By Helen Henderson
Somewhere warmer than here they’re playing baseball — a spring-training ritual that usually thaws our collective spirits north of the 49th parallel. But
it’s not just the weather that’s keeping Toronto’s climate colder this year.
There’s a distinct chill emanating from City Hall toward anyone or anything that might stand in the way of the success of the nascent right-wing advocacy
group dubbed Ford Nation. That would include those of us who believe spending money on inclusion pays off for all taxpayers.
Former Ontario premier Mike Harris justified cuts to such programs by arguing that we can’t afford to protect “special interest groups.”
Mayor Rob Ford’s musings echo that philosophy. But there’s another catchphrase we’d do well to keep in mind: false economies.
We do nothing to further the fortunes of taxpayers by making it more difficult for people with disabilities to contribute to their communities. That’s part
of the rationale behind a campaign by Community Living Toronto to get reduced transit fees for people who must eke out an existence on Ontario Disability Support Payments (ODSP).
Last year, at a mayoral-campaign debate sponsored by Community Living Toronto, Ford supported the proposal. There are many reasons to continue that support, and the organization’s government-relations committee makes cogent arguments to that effect.
Community Living advocates for people with intellectual disabilities, most of whom have a tough time in the job market even though they are eager to contribute. That leaves them dependent on ODSP, which gives a single adult a maximum of $1,048 a month, or less than $13,000 a year.
If they are lucky enough to find a job, the government takes 50 per cent of their wages, leaving them well below the poverty line.
Seniors and students receive reduced transit fares, yet people on ODSP pay full fares, even though the full transit system isn’t accessible to all.
“Toronto lags far behind other major cities in making public transit accessible and affordable,” Community Living argued in a presentation to the Toronto
Board of Trade.
Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal, Oshawa, Vancouver and Kingston all have reduced fare programs (usually in the 50-per-cent range) for people on government assistance, it points out. The same is true in the United States. In Chicago, Community Living notes, people with disabilities ride free, part of a state program, called Circuit Breakers, that also extends to seniors.
To make Toronto a truly diverse city, welcoming for all of its citizens, the needs of people with disabilities must be included, Community Living says.
“In ensuring that Toronto’s services are accessible to everyone, we make the city stronger and more efficient.”
Affordable housing is also a major barrier to inclusion, the organization says. “Many people with disabilities live in substandard apartments or are forced
to pay market rent, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.”
For people with disabilities on ODSP, paying rent on a decent apartment near transit leaves precious little for food, clothing or the opportunity to participate in social and recreational activities, Community Living says. “Add to that the expense of taking public transit to visit friends, family or to get to that job and there’s nothing left.”
It notes that a study by the University of Toronto’s Martin Prosperity Institute (www.martinprosperity.org)
indicates that investment in fully accessible services and environments would stimulate the economy by increasing workforce and educational participation.
The study projects such access would increase consumer spending in Ontario’s retail sector by $10 billion and raise tourism revenue by as much as $1.6 billion.
Sounds like a pretty good deal for taxpayers to me. Something to warm the hearts of Ford Nation.
Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.