Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
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
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.
CBC News May 3, 2020
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
LEVY: Hospital bans disabled patient from using iPad calling it ‘surveillance tool’
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.”