ODA Committee Update
dated July 9, 2003
posted July 9, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
More Media Coverage On Barriers To Restaurants Facing People With Disabilities
July 9, 2003
The Toronto Star has published yet more items on the barriers facing persons with disabilities in getting access to restaurants, the Ontario Human Rights Commission's efforts to tackle these by individual complaints, and the need for mandatory standards to be passed into law dealing with the private sector in this area. This includes an official Toronto Star editorial on the need for action, and several letters to the editor which oppose the notion that we do not need mandatory accessibility standards to be passed into law in this area. You are encouraged to send the Star a Letter to the Editor to keep this issue prominent.
On July 4, 5 and 7, 2003, the Toronto Star published an excellent series of articles about barriers facing persons with disabilities when they try to go to restaurants in Toronto, the positive steps that the Ontario Human Rights Commission is taking to tackle these establishments through individual complaints, and the need for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act to be strengthened to extend it to the private sector. That coverage also included statements by Jeff Adams, chair of the Conservative government-appointed Accessibility Advisory Council. He advocated against imposing mandatory accessibility requirements for businesses such as restaurants. You can see that coverage at:
The Toronto Star has now included even more coverage of this issue in its July 8 and 9 editions. Set out below are:
* The July 8, 2003 Toronto Star article reporting on the Ontario Human Rights Commission's plans to address this issue, and a statement by Ontario Citizenship Minister DeFaria.
* Four letters to the editor in the July 9, 2003 Toronto Star, expressing the need for imposing mandatory accessibility requirements for businesses such as restaurants.
* A July 9, 2003 official Toronto Star editorial echoing the message which we, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, have been in the forefront of bringing forward for over eight and a half years, that removing barriers is good for business, and that where business does not act, we need government action to enforce accessibility.
We thank all those who have already written letters to the editor to the Toronto Star on this issue. We encourage all others to write letters to the editor now. This will give you a chance to express your views on this topic. It will also help keep this issue prominent in the media as we lead up to the next provincial election.
Send your letters to:
MORE BACKGROUND INFORMATION
It may be helpful to give you some additional pieces of background information:
You may wonder what the difference is between we, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, and the Ontario Accessibility Advisory Council, chaired by Mr. Jeff Adams. Here is a short explanation.
The ODA Committee is a grass-roots, non-partisan province-wide coalition of individuals and community groups, formed over eight and a half years ago to advocate for a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, through the enactment and implementation of a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We are not appointed by the government and receive no Ontario government funding. Our activities since 1994 in leading the charge for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act are all documented on our website at:
The Ontario Accessibility Advisory Council, chaired by Mr. Adams, was created and funded by the Ontario government in late 2001 under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, and appointed last year. Its 11 members were all chosen by the Conservative government. Under the ODA 2001, its mandate is to advise the Ontario government on issues relating to the implementation of the ODA. We, the ODA Committee have offered our help to this Council on several occasions and have encouraged it to conduct public consultations on implementation of the ODA, to get input from the disability community. To date, that Council has not announced any public consultations.
There had been a similar provincially-appointed disability advisory council in Ontario from the 1970s until 1995. The Conservative government eliminated it within weeks of being elected in 1995. It then re-created the current provincially-appointed Council in its ODA 2001.
You may wonder what efforts have been made by Toronto's restaurants to become accessible. On March 8, 2001, Tourism Toronto, representing Toronto's hospitality sector including restaurants, declared its aim for Toronto to become a barrier-free city for tourists. As Toronto now recovers from the loss of tourism due to the SARS crisis, this is especially important. Yet over two years later, the Toronto Star documents that many barriers to restaurants still remain, including barriers that would be easy to quickly remove.
You can see what Tourism Toronto had to say at its March 8, 2001 news conference over two years ago at:
You may wonder what positions have been taken by the three political parties in Ontario on this issue. An election is expected this fall.
Both opposition parties, the Liberals and NDP, have promised to pass a strengthened ODA within one year of taking office. This would include extending specific mandatory barrier-removal requirements to the private sector. Both the Liberals and NDP proposed amendments to the Conservatives' ODA back in 2001 to achieve this.
The governing Conservatives have made no election commitments to strengthen the ODA. They voted down the amendments which the Liberals and NDP had proposed in 2001 that would have imposed mandatory requirements on the private sector.
The Liberals' election commitments on the ODA can be seen at:
The NDP election commitments on the ODA can be seen at:
The Conservatives' election position can be seen at:
Major fast-food chains can either work with the Ontario Human Rights Commission to make their establishments accessible to the disabled or face tough compliance measures, says its chief commissioner.
"We'd like to accomplish it through co-operation. If all else fails, there are always other avenues available. The option is always there for the commission to initiate a complaint," Keith Norton said in an interview yesterday, stressing that the request should not be viewed as a threat to the industry.
"The ultimate goal is to ensure accessibility. We are not creating this situation. The law already requires that facilities serving the public should be accessible."
The province's human rights watchdog hired an external consultant to inspect 28 fast-food restaurants across Ontario belonging to seven major chains last fall after fewer than half of 29 chains responded to its voluntary survey into accessibility to eateries.
The consultant assessed the establishments based on a 40-item checklist ranging from accessibility to washrooms and entrances to the size of the letters on menus and the height of counters. Automatic door buttons that would allow the disabled to get in without assistance were among the key elements the inspector looked for.
"Some of the chains are well established. I was surprised by how poor some of their facilities were (for) persons with disabilities," Norton said. "Buttons on doors have become a much more significant thing. ... Some doors are not difficult to manage, but some of the heavier ones are a bit of a challenge if you try to balance on crutches at the same time."
Norton's observations were confirmed by an informal survey of 62 eateries chosen randomly by the Star last week along a stretch of Yonge St. between Queen's Quay and Major Mackenzie Dr. The survey found none of the facilities had an automatic door opener.
Sixteen per cent or 10 of the restaurants in the Star survey also lacked ramps allowing the disabled to bypass steps. Two others had doors impossible to negotiate for a wheelchair user entering alone.
In 2002, the commission received 1,776 complaints and disability was cited in 35 per cent of the 3,344 grounds of discrimination in those cases (a complaint often involves more than one ground).
Thirty-three per cent of the 1,172 disability-related grounds concerned services. In a 2001 high-profile case, the commission ruled in favour of five complainants who alleged that Famous Players violated the Ontario Human Rights Code by failing to provide wheelchair-accessible theatres. The chain had a policy of non-admittance for unaccompanied patrons in wheelchairs at its inaccessible theatres, and had a "sign-in" policy for attendants who receive free passes when accompanying persons in wheelchairs.
The commission eventually awarded each complainant compensation for the infringement, ranging from $8,000 to $10,000. The chain was also required to pay each $2,000 for mental anguish as a result of "the respondent's reckless conduct."
Norton maintains the commission is not on a witch hunt to nail restaurants that don't comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code.
A copy of the accessibility report has been forwarded to the seven fast-food chains under study and they have been given six weeks to respond, he said.
"I want them to see this as an exercise in education about what responsibility they have under the human rights legislation. It's an opportunity for them to look at their facilities and respond with a plan to bring them into compliance," he said.
"If you are doing some physical renovation of a building, you look at the building code. It might not occur to you or your architect to say, 'What is our responsibility under the human rights code?' Now I hope that the Ontario Human Rights Code will be on their radar screen."
Norton would not reveal details of the consultant report or name the seven fast-food chains that were targeted.
He said the report won't be made public until this fall after the commission finds out what "remedies" the chains are willing to pursue.
Although the code requires all businesses in Ontario to make their facilities accessible and provides only limited grounds for an exemption, critics have said investigations are done only on a case-by-case basis and can take months or even years.
But Norton insisted, "The very fact that we've undertaken this (restaurant
accessibility) initiative is itself proactive."
Ontario Citizenship Minister Carl DeFaria said the government passed the Ontarians With Disabilities Act about a year ago, requiring public buildings, such as government, hospitals and school board facilities, to be accessible.
The act will have an impact, he added, as both the province and its 500-plus municipal governments will list accessibility as a contract criteria in awarding tenders in the private sector. The federal income tax act also allows businesses to deduct income for any accessibility improvements such as installing ramps, door openers, washrooms, doorways and elevators.
"The impact of those things will be seen down the road," DeFaria said.
When is right time?
Who chooses when Ontarians with disabilities get to participate fully in society? Advocate urges caution on accessibility July 7.
Jeff Adams, chair of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario, says, "This isn't the right time to bring in mandatory provincial requirements to force businesses such as restaurants to become accessible to the disabled," but I ask, when is the right time?
Who chooses when we, Ontarians with disabilities, get to participate fully in society? Who chooses when we can go anywhere, do anything, and be ourselves without having to break down barriers in order to do so? People like Adams are missing the point.
They are too hung up on whether someone making a six-figure salary would be upset at the prospect of all businesses being forced to renovate their premises to become accessible, instead of considering that we, Ontarians with disabilities, are being short-changed and treated like second-class citizens.
People like Adams and his advisory council are in the perfect position to make a difference, if they stopped thinking of the whining, currently able-bodied upper class and remembered who they are - Ontarians with disabilities who deserve the same opportunities, opportunities not available due to disinterest and lack of strong, legislative motivation to change.
If Adams has no desire to be able to choose whatever restaurant catches his fancy and instead is happy with the few opportunities available now, the least he can do is not to screw it up for the rest of us, who do want the same choice as our able-bodied neighbours.
The government is doing a good enough job keeping us down - we don't need to be pushed further by one of our own.
Marcia Cummings, North York
ANDREW WALLACE/REUTERS FILE PHOTO Wheelchair athlete Jeff Adams, chair of the province's Accessibility Advisory Council, begins his climb to the top of the CN Tower last September to raise awareness about the need for a barrier-free society.
LETTER, Wednesday, July 9, 2003, p. A19
Most disabled would not agree
Advocate urges caution on accessibility
Jeff Adams' comments urging a cautious approach to providing access for disabled people in restaurants do not reflect the views of disabled people in Ontario. Good access is good business full stop. At present, approximately 15 per cent of the population has some form of disability or impairment and we have money to spend. No business person can afford to ignore this significant market share.
Nancy E. Hansen, Ottawa
LETTER, Wednesday, July 9, 2003, p. A19
Ontario must act to protect disabled
Advocate urges caution on accessibility
As a person who is deaf-blind, I am pleased to see the amount of effort the Toronto Star is putting into educating the communities of Canada. I am sure the Ontario Human Rights Commission would not have done its own inquiry into accessibility of restaurant chains, if the commission had not received hundreds of complaints from citizens who found entering restaurants to be impossible.
Why are we wasting taxpayers' money on these complaints, when legislation would alleviate the necessity for the resources of the Human Rights Commission to be dealing with these accessibility rights? It is simply the duty of a responsible government to see the obvious need for businesses to be regulated in accommodating the physical needs of citizens of Ontario.
I am disappointed that the current chair of the accessibility advisory council states that the government shouldn't legislate further, and that he feels he and his members only provide advice when asked to do so. What good is an advisory council, if it only responds when the government asks it for comment?
What are you advising the government to do? Wait for another five years? I am not impressed.
Penny Leclair, Ottawa
LETTER, Wednesday, July 9, 2003, p. A19
We've shown remarkable patience
Advocate urges caution on accessibility
As an Olympic athlete and CN Tower climber, Jeff Adams is someone who has shown the world that people with disabilities are capable of astounding accomplishments.
He is entitled to his opinions about the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee and the disability activists that he characterized as "wanting to build Rome in a day."
I believe we have been remarkably patient. Eight years of lobbying have now passed without the strong, enforceable law we need. We are doing everything possible to implement the weak, flawed ODA 2001 in our municipalities.
While Adams may feel that he does not need strong provincial legislation to identify, remove and prevent unnecessary barriers that confront people with disabilities, I speak to people every day who ask me why the Conservative government hasn't made this a reality.
The Tories' obvious reluctance to make the ODA a strong, mandatory law has slowed the movement towards a barrier-free Ontario down to a snail's pace. As a result, a great many Ontarians with disabilities who could have achieved their potential in so many areas have been sidelined. As chair of the provincial accessibility advisory council, Adams should endeavour to understand what the ODA committee has learned from its provincial membership over the years.
And if he can't or won't try to hold the government to its own promises, then Adams should resign immediately.
Cathy Vincent-Linderoos, London, Ont.
Barriers keeping the disabled from entering restaurants and stores or using their washrooms are clearly unfair, but that hasn't prompted the Ontario government to ensure access for all. Perhaps a different argument is needed to catch its attention - blocking the disabled is bad for business.
About 1.9 million Ontarians have disabilities, according to the government's own figures. That's a big bloc of consumers. And the numbers will only grow as the population ages and more of us find ourselves using a cane, walker, or wheelchair to shop and visit restaurants. Despite this big source of potential profits, Ontario's Human Rights Commission recently found that major restaurant chains in this province haven't made their outlets fully accessible. That was confirmed, by the Star, through an informal survey of eateries along Yonge Street. Ontarians deserve better.
Obviously, a small "mom and pop" business, leasing a tiny space in an old building in need of extensive renovation, may face prohibitive costs. But there's no excuse for large chain restaurants or stores, with vast space sometimes spread over several floors, to skimp on accessibility for the disabled. It needn't cost a lot. A single doorstep can keep disabled customers out. That's easily overcome with a small ramp costing $300, or even less. Other measures, such as an automatic door and wheelchair accessible washrooms, shouldn't pose a problem to chains with multi-million-dollar construction and renovation budgets. After all, these are one-time costs, and disabled customers allowed inside will be able to spend their money for years thereafter.
Business needs to be made more aware of practical benefits flowing from increased accessibility. A public information campaign, sponsored by the provincial government, might help hammer the message home. If the private sector still won't listen - and act - pressure will only build for strict laws and fines, forcing doors open to the disabled. Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton warns that, if nothing is done, his agency could target firms with commission-launched complaints. "I want to try the carrot before we try the stick," he added. Firms successfully challenged by the commission could be ordered to mend their ways and fix their buildings, and could also face fines. Businesses, large and small, must make every effort to put their own house in order. The disabled population is growing and flexing its collective muscle. Addressing its needs could boost the corporate bottom line while avoiding the penalties that would come with a crackdown. Besides, over and above business considerations and as a matter of fundamental fairness, providing more accessibility for Ontario's disabled is simply the right thing to do.
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Last updated July 9, 2003