January 4, 2001
MORE AND MORE MEDIA COVERAGE
ON THE ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ISSUE
As 2000 ended and 2001 began, our efforts at getting a strong and
mandatory Ontarians with Disabilities Act passed into law
continued to get ongoing attention in the media:
1. On January 2, 2001, the Toronto Sun included a column about
the ODA, set out below. ODA Committee Chair sent a letter to the
editor to respond to this article. It is also set out below. We
will let you know if it gets published.
2. In the last days of 2000, the Toronto Star included a column
on the Harris Government's treatment of persons with
disabilities. It included reference to the ODA issue. See below.
3. On December 27, 2000, the London Free Press Letter to the
Editor of the Day was from ODA supporter Crystal Easton, who
brought attention again to this issue.
4. On Thursday, December 28, 2000, ODA supporter Eddie Rice did a
great job talking about this subject. He was the guest on a one-
hour radio phone-in program on Toronto's CFRB. Callers to the
program expressed support for our needs. One restaurant owner
called in to talk about the benefits to his establishment of
having put in a small ramp to bridge the one step which had
blocked access to customers in wheelchairs.
Let's keep this ongoing media attention coming!
Toronto Sun January 2, 2001
Disabled await new laws
By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD -- Queen's Park Bureau
It seemed there was a neverending stream of new legislation being
pushed through the Legislature before the House rose for the
holidays just five days before Christmas.
Amid the labour legislation and the anti-crime laws, there was a
Culture and citizenship minister Helen Johns has yet to introduce
a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
In a recent interview, Johns said the government is committed to
bringing in legislation by the end of next year.
"We have promised we would bring forward an action plan within
the session, and we have promised we would bring in legislation
by November, 2001," Johns said.
What's taking so long is the fear that any new legislation will
become a bureaucratic nightmare similar to the Americans with
Disabilities Act (ADA) in the U.S. Signed into law by President
George Bush in 1990, the ADA has become a bonanza for lawyers and
some believe it has actually hurt the chances of disabled people
looking for employment. Johns points out that here in Ontario
we're ahead of the U.S., since we already have the Ontario Human
Rights Act, which prohibits employment discrimination based on
One high-profile victim of the ADA is Clint Eastwood, who was
sued by a disabled couple who complained there were not enough
accessible rooms or washroom facilities in his California ranch.
Eastwood successfully defended the case, but spent three years
fighting it and the unsuccessful disabled couple spent hundreds
of thousands of dollars in legal fees.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act hasn't improved the
employment rates in America. In fact they have reduced a little
bit in the last 10 years. It is very litigious. The cost for
private business and individuals to go through it has become
problematic," says Johns.
In one case, a restaurant in Denver was forced to pay $67,000 in
construction costs and civil penalties to alter an 11-inch
platform that had nine tables in addition to the 17 wheelchair-
accessible tables in the rest of the establishment. The ramp also
took away the space for three tables, causing further ongoing
losses for the restaurateur.
In another decision, banks have been required to install Braille
instructions on drive-through automatic teller machines - on the
driver's side. And the ADA has spawned a massive $242-million
The state of Ohio has estimated that the costs for conversions
mandated by the ADA could be $311.5 million for its 4,000 state
buildings, more than $1 billion for public transit and $119
million for state universities and colleges.
There is evidence also that the ADA actually hurts disabled
people when it comes to getting a job. On the Cato Institute Web
site is an article, "How the ADA handicaps me," in which lawyer
Julie Hofius (who uses a wheelchair) refers to a survey conducted
for the National Organization on Disability. It found that as of
1998, only 29% of disabled persons were employed full or part
time - down from 33% in 1986, four years before the ADA was
Hofius credits the drop to a chill that has fallen over employers
who are nervous about the ADA.
"Thanks to the ADA, I can physically get through most front
doors. I have access to elevators that ascend to upper floors and
can reach the buttons from my wheelchair. I can proceed down wide
hallways and use the lever door handles to enter interview rooms.
The physical obstacles have been removed, but they have been
replaced with a more daunting obstacle: the employer's fear of
lawsuits," Hofius says.
Nevertheless, advocacy groups in this province suggest some
simple laws requiring all new or renovated buildings should be
wheelchair accessible. They point out that it costs very little
extra to factor accessibility into a new building or to one that
is undergoing alterations.
As baby boomers age and become less mobile, there will be
increased pressure on businesses to be more accessible to people
with limited mobility. It only makes good business sense that if
you want to sell your goods, you have to make your store
available to what is still the largest demographic of shoppers.
No one wants to put businesses into bankruptcy or see restaurants
rack up massive legal bills. At the same time, there are a lot of
common sense, simple solutions that would provide handicapped
people greater mobility.
Letter to the Editor Submitted to the Toronto Sun by ODA
Committee Chair, David Lepofsky on January 3, 2001
From: David Lepofsky, Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Let's hear it for Christine Blizzard for pointing out that the
Harris Government just can't find the time to introduce the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This is the law Harris promised
over half a decade ago, to tear down the barriers that block 1.5
million people with disabilities from fully participating in
Ontario life (Disabled await new laws). Mike Harris cruelly broke
his 1995 election promise to pass this law in his first term. He
hasn't even introduced a bill this far into his second term.
What's really taking so long? Harris just does not want to keep
his word. Instead he uses our tax dollars to create new barriers
facing Ontarians with disabilities. Everyone suffers.
Ms. Blizzard's column reveals the Harris Government's strategy -
try to distract you from their broken promises to people with
disabilities. Their latest smoke-screen? They level misleading
attacks against American legislation! Yet Premier Harris won't
sit down and discuss his concerns with us. He's refused every
single request to meet him since he took office.
This is not a debate about American laws. Ontario has too many
barriers facing 1.5 million people with disabilities. What we
want and need is a strong, sensible made-in-Ontario law to reach
the goal of a barrier-free province.
But all we've gotten from the Harris Government is a series of
revolving-door ministers who make excuses and who have no mandate
to deliver a meaningful law. The most recent minister, Helen
Johns, has dallied for over 15 months just to come up with her
promised "action plan" for this law. Even something as simple as
an action plan is still nowhere to be seen. Everyone who has a
disability, or who has a family member with a disability, or who
will get a disability later in life, has to suffer the
consequences of the Harris Government's inaction.
Toronto Star Saturday, December 23, 2000
Tories have taken their toll
Something about this Christmas has brought into sharp focus the
empty promises Mike Harris thrives on. Could it have been the
grandiose pledge that he personally would make sure every needy
child got a Christmas present?
It didn't take long for that balloon to pop. Turned out that
names of deserving kids were simply passed off to local agencies,
downloaded on to groups already scrambling to counter the effects
of Conservative funding cuts.
How foolish of us to think even for a moment that there might be
a modicum of decency in this band of practised illusionists
inhabiting Queen's Park.
Time and again throughout the Harris years, we have seen cutbacks
cloaked in phony largesse:
Parents of children with disabilities were among the first to
learn that lesson.
While Harris publicly promoted home and community care over
institutional beds, he began stripping away support for some
15,000 families caring for loved ones 24 hours a day, seven days
a week 365 days a year. Many were elderly parents looking after
The Special Services At Home program was designed to reimburse
them anywhere from a few hundred dollars to $30,000 a year,
depending on the nature of the disability. The money helped pay
for the assistance of skilled workers a few hours a week.
Had these parents put their children in an institution, taxpayers
would be on the hook for millions.
The families were told their funding was being cut so that more
people could be helped. In fact, more people were being directed
to the program as cutbacks kept coming.
The Ontario Disability Support Program, administered by Social
Services Minister John Baird and designed to provide services to
Ontario's 1.5 million people with disabilities, has been heavily
criticized for its inefficiency and inconsistency.
Again, as other programs are axed, more and more people are being
shifted to this one, itself reeling from cuts and new dictates on
Kids with special needs have seen educational assistants cut.
Promised additional money has been slow to materialize.
While Queen's Park hides behind a flurry of press releases and
self-righteous statements about its education reforms, the system
appears to be in chaos.
Back in May, 1995, when Harris was on the campaign trail, he
promised that his government would dismantle the physical and
social barriers that prevent people with disabilities from
participating in society.
He promised to pass a law comparable to the 1990 Americans with
Disabilities Act, which saw Washington supervising the mandatory
removal of barriers in almost every area, from transportation,
employment, housing, education and communications right down to
In 1998, toward the end of Harris' first term, the Conservatives
introduced a minuscule three-page disabilities bill so glaringly
inadequate it shocked even those who, as a rule, barely give
disability issues a thought.
The bill was allowed to die on the order paper. An "action plan"
promised in the throne speech kicking off Harris' second term has
yet to materialize.
Hefty increases in rents coupled with poor protection for long-
term tenants and a severe shortage of rent-geared-to-income
accommodations have combined to push many seniors on fixed
incomes to the limit.
The provincial act contributing to much of this hardship is
ironically called the Tenant Protection Act.
Successive downloading of responsibility for programs affecting
older people has left many without secure health care, affordable
housing and other programs integral to their well-being.
A University of Toronto report released in September says seniors
in Greater Toronto have lost faith in government. Study
participants say government does little listening and policy
decisions reflect this lack.
"In October," the report noted, "each Ontario taxpayer will
receive a cheque for up to $200, while community care access
centres in Toronto will limit the care they can provide due to
A cutback is a cutback. Let's cut the act in 2001.
You can write to Helen Henderson, Life Section, Toronto Star, One
Yonge St., Toronto, Ont. M5E 1E6. Please include your telephone
number. Or send e-mail to email@example.com.
London Free Press
Wednesday, December 27, 2000
Page A-16 Letters to the Editor
Letter of the Day
Hearing impaired want rights protected
I am a London resident. I am legally blind and hearing impaired.
I use a white cane and have a hearing ear dog named Nelson.
Since 1989, Hearing Ear Dogs of Canada has been lobbying the
provincial government to pass a Deaf/Hard of Hearing Persons
Rights Act, similar to the Blind Persons Rights Act, so hearing
ear dog handlers have the same rights as blind persons with dog
We would like to get identification from the attorney general's
office. We also need laws to protect our right to have a dog
guide and take them anywhere in public.
Right now, we don't have this and if a property owner or store
manager asks us to leave, we don't have much choice. Also, the
police need to be informed.
I hope the Ontarians with Disabilities [Rights] Act will include
laws to protect the rights of deaf/hard of hearing individuals.
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Last updated January 4, 2001