Webcast Archive: COVID-19 Recommendations from disability organizations

This week: More than thirty disability organizations issue recommendations to federal and provincial governments to ensure fair treatment of disabled people during the COVID-19 pandemic.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not present our webcast, due to technical problems caused by heavy internet usage. However we are providing the text as a bulletin to offer up-to-date information about assisted suicide, euthanasia and ending-of-life practices for the disability community.

COVID-19 RECOMMENDATIONS FROM DISABILITY ORGANIZATIONS

  • A statement was released on March 24 by 33 disability organizations, including the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living, recommending action to support disabled people during the COVID-19 pandemic.  It takes for granted that “triaging guidelines will result in people with disabilities being denied care,” and calls on the federal government to “issue an explicit national values statement affirming the equal rights of people with disabilities to available medical treatment.”  
  • Meanwhile disability activists in the United States have filed complaints over emergency plans in four states that violate laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability. The differences are noteworthy.
    • In Canada, discriminatory triage is accepted as a given; in the U.S. it is challenged as a violation of civil rights and anti-discrimination laws.
    • In Canada, activists ask for a “national values statement affirming the equal rights of people with disabilities to available medical treatment.” In the U.S., activists call on congress to “ensure the rights of individuals with disabilities and older adults to be free from discrimination.”
  • The statement from Canadian activists reads in part: “It is imperative that the Government of Canada urgently address the unique vulnerabilities of people with disabilities and their families during the COVID-19 crisis. People with disabilities represent 22% of the Canadian population. Many are at extreme risk and require additional support to ensure their health and safety at this time.
  • “Some people with disabilities are vulnerable to COVID-19 because of the nature of their disability and related health challenges. Many others are at risk because of the measures put in place in response to COVID-19 which require people with disabilities and their families to distance themselves from their communities and support systems and to invest funds up front for supplies needed to maintain wellbeing during an extended period of isolation.
  • “If Canada’s healthcare system becomes overburdened by COVID-19, most triaging guidelines will result in people with disabilities being denied care; triaged out of care solely on the basis of having a disability. This was the case during the SARS and H1N1 pandemics and we have no reason to believe that guidelines have changed. Canadians with disabilities may be refused ventilators or life support in a moment of crisis because they have a disability. This discriminatory policy is of great concern.
  • “Family stress and reduced staff support is already proving to be a challenge as schools, daycares, and recreational activities close and children and adults with disabilities must stay home and rely on family or staff. As lifestyles shift to promote social distancing, people with disabilities require support in navigating alternative approaches to maintaining their independence, health, and safety in everyday life. For some, this shift is not only difficult to manage but impossible to negotiate alone.
  • “Indeed, family members are having to step up and step away from other priorities and sources of income to fill gaps in disability support for their loved ones. They are absorbing the costs of COVID-19 personally and out of necessity; and they are terrified of what will happen if they themselves become infected and must self-quarantine. People with disabilities and their families need immediate financial support.
  • “People living in group arrangements also have evolving needs which now must largely be met from within their residences, on the fly, and with very little guidance or resourcing from public health agencies or governments. We know that there are now staffing shortages because of this concentration of need and as staff self-isolate for their own protection. Further, staff may be anxious about getting sick or being vectors of COVID-19 transmission both inside and outside the workplace.
  • “Canada must step up to the challenge set by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to provide for continuity of care, financial aid, and reassurance that the survival of people with disabilities is a priority
  • “We therefore recommend that the Canadian government:
    • “Issue an explicit national values statement affirming the equal rights of people with disabilities to available medical treatment and care including in circumstances of pandemic triage, and more broadly, reaffirming Canada’s commitment to the rights of persons with disabilities to equality and inclusion, as enshrined in the Charter, provincial, federal and territorial human rights law, and in Canada’s international obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
    • “Ensure that all announcements made by the Prime Minister and the Public Health Agency are fully accessible and in plain language, and that all networks publicly broadcasting these announcements are mandated to capture these accessibility features.
    • “Release guidelines for service providers and people with disabilities who must continue to interact with service providers, to keep everyone safe and to ensure that necessary support continues. Provide protective equipment such as gloves and masks and prioritize the screening of support staff and personal caregivers in private homes and care centers. Encourage the provinces and territories to recognize caregivers and disability support staff as essential service providers.
    • “Establish a Citizen Task Force inclusive of people with disabilities, their families, and relevant civil society organizations to monitor evolving needs and advise on remedial strategies in real time, as adverse policy impacts affecting the provision of essential disability related care and support become apparent. Long term, following the COVID-19 pandemic, this group could help to inform a disability inclusive Federal emergency response plan for pandemics and other nation-wide emergency situations.
    • “Protect the income of people with disabilities and their families. Support businesses who have hired people with disabilities by offering them education in how best to provide accommodations and accessible work-from-home measures for their employees. Extend EI Caregiver Benefits to those who are stepping into a caregiver role due to illness or isolation from COVID-19.
    • “Connect with individual Indigenous communities across Canada to assess the current state of their operations and identify the critical health and disability related needs of their members with a disability and the best way to meet those needs. Implement a comprehensive communications plan to ensure that Indigenous communities and their members are receiving information in a timely and accessible manner.
    • “Transfer funds to the provinces and territories that are marked for the health and support needs of people with a disability. Work with the provinces and territories to encourage considered approaches to disability inclusion throughout the country…
  • “This is not an exhaustive list of all that can or should be done to support people with disabilities in Canada during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is intended to be used as a starting point for governments to build upon in collaboration with people with disabilities as the pandemic response unfolds and new needs become apparent.” 
  • The statement is presented by:
    • Abilities Centre
    • Active Living Alliance for Canadians with a Disability
    • Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
    • ARCH Disability Law Centre
    • Barrier free Canada – Canada sans barrière
    • British Columbia Aboriginal Network on Disability Society
    • Canadian Association for Community Living
    • Canadian Association of the Deaf-Association des Sourds du Canada
    • Canadian Autism Spectrum Disorder Alliance
    • Canadian Council of the Blind
    • Canadian Council Rehabilitation Work
    • Canadian Disability Participation Project
    • Canadian Hard of Hearing Association
    • CNIB Foundation
    • Communication Disabilities Access Canada
    • Council of Canadians with Disabilities
    • DisAbled Women’s Network of Canada / Réseau d’Action des Femmes Handicapées du Canada (DAWN-RAFH Canada)
    • Empower, The Disability Resource Centre
    • Every Canadian Counts Coalition
    • Family Support Institute of BC
    • Independent Living Canada
    • Independent Living Nova Scotia
    • L’Arche Canada
    • March of Dimes Canada
    • Muscular Dystrophy Canada
    • National Network of Mental Health
    • People First of Canada
    • Pooran Law
    • Québec Accessible
    • Realize
    • Rick Hansen Foundation
    • Spinal Cord Injury BC
    • Spinal Cord Injury Canada
  • The statement adds three “extremely beneficial” measures the federal government should take, as well as ten ways in which the national government should “take a leadership role” to ensure that provinces and territories provide necessary services, supports and communications to people with disabilities.  
  • It’s also worth noting that, as of April 2, we were unable to find this statement in French.  We have made it available to our French readers, but as usual our translation is not of professional quality.