Devaluation of Persons with Disabilities Most Evident: The Case of Emergency Preparedness

  • April 11, 2014
  • BakerLaw

Toronto, ON, April 11, 2014 – I once heard Catherine Frazee speak at OISE about the ways Ontario’s emergency measures planning is based on an assumption that persons with disabilities are expendable.

The maritime code traditionally held that when grabbing life jackets or boarding life boats it was to be “women and children first.” As Catherine persuasively demonstrated, when it comes to emergency preparedness in Ontario the code provides that highest priority is to be given to the non-disabled.  Instead of looking at what accommodation needs to be made in advance so that persons with disabilities can be equally safe in the event of flood, fire or terrorist attack, Ontario’s plan boils down to look after the able-bodied and if time and resources permit, we’ll then attend to the needs of persons with disabilities.  The very nature of true emergencies is that time and resources never do permit.

The BC Coalition of People with Disabilities has recently reviewed the issue and issued a booklet on accommodation in emergency preparedness called, “Creating Safe Communities,” which can be downloaded here (link).

For a more comprehensive review in the American context see the National Council on Disability papers on the subject online (link). 

Catherine’s excellent paper is available on her website (link).

The upcoming AODA Review offers the potential for identifying emergency preparedness as an area where access regulations are required.

If the AODA Review fails to call for action then litigation challenging Ontario’s discriminatory emergency preparedness plan will be necessary.  This would represent a serious challenge, the complexity and cost of which should not be underestimated.  Whatever the difficulties, some action is required if the definition of emergency in Ontario is not to become “a time when the province rids itself of unwanted persons with disabilities.”

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