Governments Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of Millions of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Public Forum Lets Experts Give the Top Priorities from the Frontlines Tomorrow 10 am. EDT

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Governments Must Now Meet the Urgent Needs of Millions of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis – A Captioned Online Virtual Public Forum Lets Experts Give the Top Priorities from the Frontlines Tomorrow 10 am. EDT

April 6, 2020

The harms and hardships of COVID-19 are falling disproportionately on people with disabilities. What must Government do to make sure patients with disabilities can access critical health care services during the COVID-19 crisis, and to make sure that no one is denied medical services due to their disability? What should be done to ensure that hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities are able to continue their studies as schools, colleges and universities move to potentially inaccessible online learning? What must be done to enable people with disabilities to self-isolate at home like all are being urged to do? What should Governments do to protect the homeless who have no home for self-isolating?

These are just some of the urgent questions that will be tackled tomorrow from starting at 10 am EDT during a Virtual Public Forum on the urgent needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Log in to https://www.youtube.com/c/OntarioAutismCoalition

Organized by the grassroots AODA Alliance together with the Ontario Autism Coalition, this public forum brings together a diverse spectrum of experts to explain what extra hardships are imposed on people with disabilities and what Governments must do now to address this. Co-anchors for this event are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, and Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the OAC. Both have long track records in tenacious grassroots disability advocacy. They know how to get governments to take action.

Their discussion will be fueled by feedback accumulating over the past days via email and social media. The new hashtag #DisabilityUrgent Has been created, starting with this event and going forward. Feedback can also be sent to PWDForum@gmail.com

The media is invited to broadcast any clips from this public forum that it wishes. We commend QP Briefing for running an article on this issue on March 31, 2020, set out below. We also commend City News for airing a story on this topic on Friday, April 3, 2020.

On March 20, 2020, the AODA Alliance released an AODA Alliance Update on the COVID-19 crisis and its impact on people with disabilities. It identified a number of important areas where governments need to act now, as part of its emergency planning, to address these issues. On March 25, 2020, the AODA Alliance wrote Premier Ford directly with this message. No line ministry such as the Health or Education Ministries have responded. There have only been a few chats with the Accessibility Ministry, which does not run the key Government operations that need to act now. In the absence of a sufficient response, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition teamed up to organize this urgent virtual public forum.

QP Briefing March 31, 2020

Fixing disability barriers critical during COVID-19 crisis, advocates say

Jack Hauen

Advocates say the COVID-19 crisis is laying bare some of the barriers people with disabilities have faced for decades, which are now crucial to solve as the pandemic disappears everyday disability supports — with a lack of communication compounding the issue.

The government has postponed all meetings of the Standards Development Committees, which recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers, said Ontario disability advocate David Lepofsky, a member of the committee focused on K-12 education and the chair of the AODA Alliance.

Lepofsky said the postponement is understandable in the short-term while the government deals with an unprecedented crisis, but the government should be actively working on setting up virtual meetings, or at least reaching out to members informally. But he said he hasn’t received an email or phone call from any ministry.

He said he has many issues he wants to address, including making sure e-learning plans are disability-friendly and that any hotels that could potentially take patients are accessible.

Those committees are “critical,” said Sherry Caldwell, co-founder of the Ontario Disability Coalition. “Right now this community needs support.”

The offices of Premier Doug Ford and Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho did not respond to requests for comment.

The crisis has resulted in “significantly reduced supports” for people with disabilities due to shortages in personal support workers and the closure of schools and universities, Caldwell said. The loss of many jobs aggravates those issues.

“I think until things affect the general population, people aren’t quite aware what it would be like to [for instance] have to stay home, and that’s what’s happened to many people with disabilities. They just can’t access employment,” she said. Special education equipment needed for many kids’ learning — like computers and adapted bikes — is sitting at now-empty schools, Caldwell said. She suggested the Ford government find a way to get that equipment to families. In updates to the province’s distance learning program announced on Tuesday, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said laptops and other devices could be distributed “as needed” — though details are still to come. Lecce’s office said school boards will be handling the program.

“That’s really good,” Caldwell said in a follow-up interview after the press conference. She had just gotten off the phone with the school attended by her daughter, Ashley, who is non-verbal and uses a wheelchair and a feeding tube for liquids.

The switch to home life has come with challenges, Caldwell said, as Ashley is missing the social interactions that come with her usual community classroom, nurses and educational assistants.

“You can’t replicate the rich environment of the school here at home,” she said.

But teachers have been very compassionate — Caldwell said Ashley’s teacher told her, “‘Sherry, if it’s in my classroom I’m going to make sure you get it,'” referring to equipment her daughter normally uses. And Ashley is healthy, which is the main thing, Caldwell said.

Other “rudimentary” disability-friendly changes, like automatic faucets and paper towel dispensers in public washrooms, are needed now more than ever, Lepofsky said.

“Those are measures that would be helping avoid the spread of this virus,” he said. “I bet when you reached for a bathroom faucet you wished it was an automated one that you didn’t have to touch.”

“The measures that we need help everybody,” Lepofsky said, adding that the failure of successive governments to ensure accessible environments “is coming home to roost in a very serious way.” Action is needed soon since people with disabilities will “disproportionately bear the hardships of this crisis,” Lepofsky said.

Those most vulnerable to the disease are seniors and those with compromised immune systems — groups of people who disproportionately have disabilities. That includes people experiencing homelessness, he added. “We need concrete, specific strategies for them.”

He stressed that he doesn’t want to accuse the government of not doing anything, but “if they are doing things, we don’t know about it.”

The AODA Alliance isn’t the only disability advocacy group in Ontario, but it is a major one, and it’s concerning that it hasn’t heard anything from the government, Lepofsky said

“The fact that none of those ministries — ministers, deputy ministers, major policy people — have even picked up the phone or flipped an email saying, ‘Hey, is there stuff we should be doing, or are there people we should be talking to?’ or whatever — to me, is just one illustration of the deficiency that we’re facing,” he said.