asked them both what they liked to do together. Karlene chimed in first: watching movies, going for coffee / tea, and having lunch.  Recognizing that it will be their first summer together as a match, she also added that she is very much looking forward to having a picnic. Maelle clarified that their friendship is very much a two-way situation. They love to laugh and talk things out, about everything and nothing at the same time – all of the small and big things that make up life. In referencing my own match, I mentioned that after a while such relationships can become just like family. Karlene nodded in agreement: “She is like my grand-daughter!”.   

The conversation flowed as I uncovered more about both of them. In addition to her duties as vice principle, Maelle is an avid camper and loves dogs (she has a Rottweiler rescue and a dachshund). Karlene is a retired hairdresser and loves Reggae music and dancing. 

On to the most controversial topic we covered, Karlene mentioned how much she is looking forward to seeing the new Bob Marley biopic, and I responded that I recently took in the Barbie film and was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. To my dismay, Karlene did not share my positive review – at all. Perhaps flustered by this friendly disagreement, or perhaps in a vain attempt to justify my opinion, I then started to gush about Ryan Gosling. I did not expect that.

Moving along, we ended up talking about what a great job ABLE2 does in matching people and in this context, Maelle described how quickly they clicked together, referencing the fact that Karleen was dancing the first time she saw her – what a first impression! 

The most surprising part of the conversation was finding out that Karlene likes pro-wrestling. We had a nice laugh as we almost simultaneously quoted the famous tagline of the former wrestler turned movie star, Dwayne “the Rock”: Johnson: “If you smeeellllllll what the Rock is cooking!!!”. While it is true that I never know to expect when I sit for these chats with ABLE2 matches, I can say with absolute certainty that I did not expect to reminisce about the late 1990s pro-wrestling scene. 

As our chat began to wind down, I asked my usual concluding question: what would you say to someone considering getting involved in ABLE2? 

Karlene was quick with her response:  Just go for it – you won’t regret it, especially if you get a match like mine – she is a dream friend! Maelle added that even though people may seem different on the outside there are always opportunities to connect and find common ground (like pro wrestling!). 

This confirmed (again) to me that differences in people are often superficial. All you need is an open heart, and to spend a bit of time shooting the breeze about the mundane, day-to-day things that make up life.   What a boring world it would be if only people that were the same could be friends. 

And with that, our conversation wrapped up.  It my pleasure a to get to know Karlene and Maelle, and I look forward to seeing them at various ABLE2 events. 

Get to know ABLE2’s CAC Members: Stacey Bielaski (CAC Profile)

ABLE2’s Consumer Advisory Committee (CAC) was organized in 1991 in an effort to provide client-centered input to the board, that represents the interests of people living with disabilities. The committee also engages in opportunities for its members to be involved in ABLE2’s advocacy work. Currently sitting as Chair is Stacey Bielaski, a long-time program beneficiary and supporter of ABLE2, and an inspiring force to be reckoned with. 

Stacey, who grew up in Barrie, Ontario, was discovered to have a learning disability when she was in grade 1. Her parents enrolled her in a school that offered special education, where she was able to successfully learn how to read and write. However, that was cut short as their family moved to Ottawa Valley, and Stacey was enrolled in a public school where special Education was inclusive. She had mixed experience in the public school system; in high school, Stacey was able to take classes she was interested in and had some freedom to enjoy learning activities. When her family moved again, the new school she was placed in no longer offered the same freedom. She was not able to take classes she was interested in, and her year in grade 9 from the previous year was not credited, so she repeated the grade again when she should have been in grade 10. Stacey says, “I am glad we have a special education system, but I think they need to work better in the school system.” From her experience, she felt that her educators did not see her potential and was disengaged with the kind of treatment she received from her school. “Students in the special education [program should be seen] as people that have [abilities] to learn, and grow into incredible, smart, valuable members of society. We deserve education as much as the other students in the school system,” says Stacey.

Nevertheless, she overcame the challenges, and “…pushed myself knowing that I could do it, [knowing that] people believed in me,” says Stacey. When she moved to Ottawa and changed to a different school once more, Stacey persevered and received her Highschool Diploma. 

“I wanted to prove them wrong; I believe that I can do anything I put my mind to do.”

When asked about the bigger challenges she has faced as someone living with a disability in the community, Stacey says, “People could be more understanding and respectful. Sometimes they don’t understand what I’m going through. I try to understand where they’re coming from as well.” She also encounters obstacles like learning a new bus route for work and trying to get to the right place on time, managing her finances and paying her bills on time, and eating healthier. 

Despite these, Stacey keeps an open mind and continues to overcome the hurdles, armed with a positive attitude and happy disposition. She joined the CAC in 2018 and has been involved with ABLE2’s programs since then. Stacey says that she is grateful for the chance to meet other people with disabilities who also want to make a difference in the community. She says that being involved with ABLE2’s work inspires her, as it is “an organization that makes a difference in people with disabilities, [and] see their value in our society,” says Stacey. She is proud to be part of the ABLE2 community, especially after being invited to the Senate of Canada, with Senator Chantal Petitclerc recognizing ABLE2’s work in her statement for International Day of Persons with Disabilities on November 30, 2023. 

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When asked why more people should get involved with ABLE2, Stacey says, “ABLE2 is a good organization. They want to help people with disabilities live their best lives.” 

Stacey’s dreams and aspirations include becoming a great leader. “[I’ve] always felt [that] I wanted to make a difference in other people with disabilities, showing that their lives are valuable. [I want to] make our voice [be] heard in the community. I am very passionate about [letting] other people with disabilities know that their voices matter, that they are valuable, and worthy of an incredible life,” says Stacey. She also looks forward to being independent, having her own place to call home, and getting a college diploma in Journalism. 

“I am excited for my future; the sky has no limit. I am looking forward to doing some college courses. Education is very important to me. I am realizing [that] I deserve and have a right to make my dreams come true,” says Stacey.

ABLE2’s 50 Years of Community Service: A Story of Impact

Over the last 50 years we have seen an evolution in our attitudes and actions in the areas of inclusivity, equality, and accessibility, from the enactment of key pieces of legislation to the development of assistive devices and technology, ABLE2: Support for People with Disabilities (formerly Citizen Advocacy Ottawa) has been present through it all.

ABLE2’s story began in the mid 1970s, as Citizen Advocacy of Ottawa Carleton (CAOC). CAOC a non-profit, charitable organization began with a program that matched individuals with disabilities (called Friends) to volunteers (called Allies). The Allies would spend time with their Friends participating in activities within the community and advocating for supports and services that would help their Friends to lead the lives they desired. The Matching Program as it is called today would often result in the development of long-term friendships beneficial to both the Friend and Ally.

Over the years, ABLE2 added more programs, in response to the changing needs of individuals with disabilities and with the addition of these programs came a need for a new name. In 2020, CAOC became ABLE2. This change was not merely sematic; it represented the organization’s changing vision and mission, better represented the range of programs that we offered and the individuals that we serve.

Today, ABLE2 provides not only the matching program but programs that assist individuals with disabilities to build support networks, plan for and build a good life, and manage their individualized funds. We provide support for children, youth and adults impacted by Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder and through our recent amalgamation with Reach Canada, ABLE2 can now offer a legal referral service to support individuals with disabilities who face issues accessing the justice system.

As ABLE2 celebrates its 50th year of service to the community, there is so much to be proud of, the relationships which have been facilitated, the lives we have impacted, the programs we have built, the partnerships we have made and the part we have played and continue to play in championing the rights of individuals with disabilities.

ABLE2’s story is one of community service and impact, underscored by our vision of an inclusive community where all people are seen as able, important, and valued, but our story does not end here.

The next 50 years promises to be even more impactful and exciting and ABLE2 is committed to being part of all of it.

In closing, I would like to thank all the donors, volunteers and supporters who believe in our vision and who are part of our story. Most importantly, I want to thank the individuals with disabilities and their families for allowing ABLE2 to serve you for the past fifty years and helping us to make a positive impact in the community.

Published by

Heather Lacey

Experienced Non-Profit Executive Director

Read Heather’s other articles here

A Fireside Chat with the Walkers

By Rick Burns (as published in the January 2024 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

It was an unseasonably mild, late December afternoon as I was preparing to meet with David and Mary Walker to speak about their experiences with ABLE2. 

As I approached their front door, I was met by Mary’s welcoming, smiling face as she invited me into their warm, cozy home. The fireplace, the Christmas cards strewn about, the lights of their tree – a stark contrast to the otherwise grey, gloomy day outside. 

With quick introductions and formalities aside, David had already begun to pour us all a drink as we sat for our chat.  With such warm introductions, I was quickly at ease, which is not all that surprising considering that they had previously been described to me as “a dynamic duo” and “bright lights in our ABLE2 family”.  

As we took our first sips, Mary and David described their experiences with ABLE2 and what incented them to get involved over ten years go now. Without hesitation, they pointed to their Catholic faith and desire to be a positive, loving force in the world. Wanting to do good for others and the community, they began searching out volunteering opportunities online, eventually coming across ABLE2 and its matching program. Already fully employed, they were seeking something personal and rewarding – not something that would feel like a second job. They were immediately drawn to the idea of a personal, one-on-one experience to help someone in need – helping people just by showing up and being themselves, which is all that it usually takes to let an otherwise isolated member of the community know they are valued and not alone. 

As I came to learn, Mary had several matches and connections over the years.  She described her current match to Barbara, a woman in her 70s with an intellectual disability, who she sees every Sunday for an hour or so at her long-term care home.  Mary connects with Barbara through art; they like to colour together and then hang up their pictures on the wall to decorate and brighten up Barbara’s room. Without much family, Mary acts as Barbara’s lifeline to the outside world and helps get her out of her shell.  Although their conversations are limited sometimes, Mary has found that there is a relaxing, almost meditative aspect to making art side by side with someone without any pressure or expectations to entertain. The only real requirement for her is to be present and to share space and time doing an enjoyable activity.  She has discovered that there is something uniquely rewarding about having someone in your life that is truly and genuinely happy to see you each and every time without fail. 

David has been matched now with Sheldon, a man with a visual impairment, for the last 10 years and sees him on a weekly basis, noting that his Tuesday afternoons would not be the same without him! David helps Sheldon with things like shopping and banking, but mostly is there just to chat, listen and be present – as good friends do.  Over the course of their friendship, David has also become increasingly close with Sheldon’s extended family, who together act as invaluable pillars of support in his life.  Over the years, their relationship has evolved, from a friendship enabled by ABLE2 to a relationship that is more like family. David affectionately refers to Sheldon, who is now in his eighties, as his uncle. He also confirmed that even if ABLE2 ceased to exist tomorrow, they would still be a big part of each other’s lives – which is the ultimate testament to the power of the ABLE2’s matching program.  

As the interview (and my delicious beer) was coming to an end, I asked my standard concluding question: what would they say to someone who is considering getting involved in ABLE2? 

David pointed to the direct “pay off” one can receive in engaging in such a personal experience, getting to know someone else and seeing first-hand the difference one can make in someone’s life.  He underlined that there is no catch – only an opportunity to do a bit of good in the world. And, you may even be surprised that it will do as much good for them as it does for you!

Mary, nodding her head in agreement, was quick to point out how well-supported she felt by ABLE2 every step of the way, during of the matching process itself and afterwards once the relationship began.  While she understands why someone may feel apprehensive about getting involved and engaging in someone else’s life in this way, she referred to the caring and professional team at ABLE2 who are always there to offer support and advice every step of the way, no matter what challenge may come up as the relationship unfolds. 

The Walkers are such friendly, pleasant people and we are all better for having them as active members in the community.  There was no better way to enjoy the strange liminal time between Christmas and New Year’s than connecting with such good people over a drink and good conversation – I look forward to our paths crossing again! 

By Rick Burns

Human Rights Day: A Time for Reflection

Last November 30, Senator Chantal Petitclerc invited ABLE2 representatives as guests to the Senate of Canada Chambers, where she delivered her statement for International Day of Persons with Disabilities. As a champion of human rights and for building a more inclusive society, Senator Petitclerc recognized ABLE2’s work in providing programs and services that empower people with disabilities to assert their rights and participate fully in the community.  

You can watch/listen to Senator’s Petitclerc’s statement here: https://youtu.be/R8ChBkqOiHQ?si=z3vVGbCrz_DVJ9Je 

Human Rights Day is an important occasion to reflect on the intersection of disability and human rights. People with disabilities face a range of challenges in accessing their rights, including discrimination, poverty, and social exclusion. In order to address these challenges, there is an urgent need for legal services that are tailored to the needs of people with disabilities, so that they can challenge discrimination and have an ally in advocating for their rights.  

According to a study by Statistics Canada in 2014, people with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty than people without disabilities. Due to additional barriers like accessing education, employment, and healthcare, people with disabilities have limited opportunities, which can impact their ability to fully participate in the community. Having access to legal services, people with disabilities and their families will have the resources and support they need to overcome these barriers and achieve their goals.   

(Source: Statistics Canada https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/75-006-x/2017001/article/54854-eng.htm

Earlier this year, Reach Canada merged with ABLE2 and as a result we have increased our impact on people with disabilities in our community. This merger has helped to further our mission to continue working with partners to provide the tools, choices and connections that empower people with disabilities to build lives of meaning and joy, including fostering access to justice. The Reach Legal Referral Program connects people with disabilities to a network of over 200 volunteer lawyers, mediators, and paralegals in the Ottawa region who provide up to three hours of free, confidential, and personal legal advice. This program helps people with disabilities with a variety of legal issues, such as discrimination, employment, housing, family, education, health, and more.  

Last year alone, the program’s lawyer referrals drastically increased by 45%, revealing the urgent and growing need for legal services tailored to the needs of people with disabilities.  

The impact of providing access to legal services can be seen in Olga’s story, one of the beneficiaries of the Reach Legal Referral Program at ABLE2.  

“…when I started having difficulties walking due to severe pain (I have spine stenosis) I went to the HR contact and inquired the number of handicap parking spaces available, as by the time I started work, the spaces closer to the building I worked, were already taken…  

After hearing my situation and the challenges I was going through, Reach connected me with a lawyer, issued me a certificate and I met with a lawyer free of charge.  

 What I value most about my relationship with Reach, is that they indeed care for individuals like me, they listen and act accordingly, after this, I went back a second time for another issue and again, I was helped.  

 Thank you so much for your assistance and the great work you do helping people with disabilities, at times, I personal feel like having a disability it’s like a stigma, I have a handicap parking permit and I have been approached more than once by individuals questioning my disability, we have gone a long way but there’s still a lot to be done to resolve the many challenges people with disabilities face.. God bless you all involved in this organization, you and all the lawyers helping us are a blessing,” – Olga Medin, Reach Program Beneficiary 

ABLE2’s work is an integral part of creating a more inclusive and equitable society. In providing legal referral services, we can support people with disabilities in achieving their goals and realizing their dreams, whether that means gaining independence, creating a social network, obtaining an education, or securing employment. With the help of our committed partners, generous donors, dedicated volunteers & supporters, we will continue to strive for a world where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential.  

To learn more about ABLE2’s Reach Legal Referral Services, and other programs, visit our website at https://able2.bmediashop.com/ 

Published by

Heather Lacey

Experienced Non-Profit Executive Director

Read Heather’s other articles here

Caring for Joey’s “Zoo Crew” ABLE2 Brings Families Hope Through Its Fetal Alcohol Program

By Frank B. Edwards (as published in the November 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter)

Joey Desormeaux lovingly calls his three kids “the Zoo Crew.” His Stittsville trio – Aidan, 12, and 7-year-old twins, Hunter and Lily – are well-known free spirits in the neighbourhood and at school.

Until a few years ago, Joey, a congenial 44-year-old nurse, assumed that the kids shared his own attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Certainly, they were loud, unruly, and given to emotional meltdowns. 

Joey recalls, “We knew something was up with their various early childhood milestones. They were slow to start talking and they had low reasoning skills. But they were hyper-accelerated at walking and running. At first it just seemed to be ADHD, but eventually we started thinking it could be a fetal alcohol disorder.”

Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) is often mistaken for ADHD. So, when the children did not respond to typical treatment, their doctor referred them to the FASD team at Ottawa’s Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO).

By then, Joey and the kids’ stepmother, Jamie, a healthcare worker, were convinced of FASD so they were relieved in early 2022 when CHEO staff made its “suspected FASD diagnosis” for Aidan and Hunter. Almost a year and a half later, in August 2023, the CHEO team confirmed FASD and began testing Lily. (She has exhibited fewer FASD behaviours than her brother and is doing math several grades ahead of her age.)

While alcoholic beverage bottles today carry warning labels about the dangers of drinking when pregnant, few people seem aware of how insidious FASD is – more than 1.5 million Canadians have been identified with the disorder. At 4% of the population, diagnosed FASD is more common than autism, cerebral palsy and Downs syndrome combined. 

Alcohol can disrupt fetal brain development which in turn causes a wide range of serious physical and intellectual disabilities. The syndrome affects everything from intellectual and social function to motor skills and memory. An 18-year-old with FASD might appear physically similar to their peers but have the life skills of an 11-year-old and the social maturity of a six-year-old.

After CHEO’s “suspected” FASD diagnosis in 2022, the Desormeaux family was referred to ABLE2’s Fetal Alcohol Resource Program (FARP) and within a month received support from a social worker to help them bring order to their household.

ABLE2 is an Ottawa non-profit group charitable organization that offers important supports to people with disabilities in the region. It is the only local organization helping families facing the challenges of FASD.

“The ABLE2 program recognized what we had been doing right,” says Joey. He and Jamie had already established the consistent routines important to their youngsters, but they still had a lot to learn. “The program helped us guide our own responses to situations.”

Today, the homes of many ABLE2 FASD clients are decorated with reminder signs and family schedules to help reinforce daily routines that are second nature to other families. Repetition and consistency help impulsive children who lack flexibility and have trouble understanding the intricacies of social norms.

This summer, Joey’s “crew” welcomed a new FASD support worker from ABLE2 — Donna Douglas, a child and youth counsellor with 16 client families in the Ottawa region. Her most recent home visit focused on helping the family establish a consistent morning routine so everyone could start their day on a more positive note. 

She also discussed how Joey and Jamie can deal with the frustration and constant pressure they face — and temper their own interactions with the kids. Listening to a typical exchange between parent and child, she observed an edge of adult sarcasm and reminded both Joey and Jamie to keep their corrective voices neutral. Joey jokes that he and Jamie are being coached on their “bad habits.”

“Yeah, we’re under the microscope now,” Joey laughs. “But the kids are ‘super feelers.’ They detect voice tones that we might not, along with a lot of other things.” 

“I said to Aidan, ‘Dude, what are you doing? You’re 12 years old, you should know better.’ But, of course, he doesn’t because of his neural pathways. We have to constantly remind ourselves about that.”

Even minute changes to routine can cause major problems, such as when a new brand of detergent created a laundry revolt. The kids refused to wear some of their clothes because they smelled and felt different. They were even convinced the clothes no longer fit properly.

In her job at ABLE2, Donna does a lot of educational outreach, with both families and their community, explaining just how sensitive FASD children are. Sights, smells, sounds, touch, and even tastes can trigger unexpected reactions.

“A taste as common as broccoli can be very upsetting. Or a bad smell,” she says. Part of her job is to work with teachers, explaining the nuances of FASD and helping them set reasonable expectations and develop strategies to achieve them.

Teachers, like parents, get upset when students repeatedly “misbehave” but “it’s because they don’t remember what they are supposed to do,” she explains. “They are slow to respond and have poor attention spans. You have to repeat something four times to them… and then say it a fifth time.”

“People have to reframe their perceptions of behaviour and move from a punishment mode to a supportive mode,” she says.

This school year, with the FASD diagnosis in hand, Joey is focussing on social and education impacts. “We’re putting things in place now that we know why they’re doing what they do. It’s a continual learning journey.” He explains the children’s FASD diagnosis is considered a physical disability, essentially a brain injury, that will make them eligible for more support within the classroom.

Working in health care, both Jamie and Joey had a head start on many FASD families because they had heard of the disorder before. And they both knew the children’s biological mother may have consumed alcohol during her pregnancies, something she confirmed with the CHEO team.

“She was absent from the time the twins were one,” says Joey. “But I’m proud of her admitting to drinking.” Such confirmation makes a FASD diagnosis easier, and it supports the children, but is a hard step for mothers to take.

“It carries a lot of stigma for mothers,” says Donna. Medical histories of absent birth mothers are difficult to assemble so the CHEO team must rely on adoption and social agency records to complete a developmental profile that starts at pregnancy. 

In her early client visits, either in person or on a video call, Donna gathers a child’s history before starting a conversation about the family’s goals and how she can help parents achieve them.

“FASD is very complex,” she says. “There are various levels of disability, and each child is different.”

Part of her job is to work with the changing expectations of parents and caregivers, helping them establish realistic goals, especially around emotional regulation at home, in public and in school. In September, she will be visiting Aidan’s and Hunter’s teachers to discuss the boys’ needs and find them supports. 

Part of her educational arsenal is a slide show on her laptop with which she can give a thorough overview of FASD – to parents, caregivers, and teachers – in less than an hour. It is a sobering lesson on the lifelong effects of even small amounts of alcohol on a fetus.

“The alcohol enters the fetus through the blood and dehydrates brain cells. Those cells are the building blocks of development,” she explains. “Alcohol affects different cells in a fetus, disrupting its proper development. 

“If a dehydrated cell dies, it can never do what it was supposed to do.” 

For example, alcohol consumption in the first 19-22 days of gestation — before a mother even knows she is pregnant – can result in the facial features commonly associated with FASD. Yet, the reduced eye openings, flat midface and smaller head characteristics are found in only about 3% of people diagnosed with FASD.

Joey remains upbeat about the challenges that lay ahead for his family.

“Luckily, they are the sweetest kids in the world. They have the biggest hearts. But everything in our day is a situation…”

Remembering how overwhelming life seemed before help arrived, Joey offers three pieces of advice to FASD parents.

“Place yourself first, mentally, emotionally, and physically. You can’t give care if you don’t care for yourself. You’ll become too exhausted and emotional.

“Don’t be afraid of labels. Don’t be ashamed. Shout out loud and proud: My kid is special.

“And build a good family and support network.”

Certainly, ABLE2 is a key part of the Desormeaux strategy. “Without ABLE2, people like us would be lost,” he says.

Building a More Accessible and Inclusive Community

I appreciated this article from Senator Chantal Petitclerc, a tireless advocate for the contributions people with disabilities have made to our society. She plays a definitive role in building a more inclusive society and inspires people to overcome their obstacles and achieve their full potential.


With Bill C-22, the Canada Disability Benefit Act, receiving Royal Assent in June there is much to do to alleviate the poverty conditions for people with disabilities. The Canada Disability Benefit Act creates a new supplemental income for people living with a disability, which seeks to support financial security for a community that is twice as likely to live in poverty.

The new Canada Disability Benefit has not been implemented yet. Cabinet must agree on a date when this legislation “comes into force” and then the regulatory process will begin. It is this process that will determine important elements of the Canada Disability Benefit, such as eligibility, the application process, appeals process, and the amount of the benefit. Importantly, the federal government has committed to co-designing this program with the disability community and has pledged to do so in the legislation. This legislation will make a difference for people with disabilities in their day-to-day lives, and move us closer to a more accessible and inclusive community.

Published by

Heather Lacey

Experienced Non-Profit Executive Director

Read Heather’s other articles here

Adrian and his friend with great tastes in movies (John)

By Rick Burns as published in the September 2023 ABLE2 Monthly Moments Newsletter

It was a beautiful August day, sunny and warm, I was chalk full of the “Friday feels” – it was a perfect time for a casual lunch with my soon-to-be new friends, John and Adrian. 

I sat waiting for my two lunch companions in a corner booth, flipping through my phone, checking in on the Blue Jays, bit of the news, getting a handle on the latest celebrity scandal.  

I looked around, I knew who to look for as I had met Adrian and John before. I knew Adrian as a fellow board member of ABLE2, and I had the pleasure of meeting his friend John at last year’s Christmas party.

Then I heard it.  An excited voice sounded out my name “Rick Burrrrrnnnnsssss”.  Turning to my left, there they were.  What a great first impression of John.  It does not matter who, where, when or why – nothing feels better than being greeted by someone with such energy and enthusiasm.  

John and Adrian had barely settled into our booth before we jumped right into a delightful conversation. I had brought my notebook along with a set of pre-selected questions I could ask.  I had these alongside me for my own comfort in case the conversation lagged.…in case my chit-chatting skills would fail me. Alas, my old school pen and paper proved to be mostly unnecessary as the conversation flowed naturally and easy.  The lunch flew by, the real question here is what we didn’t talk about. 

First matched in 1999, I was so impressed with how Adrian was with John. It was nothing specific he did, just a comfortable, caring presence. He was not John’s caretaker, he was his dear friend. I was not surprised to learn later on in our conversation that John shares Christmas time and other holidays at Adrian’s place. With no immediate family in the Ottawa area, Adrian is John’s rock, his family. As the one consistent person in his life, Adian was a pillar of stability in helping John adjust to his move into his current assisted living residence. 

As the conversation flowed, it turns out Adrian and I had a lot in common, perhaps not surprising considering we have established long term friendships through ABLE’s matching program and are both members of the Board of Directors. 

What was surprising, however, is the commonalities I found with John. I learned so many interesting things about him. I heard about how he swam, hiked, and went to Bluesfest this summer. We both love coffee, but each of us has had to make at least a partial transition to decaf in the last few years (too much caffeine make us both spin like a top).  John was also born in Manhattan, arriving in Ottawa via Oshawa many years ago.  I don’t think I have ever met a real New Yorker before! 

I learned that John is a movie buff and I enjoyed hearing about his various tastes.  As he listed some his favorites, I could not believe what I heard: “Titanic”. 

Reader, of course you would not know this, but Titanic is in my tip five list of all time favourite movies and it has been recently been made available on Netflix.  Upon excitedly telling people in my social circles of this great news, I was disappointed to discover that it is not as popular as I once thought. My wife, nieces, friends, relatives – no one seems to be interested.  John – I am so glad I met someone else with such strong movie taste. I could not agree with you more – it is an all-time classic. 

Overall, the lunch was great, I really enjoyed getting to know Adian and John and I look forward to seeing them again. 

By Rick Burns