Color & Control:



The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the way we live, work and interact with others. For persons with disabilities, it has magnified some of the challenges and disparities that continue to make life more difficult than it should be. However, as I’ve recently noted, it’s also proving that digital technologies and innovation can help to remove long- standing barriers to inclusion amid this global crisis.

As regions across Canada begin reopening and entering into a new normal, it’s important we not forget about the inherent risks that persons with disabilities will continue to face for the foreseeable future.

Without a viable vaccine, those risks will create a multitude of daily obstacles. Persons with disabilities (PWD) and their friends, family and caregivers around them will need to take serious account of their choices each day when it comes to re-entering restaurants, retail or office spaces.

For independent wheelchair users like myself, the coronavirus ‘experience’ has developed into a bizarre grey area of choices when it comes to living a normal life.

On one hand, I feel healthy. I’m lucky in that I’m able to work remotely from the office. And I continue to be socially active, albeit in the digital world. On the other hand, there are specific medical conditions that I possess—namely a severe scoliosis that has a slight impact on my lung-air supply—that could leave me more susceptible to the impact of the disease.

If the past few months have taught me anything, it’s the importance of setting up daily routines.

My advice to individuals with disabilities living through COVID-19 is this: Build multiple routines into your life: A routine for grocery shopping. A routine for staying active and healthy. A routine for working productively in a remote environment. And most importantly, a routine for staying in touch with your family and friends.

My advice to the Canadian business community is this: no decision should ever be made in a silo. Speak regularly with health professionals, community leaders and directly to persons with disabilities themselves.

To expand on this advice, I’ve put together some personal thoughts from my experience living through these past few months:

Working remotely

I consider the coronavirus to perhaps being the great ‘equalizer’ for employees with disabilities. Many persons with disabilities were already perfectly set-up to work in a remote environment—long before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic—through accessible technologies.

As for myself, the stress of commuting into the office is now over. Pre-COVID, my regular commute was over an hour each way. Now, I’m able to dedicate more time to keeping my body healthy while at home. My new morning routine consists of exercises and stretching, rather than sitting uncomfortably on a train.

I’m also able to switch seating positions on a regular basis at home. Instead of being stuck in a wheelchair all day at my desk, I can lay in bed or sit in my reclining chair when my body feels stiff. Furthermore, I’m able to wear more comfortable clothing at home instead of wearing buttoned-up shirts and suits each day. Getting dressed for work is no longer the arduous process it once was.

After three months away from the office, I feel like my body has been given some serious ‘R & R’ and I’m not sure I could go back to the same commuting lifestyle I had pre-pandemic. My hope is that Canadian employers continue to explore and expand their remote-work options, especially for those who are more vulnerable during the pandemic. I believe it would allow for more persons with disabilities to join the workforce, something that’s sorely lacking in Canada.

With employers in the process of return-to-premises planning for their employees, they’ll need to ensure persons with physical disabilities are considered at all times. For individuals like me who use wheelchairs, the complications of social distancing in an elevator, touching everything with hands and using a bathroom stall will make this planning even more complex.

To avoid these complexities, I believe remote- work options are the best path forward for those who are more vulnerable to coronavirus.


As COVID-19 case counts grew rapidly throughout Canada back in March and April, major grocery chains made a great choice in allowing for a dedicated hour in the morning for disabled and elderly customers. This made shopping safer—and easier—for my wife and me. We were able to adhere to social distancing guidelines and spend less time worrying about bumping into others in the store.

I also took advantage of retail stores pivoting to curbside pickup. No longer did I have to spend time loading and unloading items—including my wheelchair—into the car. Store staff were able to do that for me. And certainly, using cashless check-out options (Apple/Google Pay) made the experience even more seamless.

Now that I’m venturing back into stores again, I’m realizing how important automatic doors, ramps and wide aisles are for safety purposes. If retail spaces didn’t have these implemented before COVID-19, they really should be now. For smaller businesses who operate a non-accessible storefront, an online delivery option can be an important alternative.

Support systems

I’ve realized how important a support system is for those who are at-risk. I was lucky in that my wife did the majority of our shopping in the early days of the pandemic. It gave us more confidence that we were staying safe.

But not everyone has this option.

In fact, many PWD’s don’t have the ability to leave their homes on their own. That’s why caregivers, including family and friends, will continue to play a critical role in helping persons with disabilities during this global crisis. Of course, caregivers have the added responsibility of not only providing assistance with errands, but also ensuring safety protocols are met (cleaning surfaces, wearing personal protective equipment and self-monitoring for symptoms). Speaking with colleagues of mine who look after their elderly parents, I cannot imagine the stress this must create.

I hope that we continue to find ways to support caregivers who dedicate their lives to helping the most vulnerable in our society manage through COVID-19. Without them, this crisis would be far worse.

Joel Dembe, CAF Patrons Council, Canadian Paralympian, Executive Communications, Royal Bank.

Think you might have COVID-19 (coronavirus)?

Visit an assessment centre to get a COVID-19 test. You can also take a self-assessment to help you decide if you need a test.


COVID-19 assessment centres

Learn about coronavirus (COVID-19) assessment centres and what you need to know before you go to get tested.

When to visit an assessment centre

If you’re worried you have COVID-19 or have been exposed to it, you should get tested–-even if you don’t have any symptoms.

You should visit an assessment centre if you:

  • Have COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Do not have symptoms but are concerned you might have been exposed.
  • Do not have symptoms but think you are at risk (for example, if you are an essential or health care worker).

Testing is a free service. If you can, please bring your Ontario health card.

Anyone can get a test if they want one.

Some assessment centres may require you to book an appointment first or have certain restrictions (for example, some are unable to test young children).

When to go to the emergency department instead

You should call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department if you are currently experiencing:

  • Severe difficulty breathing (struggling for each breath, can only speak in single words)
  • Severe chest pain (constant tightness or crushing sensation)
  • Feeling confused or unsure of where you are
  • Losing consciousness

For infants under 3 months

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department if your child:

  • Has a fever
  • Is having trouble breathing
  • Appears unwell

For infants and children over 3 months

Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever longer than 7 days
  • Fever with a rash
  • Has a compromised (weakened) immune system with a fever
  • Breathing faster than usual or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin colour
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Is so irritable that they do not want to be held
  • Constant vomiting




Abilities chatted with family support specialist, Lorraine Thomas, from Holland Bloorview for her thoughts and tips to help families with immunocompromised children stay safe as things begin to open up and as people get back to work.

Picture of Lorraine Thomas.

Q: What guidance would you provide now that the world is opening up again, but risks haven’t diminished? What extra things beyond the “normal” advice we hear in the news should families keep in mind to stay safe?

A: Families who have members who are immunocompromised were already taking precautions. What they will have to ask themselves, is how they can enhance these precautions!

In regard to going back to work, I recommend that parents get a clear idea of what the expectations will be in regard to hours, job scope and exactly how their employer is making the workplace safer. This is especially important if you may need accommodation in regard to job tasks and hours due to childcare and medical appointments. For example, is your employer asking everyone to wear a mask?

If co-workers all wear masks in solidarity, that means someone at home living with an immunocompromised person is safer.

Q: Every day, there is new information that comes out—for instance—the virus and its impact on youth, people who are asymptomatic, how much more confusing does this make things?

A: New guidelines emerge almost daily, and it can be very overwhelming for families. This is where it might be helpful to keep in touch with their child’s family doctor or primary medical care provider at the children’s treatment centre. It might also be helpful for families to monitor the situation using a single reliable media source in regard to changes.

Q: Do you have special tips for parents of people with disabilities and those caring for vulnerable adults and kids to stay safe?

A: I have five tips that I would like to share:

1) Now that you are going out more often, you may need to take extra precautions such as washing your hands immediately before leaving work and then again when you come home; removing shoes and changing out of clothes in an isolated space before entering other parts of the home. It might also be a good idea to have a container at the door to put your phone, keys, wallet, lunch bag, purse in and wipe down those items before touching them again.

2) Still try to minimize your non-urgent outings: If you can’t answer “yes” to all three questions, then perhaps it is better to avoid the event:

  • Will there be an opportunity to practice physical distancing?
  • Does my loved one have the ability to sanitize their hands and/or understand the no contact rule?
  • Are they physically able to wear a mask as an extra layer of precaution, or is it highly likely that those around them will be masked?

3) For medical appointments, call ahead:

  • Ask the facility what precautions they are taking to minimize risk during appointment e.g. reducing the number of clients onsite, wiping down equipment between visits.
  • Ask if you can reduce medical appointments to essential appointments only; or scheduled at a time of day when it will be less crowded.
  • If you will be allowing a Personal Support Worker to come to your home, contact their providers ahead of time to understand their emergency preparedness and their protocols of service, such as the PSW wearing the appropriate PPE, restricting their practice to a limited number of clients or being exclusive to your family.

4) Don’t forget to take care of yourself: You’re already doing the best you can so try to keep up your regular healthy habits, such as trying to get enough sleep, eating well and exercising. These habits can help manage stress, depression, and anxiety.

5) It is o.k. to feel anxious: The return to “normal” will be a learning curve for everyone! Your child or loved one may also be worried or fearful about going out in public or that you are going “out there.” If they perceive you as being anxious/ scared/worried, then that’s what they’re going to pick up.

It might be helpful to create a social story to explain what is happening, and to create a routine.

Teddy Katz was a CBC sports journalist for 20 years, and chief spokesperson and director of media relations for the Toronto 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. More recently, Teddy helped run the press office for the International Paralympic Committee in Rio and will be at the Tokyo 2021 Paralympic Games.

Lorraine Thomas (above) is a Family Support Specialist and hospital lead for Health Literacy at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Toronto.



Let’s face it…we’re more than pumped to get back to work and life before quarantine. Keeping in mind that a vaccine is probably months away, however, all of us still need to be mindful of the risks. The need to be cautious is particularly relevant to those of us in the disability community, many of whom are deemed to be at greater risk due to underlying medical conditions. On a daily basis we need to carefully weigh the personal risks associated with leaving our homes or inviting others into them, of taking public transit, of visiting a grocery store, a restaurant or a place of worship. What might work for some people in the general population may not work for us.

What follows are some essential tips, guidelines and helpful advice that I’ve collected to help you keep this dastardly virus at bay while you go about your business at work, at play and at school.

Preparing for medical appointments to reduce anxiety and confusion

Whether it be a doctor, dentist, chiropractor, therapist or physio, expect your office and lab appointments to look a little different these days.

  • Phone ahead to find out what the office’s safety protocols are, and what you need to know in advance, including what time they want you to show up and where you should wait.
  • Wear a mask or cloth covering.
  • Wash your hands on arrival.
  • Use disinfectant wipes to wash down anything that needs it to satisfy yourself that surfaces and other things are clean and hygienic.
Multiethnic group of people, cleaning together in public park, saving the environment.

Back into the workplace

Heading back may be daunting. Think of the shortest route you can use to get to your office/desk and make sure you understand the company protocols.

  • Make sure all desks and working spaces in an office allow for social distancing or are separated by Plexiglas barriers or equivalent.
  • Elevators–given space restrictions and turning requirements, wheelchair, scooter users should request solitary use of the elevator. Be prepared to ask and also be prepared to catch the next lift.
  • Use disinfectant wipes to clean desk tops, office phones, seating and any objects that are kept on your desk or working surface.
  • Wash your hands frequently, taking care to make sure you wipe surfaces in a shared bathroom or kitchen /coffee/ water cooler areas. Beware the fridge and microwave door handles.
  • Encourage your organization to make sure any sick employees stay home until they fully recover.
  • Discuss an immediate operational Plan B with your team in case COVID-19 cases return.
  • If you use a wheelchair or any other mobility aids, ask your colleagues not to touch them during the day.
  • Check that your workplace has a robust ventilation system that moves the air around.
Side view of young blind man with white cane and guide dog walking across street in city.

The safety basics

Before you do anything else, make sure you travel light (only essentials), have planned your excursion and know where you’re going before venturing out.

  • Get a supply of disinfectant wipes, a box of gloves and good quality masks and be sure you have an easy way to re-order as needed.
  • Know where to get a COVID-19 test if necessary and if you’ve had one, keep the results handy.
  • Regardless of your circumstances, figure out how best to keep distance between yourself and others (within about 6 feet, or 2 meters). Keep in mind some people may have COVID-19 and spread it to others, even if they don’t have symptoms or don’t know they have the virus.
  • Find a way to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 per cent alcohol.
  • Cover your face with a mask or cloth in public spaces, such as the grocery store, where it’s difficult to avoid close contact with others. Only use non–medical cloth masks—surgical masks and N95 respirators should be reserved for healthcare providers or, perhaps, if you live with or regularly visit somebody with an ongoing and underlying respiratory condition.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and if you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with your elbow or a tissue, and try to turn away.
  • Clean and disinfect high-touch surfaces regularly.
  • Stay home from work, school, public transportation and shops if you are feeling unwell.
A woman in a wheelchair sitting at a conference table.
A woman in a wheelchair sitting at a conference table.

Out for lunch or shopping

Not everyone is following the guidelines below. You’re on your own:

  • Always wear a mask or cloth covering.
  • Order food delivery when you can.
  • Shop online rather than in person.
  • Take hand sanitizers or wipes with you when venturing out.
  • Practice social distancing at counters and in line-ups.
  • Be aware of and follow floor markings and directional arrows.
  • Use a credit or debit card rather than cash. l Favour stores with special hours/services for persons with disabilities and seniors.
  • Choose locations with good safety protocols, Plexiglas barriers, and mandatory staff and customer facial covering.
  • Pick places where you can access fresh air or where there are robust ventilation systems.
  • Phone ahead to find out the store’s hours, number of people permitted at any given time, wheelchair access and special services.
A man with down syndrome smiling at work.

Hiring PSWs, attendants or other caregivers

Work with people you can trust to keep you safe and make sure your PSWs and other caregivers have the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) for your care and their safety when they are out and about in the community or caring for others. If they are not wearing the appropriate equipment they could actually be spreading the virus to you and to others, which you want to avoid at all costs.

  • Know where to get supplies. If you are running short of PPE, check with your healthcare providers.
  • Make sure your caregivers are tested regularly for COVID-19, and that you are made aware of their status at all times.
  • Have a back-up plan for when caregivers cannot come to work.
  • Work with any agency or organization you use regularly to provide that back up, or, if you hire your caregivers independently, with the individuals themselves.
  • If for any reason your assigned caregivers are not wearing the PPE they should be wearing while providing your care, mention it to them but also notify the organizations they are associated with.



It’s time for a visit to the paediatrician or dentist, but is it safe to go?

As a mom of six, my planner is typically peppered with a wide variety of regular healthcare appointments for my children: annual wellness checks, biannual teeth cleaning, and a few specialist appointments such as the orthodontist and the eye doctor.

But during the time of stay-at-home orders, many of these appointments were cancelled, the offices closed indefinitely. Which is why I was surprised when our paediatrician called to schedule annual wellness checks for two of my children.

Yes, many stay-at-home orders are lifting, but I still had questions. Was it safe? Was it worth bringing kids, especially when kids are vulnerable, to a place where sick people may have been recently?

The nurse assured me that while COVID-19 had forced the office to adjust safety protocols, yes, it was better to keep up with vaccinations than to postpone. Although I was still worried, I kept the appointments, wearing masks the entire time as requested.

New safety protocols are being used

When we arrived for our appointment, I called the office from the car as instructed so that the staff could make sure the halls were clear and usher us straight back to an exam room. Before the pandemic, my girls would have busied themselves climbing on the play structure while I filled out all the necessary forms.

According to Chad Hayes, MD, this is a helpful change that he has also implemented in his practice.

“We’ve stopped using piles of forms, pens, and clipboards so that patients aren’t touching shared surfaces,” he says. “Only one parent can come up at a time, and all patients and parents are masked who come in.”

Hayes’ practice only sees well-child visits in the morning now, and if he suspects anything contagious, he does a lot of screening before allowing the child and parent into the office.

Which appointments should you keep?

Dr. Hayes says that while some appointments may be safe to postpone, others are important to keep, even in the midst of a pandemic.

Vaccines and developmental concerns: “The ones I would prioritize are for babies under 2 because they frequently involve vaccines and are developmentally important. Four, 11, and 16 years as well, because of vaccines.” According to Hayes, these appointments are also vital because a lot of developmental concerns are identified during them. “One of my
major concerns right now are adolescents. Their structure has been stripped away, and they are already at risk for anxiety and depression.”

Specialists: For specialist appointments, parents should be in contact with their child’s doctor in order to determine if it’s better to wait or be seen as scheduled. And if the appointment must be kept, parents should be prepared with what the pandemic- related procedures will be from the moment you arrive.

Some allergy offices, for instance, are practicing social distancing by using the patient’s car, and therefore parking lots, as waiting rooms. Check-in is now completed at carside, and children are given the option of getting their shots outside by the nurses or in their car.

Therapists: Parents whose children regularly see a therapist may be concerned about keeping up with appointments. Thankfully, technology makes it possible to continue therapy without violating the current need for social and physical distancing. At this time, there is no real reason to bring a child to a therapist’s office. Appointments can be conducted via teletherapy platforms such as Zoom or Google Meet, and even art-therapy and other therapy modalities that would seemingly be difficult to do over video can be conducted successfully.

Dentists: Paediatric dental visits are currently on hold for most parts of the country, however, parents should contact their child’s dentist in the case of any dental emergencies; a decayed tooth infection, pain, or severe trauma. Call the dentist to discuss the problem.

Dentist offices will now look and feel differently than what children are used to. With social distancing, deep sanitation and changes to waiting rooms, dentists will make every effort to minimize risk.

How can you prepare?

For any appointment that children will need to attend, preparation is key. Katie Lear, LCMHC, a licensed therapist specializing in paediatrics, has some suggestions to help children get ready for appointments and minimize their anxiety.

  1. “For kids with anxiety about doctor visits, I often recommend doing some role playing at home with toys to help children prepare for the experience, and that’s particularly true right now.
  2. “Make sure your child understands what will be the same and different about this appointment, for example, you’ll notice that everyone in the office is wearing masks, but Dr. Johnson will still be there, and you’ll still get to pick out a sticker when you leave.
  3. Sometimes, repeating the scenario a few times through play gives children more of a sense of mastery and control over the situation, which alleviates anxiety.” Lear also suggests parents prepare themselves for appointments, since kids are very sensitive to their parents’ feelings.

“Take the time to help yourself feel calm and collected prior to the appointment,” she says. “Your child will likely pick up on your stress if you’re anxious about going to the doctor. If you can present yourself as calm, cool, and collected, your child will get the message that this is nothing to be afraid of, and will be more likely to respond in the same way.”

Maintaining your child’s health during this uncertain time is essential. If you have any questions or concerns, contact their doctor who can advise you on when to make an appointment, when to wait, and how to best keep your child safe and healthy.

Jenn Morson is a freelance writer. Her words have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Washington Post, USA Today, Cosmopolitan, and many other publications.

Medically reviewed by Debra Sullivan, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., CNE, COI. Reprinted with permission from Healthline Media, Inc.



Family life has changed dramatically and parenting looks and feels
a lot different these days.

Schools and many childcare services are closed, families and friends are separated and community resources are hard to access. Parents are now working from home, on the front-lines, starting to return to work, or navigating a job loss—all while trying to keep their children healthy, educated, occupied and happy. If parenting during this crisis has left you anxious and overwhelmed, you are not alone. Here are some recommendations from experts that may help:

For kids with complex needs. If you have a child with multiple health concerns who is at an increased risk for complications, the threat of COVID-19 can be particularly scary. Closures may also have affected the vital therapies and supports that are usually part of your routine. As I see it , everyone’s lives have been changed by the pandemic, but you are, in many ways, better prepared. Diligent hand hygiene, infection prevention, avoiding crowds and having essentials on hand are not new practices for your family, given your little ones day-to-day vulnerability.

While you always wear many hats, being a parent, teacher, employee and caregiver during this stressful and uncertain time is an enormous task. Many of the parenting tips I’m sharing here, including prioritizing self-care, staying connected with family and friends, keeping expectations realistic, finding your new routine and asking for help are particularly important for you—now more than ever! Other tips specific to parents of children with medical complexities include having a back-up plan and detailed care instructions in case you do get sick, using online community resources and telemedicine whenever possible and recognizing the limits of homeschooling without any extra educational support. Parents of children with disabilities or medical needs are known to be flexible and resilient, creative problem-solvers and familiar with uncertainty. Try to take comfort in these hard- won strengths that will help guide you and yours through this new challenge.

Keep a routine. Most agree that children thrive on routine and structure—especially during times of stress. Depending on the age of your child, develop a new routine that includes meals, bedtime, physical activity and schoolwork with opportunities for play and creativity. Hang the new schedule up where everyone can see it (using pictures for young children). While a regular routine will help ground your day, it’s okay to toss out the original plan if a conference call runs too long or the sunshine keeps you outside exploring.

Encourage connections. Social distancing and isolation are particularly hard on children and teens. Writing letters and organizing visits that follow distancing rules can help your children maintain their relationships. Social media, Zoom and FaceTime can be great ways for your kids to stay connected, even if they weren’t allowed to use these platforms before. Setting ground rules and spending time introducing your child to these technologies can be a valuable and fun activity. Encourage virtual story time with grandparents, keep up with extracurriculars that have gone online, schedule virtual playdates and try out multiplayer video games. While these interactions are definitely not perfect, they will help us all feel a little less alone.

Use this time to bond. Despite the circumstances, the virus has forced us to slow down and pause. It can be helpful to see this as an opportunity to spend time together and do some of the things we have previously been too busy for. Ask your child what they want to do, try an activity jar or learn something new as a family. Game nights, obstacle courses, cooking challenges, household projects, picnics or dance parties are just a few ideas to get you started.

Lower your standards. While this is a chance to connect with your children, when you’re trying to do so many things, you can start to feel as though you aren’t doing anything particularly well. The pandemic is new for everyone and this isn’t business as usual, so try not to be too hard on yourself, or your kids. Expect that working from home with children will affect your productivity. Remind yourself that a clean house is overrated, and remember, there are many ways to learn outside of the classroom if study time is missed. Be realistic, focus on staying safe and prioritize.

Be open and honest. Not talking about the virus will actually make your kids worry more. A good starting point is to ask your child what they know about, and if and what they’re worried about. This approach will keep things age-appropriate, without overwhelming or scaring them. Celebrate what we are all doing to stay safe and be honest when you don’t have all the answers. For younger children, playtime, art projects and stories are all good ways to explore their big feelings. Separation anxiety, sleep issues, bedwetting, headaches, stomach aches and meltdowns are all signs of anxiety and stress in children. If you are worried about your child’s behaviour, reach out to a mental health professional.

Ask for help. If there’s another adult in the house, try to trade off child care and housework responsibilities. It can feel like a 24-hour job, so “on” and “off” time will give everyone a break and a little breathing room. Make it a team effort by giving your kids age- and skill-appropriate jobs. In some families, teens can watch younger children, tweens can be a big help in the kitchen and your toddler can learn to help clean up their own toys. Working together will help you and set your family up for good habits and life skills.

Take care of yourself. One of the best ways we can help our kids is to help ourselves. Children take cues from the grownups in their lives and depend on us to help them navigate their own emotions. Take time each day to do something to de-stress—it’s different for everyone! Get outdoors, do an online yoga class, read a book or connect with friends. If you’re feeling exhausted, step away and take a break rather than sharing your anxiety and fear with your children. It is okay to acknowledge that this is hard for you.

Take a deep breath. Parenting through COVID-19 is uncharted territory. It can be comforting to remember that no one knows what they are doing and everyone is figuring things out as they go. This is temporary; we are in survival mode and sometimes the best way to keep order is to break a few habits or rules. Yes, there are many challenges ahead of us, but with a little time and effort, perhaps our children may come out of this more creative, empathetic, appreciative and resourceful. Or, at least, one can hope!

Crystal Gonder is the Communications Consultant for VHA Home HealthCare.



At the best of times, parenting a child with a disability, while rewarding, is also a difficult, stressful, exhausting and often thankless job.

As COVID-19 has turned all of our lives upside down, parents can feel more isolated than ever before and without access to many of the resources they depend on.

If you’re a parent tackling day-to-day demands during this pandemic, it’s likely that your needs are at the very bottom of the priority list. It is always a challenge to find the time and energy for self-care, but it is important to keep in mind that when your needs are taken care of, the child or children you are caring for will benefit as well. Here are a few tips to help you feel a little more calm, healthy and in control during the pandemic:

Stay connected

While we must be physically apart, social distancing does not mean being alone. In moderation, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites can be positive ways to stay in touch, and video conferencing apps like FaceTime, Zoom and Skype may provide the face-to-face connection we are all craving. Use these platforms to play games, listen to music, watch a movie, eat a meal or even have a dance party together with someone outside of your home. If you feel overwhelmed by these technologies, there are a lot of easy-to-follow tutorials online that can help. Checking in on a neighbour or another parent or two from a safe distance, sending a hand-written note or making a phone call are other ways to create a sense
of connectedness.

Limit information overload

The constant media coverage of the coronavirus may be adding to your anxiety and distress. As a caregiver, staying informed and up-to-date
is important to help keep your family safe, but it’s a good idea to set boundaries. Rely on a few trusted sources like, your provincial health department or health professional, read updates only once a day and aim to limit social media.

Prioritize your health

The worry and lack of structure that we are all experiencing can make healthy choices difficult. Try your best to eat balanced meals, get lots of sleep and be active every day. Going for walks, exploring free online workouts, taking long baths or meditating will help boost your mood and reduce stress. You can still binge watch your favourite TV show and eat too much ice cream, but be thoughtful and intentional about how you are treating your body.

Find your joy

During this quarantine, if you find you have a little extra time, consider taking up hobbies and activities you enjoy or are interested in. Get out a puzzle, learn to bake bread, finish that knitting project, listen to podcasts, do crosswords or paint a watercolour. Even in short bursts these activities can help take you away from daily concerns. There’s also exciting content online like the Vancouver Aquarium or Calgary Zoo live cams, The AGO from Home online collection or Stratford Festival plays to help you escape the confines of your home. But, don’t feel any pressure to use this time to learn new things and improve yourself—you may just be in survival mode and that’s okay too!

Unite with parents

Whether you connected with a support group prior to the pandemic or not, it’s more important than ever to find people who understand what you are going through. The Ontario Caregiver Organization and Canadian Caregiver Network both offer online caregiving communities to remind you that we are all in this together. Similarly, reaching out to other carers in your life to
talk openly about how the virus has affected you can create both a support system and human connection.

Get help

If you are isolating with your loved ones—while you may be the primary caregiver—there are ways for family and friends to help. Ask someone to pick up groceries, medications or run errands, organize drive-by visits and accept any offers for meal drop offs. This is an extraordinary situation and really tough, so be honest with yourself about how you are doing. If you are struggling, teletherapy is now covered by most extended health plans. Otherwise, there are many free, online mental health services available including: Big White Wall, The Canadian Mental Health Association’s BounceBack and Anxiety Canada’s app Mindshift.

No one knows for sure how long this will last, and the uncertainty may be the hardest part of the COVID-19 crisis. During these difficult times, take things one day at a time, set realistic expectations, be kind to yourself and try to focus on what matters.

Crystal Gonder is the Communications Consultant for VHA Home HealthCare.


The cover of a children's book. Drawing of two children riding an orange dragon.


A new story book that aims to help children understand and come to terms with COVID-19 has been produced by a collaboration of more than 50 organizations working in the humanitarian sector, including the WHO, UN, Red Cross and Save the Children.

With the help of a fantasy creature, Ario, “My Hero is You, How kids can fight COVID- 19!” explains how children can protect themselves, their families and friends and how to manage difficult emotions.

The book is aimed primarily at children aged 6-11 years.

During the early stages of the project, more than 1,700 children, parents, caregivers and teachers from around the world shared how they were coping with the COVID-19 pandemic. The input was invaluable to script writer and illustrator Helen Patuck and the project team in making sure that the story and its messages resonated with children from different backgrounds and continents.

In order to reach as many children as possible, the book will be widely translated, with six language versions released today and more than 30 others in the pipeline. It is being released as both an online product and audio book.

Download the book here

A young girl using a tablet or ipad.


If your family is stuck at home during the coronavirus disease outbreak, it’s likely your children are spending a lot more time online. How can you maximize the benefit, while minimizing the potential harm?

1. Open communication. Have an honest dialogue with your children about who they communicate with and how. Make sure they understand the value of kind and supportive interactions and that mean, discriminatory or inappropriate contact is never acceptable. If your children experience any of these, encourage them to tell you or a trusted adult immediately.

2. Technology to protect them. Check that your child’s device is running the latest software and antivirus programs, and that privacy settings are on. Keep webcams covered when not in use. For younger children, tools such as parental controls, including safe search, can help keep online experiences positive.

3. Spend time with them online. Sit with your child to identify age appropriate apps, games and other online entertainment and have fun.

4. Let them have fun and express themselves. Encourage your child to take advantage of online exercise videos for kids and video games that require physical movement.

Source: Inter-Agency Standing Committee

Two young boys looking at a book.


Should I send my kid back to day care? To keep our sanity as parents, we may have to develop a new level of comfort with a certain level of risk. Loosening our social distancing restrictions and rejoining the outside world feels scary. If you’re a parent reading this, you probably need childcare.

Let us address every parent’s primary concern: Currently, early data shows that over 90 per cent of pediatric cases are asymptomatic, mild, or moderate. Serious cases of COVID-19 are rare in children, and cases of MIS-C are rarer still.

Of course, if your child has a health condition—a chronic heart or lung issue, or if they just went through chemotherapy—it changes the equation. But not all chronic conditions create increased risk. Check with your doctor to help ease your mind.

As you consider your options for childcare, ask yourself and your family these questions:

  1. What are my family’s health risks?
  2. What does the epidemiological situation look like where we live?
  3. What steps are providers taking?

Like a lot of other families, we’re going to have to figure out how to tolerate a little more risk, scrape off all this tape, and put together something new.

Source: UNICEF



A tale of three families and how they are adjusting during COVID-19

The 2020 COVID-19 Pandemic has created the biggest social experience of our time; quarantine and self-isolation. Spending this much time alone or with our immediate families, we have learned a lot about ourselves, our family members, essential work and our society. Our challenge is to take that learning, apply it to improve our own lives and the greater good, and to take that learning into the future as our world begins to open up again.

What have we learned?

We have heard wonderful stories about those on the front lines of healthcare. We have heard heart-wrenching stories of loss and wonderful tales of communities helping each other and sewing face masks. We’ve also heard distressing stories about the treatment of our most vulnerable citizens— the elderly and people living with disabilities.

Together, we’ve learned alternate ways of working; a recent Angus Reid poll reports only 36 per cent of Canadians plan to go back to the office permanently. How will they integrate working and family life into the long term?

Let’s look at the experience of several Canadian families and how they’re coping with the new normal that the pandemic has introduced:

A young adult woman.


Alexis is a labour lawyer whose husband, Bob’s, stroke five years ago rendered him paraplegic. They managed with a jigsaw of care from social services and a private agency. When she got home in the evening, Alexis would take over. Working from home during quarantine, Alexis developed a new routine: she would get up at 6 a.m. and work for a few hours until the visiting personal support worker (PSW) came to help her husband. She realized that taking a break for a few hours meant she could spend time with her husband, have a daily workout, and make and eat dinner together. Alexis and Bob re-arranged for the same PSW to cover dinner clean-up and bedtime prep while Alexis worked a few more
hours in the evening.

Quarantining taught Alexis a few things:

  1. That she could indeed effectively work from home and that adjusting Bob’s care schedule could actually enhance their lives.
  2. She realized that she could still make time for herself and had extra time and energy without her daily commute.
  3. She enjoyed spending additional time with her husband during the day and being able to walk their little dog.
  4. The couple agreed to cancel their weekly cleaning service as a precaution and bought a robot vacuum that Bob could operate.
  5. Bob was ready, willing and able to assume additional responsibilities and felt good about doing more.
  6. Bob was actively involved in all new decisions and was comfortable with suggestions related to the revised plan. He agreed to manage grocery orders by phone and online for delivery, switched all of his routine medical appointments to online tele-health appointments and arranged for his medications and personal care items to be delivered by the local pharmacy.
  7. Alexis had also reviewed the hygiene protocols for themselves and any agency caregiver coming to the house to make sure everyone, including herself, was safe. She ensured they followed the caregiver guidelines outlined by the provincial Ministry of Health. These include:
  • Care providers should wear surgical/procedure masks at all times during the home visit.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be supplied by the client and used, and properly discarded, at the client’s home after use in a contactless, lined receptacle.
  • Hand hygiene is to be performed before putting on and, after removing masks.
  • If a client has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, care providers should delay care if possible and only provide essential nursing, therapies and personal support services.

She has also asked the agency to provide her with regular updates and notify her of any staffing changes so she could be ready to re-orient new care providers herself.

After March and April, the couple both agreed it was achieving an even better work/life balance than before the quarantine and Alexis plans to discuss modified work from home with her law firm partners as things open up again.

An African American woman.


Nina has been a surgical nurse at the local hospital for 25 years. Lately she had been working very long shifts at a local COVID-19 assessment centre. Hearing media coverage about COVID-19 outbreaks in nursing homes convinced her to relocate her 86-year-old mum from long-term care into her own home. It only took a few weeks to realize that her mom missed the activity, her table-mates and friends. And, she found it hard to be alone for 12-14 hours while Nina was at work. Despite the risk, Nina and her mum decided to ask about returning to the home after a couple of months, but her mum’s bed had been re-assigned and she would have to start again on a waiting list.

They researched some options until mum’s turn came. Social services advised that lists will be even longer post-COVID-19 but that she qualified for a visiting PSW for daily personal care. As government funded care was limited a top up would likely be necessary from mum’s pension (usually needed to pay her nursing home fees), Nina and her mum got creative.

  • They analysed exactly the care that mum needed— personal care a few times a day, toileting every few hours and administering medication were the main items.
  • In fact, Nina’s mum was alright for a few hours after the PSW’s visits, as long as she was near her commode, with the cell phone and TV remote nearby.
  • A personal emergency response device that mum could wear around her neck gave her the ability to call either Nina or the monitoring centre if she needed emergency help.
  • All groceries and drug store items would be delivered to the house to avoid the risks associated with shopping now and in the future (it saved time and turned out it wasn’t more expensive).

In addition, Nina approached her human resources department, asking to do assessments via home visits for split shifts, for the same number of hours. This allowed Nina to work in the neighbourhood from nine a.m. till noon, come home and give her mum lunch and her medication, and return to work for the afternoon. Nina’s husband, who managed to come home from work early or work from home, was able to help with dinner.

All of them were concerned, but as a nurse, Nina knew what she had to do. First, was consult the Ministry of Health’s public health website and also the guidelines from her employer. She also implemented additional precautionary measures because of her mum, who was in good health but still more vulnerable given her age:

STEP 1: Nina created her own ‘hot-spot’ in the garage where she removed her scrubs and her husband removed his work clothes and put them directly into the washing machine. They both changed into fresh clothes before entering their home environment.

STEP 2: They also immediately entered the adjacent bathroom to wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

STEP 3: Nina has instructed her mum on prevention techniques such as:

  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue or the bend of your arm, not your hand.
  • Dispose of any tissues you have used as soon as possible in a lined waste basket and wash your hands afterwards.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

STEP 4: At least twice a day, she sanitizes surfaces such as toilets, phones, electronics, television remotes and kitchen surfaces.

STEP 5: All deliveries are wiped down and staged for a few hours before being brought into the house.

Nina also reviewed the PSW agency’s protocols to make sure she was comfortable and insisted that her mum and the care provider wear masks, practice distancing where possible and also wash their hands frequently. Nina and her mum have agreed to try this arrangement for six months, ideally adding a day program and friendly visiting when public health allows. If her mum is still lonely, they will accept a nursing home bed when it’s offered.


A middle-aged Asian man wearing a face mask.

Brian is a project manager in a bank’s IT department. His son David, 16, has a developmental disability; his daughter Laurel, 14, has been off school and is self- isolating at home.

David has always been restless and reacts poorly to supervision, so Brian has enrolled him in various after-school programs to keep him busy; all of which are cancelled at present. Brian is struggling to get his work team motivated to finish a major project deadline and is itching to get back to the office. His spouse is also working from home.

However, interesting things have emerged during their time at home together. When a kitten appeared at the back door one chilly March evening, David not only brought him inside and bonded with him but started to tenderly care for him. Laurel is also keen on the kitten and has become more kind that usual to her brother. Together, they plan marathon video game sessions. By spending time at home with them, Brian is realizing that both his son and daughter have become more confident and self-sufficient. Could they actually leave David at home alone for a few hours each day after school rather than forcing him to attend after school programs that he doesn’t always enjoy?

What do Brian and his spouse need to know about going back to work and David and Laurel’s safety in going back to school?

As schools reopen, the family should make sure that their children’s school is following local recommendations for cleaning and disinfecting. In David’s case, a sense of routine and predictability is the key to success. He’s shown enthusiasm for pet care and keen interest in video gaming and can be proud of what he’s achieved during the quarantine period. Perhaps he’d like to decide which after-school programs he wishes to pursue for his own interests.

What can Brian expect as he returns to his downtown office? Again, each provincial Ministry of Health has guidelines.

None of these families who’s stories I’ve shared are strangers to adversity; they have learned over time to live with medical concerns and vulnerability. They have also had the wisdom to keep on learning, and by example, help all of us to learn as well.

Illustration of a man and woman social distancing while sitting at a table.

Guidelines to share with employers

Each provincial ministry has guidelines for return to work during COVID-19. Here are Ontario’s as an example:

  • Provide access to hand-washing and have available alcohol-based hand sanitizers at multiple, prominent locations, with non-touch, lined waste disposal receptacles.
  • Implement physical distancing, maintaining a distance of at least 2 metres from other people.
  • Use telephone, video or online conferencing instead of in-person meetings.
  • Permit flexible hours and stagger start times, breaks, and lunches or stagger days that workers are in the workplace.
  • Provide physical barriers, such as plexiglass dividers, between workstations.
  • Mark out a distance of 2 metres between seats and seating areas to ensure physical distancing in common or shared spaces and lines (i.e., reception areas, meeting rooms, waiting rooms, kitchenettes, elevators, offices and other workspaces).
  • When physical distancing cannot be maintained, employers may implement the use of face coverings as source control (e.g., non-medical masks or cloth masks).
  • In addition to routine cleaning, surfaces that have frequent contact with hands should be cleaned and disinfected twice per day and when visibly dirty. Special attention should be paid to commonly touched surfaces in the workplace such as doorknobs, elevator buttons, light switches, toilet handles, counters, handrails, touch-screen surfaces, and shared materials, equipment, workstations, keypads, etc.
  • Place clear, visible signage at all entrances and within the workplace reminding workers and customers about the signs and symptoms of COVID-19, what to do if they feel unwell and how to protect themselves (e.g., hand hygiene, etc.).
  • ALSO: Be mindful of the needs of persons with disabilities (PWD) who are employees and customers.
Picture of Pat Irwin.

Pat M. Irwin, BA, AICB, CPCA, is president of ElderCareCanada, offering expert opinions, eldercare mediation, options for housing and care, moving and house clearing, and care management—


It is moments like these when we need all the resilience we can muster to lighten up our hearts and minds, maintain our core values and keep moving forward during COVID-19 return to work. Our editors have pulled together a few ideas from experts that we hope will help you avoid the hurdles and keep your chin up:

1. Don’t get knocked down: There’s a thing called negativity bias that sets in before we know it. A single newscast or critical comment can knock the wind out of us very quickly.

Wise advice: Pause and refocus. Take a moment to appreciate something calming, sweet or beautiful. Try a morning photo of someone or something that makes you laugh or smile.

Result: By refocusing your attention it helps you shift away from negative stressful thoughts.

2. Avoid going it alone: Hard to do while social distancing, but isolating yourself is a surefire way for most of us to start feeling blue.

Wise advice: Reach out to others. But, rather than comparing and despairing start and finish conversa- tions on a positive note. Greet a person with a positive comment. Say something happy, grateful, friendly or funny to set the tone and energy of your conversation.

Result: When you stay in the moment and carry optimistic messages you’re more likely to excel and feel more energetic.

3. Feel like time’s a-wasting? Right now it might feel like we’re spinning our wheels or going in the wrong direction.

Wise advice: Topple this hurdle by finding a purpose. Think carefully about how you’re spending your time, what drives you and develop a multi- faceted home/work/relationship to-do list that helps you prioritize and find balance.

Result: Your self-esteem will remain intact because you’ll feel worthwhile, even if the task list is different than normal.

4. Too much change to deal with? Right now things are somewhat chaotic and it’s hard to stay grounded.

Wise advice: Set aside time to disconnect from social, email, telephone, even if its just for ten minutes. Practice 5-3-1-1. At any time of day:
take five deep breaths, think of three things you’re grateful for, smile one real smile and set one new intention.

Result: A calmer, less anxious you who’s ready willing and able to handle what life is dishing out.