Social Assistance Review: ODSP Related Feedback

This is my second submission to the Social Assistance Review in Ontario. I'm sending it because, after submitting the first one, I realized I wrote it too scrambled. It also didn't accurately capture the disquiet I feel when I re-read the questions that have been asked for this social assistance review.

I'll start out by explaining why I feel the disquiet. Then I'll share some of my story, weave in some of the knowledge I learned while taking Business Administration courses several years ago about hiring practices, add a few comments about what we (as a society) know is current practice, and throughout it all, add comments about what I feel would have worked for me to not only get employment, but also to keep that employment. I'm adding the personal part because I feel there are far too many subtle barrier issues that rarely get addressed. In my opinion they are much more important than some of the obvious barrier issues. They are the issues that led to my lifelong failure to get, and keep a job. I am one of the most determined individuals out there, in that I’ve developed a strong resilience and sense of determination to find work and I’ve never given up, but despite this, I am unable to get a job because of issues related to being disabled. It can be depressing and very demoralizing at times. It's also a very good reason why I have the major concerns about the line of questioning that is being used by the social assistance review committee for this review. There appears to be too much focus on getting people on OW and ODSP to work and off social assistance, and very little focus on adequacy, the inability of some to find and keep work, quality of life issues, and very little distinction between those who receive OW and those who, because of a disability, have been deemed to be eligible for ODSP.

In the Common Sense Revolution, Mike Harris said:

“Another important step in welfare reform will be to move 170,000 of our citizens – seniors and the disabled – out of the “welfare system” altogether. They should never have been there in the first place.

We’ll establish a new and separate income supplement program, specifically for those unable to work. Funding for this program will be guaranteed at current levels. Aid for seniors and the disabled will NOT be cut.”
The ODSP program was then created and, in reading the Hansard from around that time, it appears the intent to keep the program separate from welfare, was still very much on the agenda. In 2001, the Ontarian’s With Disabilities Act was released. In it, it says this about ODSP:

“The Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 provides a separate income and employment support program for eligible persons with disabilities. It removed persons with disabilities from the welfare system and provides them with assistance that recognizes their unique needs.”
Here too, it is obvious that ODSP was not supposed to remain a part of the welfare system and yet today, it is very much a part of that program. The only distinction that I can see is that of funding and workfare. The municipalities pay for OW and the province pays for ODSP. People on OW must participate in work plans, people on ODSP can choose whether they want to work or not.

The biggest question I have is this. What happened? Why are ODSP recipients being treated like they are welfare cases and being put under intense scrutiny and why is this review failing to take into consideration that some people simply can’t work because they have a disability? With that question in mind, I’ll ask you to think of it as you read the rest of this document.

Income reporting, the stigma of being on social assistance, the allegations of fraud, the warning by the Human Rights Commission had to give to landlords, who were publicizing ads for housing saying, “no ODSP recipients,” are breaking the law because facts haven’t been shared or the allegations haven’t been tested in court. This has made being on ODSP worse than I ever thought would be possible. I feel under attack and under the microscope because of my source of income and level of poverty and yet, all I did was have the misfortune of becoming disabled. As you read this report you will see that, despite the disability, I have never given up trying to do my part to give back to society. However, for the first time ever, requests for legitimate benefits like glasses, wheelchair repairs, and other necessities are being rejected. I have to go through an Internal Review and then later to the Social Benefits Tribunal, only to win my case and get what I asked for, and was entitled for, in the beginning. The local office wouldn't take the information I gave them to prove medical need and they misunderstood how to process a claim. The problem appears to be related to how the directive is worded.

Another problem I have is that my requests for medical transportation money or wheelchair repair money, is no longer being acted on in a timely fashion. I have $377.66 in outstanding debts that is to be reimbursed to me by ODSP. It is for 3 medical transportation trips to Toronto for appointments; the oldest one being 10 months ago. I also have 2 outstanding bills for wheelchair repairs. All the wheelchair repair bills were sent to ODSP directly and to date, the bills have not been paid. These bills are 4 and 5 months old respectively. I hope I won’t soon be held responsible to pay these bills instead.

I say this because the medical company that fixes my manual wheelchair will no longer touch it until they have their money from ODSP up front. I share this part mainly because it has become evident that something behind the scenes has changed in the ODSP Office, and things that once were approved, are no longer. Bills that were once quickly acted upon are no longer being paid.

For this reason, I would recommend the province get an Ombudsman, or some other person who can take complaints from clients and/or workers to listen and then help us resolve them.

In Quebec, they must keep track of the number of complaints, their nature, the resolve, and the time it took to resolve it. They then have to submit these results to the government in an annual report. From what I can make out, there is no formal complaint process and no stats are gathered for issues of this nature in Ontario. Quebec also doesn’t limit the nature of the complaints, or how many, a client can approach them with.

A recent job ad for ODSP Caseworkers said this in one of the very first paragraphs:

Purpose of Position:

To serve clients using a case management approach to deliver the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) including: determining eligibility for ODSP Income and Employment Support; serving as a resource in the areas of training and employment for clients; conducting preliminary and secondary assessments regarding allegations of program abuse by recipients and actioning outcomes. To provide information, advice, assistance, and liaison with clients, the community, and with stakeholders regarding the ODSP.(See: Appendix 1)

What I see happening in the administration of ODSP is a move to adopt policies that have inadvertently created a negative attitude toward the clients. The outcome has been an increased doubt about our credibility, and undue and extra scrutiny of all our transactions and dealings; this despite doing nothing wrong. At times this distrustful and negative experience gets me down and comes close to literally making me sick. There are times I simply can’t do what is expected of me in a timely fashion because I need to avoid the stress and added distress in order to stay well.

I keep asking myself, do these changes mean that this government has decided that ODSP is basically welfare? I don’t know how to answer that question, but in the last 6-8 years, things have definitely changed since Mike Harris first introduced the ODSP Act in 1997.

When ODSP was first introduced, it was so much better than its predecessor, the Family Benefits Allowance. FBA didn’t allow the family to help financially at all and they didn’t pay the extra 25% cost to buy a new wheelchair; the amount that was not covered by ADP (Assistive Devices). On ODSP the formula of what money you got to keep and what money had to be given to the government was much easier to figure out as well. ODSP has never been perfect, but there were a lot of great improvements when it was introduced. Even the extra scrutiny was gone. I didn’t have to go in for income reviews and continue proving I was disabled anymore.

Now ODSP has become a logistical nightmare in accountability – worse than anything I have ever seen before so, to be quite frank with you, I won’t even consider doing part-time work much anymore. Why pad their pockets and go through months of accountability nightmares?

One more thing before I move on. Why do job ads and job specifications tell the workers to go back through files and look for cases of fraud? Why not change the wording to (look for) administrative errors? When looking for administrative errors, fraud may show up. At that point investigate it and, if it is a true fraud, prosecute it and publish it. Guilt has been confirmed.

To write a job ad and job specifications that will set ones mindset to believe that fraud must be rampant, basically says we are guilty unless we can prove we are innocent, and this is unacceptable according to commonly accepted principals of Canadian Law.

There are lots of mistakes, some that may look like fraud, or be unintentional fraud, but with a program that has 800 rules that workers and clients can’t fully understand, are we surprised?

I point this out because I believe the amount of publicity about alleged ODSP fraud (rarely OW fraud anymore) has been very damaging to the reputations of people with disabilities, many of whom have never committed a crime in their life.

The Auditor General pointed out fraud with the Special Diet program and the public blamed the clients. What about the doctors who signed the forms in a way that was against the law? What about the Unions that paid to charter buses to take people to Toronto so they could get a Special Diet form filled out? In some ways this help was needed because many ODSP Clients did not have a family doctor and after-hours clinics or emergency departments won’t fill out forms, but that still doesn’t mean the client was to blame. Many, because of their disability were desperate. They couldn’t get work, they couldn’t get cheaper rent, and they couldn’t afford to buy healthy food. They were suffering so I don’t blame them for partaking in such a venture. Also many, because of their disability, didn’t likely understand the consequences of participating in such a venture because they may have been cognitively impaired, had a lower education, been mentally ill, or had any number of issues that could have impaired their ability to make a sound judgment. When I was in the mental health system, if I didn't accept an offer like this, I would be blamed for not taking advantage of opportunities to help myself and, at times, even be cut off service for failing to follow their suggestions.

How many people got hurt when the Special Diet Program had to be redone all over again? I think this was the 3rd review. Some recipients have reported that when the Special Diet was reviewed, ODSP found old overpayments, one as old as 18 years, and wrote them a letter saying you have been approved but you owe us this amount of money and can't have it. What they found were administrative errors that the client, by law, must be held accountable for. How cruel is that?

Revenue Canada and other business documents list how long one is to keep various financial papers and for almost everything and the limit is 7 years. How is a person on a disability pension to defend themselves if there is no statute of limitations on the length of time the workers can go back to review your file and collect money that was lost due to an administrative mistake? Why, when ODSP didn't exist that many years ago and it, and the whole welfare system was revamped, did the government keep the documents? Better yet, why did they not inspect the files when everything was being transitioned, and let the client know of the error then? This unlimited opportunity to recoup funds lost due to an administrative error doesn't exist in other sectors, or the corporate world, so I would suggest the Social Assistance Review Committee recommend a statute of limitations be added back so there is a limit to how many years they can go back to look for overpayments. It would remove the discriminatory nature of this clause.

In the job ad it says the workers are to do the follow up to get information from banks, or other places they need, to determine eligibility and to calculate and, if necessary, adjust the amount of the monthly benefits. My question is this. Why are the workers able to pass this responsibility back to us and, if we don't agree to do the running around, hold our cheques until we comply?

I am disabled and use specialized transit. It is a hardship to pay for extra buses to do the work so they can save time and money by not doing the work themselves. It can be even worse when we’re on two different wave-lengths so, what I gather turns out to be wrong and they tell me I have to start all over again. The program doesn't allow clients to email their worker, and faxes aren't logged, so they often get lost.

It is really infuriating to think that I am expected to do the job of gathering papers up for the worker (the directives are worded in such a way to permit this), save them some time and money to administer the ODSP program, pay for buses, endure the added stress, and then watch the worker get paid for entering the information into a computer.

The AODA has a Customer Service law that is in effect and it applies to the public sector. I would say that, by ODSP sending me all over the place to gather papers for them when they have the authority to do this themselves, they are not providing disability accommodation, and are therefore violating the Customer Service Standard. Please point this out in your summary to review.

Now to share some experiences:

I'll start by sharing my work history and why there's very little of it, despite a lifelong desire and attempt to find work.

In 1977, at the age of 17, I got a summer job working as a dishwasher at a summer camp. In 1978, I got the same summer job. By this point I'd already been hospitalized in the psychiatric ward 3 times, was prescribed a lot of medication, and was lucky to get the job at all. I got the job because my parents knew the camp director. My first hospitalization was in 1975 and I was 15 years old.

In 1979 the psychiatrist, whom I'd been seeing for several years, decided I should move out of the family home and go on welfare. He said I was mentally ill and my parents' expectations of me were too high; that they were not accommodating the limits of my disability. At the age of 16, a few years before, the psychiatrist said I was an adult and family therapy was stopped, so I suppose this move was his idea on how to motivate to move forward more quickly into adulthood. I no longer believed I could consult with my parents, because the psychiatrist said I was an adult and was strongly discouraging it by saying I should be depending on them less so, even though the idea of moving out of their upper middle-class and supportive home felt really wrong, I made the mistake of following his advice. I applied for welfare and moved into a cheap room in an area where people were somewhat rough and rowdy. I was scared out of my wits.

At this point I think it's important to add that there is no intent to point fingers here. I was definitely not 'normal,' when you compared me to other teenagers, but I can't help but wonder if my problem was not a mental illness. It was the fact I was not adapting well to the loss of leaving my friends behind in Toronto. I'd been going to boarding school there for 3 years, had made a lot of close friends, really started to blossom and grow, and my parents, for reasons I cannot explain, decided I had to go back to public high school in grade 10 because of economic reasons and, as I later found out, jealousy between me and my 2 brothers. My brothers wanted to go to boarding school too and my parents couldn't afford it. At public high school, I not only missed my friends, but I was back amongst the bullies that I'd left behind 3 years previously.

However, the psychiatrist was the professional and I believed I had to trust him. For some reason, I was not to blame school. I was to blame my parents. He said I was sick, I knew something was off, so I didn't feel I could judge either way.

I explain these circumstances because, part of what makes a person whole and helps them build up the network that is so important for finding and keeping a job, was missing. When you are ill or miss out on the ability to form friendships and strong bonds with others, you won't have someone to give you a good job reference, talk you up, or at times, help you to get your foot in the door of the working world.

Another thing that happened in 1979 was, I'd just completed high school and my marks and courses were considerably below my potential due to the effects of the mental illness. The multiple hospitalizations and handfuls of medications had really slowed me down so I’d been forced to drop from taking 5 year level courses (which allowed me to go to grade 13 and university), to a 4 year level (which limited me to college only). My parents had been saving all my life for university through the Registered Education Savings Plan so, when I was forced to lower the bar for schooling, they lost everything. Back then, the RESP could only be used to pay for university, not college.

With the doctor encouraging me to go on welfare and move out of the home, I was now in an even greater dilemma. My parents earned too much money for me to go on OSAP and, because I had just insulted them by moving out of their home, they were reluctant to pay for my college education, let alone assume the cost of supporting me to continue to live in the community. The psychiatrist was still insisting I should never move home again.

I don't blame them for being reluctant to fund me under the circumstances, so I sure was thankful when they decided to take the risk and fund me for college. I lasted in the course for 2 months before an overly stressful event caused me to panic and the psychiatrist put me in the hospital again to adjust the dosages of my medication. By the time I got out of the hospital I had missed too much school, so I lost the course and all the funding to pay for it. I was too far into the course when I left, to get a reimbursement. That was strike 2 for post-secondary school funding so I knew the idea of extra education was likely gone forever.

Thinking back about welfare and the advice of the psychiatrist to move out, I had no idea that by following his advice I was forever at risk of closing the door to work, a formal education, and some semblance of being able to live a normal life. In hindsight I believe the advice of the psychiatrist was dangerously wrong, but I'm not writing to talk about that.

I've chosen to share my experiences so people can learn and take steps to avoid similar pitfalls from happening to others again.

On welfare in the late 70's, it was mandatory to apply for 3 jobs a day and get a signature from the person you gave your application/resume to. I met this obligation 5 days a week for almost a year before I finally got a job as a waitress in a seedy Chinese Restaurant in Peterborough. They opened at 4:00 pm, and rarely saw too many customers before 1:00 am, when the bars closed and the people came in to eat.

I was on so much medication at the time that I couldn't remember anything and I was too clumsy to be a waitress. Fortunately the boss was understanding of my dilemma and let me switch to working as a dishwasher. I was still formally paid as a waitress, but the bulk of job could be done in the safety of the kitchen washing dishes. I liked the job, and I was thankful to be spared the stress of being a waitress. I had no idea that it was illegal to be paid the wages of a waitress when I was working as a dishwasher and couldn't earn tips.

The job was part-time so I still received a supplemental income from welfare. When I declared my paycheque and tips to them honestly (a few dollars here and there in tips for the odd hour of being a waitress during rush hour) welfare didn't believe I declared the full amount. The pay stub showed I was working as a waitress and welfare didn't believe me when I said I didn't get tips because I was mainly washing dishes. I knew nothing about the labour laws and the difference pay scales for minimum wage, so it was hard to understand why they insisted there must be more tips. Welfare was cut off for my 'dishonesty.' After that it got really hard.

My wages paid for the rent and that's it. For food, the employer gave me all the white rice I could eat for free, but my diet no longer contained protein, veggies or fruit. I got sick and depressed and soon I was admitted back to the psychiatric ward.

On discharge I managed to get back onto welfare, moved into Transition House (for people with a psychiatric illness), and went back to my old job. Because I was back on welfare, I had to also resume the 3-job-a-day search plus work the job in the evening.

I didn't mind looking for work because I wanted to get something better. I was also brought up to believe that we must all do our part, so I wasn't about to give up. The thing is, when the doctor prescribes you 30-40 pills a day (a mix of anti-depressants, psychotropic drugs, and medications to treat the side-effects) you drool. You also slur your speech and, no matter how hard you try, you cannot present a better image to the prospective employer. In hindsight I'm sure that was a huge contributing factor as to why I never got a job interview; that and the fact they knew I was on welfare because of the signature thing. I had no good job references to could put in a good word for me, so that also hampered my ability.

That's why, when a new program started called OCAP (Ontario Career Action Program), I quickly signed up.

What the program did was help me to find a job where I would be placed for 4 months to do normal work routines, get weekly evaluations, support and coaching, and have my wages paid by the government. Essentially I was a free employee for the business and I got to learn the basic employment skills through work. The employer made no distinction between me and the other full-waged employees, so I was integrated, given equal responsibility, and I learned a lot. The weekly job evaluations were always good.

At the end of four months I was hired full-time. That's when the first crack in the program appeared. I had a wisdom tooth extracted and, on a Friday afternoon before the Thanksgiving Weekend, I developed a dry socket with an infection and fever. I was in a lot of pain so I had to leave work early. I went home and then my family, who I no longer lived with, suggested I stay with them until I got better. This made good sense but, when staying with them meant I was to join them at the family cottage 2 hours north of Peterborough on the Thanksgiving weekend, it didn't look good to the employer. He didn't believe I was sick, even though I had a medical to prove it, and I was fired the following Tuesday when I got back from the long weekend. By the end of the week, the employer had a new (free) OCAP employee.

Was this an abuse of the OCAP program? I have no idea, but I can't help but wonder what the long-term success rate was for the program.

The job was a full-time job so, when I lost it, I had to go back on welfare, apply for jobs (despite still having a heavily medicated appearance) and endure the emotional pain of once again, not being called for an interview, ever.

I went back to the job at Sai Woo Garden, the Chinese Restaurant, and was able to supplement my welfare income while maintaining some employment stability to boost my morale and, more importantly, to show on my resume. However, what I didn't know at the time was, I was fighting a losing battle. As I got older and the gaps in my work history became more apparent, employers were even less likely to call me in for an interview. I also had no post-secondary education, awards, and other positive traits to share and sell myself with, on a resume.

I had been 3 years trying to get a better and a more stable job so I could get off welfare, but the mental illness and medications to treat it, were clearly creating roadblocks and hampering my ability to move ahead.

In 1983 I had lost so much hope that I became severely depressed, very suicidal, and Peterborough was no longer able to keep me safe from self-harm in the unlocked psychiatric ward. I was transferred by ambulance and under certificate, to a locked ward in Kingston Psychiatric Hospital.

As I got better, I started to work full-time at one of the hospital jobs (earning $6/40-hr. week). The first job was at I.E. (Industrial Enterprises). The second job was in the clean linen delivery department of the hospital laundry. The work was tedious and far below my potential, but it kept me busy and hopeful, so I did it.

When it came time to be discharged from hospital into the new (for me) community of Kingston where I was to remain so I could continue care as an outpatient, I discovered there was no support to help me get integrated into the community. There was also no encouragement to get a job, and no real information sharing to help me at least get started when I was motivated and asked for help to get on the right path to move forward.

Feeling completely overwhelmed, having no idea where to turn, and knowing full well I was not realistically employable, without some kind of support to get my foot in the door of the working world I became a revolving door patient. I literally got nowhere trying to integrate into the community, so the hospital became a refuge of sorts. I would get out of hospital full of steam and a desire to move on and the psychiatrists would see the high level of motivation, determine it was unusual, diagnose me as manic, and prescribe more medication to slow me down. I was slowed down alright. I was slowed down to the point where I eventually dropped back into a depression because it was too hard to fight through the fog of the drugs, apply for jobs, get enrolled in school, and do things that I hoped, would better myself. When the depression hit, I would go back to the hospital and beg to be admitted again. I still had no idea how much damage the medication was causing in regards to my frequent mood swings up and down, and I had no idea that the lack of community support to get reintegrated into the community was likely one of the costliest mistakes being made by the mental health system. We look normal, but we lack so many social skills and a community support network that most adults, who are not disabled, will have through family, their profession, or even their friends. Somehow this part is either never seen, or fully understood, by the experts who have never walked a mile in our shoes.

After many revolving door admissions I finally gave up trying to get better and degraded so badly in my behaviour that the staff could finally say, in all fairness, that I was hopeless. I verbally lashed out at everyone, and I physically lashed out against myself.

This behaviour earned me 16 shock treatments in a row, lots of memory loss, several years of restraints and seclusion, and a 10 month stint in St. Thomas Psychiatric Hospital on the Forensic ward. I had not committed a crime, but they were the secure ward, and had a treatment program. When I finally regained some control and plans were being made to transfer me back to Kingston from St. Thomas for rehab and their help to reintegrate me back into the community, Kingston changed their mind and decided to refuse to accept me back on a transfer. My parents, who I hadn't lived with for 10 years, came to my rescue by housing me with them in Cobourg, giving me an income, and enabling me to go back to high school as an adult student for a year so I could get used to studying again. I wanted to go to College and my parents were willing to support me. I then made a fatal mistake of choosing to move back to exclusionary Kingston to take my courses in Business Administration with a major in Accounting. I should have picked Peterborough or some other city that was known to be more welcoming to 'outsiders.' There's a reason the Queen's and St. Lawrence College Students study here and then leave, but I won't go into that now.

The social isolation problems returned and I developed new problems with the student housing building. I couldn't handle it. It led me back into a depression and I was once again admitted back to the psychiatric hospital. I lost my schooling because I missed too much time, and I was back to ground zero again.

I finally got into decent supportive housing with Kingston Friendship Homes. Over time, I became re-motivated to find work. You see, when I was in a supportive living environment I no longer felt fully alone, and I had others to share the daily tasks of living with. I also had company, others to share the costs of phone, cable, and other basics with, so the environment was a lot more relaxed. I don't think people realize that when you enter the mental health system at a very young age, you miss the opportunity to learn how to budget, cook, clean, buy groceries, or learn how to do the other essential tasks of daily living.

If you don't own a car and you have to do all these tasks on your own because like many who are disabled, especially with a mental illness, the support of family and friends often dwindles away to nothing, it can be very hard. It can be easy for someone who has never experienced this lack of knowledge to say, just pick up the phone or go out and ask questions. But try doing this seemingly basic thing when you have an illness, lack self-confidence, or the people you ask questions of, look at you incredulously because you look old enough to know the answers, or know how to find the answers of, these things on your own. People aren't sympathetic or understanding when you don't know how to do basic things as an adult.

It was this lack of skills and confidence that was also holding me back from succeeding to live independently or to enter into employment. Once the skills were learned and confidence started to build, I reached a point where I finally felt I could get a job and move into an apartment to live on my own. My parents bought me a car, insured it, and paid for its upkeep, and I paid for the gas. The car was likely one of my biggest enablers to finding, and keeping a job. You see, many employers won't even look at you if you don't own a car. They want you to work flexible hours, be able to show up to work on short notice (sometimes with less notice than a bus can get you there) or work hours outside of the hours of public transit. If the employer doesn't require the car, the car is still essential to enable you to have enough time before or after work to go to all the places you need to go to run errands, go to medical appointments, etc. I can't speak for other cities, but in Kingston there no longer is a single location that I can go to for groceries, and the other items that one would generally buy in a drug store, clothing store, electronic store, bank, or whatever. I have to travel many more miles to accomplish what I used to be able to accomplish with one quick stop at the Kingston Centre (before they levelled it and turned it into a box store power centre), the Frontenac Mall (before Woolco, and later, Wal-Mart left) or the Cataraqui Town Centre (before Loblaws left).

As soon as I got a car, I was magically more employable.

Now some logistics and thoughts, based on knowledge learned in the Business Administration course.

In the Business Administration Courses we were taught what to look for when hiring an employee. We were taught to look for employees who had:

• A work ethic and the ability to do the job

• A work history so we could call them as a job reference

• The ability to work quickly and efficiently (to keep costs down)

• A self-starter

• Enthusiastic

• Polite

• A quick learner

• Well groomed and able to present a good image to the public

In short we were taught to make snap judgements to find the person who had a good track record, who ideally could be checked through job references before we hired them so we could have some degree of confidence that they could do a good job, and a person who we wouldn't have to invest a lot of money in, to train them for the job.

The number one rule was to check for references, ask questions of others, and do what it took to learn as much as possible about the person before hiring them because we were warned, if they didn't work out or they lacked too many skills, it would be hard to fire them. Besides, you'd lose the money that was invested in them by hiring them in the first place.

If you think back to what I said about my own ability to do a job when I was heavily medicated and dealing with a diagnosed mental illness and its associated stigma, I was lacking in a lot of the things an employer would be looking for. That's why I am doing this second submission. I want to share the subtleties of why I feel this social assistance review is focusing too much on employment, and is not making the distinction between those who can work, and those who can't.

I have the drive and determination to get a job to this day and I still apply for jobs. But am I employable? Given the fact I have hundreds of applications out there and I've received zero calls to go in for a job interview, I think reality dictates I'm not. I’m also 51 years old, I have very little work history, and I now use a wheelchair.

I will return once more to my personal experience on social assistance; this time I will share the experiences of finding a job or keeping it when one develops a physical disability.

In March 1995 I was living in a supportive living environment with Kingston Friendship Homes where I had been living on and off for 8 years. I wanted to move into an apartment of my own, so I was on the waiting list to get a subsidized apartment. It was to be a long wait so I decided to apply for jobs in hopes that if I got one, I could move out sooner and pay full-rent.

I finally got a job in a convenience store where the owner asked all the 'wrong' questions. Not knowing how to handle the situation, I answered every single one. I was asked questions about my work history gaps, my age, the scars on my arms (from burning myself and cutting up), etc. I was hired on the spot. It turned out the boss was a former nurse and she understood completely the predicament I was in. She was not disappointed. I embraced the job with enthusiasm, rarely missed a day of work, did every single one of my job duties, plus, plus, plus, and she started to expect more of her other employees. That part didn't help me much because it caused a rift to develop in my relationship with them. They started to make my life miserable but I didn't really care. I worked a shift alone so I only saw them at shift change when I had to pass the mantle over to them. I loved my job, and I kept going back.

In July 1995, a tragedy struck. I had been having a lot of problems walking due to undiagnosed nerve pain, and without the car, I couldn't have worked because I couldn't walk the distance from the bus stop. I was falling a lot and I got caught by the staff at Friendship Homes literally crawling up the stairs one day. I could no longer walk up them. The staff member was concerned that I may be a fire/safety hazard so, if I couldn't walk up the stairs, it was recommended that I move out and live somewhere else.

I had been trying unsuccessfully, to get a doctor to diagnose and treat the problem for almost a year so I asked her to come to a doctor's appointment with me. The GP had been saying the problem was psychological and sent me to the psychiatrist and the psychiatrist kept saying it was physical and sent me back to the GP. This had been going on for over a year so I knew I needed help.

At the appointment, she told my doctor I had to get a diagnosis or there were concerns about me continuing to live in the Friendship Homes. The GP had no hospital privileges to admit me to the general hospital so she called the psychiatrist and he admitted me to the Psychiatric Hospital instead.

I knew nothing about human rights back then, so I just accepted the fact that, because of the undiagnosed leg problem, I no longer had a place to live and I had to give up my job because I was in the hospital.

With the loss of housing, the job, and the doctor saying he couldn't find anything wrong with me, even though he stuck me in a wheelchair and said I was falling too much and he didn't want me to get hurt (and basically sue them), it was too much. It led me to make one of the most serious suicide attempts ever. The job meant everything to me and I couldn't believe that, just because I was caught crawling up the stairs at Friendship Homes, I was losing my job, my housing, and the life that I was just starting to regain when I got that job. Everything about their treatment of me felt so punitive and yet, back then, I had no idea they were severely violating my rights and I could have challenged them for their lack of support and basic abandonment of me.

Thankfully I didn't succeed in the suicide attempt. Instead, the tragedy eventually led to triumph; triumph over the mental health system, triumph over the fact that I'd never lived alone before, and triumph over the fact that, despite the wheelchair and no physical rehab to help get used to it, I found a way to overcome every one of the obstacles and become a stronger person for it. I did it all on my own and with very little to no help or support from the mental health system. It was this very system that, in the 70's, had convinced me I was sick, I could never make it on my own or stay well without the medications, the frequent hospitalizations, or the constant care from their services that were now casting me out on my own to cut the risks because I was having difficulty walking.

I now know the nerve pain and walking difficulty was caused solely by being prescribed too many psychotropic drugs. But I'm not bitter. I finally got off all the medication 10 years ago and the mental illness miraculously vanished. My only focus now is on living my life to its full and moving forward in a positive fashion. Life, without a depression, is so much sweeter now.

When I had to move out on my own into my own apartment, using a wheelchair, without support, and no rehab, I basically was forced to make a hasty decision; do I sink, or do I swim?

I chose to swim. I eventually rallied and resumed my lifelong search to get a job. When ODSP Employment Supports was brand new and they invited me to a brief educational, I applied for the program right away. The process was anything but smooth sailing, but I eventually got a job.

Here's a bulleted list of my experiences. As you read this, please realize I’m referring to a total of 3 different people who were acting as an employment counsellor:

  • I had the first employment counsellor, who was recommended by ODSP, refuse to take me because she said I was too disabled and would be better off staying on ODSP.

  • I had a second employment counsellor work with me toward a goal of becoming an administrative assistant. I had the skills that were necessary to do the job. She couldn’t find a location that was accessible enough to place me in so she tried to talk me into changing my career direction to doing the research to make family trees for complete strangers. She knew I had a hobby of trying to trace my own family tree so she figured this idea would be appropriate. I was not interested. She disagreed with my decision to pursue stay the [original] course, so my file was closed.

  • When I reopened the file a year later, I again, had the same employment counsellor (the 2nd one), and tried to pursue the goal of an administrative assistant. This time I got a job placement doing work in this role. Part way through the placement, a decision was made to rearrange the office and move the desk where I was working, upstairs in a building with no elevator. To compensate me in my administrative role, they gave me mundane tasks to do downstairs making posters on an old computer. The job was far from administrative in nature and not stimulating enough. It was clear I was wasting my time so I quit. I wasn’t going to gain anything useful by doing their Joe-jobs.

  • I had a 3rd employment counsellor close my file without consulting with me first because I refused to talk to the crisis intervention team. She had my head spinning in circles by her demands, and I was frustrated with her passing too many duties onto me. She was basically asking me to do all the work, and I was burning out trying to do it. I didn't yet possess the right skills to do the jobs she was asking me to do, so I was confused. I was trying to look it up on the Internet and I was trying to teach myself how to do the stuff, but I was entering uncharted and scary waters. In hindsight, I now realize she gets paid and I don't, so I believe I had a right to be frustrated. Nevertheless, the file was closed and I had to wait a full year before it was reopened again.

  • I had an employment counsellor (the 3rd one) consider it acceptable that, in a job placement she found, I could not independently use the elevator to go downstairs to the washroom, and I couldn't properly use the non-accessible desk because I was to be in the job placement for a temporary amount of time.

    The employment counsellor said I should learn to adapt as much as possible because it's not about me. It's about the employer. Consequently I had to go to work, wave to the person sitting at the front desk, and then go sit inside the elevator with the door closed. She would call upstairs and ask an employee up there to push the button and call the elevator. I'm glad I'm not claustrophobic.

    I also had to eat lunch upstairs alone.

    To pee, I had to join 2 catheter bags together in the privacy of the upstairs store room.

    As for seeing the computer, I had to send links home and work at night because, without a proper desk, I was sitting too far away from the computer that didn’t have Firefox on it so I could blow up the text.

  • When the 4 month placement was up, the employer said I would need to learn another skill before they could justify hiring me. I enthusiastically embraced the idea because Cold Fusion, the web design skill that was needed, was generally something that was self-taught with a mentor. The employment counsellor warned there was no funding to buy the text book or upgrade my computer at home so I could do the necessary training myself. The employer liked the idea of self-training so she was agreeable to be my mentor. All that was left to do was to get permission to extend the length of the placement so I could self-train. I wanted to write a contract with the employer that basically said, if I bought a new computer (with Dad's help) to practice at home and teach myself the new skills, they would hire me. In the contract would be a clause that states that I must do well and be able to meet the employers needs and expectations. The employment counsellor said my idea of a contract was unrealistic; that I would be placing too high of an expectation on the employer, so she went back to ODSP, told them I wouldn't be fully employed by the newly imposed deadline of March 2006, and they closed my file. I couldn't believe it.
The final hurrah came when I got to thumb my nose at employment supports because I finally found a job on my own. I got fed up with the 'process,' and sought a job at the 2 local call centres; places I'd been avoiding because, without a car, I wouldn’t have been able to face some real challenges in getting to work without transit. They'd made it clear they won't accommodate shifts for a person using a wheelchair, because they said it's not fair to the other employees who will have a struggle accommodating day care, the bus, or whatever. (Obviously these were rather discriminatory places to work).

I made up my mind I could do the job anyway. I could wheel the distance to work at all hours of the day and night, and then travel down the middle of the road in winter if there was too much snow left on the sidewalks. I applied, and was accepted, for both jobs.

I took the full-time job at the call centre that had the best reputation. The employer set my shift to a time that was manageable and left it there for well over a year because they said they understood the challenges of pre-booking the Access Bus. Things looked good and I rarely missed a day of work. Then, about a year later, things started to change.

About a year later, two things happened that ultimately led to the end of my job.

The employer decided we needed to learn new material, so they were offering classroom training to everyone (but me). They said I would get the training separately later because they were creating a special course just for me. They thought I'd be too slow, so they were 'trying to be nice'.

I knew they were right about the slow part, at least with the amount of time I took to handle calls, but it was not an inability to learn. For about 8 months I'd been left sitting alone on one side of the room. I could no longer network with my peers, to compare notes, share tips and tricks, etc. This practice was done by everyone and encouraged by management, because they knew that networking can be a powerful learning tool.

The reason I was left alone on one side of the room was because we'd started in the training section. Once we'd been working there for a while, it was normal for everyone to be moved into the centre of the room. They didn’t want to modify the height of another desk to move me, and I had a scent allergy, so they told me to stay where I was.

I had reference materials to rely on, but the files were slow to open because of the type of program they were stored in. I decided to compensate for the lack of networking opportunities that was essentially slowing me down, so I painstakingly transformed the reference material into one big web page that was hot linked and would enable me to quickly jump from topic to topic and read it more quickly. I saved it on my portion of the networked hard-drive and, for awhile, it really helped. When the employer found out I had it, she told me I had to delete it off the computer because they do regular updates (which we all get notices for) and she was afraid I would miss one of them.

Calling employment supports to ask for help later turned out to be a BIG MISTAKE.

  • The worker came in (a 4th counsellor), and held a meeting with me and the employer. She said the issues I described, about being alone on one side of the room, and being held back from training with the rest of the employees, was irrelevant. She sided with the employer, and from that point on, started to meet with the employer without me being present in the room.

    The second thing that happened is Kingston had a 60-day Access Bus strike. With no accessible taxis or fully accessible conventional transit, to use instead of specialized transit, I shaved 4 hours of sleep off at night so I would have time to drive the 11 kms to work each day in my power wheelchair. When the employer saw I could get to work without the bus, they changed the time of my shift to one that was impossible to manage. They said there was a changing business need, and because I had not taken the special training course (it wasn't developed yet), I could no longer work the shift that had been manageable for 18 months.

  • I explained why the time of the new shift wouldn't work to the employment counsellor, and I asked for her help. She said it wasn't about me. It was about the employer. She then said if parents can change the time of their babysitter to accommodate a shift change, I can change the time of my bus. I don't fully understand her analogy, but it was clear she wasn't able to understand the limits of my disability.

    Over time I could see I was losing ground so, in an attempt to salvage things, I wrote her a letter to educate her (see appendix 2). Her response was to go to employment supports, close my file, and force me to wait another full year before I could reopen it again. She didn't tell the employer she had abandoned me, and she didn't transfer my file to another employment counsellor so I could continue to receive help to salvage my job.

    The damage she did was irreversible. From that point on, there wasn't a thing I could say to the employer that they would believe.

    That, plus some other issues, led to the loss of the full-time job that I'd held so proudly, and rarely missed a day of, for 18 months. I was thrilled with the fact that, for the first time in my life, I was off social assistance completely and paying my own way. To this day, it's really hard to reflect back and realize that, if I didn't get frustrated about being cut out of that course and just gone with the flow, I would still probably have the job.

In closing I want to point out that I would still love to work, but how realistic is it?

The employers and employment counsellors don’t understand the need to accommodate the hours of public transit. They see the human rights code, but they don’t know how to distinguish, and prioritize the rights for, each of their employees. Other call centre employees were single parents (protected by family status), diabetic (can’t work different shifts and throw off their eat/sleep schedule), or didn’t own a car, and were therefore limited in their ability to work shift work, as well.

To explain a little more why the new shift at work was impossible, the employer would only consider accommodating the hours of Access Bus to get me to work, and the ability to get Attendant Care service, after work. They wouldn’t take into consideration that I still needed to have time before or after work to take the bus and go out to do the essential tasks of daily living. For example, I had to make a trip to the grocery store at least once a week and get to medical appointments a few times a month. The grocery store that, was once around the corner, was closed, and the department store that was once nearby, is gone. The shift time was 11:15 - 7:15 pm and the Access Bus was not available ever, to get me to the stores before or after work, while they were open.

There's no shop and delivery service and I don’t know anyone who I can call to ask if they could run a few errands. The only way I could attend a medical appointment with the new shift, was to take time off work and, by July, I’d already used up my 10 EA (Essential Absence) days. The employer said they would be accommodating me by giving me the new (unmanageable) shift for 6 months, instead of the 6 week rotation given to all the other employees. When I mentioned the transportation problems, they said it was about choice. I could move to a new location or I could shop in the 24 hour grocery store (that was too far away for me to get to on the Access bus in the late evening or early morning before or after a day of work).

If I had taken that shift, I would not have been able to eat. At one point I even tried to get extra help using the employee benefit plan and Shepell FGI, but they tried for several months to find help for me in Kingston and, all they could find was help for seniors, children, immigrants, and those who couldn’t get out of their homes. Anyone who could work and live alone in the community was deemed to be ineligible to receive help even though Shepell FGI was willing to pay them.

I’m lucky in that I learned how to adapt. Others with disabilities are not always so lucky. Again, after reading this, I have to ask you: Why are people on ODSP and OW being grouped together in this review, and why is the focus of the questions more on getting everyone to work?

There must be a recognition that some people can’t work. They can have all the desire in the world, but that won’t help them if no one will hire them.

ODSP rules make self-employment almost impossible because no consideration is given to the need for one to contract out for services from time-to-time. For example, if an accountant is hired once a year, ODSP would not consider the need to pay their wages, as an eligible expense. If I was self-employed, I would have to pay them out of the income I earn from the business and have to report to ODSP. No one an afford to suck up the loss of paying wages for an assistant to be contracted on a short-term basis to help with the cost of doing business so, creating my own job and becoming self-employed would be impractical. Besides, I live in subsidized housing and the rules for my building prohibit me from being self-employed and working out of my home.

ODSP rules also prevent me from sharing a 2 bedroom apartment with another person who would be willing to provide that extra support for shopping, shared cooking, household duties, etc.

According to ODSP rules, if one were to do that, we would be considered to be cohabitating. That means we’d either be forced onto 1 cheque from ODSP (if both of us are recipients) or the other person’s income would be clawed back from whatever they earn. With these types of punitive rules, I will eventually be forced to move to a nursing home when I can no longer reach the things that are becoming less accessible to me now. For example, I can’t twist sideways to use the stove. If it was a counter top stove and I could sit straight to it, I can use it. Housing won’t change the kitchen design that much to accommodate because other wheelchair users are able to manage. The oven door drops down. This forces me to sit further away and then lean forward at an angle that is dangerous and has caused me to do a face plant into the open door of the oven before. A wall oven with a door that opens sideways will solve it (they exist) but again, others don’t ask for it and the new AODA code doesn’t identify it as a need. I literally can’t use my stove or oven anymore. I use the microwave and limit the quality of the food I can eat.

The barriers I just listed are all important to take into consideration if you want people with disabilities to work because we can’t do it alone. Disability, by its very nature, is time consuming. Whether it’s the fact a wheelchair user has to pre-book buses to get around, or can only get into a small percentage of the stores and access a small percentage of the services, it takes extra time. A blind person needs to have someone read the paper content that comes in the mail, the web sites that are not accessible, or simply help to get around or manage some tasks alone in their home or in the community. A deaf person needs extra assistance, or has to go out of their way to call Bell relay to talk to someone who might not have TTY capabilities. All this is time consuming and it will affect our ability to work because, to do it all alone (there are very little supports) it is very stressful, if not impossible to do, when one becomes exhausted. The extra time needed to accommodate for our disability takes away from the time we can devote to finding a job and keeping it. The attitudinal barriers toward people with invisible disabilities are the worst because their lack of understanding toward say, someone with a mental illness, is emotionally very painful. It also leaves one to feel a sense of shame. No one should be made to feel that way because they had a diagnosable disability that delayed their level of progress.

For this reason, consideration must be given to the fact that people with disabilities can’t work in many cases. If they can, they might not be able to work as many hours or earn as much money, as someone who is not disabled. Their disability might be cyclic in nature, meaning they can work sometimes and not others.

Finally, people with disabilities don’t have nearly as much choice in getting a job as someone who is not disabled.

For this reason, I would say there must be a bare minimum income set – one that will pay the rent and buy a decent diet. To determine the amount, I recommend using the published rental rates by the CMHC the Nutritious Food Basket Costs (put out by the public health units) as a guide. Add to this money to pay for some quality of life issues, emergencies, maybe some of the things listed under the Market Basket Measure (MBM). Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the Social Determinants of Health should also be taken into consideration. The pay-off will be the ability for one to maintain their physical and mental health so they don’t continue to be costly to the health care system. My story is a perfect illustration of government waste because no one realized that there are many supports missing to help people with disabilities become integrated in their communities.

For equality between those on social assistance (at least for a disability), I would suggest using LICO or LIM (Low income measure) as a guide to set the benefit amount. For those who work full time at a minimum wage job or jobs, provide them with extended health care coverage so they can stay working. Also, close the loop-hole that enables employers to hire part-time or on contract so they can be exempt from paying for employee health care plans, long-term disability, into pension plans, etc. In one of my jobs, the employer refused to give me more than 15 hours of work a week. She said she didn’t want to pay all the payroll deductions. Worse, she told all employees they could not work at a second job or take courses before or after work. She wanted them to be on call at all times. For me, I was okay because the disability pension supplemented my income, but for the other employees, they could only manage this if they were doing the job to earn extra income, instead of as a necessity.

The final thing I’ll add before referring you to the workbook, where my answers to your individual questions are, is this:

What did I do to deserve an income that is far from adequate to pay rent, eat properly, have a cable connection, pay for bus fares to get to a volunteer job (I already pay $200 per month for the Access Bus so I can’t afford to pay for any more), etc.

The rules, as they are currently written, prohibit me from sharing accommodation with a friend so that a) I can afford to live more comfortably and have help with a few of the things that most people can take for granted and, b) have an assistant in my home who can reach the cupboards I can’t reach, help me cook a meal, be a friend and a confident, etc.

For reasons I can’t explain, it appears that I can’t share space with others to find cost economies, or assistance with my disability so I don’t have to rely on services like the CCAC (Community Care Access Centre) instead. None of this makes sense but, unless I can prove that I’m not sharing food, appliances, the phone, and other things with a second person, I will be considered married or cohabitating, and I will lose money off my cheque – the money I need so I can have the quality of life that’s supposed to be guaranteed by the AODA (Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act), the Human Rights Code, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. For your information, people on social assistance can’t readily move to another province unless they can find someone to financially sponsor them for a minimum of 6 months and yet refugees, ex-cons, and people on Federal Government pensions can freely live anywhere they want in Canada.

No other program that I know of holds people accountable for failing to report an administrative error, and yet ODSP does. Did the lawmakers ever stop to think that the formulas for calculating benefit amounts for social assistance are so complicated that we may not recognize it when we see an error? One time I claimed income from two, one-time only jobs. The worker entered the information into the computer wrong and I suddenly found myself with a cheque for something like $60 and a statement saying that they owed me several hundred more. I knew the money was a mistake so I took it back to the ODSP and handed it back. They told me to keep it – that it’s too complicated to correct the mistake. I slid the cheque under the glass and wheeled out. The next thing I knew, I got a letter thanking me for paying them back all the money I owed. What? How about thanking me for being honest? But it gets better. The next day I got more letters saying I was up money, down money, and had broken even – all in one day. The letters were dated the same day and they arrived in my mailbox in 3 separate envelopes on the same day. I had to make another trip to the ODSP office (paying the $4.50 2-way bus fare each time) to ask what was up. They didn’t know the answer. The story goes on for a long time, but I’ll cut it short and tell you the ending.

The staff evidently didn’t know how to solve the problem because they kept making mistakes. I finally forced them through 3 income reviews and literally did the number crunching. I took the amount of the pay cheques, cut it in 2, and asked them to find the number in their computer. It turned out that, because the earnings were for a one-time thing and was not self-employment income, they didn't know how to post it. They were taking off payroll taxes and then splitting the amount in 2, taking half and letting me keep half. They'd also posted the amount of one of my pay cheques as a rent receipt. The computer decided they owed me money and automatically went back to retroactively reimburse the amount to me. Hence there was a huge overpayment.

Now, if I had to go to this extreme to solve an administrative error, how does the government think a person who has a disability that impairs their level of cognition, causes stress that would make them absolutely panic when they get one of those nasty letters that says the ODSP income has been cut off, doesn’t thank one for being honest, or whatever, can solve it , be held to account, or even just handle the stress that is caused by these sorts of mistakes? The rule that holds clients accountable for administrative errors indefinitely has got to go.

In its place must be a program that requires the workers to take on far more responsibility to check us out for income backgrounds. The ODSP office has the authority to check my bank accounts, Revenue Canada, and a number of other resources, to make sure I don’t have extra assets or am getting income that I’m not declaring, and yet they make me do all the running around, not once, but sometimes up to 5 or 6 times before they finally communicate exactly what they need and I can get it for them. I can’t afford to keep paying all this extra money on buses.

Those using conventional transit or who are blind, pay a miniscule amount for transportation in most cities, compared to what some people pay to use specialized transit. This means it's even more of a financial hardship to do the work for the ODSP worker if you live in the wrong city. The AODA was supposed to address the fare parity issue but, in Kingston our specialized transit service is a non-profit charitable organization and Kingston holds no contract with them. The integrated standard considers this type of arrangement exempt from the fare parity clause so it's not going to get better without a human right challenge. For now, it is really hard to know I receive the same ODSP income as everyone else, and yet the ones who take conventional transit can take advantage of the municipal subsidy for low-income citizens or, if they're blind, pay 10 cents for the bus. My bus fare on specialized transit averages $200 so I had to give up cable, food, a number of basic items and the opportunity to volunteer. The odd agency will pay for the bus fare to get there, but they're exceedingly rare and very hard to find.

I would NEVER want to take away the discounted fare from others because of the notion of ‘fairness’ but if there's a wild difference like this, something must be factored into the social assistance program to compensate for the difference.

Another issue is the distribution of ODSP discretionary benefits. These are optional so, if a city chooses not to pay them there must be some sort of accommodation made by the ODSP Program. I had to go 2 years without a power wheelchair because mine died 2 years before I was eligible for a replacement under the ADP (Assistive Devices) Program. NO one should ever have to be grounded like that and ODSP is a provincial program to help people who have a disability. It is not a municipal program so steps must be taken to address serious issues like these.

I've committed no crime and I’ve spent the bulk of my life trying to escape the trap of the social assistance program, and yet because I have a disability, I am forced to give up most of my rights. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, for reasons I can’t explain, have allowed this through the ameliorated service clause. Please, address this, likely unintended, crime against the people who are least able to defend themselves. The Accessibility for Ontarian's With Disabilities Act states that we all have a right to equal participation in society. With ODSP having these types of serious flaws, that right has not been met. Please address this so that Ontario can be seen as a leader on how to best treat their citizens.

If programs are revamped with care and thought to remove enough barriers to stop holding us back from being full participants in Ontarian, we can change the disability from being a huge limitation, to one that is a mere inconvenience. Thank you.

Answers to Social Assistance Review Questions:

1. What mechanisms should be established to ensure that the needs of employers are addressed and to connect people receiving social assistance with employers?

  • For the employee, mentorship to help them start them in a new job.

  • For the employer, education and support hotline that they can consult with to better learn how to accommodate people with various types of disabilities.

  • For the employee, a support hotline, staffed by people who have a disability and who can speak from experience, provide tips, tricks, and advice, on how best to manage the various situations one would encounter in a job.
I base this feedback on the marvelous help I got from a counsellor who was available through my employee health plan when I was working. It helped to have the counsellor tell me that there should have been more realistic accommodations made, and that I shouldn’t self-doubt because I couldn’t overcome them the way the employer was expecting me to.

  • Provide social work support and/or a telephone hotline for clients to call and ask questions, be reassured, become informed about, what the general population often considers to be basic knowledge, and not feel shame because they didn’t know. (The disabled often miss out on a lot of these networking opportunities, so things that most adults know, are not always known, and it can be really embarrassing when one inadvertently expressed their lack of knowledge on certain things.). This line could also be used to simply provide some encouragement if it is needed.

2. Can you suggest ways in which the skills of people receiving social assistance could be better developed to meet the needs of employers?

  • Provide placements in real jobs for the clients with strings attached for the employer. The placement will help someone learn on the job and, if it works out, the employer should be expected to hire the person. It is important to create personalized supports for both the employers and the clients so they can work together to make the placement work. Set a time limit on how long the employer can receive help with phasing in the client in to do the job. Be sure to make it flexible enough to accommodate so that if progress is shown, and the person is taking somewhat longer than planned to get comfortable on the job, both the employer and client can extend the time and perhaps, tap into some extra support. This suggestion is made mainly meant to accommodate those who are slow due to lack of experience, the effects of medications, confidence issues, mental health issues, etc.

  • If the client works out, require the employer to keep the employee for a reasonable amount of time so as to reduce the risk of them being fired so the employer can get another free, or low-cost, worker. For this time limit to be effective, there must be an option for the employer and client to restart supports if it is needed, to iron out wrinkles.
The goal is to provide adequate support to both the employer and the client – enough that will ensure they will start, and maintain, a satisfactory employment relationship that will work long-term for both of them.

3. What would make employment services and supports more effective and easier to access?

  • If the employment services and supports included workers skilled in rehabilitation and/or disabilities studies, it would help. They would have more knowledge of the issues and will be better able to address the various barriers and roadblocks along the way. Alternatively, provide the worker with plenty of time to spend with the clients, do intake, and gather enough information to properly assess their unique needs, decide how to buy adaptive equipment if it is needed, etc.
To tell a client they can buy something that will compensate for their disability and will only leave the client guessing as to what will work, and it will often result in wasted dollars. If there were funds to pay for an ergonomic assessment, that would be a lot better than having an employment counsellor instruct the client to just guess what their needs are. When I was in a job placement, I made a guess, bought something for close to $100, it failed, and I had to make do without it.

  • Provide a greater selection of approved employment supports specialists who have been pre-screened for their ability to work with ‘hard to place’ or disabled clients.
The list of workers I received in Kingston, gave me several names, but I could only pick from 2 of them. The workers worked for various agencies that were specialized so, unless my disability matched the mandate of the agency they were working for, I couldn’t use them.

  • Providing funds for education would be good for many. It is important that, if this option can be made available, that the one funding the education doesn’t decide to limit what courses, and its duration, that the client can take (like a diploma or degree).

  • Ensure all course related materials are available no matter what course they choose. Some places limit ones ability to buy computer related course materials to prevent potential abuse.
4. What would improve services to people receiving social assistance who face multiple barriers to employment?

  • First of all, accept that in some cases, clients might need work that is cyclical in nature. This is particularly important for unskilled workers where seasonal work (like grass cutting, snow shovelling, etc) might be appropriate. For some clients, their health may dictate a need for work that is cyclical in nature, as well.
  • Create incentives for employers to create more stable and permanent jobs. If the jobs are perceived as being more permanent, providing services to people on social services may get easier because the client will be more enthusiastic about doing more than just a temporary McJob.
  • Offer job placements for the client that will put them right into a job and then provide support to the employer to help make it work. The biggest barrier to getting a client on social services into the working world is the stigma and the various barriers caused by lack of skills, a solid resume, a strong social and support network, etc. If this can be circumvented by placing the client right into a job, then the client may very well stay in the job forever. I know I would have.

5. How can Ontario's social assistance system better connect people with disabilities to employment services, or the treatment or rehabilitation they may need?

  • Provide a program like OCAP (Ontario Career Action Program) that was available in the late 70’s, early 80’s. It enabled you to work in a real job where you were treated no different than the regular salaried employees, got weekly evaluations, worked full time, and had your wages paid for by the government. If you did a good job, the employer was expected to hire you onto their payroll.
  • Offer programs like ‘Choices’ (testing that was used to help determine skills and aptitude so focus was placed on helping one attain the best career for their personality, level of ability, and skills.
  • Renew programs like Voc Rehab, but ensure it has been re-designed to offer better, and more realistic, job supports. The focus should be placed on matching the individual’s skills and interest, with the type of job that they get.
  • When choosing job placement locations, take into consideration that some clients require the location to be near a bus route, offer shift times that match the hours of transit, allows shift time flexibility for those who require attendant care services before or after work, and will consider a client’s needs if they say they need their off-shift time accommodated so they can still use public transportation to get to accessible business locations, attend medical appointments, and do the other essential tasks of daily living, etc.
  • Rehabilitation programs should NEVER be forced on a client because, for it to be effective, there must be a level of commitment from the client before recovery will succeed. Instead, offer incentives and provide a positive support network that looks inviting and will encourage the client to willingly sign up for the recovery program instead.

6. How should social assistance rates be determined?

  • Use CMHC rates to determine the cost of rental housing in an area, set the lowest cost as a base, and then adopt a policy that requires shelter costs to be indexed to inflation after that.
  • Refer to the Nutritious Food Basket costs that have been calculated each year by Public Health officials and use the results as a base. Add that to the shelter costs and also index the rate increase to inflation.
  • Determine the average cost of transit for each municipality and allow this amount to be fluid enough to reflect the real costs in each community. Some communities offer subsidies, some have high prices for specialized transit and bus passes for conventional, some have no transit so the average cost to run a car (available on the CAA web site) may have to be used as a guide. Currently there are extreme differences in the cost of transit between cities and between the type and nature of the disability and yet everyone gets the same income. If someone has to take specialized transit and pays close to $200 per month for the bus, and a person who is blind and lives in the same city, only pays $0.10 for the bus, then the one will have the added advantage of being able to get out to do volunteer jobs and partake in activities that will help to build social networks, and the other will not be able to afford to. The cost of transit should be considered essential, especially for those whose disability or economic circumstances prevents them from being able to drive.

To help mitigate some potentially high costs for the government, I suggest they create incentives for each municipality to provide subsidies for all forms of public transit, to those who live below LICO.

7. How should benefits be designed to deal with the trade-off between ensuring adequate income support and ensuring that people are better off working?

  • Adequate income should be achievable by everyone who lives in Ontario. There is enough wealth in this province to make it doable.
  • Guarantee a basic, liveable, income for everyone. CAP (The Canada Assistance Program) made it mandatory for each and every person to have enough money to survive. A program similar to this MUST be brought back so no one will go homeless, be forced to do without basic necessities, especially coverage for health care, etc. If people can be assured that they will never have to go homeless or without an essential item again, then they’ll be more willing to take a risk and go to work.
  • There won’t likely be any public opposition if the program were to be restructured in a way that would provide enough support to successfully get social assistance into sustainable work. By guaranteeing that no one will fall below a certain wage, there will also be huge cost savings to be realized in health care system. Savings will come out of other community programs as well, like Street health. If people are working and happy, they are less likely to fall into addiction and other health problems faced by those who are very poor.
  • Coverage for prescriptions, dental care should never vanish if one loses their job and get money from E.I., a severance package, CPP, or another source that may pay for rent and groceries, but won’t be enough to pay for things covered by an extended health care plan.

When I lost my job I had to go on E.I. Sick Benefits for 4 months. ODSP couldn’t give me coverage for medical supplies related to my disability, pay to fix my wheelchair, or replace my CPAP machine (for sleep apnea) because the E.I. Income paid $18 more than eligible expenses for shelter. The need to buy catheter supplies or pay the other disability related expenses could not be counted by ODSP to enable me to go back on it through rapid reinstatement. I needed to qualify for the special diet as well and my disability doesn’t require it. I went $2,000 in debt paying for these necessities and it was enough to deter me from ever trying to work full-time and leave ODSP again.

8. Considering the potential for increased costs, what new benefits, if any, should be provided to all low-income individuals and families, whether or not they are receiving social assistance?

  • Child care, prescription drugs, dental, glasses, and other extended health care items should be provided to all.
  • Employers should be required to pay into extended health care plans; ones that can stay with the person wherever they work, and not remain with the employer after they leave. If this were to be done, then employers could no longer escape their basic fiduciary duty to pay for these things by hiring part-time or on contract. If they can’t escape paying these expenses anymore, then they might even be motivated to provide more stable jobs to employees as well.

I’ve had employers inform me that they won’t hire full-time or give me more than a certain number of hours, because they didn’t want to pay for the mandatory payroll taxes.

  • Corporate tax breaks are continuously being given and yet there is no requirement for them to increase the number of people they hire, create more job stability, or create other forms of job stability. If the general public is required to prove eligibility to access various subsidy programs from the government, then the corporations should be required to do the same to EARN their tax break. The promised savings, when the HST was introduced, was never passed down to us, the public/consumer.

9. Should asset limits and exemptions be changed to improve the social assistance system?

  • Yes, most definitely. People who are on social assistance because of a disability or the fact they don’t have enough skills to be hired, should not have to abolish everything they have saved from having worked to gain assets once before.
  • To require people to divest themselves of all their assets and savings before they can go on Social Assistance is insane and cruel if it means forcing a person who is too old, too young, too unskilled, or are lacking some other skill that another employer may be not looking for at the time.
  • It would be far more appropriate to require the person put the money into a trust fund that they can’t access directly, but which can be used to pay for extraordinary costs that will improve their quality of life, pay for an education, or pay for something else that is not normally covered by social assistance or some other program. Consideration could also be given to require them to lock it into something similar to the Hansen trust that is allowed for ODSP recipients.

  • Low wage earners often can’t afford to save. If they have to get rid of the (relatively) few assets they need to survive when they retire, they are plunged into destitution and are far less able to pick themselves back up again.

10. How should benefits for people with disabilities be designed and delivered?

  • Provide more coverage through the Assistive Devices program so people with disabilities can access more than the bare minimum when they buy their equipment.

For example, if I could buy a standing wheelchair like the Premobile, I could reach things from my kitchen cupboards, reach the laundry machines, independently grocery shop, reduce the risk of skin breakdown and achieve other health care benefits that come with standing.

A person who is blind could achieve a lot more independence if they could get coverage for a talking GPS.

A person who is deaf, could achieve a lot more independence if they could get coverage to buy a Blackberry so they can carry on conversations by texting.

In other words, by paying for individual accommodations that are better tailored to meet ones disability related needs, the individual can achieve more independence and the public, including employers, will be more willing to hire a person because the cost of making modifications using a one-size-fits-all approach would be cheaper.

  • Provide enough funding to employment supports service provider so they can do a comprehensive review with the client. People with disabilities often have no work history, a mental illness, or have lost an opportunity to grow and develop in the same way as the non-disabled, are at a distinct disadvantage from their non-disabled peers if enough time can’t be taken to do a proper, in depth assessment and /or testing.

  • NEVER make it mandatory for a person with a disability to get a job if they meet the eligibility criteria for being disabled.

Instead, encourage people to work, keep the rapid reinstatement program and make it better for those who were not grand-parented over to ODSP. The rapid reinstatement program for those who were under the former FBA program is much better, so match that for everyone.

Provide incentives and income security so that people will work when they’re able to.

Remove the multiple barriers to rapid reinstatement, specifically enable all disability related extended health care costs, to be taken into consideration when determining this, instead of just the need for a special diet allowance.

  • Originally, when ODSP was first released, it was to be removed from the social assistance program to better meet the unique needs of people with disabilities (ODA, 2001). I’m not sure why, in 2011, we’re discussing making people with disabilities work.
  • The public statements fraud, with no stats to back it up, has caused us one heck of a lot of damage. I have never seen stats to prove there are a lot of cases where someone was convicted for fraud but we’ve sure been hurt by the allegations. We’re under more scrutiny to get benefits, ODSP recipients, not OW recipients, are being excluded by certain landlords, and requests for basic disability related benefits are automatically being turned down. We may get them the second time round, when we ask for an internal review or, we may have to wait 6 months for a Social Benefits Hearing, to get them. I have no idea why this is happening, but the public statements about needing to search out suspected cases of fraud. Prosecute the real cases, and let the rest go.

I know fraud happens, but compared to the loss caused by White Collar crime, that is extremely expensive to investigate, let alone successfully prosecute, is miniscule compared to the loss caused by the 0.1% of CONVICTED cases of ODSP fraud. This stat is old, so it may be somewhat inaccurate. Overall, you rarely see stories about people being convicted for ODSP fraud.

  • The biggest thing that must be taken into consideration is that many people, because of their disability, don’t have the same opportunity to learn basic life skills because they’re either kept separate from mainstream society during treatment, are overly protected by their family, or are stigmatized and treated differently by mainstream society.

Too often they’re not able to understand these rules in the same way as someone who has never experienced barriers or the difficulties that I’ve named above. The 800 rules may even violate the requirement to use “Plain Language” as per the customer service law recently released under the AODA. If this law isn’t quite as clear, the human rights code is. It stipulates there is a duty to accommodate the limits of ones disability. This means the communication must be said in a way that they’re fully able to be understood.

11. Are the rules meeting their objectives? Are there rules that are not working? What changes do you suggest?

  • There is no question the rules DO NOT meet their objectives. They fail to take into consideration the person’s disability at all. The law, as it is currently written, enables the workers have the authority to do all the work (do the checks and balances to make sure there are no errors, cases of suspected fraud, etc), but they don’t use it. Instead the workers use the other choice that is written into the ODSP Act and Directives. They pass the onus back onto the client and ask them to do all the running around to collect the required documents for them. The people with disabilities are often the ones least able to do all this extra work because they are the ones who are too busy trying to cope with the new restrictions and/or sense of loss that comes about when one has lost their ability to function the same way as everyone else and/or must to learn to adapt.
  • If a goal is set to enable a person to work if they can and want to then trust that they are being honest when they express a need for accommodation. Request medical documentation, refer a person for a capacity assessment, or do other forms for in depth one-on-one tests of the person (not by written test or in a forced short period of time – this is a different population than most, so don’t think of what works for the general population – think of how the disability creates a difference that the general population rarely has direct experience to learn more about, or simply doesn’t understand because the occasion never arises where they would need to know this stuff). Once the thinking has been shifted, think about how to determine financial eligibility, what supports are needed, etc. If the workers could automatically do the background check on clients, without putting them through major stress of doing this job themselves, and then refer them to experts in the various disability related fields to get a solid report on their level of ability and what their needs are, the client might be able to be more productive.
I say this only because there are times when I’ve wanted to give everything over to a public trustee so they can deal with the rules, being accountable, and meeting all the other requirements of proving accountability to ODSP, housing, in-home services, the need for a subsidy, a specialized piece of equipment, etc. The amount of work involved in taking care of ones BECAUSE we have a disability, is far too much for one person to handle.

  • The special diet rule doesn’t work. It is too limiting and, if you don’t have a specific condition, you can’t be qualified to get extra money to buy healthy food. Once more, if you have income from another source and it, minus the cost of shelter (the amount ODSP allows for) leaves you with slightly too much money, you can’t be deemed eligible to get the other disability related extended health care coverage. My disability doesn’t require a special diet, but it does require me to buy $113 worth of catheter supplies and pay for approximately $80 in wheelchair repairs per month. These things are not considered eligible expenses like the special diet is, so I would say the policy/rule is VERY discriminatory.

  • It is important that the experts who are in a position to provide supports to people with disabilities speak out when they see a problem. Currently I can cite many examples of where a problem has been found with the system and the worker has advised me that I must learn to live with it, even if that means doing without, or using creative wording to qualify for something that doesn’t quite fit with the eligibility criteria.

For example, I’ve lost service for refusing to bend the rules in a way that would get me more money so I can survive. I now see why the workers are powerless to change the system, but if they know what will work and can see the benefits that can come out of wording things in a way that would get a support that will help a client to move ahead, it makes sense in the long run because it enables the client to move toward improved health.

  • Rules governing shared accommodations are really limiting to people who have a disability. If I could share accommodations and not have it hurt the income of the person I was sharing with, I would have help to do the laundry, put out the garbage, cook, shop, and do other basic stuff and could likely save the long-term care health system a lot of money.
  • Rules governing self-employment, where money spent to hire someone to help do part of the job on contract, basically eliminates this as an option for many who have a disability. I am a web designer but I would need to contract out for a graphic artist because I’m weak with that particular skill. Graphic artists are expensive so, whatever earnings I get from the final product would have to be claimed to ODSP and I would be out whatever amount I paid the graphic designer to do a job for me. I can’t afford to give that much money away so I won’t work in it. Besides, the rules for housing prohibit me from working out of my home anyway.
  • Capture problems with a survey and by creating an environment where the workers can talk without fear of rocking the boat or losing their job. They chose the career because they cared. Please, let them care in a more appropriate way with open, direct, and frank, conversation and feedback.
  • The rules governing the distribution of discretionary benefits are a real problem because each municipality can decide what to pay for. If a community refuses to fund a replacement wheelchair, as per directive 9.6, then the person with a disability is forced to go without if the chair dies prematurely and before ADP will replace it. We can’t even rent a chair, so we’re literally grounded. That is simply wrong. Dentures are another thing that isn’t universally paid for in each community. If one doesn’t have teeth, they will not be considered employable and their health will also suffer.

12. How can special-purpose benefits be delivered more efficiently and equitably? Should some be delivered outside of the social assistance system?

  • This one is a tough one to answer and I’m of two minds. Therefore I will answer this one with an argument for the affirmative (for an outside system) and a negative.
  • We’ll start with the affirmative. If ADP coverage can be given to anyone who has a valid health card, special-purpose benefits could be more universally applied through this program and meet the fairness test for all low income recipients (on social assistance or not) for the public. If people need help, they should be able to receive it from the appropriate agency without there being differences between communities. Creating a set of criteria based on the amount of income in relation to LICO or MBM would be more useful and fair to those who are working for minimum wage or slightly better.
  • Many non-profit services, in order to secure and keep funds from government grants or fund-raising efforts in the community, must abide by a narrow set of criteria that won’t cross boundaries, with other programs. This results in too many people falling through the cracks. A disability is not necessarily something that can be easily pinpointed. For example the symptoms for Post-traumatic stress disorder and Post-traumatic Growth syndrome are the same. The outcomes are different. One may appear to be more functional than the other, but that doesn’t mean one is better off than the other. Those with Post-traumatic growth often react the same way as a person with PTSD when exposed to a stressful event, but they lose all fear and may take actions, to resolve a problem, that may appear as though they’re can manage on their own, when in reality they’re suffering from other stress related effects. In other words, they may become too resilient and appear to be managing, but it can be dangerous because the person may stop articulating symptoms that are for some very real, and potentially serious, medical problems. If their trauma response comes from bad experiences within the medical system, it is even more dangerous because the person will refuse to seek treatment for something as serious as, say, chest pain. This is just one example of many.
  • Take a look at the model used in France. If a person becomes pregnant, they get in home support to do basic housekeeping and then child care to help raise the child after their born. This reduces the stress on the mother so she can take proper care of herself during the pregnancy, and have less stress raising the child after they are born so the child is more apt to be properly nurtured.
  • To speak on the negative side I’m not sure what can be gained by exchanging one bureaucracy for another. For those who need the services, this will only mean there will be more places to go to apply for services and/or support. It could potentially cause a hardship on the person in need of support due to the amount of extra time to go elsewhere to apply for the special service and then, later prove they can be held to account.

13. What should the expected outcomes be of social assistance?

  • To get clients established in work that will match their interests and skills so the job will become sustainable if they are capable of working and have not been declared disabled.
  • Have a social safety net that one knows they can depend upon if their income falls below a certain level so they can stay positive and motivated. This is especially important if their first job is a contract job that may not last.
  • Social assistance in the form of income, extended health care benefits, or even just taxi chits or a bus pass, so the person who can’t or doesn’t drive can afford to get to work, will help to keep the person motivated. When I was working full time and earning more than double what I got on ODSP, the reward (said tongue-in-check) was a very high level of stress and proportionally very little extra money to show for it. This was further complicated by the fact there were too many community barriers and not enough other supports to help me to overcome them. If you read the report done by Dr. Veerle Miranda (, where she compared differences between programs in OECD countries for people receiving social assistance, you will see her findings say programs in Canada are very punitive compared to many other countries. Whenever we make progress, our programs are cut off and this makes no sense at all. Small wonder people give up and don’t try to help themselves move ahead, get a job, or whatever.

  • The biggest thing that’s missing is there’s a lack of recognition that many people, because of their disability, don’t have the same opportunity to learn basic life skills because they’re either kept separate from mainstream society during treatment, are overly protected by their family, or are stigmatized and treated differently by mainstream society. This means they’re often not able to understand these rules the same way as someone who has never experienced barriers or the difficulties named above. The 800 rules may even violate the “Plain Language Test” to take into consideration the need to take into consideration the person’s disability and communicate with them in a way that they will understand.

14. What additional data should be collected to assess the effectiveness of social assistance benefits and services? For example, should ethnocultural and racial data be collected in order to evaluate and improve supports for people from racialized and ethnocultural communities?

  • There must be a complaint management system put in place for ALL the clients. I say this because, if mistakes are made, questions are not answered, the client can’t understand the process, or there are problems with a particular worker, and the client can’t get help to resolve the problem (the SBT can’t provide oversight, the Regional Director has not been providing oversight, the MPP, and the Minister of Community and Social services have not been providing oversight either.

  • I’ve been on ODSP and formerly FBA and welfare for most of my life and it’s only since returning to ODSP in December of 2009, that I’ve had so many problems with the way my file has been handled in the ODSP office. MSN expenses have not been paid to reimburse me for medical travel or to pay bills for wheelchair repairs, mandatory reporting that is made in the required 10 or 30 days has not been acted upon, and I’m now having to spend a fortune on buses to keep going back and forth to the office and attempt to find a resolve. This exhausts me, demoralizes me, and after the experience I had with the lack of support from the Employment Support Worker and the ODSP office when I lost my job and needed to get back on it through rapid reinstatement, has left me wary, if not downright scared, of ever accepting a job again. Ideally I need a part-time job because of the wheelchair, but I will NEVER work part time if it means having to deal with formulae that don’t work and are very hard to figure out and ultimately create a budget around. These stats aren’t collected and they should be.
  • As for collecting ethno and racial data, the answer I can give is ABSOLUTELY NOT. The human rights code says all people have equal rights to attain goods and services and yet, as a person who has lived in Canada all my life, I am finding that when I call to tap into various supports and services, I am being denied the help because I am not an immigrant. Stats were likely collected once before, a need was likely identified, and because the stats were not collected from the population as a whole, the government didn’t realize that there were others who were falling through the cracks as well.

  • To consider this, is dangerous. Measurements to determine the effectiveness of something should be the same for everyone. To do otherwise would be to pit one person’s rights against another. A better approach would be to measure the outcomes the same for everyone and then investigate the underlying cause of the trouble spots. If it is racially oriented, the truth will come out.
As a rationale, I’ll explain 2 experiences I have encountered as an adult with a disability. When I call to ask for a volunteer to help in my home or the community, for example, the questions I’ve been asked are, “are you a senior?” or “are you an immigrant. When I answer no to both questions, find I am out of luck. I’m too young and I have lived here all my life.

Reports, using measurable indicators, must be kept to document job placements, the success of a relationship with an employer, the success rate for a client to stick with the job, what works and what doesn’t work, to promote success in finding and keeping a job, etc. The same must be done for educational opportunities, and the outcome of whatever outside supports the clients are referred to and agree to take part in. If it doesn’t work, this must be known so another client won’t have to go through the same ineffective process that will only add to their frustration and lead to further demoralization and lack of motivation to accept the hand-up to move forward.

  • The employment-related programs for newcomers provided by the Ministry of Citizenship and Immigration supports are not available to people who have lived in Canada all their lives. Try phoning the City Hall info line in Toronto and ask for supports to help an adult with a disability, (uses a wheelchair) find housing or a job. The answers I was given when I asked, actually came with questions first. The first question was, “are you a senior?” The answer is no. The second question I got was, “are you an immigrant?” Again, the answer is again no. Their final comment was, “sorry, we can't help you.” I'm not sure if this is true, or if the person on the other end of the phone was lacking information and was unaware of other programs that exist.

15. What can the provincial government and municipalities do to better integrate services?

  • Follow the human rights code, not the AODA, when removing barriers. There are some major problems that have developed since the Integrated Accessibility Standard was released. Suffice it to say the majority of problems are with transit, it’s cost and it’s availability for people who use a wheelchair, and there is nothing in the standard to ensure an employer will flex the hours of work around the extra time a person with a disability needs to properly look after themselves.

  • Move the ODSP Office into the same building as where the housing office and other social services supports are. It will save us from doing some of the run-around. Move credit counselling, community legal services and other similar types of services into the same location. (This recommendation came in Dr. Miranda’s report and apparently there were some huge cost savings).

  • Another model worth considering is the charting system used in a hospital. When a patient is admitted to hospital, a chart is created. This chart follows the patient to every single specialist or other type of support providing appointments; even the ones off-site from the hospital. Notations are put in the file for each support or service contacted. This opens up the door to better communication and makes it less stressful on the patient, or if this were adopted, client who was receiving the social services support. Holding in-services to discuss a coordinated plan is also used in the hospital. If this were adopted in the provision of support to get people into work, the stress would be down, the costs would be down, and the success would go up.
  • Remove the red-tape and constant need to prove ourselves accountable. Facing the bureaucratic red tape, plus the day-to-day frustrations of looking for a job, working, attending to family responsibilities, is too much to manage by one, or maybe two, people. The stats for ODSP and OW caseloads, plus PALS 2006, show that having a disability, or having to live within the restrictive rules for social assistance, means that a disproportionate number of people are having to live alone and can’t share those administrative duties with others.

16. What should Ontario do to address the short-term income support and training needs of people who are not eligible for EI?

  • Continue using existing employment support services that are available to the general public, but include as a provision to get the contract to do this, mandatory training in a disability support and/or other similar type of training program. Include with this, a feedback process so that, if things are not working out, the client can report it right away and have help to fix the problem when it starts.

17. What should the interaction be between income-tested benefits, such as WITB and child benefits, and the social assistance system?

  • Make sure the money gets to benefit the kids. I don’t know this issue well, but it is my understanding that there is far too many claw backs going on. If the feds give out money to benefit children, ODSP and OW should leave it alone. It makes no sense to claw it back and force another generation to grow up impoverished to the point where they lack too many skills and won’t be able to work at anything meaningful.

18. Do you have suggestions on other areas of federal-provincial interaction related to social assistance?

  • The biggest and most important thing is to take into consideration that a person who has to receive these sources of income before they go back on ODSP, will not have extended health coverage, a drug card, dental card, money to buy medical supplies, repair a wheelchair, etc. Despite this, housing will still charge 1/3 of the income received for rent. Therefore, it is VITAL that ODSP provide coverage to eliminate this discrepancy. For example, the special diet allowance is considered to be an eligible expense. Add wheelchair repairs, the need to buy medical supplies, or to pay for other disability related supports and services, then it’s okay. Otherwise, the policy is discriminatory and will become a huge disincentive to anyone ever trying to apply for work again. As an aside, the situation I found myself in, which is exactly as I describe here, left me hungry, demoralized, and so depressed that, for the first time in 10 years, I had to be hospitalized again. How much did the 9 day hospitalization cost vs. eliminating this imbalance to begin with?

  • Where are the job opportunities? These must come from provincial, federal, and municipal initiatives.
  • Rules must be made less restrictive around ones ability to have a spouse, live in a relationship, or co-habituate with another because the world was built for two. If people can’t share tasks with another, lives alone, doesn’t own a car, or worse, has a disability, it can be impossible to keep up with doing the tasks of daily living without becoming burned out, and less able to work.
  • Enforce and strengthen the AODA so people with disabilities can access things independently. If this were to be done, I could get rid of the Attendant who has to come in regularly to assist with things I simply can’t reach for personal care. It would free up time in the day for me so I am better able to work hours that would satisfy an employers needs, and it would save the money for health and long term care.
  • Lobby to get CAP (Canada Assistance Program) back.

Appendix 1:

Job Specification

Position Title: CASEWORKER

Job Code: OPSEU - Welfare Field Worker 2, 10503

Job ID: 36503

Purpose of Position:

To serve clients using a case management approach to deliver the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) including: determining eligibility for ODSP Income and Employment Support; serving as a resource in the areas of training and employment for clients; conducting preliminary and secondary assessments regarding allegations of program abuse by recipients and actioning outcomes. To provide information, advice, assistance, and liaison with clients, the community, and with stakeholders regarding the ODSP.


Under the general supervision of the ODSP Manager, each incumbent in the Position is assigned duties from the following responsibilities, depending on the ODSP Manager’s priorities and the current workload:

Client Services:

1. Collecting, documenting and evaluating information to determine client’s eligibility (including inactive clients) for ODSP Income and Employment Supports in accordance with legislation and established guidelines; utilizing ODSP Service Provider assessments of employability, progress and achievement of goals, where applicable. Conducting interviews with clients by phone or in person in various locations such as onsite, homes or offsite; compiling and verifying client information through various sources (e.g. financial institutions, employers, landlords, accessing third party databases, etc.); determining the need for a trustee to assist clients in managing finances; reviewing client circumstance as required to ensure eligibility; arrears and overpayments for both ODSP Income and Employment Supports.

2. Making adjustments to the amount of income support as a result of changing circumstances and ensuring clients receive benefits and services for which they are eligible; maintaining system integrity by updating appropriate computer applications and files with changes to client’s circumstances; posting social assistance repayments and reimbursements; documenting decisions that affect eligibility, including reasons for ineligibility and providing notice in writing; approving Employment Supports funding agreements; participating in Internal Review/dispute resolution process as required; completing support assignments/directions and cancellations, reviewing Family Responsibility Office (FRO) file packages, calculating FRO reimbursements.

3. Cheque authorization writing responsibilities.

4. Preparing and presenting submissions to the Social Benefits Tribunal (SBT).

5. Facilitating referrals to Family Support Workers, service providers, social service agencies and other community agencies to assist the client in meeting their socio-economic needs (e.g. pursuit of child/spousal support, employment supports, DAU, ORU, etc.).

6. Resolving conflict situations including client complaints and disputes. Listening, mediating, negotiating and making referrals to other resources or services within the community to help meet the clients` needs. Responding to emergency situations involving clients by assessing situation, presenting and implementing solutions (e.g. employment programs, community support agencies, housing sources, legal aid, etc.).

Employment & Training:

7. Working as part of the ODSP team to assist in identifying ODSP clients who are interested in obtaining employment; developing, maintaining and providing information to other ODSP staff in their work with clients. Providing information, explaining legislation and Ministry initiatives to interested clients and staff. Planning and delivering information sessions to groups of clients on community based employment supports, labour market trends and other information that will assist clients to achieve their employment goals. Maintaining and coordinating links within the local community to ensure the accessibility of local community based training and employment supports including the business community, consumer groups, local agencies and educational programs. Ensuring that current training and employment information within the local office is maintained and is accessible and user friendly.

8. Ensuring that applicants for ODSP Employment Supports meet all eligibility criteria for the program in accordance with the established guidelines. Ensuring that Employment Supports Funding Agreements are in place and ensuring that eligible clients receive funding to purchase community based employment supports. Ensuring that clients are aware of their obligations under the agreement. Making adjustments to the funding agreements where changes are agreed to. Facilitating referrals to appropriate agencies. Authorizing funds to a pre-approved limit. Ensuring program integrity and accountability for expenditures of funds.

Complaint Assessments:

9. Conducting preliminary and secondary assessments of ODSP recipients` eligibility in response to complaints from a variety of sources by accessing clients` files to verify if allegations are plausible and assessing file contents to determine appropriate action; contacting other sources, such as immigration and other government agencies, financial institutions and employers to negotiate disclosure of information, ensuring FIPPA requirements are met; interviewing clients to gather information and inform them of complaint and assessment, their legislated rights and responsibilities; reviewing and determining relevance of information collected and whether there is an overpayment and / or evidence of intent to defraud.

10. Recording activities relating to complaint assessments, outcome of contacts and data-gathering activities, preparing detail chronological case reviews including evidence, conclusions and recommendations regarding eligibility, including the applicable period and amount of overpayment; making recommendations to the ODSP Manager on the advisability of prosecution; adjusting or terminating allowance, completing appropriate documentation and setting up and monitoring repayment schedules; serving as a witness in criminal court, as required; developing and maintaining contact with a large variety of agencies, such as financial institutions, social service agencies etc.

11. Takes a pro-active approach to prevent abuse of the ODSP Income Support Program by requesting reports and comparing data with information on other jurisdiction’s computer system to identify duplication of assistance; Reviewing and assessing discrepancies and taking appropriate action; adjusting level of assistance or terminating assistance, arranging repayments schedule, where appropriate and commencing recovery..


12. Preparing and drafting correspondence as required. Setting workload priorities to meet deadlines and legislative requirements. Developing and maintaining relationships with community organizations. Working in a team environment where coverage for co-workers, information sharing and support are required. As required, serving as a Commissioner of Oath for the ODSP program. Other duties as assigned by the ODSP Manager.


Position requires:

Staffing and Licensing Requirements:



Position requires:

  • Excellent interviewing skills using tact and discretion to assess clients` eligibility and situations.
  • Position requires interpersonal skills, including effective listening and self-control techniques to elicit and obtain information from a diverse clientele.
  • Enhanced analytical and interpretive skills.
  • Case management skills are required to document clients, assess their needs, complete reference checks, assess financial eligibility, make referrals, review documents, use a follow-up system, etc.
  • Excellent communication skills: verbal/oral/written and the ability to write clear and concise reports and conduct stakeholder information sessions; highly developed interview skills, negotiating skills including intervention when necessary, and abilities to deal with client matters.
  • Mathematical skills to compute and monitor Income and Employment Supports and benefits according to eligibility criteria and prepare statistical reports.
  • Time management and organizational skills to prepare case plans, including but not limited to, making arrangements for emergency needs. Ability to prioritize and work within time constraints and deadlines.
  • Interpersonal skills for communicating with clients, community agencies, politicians, co-workers, etc. in a sensitive and efficient manner.
  • Ability to adapt to technology changes (software/computer programs).
  • Working knowledge of the various systems of technology and ability to work with them efficiently and effectively on a daily basis.
  • Sensitivity towards diversity/inclusion of applicants/clients and co-workers.
  • Demonstrated ability to provide effective customer service to clients with disabilities.
  • Ability to work effectively within a team and also with considerable autonomy.

Freedom of Action:

Reporting to the ODSP Manager, the Position works with limited on-site supervision, and works within the parameters of the ODSP Act, regulations, policies and procedures. The Position requires the use of judgement in assessing the client situation by: determining client’s financial eligibility; providing information and advice to clients, employers and community partners in making referrals and deciding on follow up; identifying issues and action plans and deciding on follow-up; understanding the impact of other programs, social changes and changing legislation of a large variety of acts, on ODSP; exercising discretion to ensure client confidentiality.

Work requires referring to the ODSP Manager for input and advice, matters involving precedents, situations involving possible impacts on the Ministry, or contentious matters.

Appendix 2

Letter to employment supports asking for help to save my job:

Letter to ODSP Employment Supports asking for help to keep my job (too many barriers were making it difficult to keep up)

Subject: Please help me save my job

Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2009 23:17:10 -0500

From: rollingl

To: Kate Dyne

Dear Kate,

I have been working full time for over 1 year now but the barriers to the rest of my life are taking their toll. Before I completely give up my job and go back to ODSP I want to ask if there is anything you can suggest which may be able to help.

The issue is an inability to go to one area of town to buy groceries and the other basic essentials of life. There is simply not enough hours in the day to get out and buy everything that I need. Further almost everything associated with health care and my disability puts the onus back on me to do research, be home to receive a delivery at a time that is convenient for them, make repeated follow up phone calls to call back because they don't remember, or maybe aren't allowed, to return a phone call to me, etc.

To get a new wheelchair, a tray or something else that will help to lessen the physical toll on my body from being incorrectly positioned is also an onus that has been passed back to me. I am to do the research and get back to the worker because they say the things I am needing is not covered by ADP. I can pay with my employer health plan, but I don't have a clue how to give them the answers they need if I can't view or try out the equipment before I buy.

In the evening the Access Bus is almost impossible to get especially when I have no idea what store will have food in it when arrive in the evening. I waste more time on the city buses looking for stores that are not sold out of the things on my list, or a clothing store that is accessible so I can buy clothes for work.

At work I am exhausted or having "melt-downs because the stress of being up half the night trying to figure out how I can buy the things that I need is taking a toll. I have thought of trying to ask for a new shift.... nights so I can receive a delivery during the day or take advantage of some of the things out there, but people who can\t be flexible at work are being fired and I am scared of taking this risk. I am not sure what my rights are to ask for shift accommodation so I am a little nervous asking to change to a night shift.

Could you please advise on my rights and/or over some suggestions on how I can overcome some of these barriers so I won't have to quit and return to ODSP? Please advise.

Thank you.


Correspondence with worker, hired by ODSP, to help me.

The letter to the employment supports worker explaining the impact of barriers and how it was creating too much stress and affecting my job.

From: [me]

Subject: Long letter - vital to read to ensure employment retention

To: [removed]

Received: Tuesday, July 14, 2009, 12:22 PM

Dear [name],

I hired you under employment supports to assist with employment retention, but I don't believe this is happening. In fact, it is completely the opposite.

To start with, you met with my employer last week and did not include me. You then apparently worded things in such a way that the employer feels it is no different for me to rearrange my disability supports after work, than for a parent to rearrange their child care service. If this is the case, then it is obvious that you have no understanding of the limits of a disability. The limits are huge.

For example:

I can't realistically own a vehicle because the cost of modifying it is prohibitive. I would also need to take mandatory training on the use of hand controls in Ottawa before I can be licensed to drive it. The training is no longer available in Kingston. For this reason, I have no choice but to live with the limits of transit.

It takes me 45 minutes to go to the grocery store on Kingston Transit (the Access Bus is not always available) and, the number of routes I can take, has a limit. Not all routes are accessible yet. Further, I am the one who has to get off, wait for the next bus, and pay for another fare, if a passenger is wearing perfume and I have to get off because of an asthma attack.

Able-bodied passengers can at least call a taxi or accept a ride from a friend or a family member because they can get into a car. They also have the choice, in many cases, of catching another bus sooner because part of its route overlaps the first route. This means they can get to their destination and, potentially accomplish more in a day.

The accessibility of stores is another matter. I can shop in about 10% of the stores in Kingston due to accessibility. They are either overcrowded, have steps or some other barrier. The 24-hour Metro (formerly the A & P) has a barrier to prevent grocery carts from being stolen. It also prevents a wheelchair from getting in. There is an over-ride on the door that will allow it to be opened by an employee, but in order to get their attention; I had them install a wireless doorbell. The problem is the button keeps getting broken or stolen so they won't replace it anymore.

I do not have the help of someone else to do my outside day-to-day tasks so it is vital that this limit is accommodated. Yesterday I made the mistake of choosing to shop at Price Chopper's instead of No Frills (a store that I know is always well stocked with food), because of its proximity to my doctor's office. It was sold out of celery, bread, and several other items on my grocery list, so it was a complete waste of time. I had to waste another 2 1/2 hours on the bus going to No Frills later and give up on a few other errands that were less of a priority. At least with this shift, I can do the other errands after work because the stores will still be open and the buses will still be running every half hour instead of an hour. My new shift will leave me with no time to run an errand like this - before or after work - because the stores will be closed by the time the bus gets me there.

If I could scrap the wheelchair and just walk, believe me, and there would be no pinning me down. I would buy a bicycle, a normal priced car, or phone a friend with a car and ask for a drive. I would also have the flexibility to shop in any store of my choosing because there would be no barriers to getting in. But this is sadly, not an option. I have to live with what I have.

The human rights code states there is a duty to accommodate a disability unless it can be proven that to do so would create an undue hardship for the employer.

So far, I have not been given any indication that leaving my shift at 8 - 4 pm would cause a financial hardship. It would be inconvenient, but it would not be costly.

Their only reason for not continuing to accommodate the agreed upon shift is that I am not trained on the appropriate lines. Well, why not? I have copies of emails that I wrote to supervisors as far back as March 1st specifically requesting the test so I could be properly certified. It never got done. Eventually, they started to use different excuses like I was taking too long on the calls, or they couldn't allow me to take time off the phones because they were too busy, but the busy is out of my control. The length of time I take on the calls is something I have been asking for coaching on since day one.

I have had this and I have followed every bit of advice. More recently, the calls I specifically ask to review in the QA (quality assurance) feedback meetings, is that there is very little I could have done differently to shorten the call so the excuse that I take too long on my calls is a little hard to understand under the circumstances.

When I contacted ODSP and ultimately you, it was to ask for assistance to retain my job because it felt like there wasn't enough understanding of what a disability can be. The fact that I can't stand up or network with any of my peers is a huge limitation to being able to share knowledge and remember everything, so I would think, with the help of someone to better explain the impacts of having a disability, some accommodation can be made. My hope was that you would have the time to listen long enough to fully understand the situation, then work with me, in a co-operative approach, to trouble shoot ways to help me keep up. Instead, it feels like you believe you are the authority on my limitations and I can just work harder and give up more, to bend to needs of others.

I am a human who has a set limit on how much I can do. By having a disability, I already have more than the average person has to take on to remain independent in this world. To have no vehicle and no help from family or friends as well, is too much.

Now, after reading all this, I will ask you again, to assist with finding a way to help me keep my job. I will not be able to keep it if my shift changes to 11:15 am - 7:15 pm or even 10 am to 6 pm, for that matter. I will have to give up even more, and, for the reasons explained above, I can’t. Not if I want to continue to take care of my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being.

The human rights code puts the onus on the employer to prove that it would cause them undue hardship to accommodate me. Therefore, with your support, I would like to negotiate that we ask for a 1 or 2 day investment to test me for the lines I need to be able to take on so I can keep the 8 am to 4 pm shift. The amount of time necessary would be no more than is being given to anyone else, but it would allow me to keep the appropriate accommodation so I can keep my job.

I look forward to your reply.


Correspondence showing the worker gave up, closed my file, and left me stuck in a way that cost me the job

The reply from the employment supports worker.

From: [name removed]

Subject: Re: Long letter - vital to read to ensure employment retention

To: [me]

Received: Friday, July 17, 2009, 1:56 PM

Good Afternoon Louise,

I have read your letter and given careful consideration to your points and requests. I feel you would be better served by another service provider and therefore I will be closing your file with [name removed] Job Placement Services.

I have been in contact with Darlene Huggard Employment Support Specialist at ODSP and I advised her that I would be closing your file. You can contact her to get a list of service providers to interview and hire from.

Louise I wish you well in your future endeavours and hop you will be better serviced by a different provider.



When she closed the file I called ODSP to get another worker and was informed that I would have to wait 1 full year before I could re-open it again. When I showed employment supports this letter, they said it was her choice to decide if she could work with me or not. Basically this means that, in the eyes of ODSP, the employment counsellor can do whatever she wants to me and they will support it.

Appendix 3

These charts are about 2 years old so they don’t reflect the increased transit costs. However, they still give you an idea of the discrepancy between what people using specialized transit and conventional transit, are. HINT: Click on image to see a bigger view

Thank you for your time and consideration in making this review and reading this, and other, feedback.

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