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It is common in the disability community to speak of unfulfilled aspirations for full citizenship and participation in the mainstream of Canadian society. In Canada, as in much of the developed world, many adults with disabilities remain outside the mainstream, especially in regard to economic opportunities. Unfortunately, many of the disability policies currently pursued by Canadian governments are unlikely to improve this situation, and may in fact make it worse.

This paper offers a critical analysis of a common instrument of current disability policy, the passive cash benefit. I will focus, in particular, on the effects of passive transfers on prospects for adults with disabilities to reach their full income potential through employment. I will attempt to establish that passive income support strategies – for adults with disabilities and for low-income people in general – force their intended beneficiaries to sacrifice employment prospects for help with short-term income needs, a trade-off that reinforces poverty and dependency over the longer term.