New Mayor Must Create a Culture of Inclusion

helen henderson
The Toronto Star , Oct. 2, 2010

What sort of sway will the incoming mayor of Toronto have with Queen's Park?

The relationship could be key to the pace and tenor of change throughout the province. As the sixth largest public sector organization in the country, Toronto is in a position to become a role model.

That was one of the messages sent by a very vocal crowd of people who believe in inclusion and accessibility at a recent mayoral candidates' debate on disability issues. Guided by moderator Ing Wong-Ward, the meeting probed a number of questions:

How do we create a culture of inclusion within the municipal bureaucracy, along with its boards, commissions and service organizations, including police and fire services?

How do we ensure that the city's work is informed by and integrated with important provincial, federal and professional strategies, frameworks and recommendations?

In the face of economic challenges and rising needs, how do we protect people with disabilities? They are among the most vulnerable of low-income minorities.

As Wong-Ward pointed out, people with disabilities make up about 15 per cent of the population, a figure that will increase over time as people age. They are more than twice as likely as other Canadians to live in poverty. Many depend on income from provincial Ontario Disability Support Program, to which the city contributes. ODSP rates are significantly lower than what is needed to cover the cost of basic necessities, such as food, clothing, and housing.

The City of Toronto plays a key role in administering the ODSP program, which has come under a lot of criticism. How do we ensure that the delivery of such municipal services is responsive to the needs of people with disabilities and that services such as housing, child care, recreation and long term care are integrated?

Statistics Canada figures show only 51 per cent of working-age people with disabilities were employed in 2006 compared with 75 per cent of people without disabilities. How will the new mayor increase the proportion of municipal employees who have a disability and ensure that they are not relegated to just entry-level positions?

People with disabilities also have serious difficulties securing safe and affordable housing. Statistics show 5,454 households with special needs on the waiting list for affordable housing in Toronto.

The province has said its $185 million Rental Opportunity for Ontario Families (ROOF) program is not being used to its full extent and is being restructured to give municipalities the flexibility to allocate rent supplements to best meet their needs. Toronto's share of the reallocated

money is projected to be $21.6 million. How will the next mayor make accessible housing a priority?

What will be done to make sure people with disabilities have equal access to recreational programs in their neighbourhoods?

What will the new mayor do to champion and push forward accessible transit plan?

I'd like to say the candidates responded with clear strategies. That's not what came through. At least they should now be aware of the issues.

Ask the candidates running for council in your area how they will address accessibility and inclusion. Remind them that inclusion starts at the beginning, when things are in the planning stages.

The best way to promote access is to have no barriers in the first place.

Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.

Reproduced from

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