We like to think of ourselves as a caring society. But too often we fail Ontario’s 1.8 million disabled residents. Published on Fri Feb 27 2015
It’s a sight we see too often in Toronto and around the province: Someone in a wheelchair struggling to get into a chic clothing shop that lacks a power door. Or a blind person with a service dog being cold-shouldered in a restaurant. Or a disabled driver stuck at a self-service gas bar hoping an attendant will come out and help.
We like to think of ourselves as a caring society. But too often we fail Ontario’s 1.8 million disabled. Sometimes we don’t even try.
As reported by the Star’s Laurie Monsebraaten, more than 60 per cent of Ontario’s 53,000 private businesses with 20 workers or more have failed to file online reports that were required two years ago on how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff to interact with customers with special needs, and manage feedback. That’s an appallingly high level on non-compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It speaks to a culture of indifference, or ignorance.
Yet rather than crack down on scofflaws, the government gives every appearance of scaling back enforcement.
Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid confirms that officials expect to conduct some 1,200 “compliance activities” this year. That’s well below the 2,000 audits that were done last year and the 1,900 done the year before, says David Lepofsky, head of the AODA Alliance. While nearly 3,600 compliance orders have been issued to the private sector over the years, and more than 300 fines have been levied, the message still doesn’t appear to be getting through to the majority of businesses.
Duguid says that many simply aren’t aware of their responsibilities. So Queen’s Park has launched an information campaign to remind them. Fair enough.
But as the Star has written before, the accessibility act is in danger of becoming “window dressing” and a sham as businesses fail to comply with its most basic requirements. What was needed then, as now, is compliance, beginning with an insistence that reports be filed, with inspections and fines to follow.
What was needed then, as now, is a government that is prepared to make a public example of scofflaws, not coddle them. Providing equal access for the disabled will require more robust, effective, visible enforcement than we’ve seen to date.