Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee

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Fact Sheet



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In this document, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee provides answers to the most commonly-asked questions about the pressing need to enact into law new legislation to be called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the Province of Ontario.

What's the problem facing people with disabilities which has led to the proposal for an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?

Persons with disabilities number over 15% of our population. They suffer substantial disadvantages and exclusion from the mainstream of Ontario society. They now face numerous barriers in gaining access to and fully participating in important activities such as jobs, access to information/communication, education at all levels, public transit, and the use of goods, services and facilities that the public usually enjoys.

These unfair barriers can be physical, technological, bureaucratic, legal or attitudinal. To make matters worse, new barriers are now being erected which will make it even harder for persons with disabilities to fully participate in the mainstream of Ontario society based on their individual abilities. This is so despite the fact that new technology is enabling persons with disabilities to accomplish more than ever before, if only they are given the chance to do so in a barrier-free context.

Aren't there laws on the books now to deal with this problem?

Even though the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code both ban discrimination because of physical or mental disability in many aspects of life, they have not been successful at effectively rooting out old barriers impeding persons with disabilities and preventing the erection of new barriers. Law suits under these laws are costly, slow and not always successful. The Ontario Employment Equity Act which offered some hope was repealed before it could take effect. The Ontario Building Code addresses some physical access barriers in a limited way, though the Ontario Government contemplated repealing or reducing some of these protections.

Moreover, efforts to secure voluntary compliance over the past 20 years have not solved the problem. Persons with disabilities still face massive unemployment rates, and systematic exclusion in great numbers from education, mainstream public transit and other important facets of Ontario life that persons without disabilities take for granted.

What is the proposed "Ontarians with Disabilities Act" (ODA) and how would it address this problem?

Ontario needs to pass a new law, to be called the "Ontarians with Disabilities Act" (ODA) to
directly and effectively tackle this problem by new, creative and cost-effective means. Its objective would be the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities -- a right of full participation.

It would require the timely removal of existing new barriers, within reasonable time lines and in accordance with reasonable cost parameters. This would apply to employment, public transit, education, provincial and municipal government services and facilities, and other goods, services and facilities offered to the public. It would require government bodies, and others bound by law to identify the barriers that they now have which impede persons with disabilities from full participation, and to design reasonable plans consistent with their resources to remove these barriers and to prevent new ones from being created, all within reasonable time lines.

It would also allow for the enactment of regulations with input from disability groups, business interests and others, to set out measures that are to be implemented to achieve the ODA's goals, and reasonable time lines for their achievement. It would incorporate an effective, fair and timely process for enforcement.

What are the advantages of enacting an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?

This law would help many persons with disabilities get off welfare and get into productive jobs where they can contribute to society and become taxpayers. It would reduce the substantial costs to Ontario caused by the current exclusion of many persons with disabilities from society's mainstream. By preventing new barriers from being created, it would avoid the cost in future of removing obstacles before they occur.

What are the costs to society if no Ontarians with Disabilities Act is enacted?

If an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is not enacted, Ontario will have to continue to bear the increasing costs arising from the exclusion of many persons with disabilities from jobs, education, public transit and other important opportunities. Society will continue to lose out on the great contributions which persons with disabilities wish to make to the community through their full and equal participation. New barriers will continue to be created in the immediate future which will make these problems even worse. Because our society is aging, and because aging is the most common cause of disability, these difficulties will become more pressing over the next few years if not addressed now through an ODA.

Who is the ODA Committee?

The ODA Committee is a voluntary coalition of individuals and community organizations who have come together to advocate for the prompt passage of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. They reflect extensive experience with a wide range of disabilities, and detailed expertise in the barriers now confronting persons with disabilities in Ontario. The Committee is a non-partisan coalition, with allegiance to no political party. It has called for all-party support for a strong and effective ODA, as people of all political stripes should share in the desire to achieve a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities.

What is the Ontario Government's policy on the passage of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?

During the 1995 election, Mike Harris gave the ODA Committee a written promise by letter dated May 24, 1995 that a Harris Government would pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in its first term within the economic goal posts of the Common Sense Revolution, and that the Government would work together with the ODA Committee to that end. Because the proposed ODA would serve to save government funds by reducing the social costs arising from the exclusion of many persons with disabilities from society's mainstream, its enactment is consistent with the government's financial agenda.

What has the Ontario Government done to keep this promise?

Since the election, Premier Harris has reaffirmed to the ODA Committee in writing his intent to keep all election promises. However he has refused to meet with the ODA Committee. He has referred all inquiries to the Minister of Citizenship. The Minister also refused for her first year in office to meet with the ODA Committee. The Government has announced no date for introduction of the ODA, nor has it made any material progress towards starting public consultations that could lead to the drafting and passing into law of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act as promised.

On May 16, 1996, in the face of these governmental refusals and inaction, the O.D.A. Committee resorted to a novel parliamentary procedure. Opposition M.P.P. Marion Boyd tabled a private member's resolution calling on the government to keep its election promises regarding the O.D.A. After a one hour debate in the Ontario Legislature, attended by over 200 persons with disabilities, the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the following resolution, on a vote of 56 to 0:

In the opinion of this House, since persons with disabilities in Ontario face systemic barriers in access to employment, services, goods, facilities and accommodation; and since, all Ontarians will benefit from the removal of these barriers, thereby enabling these persons to enjoy equal opportunity and full participation in the life of the province; therefore the Government of Ontario should keep its promise as set out in the letter from Michael D. Harris to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee dated May 24, 1995 to:

a) enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act within its current term of office; and

b) work together with members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, amongst others, in the development of such legislation.

Though not legally binding on the Government, this resolution places increasing pressure on the Government to keep its promises regarding the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Shortly after the resolution passed, the Citizenship Minister reacted by finally agreeing to meet with representatives of the O.D.A. Committee.

At a June 14, 1996 meeting, ODA representatives presented the Citizenship Minister with a set of guiding principles to assist the Government to implement its election promise, and to honour the will of the Legislature as unanimously expressed in the May 16 resolution. In 1996, the Minister failed to respond to the Committee's specific proposals, despite her commitment to do so by mid-summer of that year.

After two hundred people with disabilities again converged on the Ontario Legislature on May 15, 1997 to commemorate the Ontario Government's Anniversary of Inaction on its promises to us, the Citizenship Minister finally agreed to meet with us for a second time. At our August 20, 1997 meeting with her, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee achieved two major breakthroughs on the road to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Minister finally announced the target date for the introduction of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act to the Ontario Legislature for debate—mid to late fall 1998.

She also finally announced that the Ontario Government would undertake public consultations prior to drafting the law. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee has urged that these consultations be wide-open, accessible to all persons with disabilities, and carried out at the local level across the province so everyone can have a chance to fully participate in them. On October 10, 1997, Premier Harris shuffled his Cabinet. As part of this move, he removed Marilyn Mushinski from Cabinet, and replaced her with Ms. Isabel Bassett as Citizenship Minister.

What is the position of the opposition parties in Ontario on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
Both the Ontario Liberal Party and the New Democratic Party are now on record supporting the proposal to enact an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Both have spoken in support of this commitment in the Ontario Legislature, and have presented questions during Question Period to demand that the Government keep its election promise to pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Why advocate an Ontario law? Shouldn't we be demanding that the federal government pass a "Canadians with Disabilities Act?"

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee's mandate is to advocate the passage of the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act in the Province of Ontario. It is focusing its efforts on Ontario legislation, rather than federal legislation, both because this is its mandate, and because under the Canadian Constitution, it is the provincial government and not the federal government which has most of the power to make laws regulating the important areas of education, public transit, private sector employment, as well as municipal and provincial government services, which the Ontarians with Disabilities Act would address. It would, of course, also be desirable for the federal government to enact a "Canadians with Disabilities Act." In the fall of 1996, a federal task force, inquiring into the needs of people with disabilities, recommended that the federal government enact a "Canadians with Disabilities Act."

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee hopes its activities in Ontario will help both national efforts aimed at securing a "Canadians with Disabilities Act," and will be informative for people with disabilities in other provinces across the country who may be interested in seeking provincial disability legislation as well.

Would the Ontarians with Disabilities Act be the same as the Americans with Disabilities Act?

In 1990, the Americans with Disabilities Act was passed into law, which makes important strides toward the removal of barriers impeding people with disabilities in accessing the mainstream of society in the United States. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee would urge that we look to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) for ideas and suggestions on what we might include in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. However, we by no means intend simply to duplicate the American legislation, nor are we limited to its content. It will be beneficial for us to see what we can learn from the American experience, so we can learn from the American accomplishments without duplicating any American mistakes.

Has the ODA Committee drafted an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?

The ODA Committee has not yet drafted a proposed law. Rather, we have agreed on the goals which this new law should achieve, and the core principles which it should embody. We are open to suggestions from our membership and from the community on the details to be included in this legislation in order to ensure that the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is as strong and effective as possible at removing the existing barriers people with disabilities now face, and in preventing new ones.

How can I get involved in the effort of securing an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?

If you have questions, or wish to volunteer your assistance or request a Membership Form for yourself and/or a non-profit community organization to which you belong, please follow this link or call:

The ODA Committee
Tel: (ODA Committee Voice Mail) 416.480.7012
Tel: (Voice direct) Marg Thomas at 416.480.7686
Fax: 416.480.7014
Email: thomasm@east.cnib.ca
TTY: Care of Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343

If you have suggestions as to what you would like to see included in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, please put them in writing. You can contact us here.

Please join us and help us achieve a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities.


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Last updated October 29, 2000