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ODSP: More Barriers than

by Tanya Hyland & John Mossa
The 1997 Social Assistance Reform Act legislated by the Ontario government
brought sweeping changes to Ontario’s 30-year old social assistance programs
by introducing rigorous eligibility criteria, workfare legislation, adopting zero
tolerance for fraud and creating a separate income and employment support
program for persons with disabilities. The Ontario Disability Support Program
(ODSP) recognized that the needs of persons with disabilities could not be met
through traditional social income support programs. Therefore, ODSP was
developed as both an income and employment support program that had
intended to offer improved levels of support to persons with disabilities by
allowing higher asset exemptions, by promoting and supporting the employment
of persons with disabilities and by increasing monthly income support levels.
As with any major reform of social assistance programs, there is an adjustment
period. However, ODSP has experienced a constant state of adjustment since
1997. Since its introduction there have been major changes to how the program
is staffed and operated, continued cutbacks of funding to social programs, ODSP
offices have been closed, the legislative Act has been added to and revised and
the flow of information has remained one-sided, from the applicant to ODSP. All
of these factors have created a climate of immense confusion of the intricate
details of how to successfully navigate this complicated program.
This article will focus specifically upon the Income Support aspect of ODSP and
has the following four goals:
• to inform consumers about how to apply to ODSP and appeal an ineligible • to summarize a report released by the Social Planning Council of Ottawa that highlights the main problems with ODSP • to educate consumers about their responsibilities and their rights, and • to suggest strategies to assist consumers in ensuring that their rights are protected and their needs are properly addressed.
Applying for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP)
Ontario Works Applications

People with disabilities who have no income when applying for ODSP will have to
apply for financial assistance under Ontario Works (OW) first. An OW applicant
must go through a two-step process:
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
1. A one-and-a-half-hour telephone Interview regarding assessment, their 2. An in-person verification interview at the local OW office. This includes a workshop about workfare requirements, which is mandatory for allapplicants.
ODSP Applications
People with disabilities with income and assets over the eligible amounts allowedunder OW must apply directly to a local ODSP office. An ODSP applicant alsomust go through a two-step process: 1. Must qualify financially for ODSP before2. They can get the Disability Determination Package (4 forms) to show they Once an applicant qualifies financially, their local OW or ODSP office makes anelectronic referral to the Disability Adjudication Unit (DAU) in Toronto and isgiven the Disability Determination Package.
The Disability Determination Package

The Disability Determination Package contains four forms. They are the
1. Health Status Report (HSR). This is a seven-page form that must be completed by a doctor, psychologist, or optometrist. HSR asks for a) theprincipal impairment; b) duration of disability; c) what medications andtreatments the applicant is or was on and d) medical/specialists reports.
2. Activities of Daily Living (ADL). This is also a seven-page form completed by a doctor, psychologist, optometrist, audiologist, occupational therapist,physiotherapist nurse practitioner, or chiropractor. ADL asks about aperson’s ability to do basic daily living activities.
3. Self-Report. The applicant has an opportunity to explain their disability and 4. Consent to Release of Health Information These four forms must be filled out and sent to the DAU within 90 days or an
applicant must go through the whole process over again. If you are getting OW
benefits when you apply for the ODSP, and you miss the 90 day deadline, you
may lose your OW benefits or you may have to participate in workfare. I
The Decision-Making Process

The DAU takes two to three months after receiving the 4 forms to decide if an
applicant is “disabled.” DAU is staffed by people who are occupational therapists
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
or nurse practitioners qualified to fill out the ADL form. If an applicant is granted
ODSP benefits, they are sent a written letter and an electronic confirmation is
sent to the applicant’s local ODSP office. If a successful ODSP applicant were on
OW, DAU would send an electronic confirmation to their local OW office. The
OW office would then transfer the person’s file to the local ODSP Office, where
an ODSP worker would set up an interview with applicant to go over their
financial information.
The Appeal Process and its Problems

If the Disability Adjudication Unit (DAU) does not consider an ODSP applicant
"disabled," they will inform the applicant by letter. The applicant has 10 days to
write a letter to the DAU to request an INTERNAL REVIEW (IR). An IR means
that a different person in the DAU office will review the application and decide
whether or not to reverse the decision. If the DAU declines the applicant a
second time, the DAU must inform theapplicant by letter in 10 days. An applicant
will have 30 days to appeal the negative IR to the SOCIAL BENEFITS
. During the appeal, the applicant can ask the SBT to order
"interim assistance" benefits while they wait for their appeal. However, if the
appeal is unsuccessful, the applicant will have to repay the benefits.
The whole appeal process is problematic. The IR is considered a useless step
because no new medical reports can be reviewed by the DAU. Only a small
percentage of IR cases are overturned. II In addition, the IR acts as a
disincentive. Applicants who have been initially turned down and then again at
the internal review, might be hesitant or may not have theenergy to go through to
the SBT. However, legal clinics report that 50 per cent of the appeals to the
independent SBT are successful and the percentage is higher if the applicant has
legal representation. III
The SBT is a long process that has complex rules and deadlines for sending
evidence to the SBT and the DAU. While a small percentage of denied applicants
appeal to SBT, it still means thousands of appeals per year. SBT does not have
the resources to handle the many appeals and therefore an appeal can take up
to a year (in addition to the four-to-six month initial ODSP application process).
During the waiting period, applicants will need to get Legal Aid lawyers to assist
them with the collection of evidence and arguments to submit to the SBT hearing.
In most cases, applicants will need to get more doctors’ reports to prove they are
disabled. However, the DAU will refuse to look at any new medical reports until a
few days before the SBT hearing, regardless of the fact that the new medical
reports would reverse the decision. This means the DAU could be sitting on
medical reports for up to a year before they look at them and this occurs at the
financial and mental health expense of the applicant, as well as at the financial
expense of the SBT.
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
Lastly, during the SBT process, the DAU is often late with making their
submissions against the applicant, thus making it difficult for the applicant and
their lawyer to respond to and prove their case.
Summary of Ottawa ODSP report

In response to the confusing nature of the ODSP program, the Social Planning
Council of Ottawa (SPCO) held public forums in the Ottawa-Carleton area in
November 2000 and released their report of these forums in October 2001. This
was an opportunity for persons with disabilities to voice their concerns,
frustrations and to suggest strategies for improving ODSP.
What the SPCO detailed in their report were the often-cited examples of
problems encountered by persons accessing ODSP. These included:
1. Getting on ODSP
Qualifying for ODSP rests upon the ability of the applicant to prove twovery important factors: that they meet the definition of disability developedby ODSP and that they are financially eligible. However, proving eligibilityis most often a difficult and time-consuming task that involves numerousapplications, forms and meetings with ODSP workers. Many applicantsare forced onto the Ontario Works (OW) program, as the wait to receiveincome support from ODSP can be as long as four months, or longer if theapplication is denied.
2. Program Delivery
Access to basic information about ODSP is difficult to obtain andbureaucratic barriers often prevent applicants from receiving informationthat could assist them with both the application process and answerquestions that arise after they begin receiving ODSP. However,information provided by ODSP workers is often contradictory and usuallynot supplied in a written format. For individuals with visual or hearingimpairments, information is generally not available in alternate formats.
High staff turnover rates and constant changes to work procedures haveresulted in confusion and zero accountability to those who access ODSP.
3. The Impact of Procedures and Policies
Many ODSP workers are not familiar with, or comfortable assisting peoplewith disabilities and sensitivity training should be a necessary componentof the training of ODSP workers. Furthermore, ODSP offices are usuallyincapable of accommodating a variety of disabilities and many local officeshave been closed. Of greatest impact is the atmosphere of fear created byODSP, as those accessing the system are fearful of reporting or not ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
reporting information that may negatively affect their status on theprogram.
4. Employment Issues and Other Sources of Income
The employment support program is governed by complex and inflexiblerules that despite it being voluntary actually discourages people withdisabilities from gaining employment. Many are fearful of losing theirmedical benefits and most often, the amount of money gained throughemployment does not match that available through the income supportprogram. Support for access to education and training is not availablethrough ODSP.
5. Medical Issues
Approved medications are provided free of charge through the OntarioDrug Benefit plan, however the required medications must be listed in the"Comparative Drug Index." ODSP also operates a Mandatory SpecialNecessities program that covers the cost of diabetic and surgical supplies,incontinent supplies and medical transportation costs. Also available is aSpecial Diet Supplement for those with important dietary needs. However,these two programs are not promoted by ODSP workers, nor is programinformation readily available. Please refer to the ODSP Mandatory SpecialNecessities Information Sheet and ODSP Benefits Bulletin for moreinformation.
6. Cost of Living and Securing Housing
Most people who receive ODSP live below the poverty line and often runout of money before the end of the month. Although the cost of living hascontinued to climb, income support levels have remained unchanged. Thebenefit rates and rules are difficult to understand and access and varyfrom each individual. Furthermore, access to affordable housing,especially wheelchair accessible housing is difficult, as waiting lists arelong in all major cities.
Suggested Recommendations for Improvement offered by the SPCO
Out of the forums held in Ottawa, recommendations for how to improve theODSP system were developed. Below is a concise listing of theserecommendations: 1. Provide comprehensive, accurate, clear and written information2. Simplify and speed up the application process3. Increase the benefit levels to reflect the real cost of living4. Strengthen supports for employment for people with disabilities ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
5. Change policies which detract from ODSP clients’ ability to find and 6. Improve service delivery by accommodating disabilities, ensuring accountability, and requiring respectful treatment of clients 7. Increase financial support for ODSP liaison workers in the municipal OW Basic Facts about ODSP Income Support
A single person on ODSP is entitled to a maximum of $930 per month with $516allocated for Basic Needs and $414 as the maximum shelter allowance.
However, to receive this income the applicant must meet the followingrequirements • they must prove that they meet the definition of disability,• they must prove that they are financially eligible,• they must demonstrate their monthly bills, rent and expenses.
• they must disclose any and all assets they may have, including providing • they must disclose information about their personal and familial Despite this entitlement to a maximum of $930, the amount of income supportactually received by applicants is directly related to their monthly expenses. Forexample, if an applicant resided in a subsidized apartment and paid rent in theamount of $225 per month, this is the maximum amount of shelter allowancethey would receive. However, if an applicant’s rent were higher than the $414allocated for shelter costs, the money needed to cover this cost would come outof the applicant’s Basic Needs allowance. The money left is then used to pay forgroceries, monthly bills, transportation, clothing and toiletries. Most applicantsare left with $20-30 at the end of the month and are therefore unable to savemoney for emergencies.
Ministry Of Community & Social Services

ODSP Mandatory Special Necessities Recipient Information Sheet

As a recipient of Ontario Disability Income support, you may be eligible to receive
additional assistance with the cost of Mandatory Special Necessities. These
necessities include diabetic supplies, ostomy supplies, surgical supplies and
dressings, incontinence supplies and travel medical appointments.

Supplies that qualify for assistance include:
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
• needles or syringes• alcohol swabs• platforms• lancets• blood glucose monitors (you may want to look into purchasing monitors that include the test strips covered by Ontario Drug Benefit Program) The above supplies are only eligible if they are not covered by another program.
Your monthly ODSP drug card covers insulin and test strips.
Before Requesting Funding From ODSP

When your diabetes is controlled by insulin injections
• You must contact the Canadian Diabetes Association at 1-800-226-8464 for the assistance with the cost of lancets and blood glucose monitors.
Recipient who is blind or has a visual impairment • You should contact the Canadian National Institute for the Blind for possible coverage of the cost of a "talking" glucometer.
• You must contact the Assistive Devices program at 1-800-268-6021 for possible funding of insulin needles and syringes.
You Must Provide
Verification note, prescription, or letter from your doctor which includes thefollowing information: • your medical condition• number of injections/ needles required per day• number of lancets tests needed per day• an estimate from the vendor A new prescription is required from your doctor when there is a change in yourneeds.

Supplies that qualify for assistance include but are not limited to the following:
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
• liners• undergarments/briefs• catheters• drainage bags• disinfectants• leg straps• lubricants• catheter trays• tubing• adhesive/skin barriers• enema kits• catheter condoms• ostomy supplies for colostomies and ileostomies (i.e. flanges, pouches, • other surgical supplies (i.e. gauze, dressings, adhesive tape, vinyl or latex You Must Provide
Verification note, prescription, or letter from your doctor indicating: • medical condition• expected duration• necessary supplies• An itemized listing of your monthly costs including: • receipts• completion of Cost Verification forms available from your ODSP office Ostomy Patients
You must provide verification that you have applied for the yearly grant of $800
from the Assistive Device Program at 1-800-268-6021.
NOTE: If the condition is long term, an annual review will be required.

ODSP will assist with the cost of medical transportation when the total costs are
over $15.00 per month to attend:
• necessary medical appointments• therapy or treatment by a professional under the Regulated Health ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
• drug and alcohol recovery groups (if recommended by the physician and • Public Transit• Taxi (prior approval required)• Gas for personal vehicle on a per kilometer basis plus parking• Accommodation and meals when necessary (e.g. overnight stays en-route for long trips, or during treatment that lasts for more than one day). Priorapproval required.
• Other approved modes of transportation (service agency) You Must Provide
Verification note, prescription, or letter from your doctor indicating: • number of medical appointments per month• expected duration of treatment You Must Complete
• The Medical Transportation Log monthly • overnight accommodation• taxi• parking• meal costs All receipts must be attached to Medical Log PROFESSIONALS who are designated under the Regulated HealthProfessionals Act, 1991 are physician, optometrist, occupational therapist,physiotherapist, dentist, dental surgeon, dental technician, dental hygienist,denturist, optician, dietician, medical radiation technologist, massage therapist,midwife, nurse, pharmacist, speech language pathologist, audiologist, medicallaboratory technologist, psychologist, respiratory therapist, chiropractor,chiropodist.
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
Other Ontario Disability Support Program Benefits BulletinV
The ODSP Director must approve many of these benefits before you can receive
them. You can contact your local ODSP office to request these benefits. If you
have any problems, contact your local Legal Aid Clinic for help.
ODSP RECIPIENT is a person with a disability who has met the financial and
medical requirements to be on the program. Hereafter, known as the recipient.
Definition of a SOCIAL BENEFIT UNIT is the recipient, their spouse or common-
law partner and their dependents if they meet the financial and medical
requirements of ODSP. While receiving ODSP, you are entitled to:
Drug coverage (for members of the social benefit unit) cost of drugs
prescribed by an approved health professional listed under theComparative Drug Index.
Dental, vision, and hearing services (for members of the social benefit
unit other than dependent adults) if those services have been approved.
For persons resident in hospital or health facility, they are eligible for
an amount approved by the Director for dental services, dentures, andprosthetic devices including eyeglasses, clothing, wheelchairs, andwheelchair accessories.
Assistive devices:(for members of the social benefit unit) the amount the
person is required to pay for an Assistive device under the Assistive
Device Program administered by the Ministry of Health, up to the amount
approved under that program. For more info on ADP call 1-800-268-6021
or in Toronto 416-327-8804.
Cost of Assessment for Assistive Device: if an assessment is required
to determine eligibility for an Assistive device and there is no other sourceof funding for the assessment, the amount determined by the Director • Extended health benefits: if ODSP recipient is not eligible for income
support in any month because of his or her income is more than theallowable income or where the person receives the minimum chequeamount of $2.50, the recipient remains eligible for the following:prescription drugs, dental, vision, and hearing services, diabetic supplies,surgical supplies, dressings and transportation for medical treatment andAssistive devices.
Mobility devices and batteries and repairs: (for members of the social
benefit unit) the cost of batteries and necessary repairs for mobility
devices used by a member of the benefit unit if the cost is not covered by
another source. Clients must obtain advance authorization from ODSP
office before proceeding with any wheelchair repairs. Essential repairs
under $500 may be covered without prior authorization if the ODSP office
is closed and a back-up or loaned replacement is not available. Examples
of "essential repairs" include the following: repairs to a flat tire,
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
replacement of a deficient battery, repairs due to mechanical breakdownof mobility device, breakdown of mobility device outside the client’s home.
Winter Clothing Allowance: (for recipients with dependent children) -
pays $105 every 12 months for each child. Recipient must be eligible
for income support in the month of October.

Back to School Allowance: (for recipients with dependent children) pays
out every 12 months for each child attending school ($ 69 for each childage 4-12, and $128 for each child age 13 and over). Recipient must beeligible for income support in the month of July.
Special Diets: (for each member of the social benefit unit if the ODSP
Director is satisfied that he or she meets the criteria for them) - up to amaximum of $250 per month for each participant who requires a specialdiet. A doctor must verify that the person requires a special diet and thedoctor must set out the details of the special diet. Dietary requirements arereviewed every 12 months.
Up front Child Care: (for recipients, a spouse or common-law partner
included in the benefit unit, or a dependent adult who is not attendingschool full time). Available when a person begins employment or anemployment assistance activity. The ODSP Director must be satisfied thatthe person is required to pay in advance for child care and that the childcare is necessary to permit the person to begin the new employmentactivity. The amount available in any 12 month period is: o The actual amount paid to a person licensed under the Day o $390 per month if the child is under age 6;o $390 per month if the child is 6 years or older and, in the opinion of the Director, because of special circumstances the child requiresincreased childcare costs; o $346 per month if the child is age 6-13 and 3) doesnot apply.
Guide Dog: maximum of $64 for care of guide dog if a member of the
Travel and Transportation: If a person is resident in a charitable
institution under the Charitable Institutions Act, an amount up to $30 permonth to cover costs oftraveling in the community.
Necessary Home Repairs: If no other sources of funding are available,
an ODSP recipient may receive payment from home repairs to a principalresidence. The ODSP Director must be satisfied the repairs are necessaryin order for the home to continue to be used as a principal residence(certain repairs excluded). The payment cannot be more than the portionof the total cost of repairs that matches the person’s proportionate interestin the property.
Second Residence: If a person with a disability needs to temporarily
change his or her normal place of residence in order to take part in anemployment-training program, the person may receive an equal amount tothe cost of maintaining the normal place of residence during the training ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
up to $455. Costs that are covered by another source will not be coveredby ODSP.
Assistance from Family and Friends - are allowed to assist regularly
with the needs to a maximum of $4000 per year. There is no limit fordisability-related expenses.
Ownership of a second Property - exempt as an asset if approved for thehealth and well being of recipient.
Community Start-Up Benefits
Community Start-Up Benefits (CUSB) are mandatory benefits. With this benefit,
ODSP will pay the recipient money to help "start-up" a life in new housing under
certain conditions. You are entitled to claim expenses for clothing, household
furnishings, moving and transportation, first and last month’s rent, fuel and hydro
deposits or any other cost approved by ODSP.
Eligibility for CSUB includes, but is not limited to the following:
• Must be coming out of an institution (e.g. hospital, hostel, nursing home, jail) or be leaving, or have recently left, a situation of harm to your healthor welfare (e.g. fire, flood, domestic violence) • May also receive benefit if moving to more affordable housing, or due to • ODSP must be able to verify the expenses that you are claiming the • Expenses must be necessary for establishing a permanent residence in • The start-up event should occur within one month from the date of application for CSUB, or the establishment of a new residence.
Employment Start-Up Benefits
Employment Start-Up Benefits (ESUB) are available to help with costs related to
the changes in employment or starting an employment assistance activity. These
benefits are available once a 12-month period to an ODSP recipient, a spouse
included in the benefit unit, or a dependent adult who is not attending school full-
ESUB allow you to claim for expenses approved by the Director and reasonably
necessary for you to begin a new employment activity. Expenses covered may
include things such as appropriate work wear, tools and equipment, grooming
costs, licensing fees, and associated costs. This benefit may be paid out in a
lump sum or over a 12-month period up to a maximum of $253.

Below are some suggestions for how to successfully navigate the ODSP system.
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
Use your ‘worse’ days - When filling out medical forms with your
doctor/specialist, submitting specialist/medical reports and/or giving yourself-impact statement about your disability, always use your worse daysas the norm for your daily living experience. The Disability AdjudicationUnit will look for any bit of information that demonstrates that an applicanthas some good days, or is capable of doing some tasks, and thereforedoes not meet their eligibility requirements for being considered ‘disabled.’ • Do Follow Ups - When you apply for Ontario Works (OW) or ODSP, you
need to call, one week after submitting your application, to ensure that theOW or ODSP office has made an electronic referral of your application tothe central Disability Adjudication Unit.
Appeal, Appeal, Appeal! - Don’t stop applying for ODSP benefits if you
are initially rejected. Submit a letter within 10 days requesting an InternalReview. Most likely, you will be turned down at the Internal Review,however appeal that decision to the Social Benefits Tribunal and get legalassistance.
Get Legal Assistance with your Appeals - You can access legal advice
for your Internal Review and legal representation for your Social BenefitsTribunal Hearing from your community legal clinic. To locate a communitylegal clinic contact Ontario Legal Aid at 1-800-668-8258 or in Toronto at416-979-1446, or the Legal Aid Ontario Web at Youcan also use the white pages of the telephone book, under "Legal Aid,""Legal Clinic" or look under "Lawyers" in the yellow pages.
Keep Records - Maintain an ODSP folder and photocopy of all
information you submit to ODSP. Request photocopies of any documentsyou sign at the ODSP office. Maintain a record of all contact with ODSP,including dates, times and the name of the ODSP workers.
Educate yourself about ODSP. Attend community events and meetings
that discuss ODSP. Request a copy of the ODSP Policy Directives and
Legislation. The Directives are also available at:
Speak with your MPP - They are your representation and voice at the
legislature. Tell your MPP about your personal situation and pressure foran increase to the amount of income support that reflects the rise in thecost of living.
“ Social Assistance: Disability Benefits in Ontario”, by HIV & AIDS LegalClinic, edited by Community Legal Education Ontario, November 2000. p. 8.
“Barriers to Access to ODSP: Why are thousands of people with disabilitiesdenied income support?” Nancy Vander Plaats, Ontario Social SafetyNetwork. February 2002.
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities
The Experience of People with Disabilities in Ottawa and the OntarioDisability Support Program. (ODSP). Report prepared by the Social PlanningCouncil of Ottawa. October 2001.
“Ontario Disability Support Program: What Are You Really Entitled To?”,Parkdale Community Legal Services Inc.
ODSP: More Barriers than Opportunities



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