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Toronto Star article
March 20 2001 Page A25

Breaking down Tory barriers

Ellie Tesher



With 248 days to go until the Legislature's November 23, 2001
deadline to pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Toronto
Star has run another excellent column on the ODA by Ellie Tesher.
You are encouraged to circulate this column widely, and Ms.
Tesher's earlier March 15, 2001 column
, to give them to your
local MPP and to urge your local media to pick up on the story.

Ms. Tesher's two columns report on the need for a strong,
mandatory Ontarians with Disabilities Act in such a fresh, clear,
concise and convincing way. Feel free to make use of them. Also,
please consider giving feedback to the columnist by email at

If you want to receive both of Ms. Tesher's columns in one email
to make it easier for you to circulate them both, send an email
request to oda@odacommittee.net


Toronto Star Mar. 20, Page A-25

Breaking down Tory barriers
Ellie Tesher

PREMIER MIKE Harris shows little care for an Ontarians with
Disabilities Act. He has refused to meet with the committee that
represents more than 100 organizations and individuals - 1.5
million disabled people - and has assigned four ministers in five
years with no mandate for meaningful action.

That may prove a costly mistake. Ontarians dislike blatant cold-
heartedness and have shown in polls that they want people with
disabilities to be given a fair chance.

Three years ago, the ODA committee submitted a brief to the
Tories; it was compiled from public forums in 10 cities, surveys
within the blind and deaf communities, plus a widely circulated
questionnaire. It revealed a stark picture of what daily life is
like in a province full of barriers:

Office hallways without enough room for a wheelchair or scooter;
accessible washrooms located far from work areas; communication
barriers preventing employed people with disabilities from having
the same information as their co-workers - for example, limited
availability of Braille and other formats for blind people, and a
lack of visual texts and enhanced volume telephones for people
who are hearing-impaired; no ramps over stairs or ramps too steep
to manage; buzzers and security systems placed too high for
someone in a wheelchair. In the education field, little help for
people with disabilities to learn how to use devices designed to
assist them; a lack of computer facilities designed for people
with disabilities. Some schools provide no way for disabled
students to participate in class field trips.

Worse, there's no requirement or incentive to change any of this.
When the government took no action to remove such barriers,
opposition Liberals held hearings in 15 cities and reported
similar findings last November.

Nothing has changed since, according to dozens of responses to my
column last week about the need for legislation.

Barbara Organ, for one, wrote that she has the capability to go
back to a job she held as a community health nurse before she was
disabled by a car accident, but she can't get to it. Though she
walks well with a cane, her balance remains impaired. There are
27 stairs down to the nearest subway; the one escalator there is
often not working. A disabilities law would make repairs

A Scarborough woman with a motorized scooter often has to enter a
building like a second-class citizen, through its kitchen door, "
the only entrance without steps because the cooks need to be able
to wheel the garbage out the back door." Access when it suits
others, not for those who desperately need it.

Says Naz Husain, who is legally blind, "When our lives are
affected by barriers and discrimination, the lives of our
families are also put in turmoil. I have suffered greatly with
employment issues; I have a masters degree from the University of
Toronto but still face barriers in terms of equal opportunities
and equal rights."

There is no political will that would boost awareness. A woman
who calls herself a wheelchair gardener recently attended the
popular Canada Blooms exhibition but found that many of the
displays were too high for her to see.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission is concerned. In July, 1999,
the commission contacted 25 Ontario transit service providers to
survey their accessibility. In Toronto, they found none of the
250 streetcars are accessible and there are no plans to make them
so. In its lack of foresight, the government is downloading of
transportation has left such matters to the whim of cash-strapped

In its wide-ranging blueprint for a strong and effective act, the
ODA committee recommends removing existing barriers and
preventing the creation of new ones in a timely fashion, with
clear steps for compliance for each industry and sector of

Most important, the bill must be drawn in consultation with
persons with disabilities. Whatever closed-door, invitation-only
meetings the Tories may have conducted so far, have studiously
bypassed the bulk of people most affected.

Little wonder this community and its supporters are rallying as
never before. They've been an active presence in the campaigning
for this week's by-election in Ernie Eves' old riding of Parry
Sound-Muskoka. When the time is appropriate, they'll be out again
for a by-election in the late Al Palladini's riding of Vaughan-

Meantime, committee members are trying to meet face to face with
every member of the Legislature. According to lawyer/activist
David Lepofsky, who is blind, some Tories have refused, others
show up embarrassed. They should be.

It's time Harris lifted the most insidious barrier of all -
government indifference.

Ellie Tesher's column appears in The Star on Tuesday and Thursday.
She can be reached at etesher@thestar.ca



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