A Toronto Star News Report and New Editorial Together Show Why the Ford Government Must Now Announce a Comprehensive Plan to Substantially Improve the Implementation and Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

A Toronto Star News Report and New Editorial Together Show Why the Ford Government Must Now Announce a Comprehensive Plan to Substantially Improve the Implementation and Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

June 5, 2019

                    SUMMARY

On May 21, 2019, the Toronto Star published a report, set out below, that accounted a troubling employment barrier that a job-seeker with a disability has recently faced in Ontario. On May 27, 2019, the Toronto Star published a powerful follow-up editorial on this issue, also set out below.

This editorial was published during National Accessibility Abilities Week in Canada. This is the 15th time a media editorial has backed an issue on which we have been campaigning during the past 25 years of our non-partisan campaign for accessibility.

Here are four important comments on these two newspaper items.

  1. These reports describe an event in our province that, sadly, is not an isolated or unique incident. This incident is just one of many examples that show how far Ontario lags behind when it comes to meeting the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. In the workplace, people with disabilities continue to face disability barrier after barrier. The result is an unfairly high unemployment rate facing people with disabilities. We have often quoted former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who said that the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities in Canada is not only a national crisis – It is a national shame.
  1. In the face of recurring situations like this, the current Ontario Government has no comprehensive plan of action to meet the goal of full accessibility by 2025. The Ford Government has now been in power for almost one year. It has promised to be a “government for the people”. Yet 1.9 million people with disabilities in Ontario don’t seem to be treated as a full and equal part of “the people”.

A readily-available plan of action is available to the Ford Government, if only it would put it into action. It is the plan of action set out in the Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley submitted to the Government on January 31, 2019. That report largely incorporates recommendations that the AODA Alliance presented to the Onley Review.

There have now been 126 days since the Ford Government received the David Onley Report. Yet the Government has still announced no comprehensive plan to implement that report. This is so even though back on April 10, 2019, Ontario’s Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said in the legislature that Mr. Onley did a “marvelous job” and that Ontario isn’t 30% towards its goal of being accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, the deadline that the AODA requires. Moreover, last December, the Ford Government said that it was waiting for the Onley Report before it decided how to proceed to address the disability accessibility issue.

  1. It is encouraging and very much appreciated that the media again came to the AODA Alliance to comment on the broader implications of stories such as these. Indeed, the May 21, 2019 Toronto Star article quoted and drew upon the May 17, 2019 AODA Alliance Update as follows:

“Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky praised Judge for trying to hold Holland Bloorview and the city to account, but said the problem ultimately lies with Queen’s Park and its lack of action on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

As noted in a government review of the legislation by former lieutenant-governor David Onley, people with disabilities face “soul-crushing” barriers in their daily lives, particularly when trying to access public and private buildings. And without a renewed commitment and immediate action, Ontario would not meet the law’s goal of making the province fully accessible for its 1.9 million residents with disabilities by 2025, he said.

Onley’s report, released in March, calls for stronger enforcement and repeated earlier calls for the province to develop new accessibility standards for both new construction and building retrofits, Lepofsky noted.

“The government has announced no plans to implement the report’s spectrum of recommendations, even though (Accessibility Minister) Raymond Cho said in the legislature that David Onley did a ‘marvellous job’ and that Ontario has only progressed 30 per cent towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities,” Lepofsky said.

Although Ontario’s April budget earmarked $1.3 million over two years for the Rick Hansen Foundation to help finance a private accessibility certification process, Lepofsky said public money should be spent to fund Onley’s recommendations.

“The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take,” he said. “It did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.””

  1. It is also very encouraging to us and to all who support and take part in our ongoing grassroots accessibility campaign that the Toronto Star added its important voice to ours in its May 27, 2019 editorial, set out below. That editorial called for the Ford Government to take action on the Onley Report. It also echoed our disagreement with the Ontario Government’s spenting 1.3 million public dollars on the problematic strategy of a private accessibility certification process – in this case, the one being offered by the Rick Hansen Foundation. The editorial stated:

“Onley’s report was both a withering indictment of how far (or, rather, not far) we’ve come and a guide to help get Ontario on track.

He called attention to the still extensive barriers in the built environment – such as the corridor too narrow for an adult wheelchair that kept Judge from getting her dream job – and the need for better accessibility rules, which the province is far too slow in developing, let alone implementing.

He recommended tax breaks for those improving accessibility in public and private buildings, training for architects in inclusive design and dramatically boosting enforcement. In total, he made 15 recommendations in his report, which was released two months ago.

The Ford government, by way of Raymond Cho, the minister for seniors and accessibility, thanked Onley for a “marvellous job.” Then, seemingly, it shelved his report.

It has not acted with any urgency on his recommendations. Instead, in its April budget – a month after Onley’s report – the government opted to put $1.3 million into financing a private accessibility rating system.

For a building to be certified under the Rick Hansen Foundation’s accessibility program, its “public entrance and all its key functional spaces and amenities must be physically accessible for everyone.”

The province already knows well how poorly it’s doing on that front and how few buildings will meet the gold standard. The minister himself claims Ontario’s “accessibility is not done even 30 per cent.”

So, as worthy as the foundation’s certification program may be, a government that is earmarking so few resources for accessibility as this one would do better to spend them removing actual barriers than on handing out certificates and window decals to the good buildings.

Only then will the province be moving toward its promise to “ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to live fulfilling and productive lives.”

Because right now, as Onley wrote, for “most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.””

We know we’ve been sending out more Updates than usual, in order to get you caught up on recent developments. Stay tuned for more news on this issue over the next days. And always feel free to send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star May 21, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/05/19/toronto-preschool-for-kids-with-disabilities-cant-accommodate-staff-who-use-wheelchairs.html

She lost out on a job working with disabled kids – because she uses a wheelchair

Laurie Monsebraaten

The Toronto Star May 21, 2019

As a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, Ashleigh Judge has faced barriers all her life. But the Toronto early childhood educator didn’t expect to be turned down for a job in a preschool that serves children with disabilities because the building is inaccessible.

“It’s not the first time I have faced this problem,” said Judge, 33.

“But it’s the first time it was so blatant. It was really disappointing, especially coming from an agency that should be doing better.”

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital has been operating Play and Learn Nursery School in a city building on Eglinton Ave. W. for 33 years. Although the Forest Hill-area program is on the main floor, it does not have an accessible washroom and the classrooms are located off a hallway that is too narrow for an adult wheelchair.

Judge says she is happy to use the accessible washroom in the library next door, but wonders why the city’s leading agency serving children with disabilities has done so little to make the learning space more accessible.

Stewart Wong, a spokesperson for Holland Bloorview, says the hospital’s main campus near Bayview and Lawrence Aves. is fully accessible, as is a community-based preschool in Scarborough. But he acknowledges the Play and Learn site is not.

“We have spoken to the city about accessibility issues,” Wong said.

“We have worked really hard to be as inclusive as possible in everything that we do. But working in buildings that are decades old presents a challenge.”

The hospital has not considered moving Play and Learn, Wong said, but would “welcome a conversation to explore more accessible options.”

Judge called the office of area Councillor Mike Colle in early April with her concerns, but never heard back.

When the Star contacted Colle’s office last week, the councillor said he sympathizes with Judge.

“People with disabilities have enough problems without having difficulty getting jobs because buildings are inaccessible,” said Colle, who represents Ward 8 (Eglinton-Lawrence).

As part of a city audit of the building last year, the Play and Learn site has been targeted for an accessibility upgrade in early 2020, he said.

“I don’t know if Holland Bloorview knew that, but the city is on track to make those upgrades in January or February next year,” he said.

“I will certainly be keeping an eye on it and make sure our facilities manager also knows there is an interest here.”

Judge is pleased the city is planning to renovate the building, but is frustrated it has taken so long, noting she first raised the issue with Holland Bloorview in 2017 during its “Dear Everybody” accessibility awareness campaign, and that the province introduced accessibility legislation in 2005.

“This is the first I am hearing about it,” she said about the planned retrofit.

“And you’d think Holland Bloorview would have told me if they knew about it. It makes me wonder if the city is doing this just because (the Star) called.”

Judge has an honours BA in psychology from York University along with Seneca College certificates in rehabilitation services and life skills coaching.

In 2011, she obtained her early childhood education diploma from George Brown College and has just completed certification as an early childhood resource consultant to work with kids who have special needs.

Over the years, Judge has worked at March break and summer camps at Holland Bloorview and logged more than 500 volunteer hours at the hospital.

“I grew up in the system. I know what it’s like and I think I have a lot to offer,” she said.

“I also think I would be a good role model for the children – and their parents.”

Judge says she is well qualified and physically able to work in a preschool setting. She has worked part-time jobs with the city’s EarlyOn child and family centres since 2015. She has no trouble picking up small children and can change diapers using a lower change table.

“When I saw a chance to work at Holland Bloorview, I jumped at it,” she said of the two permanent part-time jobs that were posted at Play and Learn last December.

According to a memo from the preschool staff shared with the Star, Judge “gave an excellent interview” for the position, “has a lot to offer children and families at Holland Bloorview” and would be “well suited for a wide variety of roles working with both children and families.”

Judge says she told the preschool she could rearrange her school schedule to start when needed.

But staff told her the building’s inaccessible hallways were an insurmountable barrier to Judge’s employment there. Undeterred, Judge asked if the program could accommodate her in its accessible Scarborough location. And if there were no positions there, she asked if the hospital would commit to offering her the next position that became vacant that matched her skill set.

“I also told them I would be willing to help them advocate to renovate the Eglinton Ave. location,” Judge said.

Judge says her advocacy offer was ignored and that her request for placement in the next available position was met with a long email from human resources, telling her the hospital follows strict hiring protocols and procedures and that she would have to apply like everyone else.

“It was pretty frustrating. What happens when the kids they’re serving now get older and they want to come back and get a job with Holland Bloorview?” she said.

“Advocacy and accessibility and the need for inclusiveness don’t stop when you turn 18.”

The hospital doesn’t comment publicly on personnel matters, Wong said. But he said it has specialized staff teams that work with job applicants and current employees to make the workplace accessible.

The hospital is also committed to helping youth find meaningful employment as adults and offers a wide range of services, including volunteer opportunities, employment training programs and supported job placements, he said.

“We have lots of programming that opens up a world of inclusion for persons with disability.”

Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky praised Judge for trying to hold Holland Bloorview and the city to account, but said the problem ultimately lies with Queen’s Park and its lack of action on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

As noted in a government review of the legislation by former lieutenant-governor David Onley, people with disabilities face “soul-crushing” barriers in their daily lives, particularly when trying to access public and private buildings. And without a renewed commitment and immediate action, Ontario would not meet the law’s goal of making the province fully accessible for its 1.9 million residents with disabilities by 2025, he said.

Onley’s report, released in March, calls for stronger enforcement and repeated earlier calls for the province to develop new accessibility standards for both new construction and building retrofits, Lepofsky noted.

“The government has announced no plans to implement the report’s spectrum of recommendations, even though (Accessibility Minister) Raymond Cho said in the legislature that David Onley did a ‘marvellous job’ and that Ontario has only progressed 30 per cent towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities,” Lepofsky said.

Although Ontario’s April budget earmarked $1.3 million over two years for the Rick Hansen Foundation to help finance a private accessibility certification process, Lepofsky said public money should be spent to fund Onley’s recommendations.

“The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take,” he said. “It did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.”

Toronto Star May 27, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2019/05/27/ontario-is-falling-short-on-breaking-down-barriers.html

Editorial

The barriers are still up

An early childhood educator who is uniquely qualified to work in a preschool for disabled children couldn’t get the job because the building isn’t fully accessible for wheelchairs.

Surely this is just what former Ontario lieutenant-governor David Onley meant when he wrote of the “soul-crushing” barriers that people with disabilities face in their daily lives.

Ashleigh Judge, a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy, has worked incredibly hard to make her way in a world that is clearly not designed for her, and

the Ontario government has failed her by not moving quickly enough or thoroughly enough to change that, as it is required by law to do.

Judge is not the only person who is unable to fully contribute to the workforce and broader community because of the barriers she encounters. She’s just one of the 1.9 million Ontarians with a disability.

But when a woman with a disability can’t get a job working with children with disabilities because a City of Toronto building isn’t up to the task, that really should be a wake-up call about how far Ontario is from meeting its legal obligation to create a barrier-free province.

In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It requires the province to be fully accessible by 2025.

It was groundbreaking legislation when it was introduced; it even served as a blueprint for other jurisdictions.

But, as Onley said in his recent review of that legislation, “14 years later, and the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.”

To make matters worse, the province is now all but certain to miss its legislated deadline of 2025.

Onley’s report was both a withering indictment of how far (or, rather, not far) we’ve come and a guide to help get Ontario on track.

He called attention to the still extensive barriers in the built environment – such as the corridor too narrow for an adult wheelchair that kept Judge from getting her dream job – and the need for better accessibility rules, which the province is far too slow in developing, let alone implementing.

He recommended tax breaks for those improving accessibility in public and private buildings, training for architects in inclusive design and dramatically boosting enforcement. In total, he made 15 recommendations in his report, which was released two months ago.

The Ford government, by way of Raymond Cho, the minister for seniors and accessibility, thanked Onley for a “marvellous job.” Then, seemingly, it shelved his report.

It has not acted with any urgency on his recommendations. Instead, in its April budget – a month after Onley’s report – the government opted to put $1.3 million into financing a private accessibility rating system.

For a building to be certified under the Rick Hansen Foundation’s accessibility program, its “public entrance and all its key functional spaces and amenities must be physically accessible for everyone.”

The province already knows well how poorly it’s doing on that front and how few buildings will meet the gold standard. The minister himself claims Ontario’s

“accessibility is not done even 30 per cent.”

So, as worthy as the foundation’s certification program may be, a government that is earmarking so few resources for accessibility as this one would do better to spend them removing actual barriers than on handing out certificates and window decals to the good buildings.

Only then will the province be moving toward its promise to “ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to live fulfilling and productive lives.”

Because right now, as Onley wrote, for “most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

That’s why Judge is not wheeling her way down the hallway to her dream job working with preschoolers.