Disability funding to be overhauled

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By Stacey Stein

Eli Shupak knows changes to a provincial government program for students with disabilities will affect him in some way — he’s just not sure how.

That’s because the overhaul of the program is plagued by uncertainty and unanswered questions.

One thing is sure — April 1, the government will eliminate Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), a branch of the Ministry of Community and Social Services.

Shupak, a third-year journalism student, uses VRS for a number of services. A nursing agency provides and attendant for him a few days a week to help him with tasks such as accessing library books and getting his lunch.

VRS also covers Shupak’s transportation needs and any equipment he needs. These services are now provided free of charge, but Shupak worries this will change with the government’s new plans.

“They may not cover everything they do now. The worst thing is that I would have to pay for someone to help me,” Shupak said.

“My biggest concern is attendant care. It might be harder to access because of the money.” Shupak could pay more than $20 a day for an attendant.

“The biggest problem around the changes is that a lot of people are unsure about what’s going to happen in the future,” said Gord Tanner, RyeSAC VP education, who had scheduled a meeting for Thursday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Oakham House.

“This is going to affect students applying for September, so people are going to be scrambling to find out where the funding is going to come from and if they’ll be able to continue with their studies.”

With the elimination of VRS, students will have to work directly through their university or college. This will likely pose a strain on Ryerson’s Access Centre.

“The Access Centre will be overwhelmed with the number of students,” Tanner said.

Linda Lyons, co-supervisor of Ryerson’s Access Centre, said: “The centre will have to incur costs it didn’t have to incur before because of the elimination of VRS.”

VRS receives about $3 million from the province. Money will be transferred to provide sign language interpretation for deaf students, and will be distributed among colleges, universities and the Ministries of Health and Education and Training.

Meanwhile, Shupak is still not sure where he will go for the services now provided to him by VRS.

“I met with them and told them I’ll need someone every day next [school] year and they said ‘we’ll look into it,’” he said. “I don’t have any definite answers out of them.”


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