Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Ford Government Must Ensure the New Vaccine Passport System Does Not Create New Barriers for People with Disabilities
September 3, 2021
The Ford Government’s plan to require vaccination passports starting September 22, 2021 to access certain places is an important step to get as many people as possible to get fully vaccinated. However, it is very important that this new vaccination passport requirement and system not create any new barriers for people with disabilities in Ontario. This can be achieved if the Ford Government shows strong leadership, and takes the steps outlined here as a swift and clear priority.
As it is, people with disabilities face far too many disability barriers when seeking goods, services facilities and jobs. It is good that the Government’s introductory announcement plans for an exemption for people who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons. The Ford Government’s September 1, 2021 news release included:
Individuals who cannot receive the vaccine due to medical exemptions will be permitted entry with a doctor’s note until recognized medical exemptions can be integrated as part of a digital vaccine certificate. Children who are 11 years of age and younger and unable to be vaccinated will also be exempted from these requirements.
This general statement, while helpful, does not protect people with disabilities from the creation of new barriers. Before this vaccination passport requirement goes into effect, the Ontario Government must immediately put in place several important measures to ensure that the Government creates no new disability barriers. While this requires further exploration, we know that the following is absolutely necessary:
- Any mobile app for vaccine passports must be designed and tested to ensure it is fully accessible to adaptive technology for smart phone users with disabilities, such as screen readers. The Federal Government did not do so for its COVID-19-related smart phone ArriveCan app for entering Canada.
- The Ontario Government must make available an easily-accessed alternative hard copy document to a smart phone app for vaccine passports. Too many people cannot afford smart phones, including many people with disabilities (who disproportionately live in poverty).
- It is not sufficient for the Government to impose the burden on those individuals with disabilities, who cannot take the vaccine for medical reasons, to get a letter from their physician. This is especially a hardship if it needs to be accomplished in under three weeks.
As it is, well before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, people with disabilities have faced far too many disability barriers in Ontario’s health care system. The initial report of the Government-appointed Health Care Standards Development Committee documents this in detail. The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 brief to that Standards Development Committee amplifies its concerns. Disability barriers in the health care system got considerably worse during the pandemic. See generally, the AODA Alliance website’s health care page and COVID-19 page.
Some people with disabilities have no doctor to give them an exemption letter. For those who do have a doctor, getting to a doctor can involve disability barriers. The Government has not announced that it is going to pay doctors to provide those letters. We fear that doctors will be even harder to reach if flooded with requests for vaccine exemption letters.
As a result, the Ford Government should immediately provide a vaccine exemption passport for people with disabilities who are medically unable to get the vaccine. The process for obtaining these passports should be ensured to be free of disability barriers. The Ford Government’s related record is not good. To apply for a replacement for one’s expired health care card, one can use a Government website and avoid going to a Service Ontario office, but only if one has a driver’s license. This is an obvious barrier for people with disabilities who cannot qualify for a driver’s license, such as blind people.
- The Ontario Government’s problematic roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine over the past months included real problems facing some people with disabilities who wanted to get vaccinated. The Government did not include in its roll-out plans for the start a comprehensive plan to ensure that there was a barrier-free way for people with disabilities to get vaccinated.
While more vaccination opportunities now exist, the Government needs to now put in place a swift, pro-active, accessible and comprehensive strategy for people with disabilities needing and wanting the vaccine, to get swift, barrier-free and ready access to vaccination
- Public protections need to be put in place for any vulnerable people with disabilities for whom a substitute decision-maker is in place, to address situations where the substitute decision-maker has refused to let a person with a disability for whom they are responsible get vaccinated, in circumstances where there is no medical justification for that refusal.
People with disabilities have disproportionally suffered the worst hardships of the pandemic. It is essential that this understandable new passport requirement not make things worse for any people with disabilities.
As our AODA Alliance Updates have documented, time and again the Ford Government has failed to effectively accommodate the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the pandemic. Time and again, we and others from the disability community have come forward with constructive proposals to fix this.
Overall, the Ford Government has a poor track record, when it comes to achieving accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. We commend CTV news for focusing on this vaccine passport disability this issue, and for including it in a news report on August 31, 2021, set out below.
CTV News August 31, 2021
How will vaccine passport system work in Ontario for people without cellphones?
CTV News Toronto Video Journalist
TORONTO — Advocates are cautioning a headlong rush into implementing a vaccine passport using only smartphone apps — warning it could leave the elderly, the poor or the homeless out in the cold.
Angie Peters of the Yonge St. Mission said designing a vaccine passport to work for disadvantaged people has to be as creative and motivated as the push to get those people vaccines was.
“They may have a cellphone but need to print it because technology is fleeting for them. They have a cellphone this month, but not next month,” she said.
And the solution of a printed out code may also not solve all the problems, Peters said.
“If they have a printer, they may not be able to afford the ink. There are people that we work with that lose their ID, they get rolled on the street regularly. If they’re keeping a printed card, it’s going to get lost and it’s going to have to get replaced, just like other ID on a regular basis,” she said.
It all could add up to a barrier that could result in properly vaccinated people denied entry for factors other than just vaccination, she said.
The Ontario government is expected to introduce some form of vaccine passport this week after calls from the medical community that checking vaccine status at the door could prevent the spread of COVID-19 inside any non-essential venues.
The business community has pushed for a vaccine passport, reasoning that it would lead to more business to be done if capacity limits could be raised safely.
But for those without cellphones, with older cellphones, or those who would have a more difficult time navigating the steps to prove that they are vaccinated, this could be a major headache, said David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance.
If there’s any reason why someone with a disability couldn’t get the passport, they would need an alternative passport, he said, pointing to people for whom there could be medical exemptions from vaccination.
“We don’t want this to become a long-term thing that could be used against people when the health situation has changed so it should be very time-limited and circumstance-dependent,” he said.
In Manitoba, an immunization card alternative has proved so popular that the government ran out of plastic to print it on.
In Quebec and in B.C.’s planned card, printing the code onto paper is an option as the readers can read the QR codes just as well from paper as from a screen.