ODA Committee Update
dated August 28, 2003
posted August 29, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Another Heaping Helping of ODA Media Coverage
August 28, 2003
With a provincial election to be called possibly any day now, the ODA issue gets yet more media coverage around Ontario. Here are five important
* An item by the Sault Ste. Marie's Sault Star editorial staff in its August 26, 2003 edition on the lack of sufficient funding for the upcoming Sault conference on implementing the ODA.
* An article in the August 26, 2003 Sault Star about difficulties in getting funding for the Sault Ste. Marie ODA conference.
* A letter to the editor in the August 27, 2003 Sault Star by the Sault ODA conference coordinator Tracey Roetman.
* A column by ODA supporter Linda Crabtree on the implementation of the ODA in the August 23, 2003 edition of the St. Catharines Standard.
* A piece in the Sarnia This Week publication for the week of August 4, 2003 on the ODA.
It's not too late to write a letter or column to your own newspaper on the importance of the ODA issue to you in the upcoming election. For email addresses for your local newspaper and for tips on writing a piece, visit:
It has now been over 20 months since the Conservative Government passed the ODA 2001, and eight and a quarter years since they promised to do so. What impact has it had on barriers in your life?
Sault Star August 26, 2003
Fund access conference
Sault Star Editorial Staff
Editorials - It shouldn't come as a huge surprise to anyone that a Sault Ste. Marie grass-roots conference on increasing accessibility for people with disabilities hasn't been able to raise any provincial or municipal funding - the failure of government bodies to come through shows the systemic problems faced by the disabled all the time.
Organizers have been forced to go cap-in-hand to local businesses and individuals to raise some cash. All we can hope is that if bureaucracies continue to rebuff the conference, the private sector will come through and the event can reach its full potential.
Even the fact that the symposium is being organized by a non-governmental group in the first place points to some of the hurdles faced by people with handicaps. It should have been planned and executed by a provincial agency, considering the need for it was spawned by a provincial edict.
Early last year, Queen's Park passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. One provision is that any municipality with a population greater than 10,000 has to prepare an accessibility plan by Sept. 30, barely a month hence.
But after giving glowing lip service to the commendable concept of providing access, the province has followed through with precious little guidance or resources to help municipalities do the job.
The Sault Ste. Marie Accessibility Advisory Committee sprung to action, and a subcommittee undertook to organize the conference inviting people from all parts of Ontario to the Sault Sept. 10 and 11.
So far, some 100 people have registered. That number could triple. But participation might be compromised without assistance, and the program may not be quite as ambitious as it could be with full funding.
Original plans called for $15,000 to do such things as assist in communicating with those who attend, many of whom have special needs. With all the government doors being slammed shut, that's been slashed to $7,000. So far, only $2,000 has been raised.
It appears the conference just doesn't fit the criteria required by provincial and municipal programs, or they say they just don't have enough money. That says a lot about how criteria were set, when a worthy project for the disabled falls through all the cracks and no agency can help.
Guidelines should always have enough discretion built in so that sentient human beings make the final judgment about what qualifies and what doesn't. All the sympathetic intentions in the world don't amount to a hill of beans if there is no cash to back them up.
Of course, in this instance there may be another fly in the ointment. Such a conference is sure to bring up shortcomings in providing accessibility and other needs for people with disabilities. Maybe governments hope to avoid the humiliation of having some of their shortcomings articulated.
Their failure to fund this conference is another reason for them to feel embarrassed. They will feel even more so if they continue to stonewall, and their function is fulfilled by generous businesses and service clubs and individuals.
One way or the other, the conference must go on. What a shame that bureaucracies seem unable to help.
Note: We are advised that a correction may be published regarding the specific amount of funds provided by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
Sault Star August 26, 2003
Gov't turns down plea for funds to help disabled conference
By BRIAN KELLY
The Sault Star
City refuses because talks on access don't fit its development mandate
Organizers of an upcoming conference in Sault Ste. Marie on increasing accessibility for the disabled in their communities are turning to private and business support after several government ministries turned down their requests for funding.
"I never expected it to be this difficult," said Tracey Roetman, one of the event's organizers.
"If you're raising money for handicapped kids it's an easier task. But the handicapped kids that grow up to be adults, and then are faced with dealing with it for the rest of their lives, it's a whole different ball game."
Passed into law in early 2002, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires municipalities with a population of more than 10,000 to prepare an accessibility plan. The deadline for the plan is Sept. 30.
"When people come to this conference they'll get all the information they need to implement the ODA," said Roetman. "A lot of places are new to, and have never considered, barriers in the community."
The Access Ontario conference runs Sept. 10 and 11 at Best Western Great Northern. More than 100 registrants have already been received. As many as 300 could eventually sign up, said Roetman.
It is being organized by a subcommittee of the Sault Ste. Marie Accessibility Advisory Committee.
Featured speakers include Kevin Duguay, a city planner from Peterborough, and Alan Buchan, manager. of HAGI Transit in Thunder Bay.
Conference organizers hoped to receive $15,000 in government funds to asssist with costs such as offering sign language and documents in braille for special needs attendees. But Roetman said that figure has been slashed to less than half or $7,000, as local businesses are solicited for support in the remaining weeks until the event starts. About $2,000 has been raised so far.
"When you're dealing with people with disabilities you have a lot of special needs," she said.
"Anything that we can, except for dealing with handicapped stuff, we've cut."
Jody Wildman, a community development officer for the Community Development Corp. of Sault Ste. Marie and Area, said his organization turned down a funding request to assist Access Ontario because the event did not fit the CDC's funding criteria of fostering economic development.
"Our (community development) committee has taken the position that, with our fund conferences and conventions aren't generally within the mandate of it because they don't have an ongoing economic impact," said Wildman.
"It's a small fund. We could get rid of all our money for the year within a couple of months if we started funding conventions and conferences."
During the 2003-2004 fiscal year, the CDC is administering $50,000 in the Local Initiatives Fund for FedNor. The money is made available to non-profit community groups and municipalities spearheading economic development activities. A maximum of $5,000 can be dedicated to any one project.
Wildman said the CDC did provide conference organizers with other contacts who might have been able to assist them.
The Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., Ministry of Citizenship, Ontario Trillium Foundation and private foundations were also contacted, but were unable to help, said Roetman.
Sixteen per cent of Ontario's population, or 1.9 million people, have disabilities, according to the Ministry of Citizenship's Web site.
Roetman can be contacted at 254-6929.
Sault Star August 27, 2003
Spokesperson Tracey Roetman
Letters to the Editor -
I was very pleased to see the response of The Sault Star to the letter by Peggy Houghton on July 17, Seek solution for Northern Avenue crosswalk, regarding Sylvia MosherÆs crossing light problem.
The editorial Accessing accountability (July 23) was appreciated.
We are encouraged by the response to the Feedback Forum question, ôA crosswalk light should be installed between the Pee Wee Arena and Zellers. Yes or No.ö (Aug. 1) The fact that 73 per cent of the 625 responses were in favour is heartening and shows that the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie care about the safety of the disabled.
I am privileged to sit on two committees with Sylvia and to witness her dedication and her wit.
One of the committees we sit on is the Sault Ste. Marie Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC).
Under the provisions of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) passed in 2001, each municipality over 10,000 must have an AAC to advise its council on community accessibility issues.
We are currently working on our first-year plan. We have all been challenged to understand and work with a wide variety of disabilities.
The mayor, CAO and councillors have all been supportive and have told us that the work we are doing is the right direction for our community to be taking.
In order to assist ourselves and other municipalities that are also struggling with formulating their own first-year plans, the Sault AAC is hosting the first Access Ontario Conference Sept. 10 and 11.
Besides helping Ontario AACÆs with their plans the conference will promote public awareness of the ODA.
It will give participants tools to ultimately make Ontario barrier-free ôso that all people can enjoy equal opportunity and participate fully in the life of provinceö (ODA).
A July 22 Sault Star article was titled, Sault should lead way in accessibility plans, Irwin urges.
The AAC is working on just that.
SSM Accessibility Advisory Committee
St. Catharines Standard August 23, 2003
Conference to discuss accessibility plans
by Linda Crabtree
Gads, I think I'm becoming a bit of an activist. Since joining several accessibility advisory committees in Niagara, I've met people from all over Niagara who are disabled and heard first- hand stories about being unable to get into buildings, open doors, use bathrooms, go where they want and/or need to go and in general lead a fairly spontaneous life without help.
During the last 20 years, I've not been able to walk and used an electric scooter or manual wheelchair for mobility. These devices have given me some freedom but steps, curbs, heavy doors, inaccessible bathrooms, poorly planned architecture and very expensive or nonexistent transportation have kept me pretty well close to home. Now, there's a ray of hope on the horizon.
Six weeks ago, news came down the pike that the accessibility advisory group in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., was going to hold a conference in September to help municipalities and their advisors get a better handle on the accessibility plan the province has downloaded on all municipalities with populations in excess of 10,000. The goal is for each to have some kind of a plan in place by the end of September. Getting a handle on the plan and what it asks for hasn't been easy for municipalities and their accessibility advisory groups. There are cities who have had a plan and an advisory committee for years, some who have just started and some who resist the entire idea of being told anything by the province or people with disabilities.
The same goes for this conference in Sault Ste. Marie. There are cities sending staffers and/or members of their accessibility advisory committees and cities rejecting the idea that it is even needed. There are also cities whose accessibility advisory committees don't have a real budget so they are impotent, and can't do anything but advise. They can't travel, reach out to learn, or make anything happen. If the city council they advise feels their advice is not warranted, good enough, or costs too much (which is usually the case) they can just ignore the advice.
To be fair, most city councils see the value in the advice given by the experts in disability on the accessibility advisory committees and do what they can, but the committees need more clout and credibility to actually be taken seriously. To that end the meeting in Sault Ste. Marie is going to try to bring about a coalition of accessibility advisory committees all over Ontario so we can share successes and try to change things for the better. These committees represent two million people with disabilities in this province. That's a great many votes for the party that sees the value of having us on board and supports us.
What does this all mean for the disabled person out there who feels powerless and lives day to day without enough accessible transportation, access to buildings and services? It means that people with disabilities are becoming more active and the provincial government must see us as a viable force that badly needs to be heard. We need to be working solidly together towards an accessible Ontario now, not later.
Yes, the present government brought in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and these accessibility advisory committees are a result of that but it is going to have to be up to the people with disabilities to ensure that the government moves forward and gives the act the teeth it needs to truly bring about change.
This plan that each municipal government is working on isn't mandatory, it doesn't go anywhere, and is just meant as a guideline to have municipally run and maintained buildings, services and policies designed better for people with disabilities. The plan doesn't touch privately owned places like restaurants, hotels and places where we all want to work. It will have to eventually and the sooner the better.
The implementing of the plan has opened a great many eyes though and most municipalities are going at it with good intentions.
There is huge potential if the Ontario committees getting together. Having us sharing and learning from each other is progressive and can only do good. It is also a great opportunity for the provincial government to score some points and back this initiative. If an accessible Ontario is truly part of their plan, now's the time to show it. But, backing or not, the grassroots movement to an accessible Ontario has begun.
I'll be in Sault Ste. Marie with my co-chair Sharon Gleason representing St. Catharines and also be reporting to the Regional Accessibility Advisory Committee with Mary Lou Whitty from the Port Colborne Committee.
I'll let you know what happens at the conference in my next column... should be interesting.
Sarnia This Week August 4 2003
Disabilities act has no teeth
Are we really doing all we can to help people with disabilities? While the province's Ontarians with Disabilities Act makes a lot of sense and is long overdue, it has no teeth.
The purpose of the act is to improve access and opportunities for people with disabilities. The act sets out specific accessibility obligations --including compiling an annual accessibility plan -- for the provincial government, municipalities, and other organizations including public transit, school boards, hospitals, colleges and universities. However, there are no obligations set out for private businesses. And there is no obligation, other than a moral one, for the public bodies to make any changes. In this day and age of decreased funding, it would be easy for public bodies to argue that there is no money to make major changes.
The 12-member Sarnia Accessibility Advisory Committee -- also required by the act -- is a wonderful idea. A majority of the members are people with disabilities. They will be advising council about preparing an accessibility plan, how it is working, and if it achieves its goals. Council will also get their advice on the accessibility of buildings, structures or premises that the city purchases, leases, builds or significantly renovates.
And while this will certainly mean changes in the long term to buildings, policies or programs that are not presently in place, the change to the existing ones will likely be slow.
People with disabilities have waited a long time for accessible facilities and programs, but the wait is far from over. Huge amounts of money are required for any major changes, and that's hard to come by.
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Last updated August 29, 2003