COVID-19 and the forgotten disability community

People living with disabilities have long been accustomed to asking for inclusion without results:

  • We needed telehealth appointments to make receiving health-care easier but the system didn’t allow for this;
  • We needed access to remote work and other accommodations to ease the strain on our bodies and enhance our work performance but companies claimed in-person attendance was required;
  • We needed accessibility in the built environment to make it usable for us but that request was treated as a “nice to have.”
  • We needed our children to have individual education plans in schools but these were not followed.

Yet when COVID-19 hit, much of what we had previously been told was impossible was implemented quickly and efficiently. Virtual health-care was offered to reduce face-to-face contact and, for disabled people, these virtual medical appointments also reduced barriers such as travel, scheduling accessible transportation, parking costs and time off work. Remote work was quickly normalized with no “special approvals” needed, thereby saving limited energy for work and increasing productivity.

For years, Canadians with disabilities have been asking for inclusive policies and programs but have been routinely rejected, creating significant barriers to participating equally in our communities like our friends and neighbours.

Barriers to education and employment have led to an employment rate of only 49 per cent for people with disabilities. And when accessible employment is unavailable, financial support programs are woefully inadequate. For instance, the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) pays only $1,200 a month to a single adult, a rate that is far below the poverty line. 

The stigma and lack of understanding associated with disability was reflected in a statement by Ontario Premier Doug Ford recently when he said: “The best way to help people in Ontario Works or ODSP, if they’re healthy and they’re able to work, get them a job, help get them a job.”

To qualify for the ODSP, one has to prove a permanent inability to work. Although some are able to work part-time, they can only make $200 a month before the program claws back their benefits and many have lost their jobs due to COVID-19.

Legislation such as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) mandates accessibility in a number of areas, including playgrounds and transportation, yet it does not cover housing – disabled people can participate equally in their communities, yet they cannot live there. In the rare instances when accessible housing is available, there is a paucity of supportive services in the community to assist us to live independently.

The health-care system is also rife with barriers for those of us who live with chronic illness and disability. Clinics and equipment, even basic things such as exam tables, are not accessible; communication supports such as American Sign Language (ASL) are rarely provided; and few health-care professionals understand disability.

When the pandemic began, we discovered just how profoundly our lives are devalued. The Ontario’s government’s initial ICU triage protocols to be used in times of scarce resources were leaked, showing that when health-care would be most needed, disabled people could be the first to be denied critical care

Other COVID-19 initiatives exposed disabled Canadians to more risk. Although many rely on personal support workers (PSWs) to assist with the activities of daily living, it took far too long into the pandemic’s first wave before PSWs were restricted to working only in one location. As well, despite seeing the preventative success of mandated masks in other countries, provincial governments initially refused to mandate masks in public spaces, relying on municipalities to create bylaws, and leaving those at high risk even more exposed. For many in the chronic illness and disability community at higher risk for COVID-19, the refusal to mandate masks echoed so many other instances in which their needs were not included in decision-making, leaving them in greater danger.

Canadians pride themselves on diversity, inclusion and publicly funded health care. However, people with disabilities are consistently being left behind. The COVID-19 pandemic laid bare how profoundly insecure the lives of disabled Canadians are. It has demonstrated how much lip service has been paid to the needs of the disabled.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated that the pandemic represents an opportunity to change and invest in our future. Let us take this opportunity to enable disabled Canadians to live their lives fully and equally by eliminating a paternalistic system that does not respect their basic dignity. Now is the time to implement system-wide change and re-evaluate how our society values and supports disabled people.

The comments section is closed.

  • Alan Hardwick says:

    I have server depression my hole life and also have hard time talking or expressing myself. I’ve only been on ODSP since 2014 cause I could not get back to working since 2010. Spend about 70% of my time alone and this was all Before covid-19 hit.
    After March of 2020 got worse and still on going. Now I spend about 95% or more by myself and extremely hard getting though each day. I tried to get help again but talking about this now is even harder for me to explain. I’ve been trying to find part-rime work for about a year with no luck. I did find a job in carwash about 3 weeks before 2021 lockdown started and never got called back.
    How can someone like me get help? Or is their no helping me?
    I’m in Ontario where people on ODSP are way below proverty ex; we get $579 a month for rent and where I live average 1 bedroom is $1000 per month, renting a room can run from $500 a month upto $700. Cost of food has gone up a lot. Our ODSP monthly amount has not changed in long time even before covid-19 started.
    HELP US!

  • andre bedford says:

    I have conctacted Doug Ford, and have let him know concerns us people living on ODSP and Ontario Works. I have let him know that in order for us to be able to comply to all restrictions we need a home computer with internet access in order to be able to attend our doctor appointements , or even do online shopping,, I’ve also mentionned to him that we would need more money to get a credit card in order to be able to access stuff over the internet. Is reply : ( I will keep it in mind).

  • Linda Roy says:

    Need better support for persons with Disabilities long term, 25 year’s plus with chronic rheumatoid arthritis both provinces and federal governments do not provide assisted devices or appropriate medical costs, like prescriptions walkers wheelchairs scooters etc. Unable to work any longer, it takes allot if my small CPP Disability payments which is under poverty for sure. Barriers as well, physically getting in and out of buildings.

  • CL says:

    Thank you for this wonderful article. I tried to reply.
    I submitted a lengthy comment with references pointing to a rather dismal future for people with disabilities under the changes that are coming. The comment doesn’t show up here, so the moderators must have decided to block it. If you want me to try to submit it, please let me know.
    I printed the screen showing the comment was under review by moderators, so there’s been no mistake in submission from my end.

  • Lorna Aberdein says:

    Well said! Thank you!!!
    From a mom of an adult daughter with a developmental disability

    • Laurie Proulx says:

      Thank you, Lorna – I am happy (but sad of course) that it resonates with you. I feel we could have written much more on the topic. It’s such an important topic that doesn’t get enough attention.

  • Elliette Portal-Stanley says:

    Excellent article that covers all the different aspects that people with disabilities are faced with. I hope it will be shared widely.
    Thank you.

  • CL says:

    Not one of the platforms of the BC Greens, NDP and Liberals in the October, 2020 snap election included anything about disabled people, despite all the lip flapping. When I politely challenged my elected Green MLA about this – asking how even bike lanes were considered more important than the disabled, he said he’d bring it to the spring caucus, which should be happening about now. I doubt they have put it on the radar.

    I’m very sorry to say this, but if people haven’t realized it yet, the disabled are quite high on the unacknowledged extermination list, right after the elderly. The “useless eaters” are not wanted. This is not just a fight for rights, it is a fight for lives.

    The paternalistic system referenced has already been replaced by one which is far more wicked and destructive. They just haven’t fully announced it yet.

    Here are just a few examples of what’s going on:

    The CPP (and hence CPP-D) fund has already been taken over (1).

    The Bank of Canada is hiring a “System Resilience Architect, CBDC” job advertisement (2), which clearly states a System Resilience Architect for a ‘digital currency’ project (read social credit, not cryptocurrency).

    People on CPP got no help, absolutely none, until the one-time $600, which was for people who were getting the Disability Tax Credit in the fall of 2020, despite skyrocketing costs and loss of services.

    People with disability retirement savings plans invested for less than 10 years still have to forfeit 100% of the government grants to close their account, or pay a 300% penalty for each dollar they withdraw under the 10 year rule…and if they haven’t put in more money than the government they can not close their account or access their own money at all. (4) As per my MP’s constituent advocacy office, there is not a single committee or federal effort to address this, although the problem has been brought to the federal government’s attention. Chrystia Freemon solicited Canadian’s help on how to access ‘preloaded stimulus’, which these RDSP’s are, yet they are intentionally denying disabled people access to their own money during these hard times. By the way, she’s a Trustee on the World Economic Forum’s Board.

    The extra $300 per month the BC NDP premier, John Horgan, announced for people on PWD was short-lived. It was quietly rolled back to an extra $150 per month during the alleged pandemic. (5)

    Has anyone seen anything in the shiny visions of the future where we will own nothing and be happy that includes disabled people? Putting all arguments about masks, vaccines, government take-downs etc., just think about this: Name one government that has ever willingly given people their freedoms back after those freedoms were taken/relinquished.

    In my opinion, we are headed to a fraudulent election in Canada, which might be preceded by a temporary lifting of some restrictions – just enough to maintain an illusion of freedom, followed by a complete transformation by a UN- driven, eugenics-based ‘restructuring’ of life as we know it, with anyone who can’t work or who doesn’t go along being slated for extermination.


    1- Money & Finance Under Covid: with Catherine Austin Fitts | PUBLISHED : MAR 12, 2021″ https://www.constitutionalrightscentre.ca/

    2- Bank of Canada System Resilience Architect job posting: https://careers.bankofcanada.ca/job/Various-locations-System-Resilience-Architect%2C-CBDC/544993717/

    4. 4a) If the contract is in a non-PGAP year, no maximum limit for a DAP. Financial hardship question is not an issue. DAP payment rules: InfoCapsule 14 from ESDC: https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/esdc-edsc/documents/programs/disability/savings/issuers/infocapsules/IC_RDSP.pdf 4b) Minister Chrystia Freeland calling on Canadians for ideas on how to ‘unlock the pre-loaded stimulus’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HEc-mm9DftI 4c) Chrystia Freeman bio in WEF Board position as trustee https://www.weforum.org/people/chrystia-freeland

    5. BC rollback of $300 to $150 for people on PWD during the pandemic https://planinstitute.ca/2020/12/16/changes-to-bc-recovery-benefit-pwd-supplements/

    6. “Here’s how life could change in my city by the year 2030” World Economic Forum

    7. Interview with Rosa Koire, author of “Behind the Green mask” by Laura Lynn Tyler Thompson


Lene Andersen


Lene Andersen is an author and award-winning advocate for chronic illness and disability living in Toronto.

Laurie Proulx


Laurie Proulx is a volunteer vice-president with the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance and works extensively with research institutions and health-care organizations to highlight lived and patient experiences and perspectives.

Catherine Stratton


Catherine Stratton is a health researcher interested in rare diseases, disability identity, and implementation science who passionately advocates for the disability community in Toronto and beyond.

Emily Sirotich


Emily Sirotich is a PhD student in Health Research Methodology at McMaster University in Hamilton, steering committee member and patient engagement lead of the COVID-19 Global Rheumatology Alliance, and board member of the Canadian Arthritis Patient Alliance.

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