In which Canada generally, and Ontario specifically, still sucks if you’re disabled.

It’s been a minute since I wrote one of these, and I hate that it needs to be in a pandemic context. But, you know, when that’s been what the world’s revolved around for two years, it sneaks in even when all you want to do is bitch about the government. It helps that the government makes it super easy–yeah, even during a pandemic.

Let’s start with the super, super easy. The federal government has a tax credit for people who happen to be disabled. Awesome, right? Sure, until you realize that the government has a very particular definition of what being disabled actually means, and that definition almost by design means the people who qualify essentially get lucky, the people who don’t are SOL twice, and the people who aren’t sure are essentially guessing–and so are their doctors.

Canadians with disabilities have to pay a physician or other qualified health professional to certify that they require “life-sustaining therapy” administered at least three times a week, for a total of at least 14 hours a week. Alternatively, doctors and nurses must attest that patients are “markedly restricted in performing a basic activity of daily living all or substantially all of the time, or that the cumulative effect of restrictions across several activities is equal to being markedly restricted in one basic activity of daily living,” write authors Stephanie Dunn and Jennifer Zwicker.

And that’s just for physical disabilities. If your disability is mental, good luck. For example, and full disclosure this is me, apparently just being considered blind is–or was–enough to qualify you for the disability tax credit. It used to be explicitly called out as qualifying, but they’ve apparently changed the criteria–and actually made it even more confusing, if that’s at all possible. If I didn’t already have it, I’d have a hell of a time now figuring out if I qualified. And so would my doctor, if I had one (that’s a rant for another day, and not specifically a disability one).

That works out nicely for the government, as the fewer people who qualify for the tax credit means the fewer people qualify to get an emergency benefit check in the super early stages of a global pandemic. It benefits the government in another way too, but only marginally–that’s fewer disabled folks the government needs to worry about supporting through things like the registered disability savings plan (RDSP) when they turn 65 and the provincial disability systems pretty much all kick them to the curb (I think there’s a countdown clock in most Ontario Disability Support program (ODSP) offices for that reason). In short, the feds have it pretty good when it comes to folks with disabilities. Folks with disabilities, though? Not so much.

Now, let’s drop down a level to the provincial government. Specifically, the provincial government of Ontario. This won’t end up being an ODSP post (Oh, I can probably get away with a few, but not this one), though ODSP does feature. Let’s start first with the most obvious–testing and vaccinations. If you’re disabled, you probably shouldn’t be standing for hours on end in the cold waiting your turn to get swabbed or jabbed. If your disabled in Ontario, you definitely are.

As Omicron continues to sweep through the province, with a soaring number of hospitalizations, local health units and Ontario’s Ministry of Health have called for people to get booster shots as quickly as possible. In December, the province also launched a campaign to hand out free COVID-19 rapid tests in order to curb the growing wave of infections.

Centres saw long lines of people eagerly waiting outside in the middle of winter to get their hands on a rapid test or a booster shot, which people with certain disabilities can’t safely do, says advocate Catherine Gardner, who also uses a wheelchair.

“If you’re using a mobility device, a cane, walker, you just can’t stand in line that long,” Gardner said, adding there are usually no places for people to sit outside of these sites.

I’m ignoring the obvious when quoting from this article, because it’s the obvious–disabilities include not just visible issues, but issues with circulation, immune system issues, basically any issue that means cold, or long periods of standing, or… basically doing any of the things you need to do if you don’t have a scheduled vaccine appointment–which, until very recently, were at a freaking premium–is going to be just a wee little bit of a challenge. Disability also includes mobility issues that make spontaneous outings for vaccines because hey this place has space now just a little bit tricky. You may or may not have heard my thoughts on Ottawa’s Para Transpo system. corona cranks that up to 11.

In a statement, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility pointed to its Accessible Drives to Vaccines program that launched last summer and helps people with mobility issues get to their vaccine appointments. Ottawa Public Health has similar accommodations available for people in need of transportation.

However, many pop-up vaccine clinics or rapid test giveaways are hosted on short notice, sometimes on the same day they’re announced. Booking a ride through the provincial program and the city’s website requires at least 48 hours notice.

So not only can you not have a social life doing the things vaccinated people can do for all the usual para Pranspo reasons, but getting a vaccine in the first place is a trick and a half for all the usual Para Transpo reasons. If they ever release stats on how many people with disabilities actually ended up getting the vaccine, I might cry–and I rarely cry. I’d be surprised to learn a majority of disabled people have been vaccinated to date, and it’s largely because of the things their disabilities force them to have to deal with and the systems we as a society have built to further gum up the works.

Remember when I said we’d get to the Ontario Disability Support program (ODSP)? This is where they come in–and this is why it doesn’t get that category. They played such a small part in practice that they barely take up any room in text. ODSP’s answer to a global pandemic? Here’s $100 that we’re not going to tell you about. PS: it has an expiration date.

Single people on Ontario Works or the Ontario Disability Support Program can access an extra $100 a month until the end of July to help with pandemic-related expenses. Families can access up to $200.

But they have to ask for it — and Jason said he didn’t know he could.

“I had called my worker to inform them that I was moving from one city to another,” he said. “She … asked me at that point if I was receiving the COVID benefit. I said, ‘What benefit?'”

That was in 2020. Two years ago. We’re still in a pandemic, but it’s business as usual at ODSP–complete with semi-regular screw-ups by underqualified caseworkers, but that’s another more ODSP-specific dumpster fire for later. Inflation is stupid crazy, there’s still tons of extra Covid-19 expenses that didn’t exist 2 years ago (masks don’t replace themselves, y’know), and ODSP offers a single person… $1169. Maximum, unless you’ve got dietary requirements. It’s like 2018, but actually painful.

Canada never has been great for people with disabilities unless you were working, and the same with Ontario. Even without a disability, generally speaking if you don’t work, you don’t matter. But with the onset of Covid, if you’re a person with a disability, that’s become a lot less easy to ignore. Governments at all levels have pretty clearly outlined their priorities, and disabled folks don’t rank.

A lot of things are happening around here because it’s 2015, or 2020, or 2022. But one thing hasn’t changed since I was old enough to care about it. Whether it’s 2005, or 2015, or 2020, or 2022, Canada still generally sucks if you’re disabled. And if you’re in Ontario, you don’t need to look far for specific proof.

Have an opinion?