There are growing signs that the 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities are being left behind during this crisis.

Underlying medical issues mean people with disabilities are more susceptible to contract the virus and to experience its more severe effects. If they do contract the virus, the province has failed to provide home testing.

And while the government’s being lauded for taking action to fight COVID0-19, it’s been little reported that in the midst of a crisis they ended access to the Assistive Devices Program office. This is a critical support which helps people access funds to pay for mobility devices like wheelchairs.

“This only makes the problem worse for people with disabilities who may face reality of either going untested or having to visit a hospital with personal support workers who don’t have proper protective equipment,” said Peter Stapper, the chair of CUPE Ontario’s Workers with Disabilities committee. “We need a government that defends Ontarians with disabilities – not one that scraps programs vulnerable people need now more than ever.”

Many of these workers are members of CUPE Ontario. They work in supportive housing and assisted living residences in developmental services and through a number of different community agencies to support the health and well-being of people with disabilities.

“These Ontarians, and the people who work to support them, cannot be left behind, left unprotected during this crisis,” said Fred Hahn, President of CUPE Ontario. “That’s why it’s more important than ever to continue to demand the Ontario government order the private sector to ramp up production of personal protective equipment so there’s adequate supply for everyone who needs it.”

CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members were proud to support the call for changes to a draft protocol that was clearly discriminatory and dangerous to people with disabilities because it would have potentially limited their access to the health care supports we all equally deserve.

The Ford Conservatives appeared to back down on the protocol which planned for rationing when it comes to ventilators or intensive care beds based on factors “the quality of life of those with a disability”.

“There can be no room for discrimination against people with disabilities,” said Candace Rennick, CUPE Ontario Secretary-Treasurer, recognizing the advocacy of organizations like the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, and ARCH Disability Law Centre, which penned an open letter signed by over 200 community organizations. “This demonstrates the power of collective action from members of the disability community, many of whom are also members of our union, both because they provide services to people with disabilities and because they rely on them as people with disabilities themselves.”

“The measure of success in fighting this crisis will be how we supported the most vulnerable our communities,” said Hahn. “The government must enhance support for people with disabilities and those who support today.”

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