Ontario honours National Access Awareness Week by breaching province’s disability accessibility law
TheStar.com – opinion/commentary – Government fails to fulfil its duty to appoint independent review of the Disabilities Act by May 31.
May 31 2013. By: David Lepofsky
We expect our government to strictly obey the law. That’s why, today, many Ontarians with disabilities will feel the Kathleen Wynne Government let them down.
Premier Wynne’s government recently said that making Ontario accessible for people with disabilities is a top priority. Yet today her government is in breach of its own Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The government didn’t fulfil its duty to appoint a much-needed independent review of the Disabilities Act by May 31, 2013. That review is required to assess whether the Disabilities Act is working effectively to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025.
If you are one of the 1.7 million Ontarians with a physical, sensory or mental disability, or if you get a disability later in life (as most do), you face too many barriers when trying to use public transit or other public services, get an education or a job, or buy goods in a store. As an example that leaves many dumbfounded, I had to fight TTC for years in two human rights tribunal cases to force them to audibly announce all bus and subway stops, so blind people like me can know what stop we’re at. TTC spent $450,000 on lawyers opposing me.
To overcome these barriers, Ontarians with disabilities waged an exhausting, tenacious 10-year campaign to get the 2005 Disabilities Act passed. It imposes detailed requirements on the Ontario government to lead all Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.
To help ensure that Ontario doesn’t fall behind schedule for full accessibility, the Disabilities Act requires the government to appoint periodic independent reviews to investigate how well progress is proceeding, and to recommend changes if we’re behind schedule. It’s inexcusable that the government hasn’t appointed the latest review by May 31. It’s known of this deadline for years.We reminded the government in writing three months ago. We’ve run a daily countdown on Twitter.
We want this independent review appointed so it can hear that Ontario is behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025 and that, in the past two years, government action has ground down to a snail’s pace. It is a cruel irony that the government’s tardiness in appointing this independent review delays our efforts to rectify the government’s tardiness in getting Ontario to the goal of full accessibility. It’s another cruel irony that the government fails to meet this deadline that falls during National Access Awareness Week — a week the government celebrated in the Legislature.
The government’s disregard of its accessibility law’s deadline sends the wrong message to all organizations around Ontario that must obey accessibility deadlines set under this law. It flies in the face of the government’s pledge to lead by example in making Ontario disability-accessible. When running for the Liberal leadership, Kathleen Wynne promised in writing to ensure Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, to keep Dalton McGuinty’s earlier commitments to us, and not to weaken anything the Accessibility Act gives us.
In the legislature this week, the NDP asked the government if it will appoint this review by the May 31 deadline. The responsible minister, Eric Hoskins, said he’d have an announcement very soon. Since then, the deadline passed.
The government might argue that it matters not if it appoints this independent review days or weeks late. Yet it matters! The Disabilities Act requires the government to set and strictly enforce mandatory time lines for all organizations in Ontario to take effective action to remove and prevent disability barriers. If the government ignores its own legal deadlines, it signals to others that they can do the same.
Having missed the deadline, we don’t want the government to appoint just anyone with a pulse to conduct this review. It must be a respected person, arms-length from the government, who will impartially listen to all with an open mind, and offer credible findings and workable solutions.
This is even more frustrating since the government promised to effectively enforce this law. Yet the media reports about some restaurants and stores that deny customer service to people with disabilities, despite government boasting about its Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
Early on, this government commendably showed it can act promptly and boldly on accessibility. When it took office in 2003, it developed a comprehensive Disabilities Act within months, that won significant community support and all-party approval. It then promptly got to work on implementing the law. While we weren’t fully satisfied with the initial results, we saw real potential.
Yet in the past two years, the government has largely slowed to a crawl on this issue. It’s not because it only has a minority government. To speed up progress toward accessibility, the government needs to win no votes in the Legislature.
Three years ago, the last independent review of the Disabilities Act was appointed on time. It urged the government to show strengthened leadership and revitalize this law’s implementation. Sadly, the government didn’t.
We agree with Hoskins that what we need is action on this “top priority” of theirs, not just talk. The government needs to kick-start an ambitious agenda of concrete action to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility. We sent Premier Wynne and Minister Hoskins an affordable, constructive list of accessibility priorities almost three months ago.
No matter how frustrated, we soldier on, undeterred. Premier Wynne called me two months ago, warmly offering to work together on making Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities. Today’s failure to obey the law should be a wake-up call to the government to take the entire accessibility issue off its back burner where it has languished for two years. Let today’s bad news spur our new premier to act decisively, boldly and broadly on accessibility. Let it cause her to restore the swiftness, determination and vigour on this issue that the government commendably demonstrated a decade ago, and to keep all her commitments on accessibility.
David Lepofsky is chair of the voluntary, non-partisanAccessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
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