Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
1,000 Days Ago Today, Doug Ford’s Government Received the David Onley Report, Calling for Strong New Action to Tear Down Disability Barriers – Where Is Premier Ford When We Need His Help the Most?
October 27, 2021
It’s truly jaw-dropping and hurtful. Fully 1,000 days ago, the Doug Ford Government received the final report of the Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. That report showed that 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities desperately need Ontario’s premier to make it a priority to remove the many barriers that impede people with disabilities in this province, and to prevent the creation of new barriers. Yet 1,000 days later, Ontario Premier Doug Ford has still announced no comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report’s recommendations.
The AODA Alliance has run a daily count on Twitter of the number of days since the Ford Government received the Onley Report back on January 1, 2019. We’ve offered help to the Ford Government. We have asked to meet Premier Ford, in person or virtually. He has refused. In contrast, each of Ontario’s two previous premiers had several meetings with the AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky.
A quick glance at recent media shows how disability barriers persist in Ontario, as David Onley warned. Below we set out a sampling of four recent articles:
- The October 25, 2021 CTV News Toronto broadcast included a story on the disability barriers that people with disabilities can face when snow is shoveled in their paths, and how the Ford Government’s proposed plan to allow robots to shovel sidewalks could make this worse.
- The October 16, 2021 CBC News included coverage of disability barriers in Ontario’s new COVID-19 vaccine passport system.
- The September 26, 2021 CTV News reported on a Toronto restaurant that said it refuses to admit customers who have no vaccination, and who have a documented medical exemption.
- The September 4, 2021 CTV News reported on our forewarning of the risk of disability barriers in the forthcoming new Ontario COVID-19 vaccine passport system.
We invite you to read the recently-published guest column in various Metroland newspapers by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky entitled: “Doug Ford must fix his legacy on disability issues.”
CTV News October 25, 2021
People with disabilities hope snow clearing ruling means more accessible streets
CTV News Toronto Videojournalist
TORONTO — Advocates for people with disabilities say they are hoping a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that makes cities more accountable for accidents related to snow clearing will lead to more accessible streets across the country.
Observers say the decision could extend to legal liability for other municipal activities from filling potholes to swimming pools to garbage collection, which may bring improved service but also higher costs.
The case — based on a woman injuring herself while clambering over a snowbank that had been left on a sidewalk by city workers in Nelson, B.C. — could have implications for cities across Canada, said lawyer David Lepofsky.
“I hope it’s going to make municipalities sit up and take a listen, and make sure they get it right,” said Lepofsky, a lawyer who is legally blind and represents the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.
He said he knows people with disabilities who have navigated into the roadways to avoid snowbanks left by city crews.
“They can create very serious barriers for people with disabilities,” he said.
The far-reaching decision stems from the snow piles that the city of Nelson, B.C. created when a worker cleared snow from downtown streets after a storm in early January 2015.
Nurse Taryn Joy Marchi, 28 at the time, parked in an angled spot on the street and tried to cross the snow pile to get to the sidewalk. She claimed her right foot dropped through the snow and her leg was seriously injured.
She said the city should have left openings in the sidewalk to allow safe passage, as other cities in the area did. But the trial judge dismissed the case, saying that cities were immune from lawsuits relating to policy decisions.
However, on appeal first to the B.C. Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, judges found that clearing the snow was not a “core policy decision” and so the regular principles of negligence apply.
“I think it’s going to help improve snow clearing — if we can do it correctly—so we don’t leave snowbanks in the way or potential hazards for members of the disability community,” said Anthony Frisina of the Ontario Disability Coalition.
Those hazards have been an issue for Toronto resident Alison Brown, who is legally blind and navigates the city with the help of Ellis the vision dog. She says sometimes the city doesn’t make it easy for her.
“We’ve experienced many situations where the snow is blocking the sidewalk. It becomes a stress factor and makes our ability to maneuver challenging,” she said.
She said she’s not sure what the court decision means to her — but hopes that cities get the message to “clear the snow.”
The Supreme Court decision can apply to other things a city does, or doesn’t do, said personal injury lawyer Melissa Miller with Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP.
“This case is more far-reaching than simply snow removal, which is what’s so significant about it,” she said.
“A pothole that isn’t filled in downtown Toronto that bottoms out your car and causes you a significant injury is potentially now the subject of a lawsuit,” she said.
Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said the ruling is a sign that cities must take the responsibilities of clearing snow seriously for all people.
“We have now heard a statement that says everybody get your house in order,” she said. “You have a responsibility to make sure roads and sidewalks are safe.”
Wong-Tam seconded a motion at Toronto city council in May that asked the General Manager of Transportation Services to report on the feasibility of clearing snow from accessible parking spaces by July. That date was pushed to September — but she said the report still had yet to happen.
“This is a very wealthy city. Things should not be falling apart as long as we maintain it,” she said.
Lepofsky said the case may lead to more scrutiny for snow-clearing city employees, and snow-clearing robots, which are being tested right now in Ontario.
“No matter how clever a robot is, and I don’t think it’s that clever, the danger is that they will also shovel snow into the path of a person with disabilities,” he said.
In that case, it may be less obvious who to sue if there is not a clear connection between the robot’s actions and the person who programmed it or is monitoring it, he said.
The City of Toronto, which intervened in the lawsuit, said through a spokesperson that it will “continue to deliver a comprehensive snow and ice clearing service this winter, with council approval, has the capability to adjust service levels if required.”
CBC News October 16, 2021
Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/vaccine-certificate-accessibility-1.6213934
Ontario’s enhanced vaccine certificate system not accessible to marginalized people, advocates say
Enhanced system assumes people have smartphones, computers, printers, internet access
Muriel Draaisma, Dale Manucdoc
Ontario Premier Doug Ford attends a media briefing at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Friday. Ford announced that the province is making enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificates with scannable QR codes available for download. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
Advocates say Ontario’s enhanced COVID-19 vaccine certificate system is not accessible for marginalized groups.
The new system, announced on Friday, assumes people have smartphones, computers, printers, internet access, a data plan and the ability to navigate the provincial website, the advocates told CBC News on Saturday.
According to representatives of three organizations, the Ontario government failed to consider the needs of people with disabilities, including those who are cognitively impaired, have mobility issues or are legally blind, as well as seniors on a fixed income, low-income people and unhoused people.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said the government didn’t properly test its enhanced system to ensure it met accessibility requirements. Lepofsky, who is completely blind, is a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School. The alliance is a disability consumer advocacy group.
“Yet again, unfortunately, the Ford government has shown that accessibility for people with disabilities, during COVID and more generally, is just not a priority for them,” Lepofsky said on Saturday.
Ontarians can begin downloading QR code COVID-19 vaccine certificates over next 3 days
Ontario’s vaccine verification app for businesses now available as 417 new COVID-19 cases reported
Lepofsky said he found the announcement, website and news release all to be confusing because he thought there would an app for individuals that people could load onto their phones that would show their COVID-19 vaccine certificates. However, the app, Verify Ontario, turns out to be for businesses.
The app for businesses also doesn’t accommodate the need for medical exemptions, he added.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says the Ford government has again ‘shown that accessibility for people with disabilities, during COVID and more generally, is just not a priority for them.’ (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
Then, when Lepofsky began to fill out the fields required on the provincial COVID-19 vaccination portal, he found he had to ask his wife to read the number on the back of his green health card. She had to use a magnifying glass because the colour contrast is not good and the print is smaller on the back than on the front, he said.
Lepofsky said making provincial public health requirements, such as vaccine certificates, accessible is not difficult, but there has to be a commitment to doing so.
“Ultimately, there is a failure to take into account the needs of people who are not smartphone-owning, internet-connected, tech-savvy, sighted, not disabled people,” he said.
“It just creates a two-class society,” he added. “There are people with various disabilities who live independently and want to live independently, and they deserve the same access that people without disabilities are being given.”
Ford announced new enhanced system on Friday
On Friday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced that Ontarians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can start downloading new QR codes this week, which officials say will allow for faster entry into settings that require proof of vaccination.
The enhanced system officially takes effect Oct. 22, but Ontarians can get their new scannable vaccine certificates before then, and businesses can already start using a new app to scan those codes.
Premier Doug Ford said on Friday that Ontarians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19 can start downloading new QR codes this week. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press)
On Friday, residents whose birthdays fall between January and April were able to download the enhanced vaccination certificate through the province’s COVID-19 website. On Saturday, those born between May and August could download it, while on Sunday, those born between September and December will have their chance.
Seniors face obstacles to download certificates, group says
Elizabeth Macnab, executive director of the Ontario Society of Senior Citizens Organizations, said the government should have consulted with seniors advocacy groups and the provincial Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility before launching the enhanced vaccine certificate system.
Macnab noted that at least 20 per cent of Ontario’s population is over 65, but the people who designed the software are likely in their 40, 30s or 20s. “There’s a really deep divide in the understanding of technology and the intuitiveness as well, how to use it, how to access it and so on,” Macnab said.
“When you are an older person, it becomes an affordability issue in terms of technology,” Macnab said. “It becomes the basic necessities. The high cost of gas. I can’t drive to the grocery store, can’t socialize, let alone buy the technology too.”
Mobility and cognitive impairment also pose challenges. “If you’re a person with a mobility issue, you’re in a walker and you’re wandering around. Your hands are full. You’ve got to pull all of this stuff out. It’s a lot easier for somebody without the challenges of mobility level and cognitive impairment.”
Angie Peters, president and CEO of the Yonge Street Mission, says the process is complicated for unhoused young people or young people without stable housing because their contact information can change constantly. (CBC)
Angie Peters, president and CEO of the Yonge Street Mission, said unhoused young people or young people without stable housing do not always have income, leaving them without access to technology. The process is complicated because their contact information can change constantly.
“There are periods of time where they don’t have a phone, so if they had it loaded on a device, and they no longer have that device, now they don’t have it and they have to get it again,” Peters said.
Province says it knows access to technology is issue
Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Ontario Health Ministry, said in an email on Saturday that the government has worked to make the process accessible for all Ontarians.
“We understand that not everyone has access to technology, which is why we have worked to make vaccine certificates as accessible as possible,” Hilkene said.
Those who are unable to download the certificate themselves can contact the Provincial Vaccine Contact Centre to have it mailed or emailed to them. The centre can be reached at 1-833-943-3900 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.
She said people who do not have an Ontario health card can contact their public health unit to have their identity verified and get a COVID ID, which is a unique number assigned by a public health unit for the purpose of obtaining a copy of a vaccine certificate.
The province says people can print a copy of their enhanced vaccine certificate by visiting a local library, going to a ServiceOntario location, or asking a trusted friend or organization.
Enhanced certificates are not mandatory and Ontarians can continue using their current vaccine receipt if they wish.
CTV News Toronto September 26, 2021
Toronto restaurant says it won’t accept medical exemptions
CTV News Toronto Videojournalist
TORONTO — A midtown Toronto restaurant worries its staff won’t be able to tell the difference between real vaccine passport exemptions and potential fakers when it opens to indoor diners in just over a week — so, it’s only going to let fully vaccinated people in.
“Just for now I’m not going to be accepting doctor’s certificates as exemptions. I just want fully vaccinated people in here. For the past two years we’ve been incredibly safe, our staff are healthy, our customers are healthy, and I want to keep it that way,” Stern told CTV News.
Bistro on Avenue owner Cindy Stern said she’s still going to serve anyone who comes by through her take-out window, accommodating any medical issues that might come up. But for indoor dining, she said she’s worried about unvaccinated people trying to cheat, using notes from doctors that her staff won’t know how to evaluate if they are real or not.
“It could be abused and we don’t have the time or resources to vet it,” she said.
Ontario residents must show proof of vaccination when going into non-essential venues and businesses. There are two legal exemptions: people who had an allergic reaction to a vaccine component, or someone who had myocarditis or pericarditis after a first dose.
A restaurant has an obligation to serve anyone with a disability under Ontario’s Human Rights Code, and it’s possible that someone who fits either of those categories is disabled. But those cases are very rare, said Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti.
“The number of people who can get a true medical exemption is going to be very small,” he said.
That leaves people who may be trying to forge an exemption. A doctor in Richmond Hill has reportedly paused his practice after a crowd was photographed outside his clinic looking for all-purpose exemption letters.
In Florida, a doctor was fired last month after it was discovered he was offering patients mask exemption letters for $50.
David Lepofsky, a lawyer with the AODA Alliance, said the restaurant must make sure it’s accommodating any disabled customers.
He said the job of providing credible exemption documents should have fallen to the provincial government, and hoped that it would be included in the digital vaccine passport app expected next month.
“The government should have sorted this out while they were dragging their feet on a passport in the first place, rather than creating a barrier now,” he said.
The last time Stern went public on her pro-vaccination stance, she got threats.
“We don’t take them too seriously. A brick through a window. Fires. Hopefully we take it with a grain of salt,” she said.
But this time, she said the response to a tweet describing the restaurant’s current situation was overwhelmingly positive.
Bistro on Avenue
Bistro on Avenue plans to only let fully vaccinated people into the establishment and will not be accepting doctors’ notes for vaccine exemptions.
CTV News Kitchener September 4, 2021
Concerns raised over accessibility ahead of digital vaccine passport rollout in Ontario
CTV News Kitchener Multimedia Journalist
KITCHENER – As the Ontario government gets ready to roll out a digital vaccine passport system next month, some are wondering how they’ll be able to access the QR code and verification app.
Penny Frankland, 75, has a phone with no internet access on it, and is feeling forgotten after hearing about the vaccine passport plan.
“What does one do if you do not have internet on your phone?” she said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’re going to have to do something else so that we’re all included in this.”
The province has split its vaccine passport rollout into two stages. Starting on Sept. 22, fully vaccinated residents will need to print off their vaccination receipts as a PDF or save it to their phone. This will be used as proof of vaccination in non-essential settings.
On Oct. 22, the QR code and verification app will come into effect.
“We have no assurance, since we haven’t seen the app, that the app they create will be accessible for people with disabilities that do have a smart phone,” said David Lepofsky, the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
In a statement, the government of Ontario says they will provide additional support in the coming weeks for people who don’t have an email, health card or ID. The province also says the QR code can be printed out and will be accepted in paper form.
“That presupposes that you have a computer and a printer, that you have access to technology to be able to use it, and that their website for delivering all this will also be accessible,” said Lepofsky.
Advocates aren’t sure what the passport system will look like for marginalized groups, but are asking for equal and accessible options.
Places like Quebec rolled out their own vaccine passport system this week, where iPhone users were able to download the app right away, but Android users had to wait several days.
The Ontario government says it will be watching closely to make sure those same mistakes don’t happen here.