Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
2022 Begins with A Blast of New Media Coverage on Different Disability Accessibility Issues
January 21, 2022
2022 has begun with a diverse number of disability accessibility issues already getting media coverage. Here is just a sampling, all of which is set out below. Some of these articles quote the AODA Alliance. In each case, it was the media that came to us, seeking comment:
- A January 13, 2022 CBC News report on people with disabilities facing disability barriers in Ontario’s health care system during the Omicron surge.
- A January 18, 2022 City News report on the disability barrier created by the Ontario Government’s requirement that one can only renew a Health Card online (rather than going to a Service Ontario location in person) if they have a driver’s license.
- A January 14, 2022 report in “The Maple” publication on disability barriers in the health care system in Ontario.
- A January 12, 2022 Globe and Mail article on disability barriers in websites relating to real estate, and the Ontario Government’s paltry enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- A January 18, 2022 article in Niagara This Week, also published in the St. Catharines Standard, among other places, on the Ford Government’s poor implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its impact on Niagara on the Lake.
The January 16, 2022 evening news report on City TV had an excellent report on disability barriers in the health care system in Ontario. However, we have not been able to find it online for you.
We are also happy to report that the National Post has finally posted a correction to its inaccurate quotation of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky in its December 27, 2021 column on Toronto’s banning robots from public sidewalks. Better late than never.
There have now been 1,086 days since the Ford Government received former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation. We are still waiting for the Ford Government to announce a comprehensive plan to implement that report.
Send your feedback to us at email@example.com
CBC News January 13, 2022
People with disabilities ‘left out’ of Ontario’s pandemic response | CBC News Loaded
Activists say 2.9M Ontarians with disabilities are being disproportionately affected by the pandemic
Nicole Williams CBC News
People with disabilities in Ontario are calling on the province to make COVID-19 testing and vaccination appointments more accessible. (Trevor Brine/CBC)
Advocates and people with disabilities say they have been left behind in Ontario’s COVID-19 pandemic response, particular its testing and vaccination efforts.
As Omicron continues to sweep through the province, with a soaring number of hospitalizations, local health units and Ontario’s Ministry of Health have called for people to get booster shots as quickly as possible. In December, the province also launched a campaign to hand out free COVID-19 rapid tests in order to curb the growing wave of infections.
Centres saw long lines of people eagerly waiting outside in the middle of winter to get their hands on a rapid test or a booster shot, which people with certain disabilities can’t safely do, says advocate Catherine Gardner, who also uses a wheelchair.
Pandemic-era patios still too often inaccessible, disability advocates say
“If you’re using a mobility device, a cane, walker, you just can’t stand in line that long,” Gardner said, adding there are usually no places for people to sit outside of these sites.
Gardner has gone to get rapid tests on several occasions where she has either had to wait for long periods of time outside in the cold, or forced to travel a fair distance from where accessible transit dropped her off.
Booking rides requires advance notice
Similar barriers have left people like John Redins tired and discouraged.
“It’s been like a roller coaster to watch [that] you have limited access to these things and to these type of events,” said Redins.
In a statement, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility pointed to its Accessible Drives to Vaccines program that launched last summer and helps people with mobility issues get to their vaccine appointments. Ottawa Public Health has similar accommodations available for people in need of transportation.
People with disabilities demand hike in income support, give province failing grade
However, many pop-up vaccine clinics or rapid test giveaways are hosted on short notice, sometimes on the same day they’re announced. Booking a ride through the provincial program and the city’s website requires at least 48 hours notice.
“It frustrates me because I feel like I’m being left out,” said Redins, who continues to recover from COVID-19 and laments his inability to get tested and vaccinated as soon as he would have liked.
Current response is ‘one size fits all’
There are 2.9 million Ontarians with disabilities, according David Lepofsky, a law professor and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
He said that segment of the population has faced barriers throughout the entire pandemic, when they should in fact be made a priority.
David Lepofsky is a law professor and chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
“People with disabilities are disproportionately prone to get COVID. They’re disproportionately prone to get its worst consequences,” Lepofsky said.
From long lines, to outdoor locations, to physical distancing signs that can’t be seen by those who are visually impaired, he said there is rarely adequate accommodation for people with disabilities.
“The Ford government too often has taken a one-size-fits-all approach to its emergency planning, assuming that people have no disabilities,” he said.
Lepofsky said the alliance wants to see the government ramp up emergency plans to ensure vulnerable people with disabilities are assured access to testing and safe access to vaccines. Gardner said having these sites indoors would go a long way for that population, too.
People with disabilities being disproportionately affected by pandemic response
Those in Ontario are calling on the province to reconsider accessibility to vaccine and testing appointments 5:37
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nicole Williams is a journalist with CBC Ottawa. She previously worked as a reporter with CBC P.E.I. and as an associate producer with CBC News in Toronto.
CityNews January 18, 2022
Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2022/01/18/ontario-health-card-renewal-deadline/
It’s time to renew your Ontario health card; advocates call for deadline extension
Advocates seek deadline extension for renewing Ontario Health Cards
Advocates for seniors and vulnerable communities say the timing and deadline for health card renewal are far from ideal. Dilshad Burman of CityNews explains.
By Dilshad Burman
During the two years of the pandemic, many Ontario health cards have expired, and the province temporarily extended renewals due to COVID-19 and the various public health protocols that followed.
Over the holidays, Service Ontario sent out letters stating it is now time to renew your health card and “you must ensure you hold a non-expired Ontario photo health card by Feb. 28.”
Those who have a valid driver’s licence with their current address on the back are in luck — they can renew online. Everyone else has to do so in person.
Lousy timing for many vulnerable groups
Advocates for seniors and vulnerable communities say the timing and deadline for health card renewal are far from ideal.
“Maybe this isn’t the best time to be doing this kind of thing. We’re still dealing with the Omicron wave. There are a lot of people who are dealing with the downstream consequences of this pandemic,” says Dr. Naheed Dosani, palliative care physician and health equity lead at Kensington Health in Toronto.
Dosani points out that even before the pandemic, those who face structural vulnerabilities have long battled challenges to obtaining identification for access to healthcare.
“There are significant barriers … transportation, money, the time that people may not actually have because they’re working … or people who are dealing with mental illness or cognitive impairment,” he explained.
CEO of CanAge, Canada’s national seniors’ advocacy organization, adds that the health card renewal process will be both complicated and ill-timed for seniors during the midst of a substantial COVID-19 surge.
“When we’re asking people to stay at home … telling people — particularly vulnerable, older people — that they need to get this done in person is counter to everything we’re asking people to do to stay home and stay well,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, adding that the issue is further compounded for seniors who face literacy or language barriers.
Dosani also points out that many people have lost their support networks because of the pandemic — including case workers or volunteer support groups — making it even more challenging to show up in person for health card renewal.
Tamblyn Watts says the same is true for seniors isolated at home alone.
“Older adults or people with disabilities who do not have their care workers or even their informal family supporters to help them get a renewal in-person face additional challenges … particularly at a time where many older people are self-isolating, and this is especially true as school [begins again],” she explained. “So family members like adult children who may have been able to help their vulnerable older parent may not be able to do so now because of fear of exposure, because their kids are back in school.”
Call to make alternate arrangements and extend deadlines
“Knowing that many of the people I care for may not be able to actually show up in person by [the deadline] — what will this mean for people in their ability to access healthcare? I certainly hope that this doesn’t lead to people being turned away from healthcare. It could create barriers, and that could really impact people’s healthcare outcomes. That’s worrying me,” said Dosani.
Tamblyn Watts echoes those sentiments.
“We’re looking right now at how having fourth boosters rolling out for older people and people who have other immunocompromised vulnerabilities. The last thing we want to do is have outdated health cards be a block for them to get their booster shot,” she said.
Dosani opines that online renewal should perhaps be expanded to all Ontarians.
“There are lots of things that we do in our society that previously we didn’t do online, that we do online now,” said Dosani. “I know that people are doing their citizenship tests online, for example. And so you start to wonder — it’s probably time to just evolve the process.”
Tamblyn Watts says many seniors will not be able to navigate the process online without support, but both agree that the simplest solution is to move the deadline.
“We have extended other important services, and this is one we should be extending again. There’s no real pressing reason that this timeline be enforced right now. What we need to do is extend this timeline well into the spring when the weather is better, and Omicron has lessened,” said Tamblyn.
“It may be worthwhile to move this initiative down the road when it’s more feasible, and it’s potentially safer for people,” added Dosani.
CityNews reached out to the Ministry of Health about the possibility of a deadline extension and whether online solutions are being considered but did not hear back before publishing time.
The Maple January 14, 2022
People With Disabilities Endangered By Discrimination Amid Omicron Surge, Ontario Advocate Warns
“The healthcare system was already full of way too many disability barriers impeding access to service before COVID started, and the government’s response to COVID is making it worse in several ways.”
An advocacy group has written to Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott warning that people with disabilities are in danger because of her government’s failure to lift discriminatory barriers that prevent access to care amid the Omicron surge.
David Lepofsky, who chairs Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, told The Maple : “The healthcare system was already full of way too many disability barriers impeding access to service before COVID started, and the government’s response to COVID is making it worse in several ways.”
Lepofsky said the Doug Ford government has failed to undertake an effective strategy to ensure people with disabilities can get vaccinated. For example,
Lepofsky, who is blind, was given the option to register for a vaccine appointment at a pharmacy whose website was not accessible to people with visual impairments.
“The government did not make sure those websites were accessible because the government is not effectively enforcing its own accessibility rules,” said Lepofsky.
When Lepofsky went to get his booster shot, he spoke to someone in line who had been waiting for over an hour, with no chairs provided. The individual’s partner had to wait in their car, Lepofsky explained, because they could not stand for that length of time. Lepofsky said he has heard similar stories from many other people with disabilities.
Another key concern, Lepofsky explained, is the Ontario government’s triage protocols, which he said discriminate against people with disabilities. Triage protocols are enacted when health services become so overwhelmed that health professionals must prioritize allocating limited resources to some patients while denying care to others, often fatally.
Ontario has not yet reached a point where formal triage protocols have been enacted. According to Ontario’s COVID-19 science advisory table, a total of 500 people – or 226.9 people per one million inhabitants – are currently in intensive care units. That figure represents a steep increase over the past two weeks, and is largely driven by unvaccinated patients.
An additional challenge for hospitals during the Omicron wave, Lepofsky noted, is the shortage of hospital staff, as many have fallen ill and need to self-isolate.
A year ago, a copy of the Doug Ford government’s critical care triage protocol was leaked to AODAA. It stated: “Patients who have a high likelihood of dying within twelve months from the onset of their episode of critical illness (based on an evaluation of their clinical presentation at the point of triage) would have a lower priority for critical care resources.”
At that time, Lepofsky stated the document “made many people with disabilities terrified, angry and distrustful.” Those concerns, he told The Maple, have flared up again amid the Omicron surge.
While the leaked document states that triage decisions cannot be made on the basis of a patient’s disability, the protocol includes a graded ranking of a patient’s ability to carry out basic daily tasks. The lowest grade is assigned to those who are “Completely disabled; cannot carry on any selfcare; totally confined to bed or chair.”
The Ontario government has not denied the authenticity of the critical care triage protocol document, AODAA said in a statement Thursday.
“It’s replete with disability discrimination problems,” said Lepofsky. “We’ve raised concerns, the Human Rights Commission’s raised concerns; the government has done, as far as we’ve seen, nothing to fix it.”
“They’ve embedded discriminatory triage rules in hospitals. Hospitals have been trained on how to use this thing,” he added, noting that a webinar hosted by Critical Care Services Ontario on January 23, 2021 provided training on the protocol.
Lepofsky said his organization has heard from many people with disabilities who are worried that they may be deprioritized for care in a triage scenario if they are admitted to hospital during the Omicron wave.
Another concern, Lepofsky added, is that the surge in hospitalizations due to Omicron is postponing elective surgeries that could have significant implications for some patients’ health. Lepofsky said he believes there are “ample reasons” to worry that physicians may apply similarly discriminatory attitudes when deciding which elective surgeries get postponed.
AODAA is also concerned that there are no measures in place to ensure that ambulance operators and emergency medical technicians also do not apply triage protocols that discriminate against people with disabilities.
In addition to calling on the Ford government to immediately rescind its critical care triage protocol, AODAA wants the province to make public all other triage protocols as well as information about the appeals process for those denied care.
“If there’s a discretion that makes decisions over how [services are] allocated, there should be accountability, and there should be due process, especially when it relates to your health,” said Lepofsky.
Globe and Mail January 12, 2022
Visually impaired say real estate sites need work
SHANE DINGMAN REAL ESTATE REPORTER
PUBLISHED JANUARY 12, 2022
To a visually impaired person, the average real estate listing website can be indecipherable.
Accessibility of most digital services remains a huge stumbling block in Canada, but one of the things a sighted person takes for granted when looking at Realtor.ca or some other online listings portal is how much work the pictures do to itemize the elements of a home that is for sale. A blind or visually impaired person may not be able to tell if there is a large bay window in the dining room; they can’t see that the kitchen has no upper cabinets or that there are unfinished floors in the house.
In a business where most home buyers start their search online, a large and growing population of visually impaired Canadians could be frustrated or shut out.
“There’s a misunderstanding about what disability is: [some people] think it’s a tiny sliver of the population but that’s not the case,” said Sam Proulx, who is blind and an accessibility advocate at Toronto-based consulting firm Fable Tech Labs Inc. The company has helped Walmart, Telus, Slack and Shopify, among others, to build accessible online systems.
A 2017 study from the Canadian National Institute for the Blind estimated 1.5 million Canadians self-identify as having sight loss. Millions more said they had conditions that could cause visual impairment in the future. Ontario has the largest cohort of visually impaired Canadians with more than 680,000, which is approximately the population of Hamilton (the province’s third-largest urban area). “One in five people lives with a disability, that’s only going to increase, especially in Canada with an aging population,” Mr. Proulx said.
For the visually impaired, text is king: Many blind people such as Mr. Proulx use screen-reader software that essentially creates an audio version of a website so they can access the internet. It can be difficult for a sighted person unfamiliar with accessibility software to assess the compliance of websites, but there are browser plug-ins that will check a site and provide tips for improving usefulness for the disabled.
Accessible website design frequently means adding descriptive text to such things as photos, infographics or images containing important contact information, including a business card.
A cursory check using one accessibility software tool at siteimprove.ca found serious deficiencies on some real estate sites. A typical listing found on Royallepage.ca – online home of Canada’s largest real estate holding company – drew 19 warnings that photos were missing appropriate descriptive text. Listings on the site for Canada’s largest realtor grouping, the Toronto Regional Real Estate Board, typically had more than 50 images missing descriptive text. And Canada’s most-visited real estate site, Realtor.ca, had some listings with 70 or more images missing descriptive text or with text that was meaningless.
Mr. Proulx warns that some checkers can throw up false-negatives and that hiring a consultant to do a full site audit is preferable.
According to a statement from TRREB chief executive officer John DiMichele, its most recent accessibility survey found its listings service was just a little more than 70-per-cent compliant with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) that established standards designed to address some of the structural barriers disabled people face in accessing goods and services, including digital services and websites.
“We are awaiting the developer’s full report so that we can review the outstanding AODA compliance items and develop a plan to improve its compliance level,” Mr. DiMichele said in a statement. He added that TRREB had hired AccessiBe, an Israeli technology company, “to perform a compliance audit of our public website, as recommended by the Ontario government.”
But critics say many organizations have failed to meet the very generous compliance deadlines (in some cases organizations had 10 years to get to work), many of which elapsed in 2021, set by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility.
“The problem generally is the government is doing an absolutely pathetic job of enforcing the AODA,” said David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer and law professor who runs the activist group Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “They could be doing spot checks, such as saying ‘Hey, real estate sector’ and give them a head’s up to start cleaning up their act. But the government’s enforcement of the AODA has been incredibly paltry.”
Compliance with the AODA can mean as little as proving you have a policy that will address any accessibility issues in your business, and there are more than 400,000 organizations that are obligated to comply with the AODA in Ontario. In its 2017 AODA enforcement report, the ministry said it conducted 1,746 “compliance activities” (audits and inspections), 16 of which involved an inspector. Ten of those were closed without an enforcement order. In the other six, orders were issued, with three incurring an administrative monetary penalty.
The ministry said it has not yet produced annual reports for 2020 or 2021 because of delays related to COVID-19, but its 2019 report showed a slowdown in resourcing. In that year, 1,130 new audits were launched and only 80 per cent were completed, with the addition of 427 completed from the previous year. A total of 172 cases were escalated to inspector level and, of those, 21 were issued a director’s order, five of which came with a monetary penalty.
In 2017, 56,000 organizations were supposed to submit their own compliance report, but less than half, about 24,000, did so. Of those that sent in a report, 94 per cent said they were in full compliance.
In a statement to The Globe, the ministry didn’t say how many compliance reports were received in 2020 or 2021, but did say, “We have found that approximately 96 per cent of organizations come into compliance when made aware of their obligations without requiring any escalated enforcement action.”
Mr. Lepofsky bemoans the inability of Ontarians to directly sue a non-compliant organization, an option that has been available for decades in the U.S. under the Americans with Disabilities Act. But Mr. Proulx believes a less combative approach could pay better dividends: “We don’t want drive-by ADA lawsuits … if your entire strategy is built on fear, [companies and organizations] are going to do the bare minimum,” he said. Mr. Proulx points out that real estate listings with better descriptive text would be more searchable, and that other customizations – for example, one that might allow a person with mobility issues to narrow down those search results based on whether the home is one-level or has steps – would be welcomed by all real estate shoppers.
Mr. Lepofsky agrees that if AODA compliance is going to be more than just ticking a box, it must reward organizations that make services more useful to both those with disabilities and those without. A popular example is closed-captioning television: developed for the deaf but usable by everyone when sound is not available or desirable. “The steps that help us, help everyone,” Mr. Lepofsky said. “The button for a power door to get into a building? Lots of people who can walk use it.”
Niagara this Week January 18, 2022
How Niagara-on-the-Lake can take charge in Ontario’s quest for full accessibility by 2025
‘It’s going to be a battleground’: Dave Antaya on potential pushback in NOTL against accessibility changes
The clock is ticking for the province of Ontario, a clock critics say the government hopes to hit the snooze button
Ontario is coming up on its 20-year anniversary since passing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005, which stipulates Ontario must become fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2025.
With three years left until then, disability advocates say the provincial government isn’t moving fast enough to make it happen.
“There’s nothing proactively being pushed to provide assistance, or guidance to make this happen,” said Dave Antaya, a Niagara-on-the-Lake member of the region’s Joint Accessibility Advisory Committee.
“They’re ignoring it and hoping it can go away.”
As part of the accessibility committee, Antaya pays close attention to how accessible things in Niagara-on-the-Lake are for people with disabilities. He said while the town has made great changes to make its municipal buildings accessible, some local businesses have had a more challenging time with the task.
For example, he said, some businesses downtown on Queen Street have steps or ledges to get inside, which aren’t wheelchair accessible. Once inside, some buildings are hard to manoeuvre around for anyone with mobility issues or who is blind.
“It sounds like picky and small things, but they are barriers,” he said.
Removing these barriers is going to take commitment, money and outside help, Antaya said, and once 2025 comes around, he anticipates there’s going to be pushback from some who haven’t made all accommodations — especially if and when the province starts to enforce those changes.
“It’s going to be a battleground,” he said.
David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, spent a decade working on the legislation before Queen’s Park passed it in 2005. Since then, he said every government has dropped the ball on accessibility, which will make it “impossible” to meet the 2025 deadline.
“We’ve been betrayed,” he said. “A substantial number of the barriers we faced are still there.”
The problem, Lepofsky said, is threefold: first, the government hasn’t passed all the accessibility regulations required; second, the regulations they have passed are not strong or all-encompassing enough; third, those regulations aren’t being effectively enforced.
After asking the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility what the current government is doing to meet the AODA goals, an email statement sent from their communications department states they’re is working to support jobseekers and workers with disabilities through their Ontario Disability Support Program and Employment Ontario, through which they’re providing funding for eligible employment supports, including workplace accommodation needs.
Eduardo Lafforgue, president and CEO of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Chamber of Commerce, said they’ve been pushing for more funding from all levels of government, which is needed now more than ever: since the COVID-19 pandemic started, businesses are in survival mode and don’t have the ability — or will — to set aside funds to make accommodations.
“All the buildings are very difficult to adapt,” Lafforgue said. “You need funding, and you need specific funding.”
Alongside funding, Lafforgue and Antaya said old buildings in Niagara-on-the-Lake will also bump up against the municipal heritage committee’s rules when making any changes to their buildings.
“You’re looking at some pretty significant rules and regulations that retailers, businesses and homes must be compliant to,” Antaya said.
Public will may be the final piece of the puzzle. This is especially relevant in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Antaya said, where its aging population is more likely to need accessibility accommodations — either now or down the line.
“As a member of the committee, I don’t know that we have … ample strong influence,” he said. “We need to be dialed into the people to sell that this is something that needs to happen.”
Zahraa Hmood is a is a reporter for Niagara this Week, covering north Niagara. You can follow her on Twitter at @zahraahmood.