Ontario has made slow progress to accessibility

Posted on March 21, 2023 in Inclusion Delivery System

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TheStar.com – Opinion/Editorial
March 20, 2023.   By Star Editorial Board

An interim review of Ontario’s progress in implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is anything but laudatory.

“Do you care?”

When the conclusion of a report begins and ends by asking the premier that question, you know that the rest of the report isn’t likely to be praising the province’s accomplishments.

And, indeed, Rich Donovan’s interim legislative review of Ontario’s progress in implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is anything but laudatory.

After extensive consultation with the disability community, Donovan notes that 77 per cent of people with disabilities report having a negative experience in public or at work, while only eight per cent describe their experience as positive.

These negative experiences, Donovan maintains, are the result of a lack of leadership, enforcement, research and accountability, and of flaws in virtually every aspect of the system, including “services, products, technology, buildings, infrastructure, careers, processes and human imagination.”

Donovan therefore concludes that without “urgent action,” the province will fail to meet the AODA’s target of making Ontario accessible by the beginning of 2025.

That target seemed an achievable goal when the act, the first of its kind in Canada, was passed unanimously in 2005. But successive legislative reviews in 2010, 2014, and 2019 have sounded the alarm about the lack of progress.

In response to the review, the Ontario Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility acknowledged that more needs to be done, but emphasized that it has taken steps it has taken to dismantle barriers and improve accessibility.

The ministry seems to perceive the situation very differently from those with lived experience of disability. And this disconnect is, in fact, present in society at large: In sharp contrast to the experiences of people with disabilities, 88 per cent of the general population describe Ontario as “somewhat” or “very” accessible.

That misperception likely stems from the fact that certain mobility aids — wheelchairs and white canes — are conspicuous. When you see wheelchair icons all over public buildings, it’s easy to assume that Ontario is highly accessible.

But Donovan notes that only five to 10 per cent of people with disabilities use wheelchairs. Many live with less visible disabilities such as neurodiversity or cognitive or mental health challenges, and this lack of visibility leads to a misconceptualization of the nature of disability — and a misperception of the degree of accessibility across the province.

This misconceptualization, which exists inside and outside government, is one of largest impediments to progress. As Donovan observes, “Until there is a greater societal shift in how people conceptualize and interact with people with disabilities, barriers will remain.”

Traditionally, disability was viewed within the medical model, which identifies a disability as a defect within an individual’s body — for example, an impairment of function — and the individual’s body must therefore be repaired.



Ontario’s 2025 accessibility goals ‘impossible’ without urgent action, report finds

Mar. 10, 2023

This leads directly to the perception, highlighted by Donovan, that people see people with disabilities as “less effective than their colleagues.” And that results in the erection of numerous barriers, both visible and invisible.

In contrast, the social model of disability relocates the source of disability to society itself — specifically, to the ways in which societal structures and practices disable people. For instance, while stairs facilitate movement for individuals who walk, they impair movement for individuals who use wheelchairs.

In effect, society “disables” these individuals — and the defect therefore exists within the structure of society, rather than with individuals. By removing barriers and enabling full participation in society, we allow people with disabilities to function at maximum effectiveness, which benefits everyone.

With less than two years left before the act’s target date, this is our last chance to show we care, and we can do so by repairing the defects that impair us all.



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