Toronto

Ontario's online health-card renewal system excludes people with disabilities, advocates say

In Ontario, only people with a driver's licence can renew their health cards online, leaving those who use photo ID cards with few other options than to physically go to a Service Ontario location. One advocate calls that a "huge complication" for people with disabilities.

Province looking at upgrading its system but declined to comment on the record

People line up outside at a Service Ontario location in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Derek Hooper/CBC)

The thought of driving her son to a Service Ontario centre to renew his health card fills Jane Toner with dread.

Ben, 22, suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage, which makes the bumps, vibrations and cold temperatures that inevitably come with a ride in a car excruciating — not to mention the wait in line outside the provincial centre's location, Toner said. 

But soon they'll have no other choice. In Ontario, only people with a driver's licence can renew their health cards online, leaving those who use photo ID cards like Ben with few other options than to physically go to a centre. 

Toner says it's "shameful" that the province is imposing such a limitation on people living with disabilities and on seniors with mobility issues.

"Really, what it's saying is that if you have a disability, we don't care, they don't matter," she said.

"It boggles my mind."

Ben's health card expired about a year ago, but he hasn't had to renew it yet because the province extended the validity of Ontario cards to Feb. 28, 2022 in response to the pandemic. Toner has tried acting on his behalf, filling out and dropping off all the required paperwork at Service Ontario, but was informed Ben still needed to come in to have a new photo taken.

Ben Toner was diagnosed with a rare condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome as a child and has undergone surgeries and treatments to help ease his chronic pain. (Submitted by Jane Toner)

Toner hopes changes will be made before then, but said so far calls to elected officials on both sides of the aisle have gone unheard. 

"These are the people who need their help most," she said. "I thought maybe somebody would take up the torch for us, but obviously not."

The government's stance is that it's looking at expanding online services and encourages anybody who is having difficulties renewing their health card to call Service Ontario. The province refused to provide an on-the-record statement for this story.

'Level the playing field'

Crystal Barnard has been in and out of hospital for months following major back surgery. Like Ben, she also has an expired health card and no driver's licence and is faced with a similar dilemma where there's "no way" she can go to a Service Ontario herself.

"When it comes to disabled people, we end up having all sorts of hoops and cracks to jump over in order to do things ourselves," said Barnard.

Come February, she said she will have to find a doctor to sign a medical exemption form. To complicate matters she doesn't have a family doctor. Then she'll have to get her father — who requires two canes to walk — to drop off the forms at a Service Ontario location for her. They're hoping she can reuse her photo from her old health card.

"If they could find a way that renewing online could be made possible for everybody involved, disabled and able-bodied people alike, it would just be so much easier all around," said Barnard. 

"It would equal the playing field for everybody." 

Anthony Frisina, a disability advocate who uses a wheelchair, said the current system is a "huge complication." It doesn't factor in that people without driver's licences face more challenges getting to a Service Ontario location than those who drive, such as needing to rely on public transportation and facing accessibility barriers.

And getting someone to go in their place is problematic, too, he said.

"You want to be in control of your own issues, your own quality of life and your actual activities of daily living."

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