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Disability and Poverty in Ontario

In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore disability and poverty in Ontario.

Disability and Poverty in Ontario

A 2017 survey on disability in Canada states that during that year, only fifty-eight percent (58%) of people with disabilities of working age were employed. Nonetheless, many people with disabilities are able and willing to work. However, they face many barriers when they search for jobs, and they often cannot find employment. Currently, many of the people with disabilities who are unemployed must receive government assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

Review attendees report that due to a “benefit freeze” from 1998 to 2008, ODSP payments have not risen with inflation. As a result, although payment amounts are now increasing somewhat, ODSP payments do not allow people to reach the current standard of living in Ontario. In short, most people who rely on ODSP are living below the poverty line.

Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)

Part of people’s ODSP payments should fund their rent, while more of the payment funds food, clothing, and other necessities. However, the current ODSP rent allotment does not provide enough money to pay rent in many areas. As a result, people may need to spend food money on rent, and rely on food banks to meet some of the basic needs they should be able to afford.

Limited ODSP funding impacts not only individuals, but their families. For instance, families with one working spouse and the other reliant on ODSP are often still living below the poverty line. Moreover, one attendee reports that she cannot afford to house her three children. Instead, she can only afford to live with two of them.

Furthermore, attendees state that ODSP payments need to take into account more of people’s differing needs and family circumstances. For instance, the ODSP provides a benefit for people with service dogs, but not for any other type of service animal. Moreover, people only receive the benefit if their dog has been trained by a certified institution. However, there are no legal requirements prescribing specific kinds of training for most service animals. Instead, handlers may train their own service animals or work with professional trainers. Nevertheless, the ODSP benefit only supports certified service dogs. All other people with service animals must pay for their animals’ food and medical needs using money they should be able to spend on their own food or other bills.

Similarly, ODSP also offers funding for some types of accommodations and assistive devices. Conversely, one attendee with environmental sensitivities reports that ODSP does not fund the equipment she needs, such as:

  • Air purifiers
  • Water purifiers
  • Respirators
  • Oxygen
  • Organic food
  • Organic beds

Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB)

Furthermore, people who gain disabilities through injury at work and who are afterward unemployed rely on funding from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB). Review attendees report that this program has reduced the level of funding people receive.

In short, many people who live with disabilities also live with poverty because the funding they live on does not reflect the funding needed for a supportive quality of life today.