On December 3, CUPE Ontario marks International Day for Disabled Persons. We celebrate our collective advancements, and we join others in redoubling our efforts to remove the many barriers which remain.

One of the clearest lessons of COVID-19 is that it does not impact all of us equally. We’ve learned that people living with disabilities are more susceptible to contract the virus and to experience its more severe impacts. And if they do contract the virus, the province has failed to offer enough support. We’ve seen the mental health impact of this crisis, and how it’s disproportionately effecting those who were already struggling.

The Ford Conservatives have scaled back mobile testing, which is a necessity for people who aren’t able to leave their homes or who have limited mobility. Because many caregivers aren’t provided with the PPE they need, many of the people of disabilities they care for are forced to provide them out of pocket.

With COVID-19 putting a strain on our hospitals, there are also increasing concerns about the rationing of ventilators or intensive care beds and whether the protocols would be discriminatory towards people with disabilities. The work of ARCH Disability Law Centre and the AODA Alliance in calling for equitable protocols is something CUPE Ontario echoes.

On International Day for Disabled Persons, we recognize the multiple ways people with disabilities are mistreated in our society. Sometimes to violent ends, like when Somali-Canadian Abdirahman Abdi died after a violent arrest by Ottawa police officers while experiencing a mental health crisis. Just last month, one of the officers was acquitted. But the question of how we collectively handle mental health crisis so that they don’t end in anyone’s death, must be asked by all of us.

It’s time to escalate our efforts to ensure equity for all. It’s time to take the lead of CUPE Ontario’s own Workers with Disabilities committee, which has been on the front lines of that critical work. “As a person with a disability, receiving good quality homecare services means being able to live independently at home and in my community with dignity and respect,” said Michele Gardner, co-chair of the committee about the Ontario NDP’s plan to rehaul home care and to make housing accessible for all. “This new homecare plan means better quality of care, services for those who need them and better working conditions for home health care workers.”

More than ever, it’s time to make disability justice a prominent aspect of our work.

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