While governments at all levels respond to COVID-19, it is important that we recognize that there is a group of people who are disproportionately impacted by this pandemic, people with disabilities.
For some people with disabilities, it is underlying medical conditions that will put them at greater risk of serious complications related to COVID-19. But for another group, there are very real daily impacts – of discrimination and barriers in accessing information, services, and health care. For yet another group, the need for self-isolation and physical distancing is creating additional challenges, either in basic daily functioning or in some cases, escalating stress and violence in families.
People with disabilities are about 1 in 5 in our society. They aren’t one group, they aren’t all the same, they are 20 per cent of every group and as such their needs and experiences are varied. It cannot be assumed that a categorization of ‘vulnerable populations’ will adequately address their needs.
We have been raising these issues with government for weeks now. The answers we are getting are not comforting.
The federal government announced last week that they were establishing a COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, comprised of experts in disability inclusion. The B.C. government should do the same. There needs to be a conduit to government for the real-time lived experiences of persons with disabilities during this crisis, the emerging challenges and systemic gaps, and potential measures and steps to deal with those realities.
People with disabilities and the community-based organizations that support them are best positioned to suggest how to provide creative solutions to challenges – they innovate every day. But right now, there are real challenges to accessing necessary daily health care and critical health supplies. Without some creative solutions, people will end up in hospital – the last place we want them to be.
While government has been responsive to the needs of vulnerable populations with financial supports, it is not clear that they are putting a disability lens on decision-making. Advocates and stakeholders have been frustrated and concerns remain. Especially in the areas of equality of access to health care and supports; access to information; and the lack of an emergency response plan for people with disabilities.
The community deserves to know – unequivocally – that their provincial government is committed to the rights of every citizen and the value of every life, including the right to equal access to medical treatment and care.
Stephanie Cadieux is Liberal MLA for Surrey South