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Report #4: A Focus on the Consumer Perspective of Employment Programs and Services in Ontario

Prepared for: The Council of Canadians with Disabilities
Prepared by: Alexis Buettgen, Senior Research Consultant
Citizens With Disabilities Ontario

This is the fourth of six reports to the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) from Citizens With Disabilities – Ontario (CWDO). This report builds on the findings from our first three reports (found at http://www.cwdo.org) with a focus on the consumer perspective of employment programs and services in Ontario. The information presented in this report comes from data collected during individual interviews and focus groups with people with various disabilities across the province. We also spoke with representatives from organizations representing persons with disabilities, primarily disabled peoples organizations.

Overall, the findings presented in this report reflect familiar themes in previous research and literature on the topic of disability and employment in Ontario, Canada and internationally. What is different about this research is that it was facilitated by an organization of people with various disabilities and designed according to their interests.

Key Findings

The findings of this report focus on what is working well, what is not working well and what is missing in the employment system for consumers to effectively meet their individual employment goals. For example, according to participants, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) has raised some public awareness and increased dialogue about disability and accessibility within and beyond the workplace. Some consumers were appreciative of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) that allowed them to earn employment income and maintain some income support. For some consumers we spoke with, the Assistive Devices Program (ADP) provides them with new equipment that meets their disability-related needs every five years. A few participants suggested that consumers of support from the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) are better positioned to gain employment because they have previous work experience, in comparison to those without experience.

However, most consumers described a myriad of challenges they experienced when encountering various laws, policies and programs that are intended to support them. For example, several consumers and key informants commented that there is not enough enforcement of the AODA which results in a lack of penalties for employers who fail to meet accessibility requirements under the law. Several consumers said that monthly income reporting processes under ODSP were tedious and time consuming that only added to the work of their jobs and/or the efforts associated with their disability. In addition to these challenges, many consumers described encountering caseworkers and employment service providers who appeared to lack appropriate knowledge and understanding of disability issues; and the needs and interests of job seekers.

Several consumers and key informants said that eligibility criteria under ADP is limited and inadequate. According to participants, eligible expenses under ADP is restricted to low-quality devices that do not effectively meet consumer needs. This meant that some consumers were limited in their capacity to gain greater independence to participate in community life and obtain competitive employment.
Other consumers suggested that WSIB presents barriers for employers to hire people with disabilities because employers are worried about liability for the health and safety of workers with disabilities. According to participants, all workers, including workers with disabilities, are expected to be increasingly productive in the workplace. Work teams may receive rewards for producing more goods or services which facilitates peer pressure on workers with disabilities to perform to particular standards. Further, health and safety goals put pressure on workers to avoid reporting injuries.

Suggestions and Advice

With these comments in mind, we asked consumers and key informants to share their suggestions related to the system of disability supports and services in Ontario. The majority of consumers argued for better income support for basic needs, reflective of the current cost of living, and untied from employment status. Thus, some consumers said they are hopeful, yet skeptical of the potential of Ontarios Basic Income pilots (see also Report #3 for a description of the Basic Income pilots).

Other suggestions focused on the need to unburden individuals with disabilities from responsibility for system navigation and access to employment. Consumers said they are struggling to navigate the current maze of programs and services; and they want the system to change. Many consumers suggested that Ontarios system of policies, programs and services can cause individual distress. As such, there is need for more ongoing emotional support and empathy from employment service providers working with job seekers and workers with disabilities. Some consumers proposed that disability employment service providers should hire more people with disabilities as employees because they have intimate knowledge of the experience of disability and can relate well to service users.

We also asked participants to share advice for CWDO in terms of addressing some of the issues discussed during interviews and focus groups. This advice focused primarily on the need to raise awareness of the organization through marketing and promotion. Participants consistently commented the need to develop collective approaches to employment issues through strategies of resistance, education and advocacy. Many consumers said that at the very least they want CWDO to do something with the information they have shared about their experiences.

Next Steps

Currently, CWDO board members have been discussing opportunities to address some of the issues identified in this research project. Specifically, CWDO has been actively seeking funding opportunities to support actions that reflect the expressed needs of Ontarians with disabilities who took part in this study.

Our next report will present an intersectional perspective on disability and employment in Ontario from the viewpoint of people with disabilities form diverse social locations. Stay tuned at http://www.cwdo.org.

Read the full Report at http://www.cwdo.org/node/577