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Students With Disabilities Continue to Be Forgotten During the Pandemic

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We want to provide support, but our budget is limited.

It’s the (insert ministry or level of government) that you need to talk to, not us.

Our hands are tied, we are doing what we can with the resources we have. There are just more kids with disabilities than resources available.

It’s a complicated situation. We know you’ve been waiting (insert time) for an assessment/therapy – please be patient, your child is on our list. No, we don’t know when your child will be seen, but we’ll let you know when their name comes up.

Do any of these statements sound familiar? If you’re a parent or caregiver of a child with disabilities, I expect you’ve heard at least one, if not many, of the above statements in the last month. I’ve been blessed and cursed to have heard them all in the last week.

COVID-19 has created additional barriers and roadblocks to supporting kids with disabilities in school, healthcare and in the community. This despite clear promises from governments that these kids won’t be forgotten.

Yet they continue to be overlooked.

Broken promises

I had a brief moment of optimism this summer when I read our provincial government’s return to school plan.

Here is a direct quote from British Columbia’s plan: “Students with disabilities, diverse abilities or those who require additional supports will have access to and receive the same supports and services they had prior to the pandemic.”

When I first read this, I breathed a quick sigh of relief, grateful that our kids would be supported when they returned to school. It didn’t take long for that sigh to turn into a gasp.

In addition to new rules and protocols, which can be tough for diverse learners to understand and follow, I saw many of the resources that helped ground my child being cut back, and in some cases, taken away.

It wasn’t long until the cracks in the system began to appear in the form of meltdowns from my child and other students who rely on supports for their emotional regulation and academic progress.


As I write this article, we are now three months into the school year. While I’m used to having to advocate for my child, this has been a year like no other. A week hasn’t gone by that I’m not writing emails, meeting with school staff or providing advice and emotional support to a parent whose child is struggling.

It has been an advocacy marathon with no finish line in sight.

I get that budgets are tight; resources are stretched and the pandemic has thrown in wrench in so many plans. But the amount of angst and frustration I’m seeing among those who support kids with disabilities is unprecedented.

Rethink the formulas

Through my work as an advocate and speaker, I’ve heard from parents, caregivers, teachers and support staff from across the country. The challenges I’m talking about aren’t unique to one school board, one community or even one country.

I’ve heard school board staff justify the limited supports by referring to collective agreements, student ratios and other formulas that turn kids with disabilities into mathematical equations versus human beings.

But guess what? These kids are individuals. Individuals with their own unique strengths, challenges and opportunities.

Sure, it can be harder to zero in and look at what supports a child requires to meet their full potential. That takes time and work. But clearly the system of running kids through a mathematical equation and figuring out resources based on percentages and averages isn’t working for kids, teachers, support staff and families.

Embrace the learnings

My hope as we continue to stumble through this pandemic, is at some point the voices of parents and caregivers will finally be heard. The struggles our children are experiencing will be recognized as not only being valid, but in some cases, preventable with the adequate support.

I would love to see a rethinking of how we allocate budget and resources, with parents and caregivers having a truly equal voice at the table.  But until that happens, I will continue fighting. Fighting for my child and for the other kids whose parents are too tired, overwhelmed or just busy trying to get through the days. I fight because I firmly believe that supporting these kids today is key to ensuring they reach their full potential.

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Getty image by Seventy Four.

Originally published: November 23, 2020
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