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Ontario is Prioritizing Dining Over the Disabled with Its Vaccination Policy

By Bella PickContributor
Mon., April 5, 2021

If the pandemic has proved anything to disabled folks, it’s that able-bodied people value being able to drink on a patio over their lives. The Ontario government’s decision to vaccinate restaurant workers in Phase 2 only perpetuates this ableist system.

As a young, disabled person at high-risk for both contracting and dying from COVID-19, I am furious that, time and time again, the government has prioritized the economy over my life.

The Doug Ford government has consistently proven how little they care about people with disabilities throughout the pandemic. Disability advocates have spoken up about a variety of accessibility disparities the pandemic exacerbated: from CERB being almost double the value of government disability benefits, to the recently leaked documents detailing ableist policies that encouraged doctors not to prioritize disabled individuals in COVID treatment.

This new vaccine rollout ultimately comes back to our government consistently valuing economic contribution over disabled lives.

The age-based rollout model already fails to account for the higher risks disabled people face, but the latest update to include restaurant workers in Phase 2 is the icing on the cake for an already marginalizing experience.

A recent study found that approximately 60 per cent of people who died of COVID-19 in the U.K. in 2020 were disabled, even though only 22 per cent of their population is disabled disabled people are over three times more likely to die from the virus than the general population.

Prioritizing getting vaccines into the arms of restaurant workers over disabled people who’ve been advocating for their unique needs since the start of the pandemic will ultimately lead to more COVID deaths.

This isn’t to say that disabled folks should automatically jump to the front of the line; it’s important to vaccinate essential workers. But, there’s nothing essential about in-person dining.

Disabled folks’ inability to receive vaccinations has furthered employment disparities. Most of the scarce employment opportunities that are still available in the pandemic are in person. The Ontario government’s repeated choice to delay vaccine access for disabled people will continue to delay our access to employment which means that the economic recovery the government is striving for will continue to exclude those most heavily impacted by the pandemic.

The government has a limited number of vaccination appointments; flooding the system isn’t a good idea. Vaccinating Ontarians at the highest risk of contracting or dying from COVID-19 should come before vaccinating non-essential service workers that benefit the economy to say otherwise is discriminatory.

Placing restaurant workers in Phase 2 will make vaccines less accessible for the disabled people who need them most. The decision to prioritize these workers will further marginalize disabled people and, ultimately, end in more COVID deaths.

Bella Pick is a copy editor at the Western Gazette, Western University’s student newspaper.

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