October 7, 1997
Hon. John Snobelen
Minister of Education and Training
900 Bay Street, 22nd Floor
Mowat Block, Queens Park
Dear Mr. Snobelen:
Re: Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
I am writing on behalf of the abovenoted Committee, of which I am co-chair. The ODA Committee is a voluntary coalition of individuals and community orgazations which has urited to advocate for passage in Ontario of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Act is intended to achieve a barrier-free society for persons with disabilities in Ontario by the year 2000.
On Monday, September 1st, you appeared as a guest on a call-in programme on CFRB radio. During that programme, I was one of the members of the public who called in to speak to you, and whose exchange with you was broadcast. During that exchange, I identified myself to you and explained that your government had promised to pass an Ontarians with Disabilities Act in its first term. I explained that our school system is full of barriers impeding people with disabilities from fully participating. I gave as examples the fact that many schools have stairs rather than ramps. These impede children with disabilities from getting around them and into them; as well, many schools use computer technology which is not accessible to and usable by children with disabilities.
I then asked you whether you would agree with the idea that school boards should be sitting down and planning on a board by board basis, to identify barriers that now exist in their school systems, impeding people with disabilities, and making plans for the orderly removal of those barriers. You responded that that would be a good idea. You went on to comment on the need for funding reform for school boards, whereby the province and not school boards would set funding priorities. You were also critical of spending priorities school boards have had in the past. You also expressed your personal commitment that the needs of special students, including high-need students, must be met.
We very much agree with your statement that the needs of students with disabilities, including those of high-need students, must be met, and that funding priority must be given to this. We also agree that it would be a good idea for school boards to undertake a process of planning to identify the barriers that now exist in their school systems. We would add that it is also desirable for the same planning process to be undertaken by the school boards and the provincial government in order to prevent new barriers from being created before they arise.
Undoubtedly, the staff of the various ministries including yours which will be affected by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, will have to participate in a joint process of policy development leading to preparation and enactment of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The removal of barriers facing persons with disabilities in the education system, and the prevention of new barriers in our schools, colleges and universities, will be an important part of any meaningful Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Minister of Citizenship has committed to us that the government's target date for introduction of that bill into the Ontario legislature is no later than mid to late fall of 1998.
We hope and trust that your staff is or will soon be working with the staff from the Ministry of Citizenship on the development of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are fully reflected and addressed in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Your public recognition on this radio program of the constructive value of school boards planning to identify and remove existing barriers impeding persons with disabilities can play a valuable role in this process. However, even before the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is introduced in the legislature we believe that your Ministry has an obligation to begin working immediately with school boards to identify and remove existing barriers about which you and I spoke on the radio, and to begin planning to prevent new barriers from being created. Students with disabilities should not be forced to wait any longer for equal access to a quality education in Ontario. In addition, it is clearly more cost effective to prevent barriers rather than remove them after they are in place. We would urge you and your staff to now develop and implement a model planning process for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers in our education system. This model, having been tested across the Province, can then be introduced as a mandatory requirement in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Education is too important. We cannot force students with disabilities to wait even one more day for equal access to the education system. We trust that you will move promptly in this area. Please do not hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance to you or your staff.
cc: Dominic Agostino