Submission to the Commission for the Review of Social Assistance in Ontario
June 27, 2011
Canadians have a very different view of disability than they did a few decades ago. Today we recognize the rights of persons with disabilities to participate fully in the economic and civic life of our communities. These rights are protected by human rights legislation, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and other laws and conventions. When we build a wheelchair ramp, for example, we acknowledge the legal right to enter a school or workplace. A ramp does not eliminate the health condition that makes a wheelchair necessary, but it addresses the exclusion that results from our attitudes and actions. The full inclusion of persons with disabilities is determined less by the disability itself, and more by our own attitudes and policy choices. Promoting the right to full inclusion should be the fundamental objective of government policy on issues relating to disability.
One of the foundations of our province’s response to disability is the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). ODSP presents an opportunity to address the social and economic exclusion of those persons with disabilities who experience the greatest poverty â€“ to promote their dignity and full participation. Unfortunately, those who depend on ODSP experience attitudes, actions and policies that serve to exclude persons with disabilities. ODSP has also failed to adjust to the changing nature of employment patterns for persons with disabilities.
We are routinely vilified in the media simply for being poor; where social assistance is usually portrayed as a wasteful â€˜lifestyle choice’ or a â€˜drain on the system’, rather than a necessityâ€¦. I have been frequently viewed with scorn and indifference by my neighbours when it is discovered that I require social assistance, even though I have contributed hundreds of volunteer hours every year to make this town better for all residents. ~ Anne, Southcentral Ontario
The ODSP Action Coalition exists to raise awareness of issues affecting persons in receipt of ODSP, and to advocate for those with disabilities who require income support. We are hopeful about the government’s Social Assistance Review because of the opportunity to address fundamental problems with income support policies for persons with disabilities, and for others who require financial assistance. Our coalition has made many submissions to government on particular regulation and policy changes that would improve the experience of recipients. Through this submission and discussion, we wish to engage the Review Commissioners and staff in a broader discussion about how ODSP could be reconfigured to reflect fundamental rights and principles.
If we were redesigning an income support program for persons with disabilities we would start from these principles:
- Persons with disabilities have the right to be treated with dignity;
- Income support levels should adequately support the needs of people with disabilities;
- The capacities of persons with disabilities to participate and contribute to economic and civic life should be recognized and nurtured; and,
- Provincial income support programs should be aligned with other programs and policies of government (provincial and federal), to the greatest extent possible and without disadvantaging the people they are intended to serve.
To read the rest of the submission, download the document using the links below.