Currently, there are still no AODA healthcare standards. However, an AODA standards development committee drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA healthcare standards should include. These guidelines include accessible healthcare during states of emergency.
The committee’s mandate from the Ontario government requires recommendations focused on the hospital setting. However, patients and healthcare workers with disabilities also face barriers in other parts of the healthcare system, including:
- Doctors’ offices
- Walk-in clinics
- Wellness centres
- Nursing homes
- Outpatient rehabilitation centres
- Health regulatory colleges
Therefore, all these settings should have accessible healthcare during states of emergency.
Accessible Healthcare During States of Emergency
At the beginning of a state of emergency, the committee recommends that the government should create an advisory panel. This panel would offer suggestions about how to ensure accessible healthcare during the emergency. At least fifty percent (50) percent of panel members should be people with disabilities.
Furthermore, the government should be gathering data throughout the emergency about how it is impacting people with disabilities from diverse backgrounds. For instance, public health units, and other public-sector organizations, should help gather data about people:
- Of colour, including Black people and Indigenous peoples
- Who are Francophone
- Who are LGBTQ2S+
- From low-income communities
- Who live in group settings, such as nursing homes or group homes for people with disabilities
Guidelines for Hospitals
Moreover, the government should work with hospitals and other public-sector organizations to ensure that emergency situations are managed in accessible ways. For instance, potential protocols for triaging patients receiving emergency care must:
- Respect human rights
- Include testing principles that are scientifically valid and reliable
Likewise, healthcare providers should avoid delaying or canceling in-person appointments for people with disabilities, when possible. While virtual appointments are a valuable option, they do not work for all people. As a result, healthcare providers should have processes to ensure that in-person care is available for people who need it. Moreover, patients should have accessible, affordable modes of transportation to these appointments. Similarly, hospitals should also ensure access to communication supports and support persons during appointments, triage, and hospital stays. Likewise, hospitals should recognize that people may gain communication disabilities during an emergency. For instance, people may need speech language pathology services in hospital because they:
- Are intubated
- Develop difficulty swallowing
In addition, the government should develop an infection-control framework that accommodates service animals, and allows visitors for people with disabilities in hospitals. These visitors may provide essential supports, such as assistance in decision-making for people with cognitive or intellectual disabilities. Likewise, visitors for residents in group settings, such as group homes or nursing homes, should also be considered essential.
Finally, programs that meet people’s basic accessibility needs should continue to operate, even during emergency situations. For example, some of these programs are:
- Programs to support people who have recently gained disabilities
- Discharge programs from hospitals to patients’ homes, or to other healthcare settings
- Services for home care or other needed supports
- The Assistive Devices Program (ADP)
Guidelines for Other Organizations
Moreover, the government should also create a resource with guidelines about how mandatory masking impacts people with disabilities. For instance, cities and other public organizations can use this guide to find out:
- When people with disabilities may be exempt from the requirement to wear masks
- How masking affects communication for people who:
- Are Deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing
- Have speech or language disabilities
- How accessible masks or face shields allow more people to communicate
Similarly, the government should develop a guide for pharmacies, and other vendors of healthcare products and services, on how to serve customers with disabilities in ways that are accessible and protect their health. For example, these guides might recommend that vendors provide:
- Remote shopping, such as online or by phone
- Delivery and curbside pickup
Not every option will be suitable for all customers. Therefore, when vendors offer multiple options, each customer can meet their healthcare needs in a way accessible to them.
Likewise, the government should also provide accessibility guidelines for testing centres. For instance, these guidelines might include:
- Accessible queuing
- Training for staff on accessible customer service
- Mobile testing services in people’s homes
When the government develops all these guidelines, they should be posted online, in English and French, and in accessible formats.
Our next article will outline the committee’s recommendations for reviewing accessible healthcare after states of emergency.