Retired midwife Nicole Roach, equity advocate, calls on midwives to support disability justice

May 31, 2023

As a working midwife and former AOM Board member, Nicole was active in advocating to close the gender pay gap for midwives. Today, as a retired midwife living with a disability, Nicole has been advocating to end poverty for people living with disabilities.

Nicole experienced symptoms as far back as 2013 but realized something was seriously wrong in 2016 and made time for a doctor’s appointment. In 2017 Nicole was diagnosed with a benign brain tumour and in 2018 with Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS). Following the diagnoses, Nicole experienced multiple falls leading to several injuries, including a dislocated shoulder which ended her midwifery career.

Nicole has been advocating for Bill C-22, a federal law that could reduce poverty and support the financial security of people with disabilities. Nicole’s disability justice work has included meeting with members of parliament, sending emails and postcards.

“Disability justice work is important, and it could be any one of us as midwives who becomes disabled,” says Nicole. “A midwife friend for example, while moving a client during an emergency, ripped her shoulder. Another midwife friend had an oxygen tank fall on her and broke her hand. Many people suffer alone with invisible disabilities like mental health. Sometimes midwives suffer alone because they know how hard the work is and we don’t want to be seen as complaining to another midwife.”

Nicole is calling on midwives and allies to contribute to disability justice, including by supporting Disability Without Poverty (DWP) and by putting pressure on MPs to pass Bill C-22.

People living with disabilities are more likely to live in poverty, including because of a lack of income support programs and the increased cost to live with a disability. Twenty-two per cent of Canadians are living with a disability but represent 41 per cent of those who live in poverty. Nicole stresses that “disability is expensive.”

Nicole’s disability benefits were calculated during the period when the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario found government was paying midwives a discriminatory rate. The AOM has advocated for government to make an equity payment to midwives like Nicole. Years later, the Ministry of Health has agreed and the process to calculate retroactive disability adjustments is currently underway. However, the ministry declined to pay interest on the equity adjustments back to 2020, when the Tribunal first found government had discriminated against midwives.

Financially, things have been tough for Nicole and her family. In an attempt to save money on fees, Nicole made the tough decision to give up her midwifery license. This has had material and mental health implications. Nicole has faced firsthand the harsh reality that disability and poverty often go hand in hand. Disability payments, for example, represent a loss of income, and prior to her PPMS diagnosis, Nicole had already needed to reduce her midwifery caseload to three-quarters of a full-time caseload so that she could be well enough to work. Her long-term disability benefits now are 60 per cent of this reduced income, and still currently based on calculations made prior to the Tribunal-ordered compensation adjustments for midwives.

Nicole connects her experience advocating for both pay equity and disability justice. “With the HRTO fight,” she says, “it was important to fight for the principle of equal pay for work of equal value — and not just for midwives, but for everyone, and especially for women in more precarious work who couldn’t take on legal action themselves. With disability justice, I feel the same way. I am fighting because it affects me, and I am asking midwives to stand with me to work towards disability justice because it’s the right thing to do, because as midwives our work makes us vulnerable, and because solidarity is important to communities who may not have a majority voice.”

Disability Without Poverty is a national, grassroots-based, independently financed movement led by people with disabilities. Take a moment today to send a letter to your MP to ask them to support Bill C-22 and help make the Canada Disability Benefit a reality. 

Want to connect with the Disability Equity Committee at the AOM? You can send an email to Mary-K Dunn, Manager, Policy and Communications.