One and a half million people in Ontario today have disabilities. They are faced with many kinds of barriers, which prevent them from participating fully in the economic, social and cultural life of our province. Barriers include physical ones, such as buildings with stairs that are not accessible to people who have mobility impairments or insufficient accessible public transportation; barriers to access to information, such as lack of alternative formats for written information or lack of sign interpreters to bridge communication between hearing and deaf people; and attitudinal barriers, such as unwillingness to provide accommodations in the workplace or the classroom. These are just a few examples of the many barriers people with disabilities face every day. Voluntary measures to get rid of these barriers have been tried for years, and have not been effective: the barriers continue to create difficulties for people with disabilities in so many aspects of their lives.

What's more, new barriers are created all the time, as new products and technologies are developed and new programs and services are created.

For four years now, Ontarians with disabilities have been asking the provincial government to introduce a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which would require all barriers to be removed, and prevent new ones from being created, as soon as is reasonably possible. It should be an act that covers all disabilities, including physical, sensory, mental and invisible disabilities. Before he was elected, Mike Harris promised that his government would work together with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee(a broad community coalition) to develop and pass this new law within his first term in office.

Now, towards the end of the Harris Government's first mandate, the government has introduced a short, 3 page bill, Bill 83 which is toothless and utterly ineffective. It does not require any barriers to be removed at all. It contains no means of enforcement, and imposes no time lines for barrier-removal. It covers only government programs, and still does not require any government barriers to ever be taken away, no matter how easy it would be to eliminate them. It even forbids the courts from enforcing this law. This bill would not eliminate the barriers that persons with disabilities face in all aspects of their lives.

People with disabilities and disability organizations across the province agree that the requirements in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act must be mandatory in all areas. The act must encompass all aspects of life in the province, including employment, education, housing, transportation, health care, recreation, communications, provision of goods, facilities and services, and provision of information to the public. All employers and providers of goods, facilities and services must be required to make their workplaces, their products and their services fully accessible and usable by everyone within reasonable time lines.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require employers and providers of goods, facilities and services to identify the barriers that exist in their areas, to develop plans to remove them, to carry out their plans within a reasonable time frame, and to prevent new barriers before they are created. Regulations applying to specific areas should have to be developed in consultation with people with disabilities as well as other stakeholders such as employers and business owners.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must also require that an effective means of enforcement be developed. It is widely agreed that the Ontario Human Rights Commission would not be able to effectively fulfill this role. A new agency and process for enforcement must be created.

The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must have real force. It will not be acceptable if it is ineffective and does not achieve a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities.

Because Bill 83 will be totally ineffective, and contains none of the important ingredients which people with disabilities need, the ODA Committee has called on the Ontario Government to withdraw Bill 83 and to replace it promptly with a new bill that will be strong and effective at achieving a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities. If you have any questions, please contact us at:

c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (ODA Committee Voice Mail) 416-480-7012
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686
Fax: 416-480-7014
email: thomasm@east.cnib.ca
TTY: Care of Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343

Visit our web site at www.odacommittee.net

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