Accessibility In The News 2020

Delayed COVID-19 support another example of the government's inequitable treatment of disabled Canadians

Hanna Warsame, Contributor, The Pigeon, August 4, 2020
Disabled Canadians spent months waiting for federal COVID-19 benefits. The Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) was announced in March 2020 to support Canadians struggling financially due to COVID-19. Since then, 8.46 million Canadians have applied for the benefit, and 86 per cent of Canadians have agreed the CERB is a necessary and useful aid. However, while the federal government has extended COVID-19 support to countless Canadians, those with disabilities were left in the lurch. The financial needs of disabled Canadians appear to have been wholly neglected by the government until recent weeks. It took until the end of July for any legislation supporting disabled communities to pass into law. Even so, disabled Canadians were offered only a fraction of what the average non-disabled adult has received in financial support. According to the Canadian Survey on Disability, about 20 per cent of Canadians over the age of 15, 6.2 million people, self-identified as having one or more disabilities in 2017. Why was the federal government so delayed in implementing and passing a bill in support of this underprivileged group, whose financial struggles were a problem long before COVID-19?

Opinion: It's time to unify the disability movement

Al Etmanski and Kathleen O'Grady, The Globe and Mail, August 4, 2020
A decision to issue one-time, $600 federal payments to Canadians with disabilities, in order to cover the extraordinary expenses they have incurred because of COVID-19, has finally received royal assent. But it is too little, too late, and reaches too few. The $600 amount is nowhere near the extra monthly costs many people with disabilities have incurred during the pandemic. It was issued four months after most other Canadians have received support and well after the country has emerged from lockdown. And it leaves around 60 per cent of Canadians with disabilities behind. Payments will also not be issued until the fall.

Air Canada lays off blind longtime employee, saying it can't accommodate him amid pandemic

Christine Long, CTV News Montreal Entertainment Reporter, and Selena Ross, CTV News Montreal Digital Reporter, July 21, 2020
In 2016, Sean Fitzgibbon starred in an Air Canada promotional video about inclusion. It showed him on the job, working as a stock-keeper. He was also given the company's award of excellence for his service. So it came as a shock when he got a letter saying the airline could no longer accommodate his medical condition. Fitzgibbon has been legally blind for seven years, and last month Air Canada told him that now that it is downsizing its workforce amid the pandemic, the company can no longer provide him with a suitable job that he can safely perform. Even stranger, in a way, was a message included in the letter: Should your medical condition improve... please advise the Company immediately, as this information may impact your ability to return to work, it said. The union says the company did not try hard enough to find him another position.

House passes bill to extend and reform wage subsidy, introduce disability benefits

CBC News, July 21, 2020
Legislation introduced by the Liberal government to change the federal wage subsidy and provide relief to people with disabilities passed the House of Commons today by unanimous consent. The legislation, C-20, expands the number of companies that qualify for the wage subsidy, changes the amount companies can put toward their workers' wages and extends the wage subsidy program to the end of the year. The bill also sends a one-time payment of $600 to people with disabilities and extends some legal deadlines for court cases.

Doctors Issuing Unlawful Do Not Resuscitate Orders For Disabled Covid Patients Outrageous

Gus Alexiou, Contributor, Forbes, June 23, 2020
A report due to be launched this week by disability advocacy organization Inclusion London affirms the fear many disabled people have experienced throughout the pandemic over being denied life-saving treatment, should they become seriously ill with coronavirus. In the report entitled, Abandoned, forgotten and ignored - the impact of Covid-19 on Disabled people, several survey respondents attested to being pressured by their doctor to have DNR, or Do Not Attempt Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation orders placed on their medical records. This is further supported by research carried out last month by disability charity Scope, which found that 63% of disabled people feared they would not receive the treatment they needed if they were hospitalized due to coronavirus. A more insidious practice has also been brought to light in which some doctors have been placing unlawful DNR orders on the records of individuals with learning disabilities without prior consultation with the person's family or carers.

Opinion: Many Canadians with disabilities shut out of pandemic funding

Dr. Jennifer Zwicker, deputy chief scientific officer for Kids Brain Health Network, Calgary Herald, June 17, 2020
The federal government recently announced a one-time, federal tax-free payment for Disability Tax Credit recipients intended to reduce financial barriers for persons with disabilities during the pandemic. This proposed bill failed to secure unanimous consent in the House of Commons for debate. In part, persons with disabilities are getting caught in the political crossfire. However, known issues with eligibility for the DTC warrant the equity concerns raised by opposition parties. The issue is that many Canadians with disability who should receive this funding are not DTC recipients and consequently won't receive the support they need. In some provinces, less than 40 per cent of individuals with qualifying disabilities are estimated to have CRA-deemed eligibility to the DTC. Currently, persons with disabilities receiving provincial disability income assistance are deemed ineligible for the $2,000 a month CERB, or have had their funding clawed back at different rates depending on the province. This means most persons with disabilities on income assistance receive significantly less than the amount received by CERB recipients, and this varies by province.

YouTube: Demanding Disability Rights Amid COVID-19

The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVO, May 8, 2020
More than 2.5 million Ontarians live with a disability. Many of them are seniors, one of the most vulnerable groups when it comes to contracting COVID-19. How has Ontario's response been toward ensuring people with disabilities are protected from the disease and are safely and effectively social distancing?

CERB 'a slap in the face' for Ontarians scraping by on disability payments

Omar Dabaghi-Pacheco, CBC News, May 3, 2020
Some Ontarians who rely on provincial disability support say the federal government's new emergency benefit for people affected by COVID-19 is laying bare a double standard when it comes to the question of what's considered a livable income. The federal government's Canada Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB) provides about $2,000 per month to people who have lost their income because of the pandemic. The maximum amount someone available through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) is just $1,169. No lost income, no CERB. Ottawa lawyer Ken Pope, whose firm specializes in disability and estate planning, agrees ODSP payments are barely enough for most people to live on, and notes that ODSP payments have failed to keep up with inflation since the program was introduced in the late 1990s.

Ontario needs emergency plan for urgent needs of millions with disabilities

David Lepofsky, Contributor Opinion, The Star, April 20, 2020
Media have reported on some of the most extreme COVID-19 impacts on people with disabilities, the tip of a horrific iceberg, like the government's scandalous failure to effectively protect residents in nursing homes and independent living residences. Let me reveal a worrisome but unreported thread running through those reports that connects hitherto-unconnected dots. People with disabilities suffer a brutal triple whammie during this crisis, beyond what the broader public faces. First, many people with disabilities are disproportionately medically prone to contract COVID-19 and to suffer its harshest physical impacts. Second, a cruel confluence of government policies and neglect makes people with disabilities even more prone to contract COVID-19. Third, people with disabilities can fear going to hospital. They face a health care system replete with disability barriers pre-dating COVID-19.

I am afraid disabled people like me won't be saved from Covid-19

Samantha Renke, Metro News, April 7, 2020
Mike Marsland says: I have been referred to as vulnerable a lot over the past few weeks. Although, as someone with a disability, I am no stranger to the word, according to society, vulnerable is almost synonymous with having an impairment. Up until now, however, I had not realised the potential power and damage of this label. The word vulnerable has taken on a different, much more sinister meaning in the current situation. That is because being labelled vulnerable could mean that you don't get access to a hospital bed or life-saving treatment such as a ventilator. I say this after myself and many within the disability community were hit with devastating news after the publication of the British Medical Association's ethical guidelines for doctors dealing with the Covid-19 outbreak. In the event that medical resources become scarce, which may happen as coronavirus stretches the NHS. The guidelines suggest that Health professionals may be obliged to withdraw treatment from some patients to enable treatment of other patients with a higher survival probability. From the moment I was born and diagnosed with brittle bone condition, doctors said I would not live very long. I am now 34 years old. They also said that I would never attend a mainstream school or live independently. But I have been to university, graduated with a bachelor's degree in languages and completed a postgraduate certificate in education to qualify as a language teacher. I also reside alone and independently in an apartment in central London and am currently living my best life despite all of my health conditions. Yet, to this day, some medical professionals still ignore me, talking to my personal assistant, friend or family member at appointments, or gazing at me in astonishment when I tell them I work in television and am self-sufficient.

Disabled to be denied COVID-19 care?

Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun, April 7, 2020
A document that has left people with disabilities scared they'll be denied an intensive care bed or ventilator during the COVID-19 pandemic is just a draft, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott says. The Clinical Triage Protocol for Major Surge in COVID Pandemic, a copy obtained by the Toronto Sun dated March 28 is not stamped with the word draft, sets out guidelines for health-care professionals as a last resort when allocating life-saving resources during a shortage. Advocates say the document makes unfair value judgments about the quality of lives lived by those in the disabled community in violation of their human rights, and has left many of them fearful that they won't be entitled to the same level of care as everybody else.

Virtual Public Forum Reveals Serious Hardships Facing People with Disabilities During COVID-19 Crisis and Makes Practical Recommendations for Urgent Government Action – But Will Governments Listen and Act?

Hosted by ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE and ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION, April 7, 2020
organized by Ontario grassroots disability advocates, revealed that people with disabilities are disproportionately exposed to the risks of COVID and the hardships this pandemic is causing. Ten experts gave the government practical priority measures needed now to alleviate these hardships. today’s virtual public forum shone a spotlight on critical needs facing 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities and over 6 million Canadians with disabilities. We regret that the Ontario Government declined to send anyone to speak at this virtual public forum about what it is doing. The Government's line ministries that are working on crisis planning have not answered the AODA Alliance's offers to work with them.
Anchored by Ontario Autism Coalition president Laura Kirby-McIntosh and AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky (an Osgoode Hall Law School visiting professor).

COVID-19 visitation bans for people in institutions put many at risk in other ways

Natalie Spagnuolo and Michael Orsini, CBC News Opinion, March 29, 2020
Disabled people know a lot about social isolation. Many, including those with intellectual and psychiatric disabilities, are relying on the success of COVID-19 containment strategies, and lives are indeed at risk if they are not taken seriously. However, public health measures that restrict visiting rights to those in institutional settings are putting many at risk in other ways. While public health principles have a rightful place in our decisions, so too do principles that recognize the humanity and dignity of people with disabilities. As the COVID-19 crisis unfolds, recent decisions to implement visitation bans in group homes for people with intellectual disabilities, in psychiatric hospitals and wards, and in prisons, recall a familiar and painful history for many disabled people. In these days of physical distancing, it is important to emphasize that this is one of the oldest public health measures aimed at containing the imagined threat of disability. Many disabled people are already separated from non-disabled people. It is a legacy of eugenic segregation, which has been resisted by survivors of former government-run institutions for people with intellectual disabilities, such as Huronia and the Rideau Regional Centre in Ontario.

United From A Distance - From Where I Sit

Kathy Bates, a teacher, advocate, and writer, March 28, 2020
I just want to share some things that have been on my mind lately. I find it ironic that it takes a pandemic like a coronavirus (COVID-19) for everyone to start thinking about some of the issues that people with disabilities have been struggling with their whole lives. The feelings of social isolation or complete loneliness, the need for assistive technology that works well for them, accommodations and generally the need for more flexibility in the workplace are all common problems for many people with disabilities. Social isolation may not be easy, but if you are stuck at home with the ones you love most in the world it could be a good thing. I think it's important to take this time to reconnect with each other while everything has slowed down a little. Processing and communication take a little bit longer for some people. In a way, the world has come to a standstill, so use this time to connect with the people that live in your house. This pandemic will end, and everyone will go back to their lives but, for many people with disabilities, isolation and profound loneliness are a part of everyday life but it doesn't have to be that way. A crisis like the Coronavirus can bring out the best in people. I am very thankful for my amazing family and everyone who supports me.

The mass migration to online learning is leaving disabled students behind

Mythili Sampathkumar, Digital Trends, March 27, 2020
As universities and schools try to quickly transition learning from physical classrooms to online ones, disabled students have been (and will continue to be) disproportionately affected. The rapid migration to virtual classes has forced disabled students into using websites and apps that were never designed to accommodate them. Mark Shapiro, president of the Bureau of Internet Accessibility, tells Digital Trends that the federal American Disabilities Act considers websites, even those of private organizations, to be public places, and organizations that are requiring people to work and/or study remotely are creating a new place requiring public accommodations. Now that online education is the new normal, university courses need to be accessible for a wider swath of people. According to a 2019 analysis of 10,000,000 websites, at least 98% were found to fall short of the website compliance guidelines laid out by the ADA and WCAG 2.1 A good place to start for ed tech companies is to make sure all their accessibility features are actually requirements and do not cost academic institutions any extra to require. The next step would be for companies like Apple, Google, and others to provide free laptops and tablets compatible with accessible accessories to disabled students so they are not held further back from other students during the pandemic.

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