26, 2000, a Conservative member of the Ontario
Legislature brought a private member's bill forward for second
reading and debate, which would declare the month of June official
Deaf-Blind Awareness Month. Here is the second reading debate on
This debate is
significant for those wanting Ontario to enact a
Bill 125, An Act to proclaim the month of June as deaf-blind awareness month / Projet de loi 125, Loi proclamant le mois de juin Mois de sensibilisation à la surdi-cécité.
The Acting Speaker (Mr Michael A. Brown): The member has up to 10 minutes for his presentation.
Mr David Young (Willowdale): I should say at the outset that I am honoured to lead off debate on my private member's bill, Bill 125, An Act to proclaim the month of June as deaf-blind awareness month.
About a year and a half ago I had the opportunity to visit the Rotary Cheshire Home in my riding, which I will talk about at some length over the next number of minutes. I was there in the company of the then Attorney General, Charles Harnick. It was my first visit, not his first visit; he had been there on many occasions prior.
The building itself is a fairly nondescript, handsome-looking low-rise apartment complex in the riding of Willowdale. It's situated in a fairly quiet residential portion of my riding. To anyone driving by or walking by, it doesn't stand out as being very different from any of the other buildings in that area. Inside, however, it's a totally different world. It's a place where with each passing day great progress is made and heroes are born.
Mr Speaker, with us today in the members' gallery are several tenants and staff from the Rotary Cheshire Home for the deaf-blind in the riding of Willowdale. With your permission, I would like to take a moment to introduce many of those individuals who are sitting in the members' gallery.
We have with us today Catherine Dominie, who is a tenant. Nazar Strejko, Wilfred Grieve, Doreen Duffney and Stephen Lindop are tenants in that home. Lorne Marin is here today. He is a consultant to the Rotary Cheshire Home. Cindy Babineau is housing manager. Dana Blais, Jacquie Lewis, Louise Lambert, Max Estay and Gord Johnston are all interveners. I'll talk in a moment about what that job entails. Nancy Longo is the intervener manager and she is with us today, as is Jennifer Robbins, the administrative assistant. A remarkable woman, Joyce Thompson, is the executive director of the Rotary Cheshire Home.
For the last eight years this facility, which I will focus on for reasons that will become apparent in a moment, has made an enormous difference in the lives of tenants and a difference in how our community operates. I am very pleased and honoured to have with us today the individuals I have just mentioned, and I thank them for joining us.
I also think it will be of benefit to the members present, in understanding some of the unique and great challenges that are faced by Ontarians with deaf-blind problems, to have our guests in the gallery today because, as I speak, there are a number of different forms of translation underway, a number of different forms of interpretation underway. You will see very clearly just how labour-intensive, how detailed and at times how difficult it is for this communication to take place, but take place it does.
Rotary Cheshire is a world-class facility, and I want to emphasize it is one of a kind in Canada. Funded by the Ministry of Community and Social Services, Rotary Cheshire is the only service provider in Canada, regardless of which province and which party's in charge, that is solely focused on adults who have acquired the disability of deaf-blindness.
This home provides daily access to intervener services and housing in a physical and communication-barrier-free environment, resulting in high-quality living conditions for its tenants. Rotary Cheshire is planning a major expansion that doesn't only relate to the residents and the tenants in its house; it is an expansion to reach out further to Ontarians and to Canadians, as this facility has done in the past.
This expansion is going to be largely funded by private donations. I should point out to you that at the present time Rotary Cheshire is a remarkable example of an effective, meaningful, private-public partnership. We need more facilities like Rotary Cheshire assisting people living with deaf-blindness all across this country, not just in Ontario.
The willingness of the board of directors and the staff and tenants of Rotary Cheshire to undertake this major fundraising initiative, which they are in the midst of, to expand their services further, the willingness of these individuals to not rely only on government funding, the willingness to undertake this major expansion is not only commendable, it is entirely in keeping with the spirit of locally based grassroots support of worthwhile community projects that this government has attempted to promote.
I'm hopeful that this bill, which is a very straightforward piece of legislation, will raise public awareness of the extreme challenges and disabilities of those afflicted with deaf-blindness. If passed, the bill will designate June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month. With that designation, it is my sincere hope that it will bring much-needed attention to the disability of Ontarians and Canadians with these challenges. It'll bring much-needed attention to their special needs and it'll bring much-needed attention to the efforts that are being made to expand opportunities for these Ontarians living with this disability.
The exact number of deaf-blind Ontarians is difficult to determine, because there are differing degrees of deafness and blindness that might qualify one at any given time for this designation. There are at least 3,000 Canadians; most estimates put the number considerably higher. So that we are clear, a person living with deaf-blindness is an individual with a substantial degree of loss of both sight and hearing, the combination of which results in significant difficulties in accessing information and in pursuing educational, vocational, recreational and social goals.
Deaf-blindness is a unique and separate disability from either deafness or blindness. An individual with the combined losses of hearing and vision requires very specialized services, including access to highly trained interveners and adapted communication methods such as tactile sign language and finger spelling.
I should point out there's no single cause for deaf-blindness. Some are born with these challenges. Some acquire it later in life either through trauma or aging. It is very important to recall that when one is faced with these challenges, depending upon where they are in life, the challenge of assisting them is that much greater.
I talked before about intervener services. We have many interveners here with us today. It is telling that in the province we have an intervener course that finds many of its spots unoccupied year-in, year-out. In talking to Joyce Thompson earlier, I was told that this year alone there are spots for young people or older people that simply haven't been applied for. It's clearly a very challenging profession, but it is my sincere belief that with the passage of this bill and the added attention that will be brought to the wonderful work that can be done, those positions at George Brown College will be occupied in coming years.
I am confident that
the media will focus greater attention on the wonderful activities going
on at places like Rotary Cheshire and the challenges deaf-blind Ontarians
face each and every day, and that they will spread this message and the
importance of the cause. This is a bill; this is a cause we are supporting.
With the support of this House, I am hopeful that June 2001 will be the
Mr Ernie Parsons (Prince Edward-Hastings): I'm certainly going to support this bill, and if it is a step in the right direction, which I think it is, it's about 1% or less of the way we need to go. Everyone will support this bill because it's meaningless; it does not do anything other than appear to address the needs of the deaf-blind.
Everyone in this Legislature, I believe, knows somebody who has a disability. As an engineer, I tend to take and break down into components, so I thought about the issue of deaf-blind and tried to put myself in the place of one and the other, and then I'd like to look at it with the two together. I have no vision in my left eye. I have superb vision in my right eye. I tried to negotiate with the right eye closed, to try to experience in a small, awful way what blindness would be like, and I couldn't do it. I cheated. I simply couldn't do it, and I opened that eye.
I drive here to the Legislature. I come from my riding of Prince Edward-Hastings, and I see the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves. People who are blind miss that component in their lives. I know a gentleman who is blind, who told me he lost his sight when he was about eight and cannot remember all the colours any more. I tried to visualize and think of what that actually means. He can't visualize all the colours, and he is forgetting them one by one.
What are we as a province doing for people who are blind, to try to level the playing field? The Legislature did a study of upgrades that were required to this building. It was obvious that we needed an additional washroom. That was indicated in the report and it was funded and it's being done. Also we needed better cleaning.
One item in there was that we should have Braille on the elevator buttons. That was the only item in the report that actually had a figure on it. The figure was $15,000. It was deemed to be too expensive; it would be done at some future date. The Whitney Block was refurbished not that many years ago. No Braille was put on the elevator buttons there. Words are wonderful, but it's actions we need to do.
The member for Toronto Centre-Rosedale has a staff member here who is blind, and being blind involves some extra costs. Approximately $2,000 was needed, over and above a person who did not have a visual impairment, to do the job. The Board of Internal Economy turned down the request for $2,000 to make it possible for that blind individual to work here.
I have an extremely bright gentleman in my riding who is blind and was set for a job in the computer field, for which he was uniquely trained--it is not usual for a blind individual to be offered a job such as that. He lost it because of having to need a guide dog and that was denied.
My wife, who is here today, has a hearing impairment and requires hearing aids. She said to me that one of her challenges is to explain to people that because she is deaf, she is not stupid, she is simply hard of hearing. The ODSP funds extremely poorly for hearing aids. They will pay $500 for a hearing aid, which, in today's modern world, is an absolute, basic model unable to address a wide range.
We have 85% unemployment among the deaf in this province, not because they can't do the job, not because they are not capable of contributing to our society and contributing themselves. But I know that in my riding, when they apply for a job and require someone to sign for them at the interview, there is a three- to four-week waiting list because there is only one individual to do the signing for four counties. They are capable of doing the job. This government is not prepared to fund sufficient signers to do that translation for them.
In my riding and in two other ridings, we have schools for the deaf. I have a relative with no hearing whatsoever, and I've realized from her that her fear wasn't going off to school and being away from home. She found it fulfilling to be part of the deaf culture, to be part of her culture. They are unique, and they have special needs. What is this government doing for the deaf? We're selling off the one playing field the deaf community has in Ontario. We're going to sell it off to a private developer to make some money at the expense of our deaf athletes in this province.
Interjection: Where is that?
Mr Parsons: At Milton. In fact, even before this government declared it surplus, they already had an offer to purchase on it, though it was not yet advertised.
The deaf-blind face the two challenges together that I've described. We need to do far more for them than simply emotion with hollow words to it. The deaf-blind aren't looking for a handout. Our Premier has said at various elections that people receiving welfare don't want a handout but a hand up. I suggest that our deaf-blind community wants a hand up. We have the obligation to provide it.
It is ironic that as we are debating this bill to name a month for the deaf-blind, in all the other legislation we deny they exist. I suggest that a very meaningful way to assist the deaf-blind would be to educate the public about them and their uniqueness. In the new curriculum the government is so proud of, there is no reference to people with disabilities. We should be starting in grade 1 to make people familiar with all our citizens. It's not in the new curriculum.
What we need is a meaningful People with Disabilities Act to alleviate them of the need now of going through a two- or three-year process under the Ontario Human Rights Commission. They should be entitled to the same rights and privileges as every citizen in Ontario. We need a People with Disabilities Act and we need it now.
Mr Tony Martin (Sault Ste Marie): Right at the outset, I want to offer my congratulations to the member for Willowdale, Mr Young, who brought this piece of business before the House today. I think it is a most appropriate use of our time, to concentrate on something that often doesn't get a lot of air time in this facility, which is the needs, the challenges, the aspirations and the opportunity out there, if we would put attention on it, for those who have disabilities; in this instance, those who are challenged with the disability of deaf-blindness.
I think it's a good thing to set aside time in the year when all of us, for various reasons and in various ways, can focus on an issue such as this. It's a wonderful educational opportunity, a wonderful learning opportunity and a wonderful opportunity for all of us who have an interest, and those of us who should have an interest who perhaps don't because we're too busy or whatever, to focus on the challenges out there for some of our fellow citizens as they try to participate in the everyday life of the communities in which they live, and in fact to capitalize on the potential they have to participate in a very constructive, positive and exciting way, if only we could get our heads around exactly how that happened, if only we were willing to put the resources into making sure accessibility was dealt with, and all that comes with that.
However, having said all that, and being willing this morning to support the bill the member has brought forward, I think we need to expand this discussion to focus for a time on the lack of activity by this government where accessibility is concerned and the introduction and passing ultimately of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act is concerned. I think this government's record where that work is concerned is abysmal and disappointing, to say the least.
I don't think we have to look very far to understand and realize how important it is that, in a jurisdiction as progressive and well-off and forward-looking as Ontario, we do everything in our power to make sure that those who are citizens, those who are members of that society, that jurisdiction, are allowed to participate to their fullest capacity.
Many of us know, by way of the inspiring Helen Keller story, that deaf-blind persons can gain and maintain their independence through teaching and facilitation. There is a broad range of communication languages and services to help deaf-blind persons learn to communicate with other people, but resources are needed to make sure they're put in place, not just in the Rotary Cheshire Home but in every office and every facility across this province, particularly where the delivery of public services is concerned, so that people with disabilities can participate, can get the information they need and can take advantage of those opportunities that are out there to maximize their potential and their capacity to be a major player.
I don't think there is any of us in this place who doesn't know somebody in our life, whether it's in our family, in our neighbourhood or in our community, who has risen above or perhaps even built on the challenge they were given, whether it was something they were born with or that arrived later by way of perhaps sickness or accident, to contribute in a very meaningful and important way to the life of those around them, whether by way of being a conduit for communication, by way of being an organizer of various and sundry events, or by way of some of the very particular skills many of us have that a disability does not impair in any way but that sometimes seems to loom so large. When we get it out of the way, we realize that these folks have as much, and more, to contribute as anybody else.
I know people who are labelled primarily by their disability who, if you can move that aside, are actually quite brilliant in particular areas and sometimes aren't given the opportunity to develop that brilliance and contribute that brilliance to the overall well-being of the society we're in. That's unfortunate because in my view, when that happens, we all lose. We lose the contribution those people can give and can make to the overall betterment of our society, of our economy, of our community and of the personal lives we all live.
It's quite unfortunate, I think, that we, on the one hand today, focus on something that is very right, that is the right thing to do and that we should be doing and will be doing it, because I don't think there's a person in this place who won't be supporting this bill, yet on the other hand, not to be doing as government everything that is possible to make sure that people with disabilities can participate in the overall life of a community so that they're not singled out so often, so that they can contribute and participate with the gifts they have, in spite of the challenge they confront each day. This government hasn't been willing to speak directly and forthrightly with the disability community around the question of why it is and when it is we might expect to have before us an Ontarians with Disabilities Act that would open the doors and throw open the offices of government and society so that folks could participate in that way.
I want to share with the people here today a little piece of my life where I struggled with my own place in society and life. I'm not particularly disabled, but certainly all of us at some point or other in our lives struggle with things that come at us. It was through an introduction to a very well known Canadian, Jean Vanier, who at one point in his life turned his attention to living with a number of disabled individuals and through that experience discovered that these people, in many significant and important ways, weren't disabled at all.
If we could get past those things that so often get in the way of our getting in touch with the very real and precious and positive and exciting person and opportunity that is there in each person, we discover that everybody has something to offer each one of us and has something to offer the larger society, if we would only take the time, make the effort and have the patience to work with that and get the job done.
We have an example in some of the work that Jean Vanier has done of how we as a society, simply by changing our attitude, by learning some more, by actually committing ourselves to be involved in a more meaningful way with all those folks around us, can discover that there are far fewer disabilities than there are possibilities for people, if we wanted to do that.
I'm here today, as I said before, to support this bill, but also to challenge the government and to challenge Mr Young, who obviously has a tremendous interest in this or else he wouldn't have brought it forward, to talk with his colleagues and particularly the ministers who are responsible in his government to make sure that some significant and important work is being done on the question of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act, so that we can have it before us here before Christmas of this year so that we can deliver to the people with disabilities across this province a Christmas present that says to them, "We are going to do everything in our power. We are going to put all the resources available to us."
There are significant resources available. We are living in a time now in Ontario of unheralded surpluses in public coffers: surpluses at the federal level, surpluses at the provincial level, that are historically high, which this government sees fit to take big chunks of and turn back by way of tax breaks to those who really are participating to their fullest, who really have the maximum opportunity to participate and to even make more money.
In my view, a big chunk of that money should be taken and spent in ways that would allow more of the ordinary citizens and people with disabilities in this province to maximize their potential to participate and become full citizens and take advantage of all of the wonderful things that we can communally, as a community of people, afford for each other, if we only had the mind, if we only had the political will and the commitment to do that.
What will the government's action plan on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act contain when it is released? We have a pretty good idea now, given the document that was leaked and presented in this House just a week or two ago, what will be contained in this bill if and when it comes forward. I have to say, frankly, that we and the community of people with disabilities are quite disappointed. As a matter of fact we're not only disappointed, we're shocked and dismayed and angry about that.
Whom has the minister and the government specifically consulted with on the contents of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act?
What specific feedback and options for this legislation have the minister and the government received? If we look at the document that was released, not too much. Obviously it is becoming an exercise in spin and public relations: how do you get out from underneath this commitment you made, as opposed to, how do you take advantage of this opportunity to actually do something significant and important in the province?
What decisions about the content and timing of the enactment of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act have been made by cabinet or its priorities and planning committee? The member for Willowdale ought to be listening to these questions. I think these are questions he should be asking his colleagues if he's really, truly interested in improving the lot of folks with disabilities across this province, in this instance of course the people who are deaf-blind.
Why has the government been so reluctant to enact a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act? And why has it been delayed so long?
Will the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that you bring forward comply with the 11 principles which the Legislature, including your party, unanimously adopted in its October 29, 1998, resolution?
What is your approximate target date for introducing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act for first reading? And will you support the holding of open, accessible public hearings across Ontario on the bill?
Finally, what can you do to help us arrange a meeting with the Premier to move this act forward?
I say to the member for Willowdale that if he really wants to do something meaningful here this morning, along with what he's doing--I don't for a second suggest that this is not meaningful; it is tremendously meaningful to have a month dedicated to issues of blind-deafness. But will you speak to these folks and to the community of people with disabilities in Ontario and arrange for them a meeting with the Premier so that they can express to him in no uncertain terms the very immediate need for an act to deal with Ontarians with disabilities in this province?
Last but not least, I challenge all of us here in our own operations to take a look around at our offices and at the things we do and assess and analyze that and come to some understanding of how accessible we are as MPPs to all citizens in our communities. Ultimately, justice and fairness and an act like this start at home, start with us.
Mrs Brenda Elliott (Guelph-Wellington): It's a pleasure to rise and speak in support of Bill 125, the Deaf-Blind Awareness Month Act, and I warmly welcome our special guests here in the gallery today.
I was interested to learn that the month of June was chosen because it's the birth month of Helen Keller. At the age of 19 months she suffered an illness which left her blind and deaf, and a few years later another great Canadian, Alexander Graham Bell, examined her and sent her to the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston. There she learned to recognize objects by touch, to communicate by having others draw in the palm of her hand and to read Braille. Later on at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf, she began the long process of learning to speak. Her perseverance is a tribute to her character.
Later on in her life, through her books and through her lectures across North America, she inspired the deaf-blind community and raised awareness of this unique disability amongst the general population.
As my colleague mentioned, it's estimated that there are about 3,000 people across Canada who face the challenges of deaf-blindness every day. That's about one thousandth of 1% of this country's population, and it's quite likely that very few of us will have the opportunity to meet and learn from someone who is deaf-blind.
Clearly, an officially recognized awareness month will help all Ontarians learn more about the challenges of deaf-blindness. This bill, if passed, will help to carry on the legacy of Helen Keller and others who have sought to raise awareness of disability. It'll be a credit to this member, to this House and to the government of Ontario.
This is a government that has done a lot to assist the disabled in Ontario. We have removed disabled people from the welfare system and implemented the Ontario disability support program that eliminates financial penalties for those who are not successful in their attempts to enter the workforce. We spend nearly $6 billion a year on programs for the disabled. Since 1995, we've introduced more than $800 million in new spending on key disability programs. We're spending $45 million in developing housing spaces and supports for people with mental illness and providing an additional $70 million, on top of $1.2 billion, for protected special education each year; $35 million for improved employment supports for people with disabilities; $60 million to improve community and institutional mental health services; $18.7 million for attendant care, which is a marvellous program our government made permanent; $4 million for children's treatment centres that will improve access to health care services for special-needs children.
We are leading; we are doing a lot. I'd just like to specifically draw your attention to, the partnership incentive fund, which is a program that involves government, corporations and community organizations. For instance, the community access-ability program is a program of $200,000, and in the first year of this program 46 community projects across Ontario, involving 154 community partners and over 3,000 persons with disabilities, were funded, 34 events were held, over 600 workshops and 25,000 pieces of literature. These programs are happening, they are vibrant, they are responding to the needs of the communities, and we are proud to be leading in that.
As my colleague from Willowdale indicated, Ontario is recognized as a leader in initiatives for deaf-blindness. Those are just some of the things that we are doing in this particular file.
We have many new initiatives for the disabled in the province of Ontario, and we take these very seriously. Our government prides ourselves on keeping our promises and on doing the right thing. We take that to heart. The Mike Harris government is working to make this great province the best place in the world to live, to work and to raise a family. Thanks to this government, we do have a stronger economic foundation on which to build a brighter future for all Ontarians, and that particularly includes those who daily face the challenges of a disability.
My colleagues across the way say we have done nothing. In fact, I say to the Liberals and the NDP, when you were in government you did very little, for all your talk. We have done a lot, we know that there is more to do and we will do more. This is just the beginning.
Mr Gerry Phillips (Scarborough-Agincourt): I'm pleased to join the debate. I express a little bit of sadness in the previous speaker to say that I'll be supporting the motion. I do think it's a worthwhile step to proclaim the month of June as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month. It is a step forward. I think some good will come from it. I think, as we move forward on this, that the minister and the Premier need to re-examine their own priorities. I think the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is an extremely important act. Proclaiming the month is, as I say, a step forward, but the disabilities act is really what is needed.
I'll tell a very quick story. A good friend of mine with the Toronto police emergency task force about 12 years ago got into a car accident one evening and became a quadriplegic. That didn't stop him. He never lost his sense of optimism. Even within 24 hours of the accident he was looking forward to the future. To the Toronto police force's credit and to my friend's credit, about five years after the accident he was able to go back to work on the police force. He became probably Canada's expert on youth gangs. He then took the detectives exam and the Toronto police force promoted him to detective. He headed up a unit of about 14 people and now is heading up a brand new unit.
That's what the deaf-blind community needs and is looking for: for Ontario, all of us, to make those sorts of investments in them to help unlock the enormous talent that exists within that community. As I say, I know first-hand from my good friend what he has been able to do in spite of a disability.
So I say, certainly, that the month is a first step. Some good will come from it. But we need to take the next big steps. I do believe the disabilities act is an important step forward for the government to move quickly on.
Mr Joseph N. Tascona (Barrie-Simcoe-Bradford): I'm pleased to join in the debate with respect to Bill 125, An Act to proclaim the month of June as deaf-blind awareness month. I think the preamble of the bill speaks for itself about what the member for Willowdale was trying to accomplish here:
"Deaf-blindness is a unique disability that incorporates the sensory loss of both sight and hearing. Persons with this disability experience extreme isolation and the inability to access the services and information which most of us take for granted.
"June is the birth month of Helen Keller, a deaf-blind person known around the world for her perseverance and achievements, and an inspiration to the deaf-blind community. It is appropriate during the month of June to celebrate the achievements of deaf-blind persons, and to recognize that increased public awareness of this disability is crucial to increase opportunities for those who live with it.
"Therefore, Her Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the province of Ontario, enacts as follows:
"Deaf-blind awareness month
"1. The month of June in each year is proclaimed as Deaf-Blind Awareness Month."
Dealing with this legislation in its substance, children affected by deaf-blindness: approximately one third of all persons living with deaf-blindness were born with rubella syndrome. German measles, a contagious disease that affects the fetuses of women in their first trimester of pregnancy, results in many children born with hearing and vision losses.
The number of children affected around the world gained the attention of educators and service providers, who understood the importance of planning for this new group of students who would need services. This led to the creation and expansion of services for the deaf-blind. An example of these services is the Canadian National Institute for the Blind deaf-blind services department. This department receives funding from the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services.
I participated in and supported the CNIB forum in my riding about a week and a half ago, which was attended by a number of stakeholders from the education community, to bring more awareness throughout my riding. It was very well attended. I want to congratulate the CNIB and also in particular a good friend of mine, Margarita Papp-Belyneh, who was responsible in great part for this event.
Also, the Canadian Hearing Society, an Ontario service for the deaf and hearing-impaired individuals: this group receives funding from the Ministry of Community and Social Services, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training to provide counselling, job search and access to technical devices.
The major issue for the deaf-blind community is the lack of interveners and intervener services. This is largely caused by the very small number of people who choose to make being an intervener their career. There is only one educational institution in Canada, George Brown College here in Toronto, that trains students to become deaf-blind interveners. Only 17 students have enrolled to train as interveners for the next year. By heightening public awareness of the disability of deaf-blindness and the needs of this community, perhaps more young people will choose a career as a deaf-blind intervener.
Adults affected by deaf-blindness: approximately two thirds of those persons living with deaf-blindness acquire deaf-blindness later in life through trauma and accidents or disease. There are many different causes of deafness and blindness. The age of the person when their vision and hearing losses occur requires very different approaches when they plan their education, training and rehabilitation. Also, the communication system they develop as their preferred communication method, their language levels and fluency in grammar and reading skills greatly impact on which social community they may associate with and their service needs.
I'll say this: our government has been working to make Ontario the best place in the world to live, to work and raise a family. With Ontario's economy as strong as it is thanks to the efforts of our government, we need all the skilled workers we can get to help us move forward.
The facts are that the government spends nearly $6 billion annually on services to persons with disabilities. That's an increase of more than $800 million since our government took office in 1995. In 1998 we consulted over 300 organizations in eight cities across Ontario. We received 260 written submissions from people who expressed their views on what should be in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Examples of what we've done in this area: we've removed disabled people from the welfare system and implemented the Ontario disability support program, which eliminates financial penalties for those who are unsuccessful in their attempts to enter the workforce. We've visited with the March of Dimes, our partner in the accessibility program, which works in partnership with the private sector to help make our world more accessible. The minister has met with kids who participate in the track 3 ski program, who work with disabled kids and teach them how to ski.
We have done a number of initiatives to reach out to the community, and I want to commend the member from Willowdale for this, another initiative with respect to bringing forth our approach to dealing with this issue.
Mr Steve Peters (Elgin-Middlesex-London): I'd like to welcome our guests from Rotary Cheshire Homes here today. I had the opportunity to visit the facility this spring and was most impressed with the efforts taking place there.
It was very sad to hear the parliamentary assistant to the minister responsible for persons with disabilities not mention once the need for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act in this province. Promise made, promise not kept. That's a very sad day.
I had an opportunity to meet and listen to an individual. Her name is Penny Leclair. Penny is deaf-blind. Penny is a member of the Canadian Society of the Deafblind, Canadian Federation of the Blind Advocates for Equality, Canadian Congress for Learning Opportunities for Women, Guide Dog Users of Canada, and Canadian National Institute for the Blind. I'd like to relay some comments and some thoughts of what it's like for a person with deaf-blindness. I'm going to read from Penny's brief that she presented to me.
"I am an informed person who is deaf-blind. I advocate for changes that would have a positive impact for the majority of people who are deaf-blind. In general, it is my view that the recently proposed ODA"--Bill 83--"does not address the needs of disabled persons in Ontario and particularly the uniqueness of the disability of deaf-blindness....
"It is every deaf-blind person's right to have access to equal aducation, access to information, adequate housing and access to services. The resources to achieve these rights are lacking. In reality," Bill 83 "itself is meaningless without the provision of resources that would allow disabled persons to access these rights. For the deaf, blind and deaf-blind, information in a meaningful format is a must....
"Many deaf-blind people are unaware of most services available to them because of the lack of accessible information....
"Most deaf-blind persons receive less than six hours of intervention per week. (The intervener is a person who assists with communication.) We cannot achieve improvement in our lives, and have very limited independence with such inadequate communication assistance. Our ability to contribute to our community requires intervention, the personal assistance of a professional intervener.... The changing environment requires an ability to communicate. Deaf-blind persons need to know of changes and capitalize on new opportunities. This is not a reality at present....
"If the barrier of not being able to communicate continues, deaf-blind Canadians will become more and more isolated. People are meant to interact with other people. We are a society. If we are not given resources to communicate, other health problems arise, increasing the long-term costs for health-based support structures.
"Increase intervention services, equitably distributed to the level of daily intervention, not weekly. Even as little as two hours per day of the ears and eyes of a professional would overcome many of the communication barriers for deaf-blind persons.
"Businesses, especially legal and government departments, should be required to have all documents produced in a person's preferred method of communication: print, Braille, or with the use of an intervener.
"Deaf-blind people require intervention as a unique service. Many of our basic human rights can only be achieved with more intervention services."
It's a sad day when a backbencher has to come forward to work for persons with disabilities in this province, and no initiatives from the minister. Yes, I support the awareness question. I think it's a very important step. But awareness doesn't pull down the barriers that exist in this government. The only way to fully remove these barriers is to pass a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Mr Brian Coburn (Ottawa-Orléans): I am very pleased to speak to the member from Willowdale's bill this morning, the Ontario Deaf-Blind Awareness Month Act, Bill 125.
The Rotary Cheshire Homes facility is the only service provider in Canada which is solely focused on adults who have acquired the disability of deaf-blindness. They provide daily access to intervener services and housing in a physical and communication barrier-free environment, resulting in quality-of-life living conditions for the residents.
This particular bill has certainly struck a chord with me, as my wife has spent a great part of her life working with individuals with disabilities. She has told me of the many challenges that individuals face when they are deaf. I can only imagine the tremendous challenge an individual would face with the additional barrier of blindness. I certainly understand the important role an intervener plays in the interaction of a person who is deaf-blind with other people and the environment around them.
Our government is working to improve the lives of persons with disabilities. In fact, the Ministry of Community and Social Services is providing funding to the Rotary Cheshire Homes. Our government spends nearly $6 billion annually on services to persons with disabilities, which I must point out is an increase of more than $800 million since we took office in 1995. We have created and expanded services for the deaf-blind, particularly the deaf-blind services department in the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Canadian Hearing Society.
We promised legislation to improve the lives of persons with disabilities and we are committed to passing new legislation next year, legislation that will be fair and reasonable for people with disabilities as well as those who are in a position to accommodate their needs. The legislation will have an action plan that will focus on changing attitudes, namely, helping those with disabilities to truly share in the opportunities of Ontario.
As members know, we have consulted with over 300 organizations in eight cities, as well as receiving over 260 submissions from people who have expressed their views on what we should do in an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I can tell you that Minister Johns continues to consult.
In my riding of Ottawa-Orléans, I have an exceptionally energetic and caring lady by the name of Marilyn Dow. Marilyn sees the challenges faced by parents who have a member of their family who has a disability day in, day out. She is one of those parents. But she has also seen a need for a service that shared expensive equipment for special disabilities, which many families simply could not afford. Eight years ago she started the special-needs equipment exchange, in her own home. Needless to say, this was a service welcomed by families with disabilities across the entire city of Ottawa. No money changes hands. People bring equipment they no longer need or have outgrown and trade it in for better or more specialized equipment. Volunteers help to repair the equipment. It has outgrown her basement now and larger space has been donated, which is now not sufficient to handle the volume.
I told Minister Johns of this exceptional service provided by parents and volunteers under the tireless direction of Marilyn Dow. Marilyn and the parents were delighted to have Minister Johns visit the special-needs equipment exchange service. To my knowledge, it is the only service of its kind in Ontario. Marilyn and the parents had an opportunity to explain their needs and special circumstances to Minister Johns, who was extremely interested in having their concerns expressed to her first-hand. This is the personal touch that Minister Johns has brought to this issue, talking and consulting with individuals who can best suggest solutions.
I also have a constituent who is deaf-blind who visited my office with her intervener, where we talked about barriers and challenges she faces and how she might address them. Her input and suggestions were welcomed by Minister Johns. This additional information will help us develop legislation that will improve the lives of persons with disabilities.
I am sure that we all have stories which demonstrate the progress and assistance that volunteers and organizations such as the Rotary Cheshire Homes provide to Ontarians who have disabilities. It is their partnership and commitment, coupled with our government's initiatives, that will continue to improve the quality of life for individuals with disabilities. Bill 125 is an added initiative that will increase the awareness of the need for interveners, and perhaps more young people will choose a career as a deaf-blind intervener.
Mr Young: I thank my colleagues on both sides of the floor for participating in this discussion today. The very fact that the discussion took place is a positive step forward.
The passage of this bill, if it's the will of this Assembly to ultimately pass this legislation, will be another step forward. That's how one travels down the road, by steps forward. I'm very proud of the fact that the speakers to date have all indicated that they will be supporting this legislation.
I am also very proud of the work that has been done by this government. I indicated earlier in passing--I will expand now, if I may--that Ontario is the national leader in providing services for the deaf-blind in Canada. This is based on the number of services available to deaf-blind people, as well as the number of deaf-blind persons receiving these services. I challenge anyone in this Legislature to compare the services provided in this province to those provided in other provinces, whether they be governed by an NDP government or the Parti Québécois, or whether they be government by the Liberals in Newfoundland. In fact, I had the opportunity recently in the Rotary Cheshire Homes to meet a tenant who is from a maritime province who came to Ontario and whose life has been enriched greatly by reason of the services that are provided here.
So yes, there is more to do. There is always more to do. I have the utmost confidence that Minister Johns, with the assistance of her parliamentary assistant, the member from Elgin-Middlesex-London, will move us forward in that direction, as they have in the past. This is a government with the wherewithal. This is a province that can further improve the lives of those with this affliction. I'm very proud to be standing today and I look forward to the passage of this very important legislation.
The Acting Speaker: This completes the time allotted for this ballot item.