A Disability Lens in the Time of COVID-19

Marcia Carroll
The Guardian, June 10, 2020

The Government of Canada recently marked May 31 to June 6 as National AcessAbility Week. Any other year, it would also be a time to recognize the efforts of individuals, communities and workplaces that are actively working to remove barriers to accessibility and inclusion.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic we have seen the disability rights movement regress and the rights and needs of Canadians living with disabilities have been, for the most part, left out of the conversations and response. Identified below are four core areas in which people living with disabilities have affected by the lack of the use a disability lens when responding to a public health emergency.

Health and wellness

  • Limited/delayed access to treatments and therapies such as physiotherapy, pain treatments, counseling.
  • Increased risk of infection due to interacting with multiple care givers.
  • School closure leading to regression in learning for students with disabilities and also eliminates access to specialist seen in school such as speech language pathologists.
  • Routines disrupted difficult for some people on the autism spectrum.


  • People with visual impairments pathways are obstructed and known environments have been changed.
  • Blind or low-vision persons rely on physically touching objects for support or for obtaining information.
  • Lack of sign language and live captioning services at government daily updates for the deaf and hard of hearing.
  • Long lines to enter stores, often outdoors with no benches or support for individuals who have trouble standing or mobility issues.
  • Judgment, evil looks and calling out people who don’t “appear” to have a disability during shopping hours dedicated to seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Traffic flow designs that use accessible entrances as “one way” thus making the building inaccessible.


  • Breakdown of the exchange of goods and services within social/family relationships.
  • Funding programs that do not take into consideration the unique circumstances of people living with disabilities.
  • Further delays in processing applications for disability benefits.
  • Challenges with accessing medical documents for benefits and access to medical practitioners to complete medical reports.
  • Ordering groceries for delivery is much more expensive. Vulnerable folks cannot go to grocery store to find the sales and marked down items as they usually do.

Social exclusion

  • People living with intellectual disabilities may have trouble understanding and/or following public health guidance on physical distancing and are overwhelmed with the amount of information and the lack of plain language.
  • Folks are no longer able to participate in day programs which for many, was their main source of socializing.
  • Even more difficult to hear through glass shields (not all hearing-impaired persons read lips).
  • Masks that hide lips from and many people hearing challenges often read lips.
  • Young people living in long term care facility due to disability, unable to leave and come back home, not able to have visitors.

We all benefit from a society that allows all its members to experience full citizenship. When persons with disabilities can participate fully in all aspects of society, including accessing employment, resources and services, it enriches Canada’s community and economy.

History has taught us that during times of strife those most vulnerable pay the highest price. Our leaders must not allow this to happen as we respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The list above is by no means exhaustive we didn’t touch on the big systemic issues such as housing, poverty, transportation and employment. But all of the situations could have been avoided if people with lived experience were consulted and were at the decision-making table. They have the answers. People living with disabilities need to be involved in the design and implementation plans as we go forward.

Marcia Carroll is the executive director of the P.E.I. Council of People with Disabilities.

Original at https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/opinion/local-perspectives/guest-opinion-a-disability-lens-in-the-time-of-covid-19-460651