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People living with disabilities say very little thought is given to making public and private spaces accessible. On Thursday, Global News reported on a man who was denied a permit to install a mechanical lift at his home for a wheelchair. As Phil Carpenter explains, advocates say the provincial law needs to be stronger.

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Canadians with long COVID: Sick and, increasingly, worried they’ll go broke – National |

Adriana Patino, 36, has been battling COVID-19 since December 2020.

First, the virus made her very sick, prompting several trips to the ER when her blood-oxygen levels had dropped dangerously low. Then the long-term symptoms set in: palpitations, difficulty breathing, overwhelming fatigue, and concussion-like cognitive issues.

“I have memory issues, it takes me a while to retain information or follow up conversation or I misspell words constantly,” says the North Vancouver-based consultant.

Patino, once a competitive swimmer who represented Canada at the FINA World Aquatics Championship, says she’s been housebound for more than six months. Minor physical or mental exertions lead to debilitating exhaustion or violent headaches. Carrying out her job, she says, is impossible.

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But while Patino says her employer has been very supportive, getting her long-term disability (LTD) insurance claim approved is taking longer than expected. Patino, who has exhausted her short-term Employment Insurance (EI) sickness benefits, says she was hoping her LTD coverage would kick in around a month after she filed the claim in early April. Instead, the insurance company keeps coming back with new requests for medical records, she says.

In the meantime, Patino says her financial situation is rapidly deteriorating. After raiding her personal savings, she had to borrow from her mother. Her friends raised funds through a GoFundMe account.

But if her workplace benefits don’t come in soon, she says she’ll have to start selling some of her possessions to make ends meet.

“We don’t have anything else to rely on,” she says.

Click to play video: 'Millions continue relying on COVID-19 benefits'

Millions continue relying on COVID-19 benefits

Millions continue relying on COVID-19 benefits – Mar 15, 2021

More than half of COVID-19 patients might be suffering from long-term symptoms more than 12 weeks after testing positive, according to a new review by the Public Health Agency of Canada. To date, 1.39 million Canadians have contracted the virus and survived, according to official statistics.

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But many of the country’s COVID long-haulers say they’re falling through the cracks of both private workplace insurance benefits and government income supports.

Workplace disability benefits often denied

Only 12 million Canadians have disability insurance, according to the Canadian Life and Health Insurance Association. But even those who, like Patino, have coverage, aren’t necessarily able to access the benefits when they suffer from long-term COVID symptoms, also known as long COVID.

The lingering effects of the virus manifest as a bewildering array of symptoms. The common ones include fatigue, difficulty breathing, cognitive problems often described as “brain fog,” cough, muscle pain or headache, sleep problems, cardiac issues and trouble sleeping.

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The pandemic is leaving millions of COVID-19 survivors chronically ill, creating what science magazine Scientific American recently called a “tsunami of disability.”
But long COVID has all the hallmarks of an illness for which it’s difficult to claim workplace disability benefits. What’s causing those often debilitating symptoms doesn’t always show up in diagnostic testing. Patino, for example, says she has undergone a barrage of tests, most of which came back normal. Only a few tests revealed issues with her lungs, blood and heart, she says.

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Click to play video: 'COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ describe shakes, trouble breathing weeks after testing positive'

COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ describe shakes, trouble breathing weeks after testing positive

COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ describe shakes, trouble breathing weeks after testing positive – Feb 19, 2021

Also, researchers still have a limited understanding of COVID’s long-term effects and family doctors often don’t recognize the condition. A recent study in the British Journal of General Practice, for example, suggested that general practitioners in England may be grossly under-diagnosing long COVID. Researches found less than 24,000 records of formal diagnoses of long COVID, a number that is nearly 100 times smaller than the two million adults thought to have had long COVID in England.

“It’s an invisible illness, it’s much like … chronic fatigue syndrome, (that is) myalgic encephalomyelitis,” says Susie Goulding, a floral designer based in Oakville, Ont. She’s a COVID long-hauler who founded COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, which has almost 14,000 members.

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These Canadians say they suffered COVID-19 symptoms for months

Many COVID long-haulers in the group have been denied long-term disability benefits, she says.

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“People are being turned away because they just can’t prove it in black and white on paper that they are as ill as they are saying that they are,” she says.

Because there is still little research around long COVID, it’s easy for insurance companies to dismiss disability claims due to “insufficient medical evidence,” says Nainesh Kotak, a Mississauga, Ont.-based disability and personal injury lawyer, who has recently been retained for a long COVID case.

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“It’s no different than dealing with a chronic fatigue case or even a chronic pain case. What is more difficult, though, is certainly the newness of the impairments,” he says.

It’s important for long COVID sufferers to build medical evidence by relying on their family physician to record their symptoms and provide referrals to specialists as needed, Kotak says.

“The important thing, of course, is to have your physicians as an ally,” he notes.

But that’s often a challenge for long-haulers in Canada, where not everyone has access to a family physician. The head of the Canadian Medical Association recently called on the federal government to boost access to family doctors for long-haulers.

Click to play video: 'The struggles of COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’'

The struggles of COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’

The struggles of COVID-19 ‘long-haulers’ – Oct 20, 2020

In the absence of that, long-haulers should consistently use the same walk-in clinic for appointments, which makes it easier to gather evidence, Kotak says.

But besides providing a full picture of long COVID patient’s symptoms, it’s key that doctors identify how the condition limits the patients’ ability to function in their jobs, he adds.

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Still, it doesn’t help that, unlike the U.K., Canada has yet to establish a clinical definition of long COVID.

And some long-haulers face yet another mystifying obstacle: they can’t prove they ever had COVID-19.

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Many long-haulers who caught the virus in the first wave, when Canada was rationing a limited number of available tests, don’t have a positive COVID-19 test result to show for it, Goulding says. For example, many COVID-19 symptomatic patients weren’t given tests if a family member had already tested positive, she adds.

“They were assumed to have a positive case as well, but then they didn’t get a positive … test, so then they’re left trying to prove themselves,” she says.

In a recent survey of more than 1,000 COVID long-haulers in Canada by Goulding’s COVID Long-Haulers Support Group Canada, Viral Neuro Exploration and Neurological Health Charities Canada, less than 60 per cent of participants said they had received a positive test.

COVID government-benefits safety net not enough for long-haulers

For those who don’t have or can’t access long-term disability benefits, there’s little in the way of a social safety net.

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Chantal Renaud says she began suffering from crippling symptoms, including severe difficulty breathing, tachycardia and profound fatigue in April 2020. When her LTD insurance claim was rejected, she says she accessed EI sickness benefits. But after exhausting the 15-week maximum eligibility period for the program, she says she found herself without any income.

In the end, Renauld says she was forced to sell her house to survive financially.

“I have financially contributed to this country for more than 32 years and I should never have lost my house because I fell ill,” Renaud recently told the House of Commons’ Human Resources committee. “No Canadian should ever have to experience that.”

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Renaud had been called to testify about Bill C-265, a private member’s bill sponsored by Bloc Quebecois MP Claude DeBellefeuille proposing to extend the maximum period for receiving benefits to 50 weeks.

Federal budget legislation recently extended the maximum number of weeks for receiving EI sickness from 15 to 26, but the changes are expected to take effect only in the summer of 2022.

The office of Human Resources Minister Carla Qualtrough did not respond to a question about whether the federal government is considering a further extension of the maximum benefits period.

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“The Government of Canada recognizes that this continues to be a difficult time for many workers in Canada. We will continue to monitor how the labour market rebounds and the needs of Canadians as we move forward on the path to recovery,” Employment and Social Development Canada said via email.

Patino, for her part, says she’s hoping her story helps people and policymakers appreciate the impact of long COVID.

“I want people to take this seriously and I want the government to take us seriously.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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ArriveCAN app for cross-border travel includes hurdle for blind Canadians: advocate – National |

The federal government’s new ArriveCAN travel app is inaccessible to some Canadians with disabilities, raising questions of fair treatment and practical border-crossing concerns.

Robert Fenton, a board member of the CNIB — formerly known as the Canadian National Institute for the Blind — says he found a major bug when using the Apple VoiceOver screen reader on his iPhone as he tried to access the app, which is playing a pivotal role for those wishing to enter Canada by land, sea or air.

The obstacle arises when would-be users try to add the verification code sent to their email address after starting to set up their account.

“There’s no way to add the number without sighted help,” Fenton said in an interview.

“As people who are blind, we run into this problem frequently with all levels of government when trying to access public services.”

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Travellers to Canada must use the ArriveCAN app or online portal to submit their vaccine information and the results of a negative COVID-19 test taken no more than three days before departure.

Trouble accessing an app essential to international travel in the pandemic era could pose a real barrier to entry for Canadians with disabilities.

The federal law enforcement agency responsible for border control acknowledged the problem.

“The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) is aware that there is a gap between the addition of new features to the ArriveCAN app and when it is fully accessible, and we apologize for any inconvenience this may be causing for users. We are working hard to resolve this issue as quickly as possible,” agency spokeswoman Jacqueline Callin said in an email.

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Minister Bill Blair outlines updated requirements for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers at the border

Minister Bill Blair outlines updated requirements for fully vaccinated Canadian travellers at the border – Jun 21, 2021

Unlike the app, the web-based version of ArriveCAN does meet federal accessibility requirements and can be used via desktop, smartphone and other devices, the agency said. It is encouraging travellers who rely on text-to-voice technology to use the online portal until the app store versions are updated.

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The Accessible Canada Act, passed in 2019, aims to remove barriers in areas under federal jurisdiction, such as transportation and telecommunications as well as federally run programs.

“It’s time now for the federal government at least to live up to its obligations in that legislation, and that includes making their websites and apps and other services they offer to Canadians fully accessible,” Fenton said.

The Canadian Press has confirmed the glitch in the app.

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Fenton says it follows another problem that prevented blind and partially sighted Canadians from moving beyond the privacy screen that pops up when the app is opened, and which he said the Canada Border Services Agency recently fixed.

“We couldn’t get past the first screen,” he said, “so none of us would know about the second problem.”

The latest problem is particularly urgent as athletes gear up to travel to Tokyo for the Paralympic Games this summer.

Fenton is asking the Canada Border Services Agency to make the app accessible by July 23.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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Human rights complaint alleges Manitoba First Nation adults with disabilities left behind

Three human rights complaints have been filed against the federal government alleging systemic discrimination and a failure to provide proper services to First Nations adults with disabilities in Manitoba.

The complaints were brought by the Public Interest Law Centre this week on behalf of two First Nations people and a coalition of Indigenous adults with disabilities.

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“The needs of children do not disappear when they turn 18 years old,” Joni Wilson, who complained on behalf of her son, said in a news release. “Adults with disabilities like my son Aidan also deserve and have the right to services and supports just like other Canadians enjoy,” she said.

Click to play video: 'First Nations leaders call out Ottawa’s ‘nonsense’ litigation on Jordan’s Principle expansion'

First Nations leaders call out Ottawa’s ‘nonsense’ litigation on Jordan’s Principle expansion

First Nations leaders call out Ottawa’s ‘nonsense’ litigation on Jordan’s Principle expansion – Jan 7, 2021

Aidan Wilson, a 19-year-old Anishinaabe man from Peguis First Nation, has lived in Winnipeg most of his life because of challenges getting help with his disabilities.

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He was born with six different heart conditions and had several surgeries before his first birthday. He also had cancer as a baby and suffered a stroke, which paralyzed his right arm, leg and side of his face.

The complaint says disability-related services weren’t available on his First Nation for most of his life and the family had to move to the city. Living in Winnipeg has meant that he has been separated from his community and culture, the complaint says.

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“Canada’s continued failure to provide necessary supports for First Nations adults with disabilities is unconscionable, particularly at a time when reconciliation is stated to be a top priority for Canada,” Joelle Pastora Sala, a lawyer with the Public Interest Law Centre, said in a news release.

The Canadian Human Rights Tribunal found in 2017 that Jordan’s Principle, which ensures First Nations children get services they need when they need them no matter the jurisdiction, must be fully implemented.

It is named for Jordan River Anderson, a boy from Norway House Cree Nation in Manitoba.

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The importance of Alberta’s commitment to Jordan’s Principle

The importance of Alberta’s commitment to Jordan’s Principle – Nov 17, 2018

He spent five years in hospital while the Manitoba and federal governments argued over which level of government had to pay for his care in a special home.

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The recent complaints say that while the principle has brought important change, there is one big issue: it ends once people reach adulthood. The complaints say the needs of First Nations people with disabilities don’t disappear once they turn 18.

They say adults are often forced away from families, language and tradition because disability-related services aren’t available in their communities.

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Indigenous Services Canada has not yet provided any comment.

Another complaint filed this week alleges family members of a First Nation woman with disabilities are struggling to get respite and financial support as they manage her care full time.

Carly Sinclair, 30, is an Anicinabe woman from Sagkeeng First Nation. She was four years old when she contracted a rare neurological disorder from a mosquito bite.

Click to play video: 'Indigenous Services minister says review of CHRT decision on Jordan’s Principle ‘was not taken lightly’'

Indigenous Services minister says review of CHRT decision on Jordan’s Principle ‘was not taken lightly’

Indigenous Services minister says review of CHRT decision on Jordan’s Principle ‘was not taken lightly’ – Jan 20, 2021

She developed a severe form of childhood epilepsy and intellectual impairment. She has to use a wheelchair and requires daily care.

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The complaint brought by her mother says Sinclair was unable to finish school as she had no supports and still doesn’t receive regular doctor visits.

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The complaints say First Nations adults are denied social inclusion and the ability to meaningfully participate in daily life.

“These families show tremendous courage and determination in working to get the kinds of necessary supports for their loved ones that other Canadians enjoy,” Sala said.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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How accessible is Lethbridge for people with disabilities?

May 30 to June 5 marks National AccessAbility Week, which acknowledges and celebrates contributions made by Canadians with disabilities, the removal of barriers to accessibly and inclusion, and the work to oppose discrimination against those with a disability.

Diane Kotkas, director of DaCapo Disability Services with Lethbridge Family Services, said it’s important to see people for who they are and what abilities they have, and not just for their disability.

“Every one of us has challenges in some form or another,” she said.

“Individuals with disabilities are members of our community and should be treated with the same rights and opportunities as any other citizen.”

Kotkas added it’s important to acknowledge the barriers some face, and the ease at which many people are able to navigate the community.

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“As ambulatory individuals, we more often than not take accessibility for granted,” she said. “But for many folks with a disability, accessibility is a daily challenge.”

According to Chris Witkowski, the parks planning manager with the City of Lethbridge, there have been recent improvements in the mobility accessibility around the city.

“(The) last couple years we’ve really put a high-priority on making the city more accessible,” Witkowski said.  “Probably the biggest accomplishment was completing our mobility accessibility master plan, which was completed in summer of 2020.”

Also a member of the Mobility Accessibility working group, Witkowski said the city is always welcoming input from residents and organizations about what improvements can be made.

“I know facilities is always making improvements to the public buildings,” he said. “If you’re walking on intersections, you’ll see new sidewalk ramps, trying to improve accessibility for wheelchair use, strollers, walkers, those with visual impairments.

“For playgrounds, we’ve started to add some playground surfacing, some hard-rubber surfacing to increase wheelchair access in there. Putting a lot more inclusive play pieces into our playgrounds.”

Click to play video: 'Canada’s Week of AccessAbility'

Canada’s Week of AccessAbility

Canada’s Week of AccessAbility

For Bill Brown, who is blind and runs the Lethbridge Association for the Blind, many additions to the city have been positive.

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“City’s done a lot of work in putting ramps at all the corners, and that’s very beneficial to people in wheelchairs, but it certainly helps people who are visually impaired as well.”

However, he does believe some improvements could be made within the city’s transit operations, and hopes the general public is able to become more educated on disabilities.

“It’s amazing how people have difficulty in dealing with someone with a disability, and I think that’s not only blindness but practically every disability,” he admitted.
“People sometimes, when they meet someone who’s blind, they think they have to talk loud, because they’re thinking of deafness.”

According to Witkowski, the recently-approved Capitol Improvement Program includes funding for improvements to accessibility at city facilities and funding for a benchmark study.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Changes at Parlee Beach means improved access for people with disabilities

New Brunswick’s largest beach will once again be open to the public starting Friday and visitors to Parlee Beach Provincial Park will notice some changes that include improved access for those with disabilities.

“We have been lobbying for years now to make the entire province accessible,” said Mathieu Stever, the manager of the ParaNB program with Ability New Brunswick

The provincial park is getting a $2-million facelift in advance of its second season in operation amid the pandemic. According to the province, funding for the upgrades is being applied from the capital improvement budgets from 2020 to 2022.

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The work includes upgrades to roads, entrances, the canteen, restaurant bar and patio area as well as improved access to the beach, according to the park’s manager, Michel Mallet, who said they partnered with Ability NB on the project starting in 2019.

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“We call it a comfort station, which is basically an accessible washroom and accessible charging room and shower outside,” said Mallet.

Improved sidewalks and beach-friendly wheelchairs will also be available for visitors, said Mallet.

He said an accessible playground is also being installed in the coming weeks. The hope is to have the upgrades ready by the end of the school year, he said.

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Program helping Moncton youth with disabilities find work

Program helping Moncton youth with disabilities find work – Mar 18, 2021

“I think it is great having Parlee Beach set the example of how you can renovate the beach and make it accessible for everyone because our motto is that everyone plays,” said Stever.

Stever said he hopes the initiative will encourage other provincial parks in the province to do similar upgrades.

“It is everyone’s right to be able to access all recreation activities in the province”, he said.

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Parlee Beach opens on Friday with COVID-19 protocols similar to last year, said Mallet.

All washrooms and changing rooms, even the accessible ones, will remain closed for now, he said.

Access to the provincial beach for vacationers from outside of the province will also depend on the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Burlington’s RBG receives $1.7 million in federal, provincial funding to improve access

Royal Botanical Gardens (RBG) in Burlington, Ont., is the recipient of the latest local funding announcement by the federal and provincial governments.

RBG is receiving almost $1.7 million towards improvements and repairs to its properties.

CEO Nancy Rowland says the work will include reconstruction of a boathouse, a viewing platform and a boardwalk as well as repairs to nature trails and garden paths, all part of the RBG’s 25-year master plan.

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RBG will also be updating wayfinding signage and installing audio units at major entrances to adhere to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

“As Ontarians turn to nature for both physical and mental health wellbeing during these challenging times,” Rowland said, “this initiative will provide Royal Botanical Gardens with the tools to significantly improve access” to its properties.

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“We are very much committed at RBG to providing a safe destination for people from all walks of life,” she added, “and this investment will help even more people experience RBG.”

The Government of Canada is investing more than $908,000 in the project through the Community, Culture and Recreation Infrastructure Stream of the Investing in Canada plan.

The Government of Ontario is providing more than $756,000, and the Royal Botanical Gardens is contributing more than $605,000.

The installation of an entry gate for the Hendrie Valley Trails and an expansion of the Rock Trail parking lot are also included in the project.

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Burlington MP Karina Gould said the result will be “a more enjoyable visitor experience.”

MPP Jane McKenna, the city’s provincial representative, said she’s “delighted that visitors to the Royal Botanical Gardens will benefit from our joint investments.”

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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COVID-19: Toronto woman charged after gatherings reportedly held at Innisfil Airbnb

A Toronto woman has been charged in connection with an Airbnb rental in Innisfil, Ont., after gatherings were reported to be taking place at the address amid the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under Ontario’s current emergency orders, short-term rentals are only allowed for people who are in need of housing.

All gatherings are also currently prohibited in order to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

South Simcoe Police said they received complaints from the community about gatherings at an address in the 25th Sideroad and 9th Line area.

On Wednesday, the Toronto woman and Airbnb renter was served a provincial offences notice under the Reopening Ontario Act.

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© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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