Being Disabled in Nunavut

Carol Cruden, RPN Qualicare Franchise Corporation

Recently I worked as a nurse in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut in the Killaiq Health Centre. It was an eye-opening experience dealing with the challenges of health care system in the Canadian North.

As an example, there is the issue of wheelchairs.

The government provides funding for manual wheelchairs every five years, which is pretty standard in many provinces. Equal, yes, but….have you seen the terrain in Nunavut? Many communities have few or no paved roads as well as no sidewalks and the terrain is far from flat. The wheelchair that is funded is basic and would better suit individuals who are getting around on concrete, wood or hard surface floors. One of my observations is that this population needs a higher-end wheelchair with bigger, sturdier, air-pressurized tires that can handle the terrain. I helped fixed a wheelchair once that was six months old, but looked more like it had seen 10 years’ worth of very hard labour. There were bolts that had been sheered from the abuse of travelling in town. With no equipment or repair store in this community, broken products or their parts are either sent to Winnipeg or the part is shipped inland. That can take time, lots of time. So the community’s solution is to find a part from an old wheelchair, find something similar at the small hardware store and the local physiotherapist, with her little bag of “tools”, fixes it.

Currently there is no program or motorized transportation system to move wheelchair-bound people around town. Imagine the difficulty doing anything, going anywhere without having the means to travel from one end of town to the other, or getting up the hill, or making it to the grocery store in horrible weather conditions…? Regular means of transportation in Rankin Inlet is by foot, ATV or truck (if you can afford one). This creates extended periods of isolation for handicapped people, which is exacerbated by periods of extended darkness and/or snow storms. The stories they tell are heart-breaking. Thankfully, there are noble individuals who are fund-raising for a wheelchair-accessible van to transport any isolated and disabled people to their community events. A visit to their Facebook page will give you a moving insight into the challenges I’m referring to. No doubt they would appreciate even a small donation if you are able to help them.

On the positive side, the government makes homes that are wheelchair-accessible and there is funding to assist with housing costs for those with disabilities. This is a blessing, since none of the 3-4 story apartment buildings have elevators and virtually would be unsafe and hazardous for a person with a disability to live within if they could not get themselves out quickly in case of a fire, flood or any other reason where a fast exit could save a life.

This is just one example of the stories I heard or saw first-hand about the challenges that the disabled face up North.

My stay in this special town was a life-changing experience. I realize that I have come to expect and enjoy the many comforts of living in a major city. But I now realize that this beautiful country has its inequalities. Just a few short hours away by plane, the disabled are suffering in more ways than we would ever realize. Equipment is next to impossible to acquire, funding is limited and services unavailable. Getting around are challenging to say the least and the communities have learned to do with what they have, no matter how little that actually is. Most of us would not survive with the limited resources they have to deal with.

Carol Cruden RPN, BHA (Hons)

Here are some links that will give you some insight into the challenges of living up North:

Download Being Disabled in Nunavut PDF


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