If there is one thing the pandemic has shown us, it is that the most vulnerable among us are often doubly disadvantaged when faced with an external stressor like COVID-19.
Numerous studies around the world show that women, racialized communities, and people with disabilities tend to bear the brunt of the crisis — and Canada is no exception to this rule.
COVID-19 has placed an unprecedented burden on Canadians with disabilities, leaving them with no choice but to cover additional expenses incurred by health care services disruption and physical distancing out of pocket, and further exposing them to financial hardship, the Globe and Mail reported.
“Disadvantaged groups become doubly disadvantaged when an emergency comes about,” Canadian Disability Policy Alliance lead Mary Ann McColl said. “This has been shown to be the case for people with disabilities and COVID, especially in terms of employment, financial security and health care access.”
Canadians with disabilities were already less likely to be employed than their counterparts without disabilities before COVID-19, but the pandemic has further contributed to the problem, according to Employment and Social Development Canada.
In a recent survey conducted by Statistics Canada, more than a third of Canadians with disabilities reported losing their job due to COVID-19, while 54% said they had less disposable income to meet some of their most essential needs.
The crisis has also had a significant impact on people's ability to access child-care services and adequate housing facilities, which have either become scarce as a result of the crisis, or come with a hefty price tag.
In September 2020, Canada unveiled a series of measures to help the country recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic during the Speech From the Throne.
These included a Disability Inclusion Action Plan and Canadian Disability Benefit.
Other relief measures, such as a $600 one-time payment for those with a valid Disability Tax Credit Certificate and those eligible for disability pension benefits, were also rolled out.
But advocates say that these initiatives fail to address the broader structural challenges faced by millions of Canadians with disabilities and their families — particularly those who are low-income, racialized, or non-binary, and for whom gathering the necessary documentation to prove their eligibility poses a challenge.
Others have stressed that, because of their heavy focus on physical disabilities, government programs fall short of addressing the needs of people grappling with invisible and intellectual disabilities.
They hope that COVID-19 will serve as an example of the progress that can be achieved when communities and governments unite behind a pressing need for action.
“After this year, I hope that people can look at health care spending with more empathy,” Lilia Zaharieva, who has been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, told the Globe and Mail. “We’ve proven just how agile and flexible and responsive we can be to an emergency. We just have to decide that this one is important enough to do something about it.