On December 3, CUPE Ontario’s 280,000 members mark the International Day for Disabled Persons with the recognition of the moment we’re in. With cases still ticking upwards in Ontario, and variants of concern rapidly spreading around the world, it’s more critical than ever that we acknowledge that it’s people with disabilities who are among the most impacted by public health crises.

We’ve seen here at home, with saddening clarity, that people with intellectual disabilities have been more susceptible to contract the virus and to experience its more severe consequences.

While the vast majority of eligible Ontarians are vaccinated, access to this life-saving, community-protecting immunization was not equal for all. Early in the pandemic, the Ford Conservatives scaled back mobile testing, an absolute necessity for people who aren’t able to leave their homes or who have limited mobility. On top of that, people with disabilities were left to pay out of pocket for their caregivers’ PPE.

During the worst of this crisis, when cases exploded and hospitals overflowed, the Ford Conservatives floated the idea of rationing ventilators or intensive care beds with a draft protocol that was blatantly discriminatory against people with disabilities.

But, CUPE Ontario, led by our Workers with Disabilities committee, pushed back, spoke truth to power, and made it known that we refuse to allow anyone to be singled out and sacrificed. And though the Ford Conservatives have refused to assure us they’ll never resort to such a discriminatory practice, we have laid the groundwork for continued opposition.

And early this year, when pools were set to be closed, the committee led efforts to reverse the decision, noting that people with neuromuscular disabilities need access to pools for aqua therapy. In response to these efforts, unifying both people with disabilities and CUPE members working at community centres, municipal pools were reopened.

The pandemic hasn’t subsided, let’s be clear. And, even in the best of times, people with disabilities still face systemic inequities. But, more than ever, we are collectively more conscious of these realities. And with the example of CUPE members with disabilities and those who deliver services to people with disabilities, we are hopeful that we can build a better world for all, together.