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Report from the GUELPH ODA Committee


As part of ODA Action Week activities around the province, a
number of people from the Guelph area met on Monday, November 6,
2000 with Conservative MPP Brenda Elliott to talk about the need
for a strong ODA. Here is the Guelph group's report on
this meeting, sent to me by Janet Wood, A ODA Committee Guelph
regional contact.

Our huge congratulations to the Guelph group for a job well done.
We can all get great ideas for our own activities around the
province from this report.


Nov. 06, 2000 Meeting of Guelph ODA Advocates
with MPP Brenda Elliott

Today Franz Costello, Tom Goettler, Richard Goy, Peter Hicks,
Robert Kartechner and his parents Herman and Molly Kartechner,
Gerry Merrick, Shirley McNaughton, Betty Richard and Janet Wood

met with MPP Brenda Elliott to advocate enactment of a strong and
effective ODA. Ms. Elliott represents Guelph-Wellington and is Parliamentary
Assistant to Helen Johns.

Ms. Johns, the Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, has been
assigned responsibility for the ODA by Premier Mike Harris. Although
arrangements for the meeting had been made weeks in advance, Ms.
Elliott’s office requested this morning that it be held one hour earlier than the
agreed time. This request could not be accommodated because of the rigidity
of accessible transportation schedules and the employment commitments of
participants. The meeting start was further delayed because a step blocks the
entrance to Ms. Elliott’s office. A makeshift ramp is available on request, but it
is unacceptably steep. Fortunately Gerry Merrick had brought his own ramp to
the meeting.

Rick Goy summarized Ms. Elliott's experience relevant to the ODA
effort, including her conversations with individual members of
the Guelph community, receipt of multiple submissions from the
local ODA Committee (1998-2000), participation in the ODA Forum
organized by the ODA Committee in November 1998, participation in
the ODA Consultation organized by MPP Steve Peters in March 2000,
repeated enumeration, in the legislature, of the government’s
expenditures related to disability, votes in favour of 3 Private
Member’s resolutions advocating passage of an effective ODA by
November 23, 2001, and participation in a meeting on the ODA held
in Niagara Falls on Nov. 3, 2000. Ms. Elliott was asked to
summarize what she has learned from this experience.

Ms. Elliott indicated that, in Guelph and Niagara Falls, she has
learned about her constituents, what they see locally and what
they want. She recognizes, as common themes, the need to address
physical barriers, pleas for better understanding of existing
services, for accessible information, references to systemic
barriers and emphases on barriers to employment and education.
(Her understanding of the term “systemic barriers” seemed to be
very limited.) These experiences have left her asking what role
government should play.

Other members of the group presented their perspectives and
concerns to Ms. Elliott. Shirley McNaughton described how she
had been part of a program beginning in the early seventies that
had allowed persons who were unable to speak and who had severe
physical disabilities to leave institutions and enter the broad
community. If they are to truly benefit from this escape from
institutions, however, many barriers must be removed from the
community. Presently many of them are without hope for full
integration because of the barriers they face daily in housing,
education, recreation and transportation. She presented a
petition supporting the ODA from the retirement community in
which she lives, a community in which there is a growing
recognition of the need to remove barriers by passing an
effective ODA. She asked that the government show leadership by
creating legislation that will serve as a catalyst for
attitudinal change. She also asked that the government create an
enforcement mechanism so that individuals can address violations
of the legislation.

Ms. Elliott responded that the government, particularly the Premier,
has committed to passing an ODA. She asked Shirley to confirm that
her position is that the government should lead by example. She asked
whether Shirley envisions major change on the part of the private sector.
Shirley stated that she does and that leading by example should include
the passage of strong legislation.

Gerry Merrick emphasized the need for clear, honest communication
and realism in any forthcoming legislation. He described his
experience with accommodations that meet the letter of current
laws and regulations without rendering public facilities
accessible. Peter Hicks asked Ms. Elliott when the government
will enact an ODA and whether it will embody the 11 principles
incorporated in a Private Member’s Resolution that was passed by
the legislature two years ago (with Ms. Elliott’s support).

Ms. Elliott responded that the legislation is still being
developed, that she therefore does not know what it includes, and
that she could not divulge that information if she had it. She
explained at length that Private Member’s Resolutions are not
binding on the government. But nevertheless, she indicated that
the legislation would be strong and effective and would include
an action plan, that the government would lead by example. She
was asked whether leading by example precluded measures
applicable to the broader public and private sectors and whether
there would be sanctions for non-compliance. The limited
accessibility of her constituency office was discussed. She was
assured that legislation as weak as Bill 83, introduced by the
government in 1998, would again be rejected by Ontarians. Rick
noted that people with disabilities seek the same freedoms
and rights that others enjoy in Ontario. Ms. Elliott emphasized
the need not to spend too much money and to gain acceptance by
the entire community for any ODA-based initiative. Shirley
emphasized that we expect government leadership on
this issue.

Betty Richard reminded Ms. Elliott of the existence of the
Guelph-Waterloo Barrier Free Committees and described their
current audits of city facilities. She described the extensive,
local effort required to research and establish standards of
accessibility. Ms. Elliott emphasized the difficulty of setting
standards that are fair, reasonable and affordable. She was
reminded that the current, piecemeal approach in which the
process of barrier removal is constantly reinvented and barriers
are constantly being erected is the most expensive and
inefficient of all.

Rick Goy cited data to illustrate the negligible pace of barrier
removal in the absence of legislation. He also noted
improvements that have been made in the USA under the Americans
With Disabilities Act. He presented Ms. Elliott with a magazine
published by the Canadian Paraplegic Association and a study
published in 1981, each of which illustrated his points. Since
the 1981 report on obstacles faced by people with disabilities
was published by the federal government, Ms. Elliott asked
whether the group recognized barrier removal as a federal
responsibility. Rick Goy responded that most barrier removal
falls within provincial responsibility and jurisdiction. He then
used the Tannis Quennel case to illustrate the inadequacy of the
Human Rights Commission complaint process as a mechanism for
timely elimination of systemic barriers.

Robert Kartechner explained the impact of the very limited
support available from government for people with disabilities,
the systemic bureaucratic barriers which limit access to that
support, and the broad consequences of the life of poverty
imposed on people with disabilities by current barriers. He
provided Ms. Elliott with a list of restrictions imposed on
people with disabilities because of their limited income, a list
of ways to improve community access for under $500 and a list of
job accommodations.

Ms. Elliott reiterated that “we are committed to passing this legislation”,
the Premier keeps his word, the legislation does have to be practical,
affordable, workable…and the government has received negative
feedback about the ADA. When asked to clarify the term “Action Plan”, as
distinct from legislation, she indicated that it refers to policies or programs
that can be pursued by ministries in the absence of legislation.

Tom Goettler indicated that the ODA movement is addressing the
government’s concerns regarding the cost effectiveness of the
proposed legislation. Standardized changes which govern
accessibility for persons managing disabilities are cost
effective. We see a group effort to remove systemic barriers by
constructing standards which enforce basic human rights as more
effective in both monetary and human terms than individual
battles, usually pursued via the Ontario Human Rights Commission.
For example, the courts have just awarded $2.7 million to Chris
, a Barrie resident who is quadriplegic. Creasor acquired
a brain injury when his wheelchair toppled off a defective ramp
in a Barrie shopping mall. Enforced standards for the
construction of ramps would have been more effective for both
Creasor and the respondent in this case!

Janet Wood assured Ms. Elliott that there is strong and broad
support for the ODA. Ontarians do care about this issue as
indicated by the size and diversity of the delegation before Ms.
Elliott, the extensive list of organizational members of the ODA
Committee, and the list of jurisdictions that, like the City of
Guelph, have passed resolutions urging the provincial government
to enact an effective ODA (these lists were provided). She
reiterated our expectation, embodied in the 11 points passed by
the legislature, that the ODA apply to all barriers faced by all
people with disabilities, that it require removal of barriers
from the private and public sectors, that it make barrier removal
mandatory, that definite, reasonable timelines be set for barrier
prevention and removal initiatives and that it not rely on the
Human Rights Commission as its sole enforcement mechanism.

This is a summary of discussions that occurred during the Nov. 6
meeting - certainly not a complete account. Please contact the individual
participants if you would like to obtain further information about the
meeting or to discuss future ODA-related activities.

Janet Wood

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