By Simone Joseph
April 1: Doomsday.
That was the general sentiment of students and advocacy groups at a round-table discussion about provincial government changes to funding for disabled students.
The meeting, held at Oakham House last week, was organized by the Canadian Federation of Students to pool knowledge of the changes and plot strategy.
Gord Tanner, RyeSAC’s VP education and the meeting’s coordinator, said his biggest concern is “that people will fall through the cracks between April 1 and September 1998 and they won’t have the funding available to continue with studies.”
Provincial changes to funding come into effect on April 1. Disabled students will no longer receive financial assistance from Vocational Rehabilitation Services (VRS), a government funding program for students with disabilities.
After this date, the province expects disabled students to seek funding from other sources, such as the Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) or the Bursary for Students with Disabilities (BSWD).
This worries Tanner.
“[The government] is cutting all the [support] staff. There’s no counselling, nobody to assist people in cutting through red tape in applying for OSAP,” he said.
Star Ryerson Marie Claire Ross swimmer was among those who attended the meeting. The fourth-year nutrition student said VRS paid for 75 per cent of her disability-related equipment. Ross worries about her future education cost.
“As I continue my education, there are specialized equipment needs. If I am going to have to cover these costs myself, that’s a concern,” she said after the meeting.
Ross’ software program that enlarges the type on her computer screen costs $3,400.
But Peter Amenta, a policy analyst with the Ministry of Community and Social Services, said a new program, called the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) will provide a living allowance for people with disabilities.
Amenta also said approximately $3 million each year will be given to special needs offices at universities and colleges across the province to assist disabled students. The ODSP will also help disabled students find work, he said.