By Al Etmanski
During the Easter weekend, Carla Qualtrough created a COVID-19 Disability Advisory group. Here is why it matters. It’s been a tough four weeks for the disability community. Over and above everyone’s general anxiety and disorientation there are everyday reminders that fairness and equity play out differently for disabled people. As it has for seniors in care facilities. Broken glass is everywhere. No emergency health plans, no data sharing, no transparency about triage. Shortages of protective equipment and specialized devices. Unavailability of mental health supports. The devil isn’t just in the details, it’s in the architecture of our institutional response. It’s not that the natural courage, creativity and kindness of the Canadian disability community isn’t flourishing. It is. People are joining forces, problem solving, proposing ideas, and saving lives. They’ve become by default the first responders. Still it’s hard to stay healthy and do your best work when you’re scared.
If terror was temperature and uncertainty a heatwave, the lakes and rivers of Canada would have gone dry by now. That fear is expressed by prominent individuals, front line advocates, families, service providers, emergency docs, ethicists, and government allies—people not inclined to hyperbole, panic or to overreacting.
What do I do? Says a successful artist who uses a wheelchair. “I can’t replace one of my attendants who’s taken ill. And I’m running out of sterile supplies.” Says a mother as skilled at caring for her daughter’s complex medical conditions as any nurse or doctor. “I’d like to be gowned up. Instead I can’t even see her.” Says a young deaf man who lives alone and depends on technology to communicate. “My equipment is broken and I’ve no funds to replace it.” Says a service provider. “I’m taking action to protect people and my funding is threatened.”
Every day brings a damnable dose of disability specific worries, from women living with violent partners, people living in psychiatric hospitals, parents whose children with autism don’t understand restrictions, people with facial differences being harassed more.
Minister Qualtrough stated that a disability inclusive approach to government decision-making and action was necessary. She seemed to be saying let’s do whatever it takes to keep you alive, healthy and thriving.
Finally, the assurance we were waiting for. You could sense the beginning of a collective exhale. It’s such an important first step for now, and for later.
Al Etmanski is the co-chair of Minister Qualtrough’s Advisory Group, a writer, community organizer and social entrepreneur.