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Disability Barriers in Healthcare

In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore disability barriers in healthcare and ways to remove them.

Disability Barriers in Healthcare

A healthcare standards development committee is currently deciding what rules the AODA’s Healthcare Standards should include. However, the committee’s terms of reference now requires them to address only barriers within hospitals. Nonetheless, patients and healthcare workers with disabilities also face barriers in other parts of the healthcare system, including:

  • Doctors’ offices
  • Walk-in clinics
  • Wellness centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Labs
  • Health regulatory colleges

Therefore, attendees at Onley’s review meetings recommend that the Healthcare Standards Development Committee should discuss mandates to remove barriers in these settings.

One barrier that exists within multiple healthcare settings is inaccessible spaces and equipment. For instance, more healthcare spaces should have accessible examination rooms and washrooms. Likewise, the review states that hospitals and other healthcare settings lack accessible equipment, such as lifts and adjustable beds. Furthermore, accessible healthcare equipment is not always available for sale. For example, the review mentions that most handwashing sinks are not designed with accessibility in mind.

The upcoming Healthcare Standards could prevent this barrier by mandating that a certain percentage of hospitals’ equipment must be accessible. As a result, companies would begin designing accessible sinks and other equipment to meet this demand.


In addition, one attendee reports that when healthcare equipment is present, staff seem uncertain about its use. For instance, this attendee describes transfers using a sling as “chaotic”. Consequently, healthcare workers may need more training on the safe and competent use of accessibility equipment. Moreover, healthcare workers should also receive more training on other topics, such as:

  • Disability awareness
  • Interactions between disabilities and medical conditions
  • Interacting with patients who have disabilities, including:
    • Multiple disabilities
    • Invisible disabilities
    • Mental health challenges
    • Communication disabilities

Serving an Ageing Population

Attendees also state that the healthcare system does not seem prepared to meet the needs of the ageing population. For instance, attendees report that many people currently living in nursing homes may be able to live in their communities with support, such as attendant services. However, there is a long waiting list for these supports. Therefore, people spend years in nursing homes. These settings are costly and do not meet people’s needs for dignity and independence. Similarly, attendees note that many people who have Dementia rely on fellow senior citizens as support persons. Attendees suggest that members of the ageing population need more trained personal support workers (PSWs) to support them within their homes and communities.

The healthcare sector must make plans now about how it will care for an increase of ageing patients in the future. For instance, medical personnel can focus on encouraging patients of all ages and abilities to be physically and mentally active.

Finally, one attendee reports that too many patients do not have the support they need when they leave the hospital. As a result, these patients remain in hospital, and new patients are treated in hospital hallways instead of rooms. Attendees recognize that more support for patients after they are released from hospitals will improve the whole healthcare system. The likelihood of an increase in patients and health conditions means that the healthcare system may need to change to properly support Ontarians. The sector may need more funding, as well as new processes of offering care that respect patients of all abilities and ages.