Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Anniversary of Inaction – Ford Government Has Still Announced Nothing to Tear Down Barriers Hurting One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities in Ontario Schools, 1 Year After Receiving a Landmark Report Calling for Reform
January 28, 2023
Today is a disturbing anniversary of Ford Government inaction when it comes to giving some of Ontario’s most vulnerable students a fair chance. One year ago today, the Ford Government received a comprehensive report revealing the many disability barriers that permeate Ontario’s publicly-funded schools, that hurt at least a third of a million students with disabilities. These barriers impede these students from fully participating, being fully included in, and fully benefitting from all that our school system has to offer.
That report was prepared by the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, mandated under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. As Ontario’s late former Lieutenant Governor lies in state this weekend, it is important to reflect on his call, four years ago this Thursday, for the Ontario Government to speed up action to tear down the many barriers that impede hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities.
On a related note, 42 years ago today was the most important single event to protect the constitutional equality rights of millions of people with disabilities in Canada’s first 114 years. On January 28, 1981, the Joint Committee of the Senate and House of Commons on the Constitution of Canada voted to add equality rights for people with disabilities to the proposed Charter of Rights. Disability advocates fought for and won this new right in Canada’s Constitution. Forty-two years later, the failure of effective Ontario Government action flies in the face of the constitutional right of students with disabilities to an equal education.
1. Leaving Students with Disabilities Behind – A Full Year of Inaction Since the Ford Government Received the Final Report of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee
Delivered on January 28, 2022, the final report of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee gave the Ford Government and Ontario’s 72 school boards a practical roadmap for how to remove those barriers, and to prevent new ones from being created in the future. Yet one year later, the Ford Government has announced no plan of action to implement this report. When asked its plans, the Government just repeats that it is studying this report.
Since 2009, the AODA Alliance has tried to play a leadership role in trying to get the Ontario Government to enact a strong and effective AODA Education Accessibility Standard, under the AODA, to tear down the many barriers in Ontario schools that impede too many students with disabilities from the full education that is their right. Starting in 2009, we tried to get successive premiers to agree to develop an AODA Education Accessibility Standard. After six years of advocacy, Premier Kathleen Wynne finally agreed in December 2016 to create an Education Accessibility Standard.
Eight years later, Ontario still has no such regulation. Old barriers remain. New ones are being created with public money.
In opposition, the Ontario PC Party supported our cause. It pressed the previous Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard, and thereafter, to speed up its sluggish efforts towards creating one. Since the PCs took power in June 2018, they have shown far less enthusiasm for this.
Among the many barriers in Ontario’s schools and school boards, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee report found:
- Many school buildings are not physically accessible, impeding students, teachers, staff and parents with physical disabilities.
- Digital learning technology used in schools too often lacks digital accessibility to ensure that students with disabilities can fully use and benefit from these learning tools.
- The school system does not do an effective job of letting parents of students with disabilities know what programs, services and supports are available for their children and how to access them.
- The education system is replete with rigid bureaucratic and administrative barriers that make it harder for schools to meet the needs of students with disabilities, and create roadblocks for parents trying to advocate for the needs of their children in school.
- Teachers and other educational staff have not been sufficiently trained, if at all, in how to effectively teach all learners, including students with disabilities.
- The Ontario Government’s one-size-fits-all response to the COVID-19 pandemic left out or marginalized the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities, and led to the creation of more disability barriers impeding students with disabilities at a time when they could least cope with this.
A first for Ontario, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s final report is by far the most thorough, top-to-bottom review of Ontario’s K-12 education system from the perspective of students with disabilities in decades. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s final report is supported by a very strong consensus from disability and educator perspectives. Half of the members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee were representatives from Ontario’s disability sector, including AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. The other half was made up of representatives from Ontario’s school system. They reached a strong agreement on the final report and its roadmap for reform. Reaching this consensus is a major accomplishment.
The public needs the Ford Government to end its delays. Substantial public feedback on the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s initial report was gathered during the summer of 2021. It showed that there was a strong consensus in support from the disability community and from educators. They confirmed the existence of the barriers that the Committee had identified and the pressing need for comprehensive reform. It strongly supported the Standards Development Committees roadmap for reform.
We will continue to press the Ford Government to end its foot-dragging, and show leadership on the right of all students with disabilities to a full and equal education.
2. More Background on the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and the Unfair barriers Facing Students with Disabilities
- The AODA Alliance’s October 10, 2019 Framework for what the promised Education Accessibility Standard should include.
- The final report and recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, which the Ontario Government publicly posted on March 1, 2022.
- AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s captioned video describing the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee final report.
- David Lepofsky’s captioned video presentation providing tips for parents of students with disabilities on how to advocate for their child’s needs at school.
- The AODA Alliance website’s education page.
3. More background On the Disability Amendment to the Charter of Rights Passed 42 Years Ago Today
To learn more about this historic event, check out:
- Transcript of the three disability organizations’ presentations in the 1980 fall to the Joint Committee calling for the Charter disability amendment.
- Captioned video of the December 12, 1980 presentation by David Lepofsky to the Joint Committee, on behalf of the Canadian National Institute for the Blind. He is now chair of the AODA Alliance.
- Transcript of the initial refusal on January 12, 1981 by federal Justice Minister Jean Chretien to agree to the disability amendment, which he announced during his appearance before the Joint committee – a decision the Federal Government reversed forty years ago today.
- Online captioned lecture at the Osgoode Hall Law School by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on the history of the campaign for the Charter disability amendment.