Toronto

Ford government facing legal fight over online health card renewal for people with disabilities

A disability rights advocate is calling on the Doug Ford government to reconsider its February deadline to reinstate renewal requirements for health cards and drivers' licences due to barriers to access for people with disabilities.

Rule requiring driver's licence discriminates against people who don't drive, lawyer says

Lawyer David Lepofsky is chair of the AODA Alliance, a group that advocates for the implementation of accessibility standards in Ontario. (Simon Dingley/CBC)

The Doug Ford government is facing legal action over its policy for renewing Ontario health cards online.

The online service is available only to residents with a valid driver's licence, a rule that disability advocates say discriminates against people who can't drive or don't have a licence. 

"People who, like me, because of their disability, are absolutely disqualified from being able renew our health card online," said David Lepofsky, a Toronto lawyer and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance. 

Lepofsky, who is blind, filed a Superior Court application last week against the provincial government seeking an urgent change to the rules.

The clock is ticking, he argues, with a moratorium on health card renewals that has been in place for much of the COVID-19 pandemic ending on Feb. 28.

In-person renewal a 'health risk,' Lepofsky says

The grace period may be ending, but the pandemic is not, and Lepofsky says that means many Ontario residents who don't drive will be having potentially risky face-to-face interactions, while others have the luxury of doing it all online.

"Persons such as Mr. Lepofsky are subjected to an immediate, unfair, cruel danger of either suffering the loss of health insurance or exposing themselves to the health risk of attending a ServiceOntario office in person," Lepofsky's court application reads.

In response to questions from CBC Toronto, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health wrote that no one will be denied health care.

"Health-care providers have been asked to continue to accept expired cards, and most people will continue to be able to use their health card to access insured health-care services as they always have, despite the deadline," a statement said.

Mail-in renewal available

The statement also notes that some residents are able to renew their health cards by mail, including those over 80 and those who have a valid Ontario Photo Card.

But it's not a valid substitute for Lepofsky, who says the mail-in option has too many "barriers" for some and may also require close contact with other individuals. 

And he says the provincial photo card should be an online option, as well.

Ontario says doctors should accept health cards that expired on or after March 1, 2020. (Ontario.ca)

"What is completely arbitrary and irrational is the Ford government will not allow the Ontario Photo ID card to be used in lieu of an Ontario driver's licence to enable you to renew your health card online," he said in an interview.

In its statement the ministry spokesperson said the government is "taking steps" to allow the online renewal system to accept the Photo Card.

In November, CBC Toronto spoke with Ontarians who called it "shameful" for the province to impose such a limitation on people living with disabilities and on seniors with mobility issues by not allowing them an option to renew their health card online.

In a December letter to the Ford government, the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) had called on Ontario ministers for a plan to address the barrier for people with disabilities and older adults, who would be required to visit a Service Ontario location for a renewal.

"The Human Rights Code requires proactive planning to prevent or remove barriers to people with disabilities and older adults in services," said OHRC chief commissioner Patricia DeGuire.

"I am writing to encourage you to make sure people with disabilities and older adults will have the same opportunity as others to obtain the health card renewal online," DeGuire's letter reads.

"As many people with disabilities also face barriers in travel and may be more vulnerable in any exposure to COVID-19, it is especially important that they be able to access, use and benefit from the convenience of any online services available to avoid travel and in person services."

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