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The Toronto Star Gives Great Coverage to the AODA Alliances “Picture Our Barriers” Social Media Campaign – Join In the Blitz

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

August 11, 2016


There is a great article in the August 10, 2016 Toronto Star, set out below, by reporter Jessica Botelho-Urbanski, on troubling barriers that still face people with disabilities in Ontario in 2016. It gives great profile to the AODA Alliance’s “Picture Our Barriers” campaign. In this campaign, people all over Ontario send tweets on Twitter about accessibility barriers of all kinds that they encounter, including, where possible, photos of these barriers that they take on their smart phones.

In this blitz, we encourage people to include the search term (or , in Twitter language, the hashtag) #AODAfail in their tweet. As a result, anyone can do a search on the term #AODAfail on the internet, even if they are not a Twitter user. This reveals an incredible collection of frustrating disability barriers that many people from all over Ontario have brought to the public’s attention. Many find it hard to believe and inexcusable that these accessibility barriers persist in 2016.

Accessibility barriers in the design of buildings are just one of the many kinds of barriers that can be found by searching #AODAfail. The common belief, which is sadly a myth, is that newer buildings are now fully and reliably disability-accessible, even though older buildings are often not. This Toronto Star article explodes that myth. It focuses attention on three newer buildings. Each is part of the broader public sector in Ontario. Each has significant accessibility problems. Each was built, at least in part, with public money.

The first is the brand-new Womens College Hospital in the core of downtown Toronto. With much fanfare, the official ribbon-cutting for the hospital’s opening was attended by Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Yet this new hospital has a number of inexcusable accessibility blunders, some of which the Star article describes. There are also areas where accessibility features were commendably included. As just a few examples of #AODAfails:

* The hospital public washrooms have seriously deficient signage. For example, on the ground floor, the washrooms have Braille signs that only state the room number, but not whether it is a bathroom, and not whether it is for men, women or families. It is a blistering irony that the Wynne Government recently refused our proposal to require in the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that such public bathrooms have appropriate accessible signage.

* The hospital parking garage commendably has accessibility features for people with mobility disabilities. Yet just inside the hospital door, an electronic kiosk for paying for parking has its screen positioned clearly too high up for people using a wheelchair. This violates the Ontario Human Rights Code and the AODA’s accessibility standards regarding the accessibility of electronic self-serve kiosks. This is one of many cases where the Wynne Government’s lax AODA enforcement so obviously hurts people with disabilities.

* The hospital’s front lobby area lacks proper way-finding to enable people with vision loss to independently walk from the front door to the elevators.

* The hospital’s front doors have an automatic door-opening feature. However, one must find it, and then wave a hand in front of it. This is not useful for people with certain physical disabilities, and those with vision loss.

Second, Ryerson University’s new Student Learning Centre, also in the heart of downtown Toronto, has significant accessibility problems, including, for example:

* “Hang out steps” for students to gather and socialize. These require the ability to climb steps. It is wrong to ever create a socializing area for students or others which excludes people with certain disabilities.

* Touch-screen monitors in the main foyer, for access to information for students, which have no apparent accessibility features to enable a person with vision loss or dyslexia to access that information.

* A flight of angled stairs which obviously pose a walking hazard for people with balance problems, and for people with vision loss.

Third, in recent years, York University substantially renovated its Osgoode Hall Law School. It used to present major accessibility problems for people with mobility disabilities. However, it was easy for people with vision loss to navigate. After a recent substantial renovation, it has become better for people with mobility disabilities. However, it has become a major problem for people with vision loss. For example:

* Along one side of the main floor’s main corridor is a series of decorative pillars. These are angled, rather than vertical. They lean into the path of traffic, and pose a risk for people hitting their heads on them, either if they have vision loss, or if they are not looking straight ahead as they walk. They are in the very path that people with vision loss would take to navigate that hall.

* On that main hallway, there commendably is a Braille sign at the Information Technology Help Desk. However, unbelievable as this may sound, it is posted some eight feet off the ground, where Braille-readers are typically not able to reach.

Barriers like these have been tweeted and retweeted in our “picture Our Barriers” campaign that the Toronto Star article, set out below, describes. If you do a search on the internet on “#AODAfail”, you will also find tweets about other kinds of barriers, and other disabilities beyond those listed above.

We and others also tweet examples of organizations that do good things on the accessibility agenda. We want to highlight those who do the right thing, as well as those who do the wrong thing.

What is especially vexing about the three organizations described above, is that they all violate Premier Wynne’s 2014 election pledge, in her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance. She there promised that public money will never be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.

These examples also help show how Ontario keeps falling further behind on reaching the goal of full accessibility by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets. When she was running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne wrote the AODA Alliance on December 3, 2012, promising that she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. It’s not too late to get back on schedule, but time is running out, with less than eight and a half years left before 2025.

As well, these examples show why Ontario’s laws setting specific accessibility requirements have been woefully inadequate in the past, and sadly remain woefully inadequate at the present time. Our #AODAfail campaign is meant to ramp up pressure on the Wynne Government to do a much better job of implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We and others tweet and retweet about these barriers to every member of the Ontario Legislature who is on Twitter. Some of those MPPs have retweeted our tweets to them. This adds their voices to ours.

In the Toronto Star article, Ontario’s new Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles, is quoted as saying:

“One thing we’re looking at specifically is maybe a certification of organizations so they can hold themselves up as really progressive organizations on accessibility”.
We and other voices from the disability community have told the Government in no uncertain terms that the idea of a voluntary accessibility certification process is fatally flawed. The Government needs to get back to the basics, properly implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. To see a detailed description of why a private voluntary accessibility certification process is wasteful and counterproductive, visit The Wynne Government has been unjustifiably stalling for months on a Freedom of Information application which AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky filed back in February of this year, to unearth important Government documents on this proposal. To learn about these efforts to get the Government to disclose basic information we have sought about its proposal for a private voluntary accessibility certification process, visit

After the Toronto Star ran the story set out below, it got a great many tweets and re-tweets on Twitter and through other social media. After that, CBC Radio’s Metro Morning program on August 11, 2016 included an interview with disability rights advocate Tim Rose, speaking about accessibility barriers, including a discussion of our AODAfail campaign.

We encourage you to:

* Join in our Picture Our Barriers Campaign. Tweet about barriers in your community. Include #AODAfail in your tweets. Include a photo or video of the barriers if you can.

Learn how to take part by reading the ‘AODA Alliances handy Picture Our Barriers Action Kit. Check out other helpful resources on our website.

* If you don’t have time to write your own tweets, just search on #AODAfail and retweet the great tweets you will find there. It is especially helpful if you take a moment to retweet the tweets we send every couple of days on these barriers to each member of the Ontario Legislature on Twitter.

* Contact your local media to cover this blitz. Send them the Toronto Star story that we set out below. This is newsworthy in every corner of Ontario.

* Spread the word about our #AODAfail campaign to friends and family members. Urge them to get involved. Whenever you are out and about with friends, if you or your friends notice a barrier, use a smart phone to photograph it and tweet it to the world. If you don’t have a smart phone, ask a friend to use their smart phone to join in the cause.

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to:

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.

Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.

Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates:

Follow us on Twitter. Get others to follow us. And please re-tweet our tweets!! @AODAAlliance

Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting

Please also join the campaign for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act, spearheaded by Barrier-Free Canada. The AODA Alliance is proud to be the Ontario affiliate of Barrier-Free Canada. Sign up for Barrier-Free Canada updates by emailing


Toronto Star August 10, 2016

Originally posted at: Greater Toronto

Disability supporters turn to social media; Accessibility advocates hope these online campaigns will spur better building plans

Graphic: David Lepofsky notes that the large “hangout steps” at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre can’t be used by people in wheelchairs. Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star

Disability advocates are hoping social-media campaigns will publicly shame organizations into taking action on accessibility. Tim Rose made headlines this month when he posted on Facebook about his harrowing back-and-forth with Air Canada, who refused to let him take a direct flight from Toronto to Cleveland because they said his wheelchair was too big to fit in the plane.

Rose started tweeting with the hashtag #wheelchairsarentluggage, in response to an Air Canada employee comparing his wheelchair to an oversized bag.

The hashtag has racked up hundreds of tags, including some by David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.

Lepofsky started his own campaign a few months ago called #AODAfail. It asks Ontarians to point out narrow wheelchair ramps (or non-existent ones), uneven sidewalks and signs low in colour contrast – anything that creates obstacles for people with disabilities.

People post photos of the barriers to social media, sometimes tagging government officials in an effort to crush complacency.

Under the AODA Act – landmark legislation passed unanimously by the provincial government in 2005 – Ontario needs to be fully accessible by 2025. Lepofsky doesn’t see the goal as realistic right now.

On a recent tour of downtown Toronto, he pointed out flawed areas in buildings constructed within the last five years, with money from the public purse.

The Women’s College Hospital, Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre and York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School were on his list of qualms.

Crossing the intersection at Bay and College Streets to get to the hospital, he pointed out a first problem: no audio indicators of when to cross the street.

Lepofsky, who is blind, said he relies on traffic sounds to navigate the city as a pedestrian.

He’s comfortable walking with a cane on the street, but way-finding in some newer buildings is another story. Navigating the wide, curved atrium at the Women’s College Hospital is like wading through the Atlantic Ocean, he said.

Before entering the atrium, there’s the matter of getting through the front doors. The hospital’s front entrance has poles on either side of the doors with sensors, so that when a guest waves a hand in front of the sensor, the door opens – dissimilar to most hospital doors, which open automatically.

The washrooms nearest the front entrance of the hospital have signs written in Braille, but Lepofsky points out the Braille only indicates room numbers – not whether the washrooms are meant for men, women or families.

“It’s hard to be that bad. It’s one thing not getting better, but it’s another thing making (accessibility) substantially worse,” Lepofsky said.

Tracy MacCharles, in her first interview after being appointed the provincial minister for accessibility in June, said she believes “it is attainable to have an accessible province by 2025.

“One thing we’re looking at specifically is maybe a certification of organizations so they can hold themselves up as really progressive organizations on accessibility,” MacCharles said.

“What’s going to be really important is that we all – all the stakeholders and the businesses and the other organizations – work together to share that vision. It has to be a shared vision, it can’t just be the government.”

Despite an influx of design technology, Lepofsky said architects and city planners aren’t always aware of the hurdles they create.

Another obstacle Lepofsky noticed is large “hangout steps” at Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre. People in wheelchairs can’t use the stairs for their intended use of socializing. The wheelchair ramp leading up to the building winds to and fro through the “hangout steps,” and is sometimes blocked by people’s legs.

At York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, recent renovations included adding leaning pillars in the main atrium. The columns jut outward and have caused people to hit their heads, Lepofsky said. A spokesperson from York said they are looking at solutions.

Lepofsky is frustrated by Ontario’s cascade of accessibility issues.

“They didn’t invent people with disabilities last week,” he said. “This is our world. So when you do a new building, you’ve really got to get it right.”

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Toronto Star