Important Victory! Toronto City Council Today Banned Robots from Sidewalks, to Protect People with Disabilities, Seniors, Children and Others – But Where is the Provincial Leadership 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities Need from Premier Ford?

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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Important Victory! Toronto City Council Today Banned Robots from Sidewalks, to Protect People with Disabilities, Seniors, Children and Others – But Where is the Provincial Leadership 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities Need from Premier Ford?

December 17, 2021 Toronto: At its meeting today, Toronto City Council banned robots from sidewalks, including robots delivering packages, pending further consultation and City staff study in the first half of 2022. Disability community advocates have called for robots to be banned from sidewalks because they endanger safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. Under this ban, people would remain free to use robots on their private property.

Toronto’s Accessibility Advisory Committee and Infrastructure Committee each recommended outlawing sidewalk robots. In its December 7, 2021 letter to Toronto’s Mayor and City Council, the AODA Alliance emphasized the many new disability barriers that robots and sidewalks can create.

Robots on sidewalks can be a tripping hazard or a collision danger. Blind people risk not knowing that a robot is heading right toward them or in their path of travel.

For people who use wheelchairs, robots on sidewalks risk becoming an access barrier in their way. If a person has balance limitations, robots brushing by them on the sidewalk could send them toppling. Sidewalks already have far too many accessibility barriers, being increasingly cluttered by street furniture, art, signs, plants and restaurant seating.

“We applaud Toronto City Council for stopping the creation of a serious new disability barrier and for requiring City staff to consult with people with disabilities as well as law enforcement and public safety experts about the dangers that robots on sidewalks pose for the public” said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance. “The Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become accessible by 2025. Far behind that schedule, Toronto can’t afford to create these new disability barriers.”

Though today’s vote is good news, people with disabilities are not out of the woods. Ontarians with disabilities need Ontario Premier Doug Ford to show leadership in this area, which has been sadly lacking at the provincial level when it comes to accessibility for people with disabilities. The Ford Government should ban robots from sidewalks anywhere in Ontario, so that people with disabilities don’t have to wage these battles in one city after the next. It is wrong for the Ford Government to instead be planning to give every Ontario municipality the authority to allow for ten-year pilot projects with robots on public sidewalks. We don’t want to have to fight this again in Toronto next year after City staff investigates this issue, much less in city after city around Ontario.

If robots were allowed on sidewalks, enforcing the law will be exceedingly difficult. A person cannot prosecute or sue a robot or make it produce an insurance policy.

It’s no solution to require robots to have a remote driver. That cannot be policed. One can’t know from looking at a robot whether it has a remote driver somewhere at all, much less a sober one who is properly trained and attentive to steering. A remote driver could be steering several robots simultaneously, dangerously dividing their attention. The public can’t know if a remote driver is in Ontario or halfway around the world, unreachable by Ontario police.

“We don’t oppose innovation. We innovate daily in our lives and use cutting-edge innovative technology,” said Lepofsky. “We only oppose innovations that endanger people with disabilities, seniors, children and others.”

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance