Disabled? Disposable. Help Save the Hardship Fund

I had a plan for this week. I’ve had that plan for about a year. Because the International Day of People with Disabilities is on December 3 and for the last couple of years, that meant that I go to Variety Village to take part in the City's celebration of this day. It's a terrific day that celebrates the achievements of people with disabilities.There is space for artists with disabilities to exhibit their work, a lot of networking and awards recognizing the achievements of people with disabilities. Due to an injury, I had to miss last year's fun, but was determined to go this year.

And then Rob Ford got elected. Which means this year, The International Day for People with Disabilities will not be celebrated by the Cityof Toronto. Sure, there'll be a proclamation and the Access Award will be given out during the City’s celebration of Human Rights Day, held in the Council Chamber. Which I thought wasn’t accessible, but maybe they've changed that in the last year or so?

Anyway. Our esteemed Mayor got elected on promising to balance the budget by savings made in. attrition and efficiencies - in effect, cutting the gravy that he claimed was so prolific at City Hall. He said there’d be "no service cuts. Guaranteed." Except, it turns out there isn't that much gravy. And since the aforementioned esteemed Mayor canceled a number of revenue generating programs and taxes instituted by our previous esteemed Mayor, he’s having a bit of a problem finding the promised reductions in the budget. Enter the service cuts.

To be fair, the celebration of The International Day for People with Disabilities was not included in the budget and therefore it was not the decision of our City Council to cancel it. Likely, it was a decision made by staff because they have to find a significant amount of money to reduce their budget. And I guess this was an easy one - after all, it was for a very small group of people, one that traditionally doesn't have a lot of power or makes a lot of headlines.

But I'm not bitter.

What does make me spitting mad and about to jump on the barricades is the next trick in what I'm beginning to see as a war on the vulnerable. Because one of the service cuts that is being considered in the budget on December 7 is to get rid of the Hardship Fund.

What is the hardship fund? It is $900,000 a year set aside for the working poor, people with disabilities and seniors to access when they need medical equipment not covered elsewhere and which is too expensive to afford when you're living close to the bone. Things like hospital beds or lifts that enable you to live in your own home instead of in an institution. It costs the taxpayers of Toronto 60 cents each per year to take care of the most vulnerable in our city, to help them stay in their homes and to help them through medical crises. And 23 of the elected on our City Council voted for axing it. Charming, no?

Because, I suspect, the Fund serves a very small group of people, one that doesn't have a lot of power or traditionally make it into a lot of the headlines.

Our libraries did. When significant cuts to libraries were on the table, the citizens of Toronto rose up en masse to fight back. One of the citizens was Margaret Atwood, a staunch defender of Toronto libraries. It helped that Doug Ford, our esteemed Mayor's brother, also a Councillor and a bit of a bull in a china shop, claimed that he wouldn't know Margaret Atwood if he passed her on the street, that there were more libraries than donut shops in his riding (quickly and easily disproved) and that nobody would care if they closed (boy, did people care). And best of all, because people cared and told their City Councillor in personal letters and emails, plus over 40,000 signatures to a petition, all of a sudden Councillors cared, too. Because they cared to be re-elected and wouldn't be if they voted to close the libraries.

Toronto's citizens with disabilities don't have a Margaret Atwood. I wish we did. I wish we had a beloved and iconic public figure who would join the fight and who could be as effective as Atwood was in bringing attention in the media to this. Instead, we have Social Planning Toronto joined by a lot of individuals in this smaller group and their friends who are fighting to protect the Hardship Fund. And I worry that there won't be enough of us to provide the kind of pressure our Councillors need to do the right thing. To remember that we are all citizens,not just taxpayers. And citizens take care of each other.

Any one of us could need the Hardship Fund tomorrow. One in two people are touched by disability, either individually or because a family member has a disability or medical condition. Disability is the only minority group you can join at any minute with no warning. We all have aging parents who we'd like to keep at home as long as possible. Regardless of who you are, your ability or age, you have a vested interest in protecting this Fund.

There is a week left until the meeting where Council will decide whether to cut the  Fund. Is it enough time to get 40,000 signatures on the petition to save the Hardship Fund? We'll never know unless we try. And while you're at it, please share it everywhere you can, e-mail, Facebook, Twitter. If you don't live in Toronto but know somebody who does, send it to them. Please also consider writing your Councillor a personal note to let them know you support protecting the Hardship Fund (Council contact info here). CC the Mayor. Sign up for Social Planning Toronto’s email list. Make some noise. We need everyone, disabled and able-bodied, to join the fight.

Let's make some headlines!