December 4, 2017
Tomorrow, December 5, 2017, will mark the one-year anniversary of Premier Wynne promising to develop and enact a new regulation under Ontario’s Disabilities Act, to tear down the many disability barriers that impede one-third of a million Ontario students with disabilities from fully benefitting from schools, colleges and universities. Yet her Government hasn’t explained its year-long foot-dragging since then. The victims of these delays are children and youth with mobility disabilities, autism, learning disabilities, mental health conditions, intellectual disabilities, blindness, deafness and a host of other disabilities.
On December 5, 2016, Premier Wynne pledged in the Ontario Legislature that her Government would enact an Education Accessibility Standard, a regulation under Ontario’s Disabilities Act. She did so when Conservative MPP Bill Walker grilled her during Question Period. (Transcript, below.) She made this pledge right after receiving an open letter from 22 major disability organizations, calling for that pledge.
“In 2017, it’s inexcusable that students with disabilities still too often face school, college or university buildings that lack proper physical accessibility, websites, e-learning and computer hardware that lack digital accessibility, some school boards that won’t let a student with autism bring a service dog to school, teachers and professors that aren’t trained to teach all learners, and math and experiential learning programs that aren’t designed to accommodate students with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the grassroots AODA Alliance, which leads the multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to enact an education accessibility regulation.
“An Education Accessibility Standard would spell out what schools, colleges and universities must do to become accessible and inclusive. This is needed so each school or college doesn’t have to reinvent the accessibility wheel, and so that students with disabilities and their families don’t have to repeatedly fight the same accessibility battles, one school or college at a time.”
The Wynne Government’s unexplained lethargy is palpable. The first step the Government must take under Ontario’s Disabilities Act is to appoint an advisory committee of people with disabilities and educators, to recommend to the Government what the new regulation should include. In a full year, the Government has not yet even appointed that committee. The AODA Alliance repeatedly pressed the Government for action. It took the Government an inexcusable half a year, and repeated pressure from the AODA Alliance, just to post an announcement inviting people to apply to serve on that advisory committee.
“How much time does the Government need just to appoint an advisory committee?” asked Lepofsky. “If the Wynne Government was going any slower, it would be going backward. This delay tells students with disabilities that the Government thinks they are a low priority.”
The Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Accessibility, former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, declared that the unemployment rate facing Canadians with Disabilities is not only a national crisis; It is a national shame. The AODA Alliance adds that people with disabilities won’t get a good job if they cannot get a good education.
The non-partisan AODA Alliance and other disability advocates are working on plans to raise disability accessibility issues in the June 2018 Ontario election. Prominent among these issues will be the unfair disability barriers that still plague students with disabilities.
* Last week, on the eve of the International Day for People with Disabilities (December 3), York University announced plans for a new major building, in which the Wynne Government will invest $125 million, and which the AODA Alliance revealed to have serious accessibility problems. York then commendably responded by reaching out to the AODA Alliance for input.
* School teachers, university professors, and others working on the Ontario education system’s front lines, endorse the call for an Education Accessibility Standard, including the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations and the Canadian Union of Public Employees Ontario.
* In November 2016, the AODA Alliance made public a comprehensive Discussion Paper that identifies many of the major disability barriers in Ontario’s education system.
* Over a decade ago, the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s ground-breaking 2003 report, The Opportunity To Succeed: Achieving Barrier-Free Education For Students With Disabilities, documented serious education accessibility barriers.
* An ongoing online survey of parents of students with special education needs by the Toronto District School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee has revealed serious problems that still arise when trying to arrange classroom accommodations.
* During the 2017 summer, the Wynne Government conducted an online survey of the disability accessibility barriers in Ontario schools, colleges and universities. However, it was designed to leave out or downplay many if not most disability barriers that students with disabilities face.
Contact: David Lepofsky, firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @aodaalliance
More on the AODA Alliance’s multi-year campaign for action to remove and prevent disability accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system, facing students with disabilities.
Ontario Legislature Question Period December 5, 2016
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED
Mr. Bill Walker: My question is to the Premier. It has been 11 years since this Legislature passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Yet, today, over a third of a million students with disabilities continue to face far too many barriers when they try to go to school, college or university in Ontario.
Today’s Toronto Star reports that 22 respected community organizations wrote the Premier, urging her to finally say “yes” to creating an educational accessibility standard and tear down those unfair barriers.
Premier, on October 31, you told this House that you were considering this. Will you agree to do it today?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: As the member has said, I have already indicated that I think that this is important. I had a meeting with David Lepofsky, who is, I know, mentioned in the article. The Minister of Education and the Minister responsible for accessibility have also met with David Lepofsky and many other groups.
We recognize that, as we have developed standards in other areas, as a health standard is being developed, that also there needs to be a standard developed in the education sector.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary.
Mr. Bill Walker: Back to the Premier: You’ve had 10 years and you spent $8 billion on the eHealth registry. I hope that this isn’t going to be another fiasco like that.
This government’s continued inaction on this file is inexcusable. This government has no comprehensive plan to ensure that our education system will become fully accessible by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. The AODA Alliance has pressed you for over half a decade to agree to develop the standard under the AODA to tackle these barriers.
Can you tell a third of a million students with disabilities and their families what the holdup is, after the five years of this issue being before your government?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: It’s interesting. Since we came into office in 2003—and when we came into office, under the previous Premier, there was legislation that was in place that had no teeth and would have produced no results in terms of accessibility. We scrapped that and started again, and put in place legislation that has, over time, developed standards and has put in place acceptable standards across our society.
There’s a lot more to do, which is why we are working in the health sector right now. There are billions of dollars that are spent within the education system, whether it’s on special education or the $1.1 billion in additional funding that is going into building and renovating schools—all of which goes toward building schools that are more accessible.
Because the reality is, when many of the schools were built—particularly in the Toronto District School Board, where there are many old buildings that are still being used as schools—they were not up to standard. They were not accessible in any way.
We recognize that there’s more to be done, and there will be an education standard developed.