DAWN Ontario: DisAbled Women's Network Ontario


A Critical Analysis of the
Ontario Disability Support Program Act
and Social Citizenship Rights in Ontario

By Tanya Hyland, B.A. Hons.

A research paper submitted to
the Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research
in partial fulfillment of
the requirements for the degree of
Master of Arts

Institute of Political Economy
Carleton University
Ottawa, Ontario
August 31, 2001
©2001, Tanya Hyland

Reprinted with permission




In 1998 the Government of Ontario proclaimed new legislation, the Ontario Disability Support Program Act, recognizing that disabled persons have unique needs that were unable to be met through generalized social assistance programs. This paper critically analyzes the ability of the Ontario Disability Support Program to protect the social citizenship rights of disabled persons aged 18 to 34 and argues that certain legislative factors prevent these individuals for actively participating in our society. After a critique of the work of T.H. Marshall and contemporary citizenship theorists, I propose that a new definition of social citizenship should be developed that recognizes that all citizens interact with society on varying levels and that socially sanctioned opportunities should be protected under this new definition so that all Ontarians are guaranteed the opportunity to be active social citizens.


The Research Problem

The purpose of this paper is to critically analyze the ability of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) Act to support and protect the social citizenship rights of persons with disabilities aged 18 - 34 (1) who receive income support through ODSP and to argue that a new definition of social citizenship must be developed. The basis of this paper grew out of a practical problem, as research on persons with a disability, social citizenship rights and a their right to an income is minimal. Furthermore, our present theoretical understanding of social citizenship does not theorize the daily life of persons with a disability in our society. Therefore, to bridge the expansive gap between theory and practice this paper will argue the theoretical underpinnings of social citizenship must be reconceptualized in conjunction with the attempt to solve a practical problem; that persons with disabilities aged 18 - 34 who receive income support from ODSP experience a decreased level in their social citizenship rights; a result which will be demonstrated to be directly related to their receiving income support from ODSP.

The restriction of the citizenship rights of persons with disabilities by our society, including the November 2000 setback experienced by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2) committee, has created an environment that accepts the contemptuous treatment and discrimination experienced by persons with disabilities. Daily discrimination endured by persons with disabilities is rampant and includes barriers to education, information, employment, housing, transportation and the inaccessibility of public and private spaces. Each of these examples only serves to exacerbate the already precarious ability of a person with a disability to successfully practice the social rights of citizenship that are supposedly protected under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Choosing to focus this research on income support for persons with disabilities aged 18-34 evolved from the recognition that in Canada income acts as a fundamental determinant of one's life. Conducted by Statistics Canada in 1996-1997, the National Population Health Survey reports "Canadians who have activity limitations [a disability] were also more likely to have low incomes."(3) Supporting this claim, the Canadian Human Rights Act Review has released a report that demonstrates that "income inequality affects the lives of low-income Canadians in dramatic ways including their health, psycho-social development, education and subsequent income."(4) The findings of these two reports support this paper's argument that without access to an adequate level of income that meets their needs, the daily difficulties experienced by persons with disabilities who receive ODSP are compounded into a situation that restricts their ability to participate as social citizens. The decision to focus on income recognizes that we participate in a heavily commodified capitalist society, where the ability to sell one's labour is recognized as the only legitimate manner in which to derive an income. I am therefore choosing to advocate for change within our capitalist society, as this method would appear to have a more propitious outcome than if I were to work towards a solution that would be completely incompatible for the environment in which we presently live.

Electing to focus specifically on the impact of ODSP and social citizenship on persons with disabilities aged 18-34 arose from the understanding that characteristically, individuals in this age group are beginning to make the move towards gaining more independence and persons with disabilities are not exempt from wanting to make these decisions. Moreover, this age group would not have had the work experience necessary to draw upon CPP disability benefits, nor would they have had sufficient time to contribute to a disability insurance plan that could provide an adequate income for the rest of their life. Furthermore, if the individual chose to attend a post-secondary educational institution, employment could be delayed until the mid-to-late 20s. In 1991, Gail Fawcett measured the labour force participation rates in Canada for adults with disabilities, or approximately 91% of the 4.2 million persons with disabilities living in Canada (5) and found that 56.3% of persons with disabilities were employed whereas, 80.9% of persons without disabilities are employed.(6) This difficulty in securing employment, coupled with the massive barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from gaining employment, has forced numerous persons with disabilities aged 18-34 to turn to ODSP. Consequently, for the 37 909 (7) persons with disabilities aged 18-34 currently receiving income support, ODSP represents either a short-term relationship (for those who are able to work, but whom are unable to find employment) or a life-long relationship (for those unable to participate in the work environment defined by our society) of receiving income support from the Ontario government.

Evolving out of the Social Assistance Reform Act (SARA) of 1997, ODSP was developed as a separate social policy explicitly for persons with disabilities. The purpose of ODSP is to:

(a) provide income and employment supports to eligible persons with disabilities;

(b) recognize that government, communities, families and individuals share in responsibility for providing such supports;

(c) effectively serves persons with disabilities who need assistance; and

(d) [be] accountable to the taxpayers of Ontario (8)

A fuller examination of ODSP will be presented in the second section of this paper, however suffice for now, the Harris government recognized that persons with disabilities had specific needs that were not capable of being fulfilled under the General Welfare Assistance (GWA) program. ODSP was developed as both an income and employment support program that was intended to offer improved levels of support to persons with disabilities in Ontario by allowing higher asset exemptions, by promoting and supporting the employment of persons with disabilities and by increasing monthly income support levels. Recognizing that persons with disabilities confront profound barriers in our society, part of the purpose of ODSP was to eliminate the stigma associated with receiving government income assistance and to officially state that there is a difference between the deserving and undeserving poor. Nevertheless, this stigma is not easily erased from the public's mind.


This paper has been written with a varied audience in mind therefore the intention has been to explain in a manner as straightforward as possible, the arguments of this paper. This will assist in developing a wider understanding of the challenges that ODSP poses to social citizenship, with the hope that solutions can be drawn from all sectors of society. The path this paper will take is as follows: I will present the methodology and will map the tools of research that support and guide this paper. Then, after critiquing both the historical and current theoretical debates of disability and social citizenship, I will introduce my interpretation and definition of these concepts and relate them to the present situation of persons with disabilities in Ontario. Following an introduction to and brief discussion of the ODSP legislative Act, this paper will, with one foot firmly planted in my theoretically based findings, analyze the observations made by the fourteen persons with disabilities who have received ODSP. A dialogue between their responses, the concerns raised by Liberal MPP Michael Gravelle and the responses to my questions by ODSP director Debbie Moretta, coupled with my personal experiences will be presented and will demonstrate how ODSP restricts the social citizenship rights of persons with disabilities. Through examining the theoretical understandings of disability, social citizenship and the action research findings, this paper will move towards the development of a new model of social citizenship that recognizes the position of persons with disabilities in our society as active social citizens and will propose opportunities for further research in this field.


I have chosen to use five principal tools to structure this research and each selected tool works as a building block of knowledge, designed to overlap and to inform another. Subsequently, the interplay between theoretically based and action research will be highlighted, as it will be demonstrated that the relationship between these approaches to research should be fluid as they both inform each other and have lessons to teach.

The first tool, a review of theoretically based literature on disability and social citizenship will act as the conceptual guideposts that will support the action research of this paper and will assist in developing a better understanding of what our idea of disability and social citizenship should entail. A discussion of disability literature will outline the processes through which contemporary disability theory has sought to challenge societal assumptions about disability. Jerome Bickenbach's Physical Disability and Social Policy, the seminal book on Canadian models of disability, provides the basis for the critique of the three dominant models, however the work of other disability theorists will also be discussed. Furthermore, this debate will also utilize the work of Sandra Carpenter, the Independent Living Skills Manager from the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT). Building upon this discussion of disability theory, the work of T.H. Marshall on social citizenship is examined in the context of current theoretical writings of political economists who consider the concepts of citizenship and social citizenship. Presented as a debate, the concepts of disability and social citizenship will be challenged by current considerations of how these concepts should be redefined to present an accurate picture of our society. This first tool was chosen as the precursor to the action research findings and will be used to frame a dialogue between theory and these empirical findings to demonstrate that at both a conceptual and practical level, a redefinition social citizenship is necessary to reflect the daily experiences of persons with disabilities.

A review of the 1998 legislative act of ODSP was the second tool used to guide this research. Consulting the official legislation of ODSP was essential to the development of this paper as it was used to frame the questions posed to the key informants and as evidentiary support for the issues that they raised. The legislation was also used to outline the intended purposes of the Act, to demonstrate the differences between ODSP and its predecessor, the Family Benefits Act (FBA) and as an illustration of the restrictions and limitations placed upon persons with disabilities who receive income support. The bulk of information pertaining to the legislative differences between ODSP and FBA will be presented in Tables 2, 3 and 4 thereby presenting a considerable amount of information in a concise manner.

The third tool was the use of official and non-official statistical sources to support arguments made about the number of persons with disabilities aged 18-34 presently receiving income support. Statistics on income levels, poverty levels and the employment rate of persons with disabilities in Ontario will be drawn from Statistics Canada, the National Council of Welfare, Disability: An Economic Portrait and through direct contact with the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Statistics drawn from the Ontario Public Service Employee Union's "Business Practice Review of ODSP Offices" will also be used to support the observations made by the interview participants. I have chosen to use this statistical information as a quantitative tool to support the observations made by the interview participants and by Michael Gravelle, Liberal MPP.

Fourthly, semi-structured interviews conducted with key informants, including fourteen persons with disabilities, a Liberal MPP, the Director of ODSP and disability advocates make up the action research aspect of this paper. This paper provides a forum for many different voices to be heard with a key goal to publicize the thoughts and frustrations of those who use the system.

Conducting semi-structured interviews with fourteen persons with disabilities who receive income support from ODSP generated original data that will be used to demonstrate the various ways in which ODSP affects the ability of these persons with disabilities to be active social citizens. The decision to engage in semi-structured interviews was made because personal information and questions about the participant's feelings about themselves and our society were asked. This was deemed the best approach for eliciting the individual thoughts of the participants, as it was unlikely that the same responses could have been achieved if a standardized questionnaire was used. Furthermore, this allowed for greater flexibility in the scope and direction of the conversation. The questions were grouped into five sections, Personal Information, Housing Arrangements, ODSP, Income Level and Citizenship and although I had developed a Guideline for Interview Questions (Appendix D) that I referred to in each interview, obtaining responses was best accomplished by conversing with each participant in a manner that allowed the participant to speak freely about their understanding of ODSP and social citizenship rights. Therefore, the questions were not necessarily asked in the same order as presented in the Guideline, as occasionally a participant made a statement that directly answered a question I had not yet asked and the interview would change paths. At the close of the interview I gave the participant the opportunity to reflect upon their responses and asked if there was anything that they wished to add in conclusion.

By choosing to conduct semi-structured interviews, trust between each participant and myself had to be developed. This was established by first conversing with each participant about the research project and by stating what I wanted to achieve by completing this research. I also related my experiences with ODSP to impress upon the participants that I had a personal stake in the outcome of this research. It was also important that the participants understood my usage of the concepts of disability and social citizenship that framed this research, thus some discussion was needed prior to beginning each interview.

The participants, twelve of whom lived in the Greater Toronto Area, one in Eastern Ontario and one in Southwestern Ontario were recruited by drawing upon personal contacts, by contacting disability organizations and through the 'snowballing' technique. The participants ranged in age from 23 to 34 and each was either currently in receipt of, or had received ODSP income support since it was introduced in 1998. All of the participants had a physical disability and four cited having more than one disability. Unfortunately, I was unable to contact any individuals who had a mental or developmental disability. Six of the participants were male, eight female. Thirteen of the participants were single, one was married, although his wife was not a Canadian citizen and was unable to come to Canada. Ten of the participants lived alone and four lived with their families. Five of the participants were employed, three full-time, therefore they were no longer in receipt of ODSP income support. One participant was employed in a summer position and freelanced and was able to retain the income support at the time of the interview and the other participant worked two part-time jobs and was able to retain their income support. Nine of the participants volunteered, many at more than one place. Five of the participants were attending post-secondary institutions, four participants had undergraduate university degrees, three had college diplomas, one completed high school and one had completed up until grade ten.

Interviews were also conducted with Michael Gravelle, the Liberal MPP critic for the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS), Debbie Moretta, the Director of ODSP and CILT colleagues. I attempted to establish contact with a member of the New Democratic Party (NDP), in an effort to have the three major political parties of Ontario represented, however my requests were not responded to. The interview with Michael Gravelle will add an official political judgment of ODSP and will identify both the Liberal party's official and Gravelle's personal response to ODSP legislation. This will add political firepower to support the argument of this paper as Mr. Gravelle identifies his constituents' response to ODSP as well as his party's commitment to challenging the restrictive nature of this legislation. The interview conducted with Debbie Moretta, Director of ODSP, helped to determine the Harris government's official stance on ODSP. The questions directed towards Ms. Moretta asked that she respond to statements made by the interview participants that they feel like second-class citizens as a result of receiving ODSP, recount how ODSP does support social citizenship rights and indicate whether a cost of living increase to ODSP would occur. Lastly, CILT colleagues were consulted to add the perspective of those who work with persons with disabilities, advocating for changes in social, health and economic policy that are relevant and meaningful. Combined with the responses made by the interview participants, these consultations challenge the official understanding of disability and the limitations upon social citizenship that ODSP imposes by illustrating the actual daily barriers that persons with disabilities confront on a daily basis.

The last tool used in this research will be drawn from my own participant observations gained from my position at the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, (CILT) a disabled consumer organization. As program coordinator for an Attendant Services database for Supportive Housing and Outreach Attendant Care (9) I communicate daily with persons with disabilities, their family members, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, social workers and community organizations. Including my work experiences will complement and enhance the responses made by the interview participants and will contribute additional evidence to the argument that ODSP recipients are greatly limited in their ability to participate in our society.


(1) ODSP provides income support and employment supports to people over the age of 18.

(2) The Ontarians with Disability Act (ODA) would force businesses and public spaces to become accessible, would improve accessibility of transportation systems and would create improved access to employment and educational opportunities for PWDs. For a detailed description of the ODA, please refer to "Making Ontario Open for People with Disabilities: A Blueprint for a Strong and Effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act", ODA, April 22, 1998

(3) Federal, Provincial and Territorial Advisory Committee on Population Health. Towards a Healthy Future: Second Report on the Health of Canadians, Ottawa: Health Canada, 1999. 20.

(4) Richard Shillington, "Adding Social Condition to the Canadian Human Rights Act: Some Issues" Canadian Human Rights Act Review, Ottawa: Canadian Human Rights Act Review, 2000.

(5) Gail Fawcett, Living with Disability in Canada: An Economic Portrait (Quebec: Office for Disability Issues, 1996) 11.

(6) Fawcett, 19.

(7) Debbie Moretta, Personal Letter, 12 July. 2001.

(8) Ministry of Community and Social Services, Ontario Disability Support Program Act, 1997 Chapter 25. Section 1. (Toronto: Ontario Publications, February 5, 1999)

(9) Attendant services assist individuals with physical disabilities by providing physical assistance in completing activities of daily living. In effect, the attendants become the "arms and legs" of the PWD. Supportive Housing projects are apartments that are integrated into regular apartment buildings, and Attendant services are provided on a scheduled and on-call 24-hour basis. Outreach attendant services are offered in the individual's home on a scheduled basis. Attendant services are funded though the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care.

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