by Rabia Khedr
Mississauga News, Jul 13,2020
People with intellectual disabilities and their elderly parents are silently falling victim to COVID-19 in Peel and throughout Ontario. It is not the virus, but rather inequitable policies adopted by agencies operating group homes backed by ill-informed provincial guidelines. Families are afraid to speak up, fearing reprisal.
Agencies imposed visitation bans, which prevented all except “essential visitors” from entering homes of their children. Initially, we understood the necessity of such restrictions. However, as public services and businesses open up, the strict guidelines on family visits are having a discriminatory impact and taking an emotional toll on persons with disabilities who have been isolated from their loved ones for four months.
Visitation bans and recommendations are being implemented in a way that prevents individuals with intellectual disabilities from having meaningful contact with family members. Agencies are implementing inequitable and unreasonable requirements. For example, requiring confirmation of negative COVID-19 test results within 14 days of each visit from family visitors, when testing has not been made mandatory for staff and other essential personnel, is discriminatory. Recognizing the disability-related needs of individuals with disabilities and still implementing physical distancing rules for outdoor family visits is paramount to abuse of institutional power. Knowing individuals with disabilities have limited understanding of the pandemic, have impulsive behaviours and limited communication skills, stipulating that visits will be terminated if physical distancing is not maintained is undue hardship.
Termination of visits can trigger behaviours which, in turn, gives authority to the institution to carry out behaviour plans. Behaviour plans include consequences for noncompliance like chemical, physical and mechanical restraints, which are sanctioned by the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
Today, by using the pandemic as an excuse, we are violating the basic rights of individuals with intellectual disabilities living in care.
Let’s give voice to the voiceless and ensure their tears are not in vain, that their pleas are articulated and their rights are not sacrificed. As the government opens up Ontario, please allow parents to visit their children living in care.
Rabia Khedr is a former human rights commissioner and disability rights advocate.