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Thoughts on Mitt Romney’s RNC speech

Must blog about Mitt Romney’s RNC speech…must blog about Mitt Romney’s RNC speech.Mitt Romney's RNC speech

I’ve been trying to do this since Friday morning.  Damn Mitt Romney’s RNC speech…it’s given me a nice case of writer’s block.

I know you’re probably all sick to death of hearing about Mitt Romney’s RNC speech, but indulge me a bit. Regular readers will know that I’m an American politics junkie, despite my Canadian citizenship, and I’ve been very restrained about writing about Election 2012 for quite some time.

I watched most of the evening coverage of the Republican National Convention, last week, despite some moments during the speeches that felt like they were causing me physical pain. Mitt Romney’s RNC speech actually had only a few fleeting seconds where I felt that way, which surprised me. Actually, Thursday night was relatively pain-free. I admit that I was getting a little bored by the time Clint Eastwood showed up, so I wandered off to make a snack and missed the full effect of Invisible Obama…and I started channel-surfing halfway through Marco Rubio’s speech…but I listened to everything in Mitt Romney’s RNC speech.

Halfway through Mitt Romney’s speech, I tweeted, “But what are you going to do for people with disabilities, #MittRomney?”

Nothing About People With Disabilities in Mitt Romney’s RNC Speech

Not that it surprised me mightily to hear nothing about people with disabilities in Mitt Romney’s RNC speech. I don’t expect to hear anything about us in Obama’s speech next week at the Democratic National Convention. Canadian politicians don’t talk about us either.

But I feel like there should be some concerted thinking going into how to win the vote of people with disabilities and the people who love them/work with them/are concerned about the issues affecting them. After all, US Census data shows that approximately 20% of Americans have a disability. http://www.census.gov/newsroom/releases/archives/miscellaneous/cb12-134.html That’s a lot of voters, Mitt Romney, especially when you consider that the families of these people and people that work with people with disabilities will be evaluating your position on disability issues as well.

As Powerful as the US Gov’t Is, It Still Has *Some* Power

Discussing Mitt’s plan to bring the USA back to prosperity with a friend, I pointed out that I’ve heard nothing, in Mitt Romney’s RNC speech (or in anything else he’s said) about what he’s going to do about the fact that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities is nearly twice what it is for people without disabilities. He said that he that there wasn’t much that the government could do about that.

I take issue with that. You can’t legislate what people think and feel, no. But you can certainly legislate that they can’t discriminate or cause harm on the basis of it, and there’s precedent for the federal government stepping in on cases where this is happening:

  • Declaring that groups have protection against discrimination in the workplace, hate speech, and hate crimes.
  • Recently, sending the Department of Justice to investigate whether New York City’s extremely low number of accessible taxis was in violation of the ADA.
  • Even more recently, starting the process to phase out sub-minimum wage for people with disabilities.

Just something to think about.

Matters of Employment

In Mitt Romney’s RNC speech (in all his speeches, in fact) is, he’s talking about getting people back to work and cutting entitlements. If he wants to get people with disabilities working and off income supports, he’s going to have to acknowledge that employers are going to have to be willing to accommodate needs. When I worked in special education classrooms, the schools had to work around the fact that I couldn’t assist with lifts and transfers when working with students in wheelchairs. Sometimes this was a struggle to coordinate, but I was good at my job in all other areas, so schools didn’t mind moving things around for me a bit – but they did need to be willing to work with me, or the job wouldn’t have worked. Employers will need to keep in mind that they need to approach hiring people with disabilities in this manner – they can get very good, very qualified people, but may need to bend on things like permitting extra breaks or allowing an employee to work from home once a week, allowing a nurse to come into the office for half an hour once a day to assist an employee with health needs, or doing a staff education session on how to respond when someone is having a seizure.

Some people are going to need supports if they’re going to work. Look at Anthony in my previous entry. He’s started his own business (and I’ve heard from Mike that they’re swamped with requests!), but he needs some support to keep things going. And speaking from my experience, most of the people with intellectual disabilities with whom I’ve worked need either some agency or one-on-one support to get and keep a job. If Romney’s goal is getting them employed and off income support, he has to be willing to spend some money on supports somewhere else.

And some people have disabilities that simply don’t allow them to work. Unless the US government is prepared to have them starve/freeze to death, there has to be money for them to keep themselves alive. They didn’t ask to not be able to support themselves, and charity/churches/community simply can’t handle all the needs of these individuals (in addition to those of all the other individuals in communities who are living in poverty). Besides, not everyone has a family or community to support them, and faith won’t keep you warm and fed.

There was a promise in Mitt Romney’s RNC speech that he would “help you and your family”. I just don’t know if, for families that have people with disabilities in them, that would be the case if Mitt Romney were elected. But this is all conjecture. Since there was no talk about people with disabilities in Mitt Romney’s RNC speech (or any of his other speeches) how’s anyone to know what his position is?

We’ll see how Obama fares this week at the Democratic National Convention.

 

 

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Business Profile: Anthony At Your Service (Delivery Service, Edmonton)

I mentioned on my blog entry on Monday that I’d come across a video that I wanted to post, but that I was still waiting for some information. I haven’t Anthony At Your Servicegot the information that I was looking for yet, but I’m going to post the video anyway…and I’d like to get your impressions on it. It’s about a young man with autism in Edmonton who has started his own delivery service: Anthony At Your Service.

Anthony At Your Service: Meet Anthony and His assistant, Mike

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yv5nzgrYBIQ&feature=youtu.be

When my friend pointed me to this video, I watched it a couple of times, and thought, “This is the way that we should be supporting people with disabilities to set and meet their goals.”

Here’s why:

  • It’s flexible.
  • It’s person-centred.

Person-centred, flexible supports are effective supports.

I have a feeling that Mike isn’t an agency employee, but probably an independent worker paid for out of some sort of government funding (that was the information that I was trying to get). I’m wondering as individualized funding starts to become the funding model of choice in more and more places, whether people will choose to hire one-on-one workers as opposed to purchasing supports from agencies because agency programs are losing their ability to be flexible and easily responsive to peoples’ needs.

I have much, much more that I want to say about this…but I’ve tried to write this blog about ten times now, and I just can’t seem to easily get out what I want to say. So I’ll leave you today with some questions:

Does this strike you as a good way of supporting people with disabilities? Why or why not?

What did you think about Mike’s observations about the sounds that people make, versus the sounds that Anthony makes?

What do you like best about this video?

Would you use “Anthony At Your Service” if you lived in the Edmonton area?

Check out the “Anthony At Your Service” website: http://www.anthonyatyourservice.com/

P.S. If I was still working in social services, Mike’s job is exactly the sort of thing I’d like to be doing with people with disabilities. It’s a really, really exciting job to me.

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Protests Happening at US Goodwill Locations This Weekend

goodwilllIf you’re looking for something to do this weekend and maybe looking for a worthy cause that needs your time and energy, consider taking a walk down to your local Goodwill location on Saturday at around 10:30 am. Perhaps it will be one of the 80 at which the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the Autism Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN), and the disability advocacy group ADAPT have organized one of their informational protests regarding Goodwill’s compensation policy for people with disabilities.

People With Disabilities Working for as Low as $0.22/Hour at Some Goodwill Locations

Regular readers may remember that earlier in the summer I wrote a post about this when it first became public knowledge. I thought the lowest that people were being paid was $1.44 an hour. As you can see, apparently it’s been much lower in some places (http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2012/08/21/protests-target-goodwill/16285/).  The NFB and other American disability organizations called for a boycott of Goodwill in America until they stopped the (sadly, legal) practice of giving locations discretion to pay workers with disabilities substantially below minimum wage.  64 of the 165 Goodwill-affiliated agencies in the US engage in this practice.

Goodwill argues that the certificate that allows them to pay people with disabilities below minimum wage is a “tool” that facilitates job creation for people that would otherwise find it very difficult to find work.

I don’t know what’s scariest about that “justification”: that Goodwill actually believes that paying anyone $0.22 an hour to do anything is a “job”, that they have the guts to put themselves out there as believing they do…or that there are people in this country, with or without disabilities, that need employment that badly or put so little value on the work that they they can do that they’d actually do work for that little money. It’s a whole lot of wrong, on a whole lot of levels.

Breaking It Down a Little Further

It’s difficult to understand how Goodwill doesn’t see how this creates more issues than it solves.

  • It’s exploitative. No two ways about it.
  • It does nothing to assist people with disabilities who are living in poverty to better their financial situation.
  • It sets a poor example for the rest of the business community: “Goodwill does it, and we all know that they do good work for everyone, so it must be okay.”
  • It sets a poor example for the community, the country, and the world. Do we really need any more examples of people with disabilities being devalued?

I wrote more about this at:  http://www.girlwiththecane.com/goodwill-industries/

The Goodwill Protests

As I said, the informational protests are happening at Goodwill locations across the country this Saturday, August 25, 11 am – 1 pm local time. You can keep tabs on what’s happening by following @NFB_Voice on Twitter. Also check out this article for anything you’d ever want to know about the protests (including how to organize one in your area if one isn’t going on, complete with promotional materials) and the Goodwill controversy: https://www.nfb.org/fair-wages#Protest

Spread the word and try to get to a protest yourself if you can!

 

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Goodwill Industries…Champion for the Disabled Worker! *rolls eyes*

The National Federation of the Blind in the United States has called for people to boycott goodwill industriesGoodwill Industries International. This story actually broke about ten days ago, so many of you likely already know about it.

The Issues Behind the Call to Boycott Goodwill Industries

The issue around the call to boycott Goodwill Industries is that the National Federation of the Blind had discovered that Goodwill had been paying some of its workers with disabilities significantly below minimum wage – as low as $1.44 an hour. Apparently it’s permitted to do this through a nearly 75-year-old provision of the US Fair Labor Standards Act. The National Federation of the Blind is seeking to have this provision repealed, supported by 45 other organizations in the United States. But it’s taking more immediate action through the call to boycott Goodwill Industries.

I hope that they can find some way to get it into legislation that people with disabilities have to be paid minimum wage. I know that from watching the struggle in Ontario to get businesses to pay people with intellectual disabilities minimum wage that until recently, success has varied from region to region and business to business. Especially in towns made up of mostly small businesses that don’t have a corporate policy dictating hiring practices and may not have a lot of money to spare.

Work is Work and Employees are Employees. Period.

I’ve seen people with intellectual disabilities do a lot of different kinds of work.  People I’ve worked with have cleaned tables and taken out the trash in restaurants, stocked shelves in grocery stores, done cleaning in a variety of establishments, answered phones for businesses, and  even started their own businesses like walking dogs and doing housekeeping.

Sometimes in those days (as it is now), it was appropriate for someone with a disability to go do a job and charge a flat rate for their services. I remember working with a woman who got $15 a week from a local business to come do their cleaning each week. It took her about hour. That was reasonable compensation for her time and effort.

However, in those days I also saw people with intellectual disabilities go into businesses to help out with activities that were required to keep the business running, such as facing shelves, and not get paid or get paid very little. That’s not appropriate or fair. The employees were expected to face shelves. Having someone do it freed up their time to do other things. That made the work that these people with intellectual did an important part of store work, for which they should have been compensated properly (at the minimum wage)…even if it was the only thing they did as an employee and even if they did it for only an hour a week.

Yeah, I’m Taking This Personally

Those days weren’t so long ago…but it’s gotten a lot better. The tide’s turned quickly on this one (at least in Canada, and at least from what I can see). I’m really grateful that it’s gotten easier for people with intellectual disabilities to earn a decent wage.

But am I offended by this type of nonsense coming from Goodwill Industries? You bet I am. I’ve focused on intellectual disabilities so far, but everything that I’ve read about Goodwill Industries’ discrimination has been about people with disabilities in general. And I’m a person with disabilities.

Goodwill Industries, Meet Me at Camera Three

Hi Goodwill. As a person with disabilities, I’m really insulted that you think that my time and energy is worth so much less to you than those of a person without disabilities. I’m angry that you think it’s okay to pay me slave wages because I have a disability. And I’m furious that you think it’s okay to contribute to the further social devaluement and hardship of a group that’s already socially and economically vulnerable.

I’m not naive enough to think that this sort of thing still doesn’t happen. But, considering what you do, you were one of the last organizations that I would have suspected of doing it.

You’ve got a lot of damage repair to do. Better get on it.

 

For Readers Outside the US: I can’t find any information about Goodwill’s hiring practices in other countries, or whether advocacy organizations in other countries are supporting the boycott to ban Goodwill Industries. Does anyone have any information?

 

More about the call to boycott Goodwill Industries:

http://www.nfb.org/national-federation-blind-urges-boycott-goodwill-industries

http://www.disabilityscoop.com/2012/06/12/goodwill-paying-less/15827/

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Encore Post – Work and ODSP: The Case for Providing Choice

This is a reblog of a post I wrote about working while on ODSP. I have some more things that I’d like to say about it, and wanted people to see this post for context. Back with new content by Monday at the latest. :) – Sarah 

When I first started volunteering with people with intellectual disabilities, long before myODSP brain avm and surgery, I was perplexed as to why the people on ODSP that the agencies supported didn’t work more.

Shouldn’t Everyone, Even Those on ODSP, Work if they Can?

I knew that many of these people were on Ontario’s government support system for people with disabilities: the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). I knew that you could only make a certain amount of money each month before your earnings started to affect how much you got from ODSP each month. And I knew that many people with disabilities were highly motivated to stay on the ODSP program because ODSP provides medical benefits that most jobs that a person with intellectual disabilities would not be able to obtain.

However, being still in my teens at the time and being blessed (cursed?) with an over-developed sense of fairness, I wondered why, if these people couldn’t work for pay, they didn’t volunteer more. There were definitely places in the community that were happy to have them volunteer.

Why did I have to go to school all day, 5 days a week during the school year and then spend 5 days a week working all day, and my parents have to work all day, every day to keep my family going, when the people that I was volunteering with could simply decide that working wasn’t something that they wanted to do, and sit around and collect a cheque?  The question festered in the back of my mind. I know that it festers in the back of many peoples’ minds.

A Change…but Why?

Fast forward years later, after the brain AVM and the surgery, to working with youth with intellectual disabilities. Not very many of the youth with intellectual disabilities that I worked with decided that they didn’t want to work when they were done school, but there were a few who did. I counted them as successes in my program, because, even though they weren’t out and doing something, they truly were doing what they wanted to be doing. I’d have rathered that they be out and working, because I knew they were going to get bored very quickly, but it wasn’t what they wanted. So we planned for them to be home.

I hadn’t resolved for myself why this had become “okay” for me at this point, except that I now strongly believed that people should be allowed to choose what they wanted to do in life – no matter what I, or anyone else, thought they “should” be doing.  It wasn’t until a debate on an internet  message board with somebody who thought that people with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be getting any help from the government or government agencies at all, that volunteer service would more than provide for their needs if we’d just let it (*that* particular conversation got me right riled up, let me tell you) that I sat down with a pen and paper and worked out for myself exactly why I felt income support for people with intellectual disabilities was necessary and why I thought they had every right to decide exactly how much or how little they wanted to work while they were receiving it. That cemented my change of heart about what people on ODSP should/should not be doing.

When It’s Not Your Fault that You’re Not Wealthy Enough to Choose…

People who get to the point where they can decide how much they want to work usually do it in one of two ways:  They come into adulthood independently wealthy (or, by some twist of fortune, become independently wealthy), or they work really damn hard to get to the point where they can retire early or at least take a reduced schedule…and you have to have a fairly high-paying job to allow you to do this.

People with intellectual disabilities generally don’t have the option of going to school to get the education required to get a really high-paying job that’s going to allow them to retire early, or have a lot of money to invest. You can’t invest while you’re on ODSP.  In fact, you can’t have more than $6000 in your bank account at a time when you’re on ODSP, or you’re cut off.  The money you get is for survival, not for building a future.

It cuts down the options. No savings. No education. They can’t make the choices we do, because they don’t have the monetary resources to make those dreams a reality, nor the options of going to, say, college or university to get better-paying jobs.

In fact, for some people, meeting their basic needs on their monthly ODSP allotment is a dream that they can’t make a reality.

Once I realized how far behind the eight ball not just people with intellectual disabilities, but people with disabilities in general are in society, it made me look with more patience and compassion on those who chose not to find work while on ODSP. I did choose to work. But I’ve been blessed with a good education and very supportive family and community to help fill in the “gaps” that have made working difficult for me; not everyone is so lucky.

I’m not trying to be negative; I sometimes just need to acknowledge the realities of the world that we live in.

I like to believe in the hope of fabulous things even in disappointing times.  I hope you do too. :)

Have a great weekend…

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Musings About “Inspiration Porn”…

This week, I was introduced to a interesting concept by tumblr bloggers thoughts_of_nothing and and gimpunk some other tumblr bloggers with disabilities about which I’ve never heard: “inspiration porn”. It all focused around this picture, which I’m sure many readers have come across if they’ve spent any time on Facebook or Pinterest:

inspiration porn

Heck, it was on one of Running Steps’ Pinterest boards when I went to check. I’ve since removed it.  It had just never occurred to me that I should find it insulting – but I should have.  I’m going to be evaluating what I put up on the Pinterest boards much more closely from now on, to see if the pins fall into that “inspiration porn” category.

“Inspiration Porn”: Is the Label Fair? The Case Against

It’s not that Scott Hamilton (and Oscar Pistorius, the athlete in the picture) hasn’t accomplished amazing things. And the value of that particular piece of photography for people with disabilities is that it encourages those who may have the resources to take life by the horns, as Hamilton did, but are letting “I can’t, because I have a disability” hold them back to get back out there and start saying, “I can,” again.

“Inspiration Porn” Is the Label Fair? The Case For

Not everyone with disabilities has the resources and supports that Scott Hamilton had/has to get out there and make their dreams a reality. And for those that are in that boat – sometimes a positive attitude just isn’t enough. A positive attitude isn’t stopping the British government from people whose disabilities are far too severe to allow them to work from having their benefits cut off, forcing them to look for jobs that they have no hope of getting when they are in such ill health. Closer to home (for me), cuts to the Ontario Disability Support Program make accessing its Income support component significantly and increasingly difficult for new applicants each year, and cuts to both the Income Support and Employment Support programs make it more and more difficult for people who are on the program to move off of it.

All of this as the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in the United States edges toward almost twice the rate for people without disabilities, and as New York City continues to put up stink about making even more than 1% of its taxis accessible.

Given these realities, slogans like, “The only disability is a bad attitude” are almost an affront. “Inspiration porn” only makes people with disabilities who are often trying very hard to cope with issues like chronic physical/mental/emotional pain, constant hospitalizations, fears about where the money to pay for housing/food/medical bills/their family’s needs is coming from (whether it’s because of unemployment or underemployment or income support cuts) feel badly because they can’t muster the support, strength, or enthusiasm to get out there and start living their dreams as people with disabilities.

So, is the “inspiration porn” label fair? Unfair? Somewhere in-between? I think I may need to think about it a bit more. It’s certainly an attention-getter, and it’s probably going to make my blog show up in more porn-related searches than usual, but I think I’ll let you decide from here.

Before I Get Attacked

I don’t think any of that means that Scott Hamilton should stop doing what he does. It’s not his fault that people are struggling. And, like I said, I think his message has a place. Not just for people with disabilities, but for everyone. Regardless of your life circumstances, a bad attitude will get *anyone* stuck like nothing else can.

But I do understand why some people with disabilities take have adopted the phrase “inspiration porn” for these kinds of images, and why it hits them particularly hard.

I need to think about this, and write some more about it. Have a great weekend, everyone.

thoughts_of_nothing’s blog about “inspiration porn”: http://thoughts-of-nothing.tumblr.com/post/22192050450/blogging-against-disablism-day

 

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Why I Write About Welfare Benefit Reform in Britain

Welfare Benefit Reform: Tuesday

Well, it seems clear that Britain’s movement to fight welfare benefit reform and deep cuts to disability income supports suffered a major blow on Tuesday.

http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2012/02/warning-toxic-government.html?spref=tw

I don’t know all the particulars. I still don’t totally understand it all. I know that some legislation (which already went though at one level of government) to mitigate effects of the cuts on the children with disabilities was struck down at another.  Classy. I’ve been reading on Twitter about some awful language from the Conservative Members of Parliament about people with disabilities: “the great unwashed”, “retards”, people that think disability is a “lifestyle choice” and so forth.

Stay Strong, Britain…

I still don’t understand all  of what’s gone on here and what continues to go on. What’s struck me the most about the whole thing, and its plainly visible in the post of Sue Marsh’s to which I’ve posted (and the comments on it), is the desperation. Sue put together the Spartacus Report to try and show the British government the impact of the proposed welfare benefit reform, and has put countless hours into coordinating people and efforts even while hospitalized. I’ve read a lot of her stuff lately, and I don’t doubt her when she says that she’s not going to give up – but I’ve also never heard her sound so desperate.

Read this too from the woman who has been working with Sue. Desperate.

http://benefitscroungingscum.blogspot.com/2012/02/death-of-decency-wrb.html

Why British Welfare Benefit Reform?

I’ve been asked why I’ve been writing on the welfare benefit reform situation in Britain. A lot of my Twitter followers (and the people I follow) are involved with the disability community in  Britain, so I see a lot about it. There seems to be a perception that people using Britain’s income supports are all “scroungers”, and the government seems determined to deal with the inevitable few who abuse the system by punishing everybody who uses it.

And you don’t have to understand all of it to appreciate that people are very, very frightened of losing support that allows them to live and being told to go out and find jobs when they legitimately can’t work.  As Sue says in her post, “Yes, even Blair backed down from sending cancer patients to the jobcentre.”  Apparently this government isn’t prepared to.

I write about what’s happening in Britain, to the best extent that I can, because I hear the “they’re all scroungers” attitude from politicians in Canada and the United States, too. It has reached a fever pitch recently, particularly in the United States with the election approaching.   I’ve heard Republicans talk about cutting food stamp programs, refer to people on social support programswelfare benefit reform as “raccoons” who will  just keep coming back as long as you feed them, and suggest that people with disabilities could have their needs met through the generosity of churches and community groups instead of  having them rely on income assistance.

In Ontario, monthly ODSP support still keeps individuals below the poverty line. And yet the focus on the very small amount of people who manage to abuse the system to get as much money out of it as they can, rather than the vast majority who can barely afford to both pay rent and eat each month.  I also remember, several years back now, when Ontario Premier Mike Harris declared that people make a choice to be homeless, which always leaps to mind for me when I read stuff like, “Disability is a lifestyle choice”.

What’s happening in Britain could easily happen in Canada or the United States, too. And yet I’ve not heard or seen one news story about it here.

I write about what’s happening in Britain with welfare benefit reform because it’s a current event that potentially affects us all. Disability news needs makes to make the world news too – let’s do what we can to make sure it does!

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Time to Rethink Sheltered Workshops?

A class action suit was filed on January 25th in Portland, Oregon on behalf of the Cerebral Palsy sheltered workshopsAssociation (Oregon chapter) and eight individuals with intellectual disabilities. The first of its kind in any state, the suit claims that sheltered workshops as they are run now in Oregon are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitations Act.

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/sns-rt-us-oregon-disabled-lawsuittre80p07g-20120125,0,7475636.story

Very interesting. I hope they win, and that similar suits are filed in other states. It wouldn’t hurt to see some more action in Canada on this either, although there’s already been significant action in Canada to move away from the sheltered workshop model.

I’ve Heard the Arguments for Keeping Sheltered Workshops

  • Parents and caregivers like them because they give people with intellectual disabilities a place to go for the day.
  • People who have been in sheltered workshops for a long time often like them because it is a place to go during the day where they can be with their peers, do some work and make a bit of money.
  • It’s an easy way to give people with intellectual disabilities some employment opportunities.

Those Arguments for Keeping Sheltered Workshops Don’t Work for Me

  • People with intellectual disabilities deserve more than a “place to go for the day”. Agencies should not be providing baby-sitting services or warehousing facilities. As the article points out, that’s going back to the days of institutions.
  • If a person with disabilities wants to meet up with other friends who have disabilities, why come to a sheltered workshop to do it? Why not go for lunch or coffee, or visit someone at their home, like people without disabilities do?
  • Why do a job in a sheltered workshop setting and not receive adequate compensation when a person with an intellectual disability can do the same job out in a community setting, get paid for the work, make new friends and have new experiences? Isn’t money better spent on providing the support people need to obtain those kinds of employment opportunities?

Oregon Service Providers, Meet Me at Camera Three…

I  know how you guys thought this was a best practice, but you’ve got to look at how you’re coming across, and ask yourself if sheltered workshops are really the best way to meet the needs of the people you support.

Service providers are the ones supposed to be setting the good example for everyone else, by promoting the importance creation of opportunities for them to participate with dignity, equality, and full inclusion. What kind of message does it send to your communities when you, as service providers, keep them sequestered in buildings, without opportunity for interaction with the community, paying them less than minimum wage for jobs?  What kind of message does it send to the people you support?

Think about it.

 

 

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Recruitment Programs: Necessary, or Reverse Discrimination?

Recruitment programs in universities and for some government jobs, along the lines of “affirmative action” programs in America, have always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I remember writing on a university exam that recruitment programs for racial diversity were a band-aid solution with which we should do away, in favour of focusing on initiatives that truly leveled the playing field for whites and minorities: programs that made it easier for kids from all races to stay in school, and that made higher education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Are Recruitment Programs Reverse Discrimination?

A couple of the youth with intellectual disabilities with whom I’ve worked have chosen not to use some social advantages that their status offers them, rather than admit that they have disabilities. I’m not sure whether it was out of a desire not to be lumped in with people with disabilities, or whether they were bothered by what’s arguably reverse discrimination. I know that when I considered applying for teacher’s college several years ago, I was put off by assertions that the universities I considered welcomed applicants representing different races, religions, sexual orientations, and people with disabilities, to encourage diversity within the student body.

“What, do you want a medal?” I thought, irritated. “You should be doing that anyway, without feeling the need to congratulate yourselves over it!”

I knew it meant that I stood a better chance chance of getting into the teaching school than someone with my academic and extracurricular record who didn’t have disabilities. This annoyed me too. I wanted to get in on my own steam, not because of my left side.

A Different Way of Viewing the Issue

I talked to a family friend about it, who said that I shouldn’t feel badly about taking my disabilities be a consideration. She pointed out that that having disabilities meant that I’d had to overcome some unique challenges to get to the point where I could get into teacher’s college and would mean that I’d have to overcome others to finish it. And, of course, it *is* good for students to be exposed to people in all areas of their lives who have disabilities. When I worked in schools, students were curious about my cane and my arm/hand and how it affected my life, and it actually gave me a common frame of reference that came in handy with some students with disabilities.

I never did end up applying for teacher’s college. Ultimately, I believe I’m in now in favour of recruitment programs in principle, despite my answer on the university exam (that was over 10 years ago, after all) but I still really wish that we lived in a world where everyone had equal access to resources, was regarded equally by hiring committees, and gave us no need for recruitment programs. I’ll stop there before I get into politics, because I know I said I’d let up on that for a while.

Is a Win-Win Situation A Good Enough Reason?

However, now, two months into unemployment and my only prospect potentially coming from a position perhaps coming from government funding specifically earmarked for creating employment opportunities for people with disabilities, I’m not feeling at all badly about taking advantage of that funding if it becomes available. I live in a very small town where the jobs for which I’m trained require a full driver’s license and usually your own vehicle, both of which are at least a year away for me now that my seizures are medically under control.  Many of those jobs also require two functioning hands, as do retail and food service. I’m trying to break into writing, but that may take a while.

There’s not a lot in my geographical area, in my line of work, that I can do, given my disabilities. So if there’s some government money out there earmarked for creating work for people with disabilities, bring it on. This time I do feel I’ve got a legitimate claim to it, because it’s either use it to compensate for legitimate challenges to obtaining work, or move somewhere else. And I like my where I live. It’s good for me. And I like to think that I contribute to my community (and that I could even more, someday).

It’s government money for a win-win.

That’s a good thing, isn’t it?

I’d be interested to hear other peoples’ opinions on this.

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Work and ODSP – The Case for Providing Choice

When I first started volunteering with people with intellectual disabilities, long before my brain avm and surgery, I was perplexed as to why the people on ODSP that the agencies supported didn’t work more.

Shouldn’t Everyone, Even Those on ODSP, Work if they Can?

I knew that many of these people were on Ontario’s government support system for people with disabilities: the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP). I knew that you could only make a certain amount of money each month before your earnings started to affect how much you got from ODSP each month. And I knew that many people with disabilities were highly motivated to stay on the ODSP program because ODSP provides medical benefits that most jobs that a person with intellectual disabilities would not be able to obtain.

However, being still in my teens at the time and being blessed (cursed?) with an over-developed sense of fairness, I wondered why, if these people couldn’t work for pay, they didn’t volunteer more. There were definitely places in the community that were happy to have them volunteer.

Why did I have to go to school all day, 5 days a week during the school year and then spend 5 days a week working all day, and my parents have to work all day, every day to keep my family going, when the people that I was volunteering with could simply decide that working wasn’t something that they wanted to do, and sit around and collect a cheque?  The question festered in the back of my mind. I know that it festers in the back of many peoples’ minds.

A Change…but Why?

Fast forward years later, after the brain AVM and the surgery, to working with youth with intellectual disabilities. Not very many of the youth with intellectual disabilities that I worked with decided that they didn’t want to work when they were done school, but there were a few who did. I counted them as successes in my program, because, even though they weren’t out and doing something, they truly were doing what they wanted to be doing. I’d have rathered that they be out and working, because I knew they were going to get bored very quickly, but it wasn’t what they wanted. So we planned for them to be home.

I hadn’t resolved for myself why this had become “okay” for me at this point, except that I now strongly believed that people should be allowed to choose what they wanted to do in life – no matter what I, or anyone else, thought they “should” be doing.  It wasn’t until a debate on an internet  message board with somebody who thought that people with intellectual disabilities shouldn’t be getting any help from the government or government agencies at all, that volunteer service would more than provide for their needs if we’d just let it (*that* particular conversation got me right riled up, let me tell you) that I sat down with a pen and paper and worked out for myself exactly why I felt income support for people with intellectual disabilities was necessary and why I thought they had every right to decide exactly how much or how little they wanted to work while they were receiving it. That cemented my change of heart about what people on ODSP should/should not be doing.

When It’s Not Your Fault that You’re Not Wealthy Enough to Choose…

People who get to the point where they can decide how much they want to work usually do it in one of two ways:  They come into adulthood independently wealthy (or, by some twist of fortune, become independently wealthy), or they work really damn hard to get to the point where they can retire early or at least take a reduced schedule…and you have to have a fairly high-paying job to allow you to do this.

People with intellectual disabilities generally don’t have the option of going to school to get the education required to get a really high-paying job that’s going to allow them to retire early, or have a lot of money to invest. You can’t invest while you’re on ODSP.  In fact, you can’t have more than $5000 in your bank account at a time when you’re on ODSP, or you’re cut off.  The money you get is for survival, not for building a future.

It cuts down the options. No savings. No education. They can’t make the choices we do, because they don’t have the monetary resources to make those dreams a reality, nor the options of going to, say, college or university to get better-paying jobs.

In fact, for some people, meeting their basic needs on their monthly ODSP allotment is a dream that they can’t make a reality.

Once I realized how far behind the eight ball not just people with intellectual disabilities, but people with disabilities in general are in society, it made me look with more patience and compassion on those who chose not to find work while on ODSP. I did choose to work. But I’ve been blessed with a good education and very supportive family and community to help fill in the “gaps” that have made working difficult for me; not everyone is so lucky.

I’m not trying to be negative; I sometimes just need to acknowledge the realities of the world that we live in.

 

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