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Thursday, November 8, 2001
press for workable standards
million people with disabilities wanted an action plan on accessibility.
Instead, they got consciousness-raising legislation. The proposed
new Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a good start but not much else
-- and the year 2001 is pretty late in the game to make a start. There
are no provincial standards on accessibility in public buildings --
not even schools or hospitals. Progress so far has been voluntary,
prompted by moral persuasion, not legislative.
So, yes, the legislation
introduced by Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson does advance the issue
and bring it to the public's attention. The bill, which Jackson says
is open to amendment, will require municipalities, public transit,
hospitals, schools and post-secondary institutions to develop plans
to identify barriers to the disabled. It will also raise the maximum
fine for parking in spots designated for the disabled from $500 to
$5,000. Big whoop: Good intentions are nothing more than just that
without increased enforcement and a higher minimum fine, neither of
which is mandated by the province.
This is legislation
without teeth. There are no requirements for institutions, public
or private, to actually do anything about improving access. There
is no deadline for removing barriers. It seems unlikely that the government
will be easily convinced to fundamentally change the soft-pedal nature
of the legislation, regardless of lobbying or public hearings.
The cost of making
Ontario's public places, services and programs accessible to the widest
possible range of disabled people is huge. Previous governments, NDP
and Liberal among them, have been no more accommodating to the demands
of the disabled community than have the Harris Conservatives until
municipal governments, universities and colleges are struggling to
balance budgets now. Merchants, restaurant owners and businesses are
in many cases struggling to survive. It's no surprise that the business-friendly
Tories, dealing with the issue as the province drifts into recession,
chose not to force expensive accessibility changes.
But it seems clear
to us, and it has long been the view of the disabled community, that
change will not happen without legislated compliance. Since the province
has dropped the ball, it is now up to the disabled community and others
to come forward with a reasonable and workable proposal to set minimum
Pleas for fairness
have not been enough so far. The government and the public must be
persuaded that mandatory compliance can be fair to people now blocked
from full participation in public life in Ontario, and still be economically
feasible and fair to small businesses.
is not a favour but a right, and the province has at least begun the
process of recognizing that. Legislated standards are the next logical
and proper step.
Star Saturday, November 10, 2001
Much ado about new disabilities act
There's the short
way of doing nothing and the long way.
Six years ago,
on the campaign trail, would-be premier Mike
Harris promised voters an Ontarians With Disabilities Act,
guaranteeing people with disabilities equal access to everything
from transportation to jobs.
When there was
no sign of any such action well into the
Conservative reign, Dwight Duncan, now Liberal House Leader,
introduced a resolution forcing the issue. It passed unanimously
but the minuscule three-page bill introduced a month later was so
slip-shod and inadequate, it shocked even those who rarely give
disability issues a thought. Not surprisingly, it was relegated
to a quiet death on the order paper.
`We're no closer
... All we got out of this bill is more paper'
This week, as
part of the swan song to Harris' second term in
office, the Conservatives introduced a new Ontarians With
Disabilities Act. It weighed in with a lot more pages, but the
substance is little changed.
closer to an effective law than we were the last time,"
says Sam Savona, a long-time community activist. "All we got
of this bill is more paper."
Eleven years ago
in the United States, the Americans With
Disabilities Act committed the government to supervising the
removal of barriers to transportation, employment, housing and
communications services. The act, backed by both Republicans and
Democrats, established a series of deadlines for the changes in
the public and private sector. It also stipulated fines for those
who didn't measure up.
By contrast, Ontario's
proposed law is a masterpiece of waffling.
It sets up no mandatory changes, no deadlines for accomplishing
anything, no means of enforcing anything. For the most part,
responsibility for bringing any ideas to fruition is downloaded
on to municipalities.
A jump from $500
to $5,000 in the maximum fine for illegally
parking in a space reserved for drivers with disabilities may
sound like a terrific step forward. But it's hardly central to
dismantling physical and attitudinal barriers in education,
communications, housing and the workplace. Nor will it mean
anything at all unless municipalities can afford to police the
accessibility directorate and an accessibility
advisory council (something that existed under previous
provincial regimes) may sound good on paper, but neither will be
mandated to do anything other than "encourage" accessibility.
since everyone involved would be appointed by the government,
there's little likelihood of any fresh thinking.
always involves choosing broad terms. The
real meat of any bill is contained in the regulations drafted
after it has been passed. Still, the fuzzy language promoted with
this bill appears to be in a class of its own. Thus, we are told:
"No new subdivisions or construction would occur without
consideration of accessibility features." (The italics are mine.)
I have no idea what "consideration" means in this context,
find nothing reassuring in it.
and anger. That's the feedback we've been getting,"
says lawyer David Lepofsky, head of the Ontarians With
Disabilities Act Committee, which has been pressing for the
taken all our good ideas and ruined them."
Lepofsky and Savona
are also troubled by the "spin game"
accompanying the bill. Like many others with an interest in the
issue, both were invited to and attended a government lunch
before watching introduction of the bill in the House.
The Queen's Park
press release announcing the Ontarians With
Disability Act quotes Andria Spindel, head of the Ontario March
of Dimes, as supporting the bill as "a good first step."
Lepofsky was angered to hear Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson
imply publicly that everyone present by invitation had come to
support the legislation.
Nor does his committee
plan to remain quiet. Government officials
have told him they want the legislation passed quickly, but
Lepofsky says the anger of people he has spoken to is matched
only by their determination to push for public hearings and to
make their opinions felt at the polls.
Mike Harris as leader of the Ontario
Conservatives might do well to remember that.
anger. That's the feedback we got'
put people with disabilities at 15 per cent of
the voting public. In the U.S., it was Republican President
George Bush Sr. who brought in the Americans With Disabilities
Act in 1990. Bush won the presidency by a margin of 5 per cent of
votes cast. According to a survey conducted by pollster Louis
Harris, 50 per cent of the votes that made his election possible
were a direct result of his support for a strong, effective
Americans With Disabilities Act.
For more information
on how to take action on the Ontarians With
Disabilities Act, log on to oda@odacommittee. net.
Write to Helen
Henderson c/o Life Section, Toronto Star, 1 Yonge
St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1E6. Please include your telephone number.
Or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
and Mail Saturday November 10, 2001
Membership in the club for the disabled-in-training open to all
As one of the
1.5 million citizens of Ontario who has a
disability, I was, of course, not at all displeased by the news
this week that the government is going to raise the fine for
illegally parking in a handicapped spot to $1,000.
Why not? I thought
when I read the news. If the Highway Traffic
Act doesn't already have the teeth to protect our little corners
of convenience from vehicular squatters, throw the scofflaws in
In the new Canada,
in fact, a little preventive detention might
not even hurt. If you catch someone even thinking about sneaking
into one of our designated spaces in the beer-store lot on a
Saturday afternoon, throw him into the hoosegow for a couple of
days until he sees the light.
In the meantime,
it might make more sense to change some rules
and regulations that have more effect on the way some people with
disabilities live than on access to parking spots. Not that the
permits aren't handy. Mine is a pale blue laminated card that
sits on my dashboard like a VIP pass to the Royal Winter Fair. I
was issued it about a year ago -- you need a doctor's signature -
- when my emphysema got severe enough to restrict my mobility.
Shopping, going out for dinner, just generally getting around by
car are all easier now because I can park near my destination.
But the truth is, I scarcely ever find able-bodied infidels
usurping my space and, along with most of the other people with
disabilities I talked to this week, I have other things I wish
the lawmakers would pay attention to.
Not all the improvements
that would make more sense -- Braille
buttons in elevators, for instance, or sign-language interpreters
in hospitals -- are of the sort that affect my own post-able-
bodied daily life.
But since so many
of them just mean better access to various
public buildings and services, I understand them as I never did
when my life was less confined. It's one thing to be in favour of
more facilities for the disabled when you're not one of them;
it's quite another to have the lack of those facilities limit
your own right to freedom of movement, dignity and the enjoyment
of everyday life.
(People not yet
in the club may want to consider the thought of
one advocate for the disabled I talked to -- that in the age of
an increasingly elderly population, even people who think of
themselves as able-bodied now are really just disabled-in-
Some of the changes
may seem minor, but to us, they're not. An
"accessible" building may still have one- or two-inch ridges
across the bottom of its ramps: molehills if you're out for a
jog, mountains if you're trying to ride a wheelchair or, in my
case, push a stroller loaded with your oxygen tank.
A restaurant may
have (blessedly) no step up from the sidewalk,
but inside, the washrooms may be up or down a flight of stairs,
or the tables may be too close together. Badly designed doorknobs
are too stiff to turn from a disabled stance or scrape your
knuckles when you do. Light switches are too high, toilet stalls
too narrow, people -- even those not thoughtless enough (or
perhaps too scared by even the $500 fine that would face them
now) to steal your parking space -- too inconsiderate.
They should all
have to walk a mile in my shoes. Or, better,
David Lepofsky's. Lepofsky is a smart, tough, 44-year-old blind
lawyer who serves as chairman of the Ontarians with Disabilities
I called him on
Wednesday for his thoughts on the government's
proposed changes in the law, including the increase in the
parking fine, which had made the front page of The Globe and
piece of spin control," he said.
I remembered a
story I had heard him tell some years ago, when he
was picking up an award for his contribution to the cause of
people with disabilities. It was about a case he had been arguing
in one of the courtrooms of Osgoode Hall in Toronto when the
lights suddenly went out. Power failure. "Don't worry about me,
Your Honour," Lepofsky said. "I'm quite prepared to finish
my argument." The court, nonetheless, adjourned till the
electricity could be fixed.
believe those sighted people," Leposky said to a
colleague on his way out into the hall. "Soon they'll be asking
for lights in every courtroom."
We have moved,
my beloved and I, from the gilded eyrie we have
lived in for the past eight years, looking down on the Toronto
waterfront from the eighth floor of an Arthur Erickson designed
building. We're now in a house high up in Don Mills, which was
the disdainful eponym for all suburbia when I was a cub reporter,
but now seems not all that far from downtown.
I know I'm going
to miss the tall ships of summer and I know I'm
going against the trend; people my age are supposed to be selling
their houses and moving to condos instead of the other way round.
But I think this
is going to work for us: a lovely bungalow with
skylights in the living room, a generous deck that overlooks a
wooded ravine, a ramp to the front door, and a stair-lift that
will carry me down to the lower level where my treadmill now
lives in a room of its own. All very pleasant, and we're settling
in quite comfortably, thank you.
Except for the
cursed leaf blowers. I see the board of health has
been wondering about restricting their hours of use or banning
Just shut 'em
up, I say. I can't see what good they do anyway.
Or, as we say up our way: He blows them hither, he blows them
yon/He blows them across his neighbour's lawn/And when that noisy
task has ended,/They all blow back where God intended.
the Website of the Ontario Association for Community Living,
with Comments of OACL Executive Director Keith Powell
Act has little validity for people with intellectual disabilities
Friday November 9, 2001
Web news) site provides an opportunity for people to
respond to the new Ontarians with Disabilities Act," says Keith
Powell, executive director of OACL. "If people understand how
lacking this legislation is, I cant help but think they would
like to involve themselves in a letter-writing campaign."
Keith is responding
to the government launching of a new
Ontarians with Disabilities Act, introduced in the legislature on
November 5, 2001 by Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson. A Ministry
of Citizenship news release states that the Act is "Canada's
far-reaching legislation for persons with disabilities."
Keith notes that
in 1998, the Ontario legislature unanimously
adopted 11 principles for an effective ODA. (These principles
were recommended to the legislature by the ODA Committee, an
advocacy group lobbying for disability rights legislation.) In
1999, the legislature adopted another resolution: that any ODA
legislation would have to be "strong and effective." "The
it has been tabled is not consistent with those 11 principles,
and the areas it applies to are not far-reaching enough to affect
people with intellectual disabilities," says Keith. "Clearly,
this is not a strong and effective law."
might address some limited issues for people with
mobility and other physical barriers, but "there is little
indication that the government intends to make sure a mechanism
is in place to include people with intellectual disabilities and
to remove barriers that undermine their rights," says Keith.
One hope rests
in a provision of the act that defines barriers
faced by people with disability. It includes
"attitudinal barriers", and it is those attitudinal barriers
are of primary interest to people with intellectual disabilities
and their families. But, Keith cautions, whether the advisory
group process, set up to build on the legislation, addresses
attitudinal barriers is another matter.
legislation passes, OACL will advocate vigorously
to ensure that voices of people with intellectual disability are
included and supported on those advisory groups.
A real test of
the legislation will be in the area of education.
Will the ODA ultimately force the province to live up to its own
Education Ministry requirement to make inclusive education the
first option for children, with provision of adequate and
appropriate educational services and supports where needed? If
there is other - albeit faint - hope to be found, says Keith, it
is that this legislation at least puts disability and
accessibility issues on the agenda at the public sector level.
The bill also permits the creation of guidelines, standards, and
protocols that may apply to the private sector if the Minister
and government later choose to do so. "This means that government
can create regulations; the legislative framework is created."
But the act does not compel private and other sectors in the
community to work with people with disabilities to progressively
remove barriers. "In fact, the bill implies the opposite,"
says. "It says, `You don't have to do anything. Only the
government has to act.' And even then, the bill permits the
government to grant exemptions, without even limiting how or to
have intellectual disabilities and parents of
people with intellectual disabilities are going to be very
disappointed, says Keith. "How could a parent say to her young
daughter that this act is going to make a difference in her
An earlier draft of this proposed column was read
on the air on London area radio station AM 980 on Monday, November
12, 2001 by radio host Gord Harris, when Citizenship Minister Cam
Jackson did not come on the air, as scheduled.
is submitted for use as an Op.Ed. piece.
As a person who
has had MS for 14.5 years and used a wheelchair
for 11.5 years, I think that the Hon. Minister of Citizenship,
Cam Jackson, has grievously misrepresented me and the people with
diverse disabilities I know. His newly proposed ODA Bill 125 has
so much "spin" attached to it that I still feel dizzy from
I watched and
listened as the Minister read his prepared speech
in the Legislature during 2nd reading of Bill 125 on Thursday,
Nov. 8. He was almost convincing in his smooth effort to convince
us all that he had consulted widely with and "heard" people
disabilities in this province. Well, that just didn't happen the
way a few might think. Certainly not here in London.
secretary did call a handful of people from the
London area ODA Committee to a closed-door meeting. She called
late in the work-week last March. Jackson met with them on the
Monday following. To the credit of those who scrambled to meet
with the Minister, they told him they wanted a strong, effective
law with standards and timelines set in consultative fashion by
people with disabilities, the government and industry. They said
they wanted what was promised them by the Government: an ODA that
complies with the 11 principles -- as endorsed unanimously by the
Legislature on Oct. 29, 1998, as well as by disability
organizations, individuals and municipalities across Ontario.
They said they wanted the strong, effective ODA which was
unanimously pledged to us at Queen's Park no later than Nov. 23,
2001 -- one which would have teeth in it and would function to
identify, remove and prevent the unnecessary barriers in our way.
If the Minister
needed a refresher course about our
recommendations, he had only to look up the A Blueprint for
Making Ontario Open to People with Disabilities on our Web site
at www.odacommittee.net . Every MPP in Ontario received this
important document at least once from David Lepofsky, the
dedicated volunteer chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Committee. Previous Citizenship Ministers have had this document
in front of them for years. Yet on Thursday last, Cam Jackson
said he has never heard from the disability community on what the
standards should be. He's asked us, he said, but we haven't told
That is such a
We've told him
countless times that the government should bring
us to the table with business and industry to set the standards
and timelines. I'm saying it now. I will say it if I should
somehow get invited to attend a public hearing on this bill. I'm
saying it because an ODA that brings about a level playing field
for people with mental, sensory and physical disabilities, and
for business, government and industry is a win-win situation for
our everyone in our society.
Bill 125, as it
stands, does not mandate the broad private sector
or even the public sector to do anything. The bill is a big mess
whether you happen to read it online, listen to it on audio tape
or get a hard copy from the Government. Alternate formats aside,
this bill does not cut it.
Our chair's initial
analysis of the bill is, however, worth a
long, serious glance. It too is at www.odacommittee. net. I urge
you to make your own assessments and make them loudly to us all
What about the
fact that people with disabilities have barriers
like the inability to arrange parallel transit, ASL or attendant
services on short notice? The Minister completely excluded most
people with diverse disabilities in London and elsewhere in the
province from his "consultations" because he failed to extend
timely notice of his meetings to the entire community. He did not
consult widely nor openly, nor "with regard" to barrier-free
requirements; he did not "hear" us and he certainly did
propose a bill which complies with the 11 principles we stand
behind. If he met with and "heard" business leaders and
stakeholders in the larger community, these, too, were secret,
So what does the
Minister say he learned from us, the disability
community? He says we want to be included in making important
decisions about our own lives. (That's a patronizing
understatement.) He says we want accessibilty advisory committees
set up like so many squares on a patchwork quilt - one from each
municipality over 10,000. (Huh?) He says we want to have a say on
the implementation of accessibility plans. (No, actually, we want
a province-wide law with teeth.)
He is really saying, then, that all we really say
we want is to reinvent the wheel! How farsical is that?
a regional contact, ODA Committee,
Free Press Monday November 12, 2001
hearings needed for disabilities act
By Frances Bauer
On Nov. 5, the
Minister of Citizenship introduced for first
reading in the legislature an Ontarians with Disabilities Act
(ODA). This act was promised by Mike Harris prior to his first
election. It was promised again three years ago in a resolution
carried unanimously in the Legislature, and two years ago, on
Nov. 23, 1999, that promise was renewed.
people with disabilities and their friends,
families and supporters waited, year after year, for the
legislation that would make a real difference to their lives.
They held meetings,
they wrote to their MPPs and to newspapers.
They appeared on radio and television. A host of municipalities
passed resolutions supporting the 11 principles put forth by the
ODA Committee for legislation. A brief outlining what needed to
be in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act was presented to every
single MPP. (It can be read at: www.odacommittee.net)
as a child, waiting eagerly for your birthday,
hoping against hope for that special gift that will change your
life: a bicycle, a puppy, ballet lessons. You open a big card
from your parents and this is what you read: Dear son (or
daughter): Here, for you, is a gift of independence and
I know you were
hoping for a bicycle (puppy, ballet lessons) but
we believe independence and opportunity are what you really need.
To gain them simply do the chores listed below (read: serve on
countless advisory committees) and save up your pennies (if you
get paid, never guaranteed). So, happy birthday to you!
Well, that would
be life-changing, I guess, but pretty
disappointing and insulting, too.
Surely, you say,
the proposed bill is not that bad.
this: we didn't know a bill would be presented
until Nov. 2.
were invited to a media briefing the morning
of Nov. 5 at Queen's Park, but they didn't have access to the
bill in advance. For many with disabilities, significant lead
time is necessary in order for them to attend events. Paratransit
must be booked up to two weeks in advance, ASL (sign language)
interpretation and all other supports must be arranged.
But open and accessible
public hearings on the bill have not yet
been announced. If the intent of this bill is to create a
barrier-free Ontario, why is the very process of introducing and
considering this bill not barrier-free?
As for the much
publicized $5,000 fine for parking in a disabled
spot, that headline grabber is practically the only reference to
money in the entire bill. It is unquestionably true many barriers
can be removed or prevented at little or no cost.
But funds need
to be invested in removing and preventing others
in order to realize the vision of a barrier-free Ontario and to
deliver the equality promised by our Charter of Rights and
Freedoms and our Ontario Human Rights Code.
If the intent
is to put those with disabilities in the driver's
seat, where on Earth will they get gas for the car?
Catharines Standard Saturday, November 10, 2001
Where's the Meat!
By Linda Crabtree
The first reading
of Ontario Government's new Ontarians with
Disabilities Act, 2001 took place on Monday. Forgive me for being
a bit skeptical but after one false start with Isabel Bassett and
a wait of six and a half years, I'm not holding my breath that
this is the answer to anything. The one item that most people
will read or hear about is that fines for parking in a spot
marked for people with disabilities is going from $500 to a
maximum of $5,000 and that they are supposed to be cracking down
on people who color photocopy and forge permits or aren't
disabled but use their relatives' permits. Don't get me started
on that one but I doubt if anyone will ever be fined $5,000. It
was the hook, so to speak, something the press could grab and
talk about and it would help everyone think that the rest of the
bill had some teeth to it. It hasn't.
I've read it,
all 25 pages downloaded from the internet and here,
in a nutshell, is what it says: First the purpose - "The purpose
of this act is to improve opportunities for persons with
disabilities and to provide for their involvement in the
identification, removal and prevention of barriers to their full
participation in the life of the province."
Barrier free design
guidelines will be developed to promote
accessibility for us into all government buildings; government
services will have to be accountable for how they order services
and be accessible. Government internet sites will have to be
accessible. Government employees who are disabled will have to be
accommodated. Each ministry will have to prepare an accessibility
plan and will be answerable to the yet-to-be-set-up Accessibility
Directorate of Ontario. To that, I say we need to get into our
doctor's office more than we need to get into the legislature or
city hall. Let's get real!
the council of every municipality with a population of
not less than 10,000 shall prepare an accessibility plan to
address the identification, removal and prevention of barriers in
the by-law." Part of this has to include the measures that the
municipalities intend to take to do this which says to me that
the government is asking the municipalities to set fines and be
the bad guys for them. If so, each city council had better set up
a serious accessibility advisory committee comprised of people
with disabilities to help them make recommendations to city and
regional council. And, the goods and services city councils buy
have to be accessible along with buildings. Maybe that will mean
a few more jobs for people with disabilities in local government.
They want to make
it easier for us to vote and run for office.
Public transportation, organizations and agencies as well as
social housing must prepare an accessibility plan and be
accountable. Schools, universities, colleges and hospitals will
also be accountable. There will be an Accessibility Advisory
Council of Ontario with a majority of people with disabilities on
it set up to advise the minister and an Accessibility Directorate
of Ontario to support the former. Methinks a long chain is
beginning to form and it's usually the guy who needs the services
the most who is the last link in that chain.
One small part
of the bill gives me cause to think just maybe
we'll see some improvements in our daily lives. The Municipal Act
is to be amended to allow municipalities, as a condition for
licensing a business, to say the business premises be accessible
to persons with disabilities. Now if they'd just tell us when,
say "must" and make it a condition to renew (bold) a business
licence, we'd be getting somewhere.
This isn't all
of the bill but space is limited here and you can
read the entire act at http://www.gov.on.ca/MCZCR/english/about/
odabill.htm on the internet. In my humble opinion this is really
just an invitation for discussion. If they were really serious
about it all they would have used the guidelines people on the
front lines of this whole thing set out, those of us with
disabilities, and not come across like a bunch of milquetoasts.
There is no meat to this, no guts. I wanted to read the words
require, must, demand, deadline and penalty.
It is a start.
But will anyone in the present government be
around to finish it?
to ODA Bill 125 Index page