Professional Communication with Attendants & Nurturing Assistance during COVID-19
Blog by: Terri-Lynn Langdon
With the City of Toronto in a state of emergency due to the global COVID-19 crisis, these are especially challenging times for wheelchair users. As a wheelchair user and a sole-parent to an 18-month-old, my daughter and I both rely on Direct Funding for nurturing assistance and attendant care. As the situation worsened in Toronto, one of my attendants was worried about taking the the public transit. Another attendant had been traveling extensively and was required to self-isolate upon returning home. Since I have a limited amount of funding and hours support, and folks to support us, this predicament left my daughter and I in a tough spot. Having said that, I was able to plan to cover the shifts for the attendant in self-isolation, but not for the attendant who felt that taking public transit was not an option.
Recent conversations with my friends and colleagues on social media revealed that we were not alone in this issue. As a result, I sent out a short note to our support team. Hopefully sharing this communication can help others plan how to handle attendant care disruption during this time. My email stated the following points:
- Attendant care is an essential service and we rely on attendants/nurturing assistance for daily living needs. As such, coming to work is an essential expectation of the role. I shared that attendant care agencies across the province are in full swing.
- Individual homes and any work-related tasks under direct funding have Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) coverage for all staff, starting on their first day of work. The safety of the work environment is the responsibility of self-managers and this is an important worker protection. I assured all staff that I was doing more spot-cleaning and surface cleaning in our home. I also reminded everyone that we always have soap, hand sanitizer and gloves on hand.
- If people using attendants can’t do surface cleaning on their own or if there are some areas of your home that are challenging, let your staff know how you plan to address that (if that is a concern for anyone).
- I informed staff that as a self-manager in receipt of Direct Funding, we are not eligible for any other service as a result of qualifying under this program which is funded by the Ministry of Health.
- I also shared that as a self-manager, I could not personally address the challenges occurring with transit during a city-wide lockdown, however I would be open to helping folks access a taxi service in the city if needed.
- I opened up communication with our team inviting them to reach out if they had concerns.
Considering these multi-layered concerns and how they impact wheelchair users, it is important for those of us who use these essential supports to become advocates for the attendant care and nurturing assistant professions. As a group, wheelchair users can advocate for:
- Attendants to have job protection and benefits at work.
- A living wage for this profession.
- More visibility for the profession especially during states of emergency.
- Addressing gaps in services and existing policies for individuals with mobility impairment during a time such as this one.
In much of the communication I have seen so far, the disability community has been more broadly referred to as a ‘vulnerable group’ and the direction in these communications is that friends, family and professionals need to check-up on individuals with disability. However, this tone of communication is non-committal and often lacks references to specific resources. Unfortunately, it also does not speak to the specific actions or support that individuals with disability require during emergency situations.
Simply acknowledging attendants and nurturing assistance as an essential service may help for emergency measures communications. This recognition is crucial given the importance of the role that attendant care professionals play in the lives of those with disabilities. The state of emergency is challenging for everyone; however, if attendants don’t show up because of restrictions in emergency situations, the disability community will be in a persistent state of disadvantage. Such consequences are unacceptable in a community where assistance is required for basic and essential tasks of living and being.
*Some organizations have indeed provided specific resources which will be identified in a subsequent blog post.
Terri-Lynn Langdon is a feminist, disability studies and health equity scholar/ activist in Social Justice Education at The Ontario Institute for Studies In Education. She has over 11 years of experience in the Social Work field. Terri-Lynn is passionate about helping people to achieve the best possible health and a meaning-making life. She can assist service-users to figure out how best to address their own challenges and be their authentic selves.
Direct Funding Ontario (2020). Accessed Online: https://www.dfontario.ca/
Direct Funding (2017). Program Promoting Independence Grows Again. Accessed Online: https://www.dfontario.ca/info/announcements.html
Email communications from Councillor Krystin Wong-Tam and Councillor Paul Anslie, March 22, 2020
Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (2020). Accessed online: https://www.wsib.ca/en/businesses/registration-and-coverage/do-you-need-register-us