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Yet More Superb Media Coverage of the Need for the Wynne Government to Strengthen Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and of the Accessibility Barriers that Persist in the Lead-Up to the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games

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

April 10, 2015

SUMMARY

Fully five months ago, the final report of the Mayo Moran Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Independent Review told the Wynne Government that ten years of its implementing the AODA has not made a significant impact on the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. The Government has still not announced a plan to implement that clear, strong and practical report.

In the meantime, the media continues to include reports and letters from the public on the Governments failure to effectively implement and enforce this important legislation. We set out a sampling of five recent articles that have recently appeared in the media:

* The April 10, 2015 article in the Hamilton Spectator by Canadian Press reporter Michelle McQuigge, on the Governments failing to keep commitments regarding its promised toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations to the Government.

* The text of an April 7, 2015 CBC TV News report on the Toronto Transit Commissions sluggish efforts at ensuring that all Toronto subway stations become fully accessible to people with disabilities.

* A March 12, 2015 column in the Toronto Observer by By Marwa Mohkam Sheikh on the Governments cutting back on AODA enforcement.

* Two letters to the editor that appeared in the March 6, 2015 edition of the Toronto Star on-line on the Governments failure to effectively enforce the AODA.

Here is a bonus! Thanks to the wonderful help of Inclusive Media, you can watch, with captioning, the excellent 7-part series on accessibility issues by reporter Christina Stevens that appeared on Global News. They aired on March 17, 19, 20, 23, 24, 25 and 26. Right now we are missing the video of the March 23, 2015 news item, but it will be included in this bundle by early next week. To watch them in two successive chunks, visit:

Part 1:

[youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OlTG4gdyuJM]

and

Part 2:

[youtube=https://youtu.be/xXgorhYxDYI]

In the April 7, 2015 Hamilton Spectator article, the Government again shows that it appears to have forgotten why it enacted the AODA in the first place. For years, Ontario’s Liberals promised strong disability accessibility legislation with teeth and effective enforcement. This was promised so that individuals with disabilities wouldn’t have to suffer the ordeal of battling barriers one at a time by personally fighting individual human rights complaints.

This Hamilton Spectator article explored failings in the Governments promised toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations. The article includes this passage referring to a Government spokesperson:

Padassery said the AODA allows the government to audit companies for accessibility compliance and impose fines if their practices are found lacking. The ministry conducted nearly 2,000 audits last year but plans to cut that number back to around 1,200 for 2015. Individuals who feel they’re being discriminated against are urged to take their concerns to the province’s Human Rights Tribunal, he said, adding that the phone line offers help on how to take that step.

To say that people with disabilities must now privately investigate and litigate each barrier they face at the Human Rights Tribunal is to place an unfair burden on people who continue to face far too many barriers. It misses the whole point of the AODA. It makes the Governments failure to keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA even more hurtful and frustrating.

If you encounter an accessibility barrier, be sure to bring it to the attention of your local media. As media coverage of these issues continues, the pressure mounts on the Government to keep its unkept commitments to us on the AODAs implementation and enforcement.

We also encourage you to report any violations of the AODA to the Governments toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations to the Government: 1-866-515-2025, TTY: 1-800-268-7095

The Ontario Government only has 9 years, 9 months and 20 days left to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires.

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MORE DETAILS

Hamilton Spectator On-Line April 10, 2015

Originally posted at http://www.thespec.com/news-story/5550565-ontario-falling-short-of-promises-to-enforce-accessibility-laws-advocates/ Ontario falling short of promises to enforce accessibility laws: advocates by
Michelle McQuigge

TORONTO The Ontario government’s most recent initiative to help make the province’s businesses more accommodating to people with disabilities falls short of what accessibility advocates say they were led to expect.

Last May, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance received a letter signed by Premier Kathleen Wynne containing some concrete promises to help hold businesses accountable to the province’s access regulations.

Among them was a commitment to “establishing and publicizing” a toll-free phone number that the public could use to report businesses that weren’t following accessibility rules.

But the government opted instead to simply boost complaint tracking capabilities on a general inquiry phone number and implement the changes without informing the recipients of Wynne’s letter.

Glen Padassery, a spokesperson for the Accessibility Directorate of the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, said the new tracking systems were put into place in the past six to eight months, adding that he could not speak to the government’s efforts to publicize the changes.

Alliance chair David Lepofsky said he only became aware of them in late February after sending a letter to inquire about the status of the expected phone line.

The system he eventually found, he said, doesn’t do enough to help the province’s disabled residents.

“It certainly falls short of what we need,” Lepofsky said in a telephone interview. “We were told that a line would be publicized. It hasn’t been. And that it would be part of an enforcement strategy. Which, at least, we’re not clear on.”

Lepofsky said callers to the toll-free number must wait on the line for several minutes before learning that they have an option to file a complaint. A Canadian Press reporter who phoned the line had to follow multiple prompts and listen to a lengthy summary of general information on the AODA before having an opportunity to report on a non-compliant business.

Lepofsky said he’s been unable to get clear answers as to what the government plans to do with the complaints that do come in.

Padassery said the reports will be compiled and used to analyze trends. That information will help the ministry determine which sectors are most in need of guidance on how to comply with access laws, he said, adding that the AODA is designed to address systemic issues rather than individual complaints.

“At the end of the day our goal is not to hammer people over the heads to get them to comply,” he said. “Our goal is to provide businesses with the right tools and resources to help them understand what they need to do to make their goods and services more accessible.”

Padassery said the AODA allows the government to audit companies for accessibility compliance and impose fines if their practices are found lacking. The ministry conducted nearly 2,000 audits last year but plans to cut that number back to around 1,200 for 2015. Individuals who feel they’re being discriminated against are urged to take their concerns to the province’s Human Rights Tribunal, he said, adding that the phone line offers help on how to take that step.

But some people believe that offering advice on AODA compliance and documenting customer complaints are distinct functions that should not be lumped together under a single phone number.

Kyle Rawn, a spokesperson with consulting firm Accessibility Professionals of Ontario, said tracking complaints for research purposes is a worthwhile pursuit if the government then uses that information to take action.

Where they’ve let people down, he said, is in failing to provide the public with a simple way to make their voices heard.

I think people are going to be rather frustrated by the process that they’ve put in place, and I think it does fall short of what we all expected when they first said, over two years ago, that this was what they were going to do,” he said.

Lepofsky agreed, saying the new system has little chance of having an impact if no one’s aware it exists.

“Right now they’re not going to receive much information if they don’t publicize it, and they’re not going to receive much information if they don’t make the message clear,” he said.

Anyone who wishes to file a complaint against a business they believe to be violating the AODA can make the report by calling: 1-866-515-2025 The Canadian Press

CBC Television Toronto News April 7, 2015

Originally posted at:
http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ttc-subway-stations-lack-equal-accessibility-for-all-critics-say-1.3024210 TTC subway stations lack equal accessibility for all, critics say Man in scooter fell onto College station tracks Monday afternoon. CBC News

After video surfaced this week of a man in an electric mobility scooter falling onto the subway tracks at College station, critics are renewing calls on the TTC to ensure everyone has equal access to public transit in the city.

The incident occurred Monday afternoon after the man reportedly realized there was no working elevator available to take him to street level. As he turned to board another train to get to a station with an elevator, he toppled over onto the tracks and seriously injured his leg.

Less than half of the TTC’s 69 subway station stops are currently accessible to those that use wheelchairs or other mobility aids, and many say that alternate routes made available are time consuming or flat out inconvenient.

“I usually have to go half-hour out of my way just to go where I’m going,” Paul Valilee told CBC News in an interview Tuesday.

The TTC has mandated that all subway stations have an elevator to street level by 2025, but so far only 15 stations have received funding to install them. Another 17 stations await the money to do so, TTC spokeswoman Susan Spirling said.

Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky said even among the stations with elevators, several are not working or require frequent closure for maintenance. He said he hopes the problems will be fixed by the time the Pan Am Games kick off this summer.

The Toronto Observer March 12 2015

Originally posted at:
http://torontoobserver.ca/2015/03/12/deserting-the-disabled/

East York
Opinion
Deserting the disabled
By cutting down on accessibility compliance inspections, Ontario’s government is failing its disabled populace By Marwa Mohkam Sheikh

Imagine wanting to shop in a trendy little boutique in Pape Village but just getting through the door is a struggle. Or wanting to eat at a restaurant along the Danforth that youve heard good things about but the dog who you need to help you navigate isnt welcome. These are scenarios that the disabled people of our province face all the time and there isnt enough being done about it.

Ontario is home to 1.8 million disabled people, and this abstract number represents a community that is currently being neglected.

Picture this: There are 53,000 businesses that employ more than 20 people at one time in Ontario right now. In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and official legislation, these establishments are required to file reports about how they train staff to accommodate disabled customers, and how their facilities correspond to the needs of consumers with disabilities.

Seems straightforward, right? Apparently not. The latest figures show that not only have almost 60 per cent of these businesses not filed their reports for 2014, but that 65 per cent of them havent even filed their reports for the year 2012. This is an absolutely appalling reality, not to mention a violation of the AODA on an ominously grand scale.

But instead of combating this with stricter measures and turning on the proverbial heat, it appears that the government has decided to diminish the rules and their enforcement. In fact, Brad Duguid, the economic development minister, has affirmed that this year, provincial officials will be conducting 1,200 compliance activities a number that is significantly lower than the 2,000 checks conducted last year and the 1,900 the year before that.

This seems like a hugely uncaring gesture toward the communitys disabled. It doesnt take much to understand that establishments are and have been getting away with not doing their rightful duty toward their fellow citizens. And by scaling back on the regulations, the government is pouring fuel all over an already-flaming fire.

We are failing a significant number of Ontarios residents, and the authorities in charge either dont understand that failing or dont care. Either way, we are on the way to becoming a less feeling society, and we need to reverse course. The inexcusable figures of the rampant violations thus far should be a wake-up call for our officials to come down harder on establishments than ever before, and fight for our disabled.

That power-door needs to work. And the service dog needs to be let in. Because if accessibility isnt for all, then we should all be for accessibility.

Toronto Star On-line March 6, 2015

Opinion / Readers’ Letters
Accessibility laws must be enforced

Published on Fri Mar 06 2015
Re: Enforcement not the only accessibility tool, Letter March 3

Is the Honourable Premier Kathleen Wynne actually honourable?

The premier says she believes in social justice and is committed to the legislation that the government has passed. Yet, she refuses to enforce legislation related to individuals with differing abilities or additional needs. The government refuses to enforce compliance to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), Education Act, etc.

It is not good enough for Minister Brad Duguid to say the government has more work to do. That is a slap in the face to the 1.8 million people with disabilities who are to be treated with dignity based on the Ontario Human Rights Code.

This government, by its inaction, is discriminating against the very individuals it is supposed to be protecting. This is absolutely shameful.

Janis Jaffe-White and Reva Schafer, Toronto Family Network

Brad Duguids well-intended but misinformed letter stated that enforcement isnt the best tool for making sure that businesses comply with the AODA legislation.

Id like to bring forward an experience of my own that has convinced me that, without enforcement, legislation is a waste of our time and money.

I am a totally blind person living in the Yonge-Eglinton area of the city. I chose my apartment with the notion of being close to the subway and thereby having the best possible accessibility to public transit so that I could go about my business just like every other citizen of this city. After all, it is supposed to be a walkable city, isnt it?

Little did I know that my neighbours have an aversion to shoveling their walks. While they take great care to make sure their driveways are clear for vehicles, for some reason they never clear the snow on the public right of way where folks like me have to pass. This also affects senior citizens, mothers with strollers and many apartment dwellers who dont drive.

No problem, I said to myself, Ill complain to city hall. This is where the fun really begins.

To make a very long story short, if one wants to have a sidewalk complaint go through, one has to put one complaint in per each address rather than for a given area of the city. For a totally blind person, that means finding a fellow traveler on the street or a relative to go back to each address and make sure one has the number of each building right. Then the complainant has to sit on the phone for God knows how long and enter the complaint address by address with the 311 call centre.

Then, one waits until the city officer goes to each address with warnings etc. And, if the person doesnt shovel, the blind, already inconvenienced person gets to do it all over again.

Why cant we simply report the problem block by block, for instance, and have the city officer tag each property that he finds unclear? A traffic enforcement officer tickets all of the parking violators in a given area, not just the one in front of a given address.

With due respect, Mr. Duguid, everyone in Toronto knows that after 12 hours the walk has to be shoveled. How many of our good citizens actually do it? So your notion of education holds as much water as the unused snow shovels of the city of Toronto. Unfortunately, if bylaws and other laws arent enforced, they are too easy to ignore.

Unenforced laws help create systemic discrimination as an unintended consequence. It is already difficult for someone like me to travel in the city. I dont have the option of driving a car nor do I have the money for expensive cab fares.

When I do brave the nasty weather, as I often have to, I cant travel quickly or safely because of uncleared rights of way. How does my right to accessibility hold up here?

So, lets get honest. If Ontarians really want an accessible province, stop wasting money on expensive education campaigns and put it into enforcement where it will do the most good.

Valentina Gal, Toronto