ODA Committee Update
dated Nov. 29, 2004
posted Nov. 29, 2004
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Today is 10th Anniversary of the Birth of the Organized ODA Movement
November 29, 2004
Today marks the 10th anniversary of the birth of the organized campaign for
a barrier-free Ontario through the enactment of a strong, effective new law
to tear down the barriers that block persons with disabilities from full
inclusion in all aspects of Ontario life.
While many are understandably frustrated with the many delays and
impediments that we have encountered along the way, today is a good day to
reflect on all we have accomplished. We started out as a mere 20 frustrated
people happening to end up in a meeting room at Queen's Park back on
November 29, 1994. We have grown into Ontario's biggest, broadest,
grassroots cross-disability advocacy coalition. Our agenda has been endorsed
and adopted by the mainstream of the Ontario disability community, including
many, many disability community service provider and consumer organizations.
We have broadened the message of full inclusion through full accessibility.
It goes far beyond removal and prevention of physical barriers facing
persons with physical disabilities. Our agenda addresses barriers of all
kinds, facing people with all kinds of disabilities, whether visible or
invisible, whether physical, mental or sensory.
We formulated our agenda into 11 simple principles behind which our movement
has united. We managed to get those 11 principles adopted by the Liberals
and NDP while they were in opposition, and with their help, by the entire
Ontario Legislature. Ever since the Ontario Legislature unanimously adopted
our 11 principles back on October 29, 1998, over six years ago, those
principles have remained enshrined as the yardstick against which any
proposed disability accessibility legislation would be judged.
Through the grassroots efforts of our many supporters, we have obtained tons
of excellent coverage in the media, in local media , province-wide media,
and even national media.
We have successfully reached out to local communities all over Ontario,
through public meetings and public forums. We have had our agenda adopted
by numerous municipal councils. We have maintained a fully accessible
website, www.odacommittee.net, which for years has had thousands and
thousands of hits each month.
In our spirit of non-partisanship, we brought our case for strong, new
disability accessibility legislation to three successive Ontario
governments, the NDP Government up to 1995, the Conservative Government from
1995 to 2003, and now, the Liberal Government, 2003 to the present. We
dealt with 7 successive Citizenship Ministers, responsible for this issue in
those three successive governments. We brought our message to Ontario
voters in three successive Ontario general elections, in 1995, 1999 and
2003, as well as in several intervening by-elections. Beyond the formal
party support we have obtained, we have educated and persuaded numerous
individual members of the Ontario Legislature to become active, passionate
supporters of our cause.
Our message has not just been heard in Ontario. Disability rights advocates
in other provinces are watching our efforts with keen interest. On the
international stage, we have been called upon to present our ideas at an
international forum on disability legislation in Washington in 2000, and at
several European Union conferences.
We have succeeded in getting many people involved in disability rights
advocacy who hadn't ever done this before. We don't just seek opportunities
for the formal ODA Committee to be heard - We have successfully sought
Government consultations that are open to the broad disability community to
express the diversity of viewpoints that many wish to share. Once new
people have gotten involved in the ODA movement, many have also branched out
into advocating on several other important disability issues.
Perhaps most extraordinarily, we have firmly and successfully stood our
ground when offered weak legislation. In 1998, when the previous Ontario
Conservative Government offered us a tooth-less 3-page bill that only spoke
to barriers in the Ontario Government, we rejected it. Our efforts led the
Ontario Conservatives to withdraw that bill within 17 short days. Even the
Conservatives now concede that that bill was inadequate to the needs of
persons with disabilities. In 2001, when the Conservative Government offered
us a somewhat improved bill (which still didn't make barrier-removal
enforceable and which didn't remove barriers in the private sector), we
worked constructively to get it amended, implemented and improved. But we
didn't settle for it.
Because we remained dedicated to our cause, we now have the strongest bill
before the Legislature that we have ever been offered, the proposed
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Last Thursday, in the
Ontario Legislature's final action before our 10th anniversary, The
Legislature finished Second Reading debate on that bill. It is now poised
to send it on for public hearings this winter. We wait to see if that bill
passes on Second Reading unanimously, or whether there are any MPPs in the
Legislature who would vote against it.
Of powerful importance, the primary topic of debate during the Second
Reading debate was not whether persons with disabilities need this
strengthened law. It was conceded during those debates by all sides of the
Legislature that persons with disabilities deserve stronger legislation than
they now have. The debate on whether we need stronger legislation is
thankfully over! The main focus of the debate was on ways to make the
current bill even stronger and more effective. Speakers from both the
opposition NDP and in some cases from the Conservative Party urged that the
bill be tightened up to ensure more progress sooner towards our goal of a
It is important to again recognize how we managed to get this far. It is due
to each and every individual and organization that donated their time and
energy to our shared cause. Every person who visited, phoned, faxed or
emailed their MPP, who spoke out on this issue at an all-candidates' debate,
who phoned a call-in radio program on their local radio station, who wrote a
letter to the editor, who complained to their local media if they didn't
cover this cause, who gave out leaflets to the public on this issue, who
came to an event at Queen's Park or in their local community, who helped
organize an ODA Committee region in their community, who submitted a brief
to the Ontario Government or made a presentation at a public consultation,
who forwarded our email updates to friends and family, who took the time to
keep up with the news on this issue, and/or who didn't give up or give in
during the many delays and causes for disillusionment along the way - each
one of those persons made an important difference!
Sadly, too many didn't live long enough to see how far we have come. There
is a cruel price tag to the 10 year delay we have had to endure. Many
barriers we now face would already be gone had stronger legislation been
passed sooner. Nevertheless, we can and should be proud of how far we have
With these 10 years behind us, we can look upon the next few months with
optimism. Once Bill 118 finishes Second Reading, it will be able to go to
public hearings over the winter. This gives everyone a chance to put forward
their own ideas on how to strengthen it. To her credit, the Citizenship
Minister sponsoring this bill, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, has indicated her
receptiveness to ideas from the community and from the opposition parties
for amendments to Bill 118. After legislative committee hearings are
completed in the winter, the bill can come back before the Legislature in
the spring for third and final reading.
We have a lot of work ahead -- but it's good work that we should be happy
that we've won the opportunity to undertake.
So here's an e-toast to all of you who have joined in our movement over the
past decade, and who wouldn't settle for half-measures. Let's honour today,
especially in memory of those who didn't live to see all our progress. Then
let's gear up for the next important round in our campaign for a
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