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Virtual Public Forum Reveals Serious Hardships Facing People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Crisis and Makes Practical Recommendations for Urgent Government Action

But Will Governments Listen and Act?



April 7,2020 Toronto: A ground-breaking 2-hour virtual public forum held online this morning, and now permanently archived on Youtube, organized by Ontario grassroots disability advocates, revealed that people with disabilities are disproportionately exposed to the risks of COVID and the hardships this pandemic is causing. Ten experts, listed below, gave the government practical priority measures needed now to alleviate these hardships. Anchored by Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh and AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky (an Osgoode Hall Law School visiting professor), today’s virtual public forum shone a spotlight on critical needs facing 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities and over 6 million Canadians with disabilities, such as:

* If critical medical care must be rationed during shortages in this crisis, a patient’s disability should not be used as a criterion for refusing treatment, nor should a health care provider’s stereotypes or personal views about the quality of life of living with that disability;

* Government should provide personal protective equipment to attendant care workers who come to the homes of people with disabilities to help them get out of bed, dress and handle other basic tasks of daily living;

* Governments should ensure that long-term care homes like nursing homes can’t unilaterally decide not to send a resident with COVID to hospital, without getting a decision from the resident or their family members authorized to decide for them;

* An exemption should be made to the rules that bar people from entering a hospital (if not a patient) for family members, attendant care workers or others who provide needed supports to a patient with disabilities;

* COVID testing should be made available in the home for patients with disabilities who face barriers trying to travel to COVID testing sites;

* When selecting and setting up new emergency sites for treating overflows of patients coming to hospital, the most physically accessible sites should be selected. Readily-achievable priority steps should be taken to make those temporary sites disability-accessible;

* Remote and distance supports, and if possible, on-site respite supports should be centrally created to assist the families of persons with developmental or intellectual disabilities living with them, to provide some sort of respite for family members during mandatory periods of isolation at home;

* Emergency increases to social assistance should be made to alleviate the hardships facing those living in poverty, including impoverished people with disabilities;

* Government should coordinate community mental health services, using such things as readily-achievable walk-in sites for homeless individuals needing crisis help, who don’t have the technology and data plans to do this remotely;

* Schools, colleges and universities that are rapidly moving to online learning must ensure that their virtual meeting platforms, websites and digital documents are formatted to be accessible to students and staff with disabilities using adaptive technology to read that content. Poorly-enforced Ontario accessibility regulations have required this for almost a decade, but the reality on the ground is sadly inconsistent;

* The Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities must urgently create action plans and resources to help school boards, colleges, and universities provide accessible online education programs so that hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities are not again relegated to second-class status. Government should not leave it to each school board, college and university to have to try to figure this out on their own, in the middle of this crisis;

* Governments must immediately and actively consult with the grassroots of the disability community to learn what they are now facing and to help plan to address their urgent needs in this crisis.

We regret that the Ontario Government declined to send anyone to speak at this virtual public forum about what it is doing. The Government’s line ministries that are working on crisis planning have not answered the AODA Alliance’s offers to work with them.

The Media is free to use excerpts from the virtual public forum in their coverage.

For further information, please contact:
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance, Twitter: @aodaalliance
Laura Kirby-McIntosh President Ontario Autism Coalition 416-315-7939 Twitter @OntAutism




Link to the April 7, 2020 online virtual public forum on COVID and people with disabilities:

Link to background resources offered in connection with the virtual public forum:

Speakers at the April 7, 2020 Virtual Public Forum:
1. Co-anchor: Laura Kirby-McIntosh, President, Ontario Autism Coalition and teacher
2. Co-anchor: David Lepofsky, AODA Alliance chair and Osgoode Hall Law visiting professor 3. Robert Lattanzio, Executive Director ARCH Disability Law Centre 4. Jane Meadus, counsel, Advocacy Centre for the Elderly ACE
5. Wendy Porch, Executive Director, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto CILT
6. Barbara Collier, Executive Director ofCommunication DisabilitiesAccess Canada CDAC
7. James Janeiro, Director of Community Engagement and Policy at Community Living Toronto 8. Thea Kurdi, Vice President of DesignABLE Environments Inc. 9. Yona Grant, Executive Director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre ISAC 10. Lana Frado, Executive Director of Sound Times Support Services
11. Karen McCall, Adjunct Faculty at Mohawk College’s Accessible Media Production Program and owner of Karlen Communications
12. Irwin Elman, special advisor for the Laidlaw Foundation and formerly Ontario’s Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth