December 18, 1997
ASSISTANCE TO DISABLED STUDENTS
Mr Howard Hampton (Rainy River): I have a question to the Minister of Education and Training: Im going to ask you today to protect some of the students in Ontario who are in the most disadvantaged positions. We have found that post-secondary students who are deaf or hard of hearing are no longer going to be covered by the Ministry of Community and Social Services under vocational rehabilitation services. As a result of Bill 142, theyre now coming over to the Ministry of Education.
Many of these students have to attend specialized private schools in the United States to get the program they need. The Ministry of Community and Social Services used to provide them with some grant funding to help them out, but now that theyre coming under the Ministry of Education they will qualify only for loan funding. It means that these deaf and hearing-disabled students will have to run up bills of $28,000 as a result of this change in policy. Will you help those students out?
Hon David Johnson (Minister of Education and Training): I will endeavour to investigate this matter. I must confess that Im not totally aware of all the details, but I will investigate the matter and see what can be done in this particular instance.
Mr Hampton: Let me help the minister along. This is a quote from the Common Sense Revolution. It says, "Aid to seniors and the disabled will not be cut."
I have a letter from a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who writes: "This major cutback hurts me. It has not given me enough time to plan my future, applying for a student loan or applying to other universities in Canada. This has put my education in danger. My future is on hold because of the government cutback. I was told that the decision may happen some time in the spring, but that does not prepare me to continue my education at the Rochester Institute of Technology."
The question is very simple: Are you going to totally wipe out the grants that these deaf and hearing-disabled students used to receive? Under Bill 142 they dont receive it and under the Ministry of Education they arent going to receive it. What are you going to do?
Hon David Johnson: Im going to refer it to the Minister of Community and Social Services.
Hon Janet Ecker (Minister of Community and Social Services): I apologize to the leader of the third party that I didnt hear the first part of his question. As he probably will be aware, we are replacing the current system because of the flaws and difficulties it has in terms of supporting people with disabilities, not only in income or employment support but also in the education supports they might well need. That is being replaced with the new Ontario disability support plan. We are well aware of the fact that timing, for many individuals, is very crucial, and we want to ensure that people have the opportunities they need to get the higher education they would like to receive so they can be financially independent.
Mr Hampton: No matter how the government tries to confuse the issue, the nub of it is this: These students used to receive counselling, education grants and other assistance from the vocational rehabilitation service branch of the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Bill 142 essentially wipes out the vocational rehabilitation service and wipes out the services these students used to receive and also wipes out the grants they used to receive. They are now being told they should apply to the Ministry of Education and Training. But OSAP simply says, "We do not provide grants; we provide loans."
Youve essentially taken $28,000 away from these students in terms of completing their education, and youre going to put them $28,000 in debt. This is clearly set out in Bill 142. Im asking the government, what are you going to do? You said you were not going to cut disabled people, you were not going to cut people who have a tougher time, but clearly you have.
Hon Mrs Ecker: No, we are not asking them to go into debt. I really wish the honourable member had paid attention when we were outlining some of the objectives of our policy. One of the problems with the Vocational Rehabilitation Services Act and the services and programs that existed was that in order to get any services, a person with a disability had to have mandatory counselling, whether they needed it or wanted it. Thats not fair to them. That was one of the things they asked us to change. Of course the old program will no longer exist, because its going to be replaced by a new program that has been designed over the last year in careful consultation with people with disabilities so that they can get the support they need.