While the COVID-19 pandemic is a huge threat to all members of society, people with disabilities in Toronto have been disproportionately impacted due to environmental, attitudinal and institutional barriers that have resulted from the COVID-19 response. Many disabled people have preexisting conditions that make them more susceptible to contracting the virus and experiencing worse symptoms upon infection. They also face multiple barriers in their day-to-day lives due to the COVID-19 response measures, especially those who normally rely on support from others but have been unable to get it as a result of the stay at home restrictions. Thankfully, the Toronto community has not neglected its members, and it's putting in place various measures to support those with disabilities and help them get through this tough period.
Providing financial assistance
People with disabilities are less likely than others to have a job, and even when employed, they're more likely to work under informal arrangements. Consequently, they have less access than others to social insurance, which has decreased their economic resilience during the COVID-19 crisis. Those who are employed or business owners may also be unable to work from home due to the lack of support and equipment available at the workplace, increasing their risks of losing their source of income. The reduction or loss of income also represents a disproportionate burden on disabled people and their households, as it limits their ability to cover extra costs related to disability. To counter this, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau recently announced that the government will provide a special one-time, tax-free payment to Canadians with disabilities to support them during this difficult time. In Toronto, various charities are also providing funds and free meals to the members of the community who live with a disability.
Providing legal assistance
People with disabilities are facing a host of legal issues that have been brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. For one, many of them are missing out on potentially lifesaving COVID-19 messaging, with the government and health institutions sharing key information in formats that are not compatible with their assistive technologies. Those in learning institutions are also less likely to complete their education than able-bodied students, with remote learning proving to be too big a challenge due to the lack of required equipment, accessible materials and support. Then there is the issue of visitor ban policies in hospitals, which are preventing them from seeing their attendants, communication assistants, and other people who provide essential support. To help people know their rights, various advocacy groups in Toronto are offering virtual legal clinics that focus on things like landlord and tenant disputes, cerebral palsy and medical malpractice, wrongful dismissal, and social housing matters. Some private law firms are also providing pro bono services to help disabled people fight legal battles during this tough time.
In-home medical care and COVID-19 testing
Hospital visits are too risky right now for people with disabilities, especially those who have pre-existing conditions, which is why healthcare facilities are opting for in-home medical care for them through telehealth devices or by sending medical professionals to their homes. When it comes to COVID-19 testing, the risk of going to testing centers far outweigh the benefits for disabled people. With this in mind, the Leader of the Official Opposition in Ontario, Andrea Horwath, urged the Doug Ford government to make testing available at home for people who face multiple barriers trying to get to testing sites safely.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed just how hard life is for people with disabilities in Toronto compared to their able-bodied counterparts. But it has also shown that the Toronto community cares for its all its members and will do what's needed to help those with disabilities get through this period unscathed.