On July 6 representatives of the ODSP Action Coalition met with Francis Lankin and Munir Sheikh, the commissioners who are currently reviewing Ontario Works and ODSP. We gave them highlights from our submission, Dignity, Adequacy, Inclusion: Rethinking the Ontario Disability Support Program. We were impressed that they had taken the time to read our substantial brief (which we had sent in advance). Key recommendations which we highlighted included:
- Change the benefit unit to give assistance to the individual rather than the family unit, to allow people with disabilities to form relationships.
- Provide adequate income for rent, healthy food, transportation, personal and household needs, etc.; and base the rates on the real costs of peopleâ€™s needs as determined by a panel including social policy experts and people with lived experience.
- Getting a job, participating in employment supports, training or any form of treatment or rehabilitation should remain voluntary for people with disabilities. Many more people would work if given the right supports and incentives.
- There should be a Disability Ombudsman to help people when they encounter problems in the various programs and jurisdictions they must deal with to get the supports they need.
The Commissioners asked a number of questions which they would like us to consider and send in further submissions. They are particularly interested in ways to provide more employment opportunities for people with disabilitiesâ€”how can small businesses be engaged; what role alternative businesses can play; what are best practices for providing opportunities for people with mental health issues. The Coalition was also asked for our views on separating out income support for people with severe disabilities from other types of supports, including health benefits and employment supports for people with disabilities who can work. A key question for the Coalition is: who decides, and how is it decided, who can work; whose disability is considered â€œsevereâ€; and what happens to those people who are left out? This is an issue that our Policy Committee will look into further and discuss with our members. The Commission also stressed that it is important for them to try to get a wide consensus of opinion from all sectors of the community, including business, rather than just from people with lived experience and advocates, if they are to have any chance of getting government to act on their report. Therefore they challenged us to deal with arguments against our recommendations and dialogue with those in the community who might have another point of view.