Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
May 11, 2022
So much to tell! So few days before the June 2, 2022 Ontario election. Please use these days to make the disability vote count!
Learn more by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s 2022 Ontario election page.
1. Sign Up for the May 17, 2022 Ontario Candidates’ Debate on Disability Issues
Please sign up to take part in the May 17, 2022 Ontario Elections Candidates Debate on Disability Issues. It will take place virtually and in person at 7:30 pm in Toronto. Details to sign up are set out below. It is being organized by three respected community organizations: the Reena Foundation, Community Living Toronto and the Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre.
AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky will moderate and MC this event. Please spread the word and help us get a great turnout for this important event.
2. Great Media Coverage of the Ontario Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues in Today’s Toronto Star
The May 11, 2022 Toronto Star includes a superb article on the Ontario election’s disability accessibility issues by journalist Brendan Kennedy. We set it out below. Circulate it widely!
Write a letter to the Toronto Star editor to share your concerns about the election’s disability issues and to encourage more of this coverage. Email the Star at email@example.com
As well, CHML Radio’s Bill Kelly program had an interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the same topic this morning. If you track down their program’s podcast, you may be able to find this interview.
3. Remember to Watch TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin Tonight at 8 and 11 pm for an Interview on the Ontario Election’s Disability Issues with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky
For more information on David Lepofsky’s appearance on tonight’s edition of TVO’s The Agenda with Steve Paikin, check out the May 10, 2022 AODA Alliance Update. Please encourage others to watch this interview. Reach out to your local media. Get them to cover the disability issues in the Ontario election, including disability accessibility issues among others.
4. Tweet or Email Ontario Election Local Candidates to Press Them for Commitments on Disability Issues
Want to email or tweet Ontario election candidates around Ontario to press them to make commitments on disability issues, but don’t have their contact information? Well, the AODA Alliance has you covered!
With wonderful volunteer help, we have assembled a list of as many candidates as we could find with their email addresses and Twitter handles. Download the AODA Alliance’s Ontario election candidates’ list and start emailing and tweeting them!
If you are too busy to write your own tweets, just follow @davidlepofsky and/or @aodaalliance and retweet our tweets to them. We are busy blitzing away, so just click “retweet” to add your voices to ours.
Announcement of the May 17, 2022 Ontario Election Candidates Debate on Disability Issues
Ontarians living with a disability need a plan of action to address the gaps in services and supports.
Join us for thislive forumto hear how each of the provincial parties respond to your questions, and how they intend to work with members of our community to support the needs of people with disabilities to build a province that is inclusive of everyone.
Panelists will be joining us from Shaarei Shomayim Synagogue, located at 470 Glencairn Ave in Toronto.Guests and other attendees will have the option to join virtually or in person (limited attendance, masks required).The Zoom link to join virtually will be shared with attendees soon. Moderated by David Lepofsky, Disability Advocate.
Hosted by Community Living Toronto, Holland Bloorview, and Reena. Visit the sign up link for this event.
Toronto Star May 11, 2022
Accessibility by 2025 called a pipe dream
Advocates for the disabled take Ford government to task over lack of progress in inclusivity
Brendan Kennedy Toronto Star
David Lepofsky remembers the elation he felt back in 2005 when the bill he and other disability advocates had been fighting to pass for more than a decade finally became law in Ontario.
“It was unprecedented excitement and optimism,” he says. “There was a real sense that we worked hard and had accomplished a turning point.”
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was a historic achievement for the province and for champions of disability rights. The new law, passed unanimously, was supposed to make Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.
The 20-year timeline felt distant and achievable at the time. Some activists thought it wasn’t ambitious enough. Today, even the most optimistic advocates concede it will not be reached.
“We’re at a point where it’s impossible for the government to lead Ontario into being fully accessible (by 2025) even if it was trying,” says Lepofsky, who chairs the AODA Alliance advocacy group. “And this government isn’t even trying.”
Lepofsky, who is blind, has called this the most pivotal election for Ontario’s 2.6 million people with disabilities since before the AODA was passed. He believes the fate of the law, and what it promises, is at stake. He also argues that far from becoming more accessible, Ontario has actually become less accessible and more dangerous for people with disabilities under Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government. He points to the disproportionate rates of COVID-19 illness and death suffered by those with disabilities, and what he describes as Ford’s “one size fits all” pandemic response.
“I would give him an F,” said Sarah Jama, a community organizer in Hamilton and founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, when asked to grade Ford’s performance on issues affecting people with disabilities.
Raymond Cho, MPP for Scarborough North and Ontario’s minister of seniors and accessibility, declined an interview request for this story. In a written response, a ministry spokesperson did not directly answer questions related to AODA or the government’s lack of progress on it, but said Ontario’s government “continues to make the province more accessible and inclusive” through several government grants and programs promoting accessibility.
The Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms already theoretically guarantee accessibility for people with disabilities, but AODA was intended to ensure accessibility without individuals having to litigate each barrier.
When a new standard is created under the law it specifies what governments, businesses and other organizations within that sphere are required to do to make their spaces accessible. It includes everything from changes to the physical space, such as the addition of a ramp, to ensuring their website can be used by someone who is visually impaired.
For Lepofsky, the hope he once held has turned into frustration as successive governments made little progress on enforcing and implementing the law. The blame for that, he says, lies with both the preceding Liberal government under Kathleen Wynne, as well as Ford, on whose watch AODA’s implementation has effectively ground to a halt. (The most recent independent review described the pace of change as “glacial.”)
All three opposition parties have pledged to fully implement and strengthen AODA while committing to not create any new accessibility barriers with public money. (The Tory budget promises new infrastructure spending without guarantees the new buildings will be accessible.)
In 2019, Joel Harden, the NDP’s accessibility critic, put forward a motion calling on the government to release an action plan in response to a scathing review of AODA’s progress by former lieutenant governor David Onley, who wrote that, for most people with disabilities, “Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”
Several Tory MPPs, including Cho, said Onley’s recommendations would lead to “more duplication, red tape and high costs for business.”
“That was really disappointing,” Harden said. “Persons with disabilities and their rights are not red tape.”
Onley remembers the excitement and optimism when AODA was passed 17 years ago. He was equally optimistic when he was appointed lieutenant governor – a position he held from 2007 to 2014 – that he would be able to convince government and the business community of the value of making the province more accessible.
Over time, his optimism waned. “Nothing was changing,” says Onley, who was partially paralyzed after contracting polio as a child.
Onley, who is now an associate professor at the University of Toronto Scarborough, suggested it may be better to change the purpose of AODA from expanding accessibility to fighting ableism, citing issues for people with disabilities beyond accessibility, such as high unemployment and the fact that those on social assistance are “living in a state of sub-poverty.”
Sarah Jama, who was 11 years old when AODA passed in 2005, agrees that expanding accessibility alone won’t solve all the problems faced by people with disabilities.
“We need to stop talking about just access and inclusion like we’re stuck in the ’90s, and start talking about disability justice,” she said, adding that one of her frustrations with accessibility legislation like AODA is the focus on consumerism. “It creates an environment where we talk about our rights as disabled people as just being around our purchasing power, and our right to access things in public space,” she said.
Jama, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair, said this election is important, but the issues facing people with disabilities are much bigger than which party is in power.
“We need to reckon with the question of disposability, and who’s disposable in our society, and why it is we’re OK with throwing people away who can’t contribute to the workforce,” she said. “If we don’t reckon with these questions, no form of electoral engagement is going to save us.”