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Ending The ODSP Anti-Employment Myth

Media coverage of sheltered workshop issues exposed when the Ottawa-Carleton Persons with Developmental Disabilities (OCAPDD) contract with the federal government was coming to an end in March 2015 resulted in significant misinformation about the motivations and rationale for hourly wages that are far less than minimum wage (for example, $1.15 an hour). One of the most unfortunate pieces of misreporting was the incorrect message that wages must be kept below minimum wage in order to protect Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) income support.

Get the info sheet!
Get the info sheet!

This is FALSE as LiveWorkPlay along with many individuals and organizations fought hard to have properly represented in public forums. We also called upon the Government of Ontario to issue a clarification of ODSP policies to reinforce the existing ODSP website information and to provide us with an additional tool for reassuring individuals, families, and organizations that have been exposed to misinformation about sheltered workshops and rationalizations for below-minimum-wage arrangements.

On June 11, just such a document was made available in a joint communique from Assistant Deputy Ministers Karen Chan and Erin Hannah. The cover letter is reproduced below, and clicking on the images of the information sheets will open them in PDF format, where you will find key statements such as the following:

Can I work and still get ODSP benefits? YES! You can work while you are getting financial help from ODSP.

And you will always have more money while working than you would from ODSP income support alone.

The English text of the June 11 memorandum is presented below in its entirety.

The attached information sheet highlights some of the key rules about working while receiving ODSP benefits, and makes it clear that individuals are always better off if they work. Please distribute this sheet to all your staff members as well as individuals and families supported by your organization where appropriate.

In addition to improving the ODSP program, the ministry has supported a number of initiatives over the past two years to promote competitive employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. In 2013, the ministry launched the Inclusion and Employment Opportunities Partnership Fund, through which 21 employment-related projects were funded across the province.

Get the info sheet!
Get the info sheet!

In 2014, as part of our multi-year investment strategy, the ministry established the Employment and Modernization Fund (EMF) aimed at fostering a culture that emphasizes competitive employment in the community as a preferred outcome for individuals with developmental disabilities. In the first round of funding, 23 projects were selected for funding under the employment stream. A list of all successful projects along with a brief description of each is available on the ministry website.

This is an exciting time for employment programs in the developmental services sector, particularly since several of the EMF projects involve shifting away from traditional settings such as sheltered workshops towards community-based employment. As well, we know that a number of developmental services agencies in Ontario have been leading the way and have already transformed their service delivery models to support individuals in competitive employment settings in the community – consistent with the direction being adopted in jurisdictions across North America and other parts of the world.

The experiences of these agencies indicate that successful transitions can be made from sheltered settings to community-based competitive employment through careful individualized planning and engagement with individuals and families. We encourage agencies to share their experiences and best practices with each other, to help enhance employment support programs across the sector.

As we have demonstrated through the EMF, the ministry continues to support initiatives to help agencies shift towards providing truly inclusive employment programs. You may have already seen the Minister’s announcement on May 20th regarding the launch of the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) Centre for Excellence in Employment Services. We believe this Centre will serve as a vital resource for the sector, by providing training and supports to help agencies transition towards community-based employment programs and enhance the employment supports they offer.

We recognize that more work is needed and we will be engaging with the sector on this important topic in the coming months. We look forward to working with all our developmental services partners, individuals and families to help improve employment outcomes for individuals with developmental disabilities across Ontario.

Erin Hannah
Assistant Deputy Minister
Social Policy Development Division

Karen Chan
Assistant Deputy Minister
Community and Developmental Services Division