Toronto, Friday May 23, 1997 - (for immediate release)

A vast majority of Ontarians support changes in the law which would remove barriers to people with disabilities in employment, government services, job training, public transportation and other services, according to a Louis Harris poll. This poll's results are especially compelling as Monday, May 26, 1997 kicks off National Disability Access Awareness Week first conceived by Rick Hanson a deacade ago. The poll was conducted for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee.

The poll conducted in March asked 2095 people across Canada, including 523 Ontario respondents, about their attitudes on the introduction of new legislation aimed at the removal and prevention of barriers impeding people with disabilities.

Of the Ontario respondents, seventy eight per cent favoured a law which would remove barriers preventing full access to people with disabilities to government services. Seventy-five to seventy- seven per cent said that barriers to job training, public places, and the workplace, should be removed by law. Of the minority who did not support the introduction of legislation, one-quarter did support a law covering new barriers. A new law is needed, according to David Lepofsky, co-chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, because for the past 20 years efforts to secure voluntary acceptance of a barrier free society have not solved the problem. An Ontarians with Disabilities Act would directly and effectively remove barriers in a creative and cost-effective way. It would require the timely removal of existing barriers, within reasonable time lines.

Eighty-five per cent of the respondents in Ontario agreed that money spent on removing barriers now faced by people with disabilities "would be worth it." The Ontario random sample is accurate to plus or minus 4.3% 19 times out of 20. The result for Ontario mirrors the national result which has an even lower margin of error.

Most of the respondents believe that people with disabilities face barriers in employment, and access to public transportation, public places, housing and office buildings. Eighty eight percent believe that people with disabilities face difficulty in finding jobs, sixty-nine per cent agree that people with disabilities want to work.

The survey results are great news to David Lepofsky, co-chair of the Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee, a province-wide coalition working to get a new law passed in Ontario to remove existing barriers and prevent new ones. "We are heartened by the results of the survey, it shows that the public in Ontario is far out in front of their political leadership." Despite a written campaign promise to enact legislation, Ontario Premier Mike Harris has consistently refused to meet with the group. One year after all three parties supported a resolution calling on the Premier to live up to his election promise, no legislation has been introduced.

While 17% of Ontarians have disabilities, the survey found that 77% of the Ontario residents polled said they knew someone with a disability, whether a family member, friend, co-worker, or someone they interact with on a regular basis. Lepofsky said the current numbers will only increase with an aging population. "These results show with startling clarity something which we know only too well, but which politicians often ignore. Everyone in society either has a disability, or knows someone near to them who has a disability, or will acquire a disability sometime in their life. Barriers which impede us ultimately impede everyone.

That's why we need a new law, and that is why there is such strong public support for the new law we seek."

In terms of the employment of people with disabilities, the survey results show that a majority of people in Ontario believe that people with disabilities have difficulty finding jobs and that 64% believe that people with disabilities are generally "worse off financially". However, 69% feel that people with disabilities do want to get jobs. Lepofsky points out these figures reflect the reality for people with disabilities; the rates of unemployment among people with disabilities is five times the national average, a rate which no other segment of society would be expected to tolerate. At the same time, the poll shows that an overwhelming number of respondents, 84 per cent, agreed that bringing people with disabilities into the workplace would "benefit society". This benefit to society is part of the cost effectiveness of the proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act. "An Ontarians with Disabilities Act would clearly help many people get off welfare and into productive jobs where they can contribute to society and become taxpayers."

Lepofsky adds:"We are concerned that the Ontario Government acts as if existing laws and voluntary measures can solve the problem". A lawyer, he points out that while the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code both ban discrimination on the grounds of disability, these laws have not succeeded in removing most old barriers impeding people with disabilities nor have they been effective at preventing the erection of new barriers. We hope this poll will convince Premier Harris that it's time to stop avoiding us. The public is behind us. We need more than access awareness. We need access action."

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