London Free Press Article
May 24, 2000 Page 11
Five years ago Harris vowed to pass disabilities act
MANY STILL FACE NEEDLESS BARRIERS
by Cathy Vincent-Linderoos
Today, May 24th, 2000 marks a fifth anniversary that won't be celebrated with fireworks. It was five years ago that Premier Mike Harris promised to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) during his first term of office. No such act has been passed - although no less than three resolutions supporting an ODA have been approved at Queen's Park.
Why, does the non-partisan Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) Committee, together with our friends keep urging the government to follow through with its promise? Why don't we just pack it in, say we tried, and accept the minister's ambiguous comments about a proposed action plan?
It is because we recognize that unnecessary barriers to people with disabilities exist across the province and they are increasing. We have only to look next door to see the price - emotional, physical and monetary - that too many of our neighbours must pay today.
Our society needs strong legislation to identify, remove and prevent unnecessary barriers to 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities.
Barriers such as the lack of sign language interpreters at hospitals, standards for such easily-achieved conveniences as braille elevator buttons and unisex washrooms in public buildings. People with disabilities, including some senior citizens, increasingly must use food banks. People with disabilities who want to and are well-equipped to work are often forced to live on social assistance.
Provincial disability pensions don't stretch very far when there is no new social housing.
People who could continue to live at home with help can't easily access sufficient home-care support and often enter long-term care facilities prematurely. Not-for-profit agencies try to keep their heads above the ever-changing money-raising landscape, while facing a mountain of funding requests.
Parents caring for severely disabled children at home face major barriers when trying to access adequate respite services.Yet, it is clear the public supports the ODA Committee. Municipalities across the province which are struggling to meet the challenges that came with the downloading of many areas of provincial responsibility, have approved our recommendations supporting a strong, effective ODA.
For example, last September London approved the committee's recommendation, with Toronto and Durham Region recently following suit.
Ontario schools in some jurisdictions have begun to teach about disabilities and human rights and about the barriers people with disabilities face in our society.
If you're wondering why it is taking so long to enact a strong, effective ODA with so many supporting it, you're not alone.
If you are wondering why Harris, who has promised to work with the ODA Committee to develop the new law, has refused to meet with us in his five years as premier, you are not alone. If you think half a decade is long enough, join the crowd.
I would urge you to check out the ODA Committee's web site at www.odacommittee.net where you'll find a range of ways to express your concerns. One of the most effective is to contact your MPP's and remind them of their promise. We all have a stake in this.
CATHY VINCENT-LINDEROOS is a London resident and a regional contact, Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee