Ontario’s New Democratic Party and the Ontario Human Rights Commission Press the Ford Government to Take Substantially More Action to Address Ontarians with Disabilities’ Urgent Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis

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/

Ontario’s New Democratic Party and the Ontario Human Rights Commission Press the Ford Government to Take Substantially More Action to Address Ontarians with Disabilities’ Urgent Needs During the COVID-19 Crisis

April 22, 2020

          SUMMARY

Here are even more calls for the Ford Government to take substantially more action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Below we set out four important recent documents showing this crisis. The first three are from the Ontario New Democratic Party, and the fourth is from the Ontario Human Rights Commission:

  1. On April 22, 2020, an NDP news release called on the Ford Government to include in a long-overdue emergency plan for people with disabilities a number of important measures, including mobile testing for people with disabilities who need to be tested for COVID-19.
  1. On April 17, 2020, NDP leader Andrea Horwath and NDP disabilities critic Joel Harden wrote to the Ford Government, combining to echo the AODA Alliance’s call for the Ford Government to create a focused plan to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning. The NDP also echoed our call for the Government to consult the grassroots disability community on this. As their letter shows, the NDP was inspired to take this action by the April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities that was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition. In the two weeks since that virtual public forum, it has been viewed over 2,000 times. It remains available to be viewed online, with captions and American Sign Language interpretation.
  1. In the April 6, 2020 letter from NDP health critic France Gelinas to Ontario’s Health Minister Christine Elliott, the NDP urged the Government to re-open the shuttered Assistive Devices Program (ADP) and to treat it as an essential service for people with disabilities. The Government’s failure to do so is symptomatic of its larger and recurring failure to effectively address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during this crisis.
  1. In the April 6, 2020 letter from Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Renu Mandhane to Health Minister Christine Elliott, the Commission raised important human rights concerns with the Government’s controversial and secret March 28, 2020 medical triage protocol. Yesterday, as detailed in the AODA Alliance’s April 21, 2020 news release, the Government has walked back that protocol and agreed to consult human rights and community experts on it. We have not yet heard whether the Ford Government will include the AODA Alliance among those it will consult.

We thank and commend the NDP and the Ontario Human Rights Commission for these efforts. For more background, check out and widely share:

* The guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky in the April 20, 2020 online Toronto Star, which summarizes our major COVID disability issues in one place.

* The widely viewed April 7, 2020 online Virtual Public Forum on what Government Must Do to Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s April 14, 2020 Discussion Paper on Ensuring that Medical Triage or Rationing of Health Care Services During the COVID-19 Crisis Does Not Discriminate Against Patients with Disabilities.

* Action tips on how to help ensure that patients with disabilities don’t face discrimination in access to critical health care.

* The April 8, 2020 open letter to Premier Ford, organized by the ARCH Disability Law Centre, voicing concerns about the Ontario Government’s protocol for rationing medical care during the COVID crisis.

* The AODA Alliance’s March 25, 2020 letter to Premier Ford, which has gone unanswered.

There have now been 447 days since the Ford Government received the groundbreaking 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 still announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That is making worse the problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been 28 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 made even worse by that delay.

          MORE DETAILS

April 22, 2020 News Release from the Ontario New Democratic Party

Government must make in-home testing available for people with disabilities: NDP

Province needs a plan to meet the needs of 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities

QUEEN’S PARK — The Official Opposition is calling for the Ford government to make COVID-19 testing available at home for people with disabilities who face barriers trying to travel to testing sites.

“There are 2.6 million Ontarians living with disabilities, yet Doug Ford has not announced any plans to support them during the pandemic — despite the fact that many people with disabilities are among the most susceptible to COVID-19, and often face barriers in accessing testing and treatment,” said Andrea Horwath, Leader of the Official Opposition.

“Access to testing must not discriminate based on ability,” said Joel Harden, NDP critic for Accessibility and People with Disabilities. “If we are truly all in this together, that means making sure every Ontarian who should get a test can get one.”

Harden said that for people like John Mossa, the testing system simply excludes them. Mossa has a mobility disability, and fragile health with limited lung function. When he came down with cold-like symptoms, including a cough, he felt he needed a test — but would have needed a PSW to go along with him to a hospital or assessment centre, and worried about exposing his weak system to transit staff and others along the way. Ultimately, medical professionals advised him not to get a test, because the risks were too great and supports too few.

“People with disabilities, their families, and their caregivers cannot be an afterthought in the government’s response to COVID-19,” said Harden. “We need urgent action to ensure that their needs are met during this pandemic.”

Home-based tests for people with disabilities should be delivered by workers wearing full personal protective equipment, noted Harden.

Horwath and Harden wrote to Doug Ford calling for his government to adopt a plan in consultation with experts and grassroots disability community leaders. The plan should include, but not be limited to:

  • Adopting a clinical triage protocol that respects the human rights of people with disabilities
  • Ensuring that attendant care workers who help people with disabilities in their own homes have access to personal protective equipment
  • Resources and clear guidelines to support 330,000 special education students with e-learning
  • Provide remote and distance supports to assist the families of people with developmental or intellectual disabilities living with them, to provide respite for family members during mandatory periods of isolation at home
  • Declaring the Assistive Devices Program an essential service so that no one is deprived of critical mobility or medical aides

Media contact: Jodie Shupac, 416-806-9147

Quotes

 

John Mossa, Toronto:

“There should be COVID testing in the home of people with disabilities, especially if they are symptomatic, to prevent community spread and properly treat their illness. It is an accessibility accommodation the government should provide to vulnerable Ontarians – in keeping with the AODA.”

April 17, 2020 Letter to Premier Doug Ford from the Ontario New Democratic Party

April 17, 2020

Premier Doug Ford

Room 281

Legislative Building, Queen’s Park

Toronto, ON M7A 1A1

Dear Premier,

We write to you having convened an urgent discussion with disability rights groups and leaders within this important sector. We are urging your government to adopt a comprehensive plan in consultation with them that ensures people with disabilities’ needs are met during this pandemic.

There are 2.6 million people with disabilities in Ontario, and their concerns are not being properly addressed in our province’s response to COVID-19. The same is true for their paid and unpaid caregivers. These are among the most vulnerable people to the spread of the virus.

Ontario has not announced a disability strategy for COVID-19, and the government has not responded to repeated appeals by grassroots disability rights groups. These groups have identified a number of concerns with respect to the government’s response, including but not limited to:

  • Attendant care for Ontarians with disabilities is also precarious given the lack of access to personal protective equipment. Social distancing is impossible between care workers and their disabled clients, so the lack of access to PPE presents a real threat to the spread of COVID-19.
  • Over 330,000 children with disabilities are currently attempting to learn from home with little or no strategy or support from the Ministry of Education. We cannot assume that all families and students can easily adjust to online learning, particularly when the format itself can be a barrier.
  • Ontario’s Assistive Devices Program was not declared an essential service under COVID-19, and has effectively ceased functioning. This has left thousands of disabled Ontarians without access to the crucial supports they need.

Last week, the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition convened a virtual town hall that brought together a variety of experts and disability rights organizations. They presented a number of recommendations that would help key departments, including health and education, in the fight against the virus. We urge your office to reach out to them without delay so these ministries get the best advice possible.

Ontario has a legal obligation to ensure no new barriers are created for people with disabilities, and that requires ensuring their voices are heard as our COVID-19 response continues.

In the end, Ontario will be judged by how we care for the most vulnerable among us during COVID-19. We urge you to consult experts and grassroots leaders from the disability community, and take immediate action given what you hear.

Sincerely,

Andrea Horwath                                                        Joel Harden

Leader of the Official Opposition                              MPP for Ottawa-Centre

Cc: Minister Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

April 6, 2020 Letter from Ontario NDP to the Ontario Health Minister

Hon. Christine Elliott                                                             April 6, 2020

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care

5th Floor, 777 Bay Street

Toronto, Ontario M7A 2J3

Minister Elliott,

I understand the need to keep employees safe and take the advice of Public Health during this pandemic. Your office has shared with me that the ADP is closed. I am concerned with the impact the closure of the Assistive Devices Program office is having on families across Ontario. I would like to share a few examples with you.

In London, a palliative cancer care patient was taken home by her husband in order to decrease the occupancy rate and free up a bed at the hospital. Dave Houghton tried to re-apply to ADP to restore his wife’s grant for ostomy supplies and possibly rent/purchase a chair lift. The LHIN agreed to provide the ostomy supplies this month but supplies for next month are in limbo. Approval of funding for the needed chair lift, remains in limbo too as the ADP is closed.

In Windsor, a family needed an enteral feeding pump for the first time. They rented this from an ADP vendor. They tried to apply to ADP for funding to purchase a pump outright – but the Office is closed. The LHIN paid to rent the pump for April but no one knows where funding will come from for May, since the ADP is closed.

In Barrie, 16-year old Ten Morgan needs a power wheelchair. She has an undiagnosed muscular condition that leaves her flat in bed most of the time. She is unable to hold herself upright. Her second-hand wheelchair was sized for a 7-year old so she cannot attend school as a result. Her family applied for a power wheelchair to ADP over one year ago, but a response was not received before the Office closed.

These situations create hardship for families in this stressful time. The services of the Assistive Devices Program are needed now, during the pandemic, as hospitals try to free up as many beds as possible. I know ADP has made financial arrangements so vendors are not too affected. Similar arrangements are needed for patients. Families with loved ones living with serious medical conditions have enough to deal with and they should not be left scrambling to find funding for medically necessary supplies and mobility devices because the ADP is closed.

Minister, I hope you will find a way to make the services of the ADP accessible to the families who need them.

Regards,

France Gelinas

Official Opposition Health Critic

MPP, Nickel Belt

April 9 2020 Letter to the Ontario Minister of Health from the Ontario Human Rights Commission

April 9, 2020

The Honourable Christine Elliott

Minister of Health

College Park, 5th Floor

777 Bay Street

Toronto, Ontario

M7A 2J3

Christine.Elliott@ontario.ca

Dear Minister Elliott:

RE: Potential human rights issues in the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 response

I hope this finds you and your team safe and healthy. On behalf of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), thank you for your ongoing efforts to address the COVID-19 pandemic.

The OHRC is ready and willing to assist the government to proactively consider, assess and address human rights concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic. As you may know, last week, the OHRC released policy guidance to help Ontario adopt a human rights-based approach to pandemic management.

I am writing today to encourage the Ministry of Health (MOH) to engage with the OHRC on COVID-19 responses that raise potential human rights issues, including but not limited to:

  1. MOH’s development of a “clinical triage protocol”
  2. Collection and public reporting of human rights-based data related to COVID-19.
  1. Clinical triage protocol

The media has recently reported that Ontario is developing a clinical triage protocol to address limited critical care capacity in anticipation of a potential major surge in COVID-19 cases. Disability rights groups have contacted the OHRC because they are concerned that such a protocol could have a disproportionate and discriminatory effect on Ontarians with disabilities.

Development of such protocols is obviously complex, raising many difficult ethical and moral questions. However, it is vitally important that any process to develop clinical triage protocols include, not only medical professionals and ethicists, but also human rights experts and representatives from vulnerable groups that may be disproportionately affected by its operation, including people with disabilities, older persons, Indigenous and racialized people, etc.

 

Consistent with the its Actions consistent with a human rights-based approach to managing the COVID-19 pandemic, the OHRC strongly recommends that MOH establish a mechanism to ensure human rights oversight and accountability before finalizing any clinical triage protocol.

To this end, the OHRC would be pleased to support MOH by providing input on the protocol, either informally or as part of the ethics table established for the government’s coordinated COVID-19 response.

  1. Human rights-based pandemic data

The OHRC is also concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may have a disproportionate and potentially discriminatory effect on Code-protected groups. As such, MOH must collect and publicly report on human rights data to properly assess and address these impacts.

It is clear that some vulnerable groups may have a more difficult time following public health guidance around isolation and physical distancing, which may increase their risk of contracting COVID-19. These vulnerable groups include people with disabilities and addictions, Indigenous and racialized people, women and children facing domestic violence, people who do not have access to stable housing, amongst others. At the same time, people from vulnerable groups may be over-represented in essential service professions (cleaners, cashiers, construction workers etc.) and tend to be recipients of essential services themselves.

The immediate risk to vulnerable groups is amplified when one considers pre-existing health inequalities and poor health outcomes within these communities, especially and including Indigenous communities. In the United States, for example, media reports indicate that Black Americans comprise 70% of reported COVID-19 deaths in Chicago while making up only 29% of the population. In Louisiana, where Black Americans make up one-third of the population, the media reports that they represent 70% of COVID-19-related deaths.

Unfortunately, unlike many jurisdictions outside Canada, MOH’s public data on COVID-19 is not disaggregated on human rights grounds and cannot be used to identify any disparate impacts on vulnerable groups. This is a serious problem and should be immediately remedied to ensure that Ontario’s short-term and long-term response to the pandemic is effective and equitable.

The OHRC has extensive experience advising governments and other public bodies on the collective and reporting of human rights-based data, and would be pleased to assist MOH in developing the necessary protocols in the context of COVID-19.

Please do not hesitate to contact me to discuss these issues further.

Sincerely,

Original Signed by

Renu Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.

Chief Commissioner

cc:        Hon. Doug Downey, Attorney General

Roberto Lattanzio, Executive Director, ARCH Disability Law Centre

David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance

OHRC Commissioners