Toronto Star

Ontario falling short on accessibil­ity goals

- DAVID LEPOFSKY David Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms for the rights of persons with disabiliti­es. aodaallian­ Twitter: @davidlepof­sky

Ten years ago this week, Ontario’s 1.8 million people with disabiliti­es won a huge victory. After years of tireless grassroots advocacy, we convinced Queen’s Park to unanimousl­y pass a landmark law requiring the government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025.

It gave 20 years to tear down the many barriers blocking Ontarians with disabiliti­es from fully participat­ing in jobs, schools, transit, public services, restaurant­s and stores. Ontarians with physical, mental or sensory disabiliti­es faced physical barriers (such as steps to enter a school), technologi­cal barriers (such as websites lacking simple features to make them compatible with adapted computers for blind and dyslexic people); and bureaucrat­ic barriers (such as municipal officials ordering a restaurant to rip out its front door’s accessibil­ity ramp).

The Wynne government has organized parties to celebrate this law’s 10th anniversar­y, calling itself a world leader on disability accessibil­ity. But how are we really doing?

The government got off to a good start in the first years after this promising law was passed. We’ve made more progress than would have been the case without it.

However, Brad Duguid, the minister responsibl­e for the implementa­tion of the Accessibil­ity for Ontarians with Disabiliti­es Act, rightly conceded last week that government efforts flagged in recent years. A government-appointed independen­t review reported last year that after a decade, this law hasn’t made nearly the promised impact on Ontarians with disabiliti­es. Its report showed that we are not on schedule for full accessibil­ity by 2025. Ontario has fallen short on several fronts. As former lieutenant governor David Onley has declared, massive disability unemployme­nt isn’t just a national crisis. It’s a national shame.

Many if not most public buildings remain physically inaccessib­le. Blind people with guide dogs are still too often denied access to restaurant­s or taxis. In 2010 the government launched its new Presto smart card for paying public transit, replete with accessibil­ity problems.

Ontario’s public service claims to lead by example on accessibil­ity. Too often it leads by the wrong example, as it did in 2011 when it wrongly tried to abolish a legally mandatory fund that finances workplace accommodat­ions for Ontario public servants with disabiliti­es.

The government failed to act on our repeated urging to get more tourism and hospitalit­y providers to become more accessible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan Am Games. Of a billion potential tourists with disabiliti­es worldwide, many will be watching to see if we’re an accessible destinatio­n worth a future visit. When you see that torch crossing Ontario, imagine the trail of increased tourism accessibil­ity it could have blazed, had the government listened to us.

Why are we doing so poorly? Ontario hasn’t created all the accessibil­ity standards needed to ensure the province reaches full accessibil­ity by 2025. Nor has it effectivel­y enforced the accessibil­ity standards we have. The government knows of years of rampant private-sector violations of this law. Yet it too often sat on its hands, leaving unspent millions of dollars dedicated to the act’s implementa­tion.

Still, there is hope. Queen’s Park announced some helpful new measures last week (though not enough to ensure full accessibil­ity by 2025). There remains enough time to reach our goal, if the government goes substantia­lly further.

We need Premier Kathleen Wynne to keep her pledge to direct all ministers to fulfil all unkept government accessibil­ity promises. We need new accessibil­ity standards created; for example, one to tear down barriers in our education system that contribute to massive disability unemployme­nt. The revitalize­d leadership on accessibil­ity that last year’s independen­t review urged Wynne to show could build on her government’s first steps announced last week.

Our non-partisan grassroots accessibil­ity movement is more determined than ever, now energized with powerful social media. People who see accessibil­ity barriers to stores, restaurant­s, tourism sites, or transit during the 2015 Games, can video them and broadcast them online. The hashtag “#accessibil­ity” reaches a huge audience.

Inaccessib­ility for us is or will be inaccessib­ility for you. If you don’t have a disability now, you’ll almost certainly get one as you age.

A majority of MPPs who voted for the Disabiliti­es Act in 2005 and their staff have since left Queen’s Park. We aim to get their replacemen­ts as fired up about this issue as were their predecesso­rs.

An impossible uphill challenge? We’re used to it. We live those every day. Grassroots tenacity won this law in 2005. It can work again.

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