Catching Up on Media Coverage of the Many Different Disability Barriers in Ontario — While Premier Ford and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho Still Won’t Talk to Us

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website:
Twitter: @aodaalliance

November 3, 2023


Ontario Premier Doug Ford and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho continue to refuse to meet with the AODA Alliance or even answer emails or letters, while the mandatory 2025 deadline for Ontario to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities keeps getting closer. That deadline is only 425 days away.

Let’s catch up on a sampling of media coverage about the many diverse disability barriers that remain in Ontario. Below, you can find:

* The July 29, 2023 CBC News report about the disability community’s ongoing battle to protect ourselves from the dangers created by electric scooters (e-scooters) This report focuses on our need to fight, once again, to get Toronto to keep them banned, and to get the ban enforced. The Ford Government unleashed this danger upon us back in 2019, as the AODA Alliance website’s e-scooters page describes in detail. This is a disturbing illustration of creating new disability barriers.

* The October 21, 2023 Global News report that again covers the Toronto Transit Commission’s inexcusable failure to ensure all subway stations are accessible by the start of 2025. We have seen no action by the Ford Government on this very public undermining of the purpose of the AODA.

* The July 24, 2023 Globe and Mail report about the problematic New Toronto Courthouse, which was built with serious disability barriers, using public money. You can see our efforts to prevent this on the AODA Alliance website’s courts accessibility page.

* The July 9, 2023 CBC News report and the July 11, 2023 City News Ottawa report on the need for Ontario to enact enforceable standards to ensure that outdoor restaurant patio areas are accessible to people with disabilities. Had the Ford Government not excluded the AODA Alliance from membership on the Public Spaces Standards Development Committee, we would have had a front row seat to try to fix this fixable problem.

* A guest column in the University of Toronto’s The Varsity newspaper about disability accessibility concerns at the Toronto International Film Festival.

For years, Ontario has lacked a desperately needed provincial plan to ensure that we meet the January 1, 2025 deadline for full accessibility mandated in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. On June 6, 2023, the Ford Government received a proposal for such a plan from the Government-appointed 4th Independent Review of the AODA conducted by Rich Donovan. The Ford Government is required to make that report public. It has not done so, nor has it announced a date for its release. It has had 150 days to study the report.

Send us your feedback. Write the non-partisan grass roots AODA Alliance at


CBC News July 29, 2023

Originally posted at

Toronto pumps brakes on bid to legalize e-scooters, new report expected in 2024

Supporters say e-scooters should be regulated; others say they need enforcement

Shawn Jeffords CBC News

E-scooters on a sidewalk.

Toronto city staff were recently directed to roll requests for a possible e-scooter pilot program into an on-going “micro-mobility” study. That work is due back to council in early 2024 and will detail a potential city strategy for vehicles like e-scooters, e-mopeds and cargo bikes. (Francis Ferland/CBC)

The future of e-scooters in Toronto won’t be decided until early next year after city councillors opted to pump the brakes on the latest bid to study legalizing the vehicles.

Councillors recently voted to roll a request for a pilot program into work already ongoing by city staff. Staff are studying how different light-weight vehicle types including cargo bikes/trikes, e-mopeds and e-scooters could be used on city streets to reduce emissions and improve safety on Toronto’s roads.

Staff want to have the strategy in place ahead of any pilot projects to “help the city reap the greatest benefits”, including supporting connections to transit, a report to councillors said.

Coun. Dianne Saxe spearheaded the most recent push to potentially regulate the vehicles, which are currently illegal, but widely in use around Toronto. She had hoped the city would begin to study their use and that may still happen as part of the report, she said.

“I am certainly hoping that we will see staff support for some kind of pilot project,” she said. “There are so many fears about it. We’re not going to learn unless we try.”

Toronto can’t ‘sit back’ on e-scooter use: Saxe
Council has asked staff to consult broadly as they develop the report.

The latest bid to legalize e-scooters comes two years after council decided to ban the small motorized vehicles on city streets, citing safety concerns. But since that debate, Saxe says use of the scooters has only grown. Toronto needs to grapple with their use now or risks being left behind as people continue to use them anyway, she said.

“My concern is that we are much more likely to have a ‘wild sest’ if we do nothing and just sit back,” she said.

Toronto one step closer to permitting e-scooters

Arrival of rentable e-scooters in Regina and Saskatoon comes with growing pains
Coun. Stephen Holyday supports the request for further study and said the city can no longer afford to ignore the growing use of e-scooters. Council passed a motion from Holyday last week asking city staff to ensure that wearing a helmet while using an e-scooter would be a mandatory part of any pilot.

“These objects are out for sale in many of the stores and retailers all around the province, so it’s important not to ignore them, whether you support them on the roads or not,” Holyday said. “There have to be some rules around it to make sure that there’s order on our streets and that people are safe.”

Coun. Chris Moise, who represents Ward 13 Toronto Centre, said many who use e-scooters can’t afford a car or to take transit. The study should recognize that and take it into account, he said.

“E-scooters and micro-mobility devices are here to stay. I mean, they’re all over the downtown,” Moise said. “So they’re not going away anytime soon, the best thing that we can do is to regulate them.”

A woman stands next to a tree and smiles for a portrait.

Toronto city councillor Dianne Saxe is pushing to regulate the growing number of e-scooters on the streets of the city. (Office of the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario) Accessibility advocates urge city to enforce the law
Coun. Mike Colle urged councillors to listen to advocates for the disabled and elderly who are asking them to not legalize the vehicles. Some worry the scooters, which can travel as fast as 24 km/h, are a danger to people who can’t see or hear them, he said.

“These are the real consequences of these devices, because you don’t know they’re coming,” he said. “And the tendency is for people to speed on them. And the tendency is for them to be used sidewalks.”

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the city has already “thoroughly debated and thoroughly studied” e-scooters. It shouldn’t pursue further regulation, he said.

“With a massive deficit that the city council has not gotten under control and lots of other priorities for city staff, we think that it is a waste of public time and resources to study e-scooters any more,” he said.

Quebec to allow e-scooters on roadways and bicycle paths for 3 years

Despite surge in popularity, private e-scooters still banned on Edmonton streets
Lepofsky, who is blind, said the scooters still represent a safety hazard, not just for people with disabilities but all Torontonians. The city and Toronto police should ramp up efforts to get illegal scooters off the streets and sidewalks, he said.

“We are now being endangered because they’re illegal, because they’re being sold and ridden in public with impunity. And law enforcement and city council are simply sitting on their hands,” he said. “We say that’s got to change.”

Austin Spademan, a spokesperson for e-scooter company Bird Canada, said the firm is hopeful city staff will recommend a pilot in the new year. Twenty cities in Canada have e-scooter programs and Toronto could learn from their experience, he said.

“What we’re actually hoping for is to work with Toronto’s accessibility community,” he said.

Spademan said technology can be used to limit scooter speeds and keep them off sidewalks. E-scooters can help the city cut congestion, greenhouse gas emissions and increase traffic in bike lanes, if permitted, he said.

“We want to collaborate, we want to make sure everybody’s voice is heard,” he said. “And we want the program to be a success.”

Global News October 21, 2023

Originally posted at

Advocate urges Ford government to hold TTC accountable for missed accessibility deadline

By Matthew Bingley Global News
Updated October 21, 2023 9:39 am

The TTC was given two decades to make all of its subway stations accessible, a target its CEO recently revealed it will miss. Now an advocate is calling on the Ford Government to step in and hold the transit commission accountable. Matthew Bingley reports.

When the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed in 2005, the TTC was given until 2025 to make all of its subway stations accessible. At a board meeting in late September, TTC CEO Rick Leary expressed disappointment about being unable to reach the target.

We have to be realistic, we are not going to meet that mandate, he said.

Of the TTC’s 70 subway stations, only 54 are currently accessible. Spokesperson Stuart Green said out of the 16 remaining stations, work is currently underway on 15 of them and an additional three stations will meet the 2025 deadline.

While other targets will be reached in the following years, the blown target is being given a massive thumbs down by accessibility advocate David Lepofsky. He noted the transit commission had touted in the past that it was on track to reach the deadline and said the sudden change is unacceptable for transit users who have been waiting decades to see standards improved.

When you’re given 20 years to do something, the first thing you should be planning to do is get in under the schedule, not wait until the last minute for some of these stations and say, Oh my gosh, we can’t do it,’ Lepofsky said.

He wants to see the city step up efforts to get the TTC back on track, but said the provincial government also has a responsibility to hold it to account.

The Ford government is responsible for leading Ontario to become accessible by 2025, Lepofsky said. They are responsible for enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Where are they on this?

A spokesperson from the provincial Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility didn’t directly respond to a question from Global News regarding whether the Ford government would take action on any missed timelines. In an email, spokesperson Wallace Pidgeon only referenced previous funding commitments the province had made to the city for transit operations.

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Mayor Olivia Chow said while progress had been made, more work needs to be done.

The Mayor, the TTC and the City of Toronto will continue to work towards greater accessibility to ensure everyone has the transit system they need and deserve, Arianne Robinson said.

Globe and Mail July 24, 2023

Originally posted at

Toronto’s new courthouse reveals the limits of what architecture can do


The new Ontario Court of Justice building has a vivid yellow elevator bank, a clear sign that something special is happening there.

Toronto’s new courthouse announces itself with a splash of colour. As you walk West from Toronto City Hall, the atrium of the Ontario Court of Justice peeks out from across the street and behind its skin of blue glass and structural cables stands the elevator bank in a strip of vivid yellow.

It’s the most colourful bit of building in this institutional precinct, a clear sign that something special but quiet is happening here.

The Ontario Court of Justice, which opened earlier this year, is an extraordinarily refined public building. This is the first built work in Canada by international firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW), collaborating with Toronto firm Norr. The building displays all the exacting details and refined proportions that helped make Mr. Piano, the Italian architect, one of the world’s most highly respected designers.

Yet the courthouse reveals the limits of what architecture can do. Its spatial clarity and sedulous details don’t resolve some issues with where it is placed. This is a spectacular execution of a flawed recipe.

The structure is, simply, massive: 72,000 square metres of space on 17 levels, including 73 courtrooms. It combines the functions of six older buildings into one, including several specialized courthouses (one is for youth and drug crimes), and an Indigenous learning centre (co-designed with Indigenous-owned Two Row Architect).

A courthouse is a very complex machine, Mr. Piano, 85, said on a recent call from his Paris office. It’s not an easy place. It’s a place of suspension, a place of drama and pathos and passion. So it’s important to work on the skin of the building, to make it luminous.

The new courthouse is the first built work in Canada by international firm Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW).

Using light bringing it in, modulating it, distributing it judiciously is Mr. Piano’s forte. His manipulation of daylight in art museums, including the Menil in Houston and the Whitney in New York, is unsurpassed.

He is best known for the Pompidou Centre in Paris, which he designed together with another future global star Richard Rogers. After that playful masterpiece, Mr. Piano launched his own firm.

RPBW now has studios in Paris and his hometown of Genoa, and has completed major cultural buildings, office buildings and airport terminals in Europe, Asia and the U.S., including the Shard skyscraper in London. In 2017, they completed a major courthouse for the Paris region.

As is usually the case with the firm’s work, the Toronto courthouse is calm and rational. As all that glass suggests, they brought a European attitude to justice, treating a courthouse as a place for civil discourse rather than as a fortress.

We approached it as we would any other civic building, such as a museum, said Amaury Greig, a Canadian-French partner at RPBW who worked on the project. Civic buildings should have a presence in the city, and they should be of the city.

Outside, a 90-metre ceremonial spire marks the end point of York Street, emphasizing the building’s position on an axis in Toronto’s street grid. This zone has a strong institutional character. The new court neighbours two judicial buildings to its west and south: the Superior Court of Justice, a handsome limestone box from the 1960s, and the historic Osgoode Hall, which dates back to 1832.

Our building forms a conclusion to the sequence, Mr. Greig said.

Visitors to the building arrive through doors at the southwest corner. After passing through a security screening, they move east into the 20-metre-tall lobby, enclosed in glass, at the southeast corner. Here, stairs and escalators rise to the second floor. Those yellow elevator banks carry visitors upward past art by Indigenous artists and relics of the neighbourhood’s past as the multicultural St. John’s Ward.

The elevator bank provides a visual beacon indoors, as well. You can see the yellow from almost anywhere within the building’s corridors. This allows people to orient themselves easily an important job, as Mr. Piano points out, in a vertical public building.

But the bright colour also speaks to the good taste and creativity of the architects. They were asked to deliver stone walls, which are traditional in courthouses for their connotations of solidity and consequence. But RPBW subverted that mandate to design the yellow wall panels, which are made of recycled granules of marble. It’s stone, sort of, but friendlier.

The building was designed and built through a ‘design/ build/ finance/ maintain’ arrangement.

Elsewhere in the building, the yellow gives way to white, interspersed with panels of beechwood. Inside the courtrooms, the beech takes over. The building becomes progressively warmer and more humane as you move inside and enter the places where the most serious moments take place, Mr. Greig said.

But even on the exterior, the architecture has a humane quality. What looks like an undifferentiated glass façade is actually more complex. It features two layers of glass, and the inner layer alternates clear rectangular sections with 2,200 opaque embossed metal panels. Only about one-third of the façade is actually transparent. This is an effective compromise between a typical curtain wall and the typical rhythm of punched windows in a masonry building.

It is, if you hold your gaze, beautiful.

Elsewhere, Mr. Piano’s practice can be very playful. Their 2015 building for the Whitney Museum in New York is an odd fusion of factory and ocean liner, and now beloved. The Toronto building, typically for a Toronto building, is (except for that stripe of yellow) very quiet. Some people may say this building is boring, Mr. Piano said. But I think it will grow over time.

He is right. And the architectural achievement seems grander, but also more limited, once you understand the context.

The building was designed and built through a design/ build/ finance/ maintain arrangement. The architects partnered with construction giant EllisDon Corp. and investors to win the contract, responding to a highly detailed specification document prepared by the government essentially a giant list of requirements that must be decoded, interpreted and adhered to.

Many lawyers were involved. And such a process is generally toxic to good architecture. It distances the designers from the actual users of the building. It rewards experience, not excellence.

It is amazing that RPBW was involved in this project at all.

Yet the project has problems. According to accessibility advocate David Lepofsky of the AODA Alliance, who was a member of an advisory committee on the building, the designers of the project specifications did not consult any people with disabilities. And their requirements baked numerous physical accessibility problems into the design.

Some of these were resolved. But of the ones that remain, some including a lack of way-finding and a confusing elevator system are inexcusable.

Then there is a larger question: Is a centralized courthouse a good idea in the first place?

The Liberal government that kicked off the project, and today’s Conservative government, make similar arguments about the benefits. They cite the relative convenience afforded by centralizing the courts and related services.

However, many in the legal system disagree. Dana Fisher, head of the union local representing legal aid lawyers within the Society of United Professionals, said the six predecessor courthouses are often more convenient for those who use them.

Centralization has made the lives of our clients, as well as victims and witnesses more difficult, she said, and it serves no useful purpose that we can see.

That stands in tension with Mr. Piano’s ambitions for the building. This is a place where people do not want to be, he said. This is a place where you are worried. But you find yourself surrounded by civic life. You are reminded of the social contract, that we all owe something to each other.

A beautiful lobby and a civilized corridor can, indeed, induce such feelings. But design can’t fix everything.

Follow Alex Bozikovic on Twitter: @alexbozikovicOpens in a new window

CBC News July 9, 2023

Originally posted at As Canadian cities make pandemic patios permanent, experts call for clear standards |


As Canadian cities make pandemic patios permanent, experts call for clear standards
Calgary and Edmonton appear to have clear and helpful guidelines for their patios, urban strategist says

Rosa Saba

A patio is blocked off with cones.

During the pandemic restaurants on Calgary’s 17th Avenue S.W. set up patios and the city closed lanes to accommodate pedestrians. (Helen Pike/CBC)

At the height of social distancing and other restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Canadian cities rolled out temporary patio policies, loosening rules and waiving fees for bars and restaurants looking to seat more customers outdoors.

These programs brought a glimmer of hope and revenue to businesses that had been forced to shut their doors, allowing them to offer more outdoor dining to citizens eager to leave their houses.

Now, as cities transition into their new normal post-pandemic, experts say patios need better across-the-board standardization to make them more accessible, as well as more predictable for the businesses still trying to make up for lost sales.

“It was a thing that became an obvious no-brainer for better streets and better neighbourhoods and better cities,” said city planning consultant Brent Toderian, who is also the former chief planner for Vancouver.

“So it’s remarkable how bad a job we’ve done.”

A sidewalk closed sign.

Trolley 5 was one of Calgary’s first restaurants to open an expanded sidewalk patio. (Helen Pike/CBC)

When the pandemic hit, restaurants and bars shut their doors, resorting to takeout services or going dark altogether, and the extended patios were a lifeline for many businesses.

“The pandemic was a bit of a forced pilot program,” said James DiPaolo, a senior associate at Urban Strategies.

“Cities were looking at creative ways to adapt, and they were forced to do it on a much faster timetable than they’re used to.”

Three years later, the transition to the new normal looks different everywhere you look, with some municipalities making temporary changes permanent while others roll them back.

But advocates have been sounding the alarm about the accessibility concerns of sidewalk and curbside patios for several years, and say that any permanent solution needs to have appropriate accessibility standards.

Meanwhile, businesses are looking for predictability as they make plans and investments for the future, but in some cities have been complaining about delays and dismissals in the permitting process.

Patios could give restaurants a fighting chance, but they aren’t a silver bullet

City looking at refining temporary patio rules for Calgary bars and restaurants

Many businesses in Toronto are seeing patio permits that were previously approved during pandemic years now denied for a variety of reasons, or are facing delays in getting permits even as summer rolls forward, said Tracy Macgregor, vice-president of Ontario for Restaurants Canada.

“That’s where the frustration is coming in, because they can’t hit the ground running with these patios,” she said.

The city’s CafeTO program is an example of the “red tape” that can occur if policies aren’t designed well, said Toderian.

“When you walk around Montreal, you see a lot more (patios). So that certainly suggests that their system is more effective,” he said.

“It’s part of their general attitude towards the public realm, which is better than any other city in North America.”

A man sits on a patio with drinks on it.

When the pandemic hit, restaurants and bars shut their doors resorting to takeout services or going dark altogether. (Helen Pike/CBC)

In some cases the pandemic patios actually improved accessibility, said Maayan Ziv, founder and CEO of AccessNow.

For example, businesses that perhaps didn’t have accessible indoor seating before were able to do so with the additional outdoor space, she said.

But in other cases they introduced new barriers, she said.

“No public money should be going to the installation of new barriers, no permits or authorizations should be granted to businesses that have not considered the accessible access points to these spaces.”

Over time, urban settings are becoming less accessible, said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

The pandemic patio programs are just one example, he said, noting that early iterations often made pedestrians walk into the road.

Summertime Blues on Whyte: City may change zoning rules to let venue open patio
Changes announced early on in 2023 to Toronto’s program include “uniform platforms for accessibility,” according to the city, along with a transition period to make required changesand grant programs for businesses and BIAs.

Lepofsky said as each municipality looks for a permanent solution, there’s a patchwork situation developing, even though the duty to accommodate transcends city borders.

“If you leave it to each municipality to reinvent the accessibility wheel, they either won’t, or they risk getting it wrong. And you’re burdening people with disabilities in each community to have to fight about this,” said Lepofsky, who wants to see provincial accessibility standards for outdoor seating areas.

Widespread, uniform accessibility benefits everyone, not only people with disabilities, said Lepofsky, including increasing the base of potential customers for businesses.

“We just need to ensure that there is an accessibility plan built into all of these projects,” said Ziv. That could be as simple as ensuring an easy path of access or educating and training restaurant staff, she said.

“I’d like to see that widely adopted across every municipality, as opposed to a case-by-case basis,” said Ziv.

People sitting on a patio.

A patio on Stephen Avenue in downtown Calgary in 2022. That year, the city made its extended patio program permanent. (David Bell/CBC)

Toderian agreed that patio programs should be approached in a standardized way, instead of a program that requires case-by-case reviews of patio designs as some do.

“It’s no wonder these things aren’t getting done faster,” he said.

Both Calgary and Edmonton appear to have clear and helpful guidelines for their patios, said DiPaolo, helping businesses figure out what their patio should look like instead of “starting from scratch in every case.”

In Calgary, the city is yet again waiving fees for patio permits this year. In 2022 it made its extended patio program permanent, with permits valid for three years, according to the city website.

Along 17th Avenue, a popular stretch of bars and restaurants, a local business group decided to pitch in to streamline patio season.

The 17th Ave Business Improvement Area last year invested in building an extended boardwalk system that runs alongside the sidewalks, explained executive director Tulene Steistol.

Seating is set up on the sidewalks in front of businesses, while pedestrians walk on the boardwalk without having to watch for servers and patrons crossing between the restaurant and the patio seating.

This has made patios safer for diners and pedestrians and more attractive for businesses, said Steiestol, noting that the BIA made changes after feedback from the city’s accessibility committee.

Stephen Avenue to open up for sidewalk patios and shoppers this summer

Not everyone liking expanded patios and sidewalk lanes on 17th Avenue S.W.
Steiestol thinks municipalities should help pay for projects like this, helping them become more widespread.

“We’ve had municipalities coming down, and their own teams from other cities taking note of what we’ve done,” she said.

Some communities have taken pandemic patios several steps further, implementing pedestrian-only street times and bringing in live music and public art, said DiPaolo.

“My hope as a planner is that … the success of these programs can be leveraged for more permanent improvements to the public realm,” he said.

“Instead of building makeshift patios into the street during the summer months, maybe we talk about expanding the public boulevard, where these issues of accessibility and mobility and safety are actually built into the design of the streetscape rather than addressed through the permitting process that happens every year.”


Rosa Saba

Rosa Saba is a business reporter with The Canadian Press

City News Ottawa July 11, 2023

Originally posted at Experts calling for more standards in patio accessibility By Andrea Bennett

Pandemic patios have become a fixture across Canadian cities over the summer months and a disability advocate is calling on the province to roll out across-the-board standardization to make patios more accessible.

Canadian cities eased rules and waived fees for bars and restaurants to open patios during the height of COVID-19 pandemic, allowing businesses to offer more outdoor dining and increase revenue.

Lawyer and disability advocate with Accessibility 4 Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, David Lepofsky, told The Sam Laprade Show on July 10, while expanding public seating areas was a great response to the many effects of the pandemic, it’s critical this is done in a way that ensures accessibility for people with disabilities.

We’ve found over time, even though the law requires that our communities become more accessible, we’re finding in some ways they’re becoming less accessible, said Lepofsky.

Expanding patios onto city sidewalks makes it challenging for people with disabilities and seniors to navigate and in some cases, forces them to walk on the street and this is a safety concern, he adds.

According to Lepofsky, effective provincial standards must be implemented to ensure better accessibility and safety.

Ontario should enact set standards for what must be required so outdoor seating areas are safe and accessible for everyone, explained Lepofsky.

Another issue facing those with disabilities is ensuring the patio itself is accessible so everyone can enjoy the outdoors during the summer months, he added.

Unless we have effective provincial standards, people with disabilities will be left to battle this issue, one city at a time or even one sidewalk at a time, said Lepofsky.

According to the disability advocate, former Toronto Mayor, John Tory, was working to implement a new strategy. It instructed restaurants to use parking lots or the first lane of a larger road for patio spaces. It also outlined that patios would be built level with the sidewalk, to ensure wheelchair accessibility.

Lepofsky is also calling for the reduction or elimination of e-scooters in the capital, describing them as silent menaces.’

Ottawa’s electric kick scooter pilot project is back for a fourth summer, with 900 e-scooters available for rent to cruise through city streets. But Lepofsky explained, e-scooters are a danger to everyone, especially vulnerable residents including people with disabilities and seniors.

City council in Ottawa has, summer after summer, allowed electric scooters and they’re a real risk to everyone, he said. They’re silent and you can’t hear them coming, and they’re on sidewalks regularly even though it’s banned.

The Varsity September 17 2023
The University of Toronto’s Student Newspaper Since 1880

Originally posted at

Opinion: TIFF highlights Toronto’s accessibility challenges
Shining a spotlight on inaccessibility at TIFF screening venues

By Emily Carlucci Published September 17, 2023

The Toronto International Film Festival is an extravaganza that transforms the city into a hub of film enthusiasts, celebrities, and industry professionals every September. While TIFF is renowned for its cinematic offerings, focusing on the festival’s impact on the streets of Toronto can highlight the accessibility challenges surrounding TIFF and their broader implications for urban planning.

The accessibility challenge

TIFF attracts diverse audiences, including individuals with disabilities who face unique setbacks when navigating the festival and its surrounding streets.

According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), venues and events like TIFF are required to be accessible. However, in practice, several accessibility issues persist in the event’s structure.

One critical aspect of accessibility at TIFF is the screening venues. While many venues have made significant improvements in recent years, not all are fully accessible. External theatres associated with TIFF still lack features like ramps, accessible seating, and proper lighting and signage for those with visual impairments. To me, it feels like there has been very little consultation with the people of Toronto and urban planners, and more focus on critics’ and VIPs’ comfort.

I believe TIFF has made many improvements worthy of praise in its Accessibility Plan. For example, the plan states that open captioning, closed-captioning, and onstage ASL interpretation for live content is slated to be included in all events by 2026.

I could not help but notice, however, that discussion on mobility issues is rare. The plan includes very little solution to these obstacles, if the obstacles are included at all. I do understand that making mobility promises are difficult, as some venues like the Royal Alexandra Theatre cannot be altered due to their protected status as heritage buildings.

Regardless of how TIFF planners resolve the issue, I hope that they listen to all moviegoers to make cinema and art accessible to everyone.

The role of urban planning

TIFF’s impact on Toronto’s streets goes beyond the festival itself. The transformation of key areas, such as the Entertainment District, during the festival highlights broader urban planning challenges. The city’s approach to accommodating the festival’s influx of visitors can have long-lasting effects on accessibility and urban development.

One notable aspect of TIFF’s effects on urban planning is street closures. While these closures are essential for ensuring the safety of festival-goers, they can disrupt the daily lives of residents and businesses. The TTC has made efforts to strike a balance by providing alternative transportation options and stationing personnel to aid pedestrian traffic during the festival.

This aid from the TTC is more than welcome, but it does not negate the exacerbated consequences commuters face from the closures thanks to Toronto’s poor design. The 504 and 304 King buses set to replace streetcars drastically lengthen the commute for public transit users in a city with an already existing congestion crisis. Negatively impacting transit users’ experience lessens the reliability of transit use during peak times of tourism, when transit use could have potentially hit new financial peaks.

In an ideal world, buses would not be stuck in traffic because single-person occupancy vehicles would, and should, be a thing of the past. Unfortunately, we do not live in this urbanist utopia. Toronto is a city built for cars, so when cars are stuck in traffic, buses are too.

During my research, I found little public dialogue between TIFF and City planners, the TTC, and related transit-advocate groups. I’m disappointed that Toronto fails to take advantage of this globally-coveted event to clean up transit, as well as ensure accessibility and quick transit for not only tourists but also the people of the city.

The way forward

To address the accessibility and urban planning challenges associated with TIFF, organizers need to take a multi-pronged approach.

TIFF should redevelop its accessibility plan to cover all aspects of the festival, from screening venues to transportation and street closures, as I feel the current plan is lacklustre. TIFF planners must develop this plan in consultation with experts and advocacy groups for people with disabilities. Additionally, this plan should be approached from an angle of piloting new initiatives for Toronto alongside urban planners’ advice. TIFF is a wonderful opportunity to not only revolutionize festivals but also to change the city for the better.

Accessibility extends much further than just integrating those with disabilities; it also includes older citizens, children, and tourists. The lack of insight as to who is a part of these accessibility, transit, and mobility discussions is a paramount issue that demands public accountability. The people of Toronto should look forward to TIFF not complain about its road closures and effect on city traffic. By continuing to approach this event from a place of dissonance, Toronto loses the spark of what I believe makes this city so great: community.

TIFF is not just a celebration of cinema; it’s also an opportunity to address vital issues related to accessibility and urban planning. By taking steps to improve accessibility, both within festival venues and on the city streets, Toronto can ensure that TIFF remains an inclusive and enjoyable experience for all attendees, regardless of their abilities. The collaboration between festival organizers and city officials, along with input from experts and advocacy groups, is key to making this vision a reality.

Ultimately, TIFF can serve as a model for creating a more accessible and inclusive urban environment that benefits everyone throughout the year.

Emily Carlucci is a third-year student at Trinity College studying political science and English. She is The Varsity’s Urban Planning Columnist.