Premier Ford Pledged to Protect the Most Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Crisis — Watch Online and Widely Circulate the May 8, 2020 Interview on TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Showing How Premier Ford is Repeatedly Failing to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Premier Ford Pledged to Protect the Most Vulnerable During the COVID-19 Crisis — Watch Online and Widely Circulate the May 8, 2020 Interview on TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Showing How Premier Ford is Repeatedly Failing to Protect Vulnerable Ontarians with Disabilities

May 11, 2020

          SUMMARY

You can now watch the 20-minute interview on the May 8, 2020 episode of TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” any time on YouTube. In just over a day after it aired, it had already gotten over 1,000 views and lots of positive feedback.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford pledged that his Government would protect the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. During this interview, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the executive director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT) Wendy Porch explain in vivid detail how the Ford Government has repeatedly failed to protect the most vulnerable, namely the 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities.

This video is now an important tool in our advocacy efforts for people with disabilities. You can quickly and easily use this interview to help us try to improve this situation. The public link to the interview is https://youtu.be/KmMlTrNbud8

Please take one or more of these steps today and get others to do so too!

* Share this link with your family and friends. Urge them to watch the interview and to share it with others they know.

* Post this interview link on your social media, like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Encourage your social media friends and followers to watch the interview and to share the link with their social media friends and followers. If you have done this already, do it again! Each social media reminder and blitz helps!

* If you are connected with a disability organization or group, or any religious or other community group, get them to post this link on their website and social media pages. Urge them to press the Ford Government to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities in its emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Email your Member of the Ontario Legislature. Send them this link. Demand that the Government address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during its emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Call the Premier’s office at 416-325-1941. Tell whoever answers your call that the Premier must address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities in the Government’s emergency COVID-19 planning.

* Let your local media know about specific barriers and hardships that you know any people with disabilities are facing during the COVID-19crisis. During the interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, David Lepofsky and Wendy Porch only had time to talk about some of those serious hardships.

The media responds most readily to specific incidents that you bring to them. These can be shown to be part of a much bigger picture of recurring provincial failures to address our urgent needs. You can send your local media the link to the interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin to show how much of a recurring issue this is for Ontarians with disabilities, and indeed, for people with disabilities across the country during COVID-19. Let the media know that they can contact us for more general background and comment. We are always standing by at [email protected]

Below we set out just one illustration of this. A family brought to the media the wrenching story of an Ontario hospital refusing to allow a patient with serious communication disabilities to use a vital communication aid for more than one hour a day, and the failure of the Ford Government to fix this barrier. We alerted you to that report in the May 6, 2020 AODA Alliance Update. We also reached out to the reporter to provide more background for a follow-up story that that reporter had decided to write. Below you can find the May 9, 2020 follow-up story in the May 9, 2020 Toronto Sun.

If a reporter wants more background, urge them to check out:

* The May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held to share practical tips for teachers and parents on how to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities  during the COVID-19crisis. In just one week since we held that event, it has gotten over 1,000 views.

* The earlier April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall, also organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, which more broadly address the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Believe it or not, there have been 466 days since the Ford Government got the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 47 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Sun May 9, 2020

Originally posted at https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/levy-people-who-cant-communicate-treated-terribly-during-covid-19?utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1589067224

LEVY: People who can’t communicate treated terribly during COVID-19

Sue-Ann Levy

Tommy Jutcovich, a 69-year-old former educator with multiple systems atrophy, has been told by Toronto Grace Health Centre officials he can’t use his tablet — his sole means of communication — consistently throughout the day for fear it will act as a “surveillance” tool.

In British Columbia, a 40-year-old woman with cerebral palsy, Ariis Knight, died alone April 18 in a Vancouver hospital because her family was not permitted inside and she could not communicate without a family member or a caregiver. She didn’t have COVID-19.

Closer to home, my father-in law, who passed away a week ago (not from the novel coronavirus), was forced to enter hospital completely alone during the pandemic restrictions.

He was there for days without his caregiver, who would have ensured the less-than-compassionate doctors and nurses who saw him understood his medication and food needs. Despite several pleas from his daughters that the caregiver could be tested for COVID-19 and properly protected, the hospital adamantly refused to relent.

These are some of the heartbreaking stories of COVID-19, which have shone a light on the lack of proper practices by hospitals, long-term care and group homes to deal with people who are either unable to, or have trouble speaking for themselves, says a disabilities advocate.

Barbara Collier, executive director of Communications Disabilities Access Canada, says there have been very few policies for years and years to accommodate people with communications disabilities in the health-care system.

Without “explicit” guidelines, hospitals are taking it upon themselves to make decisions — often draconian and inflexible ones, I say.

“It’s the vulnerable groups that are completely marginalized and disempowered again because of this,” Collier said Saturday.

Tommy Jutcovich, 69, is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital but staff are no longer allowing him unlimited use of his iPad — his lifeline to the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic — because it is considered a “surveillance tool.” SUPPLIED PHOTO/FAMILY Supplied photo / Family

“This is happening in every hospital across Canada for years and years and we didn’t have good policies in place to ensure people could effectively communicate.”

There are at least 500,000 people with speech and language disabilities in Canada — including those on the autism spectrum or suffering from cerebral palsy, strokes, Parkinson’s disease, early dementia, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease and people such as Tommy Jutcovich, who has multiple systems atrophy, Collier said.

She said most people have a “fair idea” of the duty to accommodate those with disabilities when it means getting into a building or opening a door, or with those who are deaf or have visual impairments.

The “missing piece” is how accommodation is handled (or mishandled) for those who have a speech and language disability — those with little or no speech, or who have difficultly comprehending information before providing informed consent.

Collier says the hospital “no visitor policy” is denying patients access to support people who can assist them with communication.

“There are many people who haven’t fared well in a health-care setting if they don’t have somebody who can interpret their speech or provide access to their visual display or iPad,” she said.

“The support people are not visitors, they’re essential.”

She said caregivers or support people could easily be “gowned-up” to protect their safety against this vicious virus.

She says those with disabilities should have the right to a range of communication aids available to them in hospital or in long-term care homes.

Collier adds that speech language pathologists should also be stationed around the hospital to help those with communication issues so they understand their treatment and are truly able to give informed consent.

She said the Toronto-based ARCH Disability Law Centre just released a COVID-19 tool kit that helps those with disabilities advocate to have their support person or communications assistant with them while in hospital — in other words to have an exemption from the hospital ban.

[email protected]



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Watch TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Tonight at 8 or 11 PM for an Interview on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and More News on the COVID-19 and Disability Front


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Watch TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Tonight at 8 or 11 PM for an Interview on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and More News on the COVID-19 and Disability Front

May 8, 2020

          SUMMARY

 1. TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Again Focuses Attention on Disability Issues Tonight

We invite you to watch TVO’s flagship current affairs program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” tonight at 8 or 11 pm Eastern time for a 20-minute interview on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities. The guests are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and Wendy Porch, the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT). Ms. Porch was one of the 10 excellent experts who spoke at the first virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held on April 7, 2020.

This program will air on good old-fashioned TV (for those who use it). It will also stream tonight at 8 pm on the Twitter feed and Facebook page of The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

We thank The Agenda with Steve Paikin for again focusing attention on our accessibility campaign. Topics addressed in this interview include such things as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, the additional barriers and hardships facing people with disabilities during this crisis in our health care and education systems, the troubling March 28, 2020 provincial medical triage protocol that the Ford Government has failed to categorically rescind and replace, and the pressing need for the Ford Government to quickly create a comprehensive plan to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning. We wish to especially commend The Agenda and Steve Paikin for its and his unremitting journalistic integrity, exemplified by affording us a fair and open opportunity in this interview to speak to accessibility concerns with TVO’s online educational resources.

We encourage you to:

* Spread the word to your friends and family and encourage them to watch this interview.

* Spread the word far and wide about this interview on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. You might wish to retweet the tweets that we will be circulating on this topic. Follow us on Twitter: @aodaalliance. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AODAAlliance/

* Urge your member of the Ontario Legislature to watch this interview.

Typically, within a day or two after TVO airs this program, it gets posted on Youtube. Good captioning usually gets added then or a short time thereafter. When this gets posted on Youtube, we will share that link in an AODA Alliance Update and on social media for you to use and share with others.

* Urge your local media to cover this issue too. Bring them stories about specific additional hardships that people with disabilities are shouldering during the COVID-19 crisis. Invite them to reach out to us at the AODA Alliance for a comment on the need for the Ford Government to effectively plan to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning.

 2. Two Glimmers of Some Preliminary Progress on the Education Front

If you have not already watched it, join the hundreds of others who have already watched our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis while schools are closed and learning has moved online. We have asked the Ford Government to post a link to that event on its “Learn at Home” website, and to circulate it to all school boards. We await word on what the Government has done or will do to share this important resource with frontline teachers and parents who are trying to cope with the additional disability barriers that students with disabilities face due to the move to online schooling.

Eight weeks into this COVID-19 crisis, here are glimmers of some preliminary progress: First, in yesterday’s May 7, 2020 AODA Alliance Update, we reported to you on our efforts to get TVO to fix the accessibility problems with its online educational content for K-12 students. This is especially important, since the Ford Government points to TVO as its partner in delivering online education during the COVID-19 crisis.

Within hours of writing TVO again about this yesterday, we received a response from TVO’s vice president of digital content, inviting a conversation with us. We are taking TVO up on this offer and will keep you posted.

Second, we are pleased to let you know that the Ford Government has resumed the work of at least some Standards Development Committees. On May 5 and 6, 2020, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee held productive online virtual meetings. As part of this, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, as well as three of the relevant Parliamentary Assistants, took part in a one-hour portion of the May 6, 2020 meeting of that AODA Standards Development Committee.

Committee members were given time to share information on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on students with disabilities and to recommend needed actions. Given the time available, a five-minute time limit was understandably set for each speaker.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, as a member of that committee, had five minutes to speak. He emphasized that the Ministry of Education has left it to each school board to reinvent the wheel, figuring out how to serve their students with disabilities. That is extremely inefficient and wasteful. He emphasized the need instead for a provincial plan to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities. He urged the Government to organize more virtual town halls like we and the Ontario Autism Coalition did on May 4, 2020, to gather good ideas from the frontline teachers and parents, and to share them across all school boards. He reiterated our repeated offers to help the Government. He asked Education Minister Lecce for a chance for the two to speak. Minister Lecce said he was open to a dialogue with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.

We commend the Government for arranging that Standards Development Committee meeting. We have been pressing for it since as far back as March 25, 2020, when we wrote the Premier.

Third, we are encouraged by the fact that the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee has now set up a sub-committee to address the issue of COVID-19 and the education system. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky will be a member of that sub-committee. We wish that this had happened much sooner, given that it was fully eight weeks ago that the Ford Government announced school closures.

Finally, in the wake of these events, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has had some exchanges with the Deputy Minister of Education and will be following up on this to press our concerns. For more background, check out:

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

 3. Two More Important Media Reports on COVID-19 and People with Disabilities

We set out below two recent news media reports that address the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, namely:

* A May 6, 2020 report on the Global News website by reporter Emerald Bensadoun on a range of hardships falling on people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. In this article, the Ministry of Education is quoted as giving this response to our concerns about the lack of an effective provincial plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis:

“When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

‘The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,’ they said.”

We respond as follows: A cursory review of the online resources that the Ford Government has shared for learning at home reveals a range of accessibility problems. We question how carefully the Government ever checked these for accessibility. The Government’s obligation is not only to obey the weaker AODA accessibility standards but the stronger accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

It is good that the Minister of Education earlier Consulted his Minister’s Advisory Committee on Special Education, but that committee has had a substantial number of vacancies. There is no indication what advice the Government received from that committee or to what extent, if any, the Government acted on that advice.

* A May 7, 2020 Canadian Press article by reporter Michelle McQuigge, appearing on the CityTV News website. In the face of reported serious problems for patients in hospital with communication disabilities, the article reported in part as follows, as a response from the Ford Government:

“The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.

Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.

But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be ‘reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system’ as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.”

We comment that the provincial government has lead responsibility here. The Health Ministry suggests its hands are somewhat tied in what it can direct Ontario hospitals to do. This disregards the reality of what is going on during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ontario Government has ample capacity to direct hospitals and is doing this right now with other facets of the COVID-19 crisis. It is wrong for the Ford Government’s Health Ministry to selectively duck its responsibility when it comes to the vital needs of highly vulnerable hospital patients with communication disabilities.

 4. The Ford Government’s Foot-Dragging Continues

There have now been a disturbing 463 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 44 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

 Global News Online May 6, 2020

Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/

‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National

BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.

“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”

But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.

“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”

One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.

David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.

A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to

COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.

“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.

Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind.

When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.

March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19 that people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.

“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.

Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.

Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.

The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.

Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage

of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.

“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.

Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.

The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”

 City TV News Online May 7, 2020

Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/05/07/pandemic-highlights-existing-barriers-for-those-with-communication-disabilities/

Pandemic highlights existing barriers for those with communication disabilities

BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing barriers preventing Canadians with communication disabilities from fully accessing the health-care system, according to advocates across the country who are calling for governments to address the issue.

Organizations and individuals point to recent cases in which disabled patients were denied access to crucial communication supports while in hospital, leaving them unable to interact with loved ones or medical professionals.

They say the two incidents — one of which involved the death of a 40-year-old woman — highlight the inconsistent approach to such issues in hospitals across Canada and should prompt governments to set uniform standards to protect disabled patients.

Heidi Janz, an Edmonton-based professor at the University of Alberta who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said the precautions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the struggles people relying on alternative means of communication face on a daily basis.

“It terrifies me — on an advocacy level, but also on a personal level,” Janz said in an interview conducted with the support of an aide who echoed her words. “I have experience with the kind of inability to communicate with a medical team and the fear that comes with that.”

The two recent cases, which Janz said hint at “a disaster waiting to happen,” played out in different parts of the country and involved patients who were hospitalized for reasons not related to COVID-19.

The family members of both patients either could not be reached or did not respond to request for comment, but advocacy groups familiar with the cases note the similarities.

In one instance, a 40-year-old woman in British Columbia with cerebral palsy died alone in hospital last month. Pandemic-protection policies at the facility barred support workers who usually assisted her in communicating from entering the premises.

In another case, a Toronto man who used an iPad to stay in touch with his relatives saw his use of the device unexpectedly limited to one hour a day. Multiple local media reports cited hospital officials alleging the iPad could be used as a surveillance tool.

Janz and other Canadians with communication disabilities said these cases are horrifying but not surprising.

Janz said she refuses to go to an emergency room without someone there to help her convey her wishes to medical staff, noting health-care workers often make assumptions about her capacity to weigh in on her own care based on her disability.

Anne Borden, co-founder of the autism self-advocacy organization Autistics for Autistics, said people who rely on communication devices face similar barriers.

Medical staff are not always aware of the need to recognize augmentative and alternative communication — tools that supplement or take the place of speech. She said non-verbal patients frequently have their need for assistive technology questioned or ignored, or watch in frustration as medical staff address remarks to a support person rather than directly to the patient.

The issues are compounded, she said, for those living in poverty and without access to technology and other supports.

Both Janz and Borden feel Canadian governments should emulate the state of California, which recently broadened its restricted list of visitors allowed inside during the pandemic to include support people for patients with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“Communication is a human right,” Borden said. “What we want is an acknowledgment that that is also true for disabled people, and it should be across the board.”

Advocates said there are currently no uniform standards to follow in Canada, leaving hospitals free to develop their own policies.

Barbara Collier, executive director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada, said that has to change. She said health-care facilities across the country should be given direction on everything from establishing a patient’s communication needs during intake to policies around support workers, adding these long-standing gaps take on additional urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.

“This should have been in place years ago,” she said.

The federal ministry responsible for disability inclusion did not immediately respond to request for comment.

The Public Health Agency of Canada released a document on Thursday addressing various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on disabled Canadians. It said health-care providers should be “ensuring that restrictions account for people with disabilities’ needs and allow essential support staff, sighted guides, interpreters and/or family members to be with them.”

The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.

Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.

But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be “reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system” as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.





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The AODA Alliance Calls on TVO to Take Prompt Action to Fix its Educational Web Content’s Accessibility Problems – and Other COVID Disability News


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

The AODA Alliance Calls on TVO to Take Prompt Action to Fix its Educational Web Content’s Accessibility Problems – and Other COVID Disability News

May 7, 2020

          SUMMARY

As part of its emergency plans for supporting K-12 students while schools are closed due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Ford Government announced that it has partnered with TVO, the Government-owned educational TV network. However, the AODA Alliance has revealed that there are accessibility problems with some of TVO’s educational web content. These hurt students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need accessible web content. We have called on TVO to fix this and to let us know about its plans for this.

On April 27, 2020, the AODA Alliance sent an email to TVO asking some basic questions about its efforts to ensure the accessibility of its educational web content. We set out that email below.

TVO answered us on May 5, 2020, after we had raised concerns about this issue in our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall event, in media interviews, and on social media. Below we set out the May 5, 2020 email we received from TVO’s digital content vice president.

We have serious concerns with TVO’s response. We described our concerns in our May 7, 2020 email to TVO’s digital content vice president, which we also set out below. We therefore ask TVO for clear answers to several specific and important questions and urge TVO to dig into this issue and get it fixed.

We also set out below an excellent news article about our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall. It appeared in the May 5, 2020 edition of QP Briefing. QP Briefing is an influential publication about key issues and events at Queen’s Park.

Please encourage teachers, parents, school board staff and anyone else you can to watch the archived video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition organized. It shares practical tips on how to meet the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Post the link on your Facebook page, on Twitter and on any other social media you use! It is https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phdtibf5DbM

We are delighted that in under three days, our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall has already gotten over 800 views! We have asked the Ministry of Education to circulate this link to school boards and to post it on the Government’s Learn at Home website that shares useful resources for teachers and parents while students must learn at home due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Send us your feedback. Write us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

 April 27, 2020 Email from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to TVO

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email:

[email protected] Visit:

www.aodalliance.org Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 27, 2020

To: TVO Ontario

Via email: [email protected]

The Ontario Government has announced that it has partnered with TVO to provide resources to parents and teachers of school-age children who have to undertake distance learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Resources for parents and teachers is available at https://openhouse.ilc.org/

It is vital that this educational content is fully accessible to all students with disabilities. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, when students must rely on remote learning.

TVO is an emanation of the Ontario Government. The Ontario Government has said that it is leading by example on accessibility for people with disabilities and is taking an “all of government” approach to accessibility. Over one third of a million students in Ontario are students with special education needs and the vast majority of them have disabilities. As many as one of every six students in Ontario-funded schools have disabilities.

We would like to know if TVO considers all its online courses to be fully accessible to students with disabilities ? This does not simply mean that they comply with accessibility standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act . Those standards in a number of ways fall short of what is required by the Ontario Human Rights Code, which guarantees equality without discrimination based on disability in areas like education. For example, the 2011 AODA Information and Communication Accessibility Standard does not effectively address accessibility based on technological developments in the past decade.

What has TVO done to ensure that these online courses are all fully accessible to students, parents and teachers with disabilities? Could you please let us know which of these courses and other online learning resources have captioning for parents, teachers or students with hearing loss, and which have audio description of their visual content for parents, teachers or students with vision loss. For parents, teachers and students with vision loss, reading a program’s transcript (even with description of visual features) is not the same as or as good as watching a program with audio description.

During the COVID-19 crisis, teachers, students and parents are now struggling to find online teaching resources that are accessible to students with disabilities. Can you let us know where on your website a parent, teacher or student can go to quickly ascertain which TVO website content (such as these online courses) is available with captioning and/or audio description, and/or with other accessibility features? For example, we cannot find a link enabling a teacher, parent or student easily search to ascertain which of the TVO online courses have full accessibility, and which, for example, include full captioning and audio description.

Does TVO make available over-the-phone or online help from someone with knowledge about accessibility, for teachers, parents or students with disabilities who need help ensuring that they can use the educational content that TVO offers online? If so, how do they obtain this help? Finally, can you let us know who has lead responsibility and authority for ensuring the full accessibility of TVO educational and programming content, and what process is in place ensure its accessibility. Given the urgency of the situation facing students, parents and teachers with disabilities, we would very much appreciate an answer to our inquiry as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

May 5, 2020 Letter to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from Rashmi Swarup, TVO Vice President Digital Learning

Hi David,

Your note was forwarded to me by our customer service department. Thank you for reaching out, and my apologies for the delay in responding.

I appreciate you contacting us with your questions and to share your thoughts, particularly as we continue to evolve our digital learning resources and content to make them even more accessible for Ontarians.

TVO prides itself in being able to meet a wide variety of the educational needs Ontarians have, and we take care to ensure our approach and policy reflects this objective. We are continuously working to improve the accessibility of our content and resources.

Our videos on tvo.org, tvokids.com and in most of our ILC courses have closed captioning and described video or a DV text alternative (although in some cases where the program is an acquisition there may be a delay in posting the closed captioning and descriptive video while these elements are being created).

While YouTube does not support descriptive video audio or text, we do ensure that captions are present on all of our YouTube channels.

Our TVO ILC courses, including courses accessed through ILC Open House, have been created to meet the accessibility needs of students according to the AODA, and we ensure the course content supports both PC and Mac operating systems as well as a variety of screen readers.

Many of our newer courses offer the ability to choose from a variety of content formats (e.g video and/or article options for study) and assignment options to better cater to individual student needs. As we continue to evolve and update our courses, we are increasingly offering students the ability to choose from a variety of formats. We also ensure that there are transcripts for all of the audio in our TVO ILC courses.

We are proud to offer students completing courses through TVO ILC access to subject-specific academic support through academic advisors and to guidance counsellors who can support individual needs, all of whom are Ontario Certified Teachers.

While I appreciate that our efforts to make our content accessible to as many Ontarians as we can may not meet the level you would propose, please know that we continue to strive for improved accessibility of our digital learning resources for Ontarians.

Thank you again for your letter and feedback. If you have any additional questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me directly.

Sincerely,

Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

647.203.0979

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May 7, 2020 Email from the AODA Alliance to the Vice President of TVO

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 7, 2020

To: Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

Via email: [email protected]

Thank you for your May 5, 2020 email that responds to our April 27, 2020 email and for your invitation to reach out to you if we have any further questions. We do. Our April 27, 2020 email inquired into the accessibility of TVO online learning content to students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need adaptive technology to use a computer.

We have serious concerns about accessibility problems with TVO’s educational online content for students, teachers and parents and about your May 5, 2020 answers to our inquiries. We seek your leadership as TVO’s digital content vice president to get these problems promptly solved.

We ask what TVO will do now to quickly address serious accessibility problems with its online content, given your web content’s increased importance for K-12 education during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ontario Government publicly emphasized that it partnered with TVO to provide online educational content for K-12 students during the COVID-19 crisis. The Government’s “Learn at Home” website, a central hub of the Government’s offerings for parents, teachers and students, points to TVO web pages and resources, among other things.

Yet a rudimentary check of some of TVO’s educational online content quickly revealed significant and obvious accessibility problems. We don’t say that TVO has done nothing about online accessibility or has included no accessibility features at all. Where accessibility features are included, we commend this.

However, what TVO has done on the web accessibility front falls far short of what students, teachers and parents with disabilities need to effectively use TVO’s educational offerings. Among the various people with disabilities that these online barriers can hurt are people with vision loss, people with reading disabilities such as dyslexia, and people who need to use alternative technology instead of a keyboard and mouse to interact with a computer.

In the limited time we had available, just a few examples of these accessibility problems were described at the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on the impact of the COVID-19-19 crisis on students with disabilities organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. We invite you and all TVO’s digital content staff and contributors to watch that virtual Town Hall.

Our Town Hall’s guest speaker on this topic, Ms. Karen McCall, has expertise in digital content accessibility. She explained that it took her very little time to discover these accessibility problems. If Ms. McCall could find those problems so quickly, it should have been easy for TVO or the Ministry of Education to do the same. Given the problems found in this limited review, it is our experience that one could expect an extensive audit to reveal additional problems.

Your email suggests that you believe that TVO’s educational web content complies with AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act) requirements. The deficiencies that we discovered with TVO’s educational web content call that into question. In any event, as our April 27, 2020 email to you explained, TVO and the Ontario Government must obey the typically-stronger accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code. It cannot simply fall back on the weaker AODA accessibility standards on point, passed nine years ago, as if those were the only accessibility laws that govern here. Moreover, as an Ontario Government-owned public education network, we hope and trust that TVO knows that a Government-appointed Standards Development Committee has been reviewing those accessibility standards for some 2-3 years. Last year it circulated draft recommendations that would call for the 2011 AODA Information and Communication Accessibility Standard to be strengthened and modernized. For more background on the need to strengthen the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, visit our accessible information and communication web page.

In light of our preliminary check of TVO’s educational web content, we are troubled by your May 5, 2020 email. It appears that you may not be fully aware of the extent of the problem. You wrote in part:

“While I appreciate that our efforts to make our content accessible to as many Ontarians as we can may not meet the level you would propose, please know that we continue to strive for improved accessibility of our digital learning resources for Ontarians.”

We are also quite concerned that you, TVO’s vice president of digital content, said in your email that it is your understanding that Youtube cannot support audio description for Youtube video content. You wrote:

“While YouTube does not support descriptive video audio or text, we do ensure that captions are present on all of our YouTube channels.”

This statement about including audio description in videos to be posted on Youtube is incorrect. It is quite possible to post content on Youtube that has been created with audio description included. Moreover, after reading your email, it took about 30 seconds and one Google search to find a link to online resources on how to add audio description to a Youtube video. We invite you to do a Google search on the terms “Youtube” and “audio description.”

In our April 27, 2020 email, we asked you if TVO makes available over-the-phone or online help from someone with knowledge about accessibility for teachers, parents or students with disabilities who need help using TVO’s online educational content. We also asked how they can get this help.” You responded:

“We are proud to offer students completing courses through TVO ILC access to subject-specific academic support through academic advisors and to guidance counsellors who can support individual needs, all of whom are Ontario Certified Teachers.”

Can you please let us know how many of these TVO advisors are trained and equipped to assist students, teachers or parents with disabilities if they encounter accessibility problems with your online content, where on your website it might indicate that such accessibility help is available, and how someone can reach a TVO person with that accessibility expertise?

As well, in our April 27, 2020 email we asked you the following:

“Can you let us know where on your website a parent, teacher or student can go to quickly ascertain which TVO website content (such as these online courses) is available with captioning and/or audio description and/or with other accessibility features?”

Your May 5, 2020 email did not answer this inquiry. We could not find this information on TVO’s website. A teacher, looking for audio-described content, would need such information to be able to readily discover what audio-described choices they have among your offerings. We would note that in contrast, Netflix enables a viewer to browse its audio-described content.

Finally, you wrote:

“We are continuously working to improve the accessibility of our content and resources.”

Our April 27, 2020 email asked who has lead responsibility and authority at TVO for ensuring the full accessibility of TVO educational and programming content and what process is in place to ensure its accessibility. Your May 5, 2020 email did not answer this question. We are eager to know who has this responsibility, what staff is allocated to this, and what plans you have in place for the accessibility improvement work that you described as “continuous.”

Given the urgency of these concerns to students, teachers and parents with disabilities who need accessible web content especially now during the COVID-19 crisis, we would welcome your prompt action and response.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC

Premier Doug Ford

[email protected]

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education,

[email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission

[email protected]

 QP Briefing May 5, 2020

Some Ontario e-learning doesn’t work for students with disabilities

Jack Hauen

The Ford government’s at-home learning tools require some changes to be fully accessible to students with disabilities, advocates say.

Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, said Karen McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtual town hall hosted on Monday by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12 AODA standards committee, and Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.

None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”

Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.

“She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if I’m a student who’s trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter,” McCall said.

Another gap came during a science class. “Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, ‘Watch what happens,’ and then did not describe what was happening,” she said.

But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own course preview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.

“If they’re going to rely on this kind of content, they’ve got to make sure it’s properly accessible,” Lepofsky said of the provincial government.

Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.

Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has held two meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson.

Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.

“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.”

The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29 letter to Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.”

The town hall’s last guest was Jeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.

The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.

Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: “I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.”

He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”

It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.

For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. “We can’t tell those kids, ‘Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.’”

A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.

“This is really something we can’t leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”

Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a “spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links,” but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.

“Please learn from this town hall,” she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.

“The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.”



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Even More Media Coverage of Disability COVID Issues — and – Pressing Need for the Ford Government to Ensure that Hospital Patients with Communication Disabilities Face No Barriers to Using Technology that Lets Them Effectively Communicate


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Even More Media Coverage of Disability COVID Issues — and – Pressing Need for the Ford Government to Ensure that Hospital Patients with Communication Disabilities Face No Barriers to Using Technology that Lets Them Effectively Communicate

May 6, 2020

SUMMARY

Here are three more important media reports that focus directly or indirectly on disability issues during the COVID-19 crisis. All are set out below.

The first is a good CBC Radio news report on the need for the City of Toronto to include the accessibility needs of people with disabilities if it starts erecting barriers and signs on or around sidewalks to channel pedestrian traffic and people in line for stores during COVID-19 social distancing. The second is an interview on the May 5, 2020 CBC Radio Toronto Metro Morning program. It focused on our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

The third story did not involve the AODA Alliance at all. We comment on important broad disability issues it raises.

Premier Ford has pledged to protect the most vulnerable during the COVID-19 crisis. There is a pressing need for the Ford Government to now publicly direct all hospitals and health care providers to ensure that they do not create any barriers that impede people with communication disabilities from being free to use the technology they need to be able to effectively communicate. In the middle of this COVID-19 crisis, patients with disabilities cannot wait for the months and months that it will take for the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard, now under development, to be enacted. They should not have to try to fight accessibility barriers one at a time under human rights laws.

A May 1, 2020 Toronto Sun article, set out below, reports that a Toronto area hospital is not allowing a patient with a significant communication disability to use his computer tablet while he is in hospital, except for one hour a day. He reportedly needs to use the tablet as a communication aid.

The family reportedly went to the media after they could not get the hospital to let him use the tablet when he wished. We do not have the capacity to investigate such situations, and cannot comment on the accuracy of the specific details in the Toronto Sun’s report.

This article raises very serious issues. It has very serious implications for patients with disabilities, if the facts set out in it are accurate. It further illustrates why the Ontario Government must immediately launch and implement an effective and comprehensive plan to ensure that the urgent needs of people with disabilities are met during the COVID-19 crisis, including patients with disabilities.

In the widely-watched April 7, 2020 first Virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and disability organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, Ms. Barbara Collier of Communication Disabilities Access Canada, a widely-respected expert on communication disabilities, emphasized the vital importance of ensuring that people with communication disabilities can effectively communicate, especially while they are in hospital. This builds on what the Supreme Court of Canada said in 1997 when it addressed the fundamental importance of hospitals accommodating the communication needs of deaf patients to effectively communicate while in hospital in Eldridge v. BC.

The Ontario Government has committed to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to tear down barriers in our health care system facing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance’s February 25, 2020 Framework detailed what that Health Care Accessibility Standard should include. Among other things, it emphasized the importance of ensuring effective communication supports for people with communication disabilities including when they are in hospitals.

According to the Toronto Sun report, the hospital said that it was disallowing the use of the tablet “…because it was being used to conduct “surveillance” of his care.” Yet hospital patients and visitors routinely are free to use tablets, smart phones and laptop computers while in a hospital, without having to get anyone’s permission or approval. None are banned from using them for the reason that they could be used to conduct “surveillance” of a patient’s care.

The Toronto Sun reported that the hospital said the hospital staff have a reasonable expectation of privacy and should have a safe and secure working environment. It is hard to see what threat a patient with a severe and immobilizing disability would pose to the safety or security of hospital staff, with or without a tablet in hand.

We need the long-overdue strong Health Care Accessibility Standard more than ever, so that all patients can be free from discrimination because of disability. Hospitals have a duty to accommodate patients with disabilities. They can only refuse to do so if they can prove that accommodation of that patient would cause the hospital undue hardship.

During the COVID-19 crisis, when hospital visitors are restricted, this imposes special hardships on various patients with disabilities, including those with communication disabilities. At our April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall event, Barbara Collier gave strategies that the Ontario Government should implement across Ontario to address such needs. Since then, no one from the Ministry of Health has tried to contact the AODA Alliance to follow up on those strategies or any other health-related COVID-19 issues.

For more background, check out the following:

* The May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition.

* The April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on more generally meeting the urgent needs of all people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 30, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce, which sets out a list of concrete and constructive requests for action that the AODA Alliance presented to Ontario’s Ministry of Education.

* The AODA Alliance’s education web page, that documents its efforts over the past decade to advocate for Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to students with disabilities

* The AODA Alliance’s health care web page, which documents our years of effort to get the Ontario Government to enact a strong and effective AODA Health Care Accessibility Standard.

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, setting out our efforts to advocate for governments to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 460 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 41 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

MORE DETAILS

CBC News May 3, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/accessibility-curbto-program-disability-rights-david-lepofsky-1.5554034

City urged to think about people with disabilities in CurbTO plan to create space on sidewalks

With files from Kelda Yuen

An advocate is urging the City of Toronto to make sure its plan to ease sidewalk crowding takes into consideration the needs of people with disabilities amid COVID-19.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the new CurbTO program, in which the city will make room for pedestrians and delivery drivers through the creation of “curb lane pedestrian zones” and “temporary parking pickup zones,” is a good one. The alliance is a consumer advocacy group.

Through the program, the city is aiming to enable people on city sidewalks and drivers picking up and dropping goods off to engage in physical distancing to slow the spread of the virus.

But the program will actually make things worse for people with disabilities if city planners fail to think about accessibility for all people, Lepofsky told CBC Toronto on Sunday.

“The real question that I would ask is: What are they doing to ensure that, in altering this part of the built environment, that the alteration will increase and not decrease accessibility?

“In other words, the idea of creating more space for social distancing is obviously important and good. And the fact that they are looking at that is, regardless of disability, good.”

“If they don’t plan for its accessibility, they will likely screw up its accessibility. That’s what we find over and over. Accessibility doesn’t happen by accident. Inaccessibility happens by accident.”

Under the program, the city will make room at “hot spots” or “pinch points” where it is challenging for people to practise physical distancing because of lineups or congestion outside essential businesses.

These areas include sidewalks outside grocery stores, pharmacies, restaurants and community agencies that offer pickup, takeout and delivery services, the city has said.

The city said it will initially target hotspots along 10 busy retail main streets for curb lane installations before the program is expanded to more than 100 locations across Toronto.

Lepofsky said the program raises several issues around accessibility.

For example, if people in a lineup outside a drug store are rerouted onto a curb lane, then it would be difficult for a person using a mobility device, such as wheelchair, scooter or walker, to enter that fenced-off lineup because it would involve stepping down onto the road.

“If they build accessibility in by making sure that the route has level access to get down into the street and so on, that could be an improvement,” he said.

And if, as an additional example, the city sets up a sign outside a drug store indicating where pedestrians should line up, that sign itself could become an obstacle for people who are blind or who have vision loss.

“What kind of prompting will there be to let me know where to go to line up? If they stick a sign on the road or on the sidewalk, which they might want to do, they have now created a new obstacle I could whack into,” he said.

“What are they are going to do to plan for safe navigation?”

Mayor John Tory told reporters at a recent daily news briefing that staff will use signs and barriers to create additional space. ‘Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution.’ (Michael Charles Cole/CBC)

In its April 27 news release in which it unveiled the program, the city did not address these concerns. The city has yet to respond to questions posed by CBC Toronto.

“Each location will have unique conditions that will be assessed carefully by Toronto Public Health and Transportation Services staff to develop the most appropriate solution,” Tory said.

“In some cases, city staff may be able to suggest line-up configurations to the business operator that alleviates crowding concerns. In other cases, a temporary curb lane closure may be the most effective response.”

“Curb lane pedestrian zones” are defined as areas in which pedestrians trying to move past lineups outside essential businesses will have more space.

“Temporary parking pick-up zones” are defined as areas in which drivers delivering food and medicine will be allowed to park for up to 10 minutes near an essential business where they are picking up or dropping off goods.

These zones could be created in areas that are now restricted parking zones.

A downtown councillor, meanwhile, has enlisted the support of residents to propose locations that the city could fix when it expands the program.

Count. Joe Cressy, who represents Ward 10 Spading-Fort York, said he is recommending 18 new additional spaces in his ward for “immediate improvements” under the CurbTO program where room could be created to allow people to distance physically during the outbreak.

“Notwithstanding the overarching advice to, where possible, stay at home, we know that in many neighbourhoods, especially in downtown Toronto, there are immediate spaces where it’s not possible to walk on the sidewalk without coming into contact with lots of people,” Cressy said.

His office has worked with local residents, community organizations, businesses and institutions to identify where there are issues around crowding, he said.

“We know that in this dense, crowded city of ours, the overarching message to stay at home works for some, but depending on how busy and crowded the sidewalks are, it doesn’t work for everyone, and that’s why we’re proposing these changes.”

Cressy said to make streets safe and accessible for all requires a “fundamental” redesign of city streets.

He said of CurbTO: “We need to include an accessibility focus around that.”

CBC Radio 1 Metro Morning May 5, 2020

Note: the host conducting the interview was David Common.

Radio Host: So, learning from home as we’ve been discussing for weeks now can be really tough for any student, and certainly for many families. For students with disabilities, whether that’s physical, mental, or sensory, the disruptions to the school year have been especially hard, there hasn’t been much direction from school boards or for school boards, about working with special needs students during the pandemic. Well that’s why a group of concerned parents and Disability Advocates held a virtual Town Hall yesterday. The goal was to share ideas of what parents, teachers and school boards can do to help students with disabilities. David Lepofsky co hosted that session, he is chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. Lolly Herman teaches children with autism. She is a certified teacher and a behavior analyst who founded Under the Umbrella Tree educational services, she’s got three kids of her own. Both Lolly and David join us now. Good morning to both of you.

Guests: Good morning, David

Radio Host: I like to start with you, David, and just ask you about this virtual Town Hall you hosted yesterday. What was your goal?

David Lepofsky: Well we’ve got upwards of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools, and their teachers, their parents, and the kids are facing enormous additional barriers of hardships because of the move to online learning. And we wanted to get ideas, action tips, practical action tips to the frontline teachers and parents. There are teachers and parents who can innovate and come up with creative ideas, but the province, the provincial government has dropped the ball by not reaching out to those frontline folks, finding out what they’ve innovated and sharing them to all school boards around the province so everybody can benefit from them. We came up with the idea of our virtual Town Hall, to try to fill the gap and frankly to embarrass the province, into doing its job by picking up where we left off, and continuing that process.

Radio Host: Do you feel like in the rush to get some sort of distance learning program out that students with disabilities were simply left behind?

David Lepofsky: Well, unfortunately our Ministry of Education or provincial government tend to operate our education system first and foremost on the idea that it’s for kids without disabilities, then kids with disabilities become kind of an afterthought. Oh, what do we do for them? kind of thing. We recognize that the province had an enormous challenge, as did the school boards, moving to onsite online learning and we got to cut them some slack but we’ve now been into this for weeks. And yesterday we revealed, very serious issues. There are grassroots strategies for fixing it but the province has to step up to the plate. Let me give you one example, the provinces announced that TVO Ontario is its major partner in helping deliver online education. Well, one of our speakers yesterday, an expert in digital accessibility, found out within minutes of checking out the online resources that TV Ontario has posted, that they have significant accessibility problems for students or teachers or parents with various disabilities who have to use adaptive technology to interact with those kind of websites.

Radio host: I just want to bring Lolly into the conversation because she teaches children with autism and I wonder Lolly, what are some specific examples of how kids with autism and their parents are struggling right now?

Lolly Herman: Yeah. So, when we made the decision to close our clinic and move to online services I really worried about what our families would do without the therapies and intensive intervention that they had been receiving prior to this outbreak. And so, sort of not offering services not an option, going online and transferring our therapy and all our services online was certainly scary but it needed to be done. And I’m proud to say that we are in our eighth week of telehealth services, and it is going very well. Families help children with disabilities as specifically, the ones I work with, many of them have a diagnosis of autism, are struggling with not only changes in sleep patterns, an increase in, well, some of my kids when they can’t express themselves, when they can’t for what they need, sometimes they act out, and the ways that they act can be to hurt themselves or to hurt their parents, or to refuse eating the few foods that they were eating prior to this pandemic. A change in routine can be devastating and is often devastating to these children and their families going you know not having the child go to bed till 3 or 4 am every night is quite difficult. And so knowing that our kiddos thrive on routine, we did everything we could to get online and continue to support our families. I can say that, like, all of us I’m a mom of three. And, you know, getting online was not so fun for me and my three kids, three kids in the TDSB and all three of their, their online learning looks different. So it took a little bit of time to set that up. But for our families, you know, a lot of them just sort of wanted to wait this out hoping it wasn’t going to take so long saying you know we’re just goanna wait to get back to the clinic. And my response to that was okay, but I really want to make sure that your kids know that we’re still here, you know, give me a few minutes. Let me see them. Let’s just FaceTime, you know, let’s use our chosen method or virtual platform. Let’s get online and I think that parents, when they saw how their child connected to their therapists to their teacher, to myself I immediately felt comfort. I know myself as director, when I made the decision to close down, I felt like I, you know, had put all the weight on my shoulders and it was a massive decision. The moment I got online and saw my colleagues I immediately felt a sense of relief. There’s something special in these times where we are all social distancing and self isolating, to get online and to see the people that you see every day the people that care for you, the people that love you, the people that teach you, and you feel part of something positive. And so I think that one of the greatest strides we’ve made aside from moving our curriculum and online is by making the massive push to make sure that everything we do for our kids for our families for our staff are face to face. I mean we’ve started doing Wednesday PJ and story night for my kids and myself we get into our pajamas and our families log on and I read our clients stories, right before bed, you know we have morning coffee with me with just our parents in the morning. So we have time to connect. I think that anything that we can do to bring our community and keep our community together and engaged makes us all feel like this isn’t the new norm, we will get back to where we need to be and the more that we can keep our children, engaged and retained and being, you know, engaged with their teaching team, the better off we will be when we get back out into society and continue working with our kids.

Radio Host: Certainly I understand what you say, particularly around the importance of routine and the consequences without it. David, I know you have written to the Education Minister Stephen Lecce. What do you need the province to do now to better support students with disabilities?

David Lepofsky: Well the province has basically left it to over 70 school boards, to principals and teachers, to each have to figure these things out on their own. What we did yesterday was we brought together five experts like Lolly to give practical tips, addressing certain disabilities. We couldn’t address them all.

Radio Host: We’ve only got about a minute, David, so if you could give me some of those tips that would be helpful.

David Lepofsky: So for example if you’re going to use an online platform, you need an accessible platform for students and parents and teachers with disabilities. Zoom is by far the most accessible platform yet some school boards are either not promoting it, or in fact are refusing to allow it. That’s ridiculous. We are getting tips on. Sorry, just one other tip, Lolly gave a pile of them in the millions, you folks will have a link on your website. We invite your listeners to go and watch the different action tips we gave in the areas of educating kids with blindness or kids who are deaf or kids with autism or kids with behavior issues. One of the great ideas was setting up an area in your house that’s going to be the learning area it’s kind of a school at home, so kids who have behavior issues need to learn to focus, have one area that they could orient themselves to. That’s the learning area, very practical things that people find are working but we need the province to reach out directly to grassroots teachers on the frontlines and parents, collect their ideas. Don’t create a website that’s just a blizzard of a million links leaving it to everyone to have to click on a million links to find a good idea. Come up with really nicely packaged lists of action tips and share them with families, share them with teachers. That’s what we started doing yesterday and we invited the province to pick up, take it over and do it themselves, we will help them.

David and Lolly unfortunately we’re goanna have to leave it there but thanks very much for raising what is very clearly an important issue for a great many. Thanks a lot.

Guests: Thanks so much

Radio Host: That’s Lolly Herman who works with children with autism, she’s a behavior analyst and founder of Under the Umbrella Tree Educational Services, a parent herself. And David Lepofsky is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance.

Toronto Sun May 1, 2020

Originally posted at https://torontosun.com/news/local-news/levy-hospital-bans-disabled-patient-from-using-ipad-calling-it-surveillance-tool

LEVY: Hospital bans disabled patient from using iPad calling it ‘surveillance tool’

Sue-Ann Levy

Tommy Jutcovich, 69, is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital but staff are no longer allowing him to use his iPad — his lifeline to the outside world during the COVID-19 pandemic — because it considered a “surveillance tool.” Supplied photo

Tommy Jutcovich is bedridden in Toronto Grace hospital — unable to walk, talk, eat or use his hands — and his only lifeline to the outside world was taken away from him.

The 69-year-old much beloved retired Toronto District School board principal was diagnosed with multiple systems atrophy eight years ago — a rare disease that presents similar to ALS — and is only able to communicate by either blinking one eye or through his computer tablet.

But his daughter, Adalia Schweitzer, said Friday that his tablet has literally been shut off by hospital staff over allegations it is being used to conduct “surveillance” of his care and is not providing a “safe and secure environment” for the nurses and other employees who service his needs.

After spending four months in the ICU at North York General Hospital, she said her dad was transferred to Toronto Grace a week ago — against the wishes of the family — to make room at NYGH for COVID-19 patients.

When her mom was no longer able to be by his side at NYGH due to the escalating pandemic, they came up with the idea of the tablet.

Through an app, her mom was able to program the tablet from home to assist with his daily readings from the Torah, allow him to watch the news and listen to podcasts.

They’d also do daily video conferencing with all members of the family, who live in different countries and time zones.

NYGH had no problem with his use of the tablet, Schweitzer said.

She said her father was admitted with his tablet on Thursday and he was using it until the patient care manager informed the family three days later that it was an “issue of privacy” and he would only be permitted to access his tablet one hour a day — at a time acceptable to hospital staff and subject to their availability.

Schweitzer feels because he was in a new hospital situation, the nurses didn’t “appreciate” that her mom was trying to advocate for his care needs and advise them of his “very strict” medication schedule.

She said the other day, while he was doing his Torah prayers, a hospital staff member actually came in to his private room and “just shut it off.”

When the family tried to work out a compromise, lawyers got into the mix and Thursday night the family received a letter indicating the hospital does not permit monitors that “allow the continuous surveillance and recording of what is occurring within the hospital.”

The lawyer’s letter also stated that hospital employees have a “reasonable expectation of privacy in the workplace” and the hospital must provide employees and professional staff with a “safe and secure work environment.”

Schweitzer said all staff have to do is put the tablet on “mute” or “turn it off” when they come in to his private room to take care of her father.

“No one’s stopping them from turning off his tablet or turning it around when they are doing his care,” she said. “They’re calling it a monitor … we’re calling it his lifeline.”

Lt.-Col. John Murray, board chair of Toronto Grace health centre, said in an e-mailed statement they are committed to “providing exceptional and compassionate care” but the Personal Health Information Protection Act prohibits the use of a monitor that can be “controlled remotely” from outside a public hospital.

When I suggested what they were doing is tantamount to elder abuse, Murray said “nothing could be further from the truth” and that they are doing “everything possible” to ensure loved ones remain connected to their families.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott’s spokesman Hayley Chazan said she’s not able to comment on the specifics because hospitals operate autonomously. However, she did say she expects Ontario hospitals to “act reasonably” to support patients during this unprecedented crisis.

Schweitzer said the entire family is “heartbroken.”

“My dad was always a passionate advocate for causes he believed in … and now he can’t speak up for himself,” she said. “(What the hospital is doing) is not acceptable.”



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Still More Media Reports Reveal Disproportionate Harm to Ontarians with Disabilities Due to the Ontario Government’s Failure to Effectively Plan for Urgent Disability Needs in its COVID-19 Emergency Efforts – and – Federal Government Announces Disability COVID-19 Advisory Panel, So We Offer Our Advice


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Still More Media Reports Reveal Disproportionate Harm to Ontarians with Disabilities Due to the Ontario Government’s Failure to Effectively Plan for Urgent Disability Needs in its COVID-19 Emergency Efforts – and – Federal Government Announces Disability COVID-19 Advisory Panel, So We Offer Our Advice

April 23, 2020

          SUMMARY

Here are yet more helpful media reports that illustrate how people with disabilities are disproportionately suffering the consequences of the Ontario Government’s failure to effectively include the urgent needs of people with disabilities in its emergency COVID-19 planning. Our ongoing advocacy efforts are showing some signs of success, but the battle remains an uphill one. We remain tenacious as we join in that battle!

Below you will find:

* An excellent April 22, 2020 City TV news report by reporter Pam Seatle, on the Ford Government’s failure to effectively plan for the COVID-19 needs of Ontarians with disabilities.

* A great April 22, 2020 report on CBC Radio Kitchener Waterloo by reporter Paula Duhatschek on the cruel impact on one individual with disabilities of the Ford Government’s unjustified and inexplicable closure of the Adaptive Devices Program during the COVID-19 crisis as a supposedly non-essential program. We commend the individual who brought that issue to CBC.

* An earlier superb April 11, 2020 Canadian Press report by reporter Michelle McQuigge that appeared in a number of media outlets including the Globe and Mail, on the Federal Government’s announcement of a federal advisory panel on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities.

We also set out below the Federal Government’s actual April 10, 2020 announcement of its federal disability advisory panel on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. We commend the Federal Government for Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough’s acknowledging:

“We recognize that some groups of Canadians are significantly and disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, in particular Canadians with disabilities. For some persons with disabilities, underlying medical conditions put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. Others face discrimination and barriers in accessing information, social services, and health care. For others, the need for self-isolation and physical distancing create additional challenges.”

We first learned of the Federal Government’s plans in this regard at the same time as did the public – when it was publicly announced. It is good that the Federal Government has recognized the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. However, as we noted in the April 11, 2020 Canadian Press article by reporter Michelle McQuigge, 95% of the problems people with disabilities face in this crisis are within provincial responsibility, and are not the responsibility of the Federal Government.

It is very important for the Federal and provincial governments to also directly reach out to, hear from and follow the advice of anyone with the best front-line experience with the impact of COVID-19 on the grassroots disability community. That would include, for example, the ten experts that were interviewed on the April 7, 2020 virtual public forum on COVID-19 and people with disabilities organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition.

In the federal sphere, we offer these recommendations:

* The Federal Government pledged in the fall 2019 federal election that it would apply a disability lens to all its decisions. Beyond creating a new advisory panel, it is important for the Federal Government to let us and the entire public know what it is doing and has done since this crisis began to apply that disability lens to all its decisions in the COVID-19 crisis.

* The new federal disability advisory group should itself watch the April 7, 2020 virtual public forum on COVID-19 and disability, and advocate for the recommendations made there.

* The Federal Government should immediately make public the work of its new federal disability advisory group, when it is meeting, what it is recommending, and what actions the Federal Government is taking as a result to protect people with disabilities during this crisis. Openness and transparency by our governments is especially important during a crisis like this one.

We are not recommending that the Ford Government create a similar advisory panel. It would take the Government too long to set it up, and risk being a distraction. Instead, the Ford Government should immediately reach out to the grassroots disability community to learn about the hardships they are facing during this crisis. The Ford Government should also recognize, as has the Federal Government, the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities. As we have been urging for weeks, the Ford Government should quickly develop and make public a comprehensive plan of action to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its emergency COVID-19 planning.

Our non-partisan campaign is substantially fortified when individuals bring to the media their personal stories about the hardships and barriers they are facing during the COVID-19 crisis due to their disability. The AODA Alliance remains ready and willing to provide broader comments to the media on these issues, as we do in the stories set out below. To help you with this, you can get more background, check out and widely share:

* The guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky in the April 20, 2020 online Toronto Star, which summarizes our major COVID disability issues in one place.

* The widely viewed April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on what Government Must Do to Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities.

* Action tips on how to help ensure that patients with disabilities don’t face discrimination in access to critical health care.

* The April 8, 2020 open letter to Premier Ford, organized by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, voicing concerns about the Ontario Government’s protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford, which has gone unanswered.

There have been an inexcusable 448 days since the Ford Government received the groundbreaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 29 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

We are sending you more AODA Alliance Updates than usual because of the influx of important news that is important to people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We are doing our best to stay on top of the rapidly changing events, and to effectively advocate for efforts so that people with disabilities are equally served by government emergency COVID-19 planning.

          MORE DETAILS

City News April 22, 2020

Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2020/04/22/advocates-say-coronavirus-planning-leaves-out-people-with-disabilities/

Advocates say coronavirus planning leaves out people with disabilities

BY PAM SEATLE AND DILSHAD BURMANPOSTED APR 22, 2020

Summary

Disabilities advocates say their community has been overlooked in the government’s COVID-19 planning

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is calling on the province to provide in-home testing for people with disabilities

No plans have been announced but Minister of Health Christine Elliott says those with disabilities will be accommodated

As the country continues to wage battle against the novel coronavirus, vulnerable populations have been highlighted repeatedly — including seniors, those with compromised immune systems, and more recently, those living in low-income neighbourhoods.

While there is no doubt all of those groups are particularly susceptible to COVID-19, disabilities advocates say their community is also a large and highly vulnerable group that has been entirely overlooked by the government in many areas.

“People with disabilities in Ontario number at 2.5 million. [They] are facing, really, a triple whammy during this COVID crisis, beyond what everybody else is facing,” says David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA).

Lepofsky says the problem includes the following issues:

  • People with disabilities are disproportionately prone to contracting COVID-19 and also likely to suffer it’s most severe medical impacts
  • A combination of government neglect and failure to plan is making them even more prone to getting COVID-19 than they already are
  • If they do get the disease and have to visit a hospital, they face serious existing accessibility barriers in the healthcare system

“The solution is as clear as it is obvious as it is missing. We need the Premier and the Government of Ontario to say ‘we gotta plan. We gotta include in our emergency planning for COVID, specific plans to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities, who are among the most vulnerable’,” says Lepofsky.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath is also calling on the Ford government to address the needs of Ontarians with disabilities.

“They are worried and concerned that they’ve been left behind,” says Horwath.

She says there is no plan to ensure that people with disabilities will get tested if they begin to show symptoms of COVID-19 and there are concerns in the community that they will not have access to testing like everybody else.

“We’ve asked the government to put in place a plan to have testing available for those folks — that would include ensuring that they can get tested at home,” says Horwath, adding that this would help mitigate the issues of barriers to transit and navigating public spaces for those with mobility issues.

“Let’s not leave these folks out. Let’s do some proactive testing, let’s get to people in their homes and let’s give them the peace of mind that others are able to get by having mobility and being able to go out to testing centres and get that testing done.”

However, testing and care are not the only ways in which Lepofsky says people with disabilities are falling through the cracks.

He adds that thousands of children with disabilities are being left behind as the government implements online learning — which is not accessible to many such students. Plus, he says people with disabilities who live independently at home but still need assistance, are being overlooked as well.

Wendy Porch, the head of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto, manages a program for about a thousand Ontarians who live independently but need assistance with daily tasks such as eating, getting washed and dressed.

She agrees with Lepofsky and says the people she works with have been ignored.

“The folks that we work with have not been considered a priority in any of the priority populations that we’ve seen defined,” she says. “There has been no particular guidance that’s been released around people with disabilities living at home.”

In addition, she says when the issue is raised with authorities, they are told they’re “just not there yet.”

“There’s no attention paid to this population at this point,” says Porch.

Making matters arguably worse is that those who care for people with disabilities at home are not receiving any government assistance with personal protective equipment (PPE), despite being essential workers with close physical contact with clients.

“Our program … is not a medically oriented program, but the people who receive these supports at home, they see the same personal support workers that work in long-term care facilities and they’re certainly at risk. But because they’re at home, it seems as though they’ve fallen through the cracks,” she says. “Because we were named as an essential service, if we could be included in the kind of supply chain relationships that exist between the Ministry of Health and some of these suppliers [of PPE], that would go a long way towards solving this problem for our folks.”

In addition to these worries, Lepofsky says one of his biggest concerns is what he calls the province’s “secret plans” on how patients will be prioritized should critical equipment such as respirators fall into short supply. He says the government’s plans to ration critical medical care if such a situation were to arise leaves out those with disabilities.

In an open letter, the province responded to such concerns saying all will be treated equally.

“We believe that a human life cannot be valued differently. As such, Ontario Health has been asked to consult with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, as well as human rights and key community experts, to make certain that any medical protocols that may be required during this outbreak do not disproportionately affect vulnerable groups, including people with disabilities, older persons, Indigenous communities and racialized people,” they said

Health Minister Christine Elliott was asked about the issue at the province’s daily briefing on Wednesday. She said the government is willing to accommodate everybody.

“If people need to be tested, we can take the testing to them, especially people with disabilities who maybe have significant mobility challenges,” she said. “We want to make sure, if they need to be tested, that they will be tested and if they need care that they will receive the care that they need, including hospital admissions or if they’re doing self-isolation — making sure that they have the supplies and equipment and assistance that they need.”

At this time, the province has not yet put forth a definitive plan for at-home testing and care.

CBC News Kitchener Waterloo April 22, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchener-waterloo/man-stuck-hours-daily-on-floor-while-province-closes-assistive-devices-office-1.5540041

Man stuck hours daily on floor while province closes Assistive Devices office

Michael Wilson says wheelchair broke while awaiting a replacement, then COVID-19 hit

Paula Duhatschek

A Kitchener man has spent nearly a month stuck in his apartment after his wheelchair fell apart and a replacement has been delayed.

Meanwhile, the province has shuttered its Assisted Devices Program office, which helps people access funds to pay for their wheelchairs and other mobility devices.

Michael Wilson, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair to get around, receives a replacement every five years, paid for through the province’s program.

This year, he says he was due for a new wheelchair but that the process was delayed after the province initially rejected his application and he had to file an appeal.

Wilson was still using his old wheelchair on March 24 when he left his apartment to stock up on essentials. The motor and wheel fell off mid-trip, he says. Without a functional wheelchair, Wilson been unable to venture out for grocery or banking trips, and has mostly been eating delivery pizza. He also can’t comfortably change positions or move himself around his apartment.

“It’s awkward,” he said.

Office not processing applications

Although the province pays most of the cost of devices provided through the Assisted Devices Program, it’s up to individual vendors to supply them.  Corrinne Cave, who is with a local home care company working with Wilson, said she couldn’t comment on individual cases for privacy reasons. But she says her business’s operations have been complicated by the fact that the program office was closed due to COVID-19 and is no longer answering the phone or processing new funding applications.

“We’re trying to figure out a balance on how to get these [devices] to people who do need it” while also considering what costs they can absorb, she said.

France Gélinas, NDP health critic and Nickel Belt MPP, told CBC News that vendors and people with disabilities have been left in a tough position following the closure of the office. She says the program itself has long been due for an upgrade, so that people who need new wheelchairs and other devices can get them based on need rather than “arbitrary” rules.

For the time being, Gelinas says the office should at least have someone around to pick up the phone.  “Right now, to not even be able to talk to them … I don’t understand it,” Gelinas told CBC News.

“It is disrespectful, it is causing a lot of real hardship to people who often have severe disabilities, depend on those wheelchairs, to anything else to live their lives, and now they’re stuck.”

Pandemic creates urgency

Ontario disability advocate David Lepofsky agrees. He says assistive devices are even more important during the COVID-19 pandemic, now people have been told to physically distance and can’t ask their friends and neighbours for extra help.

“The first thing [the province] should do is immediately re-open the assistive devices program and declare it essential,” said Lepofsky. “The second thing they should do is … essentially do a short-term surge to try to clear the backlog that will have now been created.”

Province ‘evaluating options’

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the province couldn’t comment on individual cases. She said vendors will still receive payments based on historical invoices and can dispense and repair devices for clients who are eligible. “We’re currently evaluating options to provide greater continuity of services under the assisted devices program during the COVID-19 pandemic,” the statement said.

He says they should replace wheelchairs more frequently, before safety becomes an issue. He thinks the program should also be more cautious about rejecting applications and requiring appeals for needed devices like wheelchairs, especially when it comes to situations like his.

As of Monday, Wilson was still without a wheelchair. But after CBC News contacted the vendor and province about his story, Wilson was told his wheelchair would be delivered Wednesday. When it arrives, he says, he looks forward to finishing up the errands he started back in March.

The Globe and Mail April 11, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-federal-government-names-group-to-ensure-disabled-canadians-included-2/

Federal government names group to ensure disabled Canadians included in COVID-19 response MICHELLE MCQUIGGE

THE CANADIAN PRESS

Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough speaks during a news conference in Ottawa, Thursday March 26, 2020.

Qualtrough did not elaborate on specific systemic barriers in place, but members of Canada’s disabled community have been sounding alarms since the beginning of the outbreak. THE CANADIAN PRESS figure

The COVID-19 pandemic takes a particularly heavy toll on Canadians with disabilities and more efforts are needed to ensure they’re included in national efforts to respond to the crisis, the minister overseeing accessibility issues said Friday as she appointed an advisory group to take on the task.

Disability Inclusion Minister Carla Qualtrough said disabled residents have been sounding alarms about a host of concerns related to the outbreak, which has already killed at least 550 Canadians and sickened a minimum of 22,000 others. In a statement announcing the advisory group, Qualtrough said greater efforts are needed to ensure disabled voices are heard during a troubling time.

“For some persons with disabilities, underlying medical conditions put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19,” Ms. Qualtrough said in the statement. “Others face discrimination and barriers in accessing information, social services and health care. For others, the need for self-isolation and physical distancing create additional challenges.

“As we continue to address the COVID-19 outbreak, our priority will remain helping persons with disabilities maintain their health, safety, and dignity.”

Ms. Qualtrough did not elaborate on specific systemic barriers in place, but members of Canada’s disabled community have been sounding alarms since the beginning of the outbreak.

Early public-health messages and briefings at all levels of government often failed to include accessibility measures, such as sign language interpreters for the deaf or simplified messaging for those with intellectual disabilities.

Since then, more concerns have been raised about access to overtaxed health-care resources, the availability of educational supports for disabled students, and the greater vulnerability of those living in confined settings such as prisons, homeless shelters and long-term care institutions. At one assisted living facility in Markham, Ont., the executive director confirmed an outbreak had infected 10 of 42 residents and two staff members. Shelley Brillinger said news of the outbreak prompted the rest of the staff at Participation House to walk off the job, leaving residents without the care they need.

“Our residents are the most vulnerable in society,” she said. “… They don’t have a voice, and my message would be it’s our responsibility to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves and ensure that they have the care that they deserve.”

The 11-member advisory group, consisting of academics and organization leaders spanning a range of physical and intellectual disabilities, has been tasked

with apprising the government of the barriers their communities face and ensuring their needs are adequately addressed.

Committee member Bonnie Brayton, executive director of the DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, said the issues before the group are matters of equality and fundamental access to human rights.

She said the proliferation of the novel coronavirus has laid bear many systemic issues that dogged the community for decades, but have taken on increased urgency as the disease continues to spread.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us is that the question of equality rights for people with disabilities apparently is still on the table in the legal system, in the health system, and I think in the soul of Canadians,” Ms. Brayton said in a telephone interview. “It’s the last piece of our really becoming the country we need to become in terms of human rights.”

Other advocates welcomed the federal governments’ recognition of the need for action, but expressed reservations about the impact such a move could have. David Lepofsky, founder of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a long-time crusader for accessibility rights, said federal governments do not have jurisdiction over most of the programs with the greatest impact on the lives of disabled residents.

“Only provincial governments can take 95 per cent of the action people with disabilities desperately need to avert the disproportionate hardships that the COVID-19 crisis inflicts on them, including the horrifying risk that their disability could be used as a reason to deny them medical services during rationing,” he said. “We’re disproportionately vulnerable to get this disease, to suffer its harshest impacts and then to slam into serious barriers in our health care system.”

Robert Lattanzio, Executive Director of the Arch Disability Law Centre, shared Mr. Lepofsky’s concern. He said there is currently no uniform approach to disability inclusion during the COVID-19 crisis. While he applauded the federal government for acknowledging as much, he expressed hope that the advisory group would continually seek input from those without seats at the government table. “The disproportionate impact of this pandemic on persons with disabilities is undisputed, but it is playing out very differently across different provinces, territories, cities, and towns,” Mr. Lattanzio said. “We need voices from people with disabilities who are on the ground and who understand the complexity and nuances of what is actually happening.”

April 10, 2020 Announcement by Federal Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough

Originally posted at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2020/04/statement-by-minister-qualtrough-on-canadas-disability-inclusive-approach-to-its-covid-19-pandemic-response.html

Statement by Minister Qualtrough on Canada’s Disability-Inclusive approach to its COVID-19 pandemic response

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

April 10, 2020       Gatineau, Quebec       Employment and Social Development Canada

The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, today issued the following statement:

“From the onset of the outbreak of COVID-19, the Government of Canada has taken significant steps to curb the spread of this virus and to reduce its impacts on the health of Canadians and our economy.

We recognize that some groups of Canadians are significantly and disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, in particular Canadians with disabilities. For some persons with disabilities, underlying medical conditions put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. Others face discrimination and barriers in accessing information, social services, and health care. For others, the need for self-isolation and physical distancing create additional challenges.

As we continue to address the COVID-19 outbreak, our priority will remain helping persons with disabilities maintain their health, safety, and dignity. This includes through more formal communication channels and touch points with the disability community.

To this end, we are establishing the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, comprised of experts in disability inclusion. This Group will provide advice on the real-time lived experiences of persons with disabilities during this crisis; disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps; and strategies, measures and steps to be taken. Areas of particular focus will be equality of access to health care and supports; access to information and communications, mental health and social isolation; and employment and income supports.

From the onset, our Government has worked hard to ensure that the interests and needs of persons with a disability are being taken into consideration in our decisions and measures adopted in response to COVID-19. We have put a disability lens on decision-making and have been consulting national disability organizations and other stakeholders. We are also working with other levels of government. We are making strides on accessibility of public announcements and Government of Canada communications.

But we know that there is much more to do.

We have heard the concerns expressed by individuals and organizations for persons with disabilities, as well as their recommendations for ensuring a disability-inclusive approach to this pandemic.

Rest assured that as we support Canadians through this crisis, our Government is unequivocal in our commitment to the rights of every citizen and the value of every life, including the right to equal access to medical treatment and care. This is in keeping with our Government’s commitment to “nothing without us”, and in line with the principles and objectives of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the Accessible Canada Act.”

April 10, 2020 Federal Government Backgrounder

Originally posted at https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-development/news/2020/04/backgrounder–covid-19-disability-advisory-group.html

Canada.ca Employment and Social Development Canada

Backgrounder : COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group

From: Employment and Social Development Canada

Backgrounder

During this time of public health and economic crisis, in the spirit of “Nothing Without Us” and the Accessible Canada Act, and in recognition of Canada’s domestic and international human rights obligations, the Government of Canada is committed to ensuring that it considers, respects and incorporates the interests and needs of persons with disabilities into its decision-making and pandemic response.

Persons with disabilities face unique and heightened challenges and vulnerabilities in a time of pandemic, including equality of access to health care and supports, access to information and communications, mental health and social isolation and employment and income supports. Additional vigilance is also required to protect the human rights of persons with disabilities during these times. This necessitates a disability inclusive approach to Government decision-making and action.

The Government of Canada is taking immediate, significant and decisive action by announcing the establishment of the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group (CDAG). The CDAG will advise the Minister on the real-time lived experiences of persons with disabilities during this crisis on disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps and on strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

Co-chaired by Minister Qualtrough, the Advisory Group will be comprised of individual experts from the disability community:

Co-Chair: Al Etmanski, is a writer, community organizer and social entrepreneur. He was welcomed into the world of disability in 1978 when his daughter was born. He led the closure of institutions, segregated schools, and sheltered workshops in BC, founded Canada’s first Family Support Institute, and initiated the precedent setting right-to-treatment court case for Stephen Dawson. In 1989, he co-founded Planned Lifetime Advocacy Network (PLAN) with his wife Vickie Cammack. PLAN lobbied into existence the Registered Disability Savings Plan. Mr. Etmanski sparked a national conversation about ‘belonging,’ and was instrumental in establishing a grass roots alternative to legal guardianship and expanding the legal definition of capacity. His last book, Impact: 6 Patterns to Spread Your Social Innovation is a national bestseller. His forthcoming book is The Power of Disability: 10 Lessons for Surviving, Thriving and Changing the World. He blogs at aletmanski.com.

Bill Adair, Executive Director, Spinal Cord Injury Canada. Mr. Adair offers a depth of provincial and national experience in the spinal cord rehabilitation field. As a former Ontario government employee, national task force leader and Director of the National Patient Services Program with the Canadian Cancer Society, he has nearly three decades of expertise in non-profit management and strategic leadership. Prior to joining Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, he was Director of the National Patient Services Program with the Canadian Cancer Society for 13 years. His involvement in providing services to people with disabilities includes serving as the Director of the International Year for Disabled Persons, the Executive Director of a national task force that designed a system to coordinate cancer control efforts throughout Canada, and the Founding Executive Director of Wellspring.

Neil Belanger, Executive Director of the British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society (BCANDS). Mr. Belanger has over 30 years of experience working within in Canada’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous disability and health sectors. Since 2013, BCANDS has been the recipient of eight provincial, national and international awards, the most recent being the Zero Project International Award presented to the Society in Vienna, in February 2019. He also serves in a variety of disability related advisory roles, some of which include: Canada Post’s Accessibility Advisory Committee; Minister’s Advisory Forum on Poverty Reduction; Minister’s Council on Employment and Accessibility; Minister’s Registered Disability Savings Plan Action Group and Board Member with Inclusion BC. He is a member of the Lax Se el (Frog Clan) of the Gitxsan First Nation and resides in Victoria with his wife and two children.

Diane Bergeron, President, CNIB Guide Dogs and Vice President, International Affairs.As President of CNIB Guide Dogs, Ms. Bergeron brings lived experience to the position. As a guide dog handler for more than 35 years, she raises her voice to challenge stigma and support equal rights. In addition, as vice president of International Affairs for the CNIB Foundation, she is actively engaged in regional, national and international initiatives that enable people impacted by blindness to live the lives they choose. Before joining CNIB, Ms. Bergeron held senior roles with the Government of Alberta and the City of Edmonton.

Bonnie Brayton, A recognized leader in both the feminist and disability movements, Ms. Brayton has been the National Executive Director of the DisAbled Women’s Network (DAWN) of Canada since May 2007. In this role, she has proven herself as a formidable advocate for women with disabilities here in Canada and internationally. During her tenure with DAWN Canada, Ms. Brayton has worked diligently to highlight key issues that impact the lives of women and girls with disabilities. Since 2016, Ms. Brayton has served as a member of the Federal Department of Women and Gender Equality (WAGE, formerly known as Status of Women Canada), Minister’s Advisory Council on Gender-Based Violence. She also presents regularly to Parliamentary and Senate Committees, at public consultations and has represented women and girls with disabilities in both Canadian and International spheres.

Krista Carr, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL). Ms. Carr was previously the Executive Director of the New Brunswick Association for Community Living (NBACL). She had been working with the NBACL for 21 years, the last 16 as Executive Director. She also holds a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing from the University of New Brunswick.

Maureen Haan: Ms. Haan has been the President & CEO of the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work (CCRW) since 2012. CCRW is the only national organization with the sole vision of equitable and meaningful employment for people with disabilities, in operation for over 40 years. Under her leadership, CCRW has seen an increase in direct program service throughout Canada, as well as a more transparent, stream-lining of understanding the business case of hiring a person with a disability. She has been very active in the cross-disability sector, currently focusing on employment issues. Ms. Haan has been involved with numerous committees and groups that increase awareness of and access for the disability sector and the Deaf community, including involvement with civil society on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities; and co-development and leadership of the pan-Canadian Strategy on Disability and Work.

Hélène Hébert, President, Réseau québécois pour l’inclusion sociale des personnes sourdes et malentendantes (REQIS). Ms. Hébert is the president of Reqis, a provincial organization defending the collective rights and promoting the interests of deaf and hard of hearing individuals. Its mission is also to contribute to the development and influence of its members through networking and knowledge exchange. She is also a member of VoirDire, a bi-monthly publication serving the deaf population of Quebec since 1983.

Dr. Heidi Janz, University of Alberta, Assistant Adjunct Professor with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre. Dr. Janz specializes in the field of Disability Ethics and has been affiliated with the John Dossetor Health Ethics Centre since 2006. She was previously the Curriculum Coordinator for an emerging Certificate Program in Disability Ethics in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the University of Alberta. In her “other life,” Dr. Janz is a writer and playwright. Dr. Janz is also Chair of the End-of-life ethics committee for the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD).

Rabia Khedr, CEO, Disability Empowerment Equality Network Support Services and Executive Director, Muslim Council of Peel. Rabia is a community leader who helps others with issues of fairness and justice that affect persons with disabilities, women and diverse communities. She was recently the Commissioner for the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Ms. Khedr created the Canadian Alliance on Race and Disability, which represents persons with disabilities and organizations at local, provincial and national meetings. She is also a member of the Mississauga Accessibility Advisory Committee. She is a motivational speaker and documentary commentator and has been awarded many awards, including a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.

Dr. Michael Prince, Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy at the University of Victoria. He teaches courses on public sector governance and public policy analysis in the School of Public Administration and the School of Public Health and Social Policy. As a policy consultant, Dr. Prince has been an advisor to various federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal government agencies; four Royal commissions; and, to a number of parliamentary committees federally and provincially. An active volunteer, Dr. Prince has been a board member of a community health clinic, a legal aid society, a hospital society and hospital foundation, the BC Association for Community Living, and the social policy committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities.



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Toronto Star Runs A Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the need for the Ontario Government to Come Up with a Plan to Meet the Urgent Needs of 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 crisis


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Toronto Star Runs A Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the need for the Ontario Government to Come Up with a Plan to Meet the Urgent Needs of 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 crisis

April 21, 2020

          SUMMARY

Here is an important guest column that ran in the online version of the Toronto Star on April 20, 2020 by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. In about 750 words, it summarizes key points we have been revealing in our last ten AODA Alliance Updates since March 20, 2020.

We encourage you to:

* Write a letter to the editor at the Toronto Star with your comments on this guest column. Email the Star at: [email protected] Encourage the Star to give this topic as much attention as possible.

* Forward this guest column to your member of the Ontario Legislature with your comments.

* Share this guest column on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Encourage others to read it and to share it with others. Use our new hashtag: #DisabilityUrgent. The link to post that takes people right to the Toronto Star guest column is https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/04/20/ontario-needs-emergency-plan-for-urgent-needs-of-millions-with-disabilities.html

* Send this guest column to your local media. Encourage them to cover this issue, which touches the lives of so many Ontarians.

For more background, check out and widely share:

* The widely viewed April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on what Government Must Do to Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID crisis. It has American Sign Language interpretation and captioning. This event was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. It expands on key points made in this Toronto Star guest column.

* The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities.

* Action tips on how to help ensure that patients with disabilities don’t face discrimination in access to critical health care.

* The April 8, 2020 open letter to Premier Ford, organized by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, voicing concerns about the Ontario Government’s protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford, which has gone unanswered.

There have been a total of 446 days since the Ford Government received the groundbreaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has still announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. This is so even though the Government staged a glitzy media event on February 28, 2020 to promise that it would “lead by example” on accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities.

There have now been 27 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is made even worse by that delay.

We always welcome your feedback. Write us at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star Online April 20, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2020/04/20/ontario-needs-emergency-plan-for-urgent-needs-of-millions-with-disabilities.html

Opinion

Ontario needs emergency plan for urgent needs of millions with disabilities

By David Lepofsky Contributor

Media have reported on some of the most extreme COVID-19 impacts on people with disabilities, the tip of a horrific iceberg, like the government’s scandalous failure to effectively protect residents in nursing homes and independent living residences. Let me reveal a worrisome but unreported thread running through those reports that connects hitherto-unconnected dots.

People with disabilities suffer a brutal triple whammie during this crisis, beyond what the broader public faces. First, many people with disabilities are disproportionately medically prone to contract COVID-19 and to suffer its harshest physical impacts.

Second, a cruel confluence of government policies and neglect makes people with disabilities even more prone to contract COVID-19.

Third, people with disabilities can fear going to hospital. They face a health care system replete with disability barriers pre-dating COVID-19. The COVID-19 crisis is triggering even more disability barriers in hospitals. We’ve battled uphill for a decade to get the Ontario government to remove these health care barriers. In this crisis, we need Ontario to speed up efforts in this area. Doug Ford instead temporarily hit the brakes, further reducing the snail’s pace of progress.

Add to this the fact that Ford’s government has a secret COVID-19 medical rationing protocol. It would unfairly discriminate against some patients with disabilities who need critical care, should medical rationing be required. There is a justified fear in the disability community, if they need urgent care and there is a ventilator shortage, due to Ford’s triage protocol or its trickle-down effect on nurses and EMTs.

The government claims this secret protocol is just a draft. Then why isn’t it marked draft, as government drafts are always marked? Why hasn’t the Government rescinded it? Ford’s lead doctor drafting that protocol claimed on TVO that it’s a “top priority” to consult the public on it. So why is it still secret? Where’s Ford’s invitation and avenue for public input?

To kick-start public discussion, we’ve made public our own Discussion Paper, giving examples of situations in which patients with disabilities must not be denied critical medical care. Ford’s response? Radio silence.

It is inexcusable that the Ontario government has announced no systematic, comprehensive plan to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities in its emergency COVID-19 planning, nor any intent to create one. We’ve repeatedly called for action for five weeks.

To help the government, we organized a constructive and widely viewed online virtual public forum two weeks ago. Ten experts described practical priority actions needed in this crisis.

It’s good Doug Ford talks about protecting the most vulnerable. Yet key line ministries, such as health, education, colleges and universities, long-term care, community and social services and the premier’s office have not tried to contact us. We’ve only had a few chats with the small accessibility ministry, which has no line responsibility here.

Some pundits claim Premier Ford has surprised many by appearing to do a great job during this crisis, better than some expected. For over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities, this is not the case. We’re getting more of the recurring lip service and neglect we’ve been getting from the Ontario government for several years, since well before the last provincial election.

This issue vitally affects millions of us. It meets every measure of newsworthiness. With the media filled with all COVID-19 all the time, there’s far more airtime and newsprint space to give it attention. We need the premier and his ministers to be pressed on important hitherto-unasked questions for Ontarians with disabilities. We can’t do that in person, while we’re self-isolating.

Premier Ford, why do you have no plan to meet the urgent needs of hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities, for whom online learning can create learning barriers? Ford announced schools were moving online but no plan to deal with students with disabilities. School boards are left in chaos, each trying to figure it out on their own.

Premier Ford, where’s your plan to ensure that the new emergency health facilities you’re creating won’t have barriers impeding patients with disabilities? Your medical triage protocol is just one of those barriers.

Premier Ford, where’s your plan to eradicate the policies and practices that make people with disabilities disproportionately prone to contract COVID-19?

Premier Ford, why not reach out to the grassroots disability community and take up their offer to help? They’re the experts in what they are facing.

We’re eager to help. Premier Ford — give us a call.

David Lepofsky is chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and visiting professor, Osgoode Hall Law School.



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Media Reports Show Yet More Problems Facing People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 crisis – The Need for Urgent Government Action Is Swiftly Ballooning


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Media Reports Show Yet More Problems Facing People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 crisis – The Need for Urgent Government Action Is Swiftly Ballooning

April 20, 2020

          SUMMARY

The COVID-19 crisis remains our top priority this week in our campaign for accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities.

The fact that people with disabilities are facing additional hardships during the COVID-19 crisis leaps from the pages of media reports in this area. Here is a recent sampling of some of the coverage. This selection of news reports includes:

* An April 6, 2020 report by CTV London entitled “Some LTC drivers refuse passengers in wheelchairs” shows troubling barriers that can face public transit passengers with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 11, 2020 Globe and Mail included an extensive article entitled: “Educators worry gap may grow for disadvantaged students stuck at home”. While it focused on the unmet needs of vulnerable and disadvantaged students during the move from classroom teaching to online learning, it barely mentioned the enormous disadvantage facing students with disabilities, numbering in the hundreds of thousands across Ontario.

* The April 13, 2020 Toronto Star included an article entitled: “Activists fear for safety of people with disabilities after funding for mobility and medical devices deemed non-essential”. It documented the serious harm that the Ford Government has done to people with disabilities by declaring the Assistive Devices Program for people with disabilities non-essential during the COVID-19 crisis.

* The April 15, 2020 Toronto Star included an excellent letter to the editor by accessibility advocate Ed Rice entitled: “Ford may be doing better, but he’s not helping the disabled”.

* The April 15, 2020 Windsor Star included an article entitled: “Parents worried disabled children would get low priority during COVID-19 surge”. It showed serious concerns within the disability community about the Ford Government’s secret protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID-19 crisis from the perspective of people with disabilities.

* The April 18, 2020 Toronto Star included an extensive report entitled: “People with severe disabilities feel especially vulnerable in COVID-19 shutdown”. It detailed yet more reasons why people with disabilities feel especially precarious during the COVID crisis.

* The April 19, 2020 CBC website posted a very thoughtful guest column by two professors with expertise in the disability field, entitled “Assessing the value of a life: COVID-19 triage orders mustn’t work against those with disabilities Governments need to affirm ethical and human rights obligations to persons with disabilities”. It raises serious concerns with the Ford Government’s secret protocol for rationing critical medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The April 19, 2020 Toronto Star included a detailed article entitled “‘Window is closing’ to protect disabled community from a COVID-19 outbreak”. It explores the vulnerability of people with disabilities living in nursing homes and disability living facilities due to the COVID out pandemic.

You can also check out the captioned video of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s appearance on CTV’s national morning program “Your Morning” on April 10, 2020. He had a mere 3 minutes on the air to summarize all these issues!

With all these problems and many more facing people with disabilities, where is the Ford Government’s plan of action to address the urgent needs of over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities? We’ve been calling for this for weeks.

It is especially important for the media to give more attention to the added hardships imposed on people with disabilities during the COVID crisis. Because we are all shut in at home, we have no access to places like the Legislature to come together en masse to raise these concerns.

There have been 445 days since the Ford Government received the groundbreaking and blistering final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has still announced no good comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. This is so even though the Government staged a media event on February 28, 2020 to promise that it would “lead by example” on accessibility and inclusion for people with disabilities.

There have now been 26 days since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. His office has not contacted us. The plight facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is made even worse by that delay. The news reports in this Update give just some illustrations of this.

For more background, check out and share with others:

* The widely viewed April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on what Government Must Do to Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID crisis. It has American Sign Language interpretation and captioning. This event was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition.

* The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities.

* Action tips on how to help ensure that patients with disabilities don’t face discrimination in access to critical health care.

* The April 8, 2020 open letter to Premier Ford, organized by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, voicing concerns about the Ontario Government’s protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford, which has gone unanswered.

Send us your feedback. Write us at [email protected] Stay healthy and safe!

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CTV LONDON | News April 6, 2020

Originally posted at https://london.ctvnews.ca/some-ltc-drivers-refuse-passengers-in-wheelchairs-1.4885291#_gus&_gucid=&_gup=Facebook&_gsc=aH1y94M

Some LTC drivers refuse passengers in wheelchairs

CTV News London

Bryan Bicknell

@BBicknellCTV

LONDON, ONT. — A dispute over COVID-19 concerns for London Transit Commission (LTC) drivers came to a head over the weekend after a number of drivers refused to allow people in wheelchairs to board buses, CTV News has learned.

One of those people was Penny Moore, who says when she tried to take the bus to go shopping she was refused – not by one, but by two different drivers on separate buses.

“The bus driver there opened the door and started yelling at me and said ‘Do you know about the new rules?’ And I said ‘What new rules?’ He said ‘We’re not taking disabled and we’re not strapping them in.’ I said ‘I have the right to get the necessity and food like everybody else.’”

Moore says she did manage to get on each bus eventually, both only with the help of kindly fellow passengers.

CTV News has learned of six work refusals over the weekend by LTC drivers concerned over COVID-19.

One of the cases was resolved, but five other cases involved the Ontario Ministry of Labour. It ruled that drivers cannot turn away passengers with wheelchairs, and they are required to strap them in.

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 741 President Andre Fournier says drivers are concerned about getting close to passengers because they don’t have personal protective equipment.

“Right now they’re going through hell. There’s a lot of anxiety, stress. They’re afraid they’re going to take the COVID-19 home with them. Of course we sympathize with, you know, with people with mobility issues. But for them to get in close and strap, they’re touching the people. They’re touching their equipment and it’s just scary.”

LTC Chair, Councillor Phil Squire, says he sympathizes with drivers, but everyone must be allowed to board the bus.

“If we denied that right we would be into a human rights dispute that we would surely lose.”

Squire adds that drivers have been provided with an instructional video on how to safely tie-down mobility devices like wheelchairs.

As for Moore, she says a little compassion would go a long way.

“If you know someone that’s disabled, someone that’s senior, someone that doesn’t have a vehicle to go anywhere to get something – ask them if they need something when they go out, and also treat everybody with respect. Even though I’m disabled, I’m still a person. I have feelings too.”

Globe and Mail April 11, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-tdsb-aims-to-bridge-gaps-in-at-home-education/

Educators worry gap may grow for disadvantaged students stuck at home

By CAROLINE ALPHONSO

Globe and Mail, Apr. 11, 2020

Canada’s largest school board will be delivering internet-connected devices to about 29,000 households as educators across the country struggle to level the playing field for poorer families even as they worry that the gaps will widen during this pandemic.

As school closings stretch from weeks into months in a bidto stop the spread of COVID-19, new challenges are emerging in education around how to make sure children who may not have adequate resources at home are still learning.

The Toronto District School Board (TDSB), like others across the country, is equipping families over the coming week with WiFi-enabled devices and iPads or Chromebooks if they don’t have them at home, hoping this will help keep students engaged in their schoolwork.

Increasingly, however, education observers are realizing that even though teachers across the country can send work to their housebound students, hold video chats and telephone calls, even the very best educators will struggle to overcome the loss of one key element: the school building.

The bricks-and-mortar classroom is one of the biggest assets in narrowing the divide, and distance learning during this pandemic is widening inequities that may end up setting back some children from marginalized communities even further, education observers say.

John Malloy, the TDSB’s director of education, acknowledged that technology is only one aspect of distance learning. The home situations of students vary and many may not receive help from families with their schoolwork for a variety of reasons, including parents who are considered essential workers or who are struggling after losing their jobs. Other students may have special needs that require a high level of supports, or be English-language learners who need extra assistance. That struggle will be greater remotely,” Dr. Malloy said. “[I’ve told principals] please use all the creative strategies that you know and understand to be sure that we leave no student or their family behind. “Learning is important. But well-being has to take a priority and we can’t race the learning agenda and forget about the well-being agenda,” he added, saying that the school board is looking at how to have social workers, guidance counsellors and child and youth workers connect with students.

Some provinces, including Alberta and Ontario, have outlined how many hours of work teachers are to assign students a week based on their grade level.

In Ontario, for example, students in kindergarten to Grade 6 are to receive five hours of work a week. Saskatchewan, meanwhile, said that school divisions and teachers will implement a “supplemental curriculum program” for students who want to continue learning.

Beyhan Farhadi, who recently earned a PhD at the University of Toronto examining education inequity and e-learning, said expectations in some provinces put increased pressure on families and magnify existing inequities. She said she is concerned that some students could be penalized for not getting the work done.

“There is an assumption that students are going to be disciplined, they are going to be supported by parents and caregivers. Quite frankly, it’s ridiculous,” said Ms. Farhadi, who is also a teacher with the Toronto board.

She added: “We definitely shouldn’t put learning on pause.

[But] we can provide supports both in resources and one-onone for our most vulnerable students, if we centre them in our planning.”

One of the main concerns educators face is how far behind students, especially those from marginalized communities, will be in their learning when school resumes, despite their access to technology during the pandemic.

Karen Robson, an Ontario research chair in educational achievement and at-risk youth at McMaster University, said “there’s going to be a lot of catching up” for students who were already struggling.

“A lot of the income inequalities are going to be exacerbated by this,” she said. “There’s going to be parents at home who have access to technology, who work from home, who are on top on all of this, probably really keen to help their kids with this. … But that’s not the case everywhere. There’s going to be massive differences.”

Teri Mooring, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, said she is advising educators to go slow in restarting what she described as “emergency remote learning.”

Many families, she said, are dealing with food insecurity, shelter and health issues, and schooling may not be a priority.

“It’s a health crisis, not an education crisis,” she said.

Ms. Mooring said students may often forget some of what they learned over their summer break, and educators will be more mindful with this longer absence if school resumes in September.

“Will it be more accentuated in September? Perhaps,” Ms. Mooring said. “And teachers will know that because we’ve all been through this and will take measures to ensure that those gaps are reduced.”

Toronto Star April 13, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/04/13/activists-fear-for-safety-of-people-with-disabilities-after-funding-for-mobility-and-medical-devices-deemed-non-essential.html

Activists fear for safety of people with disabilities after funding for mobility and medical devices deemed non-essential

By Laurie Monsebraaten

Social Justice Reporter

Mon., April 13, 2020

Thousands of Ontarians with disabilities may end up in hospital — or not be able to return to the community safely — because the Ford government has temporarily shuttered a provincial program that helps pay the cost of specialized mobility and medical devices, disability activists say.

The Assistive Devices Program (ADP), which provides 75 per cent of the cost of critical equipment such as power wheelchairs, portable oxygen, prostheses and insulin pumps, was declared a non-essential workplace March 24 due to the COVID-19 crisis.

And yet equipment vendors, who continue to receive government funding, have been deemed essential and are still open, causing confusion among people with disabilities who struggle to pay for equipment without ADP approvals.

The situation highlights the urgency to “to modernize the ADP system and to move to more digital solutions to support eligibility reviews and funding approvals,” said Christine Brenchley, executive director of the Ontario Society of Occupational Therapists.

“It is unclear why some elements of application review processes cannot proceed with safe practices of social distancing as in other areas of essential service,” she wrote in a letter to ministry officials March 27, in which she raised concerns about the government’s decision to close ADP.

Barrie-area mother Heather Morgan, a disability activist who has a rare neuromuscular condition, said she has also been raising the alarm with ministry officials and her local MPP.

“Many people with disabilities in the community rely on specialized equipment to remain in their homes safely while they self-isolate,” said Morgan, whose 16-year-old daughter, Ten, has an acute form of the condition that makes it difficult for her to even sit up and has been bedridden for the last year.

After months of waiting, an error in Ten’s application for a motorized wheelchair was sorted out last month, just as the ADP program was closed, Morgan said.

“My daughter has already missed a year of school because of this, and now we don’t know when the funding will come through,” she said.

“But this isn’t just about my family,” Morgan said. “I have heard from someone who is taping their prosthetic leg together because they cannot get it fixed and can’t function without it. I have heard from someone whose elderly relative needs a rollator (a type of walker that helps prevent falls) and can’t access one but lives alone. On and on the stories go.”

A spokesperson for Health Minister Christine Elliott said the government is aware of the uncertainty around the ADP program.

“We’re currently evaluating options to provide greater continuity of services under the Assisted Devices Program during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Hayley Chazan said in an email.

In 2017-18, the health ministry spent about $514 million to provide mobility and medical devices for more than 400,000 Ontario residents, an increase of about 48 per cent in the last 10 years, according to a 2018 provincial auditor’s report. More than 8,000 devices are covered under the program.

Since the program closed, the ministry has continued to fund equipment vendors based on an average of their monthly billings for the past six months. But some vendors are reluctant to offer equipment without ADP funding approval, Morgan said.

Others have said they will provide equipment if clients pay the 25 per cent co-payment. But for her daughter’s motorized wheelchair, that amounts to $10,000, she said.

Many people rely on insurance to cover co-payments. But insurers won’t cover the cost without an ADP approval, she said. “So it is a Catch-22 situation.”

In her letter to the ministry, Brenchley expressed grave concerns about the province’s decision to close ADP services during the pandemic.

She said many hospital patients are unable to return home or move to long-term care without access to appropriate seating and mobility systems.

Closing ADP will delay timely discharges that are critical as hospitals prepare for a surge in COVID-19 patients, warned Brenchley, whose society represents the province’s 4,300 registered occupational therapists.

Those living in the community who need mobility equipment repairs, upgrades or new equipment will be put at increased risk of falls, pressure injuries and other loss of independence if they can’t access ADP financial support, she said in the letter.

Some people will end up in emergency departments and put increased demands on home care during a time when the health-care system is already struggling to fight the pandemic, she noted.

ADP is already experiencing a three-to-seven-month backlog, Brenchley said, adding the situation will only worsen if the program remains shuttered during the health crisis.

In an email Thursday, Brenchley said the ministry has been working to ensure “expedited” funding approval for patients being discharged from hospital who need seating and mobility equipment.

“While not perfect, the ministry has addressed a workaround for essential services,” she said. “At this time we’re monitoring impacts.”

Double amputee Aristotle Domingo, founder of the Amputee Coalition of Toronto, is not aware of any local members who were awaiting ADP funding approval when the office closed last month.

“What I can share, however, is the level of anxiety that we feel while we wait for an approval from ADP even on a regular day,” he said this week. “In the amputee community, getting approval for a prosthesis or wheelchair is a game changer.”

Without funding support, mobility is severely limited, resulting in “less than ideal healthy outcomes both physically and mentally,” he added.

Toronto star April 15, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2020/04/15/ford-may-be-doing-better-but-hes-not-helping-the-disabled.html

Letters to the Editor

Ford may be doing better, but he’s not helping the disabled

Wed., April 15, 2020timer1 min. read

Kudos to Doug Ford for his leadership during this COVID-19 crisis, Letter, April 10

This letter only tells part of the story. In the government’s reports on COVID-19, the principle of “caring for our most vulnerable” is stated as a priority. Let’s not forget the vulnerable. The government’s Assistive Devices Program (ADP) supplies all types of items that people with disabilities rely on for their life-sustaining needs, employment, quality of life and mobility devices. On March 24, the program was classified as “non-essential” and frozen until the crisis passes. This has caused months of delay for processing assistance applications. The government says it is caring for the most vulnerable. People with disabilities are also part of our society. Unfreeze the Assistive Devices Program now to help those who have been waiting many months.

Edward Rice, Toronto

Windsor Star April 15, 2020

Originally posted at https://windsorstar.com/news/local-news/parents-worried-disabled-children-would-get-low-priority-during-covid-19-surge/wcm/55f694eb-9fd9-42ab-bcf2-d9e7d53d8ab6/

Parents worried disabled children would get low priority during COVID-19 surge |

Brian Cross

Megan Crawford’s parents are “really scared” her severe disabilities will get her deprioritized — denied a ventilator or other critical treatment — should she be hospitalized with COVID-19 during an overwhelming surge.

The source of their alarm is a Health Ontario document called the Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic, which spells out the “last resort” decisions that must be made when the rising number of patients requiring care outnumbers the resources available.

Last week, 204 organizations representing people with disabilities — including several from Windsor-Essex — signed a letter to Premier Doug Ford, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health Christine Elliott and Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Sung Joon Cho expressing grave concerns over the protocol.

“According to the Triage Protocol, some people will not get critical care because of their disability,” says the letter, also signed by 4,828 individuals.

“The rationing of scarce resources in the health-care system during this health crisis cannot be used as justification for discrimination.”

The government has said the protocol is just a draft. “The triage protocols you refer to are still in development,” Ontario Health spokeswoman Adele Small said in an email this week. But advocates and families are wary and alarmed. Megan, 45, was born with multiple disabilities and lives in her own home with the help of support workers to provide a 24/7 personal care.

When Megan’s mother Marleen saw the protocols — which were not labelled “draft” — she was “really scared.” Though Megan is very healthy, all it takes is exposure to the virus to put her at risk. “If she needed extreme intervention, such as a ventilator, would she be considered one of those people not in line for a ventilator, despite the fact she’s healthy and she’s 45?” Marleen asked. “We’ve been fighting for years and years and years for Megan and people like her to be seen as equal citizens in the community.”

Nowadays, Megan is living a good, healthy life.  She’s well taken care of and she’s making a contribution to the community, Marleen said. “I don’t think they should be making decisions on who should be eligible for equipment just based on their disability.”

The exclusion criteria in the triage protocol identifies people whose medical conditions indicate a low probability of surviving. But it also includes people with severe to moderate cognitive impairment, as well as people considered “severely frail” because they depend entirely on personal care. Many people with disabilities could fit into both those categories.

“I know so many people with what people would consider severe or moderate impairments who are living full lives based on their support services,” said Domenic D’Amore, director of Windsor-Essex Brokerage for Personal Supports, an agency that helps people with disabilities arrange funding, housing and support staff so they can live on their own. The way he reads the “frightening” protocol, if you need services to live your daily life, then you’re somehow lesser on the scale of human beings, he said.

“Why is that judged a lesser life and who gets to make that decision, and who should?” He’s just hoping the pandemic situation doesn’t gets so severe that these types of decisions need to be made.

In the event of a major surge, the document says all current patients receiving critical care should be reviewed and those who would be excluded according to the criteria for the first level (the most severe cases with a predicted mortality of 80 per cent or more) should be identified and informed of the situation if possible. The triaging has three levels, with Level 3 having a lower predicted mortality rate of 30 per cent or more.

Parents of children with disabilities are worried that when medical experts are trying to decide who gets access to a ventilator and who doesn’t, their children wouldn’t be deemed as important as people who can walk and talk. “And so they would become a lower priority,” said Michelle Friesen, a parent leader with Windsor-Essex Family Network whose daughter Lisa, 39, is totally dependent on support for everything, from eating to going to the washroom. Born with cerebral palsy, she is blind, developmentally disabled and doesn’t speak.

But just because someone lives in a wheelchair and needs total care doesn’t mean they have a low quality of life, said Friesen. And it doesn’t mean that someone should get to decide that their life isn’t as important. “We’re asking for basic human rights and people determining that they like their life the way it is, and that those value judgments don’t get made,” she said.

If Lisa was critically ill with COVID-19, her disability shouldn’t be the main factor in deciding if she should receive lifesaving treatment, Friesen said.

“She’s got quite a lively personality and she’s quite engaging and very beautiful. And she really enjoys life.”

Toronto Star April 18, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2020/04/10/people-with-severe-disabilities-feel-especially-vulnerable-in-covid-19-shutdown.html

By Laurie Monsebraaten

As public health officials scramble to tackle the spread of COVID-19 in long-term care homes and residential care facilities, people with severe physical disabilities living in the community are watching and worrying. The isolation many feel under normal circumstances has been heightened by social-distancing orders. Everyday health challenges now put them at significant risk of falling ill.

The Star spoke to several people with disabilities and their families to see how they are faring in the face of the pandemic:

‘I know they are deciding if people are going to live’ Michelle Kungl says she is not afraid of dying of COVID-19. “I’m just worried about knowing when to go to hospital,” said the 37-year-old Richmond Hill woman, who suffered a spinal cord injury at birth and is believed to be one of the oldest people in Canada living independently, while partially dependent on a ventilator.

“Before this, when I got sick I would know when to go to the hospital,” she said in a phone interview from her accessible, ground-floor apartment, which has on-site attendant care.

“But now, I know if I go there, I’m probably going to be around people who are much sicker than I am,” she said.“I know they are deciding if people are going to live …, so it might be healthier for me to stay home.” Critically ill COVID-19 patients are put on hospital ventilators when they can no longer get enough oxygen into their seriously infected lungs. But Kungl

has relied on a personal ventilator, hooked up to a tracheostomy tube in her neck, her entire life.

“My mother is much more scared than I am,” Kungl said. “But as you know, I’m never really nervous about much.”

The Star profiled Kungl’s remarkable life in 2017, from her years as a child forced to live in SickKids hospital in Toronto, because doctors couldn’t keep her alive at home, to her life as an adult living on her own, roaring around in her power wheelchair and driving to her full-time job in her accessible van.

If a vaccine for COVID-19 isn’t developed soon, Kungl, whose condition makes her highly susceptible to respiratory illnesses, says she’s “fairly sure” she is going to get the virus. Her mother Lyn Kungl, her daughter’s fiercest advocate, is not optimistic.

“Michelle will die of a respiratory issue due to her limited lung capacity,” she said in an interview from her cottage near Wasaga Beach, where she has been in isolation with her husband since mid-March when they returned from a trip to the Maldives. “The question is whether it will be because of COVID-19.”

Like most people who are still employed, Kungl has been working from home since the province declared a state of emergency March 17. It is lonely.

I miss the camaraderie of my office colleagues,” she said of her job as a credit-card fraud investigator for a bank. Working from home, however, has its advantages, Kungl noted. She can log overtime hours and not have to cancel evening appointments with attendant care workers, who now wear surgical masks in addition to gloves, when they clean her equipment, cook her meals and do light housekeeping.

Lyn, who speaks by phone to Kungl every day and comes into the city once a week to check on her Riverdale home, has offered to buy groceries for her daughter. But so far, Kungl, who guards her independence, insists on buying them, herself.

Her one concession is to allow “personal shoppers” to accompany her down the aisles to pick out her groceries, bring them to the check out and help her load them into her van to limit the things she has to touch.

Lyn cringes at the thought of Kungl in a grocery store during the health crisis. But she knows her daughter.

“Michelle likes to look after herself as best as she can, and she wants to be independent and advocate for herself,” Lyn said. “So am I going to stop her from going to Walmart? No, I’m not.” ‘My mother and I pray together over the phone’

Michelle MacGugan, 47, is very worried about catching COVID-19. “I can’t go out. I’ve had pneumonia five times,” says the Scarborough mother of three who became a quadriplegic 14 years ago when she broke her neck in an accident. “I try to think positive. But I’m scared. I’m very scared.”

MacGugan, an Indigenous woman from the Dene Tha’ First Nation in Alberta, has been living independently with the help of attendant care services for 11 years. She has no use of her arms and legs and limited use of one hand which she uses to move her power wheelchair and make calls on her cellphone.

She was in a state of crisis even before the global pandemic. In February, the erratic care she had been receiving through one of the attendant care agencies had almost ground to a halt. For about a month, MacGugan was not fed dinner most nights, and many mornings she waited in bed for hours, wondering if an attendant would arrive to get her up and feed her breakfast.

Her lawyer, Gabriel Reznick with ARCH Disability Law Centre, said MacGugan’s case is one of the worst he has seen and highlighted the need for more personal support workers and provincial funding, even before the pandemic. It also underscores the need for an independent complaints system for people with disabilities who receive attendant services in their homes, he said.

“It is important to understand the psychological and physical impact that the lack of services has had on her,” he said in an interview last month before a new attendant care agency took over April 1.

“Over the last few months, Michelle has been diagnosed with urinary tract infections, severe bed sores and bowel obstructions that have been linked by her doctor to the lack of care she has received,” said Reznick.

She has been approved for five government-subsidized attendant care visits a day to help her with the activities of daily life, including emptying her constantly overflowing catheter bag; bathing; and light housekeeping in her ground-floor apartment.

Despite the improved service since April 1, MacGugan has another urinary tract infection, due to her catheter bag not being emptied before it backs up into her bladder.

And she worries that if she can’t get attendant care workers to empty her catheter bag regularly, she may end up in a long-term-care facility where Premier

Doug Ford acknowledged this week COVID-19 is raging like a “wildfire.” In the meantime, MacGugan is self-isolating in her apartment and missing visits from friends and her daughter Myrah, 21, who lives nearby. With up to five different attendants coming into her apartment every day, MacGugan knows she is at risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus.

“But they all wear masks and gloves,” she said. “They are very good to me. The one at dinner time … she likes to talk to me, because she knows I am by myself. One of them picked up my pain medication at the drugstore for me.”

MacGugan speaks by phone to Myrah and to her 72-year-old mother in a seniors’ assisted living building in Edmonton where the rest of her extended family lives.

“I really feel isolated here some times,” MacGugan said. “I think about people who are passing on from this virus. My mother and I pray together over the phone.”

‘A lot families with complex kids have no support’

Disability activist Sherry Caldwell has been advocating for people with disabilities since the birth of her daughter Ashley, 15, who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair for mobility and a feeding tube for liquids. Caldwell, who co-founded the Ontario Disability Coalition in 2017, believes the province’s new $600-million autism program discriminates against children with other disabilities who get very little direct funding and endure long waits for provincially funded programs.

She wants the government to include all children with physical and development disabilities in a single, inclusive program. Since COVID-19 swept the country, Caldwell has helped raise the alarm over the province’s decision to temporarily shutter a program that funds mobility and medical devices for children and adults with disabilities.

Her coalition signed an April 8 Open Letter from ARCH Disability Law Centre calling on the province to ensure people with physical and intellectual disabilities have equal access to emergency responders, hospitals and life-saving ventilators in the case of shortages. And Caldwell was among those who alerted government and the media when staff at Markham’s Participation House group home for adults with developmental disabilities walked off the job earlier this month.

Like most Canadians, Caldwell and her family have been self-isolating in their Richmond Hill home since mid-March to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Her husband, Ian, is working from home, and Caldwell has been helping her sons in Grade 5 and Grade 12 complete their studies. The couple’s third son remains in Ottawa where he attends university.

Caldwell, who has a part-time job at the LCBO, took a leave of absence in March to protect Ashley. She also asked the personal support workers who had been caring for Ashley before and after school every day to stop coming to their home during the pandemic. “They work in

other homes, and I just couldn’t risk having them bring the virus to our home,” Caldwell said.

A nurse who worked in Ashley’s school before everything closed in March continues to visit the Caldwell home two days a week to bathe, feed and provide other attendant care services to the teen.

“She knows Ashley and ours is the only house she comes to,” Caldwell said. “But I know not all families are fortunate enough to find someone they trust. “A lot families with complex kids have no support and are absolutely in tears, because their staff work in other homes and care facilities and it’s just not safe for them to be in their homes at this time.”

Laurie Monsebraaten is a Toronto-based reporter covering social justice. Follow her on Twitter:

@lmonseb

CBC on Line April 19, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/opinion/opinion-disabled-covid-19-triage-orders-1.5532137?__vfz=medium%3Dsharebar

(Note: There is no indication that CBC has broadcast this guest column in whole or in part on the air on radio or TV. It is posted on CBC’s website, on its Opinion page)

Opinion

Assessing the value of a life: COVID-19 triage orders mustn’t work against those with disabilities

Governments need to affirm ethical and human rights obligations to persons with disabilities

This column is an opinion by Roxanne Mykitiuk and Trudo Lemmens. Mykitiuk is professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and director of the Disability Law Intensive Program at York University. Lemmens is professor at the Faculty of Law and the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto.

With the rapid rise in infection rates due to COVID-19, provincial and territorial health care officials have been bracing themselves for situations of extreme shortage of the critical care beds, medical equipment and personnel necessary to treat the sickest of the sick in hospitals.

In a pandemic setting, triage is the allocation of treatment and scarce resources to patients according to a set of criteria or priorities in order to achieve a particular goal. The key goal is to make the most efficient use of available resources to maximize the number of survivors, and in times of extreme health care crisis it can also include the survival of essential health care personnel.

But who gets left behind? Persons with disabilities fear and distrust priority-setting in medicine – and you can understand why. History and often personal health care experiences of people with disabilities fuel these fears. They worry that priorities or the way access criteria are interpreted and applied, whether deliberately or through oversight, will put people with disabilities at or near the bottom of the priority list for care.

Many jurisdictions, including some Canadian provinces, are drafting clinical triage guidelines for decision-making in circumstances of extreme shortage, to avoid such decisions having to be made by individual physicians on the fly. The Canadian Medical Association has also issued a more general framework for provincial guidelines.

Triage guidelines identify various selection criteria, in particular for access to ventilator support, and a decision-making procedure most often involving triage committees.

Draft Ontario Guidelines and the CMA framework emphasize that clinical prognosis of mortality should guide triage decisions. They do not explicitly deprioritize people because of an existing disability — but they don’t just focus on whether patients will likely survive the acute illness for which they require a ventilator or other critical care resources. Guidelines that go beyond a prognosis of survival of the acute COVID-19 related event tend to disproportionately affect people with disabilities. They also facilitate “ableist” presumptions about survival chances or quality of life after ICU treatment seeping into clinical evaluations. The CMA framework suggests prioritizing people with a “reasonable life expectancy,” and among those with equal survival chances, those with more life years left. Elderly patients and many with disabilities thereby risk getting the short end of the stick.

The Ontario draft guidelines use a score system to categorize those with lower survival chances, including months after ICU treatment. Progressive cognitive impairment, neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and ALS, and clinical frailty due to a progressive illness, are given scores that deprioritize people with those conditions as candidates for ventilation. The Ontario guidelines also recommend withdrawal of ventilator support of those at higher mortality risk, in order to prioritize those at lower risk, depending on the level of scarcity. For example, under the most serious shortage scenario, a 60-year-old patient with moderate Parkinson’s would be refused access to a ventilator or be withdrawn from it in favour of one without this condition. The guidelines emphasize that patients who would become ineligible should continue to receive non-critical and palliative care. They also rightly emphasize the importance of frank discussions about low survival chances, so that patient can decide to forego invasive ventilator treatment.

While decisions need to be made to prioritize the allocation of scarce resources to individuals more likely to benefit from treatment, people with disabilities must not have to battle discrimination when seeking life-sustaining treatment. Their lives are equally as valuable as those living without disabilities.

It is important that key ethical and human rights obligations towards people with disabilities, including duties to accommodate, be affirmed in clinical triage policies. People with disabilities must not be sacrificed based on faulty presumptions and stereotypes about living with disability. On the contrary, a duty to accommodate may require providing them with some level of extra care to ensure that they receive a fair chance of survival in critical care. Any triage decisions that reflect a devaluing of the lives of people with disabilities or which are based on “ableist” presumptions about quality of life or on long-term survival are discriminatory and violate provincial human rights norms. Disabilities that are unrelated to near-term survival cannot be criteria for prioritization decisions under COVID-19 triage guidelines.

The following precautions would help ensure the rights of persons with disabilities:

  • Triage guidelines should explicitly emphasize the need to avoid discrimination, and to adhere to human rights standards. The presence of a disability, including a significant disability, is not a permissible basis for giving people lower priority for intensive care. Criteria unrelated to near-term survival cannot be used as a basis for priority-setting or resource-allocation decisions. Survival estimates should be restricted to survival of the event for which the specific critical care intervention, such as a ventilator, is required. Estimates beyond this risk opening the door to evaluative decisions about the value of a life with a disability.
  • The fact that a person with a disability may require accommodations during treatment, including intensive care, or in order to perform activities of daily life outside of treatment, are not a permissible basis for giving that person a lower priority for life-saving care.
  • It’s critical that all decisions about priority-setting must be informed by evidence-based clinical criteria, and not based on stereotypes or assumptions that people with disabilities experience a lower quality of life.
  • Decisions should also not be based on stereotypical assumptions about the survival chances of people with disabilities. When guidelines refer to frailty scales that correlate with short-term survival in determining priorities, doctors should not assume that a specific diagnosis or disability is indicative of poor near-term survival. The duty to accommodate may in fact require making additional efforts to give people with disabilities an equal chance of survival.
  • All guidelines about priority-setting must state that persons with disabilities who use ventilators in their daily living and who seek medical attention in hospitals due to COVID-19 symptoms will be permitted to keep and continue to use their personal ventilators, and will receive COVID-19 treatment.

Provinces and the CMA should be lauded for drafting triage policies to facilitate challenging pandemic decision-making. But they should do so with transparency and invite public input.

Above all, guidelines should live up to human rights standards. It always requires some effort to safeguard human rights, but it can take a pandemic to force our hand and lay bare the depth of our commitment.

Toronto Star April 19, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/canada/2020/04/18/window-is-closing-to-protect-disabled-community-from-a-covid-19-outbreak.html?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=SocialMedia&utm_campaign=National&utm_content=windowisclosing&utm_source=twitter&source=torontostar&utm_medium=SocialMedia&utm_campaign=&utm_campaign_id=&utm_content

‘Window is closing’ to protect disabled community from a COVID-19 outbreak

By Jennifer Yang

Staff Reporter

As the province scrambles to contain the COVID-19 crisis in long-term care homes, disability advocates fear their sector could be next in the pandemic’s path of destruction and the “window is closing” for decisive action that could spare them from similar tragedy.

In the long-term care industry, the ingredients for disaster were baked in from the start: A deadly and infectious virus, buildings full of vulnerable people, and a highly-mobile workforce for whom close contact is part of the job description. But these risk factors are also inherent in “congregate” living spaces for people with disabilities and advocates say there is an urgent need for coherent plans aimed at protecting these vulnerable people.

While there is still time to take proactive steps to prevent widespread tragedy across Ontario’s disabled community, “that window is closing,” says Lori Holloway, CEO of Bellwoods Centres for Community Living.

“We don’t want to be the next long-term care scenario, where we’re dealing with mass outbreaks,” says Holloway, whose organization operates six supportive housing sites in the GTA, and helps people with disabilities live independently. “It’s not the time to be critical but it is the time to say there’s a group here that we think has been forgotten.”

While congregate living facilities for people with disabilities tend to be smaller than long-term care homes — and most residents are not elderly — they do cluster people with health complications or underlying illnesses that put them at heightened risk of deadly infection.

People who are disabled, both living in congregate settings and at home, are also highly dependent on personal support workers (PSWs), an underpaid workforce that is largely forced to work multiple jobs at different locations. While the province has ordered workers at seniors’ homes to choose a single workplace to limit the virus’ spread, a similar directive — or specific commitments for supplying personal protective gear — has yet to come for PSWs in the disability sector.

Work is now underway on a residential staffing directive that will limit “staffing flexibility in order to control infection spread,” said Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services (MCCSS), in an email. But he adds that “our goal is to strike the right balance between strong infection control measures to protect individuals and staff, and adequate staffing flexibility to ensure continuity of service from people who are highly dependent on others for their health and safety in everyday living.”

Meanwhile, for some facilities shared by people with disabilities, COVID-19 has already crept in. To date, there have been 33 outbreaks reported by provincially-funded facilities for people with developmental disabilities, affecting 130 residents and staff, according to Lockridge. The threshold for declaring an outbreak is one confirmed case. “We are monitoring this situation and working closely with our partner agencies so that their immediate needs are being met,” he said.

“We will do everything we can to protect our most vulnerable citizens because we all know they are most at risk during this outbreak,” he said in an email. “We’re in constant contact with our agency partners to understand their needs as this situation evolves.”

Among the group homes where COVID-19 has already erupted is Markham’s Participation House, a home for people with developmental and physical disabilities where a massive outbreak has infected at least 37 of the home’s 42 residents. Two have died and a dozen staff members have also been infected.

“I am hopeful that Participation House is a wakeup call for every single home out there,” said Laura Meffen, whose 21-year-old daughter was among the infected residents at Participation House. “I am hopeful that the government is going to now understand the need.”

But addressing the needs of the disability community is perhaps even more complex than shoring up protections for long-term care facilities or retirement homes. The community is diverse, spanning a range of disabilities and age groups, and living arrangements are varied. There are congregate living facilities or group homes, where residents might share bedrooms or communal spaces, and independent living housing sites, like Bellwoods, where people are clustered but live in apartment-style units and receive daily supports from PSWs.

Many people with physical or intellectual disabilities are also cared for in the community by family members or employ their own PSWs — including approximately 150 in Ontario who are on ventilation.

Complicating matters is that responsibility for the disabled population is spread across different ministries. An organization like Bellwoods is a transfer payment agency through Ontario Health, the newly-created “super agency” for delivering health care in the province. But group homes like Participation House fall under the purview of MCCSS, which oversees the “developmental services sector.”

The MCCSS recently announced new measures for its sector, including emergency childcare for workers and enhanced COVID-19 testing. A new, $40-million relief fund will also help offset extra costs for additional staffing, personal protective gear, physical distancing initiatives, and transportation to minimize infection risks but it’s being dispersed across several high-needs residential facilities, including women’s shelters and youth homes.

In the absence of clear guidance or support aimed at the disabled community, many agencies and facilities have been working on the fly to figure out their own solutions. In the mad scramble for PPE, those in the disability sector are competing with not just the rest of the world but also better-resourced sectors in their own community.

“The entire health care system has had challenges around PPE but I do feel that our sector often gets left behind,” says Deborah Simon, CEO of the Ontario Community Support Association.

There is also a lack of direction for PSWs who work in the disabled community, where the need for these crucial workers is high but wages are low. The current pay gap between PSWs who work in long-term care versus home and community care is about $3.50 an hour, according to Simon.

While restricting PSWs from moving between different workplaces would help prevent further viral spread to vulnerable people, a concurrent worry is that doing so could trigger an exodus of workers from the disability sector, where their compensation is lowest but the work they do is sometimes a matter of life or death.

“We’re kind of holding our breath day to day to see if we do get work refusals or people asking to put their status on hold,” said Holloway, who employs about 300 PSWs, three quarters of whom are part-time employees. “We have clients who are in some cases non-communicative, on ventilators, on oxygen, on life-sustaining electrical powered equipment. They could be completely dependent on us for their activities of daily living.”

Without specific guidance for facilities like hers, Holloway is trying to follow COVID-19 protocols developed for long-term care facilities, but many of them are difficult to adhere to because her housing sites don’t follow a medical model.

For example, some protocols require an on-site medical doctor, which her organization doesn’t have, so she is now working with the Ontario Medical Association to try and cobble together a stop-gap solution.

Her housing model also means her residents are tenants, covered by the Landlord and Tenant Act. So if there were an outbreak in one of her buildings, a quarantine would be much more difficult to enforce. “I can’t necessarily put a supportive housing building on lockdown.”

Other types of congregate living facilities have also taken proactive steps, ahead of explicit direction or guidance from the province. At North Yorkers for Disabled Persons, executive director Cathy Samuelson has been “terrified” for her residents since first reading about the COVID-19 pandemic. Her facility has been on lockdown since March 10.

The 10 residents at North Yorkers, aged 24 to 65, have complex physical disabilities and are also non-speaking or speech-impaired; they need extensive daily assistance with everything from dressing and eating to bowel and bladder care. If any had to go to the hospital, they would need a facilitator to accompany them so that they could communicate. Some residents are also prone to respiratory issues, including one individual who was hospitalized for pneumonia for a week shortly before the pandemic hit.

“An outbreak here would be devastating for us,” Samuelson said.

At Community Living Central York, which operates 16 group homes for people with intellectual disabilities, they have also been racing to get ahead of the outbreak: scrabbling together PPE, cancelling day programs and raising the hourly pay for PSWs while also overhauling schedules so workers are only entering a single home.

But these steps are costly and the organization is making sacrifices in other areas to ensure these proactive steps are taken, said Suzanne Conner, vice-president of the board of directors.

“We don’t have a lot of direction on who’s going to help us from the government but we know it’s the right thing to do,” Conner says. “It is our duty as a society to protect those who are vulnerable and these guys are as vulnerable as it gets.”



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More Media on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and – Remembering the Late Peter Cory, Former Supreme Court Justice and compelling Voice for Accessibility Legislation for Ontarians with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

More Media on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and – Remembering the Late Peter Cory, Former Supreme Court Justice and compelling Voice for Accessibility Legislation for Ontarians with Disabilities

April 9, 2020

          SUMMARY

1. More Media Coverage of the Ontario Government’s Failure to Effectively Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

QP Briefing, which focuses on stories at Queen’s Park, ran a detailed report, set out below, on April 8, 2020 covering our April 7, 2020 virtual public forum on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities. That article provides an excellent description of a number of the recommendations made at our virtual public forum.

The Government’s few responses, reported in that article, are clearly inadequate. For example, responding to the fact that the Government now has no plans to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities during closure of schools, colleges and universities and the move to online learning, the article reports in part:

“The government noted that the seniors and accessibility ministry had also asked members of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, of which Lepofsky is a member, about their availability to work remotely. This committee, along with others focused on different sectors, recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers.”

We have been urging the Government without success to task its several AODA Standards Development Committees to hold virtual meetings on an urgent basis to brainstorm recommendations for dealing with the hardships people with disabilities are facing during the COVID crisis. The Government has never said it had agreed to do so. Its recent outreach to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, to which that quotation referred,  made no mention of the Committee coming together on an urgent basis to address recommendations for serving students with disabilities during the COVID crisis. , AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of that Standards Development Committee and has been pressing for just such an urgent meeting.

More broadly, none of the Ontario Government’s key offices responsible for dealing with the COVID crisis have reached out to the AODA Alliance in response to our several offers to help, either before or after the April 7, 2020 online virtual public forum. We have not heard from the Premier’s office, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

In another news report, Kitchener Radio 570 published an online report, set out below, about some of the heightened hardships facing people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This report arose from the station’s interview on April 7, 2020 with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.

That report states that the online public forum on this issue was organized by the AODA Alliance. We want to clarify that it was co-organized by our partner, the Ontario Autism Coalition.

Earlier today, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on Toronto’s CFRB News Talk Radio 1010. Tomorrow morning, he is booked to be interviewed on CTV’s national morning current affairs program “Your Morning” just after 8 a.m. Eastern time. Of course we never know if the time for such interviews might change at the last minute, or get bumped altogether.

We commend those news outlets that have included coverage of this important issue. The media is devoting wall-to-wall coverage to the COVID-19 crisis. It is important for our media to devote more time to the crisis facing people with disabilities during this pandemic.

Please encourage your local media to cover this issue. Encourage them to watch the online virtual public forum that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held on April 7, 2020. It is permanently available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ23it9ULjc. As of now, it has been viewed over 1,100 times and the number keeps increasing. Check it out yourself. It included captioning and American Sign Language interpretation.

Also please let the media know about the important April 8, 2020 open letter to the Ford Government from over 200 community organizations about the need to protect patients with disabilities from any possibility of discrimination against them due to their disability should critical health services have to be rationed in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.

Please share the word about these issues and about our virtual public forum on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Follow the new hashtag #DisabilityUrgent and include that in your social media posts.

2. Remembering A Strong Voice for Accessibility for People with Disabilities –In Memory of Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory

We were deeply saddened to learn of the death on April 7, 2020 of former supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory. He will be remembered and honoured across Canada as a wonderful man who devoted years to public service both as a World War 2 bomber pilot and years later as a wise judge on all levels of Canada’s courts. This culminated with him serving for a decade of extraordinary service as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1989 to 1999.

Justice Cory must also be remembered and honoured for generously lending his widely-respected voice in 2000, just one year after he retired from the Supreme Court, to the grassroots call for Ontario to pass a strong Ontario law to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. We set out below his powerful guest column that appeared in the November 7, 2000 Toronto Star.

This important guest column was published in the darkest days of the decade-long campaign from 1994 to 2005 to get the Ontario Legislature to pass a strong Disabilities Act. In the 1995 provincial election, Conservative leader Mike Harris promised a Disabilities Act in his first term, and promised to work with the AODA Alliance’s predecessor coalition (the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee) to develop it. However, in the ensuing half decade, Premier Harris had not come forward with good legislation and had repeatedly refused to even meet with the ODA Committee. During those difficult days, our grassroots movement was strengthened by strong credible voices such as that of Justice Cory, amplifying our call for the law we had been promised.

Two decades later, Justice Cory’s words, set out below, continue to resonate in the face of the ongoing problems we face with getting the Ontario Government to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the law we won five years after Justice Cory’s guest column was published. During this COVID-19 crisis, the accessibility barriers that still predominate in our health care and education systems have come to hurt people with disabilities even more, as we try to cope with this pandemic crisis.

We urge governments at all levels to now urgently heed the undying, wise advice that Justice Cory offered in his November 7, 2000 Toronto Star guest column.

          MORE DETAILS

            Toronto Star Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Page A29

Disabilities legislation long overdue

by Peter Cory

Like others I would like to see enacted a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Two years ago, Former Supreme Court chief justice Brian Dickson called for legislation to tear down the barriers that impede Ontario’s 1.5 million people with disabilities. Based on almost 25 years of judicial experience, I, too, believe that this legislation is long overdue.

Our society has far too many barriers that prevent Ontarians with disabilities from participating fully in community life. Two stairs to get into a restaurant, the lack of sign language interpreters for deaf persons who go to vote at a polling station, or posting job ads on a website that is not designed to be accessible to the wonderful new technology enabling blind and dyslexic people to surf the Internet are examples of how we unthinkingly continue to exclude people with disabilities.

A strong, effective Disabilities Act would benefit us all. It would ensure that those with a disability would finally be included in the rich and rewarding life of other residents of Ontario. Those who now have no disability may well incur a disability as they get older, and they too would be spared these barriers.

Business will profit from both the spending power of consumers with disabilities and talented employees with disabilities who have so much to offer. The taxpayer will benefit from the increased economic activity and from the removal of barriers that prevent more persons with disabilities from moving from social assistance to gainful employment.

I believe that Ontarians care about ensuring that people with disabilities are able to live in a barrier-free province and would support strong legislation removing those barriers. Many already know about the great barriers we have permitted to remain and are aware of the human, social and financial toll that these barriers have inflicted.

Others would benefit from learning from people with disabilities what is in store for all of us if we do not act as a society now. The impressive number of municipal councils – more than 20 – that have passed resolutions calling for this legislation, shows that Ontarians would welcome and support an effective Disabilities Act.

From my experience, I can say that this is a matter requiring mandatory legislation. We applaud those who have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily try to remove barriers. However experience in Canada and abroad shows that without clear, mandatory legislation, things will not change in a timely manner.

It is the Legislature’s role to set standards for all of us. We know how important this is in areas like the environment, criminal law, and public health. It is no less important for making our society barrier-free for all who have a disability.

A law cannot be “voluntary.” It must be mandatory.

I am troubled by any thought that our existing laws, like the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code, are enough to solve this problem. Those very important laws should never be cut back. However, it is ineffective, inefficient and inhumane to leave it to vulnerable members of our society, who often cannot pay lawyers for protracted litigation, to bring legal proceedings against each barrier they face, one at a time.

One example suffices. I was a member of the Supreme Court when the unanimous decision was rendered in Eldridge v. B.C. It held that the Charter of Rights requires governments to ensure that sign language interpreters are provided for deaf patients in hospitals, where needed to effectively communicate with their doctor.

In Ontario, it took over two years for provincial funds to be appropriated to comply with our ruling. People with disabilities should not have to suffer years of gruelling litigation, only to find that the requisite government funding was long delayed. A strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act would provide a more sensible, less costly way of addressing the existing problems and preventing new ones.

We can learn from other societies that have made more progress than we have in this area. Most importantly, we should learn how to resolve this problem from those who know most about it –people with disabilities. We can learn from their ingenuity in adapting to our society, which has so often failed to recognize and respect their desire to be fully participating and contributing citizens.

Let’s accept their offer of help in designing and enacting the strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act which they so urgently need and deserve.

****

Peter Cory served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1989 to 1999, on the Ontario Court of Appeal from 1981 to 1988 and on the Supreme Court of Ontario from 1974 to 1981

Kitchener Today 570 News April 8, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.kitchenertoday.com/coronavirus-covid-19-local-news/concerns-being-raised-about-ontarians-with-disabilities-during-covid-19-2236397

Concerns being raised about Ontarians with disabilities during COVID-19

A forum was held Tuesday to discuss challenges that people with disabilities are facing

By: Cali Doran

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance is calling on the government to address challenges that 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities may face during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The group held a forum on Tuesday, looking at different hardships and challenges those with disabilities are dealing with.

Access to healthcare, protection from the virus and online learning are just some of the causes for concern that were addressed.

David Lepofsky, Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance told Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS that many people with disabilities have someone taking care of them on a daily basis, but this poses some risk to their health.

“Attendant care workers on whom they rely, aren’t necessarily getting access to the protective gear which we all know to be in short supply. You will hear talk of health care workers needing it, but they need it too, and if they don’t get there is the risk of it being transmitted to the individual with a disability.”

He said they are also concerned that people with disabilities will not have the assistance they need when they have to visit the hospital since there are restrictions on who can come into the hospital. He said there needs to be exemptions, so people with disabilities can get access to the care they need.

Online learning is also something that was addressed during the forum.

“There are hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities, for some of them, online learning will present accessibility barriers. If we don’t create content online that is accessible, then our students who are blind or dyslexic won’t be able to read it.”

Lepofsky said there was no strategy outlined by the Ontario Government to help students with disabilities as they made the move to online learning.

QP Briefing April 8, 2020

ADVOCATES TURN TO ONLINE FORUM TO HIGHLIGHT CHALLENGES PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES FACE DURING COVID-19 CRISIS

Organizations supporting vulnerable individuals and people with disabilities gathered online Tuesday to draw attention to the challenges disabled Ontarians are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and called on the government to do more to support them.

“Government emergency planning must address the urgent needs of all those who will disproportionately bear this disease’s hardships,” said Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is the president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and moderated the online panel with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. She acknowledged that while governments at all levels are working “long days and nights on this crisis,” there are various community groups they can turn to that are willing to help address the challenges people with disabilities face.

Lepofsky said his organization has tried in recent weeks to point out to the government where there is a need for action and offer solutions, and has also encouraged provincial officials to hold a virtual policy forum with disability advocates to discuss this.

Kirby-McIntosh said different segments of the province’s disabled population are experiencing varying challenges, with the panelists pointing to concerns about accessing health-care services and testing, those who receive home-care and can’t self-isolate, the particularly hard hit seniors in long-term care homes and children whose schools are shut.

“Seniors and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to the dangers of the COVID-19 crisis,” Kirby-McIntosh said. While self-isolating at home is “vital” to try to contain the virus, it also creates additional challenges for people with disabilities, she added. The necessary cancellation of school and daycare is tough on all kids, she noted, but it is “destroying” the routines many children with disabilities “desperately need.” Then there are homeless people who don’t have a place where they can self-isolate, she added.

Below are some of the concerns and asks from community groups and organizations.

Planning for the worst-case scenario

The provincial government is working on “last resort” plans for dealing with a major surge in hospital demand, but people with disabilities previously shared their concerns with QP Briefing that the “draft” document, as Health Minister Christine Elliott referred to it on Tuesday, doesn’t explicitly say people with disabilities are entitled to equal care as neurotypical and able-bodied people.

Roberto Lattanzio, executive director of ARCH Disability Law Centre, a clinic that focuses on disability rights law, said the province’s framework should centre on “Will the ventilator save your life? That’s it, nothing else.” He said an explicit statement should be made in the document that ensures people with disabilities won’t be “deprioritized” if tough decisions need to be made about who has access to a ventilator if supply gets low.

But Elliott tried to quell such fears on Tuesday. Speaking during a press conference alongside Premier Doug Ford, Elliott said she’s aware of concerns from people with disabilities that “they would be cut out of treatment if we got to that point.”

“That is certainly not what that document is meant to deal with, I would never allow that to happen,” Elliott said. “People with disabilities are treated in the same way as everyone else, as they should be.”

PPE needed for disabled Ontarians receiving home care

 

Wendy Porch, executive director of the Centre for Independent Living Toronto, said physical distancing is “impossible” for many individuals who need assistance from attendants — like personal support workers — in order to be able to live at home. This could include help with bathing, dressing, turning over on a bed to avoid bedsores or preparing meals.

Since many attendants are visiting several people in one day, including those in seniors’ homes, they can be “community vectors” for COVID-19, said Porch, stressing that personal protective equipment (PPE) is important not only for the attendants, but for people with disabilities receiving these services.

“They have been saying, ‘if one of us gets it, all of us are going to get this,’” she said.

Porch called on the government to work with organizations like hers to ensure people using such services can access PPE.

Porch also called on the government to give people with disabilities who might have difficultly getting to a COVID-19 assessment centre the option of “mobile testing,” where they could be tested at their homes.

But before testing can even happen, there are other challenges people with disabilities are facing, said Barbara Collier, executive director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada. For those experiencing symptoms who have disabilities affecting their ability to communicate, Collier suggested the government set up a separate “hotline” that would include a text version, for example.

“What we have now is a system where there’s a hotline, that hotline is a telephone line; how are people who cannot use a phone able to use that system?” Collier asked.

The government’s dedicated COVID-19 website tells people to call their primary care provider or Telehealth Ontario if they have symptoms.

Collier said 165,000 Ontarians have disabilities that affect their communication — either their understanding of what someone is saying or how they speak. She said people like speech pathologists would be helpful at all steps of the process — a “hotline,” at assessment centres or in hospitals.

Thinking about accessibility when preparing surge capacity

As hospitals prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases and work to boost capacity by setting up tents where patients can be treated or moving those waiting for spots in long-term care homes to hotels, accessibility needs to be a priority, said Thea Kurdi.

Kurdi, who is the vice-president of DesignABLE Environments, which works with clients to create accessible buildings and spaces, listed several ways to help those with disabilities access health care or other sites:

  • ensure there’s a covered drop-off area close to an accessible entrance in case a person with a disability needs to go into the facility on their own
  • have an entrance that is at ground level with automatic doors and a wide enough doorway for those using wheelchairs, for example
  • have an “accessible path of travel” in the facility that allows people to practice physical distancing, such as one-way walking paths, and enough space for people to maneuver with assisted devices
  • if using a hotel, ensure the reception area is well lit so people can see clearly; have adequate signage, including in braille
  • washrooms should have power-operated doors, grab bars, accessible soap dispensers and taps, and automatic paper-towel dispensers. “All those things could be automated so people don’t have to touch anything,” said Kurdi.
  • have accessible portable toilets for “tent cities”
  • for individuals being moved to hotels, lower the height of beds if necessary and ensure there is enough space beside a bed for assistive equipment
  • have motion-sensor night lights in rooms in case people become disoriented in a new space
  • place hand sanitizer, soap and and paper towel available at a reachable level

Additional supports for those on social assistance

 

Yola Grant, executive director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), called on the government to increase the financial support people can get through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works (OW).

In a letter to Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith that was also signed by other organizations, ISAC noted that a single person can receive up to $733 per month through OW and up to $1,169 through ODSP.

“These rates are far below the poverty line of $1,767 per month, which contributes to food insecurity, poor health, and the current homelessness crisis — a recipe for disaster during COVID-19,” ISAC said.

Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for Smith, said the government is allocating $52 million to its COVID-19 Social Services Relief Fund that would provide “additional resources directly to individuals and families in financial crisis.”

He said for those on social assistance, the government is making “discretionary benefits more accessible for those who need additional support for extraordinary costs, while ensuring no disruption to current their current assistance.” For single individuals this could mean up to $100 and for families, up to $200.

“This funding can be used to meet a broad range of needs, for example: cleaning supplies, transportation, food or clothing that individuals and families may require due to COVID-19,” Lockridge said.

But Grant said these funds aren’t enough and requires people on social assistance to ask busy caseworkers for this additional financing.

Accessing education tools

With elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions moving to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest barriers for students with disabilities is that digital content and tools are not accessible, said Karen McCall, an accessible document design consultant and trainer.

“Just because they’re on the screen doesn’t mean that the adaptive technology like a screen reader or text-to-speech tool is going to be able to read it,” she said.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement to QP Briefing that “in partnership with school boards and educators, our aim is to ensure every child — irrespective of ability, geography or socio-economic circumstance — can learn safely while at home.”

Lecce has held discussions with his advisory council on special education on how students and families can be supported; the council will be convening again tomorrow.

The government noted that the seniors and accessibility ministry had also asked members of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, of which Lepofsky is a member, about their availability to work remotely. This committee, along with others focused on different sectors, recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers.



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Major Disability Organizations Unite to Voice Serious Fears About Supposedly “Draft” Ontario Protocol for Rationing Critical Medical Care – A Patient’s Disability Should Never Be Used as a Reason to Deny Medical Care


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Major Disability Organizations Unite to Voice Serious Fears About Supposedly “Draft” Ontario Protocol for Rationing Critical Medical Care – A Patient’s Disability Should Never Be Used as a Reason to Deny Medical Care

April 8, 2020

          SUMMARY

In a powerful news release issued by the ARCH Disability Law Centre today, an open letter to the Ford Government was made public that is co-signed by dozens of disability organizations (including the AODA Alliance) and thousands of individuals. This open letter insists that if scarce medical treatments (like ventilators) must be rationed during the COVID-19 crisis, health care providers must never discriminate against a patient with disabilities by denying them needed medical care due to their disability, or due to the health care provider’s beliefs or stereotypes about the quality of life for a patient living with a disability.

The open letter raises serious concerns about a protocol for medical triage emanating from the Ontario Government, copies of which were obtained by some within the disability community. This is triggering real fear within the disability community. The ARCH news release, open letter, and list of organizational signatories are set out below.

In an important article on this topic in today’s Toronto Sun, also set out below, journalist Antonella Artuso reported that the Ford Government did not dispute the existence of the controversial protocol, but Health Minister Christine Elliot claimed it was only a draft. The article includes the following, referring to Health Minister Christine Elliot:

Elliott acknowledged the existence of the document Tuesday but said it still needs to go through final review by government cabinet.

“I know that there have been some concerns that have been expressed by people with certain disabilities, that they would be cut out of treatment if we got to that point,” Elliott said. “I would never allow that to happen. People with disabilities are treated in the same way as everyone else, as they should be.”

This type of document, one that provides guidance on who should get advanced life-saving care, would only come into effect if all else failed, she said.

Four the AODA Alliance‘s part, it is hard to believe that such a document would only be a draft if it is not marked as a draft, and if it is already in circulation. It is our experience that at all levels, the Ontario Government is typically preoccupied if not obsessed with such cautions and secrecy around their documents. We would expect this to be especially the case for something as serious and controversial as the protocol for medical triage.

It is good that the Minister said that she would not allow “people with certain disabilities” to be cut out of treatment. The Ford Government must immediately and very publicly retract the protocol, whether or not it is a draft. It must publicly issue a directive that this protocol is not to be followed by health care providers.

The Government must quickly clear up the mixed messages that are no doubt floating around. It’s not just physicians in emergency rooms that need this cleared up. This is similarly vital for nurses and other health care professionals in hospitals and in the community. It’s vital for emergency medical technicians when they arrive at a scene in the community where a emergency patient has called for help. It’s similarly vital for nursing home administrators who can play a role in calling for emergency medical help for their residents.

It is also good that Minister Elliot said that the provincial Cabinet would have to approve any such protocol regarding medical triage. We call on the provincial Cabinet ministers and the Premier to pledge that they will ensure that any such protocol does not discriminate based on disability or permit such discrimination to take place, whether by doctors, nurses, EMTs or other health care providers.

It is vital that the Ford Government now open up the process for making its decisions and developing policy in this area. It cannot remain behind close doors, with the grassroots disability community excluded. We’ve been offering to help the Ontario Government address the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s time for the Government to take up our offers.

Back on May 15, 2018, when running for office, Doug Ford wrote the AODA Alliance to set out his party’s election pledges on disability accessibility and inclusion. Among other things, he said these words, which now require him and his senior ministers to include us in their efforts during the COVID-19 crisis:

“Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus and Candidates, which is why they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party to assist Ontarians in need.”

Just over a month ago, on February 28, 2020, at a carefully staged media event, the Ford Government pledged that it is leading by example on accessibility for people with disabilities. Now would be a good time and place for the Government to start to do so.

When the immediate crisis passes, there should be an open and independent investigation of how this draft protocol came to be and why the voices of the grassroots disability community have been left out of discussions that so critically affect them.

This medical triage protocol was a top item discussed yesterday when the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition held a grassroots online Virtual Public Forum on what Government needs to do to protect the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We urge one and all to watch it and spread the word about it. Over 900 people have already watched it. It remains available at any time to be watched on Youtube, with captioning and American Sign Language interpretation. The April 7, 2020 news release jointly issued by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition summarizes some key recommendations coming from that virtual public forum.

Our virtual public forum has already secured media coverage including interviews with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on April 7, 2020 on News Radio 570 in Kitchener, and earlier today on News Radio 1310 in Ottawa.

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Sun April 8, 2020

Originally posted at https://torontosun.com/news/provincial/disabled-to-be-denied-covid-19-care

Disabled to be denied COVID-19 care?

Antonella Artuso

A document that has left people with disabilities “scared” they’ll be denied an intensive care bed or ventilator during the COVID-19 pandemic is just a “draft,” Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says.

The Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic – a copy obtained by the Toronto Sun dated March 28 is not stamped with the word “draft” – sets out guidelines for health-care professionals as a “last resort” when allocating life-saving resources during a shortage.

Advocates say the document makes unfair value judgments about the quality of lives lived by those in the disabled community in violation of their human rights, and has left many of them fearful that they won’t be entitled to the same level of care as everybody else.

“A person’s disability should absolutely never be used as a criterion for deciding whether they get critically needed health care,” David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, said Tuesday. “And certainly a doctor’s or nurse’s or EMT’s subjective view of the quality of living with a disability – compared to the quality of the life of somebody living without a disability – should never be a factor in these decisions.”

Advocates for the disabled are planning to release an open letter to the Ontario government Wednesday in protest.

Elliott acknowledged the existence of the document Tuesday but said it still needs to go through final review by government cabinet.

“I know that there have been some concerns that have been expressed by people with certain disabilities, that they would be cut out of treatment if we got to that point,” Elliott said. “I would never allow that to happen. People with disabilities are treated in the same way as everyone else, as they should be.”

This type of document, one that provides guidance on who should get advanced life-saving care, would only come into effect if all else failed, she said.

Robert Lattanzio, executive director of ARCH Disability Law Centre, said the document provides three levels of triage for health-care providers based on demand and resources.

Using the “frailty scale,” the framework doesn’t just look at who would benefit most from the care, but also calls on health professionals to consider factors like the quality of life of those with a disability, he said.

“That is where we cross a line that we cannot cross,” he said.

Lattanzio said he’s not aware that the protocol is currently in place, but he’s hearing from members of the disabled community aware of it and “scared” that they won’t get the care they need if they go to hospital.

“There’s a heightened sense of fear in the midst of everything else that is going on,” Lattanzio said. “All of our lives are turned upside down but for our communities, for people with disabilities, they are in the fight for their lives.”

[email protected]

April 8, 2020 News Release from the ARCH Disability Law Centre

For Immediate Release

Open Letter from Major Disability Organizations Calling on the Ontario Government to Ensure Persons are not Deprioritized from Accessing Critical Care Because of their Disability

TORONTO, April 8, 2020 – An open letter to the Ontario Government from over 200 disability and community organizations and over 4,800 individuals raises grave concerns about the Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic (Ontario Health), dated March 28, 2020, because it threatens to deprioritize access to critical care to some patients due in part to their disability – a clear violation of the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The open letter, a link to which is provided below, explains that according to the Triage Protocol, people living with certain disabilities, such as Parkinson Disease, may be ranked as a lower priority when deciding who receives critical care. Similarly, the Triage Protocol indicates that in some circumstances, people who receive supports for daily living, such as those with moderate-to-severe cognitive impairments and the clinically frail elderly, are less likely to receive critical care.

“A person’s disability must not be used as a reason to deprioritize a person’s need for critical care, even during difficult periods of medical care shortages,” said lawyer Robert Lattanzio, Executive Director of the ARCH Disability Law Centre, a co-signatory to the letter. “Doctors, nurses, EMTs or other health care providers must ensure that their decisions are not informed by discriminatory assumptions or stereotypes about the ‘quality of life’ of a person with a disability. Increasingly, people with disabilities are fearful that this is what they are about to face. They desperately need the Government to make it loud and clear that this will not be tolerated.”

“Health care providers need clear, fair and ethically-sound direction in line with our human rights protections on what to do should decisions about scarce medical resources have to be made,” said Lattanzio. “We urge the Government to immediately withdraw this triage protocol, consult with disability communities, and ensure that any revised protocol includes a clear statement reaffirming human rights protections including the right to disability related accommodations and supports, and that disability will not be a factor in determining priority for critical medical treatment.”

Yesterday, this was one of the important issues discussed at a ground-breaking online Virtual Public Forum on what governments must do to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID crisis, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ23it9ULjc

It is important to keep in mind that some people with disabilities bear the disproportionate risk of getting this disease, the greater risk of severe medical consequences from it, and moreover at a higher risk of being denied critical care when needed most.

To view the Open Letter go to archdisabilitylaw.ca

Contact:

Robert Lattanzio, Executive Director

ARCH Disability Law Centre

Toll-free: 1-866-482-2724 extension 2233

Email: [email protected]

April 8, 2020 Open Letter to the Ontario Government on the Medical Triage Protocol

OPEN LETTER: Ontario’s COVID-19 Triage Protocol

April 8, 2020

Hon. Doug Ford, Premier of Ontario

Legislative Building

Queen’s Park

Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health of Ontario

College Park 5th Floor,

777 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M7A 2J3

Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility of Ontario

Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility

College Park, 5th Floor

777 Bay Street, Toronto, ON M5G 2C8

Dear Hon. Premier Ford, Hon. Deputy Premier and Minister Elliott, and Hon. Minister Cho:

Re:       Ontario’s Clinical Triage Protocol

We, the undersigned, share grave concerns regarding Ontario Health’s Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic, dated March 28, 2020, which has yet to be released to the public. As disability organizations, we write in particular to underscore the disproportionate and adverse impact that the Triage Protocol will have on people with disabilities, and to make recommendations for reform.

The COVID-19 pandemic is disproportionately impacting persons with disabilities: our communities are more vulnerable to the virus and are being severely impacted by the necessary emergency response measures, like physical distancing, which interferes with the supports they need for daily living or is not altogether possible.

The Triage Protocol must respect the human rights of all persons, including persons with disabilities. Consultation with human rights experts and the marginalized communities of persons who are going to be disproportionately impacted by the Triage Protocol, must be conducted. Even though it is an emergency situation, the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be used as justification for discrimination.

To this end, we make the following specific recommendations:

  • Persons with disabilities cannot be deprioritized for critical care on the basis of their disability

According to the Triage Protocol, some people will not get critical care because of their disability. For example, the Triage Protocol identifies particular disabilities, such as cognitive disabilities and advanced neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson Disease, and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Persons with these disabilities may in some stages of their disability be deprioritized in determinations about who receives critical care.

It is imperative that decisions about who receives critical care should be made using objective clinical criteria directly associated with mortality risks of COVID-19, and must not be based on stereotypes or assumptions about a person’s disability, and longer term mortality rates that are not directly related to COVID-19. It should also be made clear that by virtue of someone’s disability, they will not be deemed a lower priority and passed over for another patient who does not have a disability.

 

The Triage Protocol must clearly state that clinical judgment must not be informed by bias, stereotypes, or ableism

The Triage Protocol explicitly states that clinical assessments cannot take into consideration a patient’s socioeconomic privilege or political rank. As the health-care system has a long-entrenched history of ableism, the Triage Protocol must also explicitly state that implicit disability-based bias, stereotypes and ableist assumptions cannot factor into clinical judgment or assessment when allocating critical care resources. It must also make clear that decisions cannot be made on the basis of human-rights protected characteristics and intersecting identities. We understand that clinical judgment is an important part of the Triage Protocol, but there must be necessary safeguards to ensure that particular marginalized groups are not adversely impacted.

 

Persons with disabilities cannot be deprioritized for critical care based on the supports they receive for daily living

According to the Triage Protocol, persons with disabilities who receive accommodations or supports from others for daily living are in some circumstances less likely to receive critical care. This means that the Triage Protocol has the effect of deeming the lives of persons who require assistance as being less worthy, or assumes that they have a lesser quality of life. These kinds of criteria are discriminatory and devalue the lives of persons with disabilities. The Protocol invites value-based judgments on the basis of disability-related accommodations, which are a basic human right.

 

The Triage Protocol must clearly ensure that persons with disabilities receive necessary disability-related accommodations

The Triage Protocol does not have a clear statement that persons will receive necessary disability-related accommodations in the implementation of the Triage Protocol. Accommodations, such as interpretation, support or other services to access medical services, are a basic tenet of human rights law. Disability-related accommodations ensure that persons with disabilities have equal opportunity to receive, understand, and benefit from critical care.

We understand and appreciate that health care workers are working hard to care for all Ontarians, and a practical framework is required to help them make very difficult decisions about who gets critical care with some level of efficiency. We therefore support the development of a policy that respects human rights and has a fair procedure of decision making. We ask that any such framework not violate the basic human rights of persons with disabilities. The rationing of scarce resources in the health care system during this health crisis cannot be used as justification for discrimination.

Sincerely,

This letter has been signed by 204 organizations and 4828 individuals, as follows:

 

Organizations

  1. ARCH Disability Law Centre
  2. Access Independent Living Services
  3. Accessibility for All
  4. ACCKWA – AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area
  5. Advocacy Centre for the Elderly
  6. AIDS ACTION NOW!
  7. AIDS Committee of Windsor
  8. ALS Society of Canada
  9. Alzheimer Society Durham Region
  10. Alzheimer Society Lanark Leeds Grenville
  11. Alzheimer Society of Niagara Region
  12. Alzheimer Society of Perth County
  13. Alzheimer Society Timmins-Porcupine
  14. Alzheimer Society Waterloo Wellington
  15. AODA Alliance
  16. Arthritis Society
  17. Autism Ontario
  18. Balance for Blind Adults
  19. BarrierFree Saskatchewan
  20. BC Aboriginal Network on Disability Society
  21. Brockville and District Association for Community Involvement (BDACI)
  22. Bellwoods Centres for Community Living
  23. Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention
  24. Black Legal Action Centre
  25. Bob Rumball Canadian Centre of Excellence for the Deaf
  26. Brampton Caledon Community Living
  27. Breaking Down Barriers Independent Living Resource Centre
  28. Bridges to Belonging
  29. Brockville & Area Community Living Association
  30. Camp Bowen Society for the Independence of the Blind and Deafblind
  31. Canadian Association for Community Living
  32. Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance
  33. Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work
  34. Canadian Down Syndrome Society
  35. Canadian Federation of the Blind of Ontario
  36. Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
  37. Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network
  38. Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT)
  39. Chatham-Kent Legal Clinic
  40. Chinese & Southeast Asian Legal Clinic
  41. Christian Horizons
  42. Citizen Advocacy Ottawa
  43. Citizens With Disabilities – Ontario (CWDO)
  44. Community Living Ajax – Pickering and Whitby
  45. CNIB Foundation
  46. Cochrane Temiskaming Resource Centre
  47. Communication Disabilities Access Canada
  48. Community Autism Centre Inc.
  49. Community Living Ajax Pickering and Whitby
  50. Community Living Algoma
  51. Community Living Campbellford/ Brighton
  52. Community Living Central York
  53. Community Living Chatham-Kent
  54. Community Living Dundas County
  55. Community Living Essex County
  56. Community Living Guelph Wellington
  57. Community Living Kincardine & District
  58. Community Living Kingston & District
  59. Community Living North Bay
  60. Community Living North Grenville
  61. Community Living Ontario
  62. Community Living Prince Edward
  63. Community Living Quinte West
  64. Community Living Toronto
  65. Community Living Upper Ottawa Valley
  66. Community Living Welland-Pelham
  67. Community Living West Nipissing
  68. Community living Windsor
  69. Community Living York South
  70. Community Living-Central Huron
  71. Community Resistance Intimacy Project (CRIP)
  72. Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD)
  73. Council of Canadians, Peterborough and Kawarthas chapter
  74. DANI
  75. Deafblind Community Services
  76. DEEN Support Services
  77. Disability Alliance BC
  78. Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO)
  79. DisAbled Women’s Network Canada (DAWN)
  80. Dissociative Society of Canada
  81. Down Syndrome Association of Peel
  82. Down Syndrome Association of Toronto
  83. Down Syndrome Caring Parents of Niagara
  84. Down Syndrome Niagara
  85. Downsview Community Legal Services
  86. Durham Association for Family Resources and Support
  87. Durham Family Network
  88. Easter Seals Ontario
  89. Elevate NWO
  90. Empower Simcoe
  91. Empowered Kids Ontario – Enfants Avenir Ontario
  92. ensemble
  93. Erich’s Cupboard
  94. Ethno Racialized Disability Coalition Ontario (ERDCO)
  95. Extend-A-Family
  96. Extend-A-Family Waterloo Region
  97. Facile Perth
  98. Families for a Secure Future
  99. Family Alliance Ontario
  100. Family Respite Services
  101. Family Support Network for Employment
  102. Family Support Network (Newmarket/Aurora)
  103. Family Support Network (Total Communication Environment)
  104. Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Group of Ottawa
  105. Good Things In Life
  106. Guelph Independent Living
  107. Guide Dog Users of Canada
  108. Hamilton & District Injured Workers Group
  109. Hamilton Community Legal Clinic
  110. Hamilton Family Network
  111. Hand Over Hand Community Organization
  112. HIV & AIDS Legal Clinic Ontario (HALCO)
  113. Hydrocephalus Canada
  114. Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region
  115. Inclusive Design Research Centre, OCAD University
  116. Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC)
  117. Independent Living Canada
  118. Independent Living Centre London and Area
  119. Injured Workers Community Legal Clinic (IWC)
  120. Intensive TLC
  121. Joyce Scott Non Profit Homes Inc.
  122. Kawartha Sexual Assault Centre
  123. KMK Law
  124. KW AccessAbility
  125. KW habilitation
  126. Lake Country Community Legal Clinic
  127. L’Arche Canada
  128. L’Arche Daybreak
  129. L’Arche London
  130. L’Arche Sudbury
  131. Live & Learn Centre
  132. London Down Syndrome Association
  133. March of Dimes Canada
  134. Marsha Forest Centre
  135. Mary Centre of the Archdiocese of Toronto
  136. Member Family Support Network TCE
  137. Middlesex Community Living
  138. Millennial Womxn in Policy
  139. Montage Support Services
  140. MPN Ontario Patient Support Group
  141. Muscular Dystrophy Canada
  142. National Coalition of People who use Guide and Service Dogs
  143. National Educational Association of Disabled Students (NEADS)
  144. National Network for Mental Health (NNMH)
  145. Network of Women with Disabilities NOW
  146. New Vision Advocates
  147. No More Silence
  148. Older Women’s Network / Living in Place Campaign
  149. Ontario Association for Developmental Education
  150. Ontario Association of Independent Living Service Providers
  151. Ontario Association of the Deaf
  152. Ontario Autism Coalition
  153. Ontario Disability Coalition
  154. Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy
  155. Ontario Health Coalition
  156. Ontario Independent Facilitation Network
  157. Options Northwest Personal Support Services
  158. Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children – VIEWS for the Visually Impaired
  159. Ottawa Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities
  160. Ottawa Independent Living Resource Centre
  161. A.D.D. Parents of Adults who have Developmental Disabilities
  162. PACE Independent Living
  163. Pacific Training Centre for the Blind
  164. Parkdale Community Legal Services
  165. Parkdale People’s Economy
  166. Participation Lodge Grey-Bruce
  167. Peterborough Community Legal Centre
  168. Peterborough Health Coalition
  169. PHSS-Medical & Complex Care in Community
  170. PooranLaw Professional Corporation
  171. Prisoners with HIV/AIDS Support Action Network
  172. Project 321 Peel Down Syndrome Association
  173. Project Autism
  174. PWA (Toronto People With AIDS Foundation)
  175. Realize
  176. RISE: Resource Centre for Independent Living
  177. Scleroderma Society of Ontario
  178. Shannon Law Office
  179. Students for Barrier-free Access
  180. Sudbury Community Legal Clinic
  181. Tangled Art + Disability
  182. The AIDS Committee of Durham Region
  183. The AIDS Network
  184. The Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance
  185. The FASD E.L.M.O. Network
  186. The George Hull Centre for Children and Families
  187. The Legal Clinic (Perth, Sharbot Lake, Brockville)
  188. The Neighbourhood Group
  189. The Organization of Canadian Tamils With Disabilities (OCTD)
  190. The Participation House Project, Durham Region
  191. Toronto Family Network
  192. Toronto Yachad – The Canadian Jewish Council for Disabilities
  193. Total Communication Environment
  194. Traverse Independence
  195. Universities Allied for Essential Medicines (UAEM)
  196. Viability Employment Services
  197. Vibrant Health Care Alliance
  198. Vision Loss Rehabilitation Ontario
  199. Waterloo Regional Down Syndrome Society (WRDSS)
  200. Windsor-Essex Family Network
  201. Workers United Canada Council
  202. Working For Change
  203. York Region Lifetime Independent Facilitation
  204. YWCA Hamilton

The original letter sent to the above noted recipients included a full list of individual signatories.



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Governments Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of Millions of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Public Forum Lets Experts Give the Top Priorities from the Frontlines Tomorrow 10 am. EDT


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Governments Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of Millions of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Public Forum Lets Experts Give the Top Priorities from the Frontlines Tomorrow 10 am. EDT

April 6, 2020

The harms and hardships of COVID-19 are falling disproportionately on people with disabilities. What must Government do to make sure patients with disabilities can access critical health care services during the COVID-19 crisis, and to make sure that no one is denied medical services due to their disability? What should be done to ensure that hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities are able to continue their studies as schools, colleges and universities move to potentially inaccessible online learning? What must be done to enable people with disabilities to self-isolate at home like all are being urged to do? What should Governments do to protect the homeless who have no home for self-isolating?

These are just some of the urgent questions that will be tackled tomorrow from starting at 10 am EDT during a Virtual Public Forum on the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Log in to https://www.youtube.com/c/OntarioAutismCoalition

Organized by the grassroots AODA Alliance together with the Ontario Autism Coalition, this public forum brings together a diverse spectrum of experts to explain what extra hardships are imposed on people with disabilities and what Governments must do now to address this. Co-anchors for this event are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, and Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the OAC. Both have long track records in tenacious grassroots disability advocacy. They know how to get governments to take action.

Their discussion will be fueled by feedback accumulating over the past days via email and social media. The new hashtag #DisabilityUrgent Has been created, starting with this event and going forward. Feedback can also be sent to [email protected]

The media is invited to broadcast any clips from this public forum that it wishes. We commend QP Briefing for running an article on this issue on March 31, 2020, set out below. We also commend City News for airing a story on this topic on Friday, April 3, 2020.

On March 20, 2020, the AODA Alliance released an AODA Alliance Update on the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on people with disabilities. It identified a number of important areas where governments need to act now, as part of its emergency planning, to address these issues. On March 25, 2020, the AODA Alliance wrote Premier Ford directly with this message. No line ministry such as the Health or Education Ministries have responded. There have only been a few chats with the Accessibility Ministry, which does not run the key Government operations that need to act now. In the absence of a sufficient response, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition teamed up to organize this urgent virtual public forum.

QP Briefing March 31, 2020

Fixing disability barriers critical during COVID-19 crisis, advocates say

Jack Hauen

Advocates say the COVID-19 crisis is laying bare some of the barriers people with disabilities have faced for decades, which are now crucial to solve as the pandemic disappears everyday disability supports — with a lack of communication compounding the issue.

The government has postponed all meetings of the Standards Development Committees, which recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers, said Ontario disability advocate David Lepofsky, a member of the committee focused on K-12 education and the chair of the AODA Alliance.

Lepofsky said the postponement is understandable in the short-term while the government deals with an unprecedented crisis, but the government should be actively working on setting up virtual meetings, or at least reaching out to members informally. But he said he hasn’t received an email or phone call from any ministry.

He said he has many issues he wants to address, including making sure e-learning plans are disability-friendly and that any hotels that could potentially take patients are accessible.

Those committees are “critical,” said Sherry Caldwell, co-founder of the Ontario Disability Coalition. “Right now this community needs support.”

The offices of Premier Doug Ford and Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho did not respond to requests for comment.

The crisis has resulted in “significantly reduced supports” for people with disabilities due to shortages in personal support workers and the closure of schools and universities, Caldwell said. The loss of many jobs aggravates those issues.

“I think until things affect the general population, people aren’t quite aware what it would be like to [for instance] have to stay home, and that’s what’s happened to many people with disabilities. They just can’t access employment,” she said. Special education equipment needed for many kids’ learning — like computers and adapted bikes — is sitting at now-empty schools, Caldwell said. She suggested the Ford government find a way to get that equipment to families. In updates to the province’s distance learning program announced on Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said laptops and other devices could be distributed “as needed” — though details are still to come. Lecce’s office said school boards will be handling the program.

“That’s really good,” Caldwell said in a follow-up interview after the press conference. She had just gotten off the phone with the school attended by her daughter, Ashley, who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube for liquids.

The switch to home life has come with challenges, Caldwell said, as Ashley is missing the social interactions that come with her usual community classroom, nurses and educational assistants.

“You can’t replicate the rich environment of the school here at home,” she said.

But teachers have been very compassionate — Caldwell said Ashley’s teacher told her, “‘Sherry, if it’s in my classroom I’m going to make sure you get it,’” referring to equipment her daughter normally uses. And Ashley is healthy, which is the main thing, Caldwell said.

Other “rudimentary” disability-friendly changes, like automatic faucets and paper towel dispensers in public washrooms, are needed now more than ever, Lepofsky said.

“Those are measures that would be helping avoid the spread of this virus,” he said. “I bet when you reached for a bathroom faucet you wished it was an automated one that you didn’t have to touch.”

“The measures that we need help everybody,” Lepofsky said, adding that the failure of successive governments to ensure accessible environments “is coming home to roost in a very serious way.” Action is needed soon since people with disabilities will “disproportionately bear the hardships of this crisis,” Lepofsky said.

Those most vulnerable to the disease are seniors and those with compromised immune systems — groups of people who disproportionately have disabilities. That includes people experiencing homelessness, he added. “We need concrete, specific strategies for them.”

He stressed that he doesn’t want to accuse the government of not doing anything, but “if they are doing things, we don’t know about it.”

The AODA Alliance isn’t the only disability advocacy group in Ontario, but it is a major one, and it’s concerning that it hasn’t heard anything from the government, Lepofsky said

“The fact that none of those ministries — ministers, deputy ministers, major policy people — have even picked up the phone or flipped an email saying, ‘Hey, is there stuff we should be doing, or are there people we should be talking to?’ or whatever — to me, is just one illustration of the deficiency that we’re facing,” he said.



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