It’s been a few weeks since we’ve covered Ontario’s Disability Support Program (ODSP) on here and there’s a reason for that.
After delving into social assistance so much and ultimately becoming very discouraged, I needed a break from it. We’ve actively been avoiding serious subject matter on the podcast and I’ve even strayed away from talking about ODSP on my personal Facebook account. (At least I’ve been trying to anyway.)
Really, the entire situation was impacting my mental health and hurting friendships. I was becoming miserable, getting into fights with those I cared about and it became less and less worthwhile to engage with others about ODSP all together. Still, I’ve gained some wisdom when it comes to Facebook however and I’m hoping it serves me well moving forward.
I think I was starting to take things too personally (especially with ODSP) but I’m slowly getting to a place where I don’t. Finding this new perspective, I’m now coming at social assistance differently.
Finding more support through Twitter, I’ve distanced myself from ODSP on Facebook. As a result, I started feeling more empowered to make an immediate change and realized there’s a different way to go about things. Despite my disappointment over communications with federal and provincial members of Parliament, I came up with a new idea.
You can’t spell immediate with out media, after all.
The ODSP Chronicles: Where It Came From
So many changes take place after a story breaks in the media.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s government had nothing in place for how ODSP should treat those collecting Canada’s Emergency Response Benefit (CERB.) This meant local offices were left to interpret the rules themselves. When a resolution was finally passed because of how someone was cut off the system all together, the government responded by treating the federal benefit as income. (I detailed all of this in a previous post, so read that if you need a recap/refresher.) Long story short, nothing was passed until a media outlet caught wind of the situation and made a story out of it.
Because of this, 50% of gross income from CERB payments (with a $200 exemption) was clawed back, despite the fact that it’s taxable. Anyone who works has their net income clawed back by the same amount but because this is gross income, it’s like the provincial government has been taking more than they normally would if the person on ODSP was employed. (Yes, they’re basically profiting from a federal benefit meant for those who are unemployed because of the pandemic. To be fair though, British Columbia is the only province NOT doing this.)
Unfortunately, the media hasn’t followed-up on it. When the Ford government announced they would treat CERB as income, everyone moved on because it wrapped the initial story up in a neat little bow. Politicians haven’t pushed the issue any further and now those of us on ODSP are still at a disadvantage if we need to receive CERB to get by.
It’s the same when it came to the one-time disability payment from the federal government. Despite initial coverage when political parties were butting heads over its approval, it received almost no mainstream coverage when the house did approve the bill. This happened again when it received royal ascent by the senate earlier in the week. Everyone had moved onto the WE charity scandal since it was a sexier story, disabled Canadians be damned. (Although I’ve heard that Justin Trudeau is pretty dreamy.)
That’s where the problem lies though: Politicians are reluctant to change until it becomes a bigger issue in the public eye. The media needs to cover these stories at large so people know what’s happening and can rally behind change. Because we are a minority and people at large don’t know what’s going on however, the media doesn’t want to cover our challenges.
Putting it more bluntly, disabled people don’t sell enough newspapers or get enough ratings.
The ODSP Chronicles: A Solution
All of this is my extremely long-winded way of saying that something has to be done about it.
While I could offer to make our stories sexier by slapping on a speedo, that would probably hurt our cause more than it would help. People may come into our ranks when they go blind upon seeing my flabby physique, but I don’t think that’s the tactic we should go with.
Playing to my strengths instead, I’m a freelance journalist and the first blind person to graduate from my local college’s program. I was the assignment editor of their first convergence journalism pilot before it became the main focus of the course. After graduating, I became a contributor to a local publication and have been writing articles there for 10 years now. So I’m no fly-by-night blogger who hasn’t written professionally.
I’m tired of waiting for the media to pay attention. They’ve had their chance and stories of those on ODSP still aren’t being told in a meaningful way. I’m not trying to sound bitter either, I understand that it’s a complicated thing to follow. If they don’t have the ability or resources to do so however,, the disabled community in Ontario needs a place that will.
So I want to start a website that gives people on ODSP a voice and details what they go through.
The ODSP Chronicles: The Details
We’re viewed as numbers or statistics too often and my goal is to challenge perceptions.
I fail to believe that others wouldn’t rally behind change if they could relate to real stories on a human level. As I mentioned, politicians need to be pressured into doing the right thing sometimes, so I think that shining a spotlight on these issues may help. If more could see that we aren’t just sitting on lounge chairs, collecting money for nothing and actually working our asses off only to still be in poverty, it might be a different story.
(And yes, I realize that Jan and I don’t even have it as bad as others since we can afford groceries, a decent apartment and a few luxuries like fast food or streaming services/movies.)
These stories would highlight those on ODSP as real people and explore how the program has impacted their lives. This would include background information, how they ended up on ODSP, what the situation is like, things they wish for and enjoy doing, what they can contribute and the constraints ODSP puts them under. Specific experiences or stories about the support program will definitely be welcome as well.
From there, I would write the final product and publish it on a website that collects every article.
The ODSP Chronicles: WhatThey Won’t Be
I’ve given a lot of thought about what I want to do, so there are some things I’ll be avoiding as well.
First off, this won’t be a pity party. I will focus on everyone featured as people and not as a disability. I don’t want it to be where we’re looking for the public to feel sorry for anyone. This is about making them realize how punitive ODSP is and the reasons it puts those of us who rely on it in poverty. I want to show how much more we could contribute if we were able to access a system that didn’t keep us below the poverty line and struggling just to make ends meet, let alone get ahead.
I also don’t want this to become an attack on any political party. Despite my feelings, these articles will focus on the system without pointing fingers. With that being said, if there’s factual information to show that a specific party is doing something that makes ODSP less effective for people, it won’t be ignored. Essentially, they won’t be opinion based or hit pieces.
Besides, it’s not just one political party that has gotten us here. It’s been inaction over the course of decades and that’s what needs to be changed above all else. If we don’t give anyone a chance and condemn them from the start, no one will want to have a serious dialogue about helping those who need it.
My focus is on a broken system and those it keeps in poverty: That’s where I hope to make a difference.
The ODSP Chronicles: Some Final Answers
Since I’ve been asking for opinions on Twitter, I’ve already received questions about several topics.
Addressing some of them, I’ll start by being up front. Since I’m also on ODSP and working with extremely limited resources by myself, I cannot pay people for their time and effort. If you contact me, it’ll have to be because you want to get your story out. I’m not asking anyone to submit articles, we’d be doing the interview via e-mail and then I’d put the piece together with the answers I receive. I’m not making money from this and given the amount of time it will take, I’d be operating at a loss. As a freelance journalist who writes articles too, paying those we interview isn’t something that’s done.
If the site gets up and running, making any cash far into the future, it’ll be reinvested into hosting fees and resources to help expand our reach. I don’t really have aspirations of making it some sort of business because I think that would be kind of seedy.
I’ve also been asked why I’m only taking on ODSP and not other forms of social assistance with these articles. My simple answer is what I wrote up above: I’m only one person doing this for now. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew and feel uncomfortable tackling forms of social assistance that I’m not familiar with yet. That isn’t to say it can’t be explored in the future, it’s just that I have to maintain a more narrow focus right now.
I can also use first names or aliases if it makes anyone feel more comfortable. I understand any worry people may have when it comes to something they rely on heavily like ODSP.
The ODSP Chronicles: How To Be Featured
So if you’ve made it through this novel and are interested in being featured, it’s really simple.
Just fill out our contact form with the subject “The ODSP Chronicles” and a little message giving me some background on yourself. Alternatively, you can do the same by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll get back to you with a response. Eventually we’ll have a different site hosting everything but until then, this is the best way to reach us.
If you have any questions, please send them through those methods of contact as well. Thanks!