On­tario fall­ing short on ac­ces­si­bil­ity goals

Toronto Star - - OPINION - DAVID LE­POF­SKY David Le­pof­sky is a blind Toronto lawyer and ac­tivist for re­forms for the rights of per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties. ao­daal­liance.org 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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