Two local ACORN chapters held a rally and protest in support of disabled rights, urging Doug Ford’s administration to maintain current rates and abandon proposed modifications to the definition of disability for the purposes of determining eligibility for disability benefits.
Some tentatively, others with forceful, inspiring voices chanted on the sidewalk, in the parking lane, and under the hoardings in front of the Ellen Fairclough and ServiceOntario buildings.
Some were in wheelchairs, while others stood; some wore hearing aids, while others had mental health issues. The urgency of their demand that Premier Doug Ford abandon planned revisions to the definition of disability in Ontario, which they fear will reduce eligibility for the Ontario Disability Support Program, brought together the 20 to 30 protestors who demonstrated on King West on Friday (ODSP).
“We have to push together,” Raven Bridges, co-chair of ACORN’s east-end Hamilton chapter, cried, the demonstration being organized by ACORN (Association of Communities For Reform Now) with supporters. It was one of a number of incidents that occurred around the province this week.
Bridges informed the crowd, “With the changes that are coming, mental health will not be covered.”
That criterion – mental health – is one that some disability advocates believe the Ford administration would try to abolish from the definition of impairment for benefit purposes. According to ACORN officials, the proposed definition change was announced last fall, and details of the modifications, which have yet to be revealed, are due soon. If they can avoid it, that is.
The demonstrators marched up to the Ministry of Health offices on the third floor of the ServiceOntario building and submitted their list of requests to the Ford government after over an hour of speeches, chanting, and brandishing posters and placards.
They essentially consisted of two statements:
- Maintain the present provincial ODSP definition of disability;
- Increase ODSP rates.
People could be “left without income, which will create a disaster in this city” if eligibility is narrowed, according to Mike Wood, chair of ACORN’s downtown Hamilton chapter.
“With the rise in mental health difficulties, it’s becoming clearer by the day that ODSP needs to cover mental health,” Bridges said. “We must ensure that it (ODSP) is inclusive. We must continue to fight. What would tomorrow be like if that isn’t the case?”
Doug Ford, Listen To The People, and Stop The War On The Poor were among the rally’s signs.
“I’m not on disability, but I’m on a reduced income… and I’m concerned about Ford’s cuts,” Marnie Schurter explained. “I’ve come to show my support and solidarity. Surviving is challenging.”
“I’m fighting to raise the prices,” Joanne Johnson, a demonstrator, stated. Campaign for Adequate Welfare and Disability Benefits was written on her shirt. People end up on the streets as a result of cuts and shortcomings, she claims. “It’s time to put an end to homelessness.”
Some drivers honked their approval, but there was also a group of around six hecklers across the street whose motivations were unclear. Demonstrator Lindi Zamisa addressed them, participated in a sometimes tense dialogue, and they eventually walked on.
“The government should not be permitted to police disability,” Kalia Douglas-Micallef of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, an associated organizer with ACORN, said, adding that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the disabled to get by with lower ODSP checks.
“OHIP does not cover several disability aids. I wear hearing aids, which cost $2,000 each and are not covered by OHIP.”
On top of everything else, said John Harper, who was holding a sign upside down – “it’s the international distress signal,” he joked – the city is experiencing a rental crisis. “A lady moved out of my building, and the rent went up from $450 to $800 per month” for the new tenant.