ODA Committee Update
dated Sept. 25, 2003
Posted Sept. 30, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
ODA Gets Yet More Media Coverage As Election Campaign Enters Final Stretch
September 25, 2003
Here is a series of items in the media about the ODA, as the Ontario election campaign enters its final seven days. Many are generated by ODA supporters themselves.
In addition to these items in newspapers, we know the ODA has also got attention in a series of radio reports, including in Toronto, Hamilton, London and St. Catharines. An interview with ODA Committee chair David Lepofsky has also been scheduled, to be aired on CBC Radio 1's Ontario Morning program for Friday, September 26, 2003, some time between 6 and 8:30 a.m. It is heard in many parts of Ontario outside the biggest cities.
Below please find:
* An article in the Tuesday, September 23, 2003 London Free Press, reporting on the London area All-Candidates Debate on disability issues held on Saturday, September 20, 2003, and organized by the ODA Committee's London region.
* An article in the Monday, September 22, 2003 London Free Press with highlights of the London All-Candidates Debate on disability issues.
* An article in the September 25, 2003 Toronto Star on a wide range of election issues that normally get less media attention, including the ODA issue.
* A letter to the editor of the Toronto Star which ODA Committee chair David Lepofsky has sent to the Star, commenting on its September 23, 2003 article which mentioned the ODA. That article unfortunately refers to us and other issues, as coming from "special interest groups." This letter to the editor urges that we not be called that. We do not know if the Star will publish that letter.
* A letter to the editor in the September 24, 2003 Toronto Star by Carolyn Forbes, commenting on why disability issues have been treated as they have in Ontario.
* Another letter to the editor in the September 24, 2003 Toronto Star by Donald Blair, disbelieving that there are 1.9 million Ontarians who have a disability, and asking whether someone with a hangnail is disabled.
Note: The 1.9 million figure comes from the Ontario Citizenship Ministry. The Ontario Government has not in the past eight years had a track-record of trying to exaggerate the numbers of persons with disabilities in Ontario.
* A letter in the September 25, 2003 Ottawa Sun, identifying several of this election's disability issues.
This again shows how you can win media coverage for us, even if the pundits and mainstream reporters are focused on other issues. Act now to write a letter or column on disability election issues to your newspaper. Send a letter that responds to the items in this Update. For email addresses of newspapers around Ontario, visit:
Also, call in to your local radio station's call-in programs to raise disability issues, including the need to strengthen the weak, unenforceable ODA.
London Free Press
Tuesday, September 23, 2003.
Disabled Ontarians demand action
Tory MPPs were on the hot seat at an election all-candidates meeting
MARK RICHARDSON, For the London Free Press
I wasn't surprised the Tories left the meeting early. Given their track record on disability, I was more surprised they had shown up at all.
Dianne Cunningham, Bob Wood and Frank Mazzilli had something to say at Saturday's all-candidates meeting on disability issues. But, for some reason, all three Tory MPPs from London had to leave the Forest City Senior Kiwanis Community Centre early. Since the audience of more than 100 was made up almost entirely of disabled Londoners, however, they may have been running for cover.
In 1995, the Conservatives promised to pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) in their first term. They later pledged it would be a strong, effective law, but in 2001, after a six-year delay, they passed a weak, unenforceable ODA that doesn't require the removal of barriers.
As David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer from Toronto and voluntary chair of both Saturday's meeting and the non-partisan ODA Committee, described the act to
me: "It's got baby teeth."
Under the ODA, municipalities and public-sector organizations only have to file accessibility plans. They can leave in place any barriers they wish.
The plans must be made public, but they don't have to be implemented. As for the private sector, the ODA says virtually nothing.
Wood is fond of saying the commercial sector has to "buy-in to the process," but the Tories seem content to let business set the pace.
And the ODA is only part of the story. The loudest applause at the meeting went to a questioner who said, "I'm a parent of a child with a developmental disability. Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) funding doesn't allow us to meet the needs of the future. When are you going to raise ODSP payments?"
Lepofsky told me afterward the ODSP -- a social assistance plan for the disabled poor -- has not increased its payments since 1995.
At www.odacommittee.net, I also learned Ontarians with disabilities have been calling on the government for years to provide an ODSP cost-of-living increase. Yet the March 2003 throne speech didn't indicate any increase will be granted, nor whether any future increase would reflect changes in the cost of living.
Since the basic shelter allowance under ODSP is $410 a month, the audience wasn't impressed by Mazzilli's response argument that "the ODSP costs $2 billion."
For them, decent housing trumps provincial budgets.
Ten years ago, the disabled movement was a small group of fed-up Ontarians. Now, thanks to the Internet, inspiration from the successful Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and greater sophistication on the part of disabled Ontarians, the disabled have momentum. And as boomers get older, there are more disabled Ontarians to rally: More than 15 per cent of the population.
Which might explain why Cunningham's comment, "You may complain, but we passed the ODA," came across as defensive. To some, she sounded like a politician with her back against a wall.
As you watch the mud get slung during tonight's televised leaders debate, consider how you would vote Oct. 2 if, like me, you had received the following e-mail: "The ODA Committee urges all voters with disabilities to cast their vote in this provincial election during the advance polls, to be open between Sept. 20 and Sept. 26, with the exception of Sunday, Sept. 21 . . Avoid the risk of barriers on Oct. 2, election day!"
Even polling stations are not necessarily barrier-free, so something most of us consider a fundamental right becomes a privilege.
Still, Lepofsky is upbeat about the future. He's been consulted by disabled groups around the world, and spoken to the EU on how to draft disability legislation.
Ironically, he gets a better audience in Copenhagen than in Queen's Park.
After the debate, he explained how far the disabled have come in 10 years and predicted: "We're going to be victorious eventually. The only issue is who's going to get the credit."
Something tells me it's not going to be the provincial Tories.
Mark Richardson is a London freelance writer. His column appears Tuesdays.
London Free Press
Monday, September 22, 2003.
THE ACTIVE CITIZEN DEBATE WATCH
With provincial and municipal elections looming, The Free Press is keeping tabs on meet-the-candidates meetings in the region. Here's a summary of a recent event.
DATE: Saturday, Sept. 20
PLACE: Forest City Kiwanis Senior Community Centre, London
RACE: Ontario provincial election
CANDIDATES PRESENT: Liberal: Steve Peters, Chris Bentley, Khalil Ramal, Deb Matthews.
PC: Frank Mazzilli, Bob Wood, Dianne Cunningham.
NDP: Rebecca Coulter, Irene Mathyssen, Patti Dalton
ATTENDANCE: 100 - 120
DOMINANT TOPIC: Disability
MOST MEMORABLE QUOTES: "You may have complaints, but we are the ones who passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act." -- Dianne Cunningham
"Why bother having an ODA if it has no enforcement provisions?" --- Steve Peters
"We will give municipalities money for accessible housing, with a 'no-download' guarantee." -- Rebecca Coulter
MOST IMPRESSIVE PERFORMANCE: Steve Peters, for his grasp of disability issues facing Ontarians and his restraint in not promising to solve them overnight.
Thursday, September 25, 2003, p. A08
Special interests make their voices heard
Some get ad time to denounce policies Eves raises spectre of groups' power with Liberals
So-called special interest groups have been getting a lot of air-time in the provincial election campaign. In addition to advertising time purchased by some groups, Premier Ernie Eves has talked a lot about special interests and has warned that a Liberal government will be beholden to them.
While he doesn't say who these groups are, it's no secret he's talking about teachers' unions and associations such as the Working Families Coalition, an umbrella organization that includes such groups as the Ontario Nurses' Association, building trades' unions, Earthroots and the Ontario College and University Faculty Association.
The Working Families Coalition has purchased $500,000 in advertising spots to slam the Tories. The television and billboard ads feature an unbecoming headshot of Eves. The message in the ads is, "Not this time, Ernie."
But there are many other groups with an interest in the election outcome. They include the Toronto Police Association, which this week came out in support of the Conservatives.
Another group, known as "Pay the Rent and Feed the Kids," has also launched an advertising campaign to slam the government. It has been given free ad space on Toronto bus shelters and garbage cans for its posters, which, while not specifically naming the Tories, denounce the government for keeping a lid on social assistance rates. This coalition includes the Daily Bread Food Bank and the Children's Aid Society of Toronto.
There are many other special interest groups with a stake in the election outcome. Not all have endorsed a specific party, but they have eagerly offered their opinions on the Tory track record and the Liberal and NDP election platforms.
Here's a sampling of what they've said:
Barbara Everett, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association, Ontario
branch: "We hope the winning party starts to put the mental health of Ontario citizens first and foremost. There has been over 12 years of neglect of the community mental health system in Ontario. It's shameful that the most vulnerable citizens in this province live in poverty and on the streets."
Doris Grinspun, executive director of the Registered Nurses Association of
Ontario: "There is a key difference between the three (parties). We have fought for the government to address the issue of the casualization of the workforce. The only one who has committed to doing something about that is (Liberal Leader Dalton) McGuinty."
Canada's Association for the Fifty Plus: "Home and community care in Ontario is in crisis, seriously impacting on more than 100,000 Ontarians and their families. ... Funding for home and community care promised by Queen's Park in 1998 is not flowing."
Judy Darcy, president of the Canadian Union of Public Employees: "Whether it's P3 hospitals, school funding cuts or hydro deregulation and privatization, the Eves government has been a disaster for our members and our communities. It's time they were chucked out of office."
Paul York, Greater Toronto Tenants Association: "On rent issues, I prefer the NDP over the other major parties, as do all other tenant advocates that I know of."
The Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, actively campaigning for the defeat of the Tories, sent letters to Conservative MPPs, blaming them for a list of woes: "The poorest people who live on social assistance have had their real income reduced by over a third. The minimum wage has remained frozen. Tenants have had their rights taken from them and thousands are now evicted every month. Vital public services have been gutted. Education and health-care systems have declined and are in crisis. Most disgustingly, the number of children being taken from their parents by 'child welfare' agencies has gone up by over 60 per cent while you have run the show at Queen's Park. Among First Nation's communities, the rate of child removal is at a higher level than at its previous peak during the 1960s."
David Lepofsky, chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee: "Ontario has not made substantial progress towards becoming barrier-free over the past eight years. People with disabilities still have huge problems getting access to public and private sector jobs, goods and services."
The Campaign for Public Education: "One year after the provincial Conservative government seized control of the Toronto District School Board and appointed Paul Christie to cut staff and programs, our schools are in a state of chaos."
Proposed Letter to the Editor
Submitted to the Toronto Star on September 25, 2003
From: David Lepofsky, Chair Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
Re: "Special interests make their voices heard"
It's great that the Star covers important election issues that pundits and many mainstream media outlets don't, like issues concerning Ontarians who have a disability.
But it's unfortunate that your article brands us with the Conservatives' hot-button term "special interest group." This article lumps us under that heading. It quotes me and other important voices in society, but introduces us by saying: "There are many other special interest groups with a stake in the election outcome."
That epithet conjures up the spectre of well-oiled elites that selfishly demand undeserved special privileges. That's not us.
The disability community includes not only the 1.9 million Ontarians who now have a physical, mental or sensory disability. It will also include everyone who can and likely will get a disability as they age. That's everyone.
Are all Ontarians now to be denounced as a special interest group? All we seek is a barrier-free Ontario in which people with disabilities can fully participate, not special privileges.
I applaud the Star for so often leading the media by excellent coverage of issues concerning persons with disabilities. I encourage more of the same. But please don't inadvertently slip into the partisan epithets that one party uses to make voters fearful of us. We face enough obstacles as it is.
David Lepofsky, Chair
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
Toronto Star LETTER,
Wednesday, September 24, 2003, p. A27
Barrier-free life a distant dream: Voting down Ontario's barriers Opinion, Sept. 23.
One could suggest that Ontarians with disabilities are not being served adequately because of several factors. No level of government has any idea of the correct numbers of people in Ontario with disabilities of all kinds, as most people with disabilities are not even counted into any totals. No level of government has any serious interest in this issue. There is little understanding on the part of governments of the daily small and large barriers faced by people with varying levels of disabilities and there are no real plans in place or actions taken at any level of government to make day-to-day life as barrier-free as possible for Ontarians with disabilities. I might add that this applies to all the crises we have faced
lately: There are no plans and no strategies in place. It appears to be all after-the-fact scrambling.
Carolyn Forbes, Burlington
Toronto Star LETTER
Wednesday, September 24, 2003, p. A27
Disabled number sounds a bit high: Voting down Ontario's barriers
Opinion, Sept. 23.
I find it impossible to believe that there are 1.9 million disabled people in Ontario - that's more than 20 per cent of the population. Is someone with a hangnail disabled?
Donald Blair, Alliston
September 25, 2003
RE: "Eves scores key points in campaign battle" by Christina Blizzard (sept
Blizzard must have had a Tory supporter watch the debate for her. Yes there was no clear winner nor were there any big punches laid, but there was a clearly scarred opponent Tuesday night.
Eves would not allow anyone to answer a question he posed. Each and every time he put forward a question he demanded a yes or no, never allowing more than four words to be heard in response. This has been the style of the Harris-Eves government for the last nine years, and now we hope that everyone has come to realize that there has to be a change. Some topics were only touched on because all three leaders were trying to stifle each other. As an example of this, home care was mentioned briefly. The fact is that it was the present government that changed the administration at our CCAC (Community Care Access Centre), only to find out last year that they were spending 48%-plus on administrative expenses at the cost of not giving the services that they said they had to cut.
What we need in the disabled community is a stronger Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Both opposition parties have committed to putting the 11 principles back into the act that were adopted by the Ontario Legislature on Oct. 29, 1998. Both have also committed to provide a cost-of-living increase for ODSP. There has been no increase for these voters since the Tories took power nine years ago.
As this election takes place there are over 85,000 voters in Ottawa alone who are disabled. Maybe all candidates should keep that in mind.
Disabled and Proud
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