ODA Committee Update
dated July 16, 2003
posted July 23, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Toronto Sun Joins In New Barrage Of Media Coverage On The ODA - Why Not Send The Sun A Letter To The Editor?
July 16, 2003
Below is an excellent article by Toronto Sun Queens Park columnist Christina Blizzard on the ODA that ran in today's Toronto Sun, and possibly in other newspapers in the Sun chain.
To help with our new "Letters to the Editor Blitz," please use this opening to write a letter to the editor at the Toronto Sun. Tell the Sun about disability issues in the upcoming election that are important to you, such as the ODA issue. Encourage the Sun to expand its coverage of these issues. Link your letter to this column in today's paper.
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Every letter to the editor helps us on our road to a barrier-free Ontario!
Toronto Sun Wednesday, July 16, 2003
By CHRISTINA BLIZZARD -- Queen's Park Bureau
Eddie Rice is used to running into brick walls.
As a disabled activist, he spends his time calling and writing politicians about the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA).
So he knows what it's like to have doors closed in his face.
But those are not so much hurdles as challenges to this feisty guy. A member of B'nai Brith's ODA subcommittee, Rice is a familiar figure at Queen's Park, where he whips around from office to office on his scooter.
Political stonewalling he can handle. The kinds of things that slow down the determined activist are much smaller than that.
A four-inch curb, for example, not to mention washroom doors. And parking spaces.
Things you and I can accomplish in seconds take much longer for Rice and other disabled people.
Take banking, for example. The bank across the street from Rice's apartment is in a strip mall. The curb-cut for wheelchairs is in the middle of the mall. He'd have to risk his life using it, weaving in and out of parked cars. If the cut were at the end of the mall, he would have easy access to his bank. As it is, he has to scoot around the back of the mall to find level access to make it to the sidewalk.
He complained to the bank manager, who told him he would talk to the mall owner. But if the mall owner doesn't take action, where can Rice go to complain?
Rice recalls that when former citizenship minister Cam Jackson announced the ODA in 2001, he told disabled advocates they'd be able to take control of their lives.
But Rice says nothing's really changed since then, and he's getting frustrated -and angry.
"The ODA basically is toothless and useless," he told me in an interview.
"When Cam Jackson introduced the legislation, he said it was putting the disabled in the driver's seat," he recalls.
"Well, we may be in the driver's seat, but we don't have the keys, we don't have any gas, we don't have a motor. All we've got is a seat." He says there are no standards and no regulations to enforce the legislation.
"There is nowhere in this act where I can put in a complaint There is no one who can go out and have a look at it," he said, using his own complaint as an example. "There is no one who can say, 'Yes, it's necessary.' There is no one to say, 'Yes, you have to do that within 60 days or we'll do it and add it to your property taxes.'"
What's more, the building code doesn't take into consideration newer kinds of mobility devices used by disabled people. Scooters and electric wheelchairs are now larger, but even new buildings don't take this into account.
And small things mean a lot. Making a washroom door swing out rather than in can mean the difference between comfort and embarrassment. If the door swings in, it can catch on the back wheel of Rice's scooter.
"I have to go to the toilet with the door open," he says.
"It's a simple regulation. Have the door swing out."
And 99% of handicapped parking spaces won't accommodate ramp-equipped minivans, Rice notes. In the U.S., they have found a simple solution by allocating three parking spaces for the disabled. The one in the middle is blocked off, either with posts or by markings, for the ramp.
Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton's recent report on disabled access in fast food restaurants is a step forward, Rice says. But there is still a lot of work to be done to increase disabled access in the private sector.
"Current building codes ... are still going to be obsolete for the new mobility devices which are being used more and more," he says.
Citizenship Minister Carl DeFaria says there are enforcement provisions in other pieces of legislation, including the Ontario Human Rights Code.
"There have been awards made," he added, pointing to a movie theatre that closed because it was not accessible.
He says the province hopes to use a carrot rather than a stick to get municipalities on board.
"What we have noticed is that all the municipalities are keen to participate, to become accessible," DeFaria said.
"First, because it's the right thing to do. Also, they are trying to retain the senior population."
Exactly. You'd think it would only be good business for mall owners, fast food operators and theatres to make their buildings as accessible to as many people as possible.
A little common sense and determination could go a long way to tearing down the high brick walls - and small sidewalk curbs - that stand between the disabled and the rest of the world.
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Last updated July 23, 2003