Published Sept 28, 2011
It takes four steps to get to the escalator at the Christie subway station.
At risk in this election are our hard-won gains to make Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities. This affects all voters. Everyone either has a disability or will likely get one later with age.
Over 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities still face too many barriers when trying to get a job, shop or use public services — like steps in public transit
stations, a municipality that doesn’t post new information on its website in easily provided formats accessible to blind computer-users, or new fancy electronic kiosks for getting public services or goods that people with disabilities (and many others) find hopelessly user-unfriendly.
Accessibility is good for business. Businesses want a bigger pool of prospective workers and customers. Research shows that achieving accessibility makes money for Ontario. It expands tourism and sales, creates employment, and gets more people off welfare and into jobs.
Accessibility helps everyone. If bus drivers announce route stops, it helps blind people like me, who had to fight for this. It helps sighted passengers
who can’t see outside through crowds or bad weather. Ramps for wheelchairs also help anyone with strollers or shopping carts. Accessible websites help people like me who use talking computers. They also help smartphone web-surfers without disabilities.
The McGuinty government gets credit for passing a good Disabilities Act in 2005, requiring Ontario to be fully accessible by 2025. Despite progress since then, Ontario is behind schedule on reaching this goal.
What will our next government do to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible on time? For the fifth election, our non-partisan coalition asked parties
for pledges to move us forward toward an accessible Ontario. This time, only the Conservatives refused to commit. We’re tenaciously urging them to reconsider.
When asked not to slash gains we’ve made in legislation or regulations, the Conservatives are silent. This is especially worrisome, since they promise to cut at least 30 per cent of all Ontario regulations. That’s a huge chopping block.
When asked to strengthen implementation of the Disabilities Act or to effectively enforce it, the Conservatives are silent. We fought for that law for 10 years.
When asked to ensure the government doesn’t use our tax dollars to erect new disability barriers, the Conservatives are silent. They don’t agree to any action to make elections accessible to the more than one million voters with disabilities, such as measures PCs themselves proposed in 2010. The Conservatives won’t promise steps they pledged in the 2007 election, like reviewing Ontario laws for accessibility barriers, and exploring strategies to ensure school kids and relevant professionals get accessibility education.
The Conservatives said only that they’d work with us. That’s miles short of our needs. The other parties promised specific action and pledged not to weaken laws we’ve won to date.
In 1995, Mike Harris promised a Disabilities Act in his first term and to work with us on it. His government strongly resisted keeping its word. It didn’t
work cooperatively with us.
It stalled six years before passing a weak law halfway through its second term. That law mainly included only voluntary measures and wasn’t enforceable. The minister who authored it later admitted it was too weak.
In opposition (2003-2007), the Conservatives were more supportive. Dramatically breaking with their past, John Tory supported McGuinty’s new, stronger accessibility law in 2005. The Conservatives proposed amendments we wanted, to make it even stronger.
In the 2007 election, Tory pledged to strengthen implementation of the 2005 Disabilities Act. In 2010, under Hudak, the Conservatives supported our call
for stronger voting accessibility measures.
It’s not too late for the Conservatives to act. To commit to strengthen, not weaken, our gains under the 2005 Disabilities Act, would build on the party’s
stance in opposition. Recently a Toronto Conservative candidate publicly pledged to call Hudak to urge him to make the commitments we seek. All Conservative candidates should do the same.
The Star reports that the Conservatives said they refused our request because their platform addresses our needs. But their platform only offers needed
reform to disability social assistance. That doesn’t excuse inaction on broad accessibility issues. It doesn’t excuse risking cuts to gains we’ve made.
This shouldn’t be an unfair choice between more income for the poorest people with disabilities versus improving accessibility for all Ontarians with disabilities. Do both! A government can fix social assistance while also moving us forward on the path to accessibility.
In 2005 the Disabilities Act won all-party support and a standing ovation. We urge the Conservative party to build on that historic non-partisan consensus
by agreeing to strengthen, not weaken, gains we’ve made — by meeting or beating the other parties’ commitments.
David Lepofsky is a Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms to protect the rights of persons with disabilities.