COVID-19 putting disability rights at risk

September 15, 2020 – Ottawa, Ontario – Canadian Human Rights Commission

With Canada now months into the COVID-19 pandemic, people with disabilities, their families and caregivers are still bearing a disproportionate impact of this unprecedented crisis. More must be done to protect the rights of people with disabilities and to ensure that safety protocols designed to protect public health are not putting people with disabilities at risk.

Before COVID, people living with disabilities already faced barriers in many forms, often on a daily basis. Some were experiencing the most vulnerable circumstances in Canada. It has been well documented that they have unequal access to health care, education, employment and to be able to participate in the community. They are more likely to live in poverty, experience higher rates of violence, neglect and abuse, and are among the most marginalized in any crisis-affected community. For people with disabilities who face intersectional forms of discrimination — such as women with disabilities or racialized people with disabilities — the barriers are even greater.

Now, COVID-19 has expanded the circle of vulnerability in Canada and created new barriers to full participation for people with disabilities. Part of the problem is that the safety protocols that have become a new normal across Canada may present challenges and risks:

  • Many people with disabilities or chronic health conditions have no choice but to risk regular interaction with multiple care providers. Others have had to be distanced from care providers, family and other support systems upon which they rely.
  • People who are blind or visually impaired must rely on touching non-sanitized objects and surfaces, and must navigate world where they cannot be certain that the people around them are abiding by safety protocols.
  • People who are Deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing and who rely on reading people’s lips to communicate, are now facing a world of masked faces.
  • For people who are limited in how they can use technology, or who rely on community support, the order to “stay safe at home” can actually have the opposite effect. For them, the prolonged periods of isolation can compound the situation.
  • Similarly, for those who live with mental or intellectual disabilities, the mandated isolation, the drastic shift in daily routine, and the increase of new fears or new stressors can all add up and worsen their situation.
  • And overall, like all other Canadians, people with disabilities, their families and their caregivers are experiencing longer wait times, disruptions to health care access, and barriers to other essential services. The difference being that for people with disabilities, these disruptions can mean the difference between living with extreme pain or not, having essential life supports, or not, having independence, or not.

While the Government has made some great strides to address these barriers, including appointing the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, the Commission joins other organizations and rights holders who have voiced concerns that more needs to be done. We are asking that as Canada in this moment of national crisis, that the health, financial welfare, and the human rights of people with disabilities be front and centre.

We are asking Canada to incorporate the diverse voices and lived experience of people with disabilities, their families and caregivers into the difficult decisions that are being made during this unprecedented time. All responses and recovery efforts must be intersectional and inclusive of the diverse needs of all people with disabilities. Further, in cases where an individual is unable to advocate for their own needs and share their lived experience without assistance, care must be taken to provide these individuals with a venue to ensure their voices are heard.

We urge the Government to immediately address the unmet financial needs of people with disabilities in an equitable way. We also recommend a comprehensive review to ensure a consistent approach to inclusion and disability supports across government that addresses the longstanding inequities in government programs and services. Finally, we would ask that any and all of these efforts be carried out using the most inclusive definition of “disability,” as outlined in the new Accessible Canada Act, and in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The next phase of COVID recovery matters the most. No one can be left behind. Let’s keep pushing for accessibility for all, for inclusion for all, and to see the rights of people with disabilities in Canada be at the forefront of Canada’s return to a better normal.

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Associated Links
Accessible Canada Act

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