Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Watch TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Tonight at 8 or 11 PM for an Interview on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and More News on the COVID-19 and Disability Front
May 8, 2020
1. TVO’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Again Focuses Attention on Disability Issues Tonight
We invite you to watch TVO’s flagship current affairs program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” tonight at 8 or 11 pm Eastern time for a 20-minute interview on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities. The guests are AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and Wendy Porch, the Executive Director of the Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT). Ms. Porch was one of the 10 excellent experts who spoke at the first virtual Town Hall on COVID-19 and people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held on April 7, 2020.
We thank The Agenda with Steve Paikin for again focusing attention on our accessibility campaign. Topics addressed in this interview include such things as the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, the additional barriers and hardships facing people with disabilities during this crisis in our health care and education systems, the troubling March 28, 2020 provincial medical triage protocol that the Ford Government has failed to categorically rescind and replace, and the pressing need for the Ford Government to quickly create a comprehensive plan to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning. We wish to especially commend The Agenda and Steve Paikin for its and his unremitting journalistic integrity, exemplified by affording us a fair and open opportunity in this interview to speak to accessibility concerns with TVO’s online educational resources.
We encourage you to:
* Spread the word to your friends and family and encourage them to watch this interview.
* Spread the word far and wide about this interview on Twitter, Facebook and other social media. You might wish to retweet the tweets that we will be circulating on this topic. Follow us on Twitter: @aodaalliance. On Facebook: www.facebook.com/AODAAlliance/
* Urge your member of the Ontario Legislature to watch this interview.
Typically, within a day or two after TVO airs this program, it gets posted on Youtube. Good captioning usually gets added then or a short time thereafter. When this gets posted on Youtube, we will share that link in an AODA Alliance Update and on social media for you to use and share with others.
* Urge your local media to cover this issue too. Bring them stories about specific additional hardships that people with disabilities are shouldering during the COVID-19 crisis. Invite them to reach out to us at the AODA Alliance for a comment on the need for the Ford Government to effectively plan to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning.
2. Two Glimmers of Some Preliminary Progress on the Education Front
If you have not already watched it, join the hundreds of others who have already watched our May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis while schools are closed and learning has moved online. We have asked the Ford Government to post a link to that event on its “Learn at Home” website, and to circulate it to all school boards. We await word on what the Government has done or will do to share this important resource with frontline teachers and parents who are trying to cope with the additional disability barriers that students with disabilities face due to the move to online schooling.
Eight weeks into this COVID-19 crisis, here are glimmers of some preliminary progress: First, in yesterday’s May 7, 2020 AODA Alliance Update, we reported to you on our efforts to get TVO to fix the accessibility problems with its online educational content for K-12 students. This is especially important, since the Ford Government points to TVO as its partner in delivering online education during the COVID-19 crisis.
Within hours of writing TVO again about this yesterday, we received a response from TVO’s vice president of digital content, inviting a conversation with us. We are taking TVO up on this offer and will keep you posted.
Second, we are pleased to let you know that the Ford Government has resumed the work of at least some Standards Development Committees. On May 5 and 6, 2020, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee held productive online virtual meetings. As part of this, Education Minister Stephen Lecce and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, as well as three of the relevant Parliamentary Assistants, took part in a one-hour portion of the May 6, 2020 meeting of that AODA Standards Development Committee.
Committee members were given time to share information on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on students with disabilities and to recommend needed actions. Given the time available, a five-minute time limit was understandably set for each speaker.
AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, as a member of that committee, had five minutes to speak. He emphasized that the Ministry of Education has left it to each school board to reinvent the wheel, figuring out how to serve their students with disabilities. That is extremely inefficient and wasteful. He emphasized the need instead for a provincial plan to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities. He urged the Government to organize more virtual town halls like we and the Ontario Autism Coalition did on May 4, 2020, to gather good ideas from the frontline teachers and parents, and to share them across all school boards. He reiterated our repeated offers to help the Government. He asked Education Minister Lecce for a chance for the two to speak. Minister Lecce said he was open to a dialogue with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.
We commend the Government for arranging that Standards Development Committee meeting. We have been pressing for it since as far back as March 25, 2020, when we wrote the Premier.
Third, we are encouraged by the fact that the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee has now set up a sub-committee to address the issue of COVID-19 and the education system. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky will be a member of that sub-committee. We wish that this had happened much sooner, given that it was fully eight weeks ago that the Ford Government announced school closures.
Finally, in the wake of these events, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has had some exchanges with the Deputy Minister of Education and will be following up on this to press our concerns. For more background, check out:
* 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 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.
3. Two More Important Media Reports on COVID-19 and People with Disabilities
We set out below two recent news media reports that address the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, namely:
* A May 6, 2020 report on the Global News website by reporter Emerald Bensadoun on a range of hardships falling on people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. In this article, the Ministry of Education is quoted as giving this response to our concerns about the lack of an effective provincial plan for meeting the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis:
“When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.
‘The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,’ they said.”
We respond as follows: A cursory review of the online resources that the Ford Government has shared for learning at home reveals a range of accessibility problems. We question how carefully the Government ever checked these for accessibility. The Government’s obligation is not only to obey the weaker AODA accessibility standards but the stronger accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
It is good that the Minister of Education earlier Consulted his Minister’s Advisory Committee on Special Education, but that committee has had a substantial number of vacancies. There is no indication what advice the Government received from that committee or to what extent, if any, the Government acted on that advice.
* A May 7, 2020 Canadian Press article by reporter Michelle McQuigge, appearing on the CityTV News website. In the face of reported serious problems for patients in hospital with communication disabilities, the article reported in part as follows, as a response from the Ford Government:
“The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.
Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.
But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be ‘reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system’ as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.”
We comment that the provincial government has lead responsibility here. The Health Ministry suggests its hands are somewhat tied in what it can direct Ontario hospitals to do. This disregards the reality of what is going on during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ontario Government has ample capacity to direct hospitals and is doing this right now with other facets of the COVID-19 crisis. It is wrong for the Ford Government’s Health Ministry to selectively duck its responsibility when it comes to the vital needs of highly vulnerable hospital patients with communication disabilities.
4. The Ford Government’s Foot-Dragging Continues
There have now been a disturbing 463 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 44 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.
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Global News Online May 6, 2020
Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/
‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National
BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS
Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.
“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”
But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.
“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”
One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.
David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.
A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to
COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.
“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.
Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind.
When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.
“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.
March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19 that people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.
“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.
Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.
Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.
The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.
But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.
Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage
of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.
“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.
Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.
The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”
City TV News Online May 7, 2020
Pandemic highlights existing barriers for those with communication disabilities
BY MICHELLE MCQUIGGE, THE CANADIAN PRESS
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted long-standing barriers preventing Canadians with communication disabilities from fully accessing the health-care system, according to advocates across the country who are calling for governments to address the issue.
Organizations and individuals point to recent cases in which disabled patients were denied access to crucial communication supports while in hospital, leaving them unable to interact with loved ones or medical professionals.
They say the two incidents — one of which involved the death of a 40-year-old woman — highlight the inconsistent approach to such issues in hospitals across Canada and should prompt governments to set uniform standards to protect disabled patients.
Heidi Janz, an Edmonton-based professor at the University of Alberta who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said the precautions put in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 have exacerbated the struggles people relying on alternative means of communication face on a daily basis.
“It terrifies me — on an advocacy level, but also on a personal level,” Janz said in an interview conducted with the support of an aide who echoed her words. “I have experience with the kind of inability to communicate with a medical team and the fear that comes with that.”
The two recent cases, which Janz said hint at “a disaster waiting to happen,” played out in different parts of the country and involved patients who were hospitalized for reasons not related to COVID-19.
The family members of both patients either could not be reached or did not respond to request for comment, but advocacy groups familiar with the cases note the similarities.
In one instance, a 40-year-old woman in British Columbia with cerebral palsy died alone in hospital last month. Pandemic-protection policies at the facility barred support workers who usually assisted her in communicating from entering the premises.
In another case, a Toronto man who used an iPad to stay in touch with his relatives saw his use of the device unexpectedly limited to one hour a day. Multiple local media reports cited hospital officials alleging the iPad could be used as a surveillance tool.
Janz and other Canadians with communication disabilities said these cases are horrifying but not surprising.
Janz said she refuses to go to an emergency room without someone there to help her convey her wishes to medical staff, noting health-care workers often make assumptions about her capacity to weigh in on her own care based on her disability.
Anne Borden, co-founder of the autism self-advocacy organization Autistics for Autistics, said people who rely on communication devices face similar barriers.
Medical staff are not always aware of the need to recognize augmentative and alternative communication — tools that supplement or take the place of speech. She said non-verbal patients frequently have their need for assistive technology questioned or ignored, or watch in frustration as medical staff address remarks to a support person rather than directly to the patient.
The issues are compounded, she said, for those living in poverty and without access to technology and other supports.
Both Janz and Borden feel Canadian governments should emulate the state of California, which recently broadened its restricted list of visitors allowed inside during the pandemic to include support people for patients with physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities.
“Communication is a human right,” Borden said. “What we want is an acknowledgment that that is also true for disabled people, and it should be across the board.”
Advocates said there are currently no uniform standards to follow in Canada, leaving hospitals free to develop their own policies.
Barbara Collier, executive director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada, said that has to change. She said health-care facilities across the country should be given direction on everything from establishing a patient’s communication needs during intake to policies around support workers, adding these long-standing gaps take on additional urgency as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to unfold.
“This should have been in place years ago,” she said.
The federal ministry responsible for disability inclusion did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The Public Health Agency of Canada released a document on Thursday addressing various aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic and their impact on disabled Canadians. It said health-care providers should be “ensuring that restrictions account for people with disabilities’ needs and allow essential support staff, sighted guides, interpreters and/or family members to be with them.”
The Ontario Ministry of Health confirmed it can only issue guidance to hospitals, which are described as corporations with autonomy to set their own policies.
Current directives from provincial public health officials urge health-care providers to limit visitors to just four narrow categories, none of which address the communication needs of disabled patients.
But a spokeswoman said the ministry will be “reviewing the current directives and guidance that have been issued to the health system” as the province continues to monitor the COVID-19 outbreak.