I’m sitting in the Hamilton, ON, ODSP office. My grandson has an appointment. Soon, he and his caseworker will walk in and join me. Meanwhile, I take in my surroundings. Cold and unwelcoming, the waiting area easily seats twenty, but only a handful of people surround me. Some sit patiently, others pace. Sitting by the entrance affords me a view of their comings and goings.
A man, I guess to be in his forties, approaches the entrance; his appearance unkempt, his shoes mismatched. Unsure of protocol, he nervously peers around.
A receptionist’s voice strikes the air. “Next!” A number lights up behind her.
Still in the entrance, the man raises his hand.
“Do you have a number?” she calls.
Unsure, he steps back.
“Do you have a number?” she repeats. Her tone is shrill.
He smiles uneasily.
A young woman in the chair next to mine interjects. “The numbers are outside the entrance,” she explains to the man. She points. “There, just behind you. Take one then take a seat and wait your turn.”
He nods in gratitude, takes a number, but remains standing.
“Next!” we hear again.
He strides forward, number in hand. Several people with lesser numbers protest.
“What number do you have?” the receptionist asks.
He looks at the ticket, but shakes his head. He’s unsure.
“Bring it here.” She looks at the number. “You are not next,” she snaps. “You are number 32.” She points to the number sign. “This number is 25. Sit down and wait your turn.”
Gingerly, he sits beside the young woman and waits. I hear her whisper. She tells him she will let him know when they call his number. My grandson and his support worker arrive. He hugs me, which is always nice, but a problem has arisen at reception #2. A young man has received a form to complete.
“Read it, and then sign here, here, and here,” the woman is saying, pointing a finger to each area.
“Where?” the young man asks.
“Here, here, and here!” she repeats.
Body language kicks in. I recognize the signs. The young man doesn’t read well. He most likely can’t sign his name. His eyes glaze over as he tries to think of ways to avoid explaining. Both hands press down hard into his jeans’ pockets. He bites his bottom lip.
“Take the form. Read it, and sign,” she repeats.
A kind voice interjects. “Would you like some help,” it asks. “I have some free time.”
The young man looks up to see a twenty-something blonde who has just emerged from her office. He nods appreciatively. As she leads him to a corner of the room away from glaring eyes, two men stride into the office. Their voices are loud, their demeanor arrogant. They approach receptionist #1. She appears nervous and demands they leave.
“Not without our cheques!” one bellows.
“What do you mean—your cheques?” she asks.
“We are waiting for our fucking money!” says the other.
“You can’t come in here demanding money. You will have to leave!”
“Not until we get our money!”
“If you want to discuss your situation, you must phone the office to arrange an appointment.”
One of the guys strikes a fist hard into his palm. “What’s the fucking phone number?”
She hands him a business card. The other swears at her. They both leave. She calls security. Seconds later, a guard approaches reception. “They left in the elevator,” she explains. “But they might still be in the building.” The guard speaks into his phone.
Thirty minutes later, we are still waiting. The man’s number is finally called, but the young woman who was seated beside him has left. He anxiously raises his hand as if unsure it is his turn. Receptionist #2 checks his number.
“So, what can we do for you today?” she asks.
“I have an appointment.”
Surprise lights up her face. “You have an appointment? Why did you take a number? Didn’t you see the sign?”
He looks around him. She points to a sign taped to a wall beside her, which reads: IF YOU HAVE AN APPOINTMENT, DO NOT TAKE A NUMBER. COME TO RECEPTION AND CHECK IN.
“Well, you are too late, now,” she spits. “Your appointment was half an hour ago. You will have to call to reschedule.” The sign blinks–number 33. “Who is next?” she calls.
Overlooked, the man turns and leaves the office.
It was then I understood why so many people with disabilities are homeless. Many do not know how to read nor write. They don’t understand office protocol, nor the appropriate forms to complete, nor the requirements expected of them, so they believe funding is unavailable. Not all have support workers to help them, so they go without—no income, no home, no food, no clothing, and no dignity.
KATHLEEN WYNNE, it is time to transform Ontario’s ODSP offices
into places of respect, understanding, and support.
If YOU agree, please share this post.
“The moral test of government is how it treats those who are in the dawn of life . . . the children; those who are in the twilight of life . . . the elderly; and those who are in the shadow of life . . . the sick . . . the needy . . . and the disabled.”
— Hubert Humphrey
To discover how I learned to recognize the body language of people who have mental health disorders, join me at the following link and click on my two FASD memoirs and my children’s FASD picture book.