Two United Way-supported agencies share how the pandemic is impacting people with disabilities in the GTA
Two weeks. That’s all it took. The pandemic hit us all like a brick, suddenly stopping services and programs, and within two weeks, United Way-funded DEEN Support Services was offering services virtually and then shifting to “DEEN at Your Door.” Because they had to. Their clients—typically racialized refugees and newcomers with disabilities—continue to be among those most affected by poverty and the impacts of COVID-19. “We don’t recognize what happened to people with disabilities over the pandemic,” says Rabia Khedr, CEO of DEEN.
As a Human Rights Commissioner and Muslim who is herself blind, Rabia applies a culturally sensitive, human rights framework to her work, and vows to not turn anyone away. She knows what it’s like for newcomers who struggle to navigate the system, or to be caught in the gaps. She understands that many families rely on a sole income due to barriers they face to employment, or due to intense caregiving needs.
National AccessAbility Week begins next Sunday, but it shouldn’t be the only time we celebrate the valuable contributions of people with disabilities, or amplify what advocates are calling for, including increases in ODSP and federal benefits, greater accessibility in our work and public spaces, and more inclusive hiring practices.
Indeed, figures show that Canadians with disabilities are twice as likely to live in poverty compared to those without. Many are unable to work, while others face systemic barriers to employment. And many have additional expenses like medication or specialized equipment, which they can’t always afford.
“Rising inflation, unemployment, and a fragmented benefits system all contribute to the continued poverty this community experiences,” says Leonard Baker, President and CEO of United Way-funded March of Dimes Canada. “We hear the phrase ‘getting back to normal’ a lot. But for people with disabilities, normal often meant financial insecurity, isolation, loneliness and depression. Normal isn’t good enough.”
At United Way we understand that Leonard and Rabia and leaders like them know best what their clients need, right now. Our funding strategy recognizes the need for solutions to both individual and structural barriers. We support programs that equip individuals to live independently in the community; that offer opportunities for people with disabilities to participate in community; and that amplify the voices and self-advocacy work of people with disabilities who are pushing to create a new, better “normal.” We also work towards systems-level progress through our support for organizations like Ontario for All and advocacy for higher social assistance rates.
Meanwhile, we are committed to listening, learning, amplifying and partnering with our community members with disabilities to build a more equitable region. We know we have a ways to go, but with your support, we will continue to be there at the doors of people across Peel, Toronto and York Region.
Always, and only, thank you.
President & CEO
United Way Greater Toronto
Things to Know Right Now
2022 Community Campaign
We’re thrilled to announce that two remarkable leaders will be championing United Way’s 2022 Community Campaign. BMO Financial Group CEO Darryl White is taking on the role of 2022 Campaign Chair and Paul Bradley, Operating Partner at Northleaf Capital, will be our Major Individual Giving Cabinet Chair. Rallying together more than 1,100 workplaces, 2,200 volunteers and 100,000 donors, the chairs will help to raise much-needed funds for our community. It’s a big responsibility, and one we’re grateful to have stewarded by leaders with a track record of strengthening community—like BMO’s partnership with United Way in building Inclusive Local Economic Opportunity (ILEO) in Scarborough’s Greater Golden Mile. We’ll be announcing the rest of our 2022 Community Campaign Cabinets in June, so stay tuned.
Ontario for All
Local Love in Action
This Wednesday, May 25, is Toronto Newcomer Day, an annual event that welcomes newcomers to Toronto, helps them access a wide range of services and celebrates their contributions to the city. The City is inviting Torontonians to join a celebration at Nathan Phillips Square, where there will be activities for the whole family, good food and an information fair featuring several United Way-supported agencies. It’s a great opportunity to come together as a community and show support for our newest neighbours.
Update from the Frontlines
- The proportion of Ontario workers earning minimum wage has increased fivefold over the last 20 years, with one in three Ontario workers now earning $16.60/hour or less. In contrast, a living wage in Toronto is now $22/hour.
- 42 per cent of workers surveyed work more than one job to survive.
- In Peel Region, where approximately two-thirds of COVID-19 outbreaks have occurred in workplaces, 25 per cent of workers went to work with COVID-19 symptoms.
We know that these issues reflect gaps in public policy, how we structure our economy and workplaces, and the distinct barriers many in our region face to accessing decent work. That’s why, in addition to funding programs that help individuals access income support and employment, United Way also drives change to address the bigger picture behind precarity. We’ve called for paid emergency leave; continue to work with organized labour on important initiatives, including Community Benefits frameworks; developed the Better Business Outcomes report, a toolkit for businesses to improve workplace security; and are piloting new, scalable approaches to creating inclusive economic opportunity at the neighbourhood level through the ILEO Initiative. None of this would be possible without the ongoing support of people like you.
Join us at our 2022 Annual General Meeting
For the past two years, as the impact of the pandemic bore down on our communities, United Way has worked to meet the deepest needs in our region. We have also fixed our attention on the future, on dismantling the structural inequity that fuels poverty and creates deep opportunity gaps. Together with you—our partners and supporters—we are determined to build something better, an inclusive and prosperous GTA where everyone belongs. Join us at our virtual Annual General Meeting on June 23 to learn more about the progress we are making together and to continue to chart the journey ahead.
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- United Way-supported The Local is focusing on one big question in their spring issue: How does a city recover when COVID is no longer the single dominant force in our lives, but still very much present?
- Thunder Woman Healing Lodge Society, a United Way-supported organization that serves Indigenous women, is incorporating culture, community and identity into housing.
- Celebrate National AccessAbility Week on June 4 with the creators of We Move Together for a reading, discussion and an “access is…” activity.