Saturday, September 2, 2017

Barriers to Getting a Family Doctor

In February 2017 I lost my family doctor due to an administrative error. Try as I might I could not resolve the problem. I had to look for a new doctor. I quickly found out that finding a new doctor is not easy when one has a disability and is categorized as having complex health care needs. 

From February to July 2017 I was rejected by fourteen (14) doctor's offices for a shocking variety of reasons.

The excuses ranged from: 
  • I live outside their catchment area,
  • I wasn't referred to them by a psychiatrist,
  • I'm not related to one of their current patients, 
  • I don't identify as Transgendered,
  • I don't identify as LGBTQ,
  • I'm not drug addicted,
  • I don't abuse alcohol,
  • I'm not abusing narcotics,
  • I'm not from a racialized community,
  • I'm not an immigrant,
  • I'm not a refugee, 
  • I have the wrong kind of physical disability (for one clinic to accept me).
I found a Family Doctor in July 2017 and I know it will be a good fit. The clinic has six doctors and they don't offer an After-Hours Clinic. This means that, finally, I will be getting the continuity of care that I so desperately need as a person who has a disability.  

I'll describe my journey in an effort to save other's from encountering as many pitfalls and barriers.

Doctor's in Ontario have different structures, services, and payment models through OHIP. The doctors can choose what kind of clinic they want to set up, and how they want to get paid. I discovered barriers because clinics had chosen to serve, what they identify as, "priority populations". 

Before I go on though, if the list above sounds far-fetched, follow these links to read the criteria various medical clinics have set up. 

The Family Health Care teams at St. Joseph’s Health Centre and St. Michael’s Hospital will only take patients from defined catchment areas. The hospital that serves my catchment area is the one that had the administrative error. I'm not willing to name it.

Four Community Health Care Clinics (Queen Street West Community Health ClinicParkdale Health ClinicWomen’s Health in Women’s Hands and the Anne Johnston Health Centre say they can’t take me because their waiting lists are too long, I’m not living in their catchment area or I’m not considered one of their “Priority populations". 

Some of these clinics state on their website that they'll add names to their waiting lists, but when I asked them in person to add my name, I was told the waiting lists are too long  and they're not adding names anymore. They recommended I look elsewhere.  

Family Health Walk-In Clinics (Village Family Health Team,  East Liberty Medical CentreUniversity Dundas Family Medicine Centrerecommended to me by Health Care Connect can’t take me because they're either not accessible, or they don't take patients who take prescription pain relief medication.

A Resident doctor at the Mount Sinai Family Medicine Clinic said he could take me but, because I have a disability and complex needs, he strongly recommended I find a regular family doctor instead. The fifteenth doctor that saw me thankfully took me. The search for a doctor is finally over. 

Ontario's Primary Care and Payment Models (a summary version quoted from the Ministry's website)

Enhanced Fee-For-Service Models

The Comprehensive Care Model and Family Health Group model physicians are compensated primarily through Fee For Service (FFS) but are also eligible for specific bonuses and premiums based on patient enrolment.

Comprehensive Care Model is for solo physicians who commit to provide comprehensive primary health care and a block of after-hours services each week to their enrolled patients.

Family Health Group is offered to groups of three or more physicians to provide comprehensive primary health care and after-hours services to their enrolled/assigned patients.

Capitation Based Models

Family Health Network (FHN) and Family Health Organization (FHO) models, which have three or more physicians, are compensated primarily through capitation payments but also receive Fee For Service (FFS) payments. The physicians are also eligible for specific bonuses and premiums based on patient enrolment.

The two models offer comprehensive care during a combination of regular physician office hours and after-hours services. Information technology and preventive health care services, chronic disease management and health promotion are also integral parts of these models. The key differences of the Family Health Organization compared to the Family Health Network include the base rate payment, associated basket of core services, and access bonus calculation.

Specialized Models

There are a number of patient enrolment models that have been developed targeted to distinct population groups or geographical areas:

  • GP Focused Practice: Alternative Funding Plans to focused practice general practitioners in HIV, Palliative Care, and Care of the Elderly.
  • Toronto Palliative Care Associates (TPCA): developed to provide improved access for palliative patients to palliative care doctors and palliative care services in health centres, long-term care homes and in the home for Toronto area patients.
  • Homeless Shelter Agreements: provides primary health care services to homeless populations in Toronto (Inner City Health Associates) and Hamilton (Shelter Health Network). 
Through this process I learned several things.

  • The payment model of a clinic may limit a patient's choices.
  • The clinics serving "priority populations" are, in my opinion, practicing reverse discrimination,
  • Resident doctor care is not suitable for people who have long-term health care needs. There simply isn't the ability to provide long-term care and follow-up,
  • Clinics that offer specialized health care services that are not covered by OHIP have, by the looks of things, found a way to close their doors to people who are on low-income,
  • Universal Health Care is sure NOT universal anymore. 
Please read my other Blogs:

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Wheelchair Repair Woes

I am writing to express my complete and utter dismay at the administration of government funded programs to pay for repairs of disability related equipment.

I am a person with a disability. I use a power wheelchair that has specialized seating on it. It has a prescribed power tilt feature. It also has an elevating feature which my father helped me pay for. When a wheelchair has specialized seating, the government requires people with disabilities to follow a prescribed set of rules. The idea is, in order to save costs, one vendor is to supply and repair the equipment through a Central Equipment Pool (CEP) so parts can be refurbished and reused. This rule meant, when I bought my wheelchair, I had to purchase it at Shopper's Home Health Care.

Recently though, problems emerged due to funding cutbacks and Shopper's got out of the wheelchair business. Motion Specialties took over. To learn more about the change read the story, "London Advocate Calls Province’s Wheelchair Program “A Threat To My Dignity”" because it explains the problems people with disabilities are facing, well.

When Shopper's left the Central Equipment Program no one told me that I had to call a different company. I'm just glad the grapevine works well and, through rumours, I knew I now had to call Motion Specialties.

Yesterday morning (August 4, 2016) without warning, my front left caster started to flop all over the place. The problem is demonstrated in this video. I had no choice but to call the new company to request a repair:

I called Motion Specialties at 9:30 am to arrange for a repair. Ironically I discovered that only the company name had been changed (from Shopper's Home Health Care to Motion Specialties). The phone number to request a repair is the same as it always was, the people are the same, and the address is the same.

The person at Motion Specialties said that, because I am on ODSP, I must follow the rules. I'm no longer allowed to request the repair directly. I'm to call ODSP and ask my caseworker to make the formal request. Talk about disempowerment and a loss of dignity....

I called ODSP at roughly 11:00 am and I left a detailed voice mail message. I outlined the problem, gave the correct fax number to send the pre-approval to, and stated I don't have a spare wheelchair to use if this wheelchair dies; I would be stranded.

I’m lucky in that I have a good caseworker and I knew the job would get done.

At 12:30 pm I called Motion Specialties to ask if they’d received the go-ahead from ODSP yet. I was told the answer was no. I was puzzled and surprised.

I called ODSP back and, this time, called through to the main line. I knew from the call earlier in the day that my worker had left the office at noon. When the call was answered I was told I must call a new phone line to request wheelchair repairs. I knew nothing about the new line and I was not given the phone number. The worker on the main line transferred my call to a voice messaging mailbox. Clearly I had to repeat the entire request that I'd made in the morning. Once again I left my Client ID Number, identified what was wrong with the wheelchair, and left the exact fax phone number that the form was to be sent to. I again re-iterated that the problem was urgent; that I had no backup wheelchair, that I live alone, and I have no one to come and help me if the wheelchair dies completely.

I heard nothing more. By mid-afternoon I started to get really concerned. I spent the next hour or so making one phone call after the other trying to get through to a human so I could find out when I could get the wheel fixed. Three messages were left with Motion Specialties and four messages were left with ODSP.

Finally, at 4:17 pm, a person from ODSP called me back. She said she had in her hand proof that the pre-approval form had been sent to Motion Specialties at 11:58 am. I asked her to fax me a copy so I could keep it on my records and if need be, fax it directly to the right person at Motion Specialties myself. I've seen faxes get lost in the shuffle before. Sadly I'm apparently no longer allowed to see the pre-approval form for a repair request. I could, however, get a copy of the "successful fax transmission" sheet. I now have a copy of it to prove that the ODSP office had come through... or so I thought.

When I got the faxed proof I decided to scan it and share a copy of it with Motion Specialties by email. I thought it would help to speed up the repair process. It did not. By the end of the day, no repair had been scheduled. I was scared because the chair was even less safe than it was in the morning.

First thing Friday morning I called back to Motion Specialties. I figured they would have seen my email, tracked down the fax, and could line up the repair. I left a voice mail message. A couple of hours later I got a reply phone call. The caller shouted at me so loudly I couldn't hold the phone to my ear. I had to hold it out from my head at a full arm extension. I was sitting in a doctor's waiting room and everyone could hear the reprimand. I couldn't believe my ears. I had no idea what I did wrong. All I know is I picked up words like "abuse", that I allegedly accused Motion of "negligence" and I have no idea what else. I broke down in tears and hung up the phone.

About 10 minutes later the person at Motion Specialties called back. I saw who it was on the call display so I answered the call saying, "what did I do that was so wrong?"

That's when I learned that I was being accused, not ODSP, of faxing the pre-approval form to the wrong department. I had no idea what she was talking about.

I didn’t send the fax - ODSP did. I gather the "proof" I'd shared the night before by email (the successful fax transmission form) revealed that ODSP had not faxed the form to the number I'd given them. I gather, according to the person at Motion Specialties, I should have known that the fax was sent to the wrong department because the mistake was revealed in the copy I'd sent to them by email. The font was too small. I couldn't see what phone number the fax was sent to.

All I could think of, what is wrong with your company? If the fax went to the wrong department of your office, why doesn't the wrong department just send send the fax over to the right department? I knew enough not to lend voice to this thought.

Instead I ate crow. I apologized for my "abusive actions" in the email, even though the tone of the email was not accusatory, and then I begged her to order a repair. I was told there was nothing they could do. I'd have to wait to get the repair done on Monday at the earliest.

I got scared and, through my panic, offered to pay them $2,000 today if they'd just track down a repair person. I knew I couldn't afford it, but if I had to, I would use my line of credit. I can't be stranded. I live alone. It's too dangerous. I have no knight in shining armour who can rescue me if the chair fully died.

That's when the person at Motion Specialties saw the light. She put my call on hold, made a few inquiries, and then came back on the line to state that she might (not will) get a person to come around to do the repair this afternoon.  I had to let it go and just pray.

To stay sane I decided to carry on with the rest of my life. I was at my doctor's office at the time I was trying to arrange the repair, and I can't change a Wheel-Trans booking on short-notice without getting penalized, so I took the bus to my volunteer job as a receptionist at a church.

Three hours later, at 2:00 pm, the volunteer job was over and I went outside to board Wheel-Trans. The front wheel fell completely off when I boarded the bus and my wheelchair did a major tip forward. The seatbelt and the quick actions of the driver is all that prevented me from falling out of the chair and onto the floor.

The driver tried to put the wheel back on but it wouldn’t stay there. He then used the securement straps to fasten the wheelchair in a way that would keep the chair upright. The driver then instructed me to find a person to help me get off of the bus when I got home. I have no one I can call, who's able to readily drop things and run to my rescue. Nevertheless, I called Motion Specialties first and told them of my predicament; that I need an urgent repair, and then I made several more calls to find someone to help me get from the bus to the inside of my apartment building. The 7th person I called, a neighbour, was able to help.

I shudder to think what would have happened if that neighbour had not been available. There were storm clouds brewing, it was hot and humid outside, and the driver was not allowed to help me get inside. The driver ultimately did help, because it turned out that if I tilted the chair backwards and drove backwards, I could and get inside. The driver and my neighbour helped to direct me because I couldn't turn my head far enough to see where I was going. In the end I was safe, but it's shocking to realize how trapped and unsafe I truly was.

About 20 minutes after I got home, the repair man showed up and the wheel was fixed. I then got a lecture. I was told that I was to never to take such dangerous risks again. If the wheel is unstable I must stay home, not use my wheelchair (at all), and just wait. Yeah right. I wonder how he expects me to get from my bed to the bathroom or out to the kitchen to get food?  That kind of attitude is abusive and unsafe. People with disabilities should never be forced into a dangerous situation like that. Our wheelchair is our legs. Do people see fit to tell a person who's walking to just do without their legs and accept the fact they might be stranded? I highly doubt it.

I’m still trying to recover from the sting of the nasty comments that were made over the last two days. The yelling through the phone this morning and being reprimand for driving my unsafe wheelchair when I had no other choice, has really rattled me.

There was absolutely nothing I could have done differently to prevent this dangerous mess.

ODSP has supposedly set the new rules and yet, if I read their website, which was just updated in June 2016, I don't see anything that states I must jump through these hoops. In fact, what I see is that ODSP has nothing to do with paying the bill to fix my wheelchair. The Central Equipment Pool are the ones who are supposed to pay for the repair.

The ODSP web site states, in Directive 9.13, that they don't pay to repair my kind of wheelchair.  Here is what the new rules say as of June 2016.
Repairs to "High Technology" Mobility Devices 
ADP provides several categories of devices through a shared equipment pool administered by a designated agency or vendor on contract with ADP. 
All repairs and maintenance on equipment provided by the respective pool must be done by the pool agency/vendor. 
The province-wide vendor for the wheelchair pool for "high technology" wheelchairs is Motion Specialties. For information about service, including after hours, caseworkers or clients may contact the Central Equipment Pool (CEP) at (416) 701-1351 or 1-800-395-6661 or email at 

For equipment prescribed after September 1, 1999, repair costs are covered by the pool. However, if the equipment was prescribed before September 1, 1999 recipients may have the repairs covered by ODSP. 
Does no one know what their job is?

Did the rules get changed again?

If they did, why weren't the ones who are most affected by the rule changes, told about it?

Clearly, if this is right, I was sent through far too many unnecessary hoops and it sent me into a very dangerous situation; one that was completely avoidable.

What gives people (the service providers mainly) the right to blame me, discipline me, tell me to stop abusing them, when I never did that in the first place.

These problems must be addressed. As the article above shows (about the man from London, ON), I am not alone. I know many others who are going through similar nightmares. Their stories just haven't hit the news yet. We're too afraid to speak up because of the dangers that come with retaliation.

People with disabilities need your help. Nothing is being communicated to us. Our dignity and rights are being taken away and we are forced to endure unnecessary and preventable dangers.

We need taxpayers to speak up and to tell the media and your MPP that you do NOT accept this type of abuse of people who are disabled. We cannot fight this alone.

Thank you for reading. Please help to spread the word.

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Thursday, February 4, 2016

So Much For Accessibility in Ontario

Over the last few months I have observed a disturbing trend. The Point of Sale Terminals, where one can pay for goods using their debit card and entering a PIN number, are being locked down solidly to the checkout counters at a height that is unmanageable to use by a person who uses a wheelchair.

I have approached the individual stores:

  • Canadian Tire on 839 Yonge St. Toronto, 
  • Shopper's Drug Mart in various locations around Toronto (901 King St. being one of them)
  • Staples Business Depot on 375 University Ave.
and asked them to make the PIN pads moveable again. I explained to them that I use a wheelchair and I can't see the display if the terminal is mounted too high. All three of these businesses used to have the option of moving the PIN pad so we could use it privately and securely. The PIN pads were tethered to the counter using a strong, thick, cable so there was very little risk of theft.    

The management of all three of these businesses were respectful in their replies and all three offered to take steps to remedy the problem. Thus far, none have been successful. One of these businesses just got the complaint yesterday so it's understandable that there's no way I could have a remedy yet. One of the businesses, thus far, has not been able to fix things.

I therefore decided to try a new tactic. I see this as a new trend and that's happening in more than one business, so it's clear it's not just a bad attitude or a lack of thought by an individual corporation. 

I called the AODA Hotline at 1-866-515-2025, spoke to a Customer Service representative, and reported the problem. 

The answer I got back is not one I would've expected to receive from an entity whose job it is, to protect the rights and enforce the law for Ontarian's.  

The person on the AODA Infraction Hotline said that this was a banking issue. It is therefore out of hands. The Federal Government is the one who regulates the banking sector and their decision to firmly mount the Point of Sale Terminal PIN pads on the counter at a particular height. 

I then said, "But aren't businesses not allowed to contract out of their obligations to their customers who have a disability? Must the business owner or management not intervene and tell the banks that mounting the PIN pads too high is not acceptable because it violates the AODA and Human Rights Code?"  

The Customer Service Representative's reply was, "No. The businesses have no control over what the banks, a Federally Regulated agency, is doing." 

I then asked one more question (because I wasn't about to give up that easily). I asked the AODA Hotline Representative to provide me with the appropriate contact info for the Federal Agency that did have the power to intervene in this case. The Customer Service Representative's reply was, "I have no idea. It's not my job to know that information or to look that information up and give it to you."

So much for the government following it's own law. I'm shocked, I'm disgusted and fuming mad. 

I will write to my MP and share this information through my various networks. Please, I ask you, do the same. Spread this information far and wide. Contact your MPP, your MP, and even the media to report this travesty. We must, as a collective, put a stop to this blatant violation of our rights. Thanks in advance for your support.

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Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Wheelchair Users Have a Right to Pee

It's time to express myself. I am so frustrated at finding it's becoming more and more difficult to get into the accessible washroom to pee.

This is getting serious. I've had 3 accidents because of it. For all those who say, "hold it" I say some people with disabilities must rely on a different form of bladder management and it's not possible to hold it.  

First of all, the number of accessible washrooms are few and far between.

Second of all, many of the stalls/washrooms that were once designed as washrooms for people with disabilities to use, are now being converted to Family washrooms and/or gender-neutral washrooms.  

Most are being fitted with baby change tables as well.

I have no problem with the need to accommodate families or creating gender-neutral washrooms - but PLEASE - ADD MORE WASHROOMS  - DON'T TAKE AWAY the large accessible stalls. 

People who use a wheelchair can't just choose to go somewhere else.

Take you.

Please read my other Blogs
Barrier Removal:

Monday, March 2, 2015

Saving Money, Financial Traps, Solutions

Last week there was an event in Toronto (details) that was designed to help low-income people avoid, or bail themselves out of, financial pitfalls. Lots of discussion took place and lots of good information was shared. The report, "Welcome to Financial Mainstream" can be found on the Open Policy website.

It also became apparent that resources were not always easy to find. I therefore took notes based on the questions that were asked and wrote up this Blog. 

There are useful links related to banking, collection agencies, saving money, consumer rights, and a whole host of other things.

Volunteer Allowance
This exists in Toronto. It can be obtained through the Ontario Works office. There are specific criteria for getting this, even if you're on ODSP. The volunteer job must be related to a planned work activity, the number of volunteer hours can be no more than 70 hours per month, and it typically lasts for no more than 6 months, although exceptions can be made. To read more, visit this link.

Disability tax credit
To apply for the Disability Tax Credit, visit here.

To learn more about what benefits you can get if you're deemed eligible for the tax credit, visit here.

Collection Agencies 
Collection agencies must first contact you by mail to notify you of their intent to collect, who you owe, how much you owe, and identify the name of the collection agency. There are rules about the frequency they can call, how they can approach you, when they can call, etc. To learn more about your legal rights, visit both the Office of Consumer Affairs, Canada and Consumer Protection Ontario .

Credit Report
To get a free credit report on your status visit this link with Equifax.
Hydro, Equal Billing and Assistance Paying
If you have some months that are especially costly due to, for example, electric heat, applying for equal billing will help to spread the heavy costs out over the year. To apply for Equal Billing in Toronto visit Toronto Hydro. The web site states you must agree to making Pre-Authorized payments. This is not actually true.

To learn more about your rights in regards to equal billing, visit LEAP, Help for Low-Income Energy Consumers. LEAP also offers help to pay a hydro bill under certain terms so if you get behind, be aware that you can contact them. They may be able to help.

TTC Metro Discount Plan
The Metro Discount Plan is a cheaper way to buy a bus pass if you go out a lot. Visit the MDP website to learn more and then, if you're interested, apply. They tend to ask for permission to set up auto debit, but on reading this page, it looks like other payment options exist as well. By committing to the MDP, it works out to basically one free month of unlimited transit per year.

Front Door Security
If you're on ODSP and your apartment building requires you to have a phone line or cable so you can open and/or monitor the front door, ODSP will pay for it. The requirement must be written in your lease or you must get a letter from your landlord confirming the need to have the phone or cable service. Read Directive 6.2 to learn more.

Rent check
This service appears to be a one-stop location for landlords to check up on a potential tenant's past credit history, criminal history, and other facts they deem to be relevant. Here is the link to the Rent Check site.

Credit Counselling
Credit counselling can often help to renegotiate debt repayments. If you feel truly stuck and feel like there's no way to get ahead, try contacting them. By doing a Google search I was able to find this link to Toronto Non-Profit, Credit and Debt Counselling Services. I'm sure there are others as well. 

Consumer Rights, Cooling-Off Period
If you, like many people, got caught up in with a particularly good marketer and bought something, and then later realized it was a big mistake, there are legal protections so you don't stay trapped. To learn more read about the legal Credit Cooling-Off Period.

Cell Phone Charges
Your Rights When Signing a Wireless Service Contract will tell you the legal end of things.

A simplified version of the Wireless Code is also worth reading.

Cell phone charges can add up quickly and often without warning. It's hard to find a one stop answer on how to best keep the costs down, so here are some links to a few articles. An article by Global News entitled, "What's the best, cheapest Canadian Cellphone Plan out there" appears to contain some useful information.

Marketplace contains lots of useful information as well. Check out Easy Loans: Uneasy Money, which aired on February 27, 2015. Other links can be found on this page which leads us to even more tips. There's also Money Tips: Stash Your Cash.

Finally, here's a good one published in the Financial Post, no less. It's called "How Price-Matching Between Rival Stores Can Lead to Super Savings."

Some useful information regarding money exist on CBC's Project Money series. Be sure to open each link up to read more what it's about. Some of these podcasts contain some very useful information.

My hope is that these tips will prove to be useful and help you to save money. I'm also hoping to add to this post so, if you see a tip I haven't mentioned here, please let me know. You can write a comment. I'll review it and then, if it's useful, post it.

Please read my other Blogs

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

SAMS (Son of SAMS); Ontario's New Social Assistance Computer Disaster

In November 2014 Ontario launched a new computer program to manage social assistance payments to its citizens. This includes people who are on Ontario Works (formerly known as welfare) and the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). The cost of this program, according to OPSEU, was $242 million.

The sad part is, the system has been an utter failure. Cheques were sent out to people who weren't eligible to receive them, others didn't get their cheque at all, and still others (like me) got a whole host of other errors like too much money for some things, too little for others, and I just learned on Feb 17th, a cheque suspension for the second time in a row for allegedly not reporting work-related income (from a job I no longer have). My caseworker said in her phone message on February 17, 2015, that she has no idea why the new computer program keeps cutting my cheque off. Thank God she's vigilant and keeps checking for these errors in advance and can correct them.

I can't imagine being an ODSP caseworker right now. Just to correct the errors for my cheque alone, my worker has had to waste hours and hours and hours of her time.  

The computer system was installed in November, and in February it's clear the problems are still not resolving. 

The dedication, shown by my caseworker and many of the other caseworkers, has almost elevated them to sainthood status in my books. I'm obviously being a bit sarcastic here, but I seriously mean it when I say that the ODSP Caseworkers deserve medals for the amount of extra time and effort they've been putting in to trying to fix up this mess. 

The worst part about it, is finding, with a bit of research, that the government KNEW there'd be problems before they even launched the new SAMS program. From as far back as 2010 when the Social Services Solutions Modernization Project (SSSMP) was implemented, problems have been reported. 

Here are details about some of them:

In September 2014, the city of Brantford gave a report to City Council naming the steps being taken to implement the new SAMS computer system. On reading it one can learn that the date to implement the new program was pushed off several times. The original launch date for SAMS was June 2013. It was then delayed to November 2013, to May 2014, and finally to November 11, 2014. After much lobbying by municipalities, the Province also agreed to provide more funding to help defray the costs of implementing the new program. 

In a research report from CUPE, evidence was gathered to show many examples of how SAMS has failed in the US. See: Backgrounder: Social Assistance Management System (SAMS)

In Lennox and Addington, a report to council reveals more of the same; that there were problems encountered when trying to implement the program and more money was needed to properly train the staff on the new software. It also 
states that the Data Conversion takes longer than previously anticipated.  Included in this report, on page 7, there's another interesting point raised in a written memo from the Province dated May 9, 2014. It says, “As communicated in my memo on December 27, 2013, the ministry had finally allocated $3 million in one-time provincial funding and identified temporary administrative relief measures for Ontario Works. The additional $2 million in funding brings the total provincial contribution to $5 million.”

To learn more about what IBM/Curan says about the advantages of this new "Off the Shelf" Social Assistance Management System (SAMS), read: "The Curan Solution for Social Assistance." 

This program may be good for some Social Assistance Programs, but it's clearly not able to handle the Social Assistance Program that exists in Ontario, with all its 800 rules. 

The outcome of the province's decision to implement this new program has not only been costly and a nightmare for the OPSEU workers, but it's also been a nightmare for those of us who are disabled and must depend on social assistance. 

The mess with my cheque has still not been sorted out. I'm not even sure if I'm up money or down money.  I eventually gave up on trying to budget. I skimp and save even more and just hope that, when it all comes out in the wash, I won't find out I owe the government too much money. 

Here is a long list of stories that were published in the Toronto Star about SAMS:

Computer glitch sends $20M in overpayments to social assistance recipients (Nov. 28, 2014)

Critics slam Premier over welfare payout ‘glitch’ (Dec. 1, 2014)

Social assistance computer errors go from ‘glitch’ to ‘serious’ (Dec. 2, 2014)

Queen’s Park has paper solution to welfare computer woes (Dec. 23, 2014)

Toronto man wrongly receives welfare cheques (Jan. 5, 2015)

Disabled nurse sitting on $5,700 cheque issued by mistake (Jan. 9, 2015)

MPPs unaware costs for computer system hit $16M (Jan. 13, 2015)

Ontario’s welfare computer glitches are not the first (Jan. 15, 2015)

Internal memo shows welfare computer system problems drag on (Jan. 30, 2015)

Stop blaming ‘computer glitch’ for welfare woes: Goar (Feb. 5, 2015)

Liberals order independent review of welfare computer woes (Feb. 10, 2015)

Social Assistance Glitch Could Lead to Man's Eviction (Mar. 4, 2015)

Despite all these news items identifying the problems, here is what the government had to say in a meeting with the OSDP Action Coalition and the bureaucrats who work for the Ministry of Community and Social Services:
The ODSP Action Coalition’s Steering Committee met with MCSS officials yesterday.  Jeff Bowen, the Director of Social Assistance and Municipal Operations branch, provided this information on their computer problems: 1st, he stated:  “core of the system is working well; it has produced three pay runs now, getting the payments out to over 500,000 clients.  But, we recognize there are some real challenges and issues that are impacting our staff and clients”
These issues include: 
  • accuracy of some payments and benefits; #1 priority is to immediately triage those issues when brought to our attention
  • accuracy and content of letters generated by the program
  • intake issues—backlog in getting people on
To address these:
  • Working group of OW/ODSP staff to identify and prioritize issues;
  • Weekly releases of computer updates on specific problems
  • Have provided additional resources—extra staff (both caseworkers and clerical)
  • Provisional SWAT teams across the province to provide additional support
  • Experts in the program sent to local offices to provide coaching
 Main concerns we raised, with their responses:
  • Delays in people accepted as disabled getting on ODSP:  They now have a special team focussing on intake; there are a # of reasons this backlog of applicants has grown; it is a priority to address that
  • Suspension letters:  There were 21,000 computer generated suspension letters sent out Jan 19, which was the cut off date this month for income reporting.  That compares to average 12,000 per month on SDMT.  Normally these are dealt with when clients call in or send in info, and suspensions lifted before the end of the month when the required info is entered into the system.  No suspensions were done in November and December, which is why this issue just hit this month.  It was an unusually large volume so more difficult to address than anticipated
  • People being unable to reach their worker; voice mailboxes full; no return calls, etc:  stated they understand clients’ frustrations and are providing extra staff to deal with the pressures. 
  • Overpayment recovery amounts being raised, where a lesser recovery amount had been negotiated:  they had originally advised that some OP deductions would go up because they are now including special diet in the total amount to which the recovery percentage is applied; the recovery rate shouldn’t change if a specific dollar amount was negotiated
  • Internal review decisions not being given in writing (one ODSP caseworker advised a clinic staff that the system could not generate a written IR decision letter; officials advised us that is not the case, must be a training issue
The Client Portal, where clients will be able to enter their income and other information on line and have access to benefit statements, letters, etc, was supposed to start being rolled out February/March.  It is being delayed.  They are going to test it with a very small group of OW and ODSP clients first and gradually roll it out.
If you agree this problem is severe and it is affecting not only the ODSP recipients, but the Caseworkers, OPSEU, CUPE, and the TAXPAYING PUBLIC, please write to your MPP and protest. It's time SAMS is put to rest once and for all.

Already people on ODSP are unable to make ends meet due to the severe inadequacy in the funds that we get. It's really hard to accept that we're constantly under the gun and being scrutinized for every penny we earn (and sometimes what we don't earn), while a costly decision of this magnitude is continuing to swallow up funds that we, as recipients, could really use in the form of an increase on our cheques.

Please read my other Blogs
Barrier Removal:

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

So Near and Yet So Far

Today I came to my favourite hangout; the Toronto Reference Library. I come here often so I know that right across the road is a Subway Restaurant. It has heavy doors so I asked the Wheel-Trans driver to drop me off there first, and then help to open the doors.

Much to my surprise, the food stand that was there last week, is now gone. There are several food stands nearby; Pizza Pizza, Pizzaiolo, Quiznos Sub, etc. The catch is, all of them have one step. That's just enough to block my wheelchair from being able to enter to buy a meal.

I have tried to get service at these other locations before but it was to no avail. I couldn't get the attention of someone inside so they would come out to take my order.

Today, however, I had a brainwave. I ordered the pizza online and then asked them to deliver it across the road. They wouldn't do it. They said I had to pick it up.

Once more I knew that, in order to pay for it, I had to go to the bank to get the cash first. Their debit transaction machine is not portable, so I couldn't pay with my Debit Card or Visa.

I gave them my business today, but ONLY because I was hungry.

Here is the entrance of Pizza Pizza, the place I was trying to order my pizza from. It's located across the road from the library. Note the power door opener. It's useless to a person using a wheelchair because there's no way to get up the step.

Next time I'll bring a sandwich.

If any business owner owns a business with one step and you're reading this, please buy a portable ramp or do renovations to remove it.

If you live in a community with a program similar to Toronto's Stop Gap ramp program, please give them your business.

It's the law to accommodate all patrons who want to give you their money, including those who are disabled.

Thank you

Please read my other Blogs:
Barrier Removal:

Monday, February 2, 2015

Deputation to the City of Toronto: Reduce TTC Fares For People on ODSP or Social Assistance

Here is the text of another one of my lobbying efforts; this one to Toronto City Council regarding TTC fares.

A lot of people liked it. Here's hoping it has an impact.

Hello, my name is Louise. I am from ward 19.

I would like to thank the budget committee for giving me the opportunity to speak to you today.

I just moved to Toronto in August 2014. I'm a volunteer with ODSP Action Coalition, Right 2 Housing, PSAT (Psychiatric Survivor Archives of Toronto), and I'm about to start volunteering for the ROM. Part of the reason I moved to Toronto from Kingston is because of the number of barriers that weren't being removed under the AODA.

Now that I'm in a more accessible city, I'm already well involved in activities that enable me to give back to my community.

Today I am here to ask that consideration be given to reducing the TTC fares for people who are on a fixed low-income.

As a person who uses a wheelchair, I must rely on public transit. ODSP funds are inadequate to realistically pay for a Metro Pass but, in my case (and that of many others), it is a vital necessity.

The living allowance for a single person on ODSP is $619 per month.

Did you know that the cost of one Discounted Metro Pass takes up 20% of the living allowance allotted people who are disabled and must live on ODSP?

If I didn't buy the discounted pass, which many people on ODSP can't choose to do because they can't get a chequing account, I'd be paying 22% of my living allowance to buy the full priced $133.75 bus pass.

I live in an area that is gentrified. The cost of groceries are much higher in my neighbourhood than they are at No Frills. For example a dozen eggs cost $1.30 more per dozen. A bag of milk costs $2.80 more. Fruits and Vegetables are mostly organic in my neighbourhood, so their cost is out of reach. I must take a bus to a store outside of Liberty Village to shop so I make buying a Metro Pass my number one priority.

I use the bus on average, 4 times per day (two, 2-way outings). I take the bus to the free swim at Mary McCormick pool to get much needed exercise so I can ease arthritic pain, to church, to the library, to volunteer jobs (I have 3), to appointments, to free lectures, and the list goes on.

By being active I don't get depressed, I give back to the community, and I can cope with severe pain caused by the disability. By remaining active I have learned how to manage the pain and avoid a depression. The only medication costs I have are baby aspirin for a heart condition and Advil For arthritic pain because the drug card no longer covers this cost either. Thankful I rarely have to see the doctor or be prescribed medications, so I, and many others like me, are saving the taxpayer money.

It makes me mad to think the cost of my bus is going to go up, while children under the age of 12 will soon be able to ride for free.

I can't help but wonder if anyone thought to look at the demographics of the City, or considered the income status of the families those children live in, before the announcement was made for free TTC for all children under the age of 12?

I say this because, if one were to look at the stats for social assistance and the nature of a benefit unit, one would see that almost 80% of social assistance recipients are single. This means there aren't likely to be many children in social assistance families who are benefited.

I did some number crunching and by the looks of it, if all children under 12 (approximately 300,865) took one bus per month, the TTC will be subsidizing the cost by approximately $225,649. If this number was then multiplied, it looks like the TTC has given up an awful lot of revenue earning potential. If an ID card, to prove the child's age is then needed, that's a lot of money. When one considers that, according to a Statistics Canada document outlining Canadians mode of travel, only 23.3% of the people living in Toronto use the TTC, they drive, walk, or cycle instead, it doesn't look like a lot of the people with children and who could really stand a costing break, will benefit.

I would therefore like to propose that the City think of restructuring the bus fares another way. Instead of giving free bus fares to children under 12, why not offer the Senior's rate to people on ODSP or are on Social assistance and trying to supplement their income by working?

According to another resource I found about the nature of people who rely on Social Assistance, only 2.2% of the population rely on Social Assistance alone. Most are working and trying to earn enough income so they can survive.

Would it not be beneficial to create an incentive that would reward those who are trying to help themselves? To the best of my knowledge the $100 volunteer allowance that Toronto offers people on ODSP is now criteria based. If one is lucky enough to get on it, I understand it will only last for 6 months.

The province is encouraging the disabled to become employed. ODSP has evolved from once being considered to an income separate from Social Assistance to one of an income of last resort. If transit swallows up a big chunk of our income, then there’s very little left over to spend on doing job search, printing resumes, networking through mixers and various social outlets, to say nothing of getting a hair cut, buying suitable clothes, etc.

Many cities have recognized the value of subsidizing incomes for people who are on a low income. Kingston does this, Ottawa does this, and many other communities are doing this. Why not Toronto?

There is a lot of benefit to be gained by making transit more affordable to people whose income is incredibly low, and there is a lot of benefit to the taxpayer because we're more able to give back by the types of activities I named above, as well.

Lower fares be made available to people who are on social assistance and who are taking steps to help themselves by working. The indirect cost savings is that it would give the person more ability to give back by working or volunteering, there would be less cost to the health care system when one can save transit fares and invest in healthier food, more social activities (and therefore experience less social isolation and depression), exercise or any number of other things.

Please reconsider how the city charges fares on the TTC so that any breaks in covering the cost of the bus, can benefit the people who would benefit and be able to give back (with savings on housing, health care, food banks, volunteerism, or by working). The proof is in the social assistance stats. People who are on social assistance will take steps to help themselves by working. Others will volunteer and still others will take steps to use the savings to invest in food and activities that will improve their health and well-being.

The links I used to put this theory together are below. I can share them by email if you'd like. Thank you.



Submission to Standing Committee on Economic & Financial Affairs

This is the submission I did to Ontario's Standing Committee on Economic and Financial Affairs, on behalf of the ODSP Action Coalition, on January 30, 2015.

Some of the personal comments I made, like about the cost of the Metro Pass, a haircut, and the cost of food in the grocery store near me vs in another part of Toronto, really had an impact.

Other points that had an impact was the facts about the rate increases for OW vs ODSP and details about the planned cut to the work-related benefit. The opposition was NOT happy. Here's hoping his opinion translates into positive action.. like a raise.

Oh yeah, I was asked how much of a raise I'd recommend. I pointed to the $100 named in the Social Assistance Review and what some other lobby groups have named. I made it clear that more is necessary, but a raise of $100 would be a very good start.

Text of the submission

Hello my name is Louise. I recently moved to Toronto from Kingston. I am here today to represent the ODSP Action Coalition.

First of all, I’d like to thank the Pre-Budget Standing Committee for accepting this submission from the ODSP Action Coalition. I’ll be speaking on behalf of the ODSP Action Coalition plus, to better illustrate our position, weave in some lived experience to better illustrate the importance of these requests.

The ODSP Action Coalition is a network of disability service providers, community agencies, community legal clinics and recipients of the Ontario Disability Support Program. Our mandate is to advocate for improvements to the income and employment supports available to people who are disabled and must rely on support from ODSP.

I am a person who has been disabled all my life and, despite trying to get a job for most of it, have been unsuccessful and been forced to rely on the provincial government's disability pension. I first started receiving the Family Benefits Allowance, the precursor to ODSP, in 1988. As such, I am uniquely positioned to clearly name the Coalition's requests and then illustrate their reasons for asking, by sharing a piece of my story.

The ODSP Action Coalition has two main requests for this budget:
  • To provide an immediate significant increase to ODSP income support and, 
  • To reverse the cut to the Work Related Benefit until adequate levels of income support are provided. 
First of all, the reason for requesting the increase: The ODSP Action Coalition asks, on behalf of recipients, for budget to provide a significant increase to ODSP Benefits because people can no longer afford the REAL costs of paying for:
  • Nutritious food, 
  • Shelter, 
  • Transportation, 
  • Basic needs, and 
  • Day-to-day costs, including those related to being disabled. 
A significant increase was recommended by the Social Assistance Review but it was never implemented. Instead, the few raises that were given to people on ODSP have actually been less than for people on Ontario Works, especially when there is more than one person in the benefit unit. People with disabilities should not be expected to live on less money, so the rates for people on Ontario Works can get a much-needed increase, also recommended in the Social Assistance review. I keep seeing fewer and fewer options to make up the difference for the lost purchasing power, just so I can survive and remain healthy.

To illustrate let me share a piece of lived experience: In 1988, when I first started receiving government disability assistance, I could afford to buy:
  • Enough food to eat a healthy and balanced diet, 
  • A bus pass, 
  • A subsidized membership at the YMCA for exercise and socialization, 
  • Suitable clothing for casual wear, work wear, and warmth, 
  • Housewares, furniture (2nd hand), and other basic household essentials 
  • A haircut, 
  • A telephone service and, 
  • Cable TV. 
Now I must:
  • Rely on subsidized frozen Meals-on-Wheels dinners, 
  • Feel thankful for the free Community Pools in Toronto so I can get exercise. 
    • Other cities don’t have this. I certainly had no opportunity to exercise in Kingston, so my health suffered and I was more costly to the health-care system. 
    • I share this difference because ODSP is a province wide program and it is important to know that opportunities to survive and stay healthy vary from city to city and community to community. 
  • Buy clothing that can pass as being suitable for ‘business casual’, but can also be used for everyday wear. Gone are the relaxing track pants I used to enjoy being able to wear from time-to-time. 
  • Cut my own hair (with a brush cut) for 6 months out of a year. In Toronto the cheapest haircut I've found so far is $40. I was lucky and managed to get my hair cut in Kingston when I went up there to see my family doctor a few weeks ago, otherwise I'd be back to the brush cut using my $29 Sunbeam clippers. A haircut only costs $15 there. 
  • Be thankful that I can get free Internet with my landline service from Primus. This freebie isn’t available province wide. I paid double for the phone and Internet in Kingston. 
  • Do without a TV. 
All this just so I can afford to buy my number 1 priority, a Metro Pass.

The Metro pass swallows up 20% of the monthly $619 living allowance I get from ODSP.

In Kingston the specialized transit fare swallowed up 36%, but that was a unique situation.

The Metro Pass is a priority because it’s the only way I can get to things I can afford. My area is gentrified. This means I can’t afford to buy eggs for $1.30 more than I pay at stores like No Frills, Milk that costs $2.80 more than in the cheaper stores, fruits and vegetables that aren't organic and therefore cost too much in my neighbourhood, etc. I also need the transportation to get to the warmer free swimming pool at the Mary McCormick Community Centre so I can get the much needed exercise to stay healthy and reduce pain. I need transit to get to medical appointments, stores, or even to the Library where I can be exposed to mentally stimulating things so I can stay spiritually, mentally, and emotionally well. Being busy also helps one cope with constant pain from disabling issues. It's undeniable, getting access to affordable public transportation is vital. It even opens the door to join in ‘community' with other like-minded individuals.

Incidentally, the variable costs of public transit, shelter, and food is huge when one stops to think that ODSP is delivered using a one-size-fits-all lens to recipients even though the cost-of-living varies greatly between communities throughout the province. The attached Income Adequacy document will help to illustrate the impact of these differences.

Work-Related Benefit: The ODSP Action Coalition and I both urge that this fund NOT BE CUT.

The Coalition created a survey and has circulated it to its members. The results have provided overwhelming proof that many people with disabilities who are able to work, depend on the $100/mth work related benefit. It helps to cover the added expenses, which are often higher because of the costs associated with being disabled. The added costs can include things like,
  • Public transportation, 
  • Suitable clothing required by the workplace 
  • Meals out, (in the Call Centre I was working full time and off ODSP so my wages matched my co-workers. Even though my bus cost more, I was better able to afford to eat out at work-related special events. When I was working part-time I took a bagged lunch and bought a coffee so I could join the adults I was teaching, community radio programming skills to, for lunch. Sometimes I bowed to humility and the feeling of being ashamed at my level of poverty, and accepted the offer of a student, to buy my lunch. 
  • Transit to get to work, as illustrated above, among other things. 
Lived Experience: When I was working at a contract job for 8 months, the total cost of my specialized transit bus just to get to and from work, was $567.00. ODSP covered only $250.00 of that cost. I used the $100 work-incentive benefit to offset the added cost of my bus fare to work.

Under the proposed new rules for the work-related benefit, several benefits will be rolled into one, one-time only, benefit. To qualify for this my caseworker advised that it would be easier to access it if I enrolled in the Employment Supports program.

I told her I was interested in applying for the program so I can at least get some money to cover extra costs if I find another job. My caseworker gave me a list of the Employment Supports Service providers in the Toronto area. There are 21 of them and, on reviewing it, I discovered that if I’m lucky I might qualify for help from 3 or 4 of them only. Many of them are targeted at providing service towards a type of disability I don’t have, and the types of jobs they state they can place a person with, are not the type of jobs I can do. They’re too physical or I lack the skills and/or education to do them. Many of the jobs are entry-level so they wouldn’t pay an adequate enough wage for the disabled to afford to sustain themselves and afford the extra disability related costs. There are very few jobs left in today's market, that are stable and offer coverage for extended health care and/or disability related expenses.

In my experience I have NEVER been able to get a job using Employment Supports. In fact, in one case when I had a full-time job and needed help to overcome some new workplace barriers which were impeding my ability to keep my job, ODSP provided me with an Employment Supports specialist even though I was fully off income support by then. Their logic was, it was better to help a person with a disability keep their job than to let the barrier cause a person to lose it.

Well, my employment supports specialist didn't understand the nuances and impacts of the new barrier, so she said inappropriate things to the employer about my level of ability and her incorrect advice ultimately led to the loss of the job I’d successfully held for 18 months. It broke my heart to lose the job and use rapid reinstatement to go back onto ODSP.

These examples illustrate that it is unrealistic and problematic to suggest that people with disabilities can work to make up for their slowly eroding income. It is incorrect to assume, when finding Employment Support workers, that the disabled are only capable of doing the types of entry-level jobs named on the employment supports list I'd just received.

Although this deputation is based on my story, I can assure you that my story mirrors, to varying degrees, the challenges the disabled are facing with income adequacy and the proposed changes (cut) to the work-related benefit province-wide.

To get on ODSP in the first place, there are strict screening tests that show how the disability renders us unable to work and/or earn enough income to fully sustain ourselves.

It is therefore, in my opinion and that of the Coalition, unconscionable that people with disabilities in the province of Ontario are forced to subsist on an ODSP income that has been allowed to drop so far below the poverty line.

ODSP was never intended to be an income of last resort. The proof can be found by reading the preamble to Ontarian’s With Disabilities Act, 2001. It states,
“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.”
Ontario has failed miserably in living up to this Act and the promises that were made to the people who are disabled. The disabled, for reasons they can’t control, are unable to work.
Please, the ODSP Action Coalition and I urge you, recommend that the 2015 budget include:
  • A substantial raise to the ODSP rate, 
  • A reversal to the cut to the Work-Related Benefit. 
Thank you.

Co-secretary ODSP Action Coalition.
The typed version was shared with them after it was presented. A link to the ODSP Action Coalition's paper on Adequacy was also included.

Please read my other Blogs:
Health Care:

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Moving While on ODSP Now That Moving Allowance is Distributed by Municipalities

In May 2014 I got a phone call from Toronto Non-Profit Housing. They finally had a wheelchair accessible apartment. I’d been on the waiting list for 8 years!!

The thing is, it's expensive to move, especially to another city, and the Provincial Government has cut off the moving allowance (CSUMB) for people who are disabled and living on ODSP (the Ontario Disability Support Program). The money from, what used to be the Community Start-Up and Moving Benefit, was given to the Municipalities as a lump sum so they could distribute it as they see fit. Kingston chose to put the money primarily into Homelessness and Homelessness prevention.

Nevertheless, my ODSP worker told me to go to the Ontario Works (OW) office to apply for the fund. She explained that the ODSP and OW computer systems were linked so she would write a note of support because, in my case, it made economic sense. You see, ODSP has been paying a lot to cover the cost of my medical transportation to weekly appointments in Toronto for the last 2 years.

The OW application states the money to move is only available under these circumstances:
  1. If you are currently homeless and moving into housing (either permanent or transitional):
    New lease, intent to rent, or letter from manager / director of transitional home.

  2. If you are currently living In temporary or transitional housing and moving into long-term housing or moving to more affordable housing:
    New lease or intent to rent.

  3. If you are being discharged from an institution: Written confirmation of date of discharge from hospital, jail, mission, or residence and one of the following three items:
    1. New lease, intent to rent or receipt of paid rent.
    2. Confirmation of bed at emergency shelter.
    3. Letter from manager / director of transitional home.

  4. If you are at risk of homelessness: Verification to show risk (i.e. eviction notice, utility disconnection notice, copy of notice to vacate, police report, Children’s Aid Society (CAS) report, letter from a licensed healthcare practitioner, property standards) and one of the following three items:
    1. New lease, intent to rent or receipt of paid rent.
    2. Confirmation of bed at emergency shelter.
    3. Letter from manager / director of transitional home.

  5. If you require emergency heating fuel:
    Evidence from heating company that fuel will not be delivered without advanced payment.
I'm not homeless or at risk of it. I currently live in a nice subsidized apartment in Kingston. However the weekly commute is getting to be a bit much and, there's no doubt, it is costly to keep paying for my commute to Toronto to get health care. The OW employee, therefore, told me to fill out the application and get the two estimates for the cost of a Mover to Toronto. I did this.

Meanwhile I called my property manager to confirm how much notice I had to give for my current apartment in Kingston. When I told the property manager how many logistics I had to sort out before I could make the move to Toronto a reality, she recommended I delay giving the notice until the end of June even though the apartment in Toronto was available on August 1st. I then spoke to the property manager in Toronto and she recommended the same thing; that I delay signing the lease. Both property managers made these recommendations and said they would accommodate the waiting period so I wouldn't be trapped with no place to live if the logistics and financial end of things didn't work out.

Their recommendations made sense so I heeded their advice. I also decided I could live with paying the rent for the subsidized apartments in both Kingston and Toronto during the month of August so it would be less stressful trying to unpack everything alone and it would give me time to get the home care services lined up through CCAC (Community Care Access Centre). It would also allow me to continue working until the job contract expired.

Would you believe, after I got the two quotes for moving ($1,650 and $1,695), the worker at OW said I could not be approved without giving notice and signing the lease? Basically, by heeding the advice of the two property managers, I theoretically didn't meet the critieria of being at risk of homelessness!

I was shocked. I said to the worker, "you mean to tell me that because I was responsible and took steps to make sure I wouldn’t go homeless, you’re going to penalize me by denying the moving allowance ?" I then explained how I’d talked to both property managers. Thankfully she listened. She then said, "okay, you must give your notice in Kingston immediately." I did so and, for good measure, in the notice letter I made reference to the conversation I'd had with my property managers back in May. I thanked them for cautioning me against giving notice too soon (so I wouldn't become homeless), and told them I finally had the logistics worked out. I figured by doing this, my story could be substantiated if the OW office decided they wanted to check up on me. I also explained in the notice letter that I'd be basically living in both Toronto and Kingston until the end of August.

I'm thankful the cost of the movers will be covered, but it will still be hard to manage the cost of hook-ups for the mandatory hydro and telephone and the double rent.

Thankfully I have very little debt so I can pay for the hookups with a credit card and then pay it back later. By moving I discovered surprisingly enough, that I'll be saving $80 per month on public transit and almost $40 per month on the landline telephone. With the part-time job in Kingston, which has now been extended until the end of September, I will more easily be able to pay off the bills. To cover the costs of a daily commute to Kingston in September to work, I'll be paying for the train with Via Rail Preference Points. The only hard part will be getting up early enough to catch the 6:40 am train from Toronto to Kingston each Monday, and then back later that day, until the end of the month.

The educational piece that I'd like readers to take away from this Blog, is to have them recognize that there is a problem with creating a policy that focuses only on one thing; homelessness, for a disabled person who used to be able to get financial coverage to move to a better location, from the ODSP Community Start-Up and Moving Benefit.

The criteria are tight enough in the municipally that, without careful thought, it could well put a disabled person inadvertently at risk of becoming homeless. A little more flexibility that could accommodate for the extenuating circumstances, such as I describe here because, by covering the costs for my move to Toronto, a savings (to ODSP for medical transportation) will quickly be realized. The money all comes from the same purse.

Please read my other Blogs:

Friday, April 18, 2014

A Weighty Issue: Power Wheelchairs vs Ramp and Lift Restrictions

I found a major flaw in the new Integrated Accessibility Act Regulations.  It doesn't specify load capacity on ramps or lifting devices for wheelchairs. Once more, how does one find out how much their individual mobility device weighs? Most wheelchairs have customized seating and other features to meet their individual needs. This means the weight of each mobility device can be vastly different.

This poses a problem for people who take public transit or need to depend on a ramp or a lifting device to enter a building, a transportation conveyance, or a different level in a building.

I just learned that the weight of my new power wheelchair, without me in it, is 405 pounds. The medical supplier said it weighed approximately 300 pounds. How can they underestimate the weight by more than 100 pounds?

I couldn't even guess there was that big a difference because my last wheelchair weighed 268 pounds and it was 26 inches wide by 32 inches long. My new wheelchair is 26 inches wide by 28 inches long. In other words, it looks smaller and more compact. It has customized seating, medically prescribed power tilt, and an elevating feature, which I bought because it substantially increases my level of independence. I had no way of knowing that the actuators, to power the tilt and elevating devices, would weigh that much more. I didn't even buy the optional lighting package and carrier basket that can go with this new chair, and I don't need a respirator holder or crutch holder. For the weigh-in, even my bag and the purse were removed, so I am shocked. I'll eventually be getting a new tray. This will, unfortunately, add to the weight.

Having this much extra weight is causing a major problem because ramps, lifting devices, and bridge plates into transportation conveyances and in buildings, have weight restrictions; some of which I now exceed.

For example, I've seen:
  • A bridge plate between a train and a platform that's rated for a maximum of 500 pounds. 
  • An inclined wheelchair platform lift, that travels over stairs, that's rated for a maximum of 495 pounds. 
  • A porch lift and lifts in commercial buildings (that must be operated by another person), that are rated at a maximum of 600 to 750 pounds. 
  • A ramp into the double-decker Megabus with a maximum weight restriction of 500 pounds.
  • Lifts into specialized transit vehicles that have a maximum capacity of 600 to 1,000 pounds, depending on the age of the vehicle and the choices that were made by the transit provider at the time of buying the vehicle.
The new Integrated Accessibility Act is supposed to promote independence but how can it if there are no stipulations to govern these things?

There are no government documents or publications which stipulate the minimum weight capacity for a public ramp and lift, or restrictions to the weight of a wheelchair. This means there is no way for a client to learn this important piece of information before buying a new wheelchair. It's impossible to make an informed choice; one that would proactively help one to avoid encountering new barriers.

I took the time to search through the building code and the highway traffic act because I wanted to see if I could find a stipulation about the weight restrictions of a mobility device, or for ramps and lifting devices designed to accommodate the mobility device. It appears there is nothing. The closest I could find was information about the Technical Standards and Safety Act, (of Elevating Devices).

When I was considering what brand of wheelchair to buy last Sept. I had a very simple shopping list. I said the wheelchair must be no wider than 26", it must have a small turning radius, it must travel at a decent speed indoors and outdoors, and it must not exceed the limits of the public transit services I must depend upon. I was able to control the width and length issue, but I was obviously not able to control the weight.

The reason given as to why the supplier couldn't give me an accurate answer on the weight of the chair before finalizing the order, was because each wheelchair is customized according to the prescription and the client's needs and/or wants. All these things will have an influence on final weight of the chair, I agree. But I still don't understand why the medical supplier doesn't have an obligation to weigh the final product and share that knowledge with the customer before a sale is finalized.

The only reason I was finally able to get the chair weighed is because the lifting equipment at one location was frequently breaking down with me on it.  No reasonable explanation for the failure could be found, so it was decided to make sure the weight I'd been given was accurate. If that lift didn't keep breaking down, I would still have no idea how often I was jeopardizing my safety, and that of others, by using these devices when the chair was that much over the weight restriction.

It was not easy to get the chair weighed because of liability concerns. The hospitals and nursing homes can no longer weigh someone who isn't an in-patient. However we finally managed to get help from KIMCO, a scrap metal yard. You can imagine my shock when I found out the supplier was underestimating the weight by more than 100 pounds! Can you imagine if I was flying somewhere and had been that far out with an airline?

Fortunately, I can still meet the weight restrictions of most devices. I can do this by removing the side panels, the headrest, my purse, and the bags off my chair.

On vertical lifts that are run by a key, I must insist that the operator runs it by turning the key from outside of the lift. If they stand inside the lift to run it, as many do, there is a high chance we'll be exceeding the weight restriction of the lift.  I've seen the weight restrictions in these lifts range from 600 pounds to 750 pounds.

The dilemma I face now is, now that I know I exceed the weight restrictions in some places, I must do without. Which is better - being oblivious and exceeding the weight restriction, or doing without by not pushing my luck, and that of others that could be operating one of these lifts.

The really annoying part is I had no idea I'd be blocking myself from so much by buying this chair. It's too late to return it and I'm now going to be stuck with it for at least 5 more years.

If I had been properly informed, believe me, I would have bought another model of chair or I would not have bought the seat elevating device. The elevating feature was optional. I bought it because I was sick and tired of not being able to reach things. I've lived in this so-called accessible apartment for 14 years and I've never been able to reach my kitchen cupboards. Now I can. In stores I can't reach things off shelves or access the PIN pads that are mounted too high and for standing people only. Now I can.

However, when the choice comes between reaching things and using a ramp or a lift, believe me, I can do without reaching things on my own. I can't do without the access to transit and/or buildings.  Now I'm really mad.

I will be addressing this oversight in the AODA Standards at the Mayo Moran Review. I'm also going to look into reducing the weight of this chair, and if necessary, go to small claims court.

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