TORONTO - The Ontario government has lifted capacity limits and made life a little easier for some establishments like restaurants, gyms and event spaces. Unfortunately, the provincial government has failed to meet the needs of individual with disabilities and specifically those unable to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Establishments that require proof of Covid-19 vaccination remain inaccessible to marginalized groups. Their plight appears to be ignored when it comes to officials responsible in making policy decisions.
For one Toronto area resident, Gianni Cotognini, helping his son Adamo navigate through society has been a challenge. While he made it clear he is not against vaccinations, he told the Corriere that Adamo cannot be vaccinated for Covid-19 due to one of his genetic conditions.
A frustrated Cotognini said, “Government policies do not entertain exemptions other than the two listed on the Ministry of Health (MOH) policy statement.” According to the MOH Medical Exemption Guidance to the Covid-19 vaccine, people who are at risk of a severe reaction to one of the vaccines components or people at elevated risk of developing myocarditis, a rare heart condition, are eligible for exemption.
“This wording leaves out people like my son. Because of this, he faces greater challenges and obstacles when it comes to public access at various establishments,” explained Cotognini. “People with disabilities should be able to move freely, current government policy is hindering that movement,” he added. His recent communications to the local MPP and Ministry officials have gone unanswered. He has asked the MOH to include certain language from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) Policy Statement on Covid-19 vaccine mandates and proof of vaccine certificates.
The Policy states: “Some people are not able to receive the Covid-19 vaccine for medical or disability-related reasons. Under the Code, organizations have a duty to accommodate them.” According to the OHRC Policy, those who meet specific criteria and can show a legitimate written document, supplied by a physician, stating they are exempt from being fully vaccinated, is a reasonable accommodation within the meaning of the Code. However, some establishments operating under the provincial requirement for proof of vaccination have chosen to not accept letters of exemption as they cannot verify their legitimacy. This has made matters worse for people like Adamo and have created additional barriers as they navigate society.
Furthermore, the OHRC stresses, “the need to make sure digital proof of vaccine certificates are designed to be fully accessible to adaptive technology, including for smart phone users with disabilities, in accordance with Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act regulations.”
Sadly, Ontario’s enhanced Covid-19 vaccine certificate system does not recognize legitimate medical exemptions. The MOH has not indicated when the system will be modified to accommodate individuals who cannot be vaccinated.
P. Pajdo is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter