Alberta Ombudsman says rules governing developmental disabilities programs are unfair

EDMONTON — An autistic Alberta man was unfairly denied the support he needed by a government program that relies too heavily on intelligence tests, the province’s ombudsman has concluded.

“The regulations need to be changed,” ombudsman Kevin Brezinski said in an interview. “This legislation has been flawed for 10 years and has not been amended.”

Brezinski’s office, which investigates complaints of injustice filed by public agencies in the province, released a report on Evan Zenari’s case on Tuesday.

Zenari received benefits under provincial legislation until age 18, when he was disqualified.

His mother, Janice Zenari, applied for adult-only benefits. A capacity test revealed that he was incapable of making his own major life or financial decisions and that his parents would be his guardians for life.

But the program for people with developmental disabilities turned the family away. It says Evan scored 79 on intelligence tests, while 70 is the program’s cutoff.

His mother appealed the decision.

“They didn’t evaluate Evan as a person,” she said. “He doesn’t have those coping skills. He doesn’t understand real life.”

Although he is very competent in some areas, she said her son wouldn’t know how to get home if she couldn’t pick him up.

The report said two psychologists, including one in the disability program, said the score was an inadequate assessment of his abilities.

The appeals panel wrote that “(the score) is not accurate or valid and cannot be relied upon by the panel.” »

But because regulations require the appeals board to consider intelligence tests, it could not reverse the government’s initial decision, Brezinski wrote.

Its investigation found at least four other similar cases in which an appeals panel was unable to overturn a decision.

The province said it will review the regulation when it is revised in September. But he refused to re-examine Evan’s case.

“We have no intention of moving away from IQ requirements,” Seniors, Community and Social Services Minister Jason Nixon said Tuesday in response to the report.

“We are committed to using IQ as our requirements for (the program) along with other issues people may face as part of the assessment process, and we are committed to meeting our current requirements when it arises. is about being able to access the program.

Nixon said the province spends $1.2 billion on people with developmental disabilities.

The ombudsman’s report said a judge wrote in a 2013 ruling that the use of intelligence tests to determine aid eligibility is too narrow a standard. Since then, the regulations have been revised three times and have remained unchanged.

Brezinski also consulted with the Alberta College of Psychologists, which said assessors should use a range of criteria, including measures of how a person functions in society.

Even though program evaluators looked at Zenari’s academic grades, Brezinski said that wasn’t enough.

“They looked at the educational records. But they didn’t look at all the other skills needed to do a proper assessment, which they really can’t under the regulations.”

Marie Renaud, opposition NDP social and community services critic, said the report reveals a widespread failing in how Alberta supports people with developmental disabilities.

“There are hundreds, if not thousands of people – Albertans – who are being denied disability benefits because of their IQ,” she said.

This is a widespread problem within the program, she said.

The intelligence test threshold applies to everyone who applies under the program, Renaud added. This includes not only people with autism, but also other serious illnesses, such as fetal alcohol syndrome.

“Under the current (United Conservative Party) government, they are very strict. They adhere to every line and every regulation.”

There are real consequences for people who can’t get support, Renaud said.

“They are disproportionately represented in the justice system and in acute care.”

She said the New Democrats tried to fix the program when they were in power, but lost the election before those changes took effect.

Evan already receives assured income for payments for severely disabled people. His mother said he needed support, not money.

“He needs help with his daily tasks, someone to shadow him in a position, someone to help him apply for a position.”

Zenari, now 21, has been doing volunteer work but is eager to find a job.

“He wants to feel like he made a contribution,” his mother said.

But after three years without any support except from her family, her confidence crumbled, she said.

“He’s doing his best… he’s seeing his dreams fade away.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 7, 2024.

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press