COVID-19 Communication Rights Toolkit

Adapted by Communication Disabilities Access Canada with permission from CommunicationFirst

Patients with COVID-19 (coronavirus) who need communication tools and supports due to speech-related disabilities face greater risks of discrimination and isolation during this pandemic. For example, for safety reasons, your family members and others who help you communicate may not be allowed to join you in the hospital. You also may face other barriers to communicating your needs and desires while you are being treated. 

It is important for you to know that your legal and civil rights to access your communication supports do not go away during an emergency, in quarantine, or in the hospital. 

This Toolkit:

  1. explains your communication rights
  2. provides tips on advocating for them, and
  3. has an accommodation request form you can bring to the hospital. 

What are your communication rights in health care settings? 

The duty to accommodate your accessibility needs is a core feature of Canadian human rights law. This means that if you are a patient in a hospital or other health care setting, you still have communication and other civil rights. Hospitals and other health care facilities must meet your communication needs at all times. Health providers also have an ethical duty to obtain informed consent before treating you or withholding treatment. 

  • Communication supports: Health care facilities are required to provide supports and services to ensure effective and clear communication 24 hours a day for patients who have hearing, vision, and/or speech, language and communication disabilities. The communication preferences of the patient should take priority. 
  • Other reasonable steps: Hospitals must provide other reasonable modifications and aids to give a patient with a disability equal opportunity to benefit from treatment. 
  • No discrimination in treatment: Hospitals cannot discriminate, exclude, or treat patients differently because of their disability. Treatment decisions must be based on individual needs and not on generalized assumptions about a person’s disability or their quality of life. Care and treatment cannot be denied or lowered in priority based on a person’s pre-existing disability or an assumption that the person has a lower prospect of survival due to the disability. A person with a disability who has COVID-19 cannot be excluded from treatment just based on their disability or inability to communicate.

How can you protect your communication rights at a hospital? 

  • Complete the attached one-page form outlining your individual needs and preferences as soon as possible. If you need to be treated, bring two copies (laminated, if possible).
    • While you are healthy, it is a good idea to prepare a communication kit with a range of tools that you could use when you are sick during a long hospital stay, and may not have access to your regular communication support people. Please include instructions for hospital staff. For infection control, consider a communication board. There are free boards are available on the Patient Provider Communication site.
    • Include the name of a person(s) who can assist you with communication, if needed. They may not be able to accompany you to hospital but in an emergency, they may be able to assist using technology (e.g., phone, computer or video).
  • Tell the hospital registration clerk and nursing staff that you are requesting communication accommodations and give them your form.
    • Also be sure to bring your communication kit, including all devices, chargers, and communication boards you might need. Keep them close.


Download the Accommodation Form – PDF

Download the Accommodation Form – DOC

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