AODA Alliance’s Toronto Star Guest Column Honours the Memory of the Late Senator David Smith, An Important Hero in the Campaign for Accessibility for People with Disabilities – And Other News

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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AODA Alliance’s Toronto Star Guest Column Honours the Memory of the Late Senator David Smith, An Important Hero in the Campaign for Accessibility for People with Disabilities – And Other News

March 3, 2020


1. Toronto Star Runs A Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair on the Legacy for Canadians with Disabilities Left by the Late Senator David Smith

The March 3, 2020 Toronto Star includes a guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, set out below. It recounts the important legacy for people with disabilities in Canada left by the late Senator David Smith, who died last week. Almost 40 years ago, David Smith played a critical role in helping get the Federal Government to amend the proposed Charter of Rights, to entrench in Canada’s Constitution a guarantee of equality for people with disabilities.

The Charter’s guarantee of disability equality underpins the AODA and all other similar accessibility laws across Canada. If you want to know more about the history of the grassroots campaign to win the disability amendment to the Charter back in 1980-82, check out a two-hour captioned online lecture.

2. Liberal Leadership Candidate Brenda Hollingsworth Makes All 10 of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Seeks

In a tweet to the AODA Alliance last week, Ontario Liberal Leadership candidate Brenda Hollingsworth made all 10 commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities that the AODA Alliance has sought from the six Ontario Liberal leadership candidates. This weekend, the Ontario Liberal Party chooses its next leader, to succeed Kathleen Wynne.

On February 25, 2020, Brenda Hollingsworth tweeted:

“Brenda Hollingsworth @LiberalBrenda

@DavidLepofsky @StevenDelDuca @KateMarieGraham @MitzieHunter @AlvinTedjo Hi David, as I mentioned to you previously, I pledge agreement with all the items in your letter.”

As of now, only two of the six candidates for Ontario Liberal Party leadership have made all 10 pledges we seek, Michael Coteau and Brenda Hollingsworth. Steven Del Duca only made 4 of the 10 commitments we seek. On the other 6, his commitments fell well short of what we asked. Alvin Tedjo only made 1 of the 10 commitments we seek. Mitzie Hunter and Kate Graham have made none of the commitments we seek.

There are still four days left for all of the Liberal leadership candidates to make all the commitments we seek. We will let you know if any more commitments are made.

3. Twenty-Two Years After the Supreme Court of Canada Ordered that Hospitals Provide Sign Language Interpretation Services to Patients with Disabilities, Problems Still Persist

Here is a stunning illustration of the barriers that patients with disabilities continue to face in Ontario’s health care system. A December 26, 2019 Hamilton Spectator article reported on problems that can be faced when a deaf hospital patient seeks Sign Language interpretation services in connection with a hospital visit. We set out that article below.

This is yet more proof why Ontario needs a strong and effective Health Care Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We have been pressing for the Government to do that for over a decade.

Back in 1997, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled in the landmark case of Eldridge v. B.C. that governments must ensure that hospitals provide Sign Language interpretation services to deaf patients when this is needed to receive health care  services. Over two decades later, Ontario still has problems fulfilling this constitutional obligation under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

For more background check out the AODA Alliance’s Framework that sets out what the Health Care Accessibility Standard should include. Watch a captioned one-hour talk by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on what the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard should include, which has already been seen over 1,000 times!

4. Queen’s Park Briefing Podcast Features an Episode On Our Accessibility Campaign

The Sunday, March 1, 2020 edition of the QP Briefing podcast (a product of the Toronto Star) features an in-depth interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. QP Briefing has, to our knowledge, not posted a transcript of this audio recording.

It’s great that we have been included in this podcast. QP Briefing focuses on key issues getting attention in the halls of Queen’s Park!

5. The Ford Government’s Delay on Accessibility Continues

A seemingly-endless 397 days have now slipped by since the Ford Government received the blistering final report on the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that was prepared by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. We are waiting and waiting for the Ford Government to come up with a comprehensive and effective plan of new measures to implement the Onley Report’s recommendations, needed to substantially strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. To date, all the Government has offered Ontarians with disabilities is thin gruel.

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March 3, 2020 Toronto Star Guest Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

Toronto Star March 3, 2020

Originally posted at


Sen. David Smith an unsung hero of disabled Canadians

By David Lepofsky Contributor

Canada mourns the passing of Sen. David Smith, who dedicated decades to public service as a municipal and federal politician. Let’s ensure that his eulogies recognize his enduring and incredible achievement for millions of Canadians with disabilities.

It is known to far few that he played a decisive role in the successful grassroots battle to get Parliament to include equality for people with disabilities in Canada’s proposed Charter of Rights. He championed that cause not on the front pages of newspapers, but where we needed help the most, in the backrooms of the halls of federal political power.

Forty years ago, prime minister Pierre Trudeau proposed to add a Charter of Rights to Canada’s Constitution. His proposed Charter of Rights included a guarantee of equality rights, to protect against discrimination by laws and governments. However, that proposed equality clause left out equality for people with disabilities.

A number of us in the disability community rushed to campaign to get Parliament to add disability equality rights to the Charter. We contended that otherwise, the Charter would only guarantee equality for some. Equality for some means equality for none.

It was a near hopeless uphill battle. Trudeau was racing to blitz his constitutional reforms through Parliament. We had no internet, email, social media or other such campaigning tools. The media gave us scant attention.

Thankfully, along came a new Liberal backbench MP David Smith. Entirely unconnected to our campaign, earlier in 1980 he had been appointed to chair an all-party Parliamentary committee to hold public hearings on disability issues, because the UN had declared 1981 to be the International year of the Disabled Person. Those hearings were undoubtedly a Government PR gesture, of which we people with disabilities, have seen many.

Yet those hearings galvanized Smith. He learned about the pressing need to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to protect equality for people with disabilities, before Parliament passed the Charter. With no public fanfare, and known only to a few, he took it on himself to work the backrooms on his own impetus, buttonholing MP after MP, pressing our case.

The result of all these efforts? On Jan. 28, 1981, another Parliamentary Committee (of which Smith was not a member) was debating the Trudeau constitutional reforms, when it held a historic vote. It unanimously voted to amend the proposed Charter of Rights to entrench equality for people with disabilities as a constitutional right.

Smith was likely not even in the room where that committee was meeting. Yet he was arguably the most important MP, relentlessly and successfully advocating for our cause, behind-the-scenes. Equality for people with disabilities was the only right that was added to the Charter during those debates.

To my knowledge, Smith sought no limelight for this achievement. Yet as we look back on his life of accomplishments, this should rank very high among them.

Decades later, the grassroots campaign across Canada to win strong disability accessibility legislation at the federal and provincial levels traces itself back to that historic amendment to the proposed Charter of Rights. It spawned accessibility laws enacted in Ontario, Manitoba, Nova Scotia and federally. Other provinces are now playing catch up.

Rest in peace David Smith, with our undying gratitude for what you have done for everyone in Canada for generations to come

David Lepofsky is chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and visiting professor, Osgoode Hall Law School.

Hamilton Spectator December 26, 2020

Originally posted  at–do-you-want-to-live-or-die-son-forced-to-interpret-for-his-deaf-parents-at-hamilton-health-sciences/

‘Do you want to live or die’: Son forced to interpret for his deaf parents at Hamilton Health Sciences

John Davidson says both of his parents were denied an American Sign Language interpreter when they were patients at Hamilton hospitals.

News Dec 26, 2019 by  Joanna Frketich   The Hamilton Spectator

Mary Davidson, a 62-year-old Hamilton advocate for the deaf, experienced communication barriers during her last weeks in hospital before she died Dec. 24, 2018. This year, her son said he had the same issues getting an interpreter again when his father was in a Hamilton hospital. – submitted by Catherine Soplet

A second deaf patient at Hamilton Health Sciences was denied an American Sign Language interpreter despite repeated requests, alleges the family.

“I’ve gone so far as to look up the number and say ‘Here, call,'” said John Davidson, who was left interpreting difficult conversations about cancer and do-not-resuscitate orders by video chat from work for his dad, Grant Davidson, during a nearly two-week stay at Hamilton General Hospital at the beginning of December.

His dad has a legal right to a qualified interpreter paid for by the hospital and the Canadian Hearing Society (CHS) has the ability to fill 99 per cent of urgent requests within 40 minutes.

The catch is that the hospital has to be the one to call because it’s footing the bill.

It’s the same loophole that left his mother, Mary Davidson, with limited ability to communicate at the end of her life one year ago at Juravinski Hospital.

“I’m going through the same thing one year later,” said Davidson. “It hasn’t changed.”

A statement from Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) says it “abides by and supports all provincial legislation and regulations related to disability and accessibility.”

But HHS didn’t answer questions about why two patients at two of its hospitals within one year have been unable to get American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters for key discussions around diagnosis, treatment and end-of-life decisions.

Davidson describes being at a construction site working when a doctor contacted him by video chat to ask his 64-year-old dad whether he wanted to sign a do-not-resuscitate order while in the hospital being treated for an infection.

“I don’t know how to say resuscitate in sign language,” said Davidson. “A professional probably does and probably knows a lot more words … I just showed him someone pumping on a chest like CPR.”

The end result was a lot of confusion, said Davidson.

“My father didn’t understand the question well. His answer was, ‘My heart is strong. Why would it stop?'”

Davidson said the doctor then accused him of not properly interpreting his dad’s answer.

“The doctor had the nerve to question whether I was answering for him,” said Davidson. “I was frustrated. Why did you make me ask the question if you are going to question what the answer is?”

He said the doctor had no regard for how difficult it would be for a son to interpret such a conversation. Davidson said it was the same when his mom was in hospital from Nov. 3, 2018, until she died Dec. 24 last year.

The CHS says it’s inappropriate for family members to be used as a go-between, particularly when a patient’s health is being discussed and medical terms used.

“I’m asking my parents, ‘Do you want to live or die’ and I’ve had to do it twice less than a year apart,” he said.

He also had to tell his dad that he might have cancer and would be undergoing tests.

“I spelled it,” said Davidson. “My dad showed me the sign for cancer, so now I’ve learned that one.”

The family said it took nearly four weeks for Davidson’s mother to get minimal translation services before she died. Davidson said his dad never got an interpreter before he left the hospital.

The CHS has no waiting list and fulfils around 90 per cent of the roughly 19,000 requests it gets in Ontario each year for interpreters for medical reasons.

Interpreters can come for key discussions or as much as 24-hours-a-day, but the hospital gets to set the parameters.

Hospitals can also go to any service provider as long as the interpreter is qualified.

“I think that’s the problem, the hospital has to pay for it,” said Davidson. “With all these budget cuts, they can’t afford to give people their rights.”

The HHS statement says that staff and physicians “work very hard to meet the unique needs of every patient in our care on a daily basis. It is an important part of our organization’s values to show respect, caring and accountability in the services we provide … We have polices and tools in place organizationwide to help our staff and physicians arrange interpretation services which would include ASL for any patients in our care.”

But Davidson says that statement is a far cry from his family’s experience.

Instead, staff got by “with writing on pieces of paper and me,” said Davidson, who lives in Toronto.

“From a very young age, I started to translate for them when we went places. For me, it’s the status quo, but it shouldn’t be.”

by Joanna Frketich

Spectator reporter Joanna Frketich covers health. She lives in Hamilton and has been a journalist for more than 20 years, earning many Ontario Newspaper Awards including journalist of the year. She was also a National Newspaper Award finalist. Her Hamilton investigations have revealed past dysfunction among cardiac surgeons, dangerously low vaccination rates, students increasingly failing math standardized testing and hospital overcrowding.