Montreal

Quebecers with disabilities struggle with rapid tests, say advocates

Quebecers with disabilities are asking the government to let them access PCR tests, saying many of them are not capable of using rapid tests without assistance.

Open letter asks province to expand PCR testing to those with disabilities

Reading both the instructions and the result of a COVID-19 rapid test are difficult for those with impaired sight. (Alexandre Silberman/CBC)

Quebecers with disabilities are asking the government to let them access PCR tests, saying many of them are not capable of using rapid tests without assistance.

In an open letter published this week, 55 community groups that work or support Quebecers with disabilities are calling on the government to change its policy around COVID-19 testing.

The province put an end to PCR testing for the general public in early January, saying it didn't have the supplies or the capacity to keep up with demand. PCR tests are now reserved for specific high-risk groups, such as those who work in medical settings or the homeless.

Jérôme Plante is hoping that will change. He and both his parents are legally blind, and he said that for people like them, it's nearly impossible to take a rapid test on their own.

"We would have to ask somebody, like a neighbour or a member of the family, to help us to do the test," he told CBC Montreal's Daybreak. "So that's really a concern, because we would put this person really at risk to be exposed to the virus."

Plante explained that even if he could find a rapid test, which can be difficult, he can't read the instructions. Even then, he said, he wouldn't be able to see the result, which is only communicated visually, through a thin line.

"[A PCR test] would permit us to have a clear diagnosis, whether we are positive or not. And if we are positive, [it would] lessen the risk for people in our daily lives," he said.

Carole Giguère, the president of the Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Québec (RAAQ), is legally blind. She said there's about a million Quebecers with disabilities who would benefit from PCR testing. (RAAQ)

The problem affects more than just the visually impaired, said Carole Giguère, president of the Regroupement des aveugles et amblyopes du Québec (RAAQ), a group representing the blind in Quebec. Those with restricted mobility may also struggle with the tests, for example.

"We are more than 200,000 people who are blind or legally blind in the province, but we are also more than a million citizens who are living with disability in the province," she said.

"[We want to] make sure that, at this point, the government will understand and will take our concerns and will adapt some things."

In a statement to CBC News, the Quebec Health Ministry said the priority list for PCR tests is regularly reassessed, but limited capacity "means that some clienteles are invited to use rapid tests for the time being."

Both Giguère and Plante said the Quebec government has failed to consider their needs throughout the pandemic, pointing to how both the Clic-Santé platform and the VaxiCode app were not initially accessible to the blind.

"We're often forgotten in the process," said Plante.

With files from Annie Deir and Thomas Cobbett-Labonté

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