As Omicron Surges, Ford Government Flagrantly Discriminates Against Many Ontarians with Disabilities in Access to Health Care, by Requiring A Driver’s License to Renew Ontario Health Card Online

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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As Omicron Surges, Ford Government Flagrantly Discriminates Against Many Ontarians with Disabilities in Access to Health Care, by Requiring A Driver’s License to Renew Ontario Health Card Online

Toronto December 20, 2021: As COVID-19 surges, the Ford Government’s online process for renewing a health card blatantly discriminates against many Ontarians with disabilities in their access to health care. The Ford Government now requires that expired health cards be renewed by February 28, 2022. To avoid risking exposure to COVID-19 by going to a Service Ontario office, a person can conveniently renew their health card online, but only if they have a driver’s license.

This obvious disability discrimination violates the Ontario Human Rights Code and section 15 of the Charter of Rights. Many people with disabilities, such as blind people, cannot get a driver’s license. Doug Ford forces them to go to a Service Ontario venue to renew their health card, risking exposure to COVID-19. A person with vision loss or certain other disabilities faces additional challenges in maintaining safe social distancing at Service Ontario venues due to their disability.

Ford Government Piled Discrimination Upon Discrimination

The Ford Government compounds this disability discrimination. It does not allow a person with an official Ontario Government Photo Identification Card to renew their health card online.

Years ago, the Ontario Government commendably established a new official Ontario Government Photo Identification Card to serve as official personal identification, equivalent to a driver’s license. It was created largely after advocacy by people with disabilities who cannot get a driver’s license. There is no compelling reason why the Ontario Photo Identification Card should be insufficient to let a person renew their health card online.

Ford Government Has No Defence

“The Ford Government’s disability discrimination is indefensible,” said AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky, who, as a blind person, is directly victimized by these disability barriers. “The Government cannot prove that accommodating people with disabilities causes undue hardship.”

The driver’s license requirement for renewing a health card online is also problematic for those with no disability and no driver’s license. However, that does not diminish this as disability discrimination.

Ford Government’s Broken Promises to Ontarians with Disabilities

The Ford Government pledged that it would lead by example on accessibility for people with disabilities. This disability discrimination leads by a terrible example. It also violates the Ford Government’s commitment to undertake a cross-Government approach to disability accessibility so that all Government operations will implement accessibility in their work.

This disability discrimination  flies in the face of Doug Ford’s solemn pledge made in a letter to the AODA Alliance on May 15, 2018  during the 2018 Ontario election that

” 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.”

How and Why Did the Ford Government Create this New Disability Barrier?

This disability discrimination should have been transparently obvious to the Ford Government. The Government  should have identified this disability barrier and addressed it before it decided to require Ontarians to renew their expired health cards by February 28, 2022. This is not rocket science.

The creation of this new disability barrier is especially harmful because it took place over one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. Ontarians with disabilities have faced too many other disability barriers in access to health care during this pandemic. This has included such things as disability barriers when booking vaccinations, disability barriers in the vaccine passport system, and disability discrimination in the critical care triage protocol that the Ford Government has allowed to be entrenched in hospital emergency rooms and intensive care wards. People with disabilities have disproportionately died from COVID-19, as illustrated most painfully in Ontario’s crisis-ridden long-term care homes.

With the Omicron variant surging and infection rates rapidly skyrocketing, the Ford Government’s failure to publicly admit to this barrier that it created, and its failure to have fixed it by now, escalates the harm to Ontarians with disabilities. The Ford Government’s high-handed response to this issue is demonstrated by its refusal to respond to CBC on-the-record when CBC first reported on this issue in its November 21, 2021 article, fully one month ago. CBC’s report includes:

“The province refused to provide an on-the-record statement for this story.”

In light of the high profile that the COVID-19 pandemic has received, and the Government’s claim that public health and safety has been a top priority, people with disabilities can reasonably wonder whether anyone within the Ontario Public Service earlier flagged for the Government this disability barrier in online health card renewals. If they did, did the issue get escalated or buried within the Public Service? How many internal Government failures led Ontario to this point?

Even before the pandemic, Ontario’s health care system was replete with many health care disability barriers. These are documented in the initial report of the Health Care Standards Development Committee which the Ford Government made public on May 7, 2021. They are also addressed in the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 brief to the Government-appointed Health Care Standards Development Committee

These new disability barriers also fly in the face of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. The Government-appointed Independent Review of the AODA by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley concluded that Ontario is far behind that mandatory legal deadline. The Ford Government still has no comprehensive plan to reach that target.

A Clear, Obvious and Urgent Need for Corrective Action

People with disabilities should never feel that they must expose themselves to the danger of contracting COVID-19 by going to a Service Ontario office, just to ensure that they can continue to receive health care in Ontario. The Ford Government needs to now fix this cruel irony. For example, it should announce these actions:

  1. The Ford Government should immediately enable people to renew their health card online if they have an Ontario Photo Identification Card.
  1. The Ford Government should immediately enable people to renew their official Ontario Photo Identification Card online if it is expired.
  1. The Ford Government should immediately create and widely publicize an easy-to-use accessible means for people with disabilities to renew their health card if they cannot do so online, without having to personally go to a Service Ontario office and risk exposure to COVID-19, such as through a phone service that is sufficiently staffed to avoid long waits on hold.
  1. The Ford Government should investigate and report to the public on how it allowed this obvious disability barrier to be created in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, exposing people with disabilities to further dangers to their health.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

For more background, read:

  1. The AODA Alliance website’s COVID-19 page, identifying the many new barriers people with disabilities have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  1. The AODA Alliance website’s health care page, identifying the many barriers people with disabilities face in Ontario’s health care system.
  1. The AODA Alliance’s November 22, 2021 Letter to Ontario Party Leaders seeking election pledges on accessibility for people with disabilities.
  2. The widely-viewed captioned online presentation by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky (who is a visiting law professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School) on the duty to accommodate people with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.