Senator Munson: Minister, thank you for being here.
In your capacity as Disability Inclusion Minister, I’m also pleased to see the monetary benefit for students with disabilities. But a few weeks ago, the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group was appointed to work with you in the spirit of “Nothing Without Us.” Eleven members from various disability communities were included, but there was no representative from the autism community. With the inclusion of the commitment to a national autism strategy in two mandate letters and in the spirit of “Nothing About Us Without Us,” would you consider including the autism community on the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group?
Ms. Qualtrough: Thank you for the question, senator, and thank you for championing issues related to autism throughout your entire career.
I can assure you that I am confident the voices around that table do reflect the broad spectrum of disability perspectives. We are always happy to have more people at the table. I have regular contact with members of the autism community. I feel as though I’m hearing from them, but if that is not seen to be the case, I would absolutely have that conversation.
Senator Munson: It’s good to have that commitment.
I have been listening to so many horrible stories about what is taking place in nursing homes, but in the disability community, there are group homes. In this disability community, for those with intellectual disabilities, there are one-on-one workers who have to work each and every day, almost 24 hours a day. This setting is a very unsettling one for many. I worry that such facilities are being overlooked when it comes to personal protective equipment. We have heard of staff shortages and cutbacks to residents’ care routines.
Is the federal government stepping up and reaching out to the provinces about these conditions — the availability of personal protective equipment and medical care? I don’t want them to be the forgotten.
Ms. Qualtrough: Again, thank you for your question. The answer is absolutely yes. The Minister of Health and I have met with our colleagues and raised the specific issues you are talking about. One of the challenges is that, often, these collective living situations are not necessarily tied to health care systems; they are more tied to social service systems in provincial frameworks. We are pointing out those challenges and we are crying out that these workers be recognized as essential.
It is one of my personal passions that the story coming out the pandemic will be that we supported everybody equally.
Senator Munson: Do you think this country needs to rethink how it deals with these nursing homes and homes for the disabled? I’m asking that in the sense of full-time employment, not part-time employment; being better trained and fully engaged; having nursing degrees — you name it. Do you think this model is past its time as a result of this pandemic?
Ms. Qualtrough: Yes, I do.
Senator Munson: Thank you very much.