A Misleading National Post Column Unfairly Misquotes the AODA Alliance, and Claims We are Untrustworthy on the Issue of Robots on Public Sidewalks – National Post Eventually Publishes a Correction After Our Repeated Requests

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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A Misleading National Post Column Unfairly Misquotes the AODA Alliance, and Claims We are Untrustworthy on the Issue of Robots on Public Sidewalks – National Post Eventually Publishes a Correction After Our Repeated Requests

January 10, 2022

SUMMARY

Happy New Year to all supporters of our non-partisan campaign for a fully accessible society for people with disabilities. Buckle up and get ready for another hectic year in our campaign. It starts right now!

Our campaign is waged on so many fronts at the same time. Here is an example you may never have imagined would be necessary.

Amidst all the upsetting developments last year, we ended 2021 with some good news. The disability community had convinced the City of Toronto to ban robots from sidewalks, as they would create new barriers for people with disabilities.

Yet out of the blue, the December 27, 2021 edition of the National Post included a very troubling column by columnist Adam Zivo, set out below. Mr. Zivo blasted the City of Toronto for banning robots from public sidewalks. His column repeats the party line argument from some of the corporate lobbyists for part of the robotics industry.

A column opposing our position is, of course, fair game in a democracy. However, Mr. Zivo went too far. Although he correctly identified the AODA Alliance as playing a leadership role in trying to get the City to Ban robots from sidewalks, he also called us hysterical luddites. Mr. Zivo accused AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky of getting his facts wrong, and not being a trustworthy source of information on this topic.

It is a cruel irony that it was Mr. Zivo who clearly misstated the facts when he accused AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky of incorrect facts. In his December 27, 2021 column, Mr. Zivo wrote that David Lepofsky had told the Toronto Star that robots on sidewalks endanger people with disabilities partially because they could come at a blind person like Lepofsky at 20 kph. You can find that Toronto Star article at: https://www.thestar.com/business/2021/12/11/torontos-pink-delivery-robots-have-been-pulled-off-the-streets-and-may-be-banned-next-week-but-is-that-the-right-move.html

Mr. Zivo then argued that under a proposed Ontario pilot with robots on sidewalks, the robots would have a permissible maximum speed of 10 kph. This supported his column’s overall claim that AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is hysterical, untrustworthy, has his facts wrong, and does not know what he’s talking about. Mr. Zivo wrote:

“The Toronto Star recently interviewed AODA Alliance’s chair David Lepofsky, who does not fill one with confidence that he is a trustworthy voice in this debate.

According to Lepofsky, legalizing delivery robots would mean that, “At any time there could be a silent menace racing at me at 20 km/h. A sidewalk that was safe becomes one where I could go flying over.” That statement makes no sense – Tiny miles’delivery robots travel at 4km/hour and the maximum speed that would be allowed on sidewalks by Ontario’s pilot project is 10km/hour. Nor does this hypothetical situation remotely match Toronto’s actual experiences with delivery robots over the past year.”

That would be quite a great point for Mr. Zivo’s argument, except that it is utterly false. In the December 11, 2021 Toronto star article which Mr. Zivo quotes, David Lepofsky was clearly and obviously  talking about the dangers of electric scooters, and not robots, racing at 20 kph. It was not until later in that Toronto Star article that Lepofsky was quoted on the subject of robots. He never claimed in the Toronto Star Article that robots could hit pedestrians at 20 kph. Here is the relevant part of that Toronto Star article from which Mr. Zivo extracted his distorted quotation:

“Lepofsky has already spent the last couple of years campaigning against an Ontario government pilot project that allows municipalities to decide for themselves whether to allow e-scooters on public roads and sidewalks, which he calls a nightmare for people with disabilities.

He wants them banned province-wide, not just in some cities.

“At any time there could be a silent menace racing at me at 20 km/h. A sidewalk that was safe becomes one where I could go flying over.”

He wasn’t expecting to have to arm himself against another pilot project – at least, not so soon.

But then came the robots.

In November, the Ministry of Transportation concluded public consultation on a proposed 10-year pilot project that would allow companies across Ontario to operate so-called micro-utility devices – autonomous or remotely piloted robots – on public sidewalks for purposes like delivery service and snow shovelling.”

The same day that Mr. Zivo’s National Post column ran, David Lepofsky sent the National Post a responding letter to the editor. He was not the only person to dispute Mr. Zivo’s ringing endorsement of robots on public sidewalks. On the next day, December 28, 2021, David Lepofsky again wrote the National Post to re-submit his letter to the editor, and to ask the newspaper to publish a correction regarding Mr. Zivo’s column. In that email, Lepofsky wrote in part:

“This is not a question of opinion but of objective provable fact. When so clear a misquote is attributed to someone, especially when included in a national newspaper, basic principles of good journalism dictate that it merits a published correction in your paper. In my case, this supplements the fact that having been attacked by name in your paper, I hope and trust that my letter can run as a fair chance to respond to that attack.”

Normally, a newspaper runs letters to the editor within a day or two after an item is published to which the letters respond. Yet for days the National Post ran no correction to Mr. Zivo’s column, and as far as we could determine, published no letters to the editor disputing it. David Lepofsky again wrote the National Post on January 6, 2022, reiterating his concerns. The Post responded for the first time, stating that it was delayed over the holidays in addressing letters to the editor. It advised that the Post would run a slightly-edited version of Lepofsky’s letter to the editor in the print and online versions of the newspaper, as well as a correction. Additionally, the National Post advised that it would run another letter to the editor that disagreed with Mr. Zivo’s position.

Below, right after Mr. Zivo’s original column, you can read the letters to the editor from David Lepofsky and from Tim Nolan that ran in the January 8, 2022 National Post. Before them, you can read the correction that the National Post included in its print edition on that date.

This is progress. However, the story is not finished. As far as we can determine, the National Post has published no correction in its online newspaper. Moreover, it has left the original column by Mr. Zivo up on its website, including the misquote of David Lepofsky which the National Post has agreed is false. On January 8, 2022, David Lepofsky again wrote the National Post to ask that this be corrected. We are awaiting a response from the National Post. Lepofsky wrote in part:

“If the print version warranted a correction, then the identical online version deserved a correction.

As well, the initial online version of Mr. Zivo’s column remains on your website, replete with its false statement about me which the National Post has recognized as warranting a correction. That misstatement about me in Mr. Zivo’s column should not remain on the National Post’s website, much less should the column remain there without a notification to the reader that the National Post has recognized that it has included an incorrect statement of fact about me that warranted a correction. This is especially so since Mr. Zivo’s column remains on your site alleging that I am untrustworthy and that I get my facts wrong.

Can you please advise what corrective action will be taken. I would appreciate this being fixed quickly, since the Zivo article has remained on your website for 12 days, levelling those accusations at me, without being corrected.”

This saga shows how vigilant we must be, not only with the Ontario Government, but also with the media, even when the facts are on our side.

Stay tuned for more news on this and other fronts in our accessibility campaign. As the new year gets underway, there are now less than three years left for the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. For the Government to allow municipalities to conduct pilot projects with robots on public sidewalks will set Ontario even further behind on that score.

As of today, there have been 1,075 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that was conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Ford Government has still not announced a comprehensive plan to implement all of that report’s recommendations.

Check our the AODA Alliance’s 2021 Year-End Report, if you have not done so already, to see what is likely in store for us over the next weeks and months. Your feedback is always invited. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

MORE DETAILS

National Post December 27, 2021

Originally posted at https://nationalpost.com/opinion/adam-zivo-these-delivery-robots-are-a-hazard-to-no-one-but-toronto-banned-them-anyway

Opinion

Toronto sticks it to benign little delivery robots

Throughout the past year, little pink robots were hauling deliveries across downtown Toronto, much to the delight of most local citizens. The robots provided a cheaper alternative to human couriers, which made them particularly useful for the disabled and elderly. However, Toronto city council banned them earlier this month, citing safety concerns, despite the fact that no evidence exists that the robots are actually dangerous.

Rather than supporting local innovation and attracting tech investment, it seems that Toronto’s political leaders have chosen to instead indulge a moral panic spread by a handful of luddites.

Prior to being banned, these delivery robots, also called “micro-utility devices” (MUDs), operated in a legal grey area. They weren’t prohibited, but neither were they recognized by any existing regulations, because, as is often the case, regulators lagged behind technological innovation.

In the face of this inertia, a Toronto-based company, Tiny Mile, launched a robot delivery service that couriered goods at a cost of $1 per kilometre. The robots were emblazoned with pink hearts for eyes and became a fixture in some downtown neighbourhoods, trudging at a careful pace of 4 kilometres an hour. The robots also appeared to be remarkably safe, with no reported collisions, accidents or complaints despite completing over 100,000 kilometres in deliveries.

Tiny Mile became a nascent success story and began planning for a quick expansion. The company seemed positioned to become a global leader in the deployment of delivery robot technology – something that should have been celebrated. Not only is entrepreneurship the lifeblood of any economy, it’s rare for a city to find itself on the cutting edge of an entirely new, globally-relevant innovation.

It seemed as if regulations were finally beginning to catch up. This autumn, Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation proposed a pilot project that will eventually regulate MUDs – for example, setting maximum speeds (10km/hour on sidewalks; 20km/hour on road shoulders and bike lanes) and mandating certain safety features, such as lights for night deliveries. The Ontario pilot is still in development, but, by and large, Tiny Mile is already compliant with its rules.

While it seemed as if everything was aligning to the benefit of Toronto’s tech industry and local economy, discontent was brewing elsewhere. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, a disability rights advocacy group, has been aggressively campaigning against normalizing delivery robots, calling them a menace to the disabled.

Their lobbying captured the attention of Toronto Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, who began to parrot many of their talking points. Wong-Tam is chair of the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee, which, in early December, recommended banning MUDs.

That recommendation directly led to the municipal ban that was adopted by Toronto city council.

The fact that the AODA Alliance, in partnership with Councillor Wong-Tam, killed Toronto’s delivery robot industry wouldn’t be an issue if they had legitimate objections worth addressing – but their campaign seems rooted in technophobia and hysteria. It’s hard to come to a different conclusion when a group aggressively asserts that delivery robots are dangerous without providing any actual evidence to support that claim, all while ignoring local data that suggests that delivery robots are safe.

The Toronto Star recently interviewed AODA Alliance’s chair David Lepofsky, who does not fill one with confidence that he is a trustworthy voice in this debate.

According to Lepofsky, legalizing delivery robots would mean that, “At any time there could be a silent menace racing at me at 20 km/h. A sidewalk that was safe becomes one where I could go flying over.” That statement makes no sense – Tiny Miles’delivery robots travel at 4km/hour and the maximum speed that would be allowed on sidewalks by Ontario’s pilot project is 10km/hour. Nor does this hypothetical situation remotely match Toronto’s actual experiences with delivery robots over the past year.

Lepofsky also argued that if an unmanned robot breaks a rule or gets into an accident, it would be difficult to track down the person responsible because the robot operator is not physically present at the scene. Apparently it is inconceivable that someone could simply contact a delivery company to confirm who was operating a particular robot at the time of an incident.

Lepofsky is a retired lawyer and has spent months campaigning against delivery robots – so why is he getting basic facts wrong and forwarding such flimsy arguments? Whatever the answer, it’s a shame that Toronto city council chose to take claims like his at face value. The key takeaway is that if you want to effectively lobby the city, you can just fudge numbers and come up with scary hypotheticals, plausibility be damned.

The ideal outcome would have been for city council to simply adapt the regulations proposed by Ontario’s pilot project and then adjust them as needed.

Instead, council prioritized parochialism. This should anger anyone who is concerned about the economic harms of over-regulation. It should also anger those concerned about disability rights – because disabled and elderly residents, especially lower-income ones, would have disproportionately benefited from delivery robots. Going forward, they will have to pay more to have medication and other essentials delivered to their door – and that’s a real harm, not a hypothetical one.

Adam Zivo

National Post January 8, 2022

News

Correction

David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, was referring to e-scooters, not street robots, when he told the Toronto Star in an interview that “At any time there could be a silent menace racing at me at 20 km/h. A sidewalk that was safe becomes one where I could go flying over.”

Incorrect information appeared in an Adam Zivo column on Dec. 27.

National Post January 8, 2022

Originally posted at https://nationalpost.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor-columnist-got-it-wrong-on-street-robots

Letters

Columnist got it wrong on street robots; Letters of the day

Graphic: Supplied, Tiny Mile / Toronto’s banning of robots from sidewalks has been lauded by two letter writers who point out they provide obstacles and endanger safety for people with disabilities.;

Re: Toronto sticks it to benign little delivery robots, Adam Zivo, Dec. 27 I applaud Toronto’s banning of robots from sidewalks, contrary to Adam Zivo’s column. Robots, like ones delivering packages, endanger safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors and others. This ban covers all robots, not just small ones.

Blind people like me risk not knowing a robot is silently heading right at us or is in our path. For people using wheelchairs, robots on sidewalks risk blocking their path. Have balance issues? Robots brushing by could send you toppling. Sidewalks already have too many accessibility barriers, street furniture, art, signs and more.

Zivo’s column robotically parroted corporate lobbyists. It also falsely branded me a technophobic Luddite. As a blind person, cutting-edge technology let me read his erroneous column. It enabled me to quickly confirm that he misrepresented me, by quoting something I had told another publication about electric scooters, while incorrectly claiming I was talking about robots.

Zivo claims banning sidewalk robots hurts people with disabilities, because they would reduce the cost of delivering medications. Check your facts. My pharmacy delivers my meds for free.

I only oppose technology that endangers safety. You cannot arrest, prosecute or sue a robot. You can’t prove who unleashed that robot onto the sidewalk. A robot might display a bogus company name. Just imagine what criminals could deliver using robots, if allowed on sidewalks. David Lepofsky Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

 National Post January 8, 2022

Originally posted at https://nationalpost.com/opinion/letters-to-the-editor-columnist-got-it-wrong-on-street-robots

Letters

Columnist got it wrong on street robots

Hamilton, Ont. –

One of the greatest challenges in life is to understand the world around us from the perspective of others; that is to walk in someone else’s shoes. Based upon the opinion of Adam Zivo it does not appear that he does, or even tries, to truly understand the world of someone with a disability.

Zivo claims Toronto City Council came to its decision despite a lack of evidence. Yet, he, himself, provides no evidence in support of his opinion. Not until he, as a blind person, must navigate a sidewalk that is obstructed by restaurants, mailboxes, posts, garbage bins, flower planters, trees, bus shelters, wayward scooter riders, fire hydrants, parking meters, and many more obstacles, would Zivo be entitled to an opinion on matters for which he so clearly has no knowledge.

Zivo also clearly knows nothing about innovation and people with disabilities. Many of the technological advancements universally enjoyed by the public were developed or refined for, if not by, people with disabilities in order that they have access to the information that the world so casually enjoys. Technology is important, if not critical to people with disabilities. But, that technology must be thoughtfully designed and developed. The same regulatory processes which govern food, toys for children, vehicles on the roads, and more, should govern advancements in robots, e-scooters, sidewalk restaurants, light rail transit and many more changes to our environment that impose unnecessary barriers to the people we should care for above all else.

Technology can be as harmful as it can be helpful.

We must encourage advancement, critically and safely. And, Zivo might think about everyone and not just getting his pizza to his door without having to give a tip.

Hopefully other municipalities will demonstrate the same degree of courage as Toronto.

Tim Nolan, Hamilton, Ont.