>I hope this post will serve two purposes: let me vent like mad and help some other poor soul to avoid this shit so they don’t have to vent like mad. So off we go.
A little while back, I started updating my resume and looking for work. I have a student debt hanging over my head, and one day, the government is going to say, “God damn it, no more interest relief for you. Pay up!” So, I want to be able to pay up. But the one thing that worries me is, I’m going to run out of authorizations for my screen-reader if I have to put it wherever I volunteer, plus my job, and what if one of those computers dies and eats an authorization? I’ll be screwed. But I know it’s unlikely that the place where I work will fork out the money for a screen-reader, it’s $1200 for christ’s sake.
So, in the search for ways to get a little help with paying for the screen-reader for work, someone suggested that I contact the Ontario Disability Support Program’s Employment Support division. At first, I dug in my heels and said absolutely not! I already have to deal with Ontario Disability Support Program, and although I’m grateful for the money I get, I don’t appreciate the disrespect and utter lack of flexibility I get from their staff. As if I want to put my future in their hands too. But then I heard good things. I heard they would help with paying for cab fare to volunteer jobs, the ODSP people didn’t actually do the employment support work, they just supplied the money, and they said it was very client-centred.
Finally I worked up the courage to try it. I filled out the giant application, which was surprisingly written in a way that treated me with dignity. I thought this was a sign of hope. I sent it back to them. They said I was eligible and sent me back an agreement to sign. It said something about these providers would help with job-search strategies, and would be available if you needed them after you got a job for up to 33 months. I thought, weird, but maybe that would come in handy if I needed different equipment for some reason, or maybe if I ran into a problem that was bigger than I could handle alone, like some form of discrimination, they would help guide me to the right resources. I never gave it more thought than that. So I signed it.
Next, I had to contact service providers, the middle-men who did all the work and got the money from ODSP, and choose the one I wanted. So I called the providers, and here’s where the fun starts.
Provider no. 1 seemed very nice. She even knew a couple of professors I’d had and asked if they were still there. She also seemed very flexible, said she would show me how to get from the bus stop to her building, but said for the first session, she’d come and get me and take me there. She even gave me some tips on what to ask the other providers. She then warned me that there was a four to six-week waiting period for her program. I thought she seemed pretty nice, and had her at the top of my list.
Provider no. 2 still gives me the shivers. He was very abrasive, and said something to the effect of, “I will make sure you succeed, and if you fail, it’s because you want to fail.” Ok, wait just a goddamn minute here. I succeed, and the guy gets all the credit, and I fail, and I get all the blame? How fair is that? He started talking about his methods, and it didn’t take long for him to contradict himself. He said he was willing to pound the pavement for me, and in the next second, he was saying he’d give me the control. I had to ask him about that, and he couldn’t explain it. Then he talked about how he goes into interviews with people. I stopped him right there and said, “Isn’t that self-defeating? Doesn’t that mean they’ll think I can’t function independently and talk to you instead?” He couldn’t explain that one either. Then he talked about how he likes to phone employers on my behalf and see if there’s a job, and if they say no, he’s pretty aggressive about wanting to know why. Ok great. So now he’s badgering people into giving me a chance. That’s a fine way to start off a career. I feel like he’s going to pull the trick from that skit on one of the new Frantics CD’s I just got. He’s going to walk up to them, make eye-contact with them and then go. “You wanna take this client? You should give this blink a job. Give her a job! Why not? You should give her a job! Wanna give her a job? You should give her a job! Come on! Give her a job!” until they cave in, and to get him out of their hair, they hire me. Next in his string of strange things to do, he was talking about helping another client, and without much prying at all, all I said was, “I think I know her,” he whipped out her name. Um, hello? Confidentiality? Does it exist in his world? The final straw was when he chose a place for us to meet before I choose a service provider. Get this. He chose a coffee shop that is in a plaza on a street with no bus stops on it. This plaza is also across two parking lots which are tricky to navigate since they’re wide open and easy to get lost in. They can be done, but you need to be able to practice them a bit. Since I’ve never been there before, and will never be there again likely, this is not going to happen. On top of that, this plaza is not easy to get in and out of. And he says he’s worked with the CNIB and knows all about blind people and stuff. So, you can see he went to the bottom of the list.
Provider no. 3 seemed very nice. They talked about how their aim was to get people into an organization doing clerical work as a starting position with hope to move up. She said she was down to Guelph regularly. Then when I chose a place to meet, which was on a main street, she said she was not familiar with that street. Um, and you’re down to Guelph when? She’s somewhere in the middle.
Provider no. 4 just got back to me and I couldn’t get a read on her since I sort of answered her as a beep and we booked a meeting quickly and that was that, and provider no. 5 is still on vacation. But you can see the amount of fun just trying to book meetings with them all. And that, unfortunately, is just the beginning.
I had my first meeting yesterday, with provider no. 1, and it’s been a long time since I’ve left a place so steaming, seething mad. She called it a pre-screening interview. So I thought it was along the lines of, “What aspects of what we do do you want to use? Please check all that apply…do you have a resume? …” That was in there, but there was much, much more. First off, she asked for lots of personal information, like my SIN number. Um, why would she need that? All she would come back with is, “Well your employer is going to need this.” I grinned and said, “So are you offering me a job?” She got all shepish. I told her, if I chose her as a service provider, then I’d be happy to give it to her, but not now.
Next, she started asking me what medications I took, when did I take them, and what side-effects did they have? I’m like woe woe woe! Did I make a wrong turn? Why in christ do you need to know this stuff? She’s like a lot of our clients need to be reminded that they have to take their pills because they’re out of routine. Ah, so this person works with a lot of people who are slow. Oh boy. Then she asked if anyone managed my money. Now I’m sure all the people she works with are slow. At one point, she wondered if I had a support person come in so I could have her business card read to me. Ok, I already told her I went to university, and I live independently. Why would I have a support worker?
Then the fun went up another level. I could sense that she was taking down what I said, but she didn’t believe me. I told her I felt like I was being judged, assessed in some strange way. Surprisingly to me, she said, “Yes, you are! Every time you meet with me, I’m assessing you.” Although I appreciate her honesty, this creeps me out. Every time? I can understand the first time, but every time? Isn’t this going to become a working relationship where we grow to understand what each other can do and leave it at that?
She then told me that people come in claiming that they have one problem, say, difficulty walking, and then she finds out they actually have schizophrenia and other problems. This really tells me I’ve made a wrong turn. All I wanted was a little help. I didn’t need to be babysat, or investigated in terms of my employability. I already know I’m employable. The difficulty is convincing the employer that I won’t cost them an arm and a leg, and yes, I can do the job.
She started asking me if I was receiving services from any other community agency. She even asked if I was involved with the CNIB. And so what if I am. What has that got to do with having a job.
And here’s the kicker. She told me that after I get a job, for 33 months, they check in with the employer and see how I’m doing. Ah, so that’s how the 33 months come in. This was a complete shock to me, and just about sent me through the roof. Anyone else hear ringing screaming alarm bells? She talks to the employer. Not me. What do I bitch a lot about? People not speaking to me, but to the person I’m with. This just reinforces that need! It doesn’t educate the employer that I can think for myself. It tells them I need some kind of mother hen there to make sure I stay on the straight and narrow. She says this is because maybe the employer doesn’t want to offend me by telling me I’m doing something wrong or that I’m not doing well. Shouldn’t they know that they can talk to me after they’ve worked with me a while? Even if I am easy to offend, what happens to this poor frightened soul after the 33 months is up? They’re going to have to face down the dragon anyway.
I asked her if there was any way around that. She said not really, unless we said you didn’t want to be identified with any agency. But that would be hard to explain since we’d probably have to drive you to work.” I stopped that one right away. I told her I would be perfectly capable of finding the means to get to work. Then she whipped out this gem. “Well, we don’t want you to get hurt trying to do it if you can’t.” At this point, I was about ready to launch myself across the desk at her. How in the bloody world does she think I made it this far? She already knows my family live nowhere near here, so mommy didn’t hold my hand everywhere I went.
I felt sorry for the poor lady. Almost every question she had for me was met with resistance. I think she figured out at this point that this program wasn’t going to work for me. So, to save me further aggrovation, she quietly told me that all of the providers are probably going to ask for similarthings since they’re all run through the ministry who does the ODSP thing. If that’s the case, why isn’t ODSP a little more up-front about the invasiveness of the program? I mean, if most of the people are geniuses in France, sadly they aren’t going to care. That’s probably the norm for them since they do need other people knowing their details and they do have other people speaking for them.
At the end, after I’ve pretty much decided I’m not coming back, she said, “I’ll drive you home.” I asked her to just take me to the bus stop and I’ll find my own way. But oh no. She was having none of this. I caught myself wondering, “What happened to her showing me the bus stop?” I couldn’t convince her to take me to the bus stop. She got one of her colleagues to drive me home. The funniest part of that was she would not leave me until her colleague showed up. What, after all that we’ve talked about, is she afraid I’ll wander off with strangers? It’s like I’m guilty until proven innocent, and even when I’m proven innocent, I have to keep appealing my case. I have to convince her I have a brain. I didn’t expect that from a place that’s supposed to know what kind of barriers we face already. I guess I expected a little dignity. Is that too much?
I shouldn’t be so hard on the lady herself. She was just half following what she had to do and half slipping into old habits with other people. If I met her on the street, I think she would treat me with respect. She did tell me she hasn’t dealt with very many university students, and she can’t usually use the words she was using with me. She also was honest enough to give me the heads-up that the 33-month job-retention stuff was all done between the provider and the employer and she gave me tips on what to ask other providers. So I think she has a good heart. It’s just that her hands are tied by the system.
So, I’ll meet with the other ones, but I’m probably going to make a speedy exit from this mess. I’ll find my own job. I don’t need this crap. And to anyone else reading this who was thinking about going through ODSP’s employment support program, if you can get up in the morning and take care of yourself, don’t even bother. You have too many brains to need their crap.