Anybody who has read my writings for any length of time has probably gathered by now that both my wife and I suffer from debilitating illnesses that prevent us from working. Our only income comes in the form of a check that we receive at the end of each month through a program known as The Ontario Disability Support Program (O.D.S.P.)
This check provides us with minimal amounts for shelter and living costs. We are also eligible to receive certain medications for the nominal charge of $2.00 a prescription, one eye check up every two years, minimal dental care, and zero premium health insurance.
At first glance this doesn’t appear too bad, and in fact we are probably slightly better off than most working poor due to the benefits. Obviously a thing like our deduction free drug plan saves us a fortune; between the two of us we use about $1,000 worth of medication in a month.
After having spent five months in the limbo of being on welfare while I waited for them to decide if I was sick enough to be entitled to disability benefits, I was intensely grateful when they were finally approved. I still am grateful for the assistance provided, I’d hate to think what our situation would be like if this program didn’t exist.
However, (you saw the but coming long ago didn’t you), I have recently had reason to experience some of the serious deficiencies within the program. A couple of weeks ago my wife came into the bedroom after I had gone to bed and woke me up. She had had a tooth snap off at the gum line.
While it was a nasty experience she thankfully wasn’t in any pain, which was a good thing as this was Friday night and we wouldn’t be able to see our dentist until Monday. The other piece of good news was that the tooth that had broken was right next to her one false tooth, so it would only require a repair to her partial denture to put a new false tooth in alongside the existing one.
This is where the shortfall in the dental benefits is felt. While O.D.S.P. would cover the extraction of the broken tooth, it would not cover the costs involved in any of the work needing to be done on the denture. We were already facing the prospect of a bleak holiday season financially, because of our limited resources, and this was the proverbial final straw.
In desperation I phoned the local office that handles the disability files for the region of the province that I live in. I asked them if they could recommend any place I could apply for assistance. I was hoping that there was some sort of program that I could submit my bill to and they would consider my request for special funding.
Instead what I was told was to phone local churches and service clubs and beg for handouts. Literally. It was a mark of my desperation that I got on the phone and began phoning a list of potential donors that a community worker from outside the government had provided me with.
When I was younger I used to work for a theatre company and I had no trouble writing grant applications or soliciting donations from corporations for the company’s projects and operations. But faced with the prospect of having to phone churches and ask for handouts on a personal level, I felt humiliated.
I wasn’t providing any service in exchange for the money I was requesting like I had been when requesting money for the theatre company. I was asking total strangers to give me money to help pay my bills. A couple of the places were very nice and sympathetic, but some made me feel really small. It was hard enough doing this without being treated like some kind of leper by the person at the other end of the phone line.
Than there were the people who said they would phone me back. Under normal circumstance if I haven’t heard back from someone after a couple of days I usually phone them back. I just don’t seem to be able to do it in these circumstances: ” Hi I phoned you the other day asking if you could give me some money. Have you made up your mind yet?”
One blessed woman understood completely and cut me off before I even finished. She said “Let me save you the torture, bring me a copy of the bill and I’ll give you $50.00.” I was so grateful that I was almost in tears when I got off the phone. It wasn’t even so much the offer of money but the understanding of how hard this was to do that affected me.
It’s bad enough as it is living a life of poverty imposed on you through circumstances beyond your control. Nobody asks to have their abilities taken away from them. I’m already confined to living in sub standard housing in dangerous neighbourhoods because of the minimal amount of money that I receive each month to live on.
You would think given the necessity of teeth for a human’s well being that a program like a disability pension would assist individuals in obtaining dentures. Instead we are reduced to begging for handouts.
When governments talk of the private and community sectors picking up the slack when they cut funding to social programming, this is the result. People, who have already suffered a diminishment in their self-esteem caused by losing their abilities to support themselves, are further humiliated by having to beg for additional financial assistance.
Like I said at the beginning of this, I’m grateful for what this program does offer. Every little bit helps. However it is a serious flaw that recipients are forced into a situation where they must search out their own means for getting dentures. This does not seem to be an appropriate way to treat the less fortunate of society.