AODA Alliance Holds Successful Celebration at Queen’s Park to Mark the 20th Anniversary of the Birth of Ontario’s Non-Partisan Movement for Strong Disability Accessibility Legislation

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November 28, 2014


Today, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., the AODA Alliance held a wonderfully successful gathering at Queen’s Park to celebrate the birth on November 29, 1994 of Ontario’s tireless grassroots movement for a fully accessible Ontario. We went back to Queen’s Park, where it all started, to celebrate our successes, and redouble our efforts. In the face of an Ontario Government that so often fails to keep its promises on disability accessibility, we rolled up our sleeves to kick-start our next round of advocacy.

At this event well over 120 people came to the Legislature. Some had advocated on accessibility for years. Some had never before been to an AODA Alliance activity.

Our core message was this: We need to re-kindle the fire in the bellies of MPPs in the Ontario Legislature for this issue. We heard from former MPPs and  from former Lieutenant Governor David Onley that we need to go to MPPs one at a time, in every community, and in every party, to get them to press the Premier and the Government to speed up stalled action on accessibility.

At this event, the AODA Alliance announced that it is now unveiling a new campaign to do just that, to be rolled out over the next weeks. Stay tuned to our AODA Alliance Updates for more information on this, and for action tips on how you can help.

What we started twenty years ago seemed utterly impossible at the time. What we now face, to get the Government to take accessibility far more seriously, may seem daunting, but it is no more daunting than what we faced twenty years ago when we started our accessibility campaign. In the interim, we have won accessibility legislation and several accessibility standards. We have produced a constructive roadmap for the Government to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility. We are more organized than ever for ongoing grassroots advocacy. We are ready for action. And we want you to be part of it!

Below we set out:

* the AODA Alliance’s November 28, 2014 news release about this event.

* A time line on key events during the twenty-year campaign for accessibility in Ontario that began two decades ago tomorrow.

* the email of support we received from former Premier Dalton McGuinty, who could not attend today. We read this aloud during our event.

At our event we honoured a number of former public office-holders and journalists whose efforts helped our cause over these two decades. Of those listed in the news release, regrettably Cam Jackson and Ellen Waxman were unable to attend

In addition to those present, we also honoured the following people who were not able to attend:

* Former NDP MPP Marion Boyd

* Former NDP MPP Frances Lankin

* Former Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan

* Former Liberal MPP Steve Peters

* Former Liberal MPP Ernie Parsons; and

* Former PC MPP and PC leader John Tory.

* former host of CBC Radio’s Metro Morning program, Andy Barrie

Each honouree had made a great difference for us. We did not single out anyone from the disability community, as grassroots advocates, because we honour EVERYONE who has taken up this cause in our community.

The media attended our event, and a news conference held at 11:30 a.m. right after it at the Queen’s Park Media Studio. Several people were live-tweeting our event.

We will later make available more about these events. For now, we thank all who took the time to come, and all those who helped make this event possible.

To read about the events 20 years ago that got our accessibility movement started.

While we celebrated this anniversary of the accessibility movement, the Accessibility Clock kept ticking away. A disturbing 375 days have now passed since we revealed that the Ontario Government was not enforcing the AODA, and that there have been rampant AODA violations in the private sector. This revelation came from a Freedom of Information application last year. The Government still has not made public its promised detailed plan for the AODA’s effective enforcement. The Government’s November 7, 2014 web posting on AODA enforcement includes little new. It does not constitute the promised detail AODA enforcement plan.

Two hundred and eighty-one days have passed since the Toronto Star reported on February 20, 2014 that the Government would be publicly posting that new enforcement plan “in short order.” One hundred and ninety-eight days have passed since Premier Wynne promised to establish a toll-free line for members of the public to alert the Government to accessibility barriers against people with disabilities in the community. None has been announced.

To read our November 18, 2013 revelation that the Government was failing to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act despite knowing of rampant private sector violations, and funds on hand for enforcement.

To read the Government’s February 20, 2014 pledge to publish in “short order” its plan for enforcing the Disabilities Act.

To read the Government’s May 14, 2014 election promise to establish a toll-free line to report disability accessibility barriers.

To read our analysis of the Government’s paltry November 7, 2014 web posting on the AODA’s enforcement.

As well, 458 days have passed since the Government unveiled its plans for the legacy of the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has still not released details and specifics of a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the Games. Only 222 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!

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Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting


AODA Alliance’s November 28, 2014 News Release




November 28, 2014 Toronto: Ontarians with disabilities converged on Queen’s Park today, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their tenacious grassroots province-wide campaign that fought to win enactment of Ontario’s new disability accessibility laws, and now fights to get them properly enforced. They are returning to the building where it all began two decades ago.

“Even after two decades of tireless advocacy, over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities still face far too many unfair barriers when they try to get a job, ride public transit, get an education shop in stores, eat in restaurants or use public services like our health care system,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, the non-partisan grassroots coalition that spearheads this accessibility campaign. He also chaired the predecessor coalition, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, that carried this torch from 1994 to 2005. “After our first decade we won good accessibility legislation in 2005 from the McGuinty Government. Initially, that Government acted decisively to implement it. But since the 2011 summer, it has ground down to a snail’s pace, replacing its earlier enthusiasm with broken promises and endless delays.”

The 2005 Disabilities Act requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to full accessibility by 2025, by enacting and enforcing all the accessibility standards needed to show the way to full accessibility, for the public and private sectors. Yet right now, the Government is developing no new accessibility standards and has broken its promise to effectively enforce its existing accessibility standards.

Ontario is not on schedule for achieving full accessibility by 2025, despite Premier Wynne promising that she’d keep us on schedule. The Government has announced no plan to get back on schedule. Making things worse, the past four years have seen four revolving-door ministers on this issue — a formula for inaction.

These disability accessibility advocates are not the least bit daunted by the fact that Ontario has only ten years left to reach full accessibility, while the Government is so obviously uninterested in keeping its word on this issue. They faced far more insurmountable odds when they launched this campaign on November 29, 1994. “When we started 20 years ago, no one thought we had any hope of uniting a movement behind us and winning legislation. We’ve beat the odds before, and we’re determined to beat the odds again,” said Lepofsky.

At a Queen’s Park news conference this morning, the non-partisan AODA Alliance unveiled its plans for a new ground campaign, to win over renewed support in the Legislature, one MPP at a time. They will combine tried-and-true community organizing with cutting-edge social media strategies.

“So many current MPPs and their political advisors were not in public office when we fought for and won this legislation,” said Lepofsky. “To them, it’s just another file near the bottom of their pile, not an important way to make life much better for all Ontarians. Yet everyone either has a disability now, or gets one later as they age. No politician can afford to keep sidelining our needs and their promises to us.”

An excellent November 27, 2014 column about this event by senior journalist Bob Hepburn, set out below, describes the two-decade record of tireless grassroots political advocacy, in the face of revolving-door ministers and many broken election promises.

At the 10 a.m. 20th Anniversary Celebration at Queen’s Park, the AODA Alliance honoured former provincial politicians from all sides of the Legislature who helped make progress. Former provincial public figures honoured included:

* Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who made disability accessibility the core theme of his 2007-2014 term as Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor.

* Former NDP MPP Gary Malkowski, who introduced the first Disabilities Act bill in 1994. He was the first deaf member of an elected legislature in the western world.

* Cam Jackson, formerly PC MPP and Citizenship Minister, who introduced the Mike Harris Conservatives’ Ontarians with Disabilities Act, enacted in 2001.

* Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, former MPP and Liberal Citizenship Minister, who introduced the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which was enacted in 2005.

* Howard Hampton, former NDP leader who promised strong, mandatory disability accessibility legislation.

* Rosario Marchese, former NDP MPP who chaired the 1994 legislative hearings on Malkowski’s bill the day when the Disabilities Act movement was born 20 years ago, and who pressed for strong legislation throughout his time at Queen’s Park.

* Charles Beer, former Liberal MPP, who conducted the 2009-2010 Independent Review of the Disabilities Act, urging need for the Government to move more quickly.

* Ellen Waxman, former Assistant Deputy Minister responsible for the Accessibility Directorate, who led development of key accessibility standards enacted under the AODA from 2008 to 2013.

Others honoured, including former Premier Dalton McGuinty, sent their good wishes for future success, but knew in advance that they were unable to attend.

Also honoured, from the media that have covered this issue, include:

* Steve Paikin, host of TVOntario’s “The Agenda” program and

* Bob Hepburn, for the Toronto Star’s ongoing editorial support of the campaign for accessibility legislation.

For a timeline of major milestones on this 20 year journey, visit

Contact David Lepofsky
Learn more at
For tweets on Twitter about accessibility issues here and around the world, follow @aodaalliance


Toronto Star November 27, 2014

Posted at

A remarkable 20-year struggle for disabled rights: Hepburn

How a one-hour meeting sparked a two-decade movement responsible for key accessibility laws in Ontario.

David Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer who has long been fighting for disability rights. Since 1994, he has seen a series of provincial governments pledging to take disability issues seriously, but failing to act in any substantial way.  Andrew Francis Wallace / Star file photo

By: Bob Hepburn

Back in 1994, David Lepofsky and 20 other people walked down a corridor at Queen’s Park and entered a small room to vent their frustrations over the NDP government’s failure to approve Ontario’s first disabilities act.

Little did Lepofsky know, however, that the informal hour-long meeting would spawn a 20-year movement that has achieved remarkable success in helping the disabled in Ontario at home, at work and in the community.

“We were angry,” says Lepofsky as he recalls the events of Nov. 29, 1994. “The meeting was spontaneous. We started with nothing. I had no idea how the next 20 years would turn out.”

The meeting was held after NDP citizenship minister Elaine Ziemba, who was responsible for disability issues, blatantly refused to discuss a proposed disabilities act during a legislative committee appearance.

What the tiny group did that day was form a new coalition to challenge the government and fight for a strong, effective disabilities act.

Today, the coalition can rightly take credit for spearheading the adoption of two of the most important pieces of disability accessibility legislation over the past two decades.

On Friday, a celebration will be held at Queen’s Park to mark the birth of this grassroots movement to make Ontario barrier-free.

The non-partisan Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which Lepofsky chairs on a volunteer basis and which has replaced the former coalition as the driving force for disabilities legislation, will use the occasion to renew its call for strong disability accessibility laws and to have them effectively implemented and enforced.

Some 1.5 million Ontario residents have physical, mental or sensory disabilities. They face countless barriers every day, from steps to enter a bus and websites without features to make them usable by blind people to offices that lack telephone lines that allow deaf people to call in.

Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer who has been fighting for disability rights since the 1970s. He has been awarded an Order of Canada and several honorary degrees by Canadian universities for his work.

Since 1994, he has seen a series of governments under the NDP, Conservatives and Liberals pledging to take disability issues seriously, but failing to act in any substantial way.

In 2001, the Tory government of premier Mike Harris passed the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a weak piece of legislation that at least was a first step in gaining rights specifically for the disabled.

In 2005, the Liberal government of premier Dalton McGuinty won unanimous passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) that required Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025.

Sadly, that legislation has achieved very little to date, with many businesses failing to comply with even the most basic standards. Worse, the Liberal government under Premier Kathleen Wynne has done nothing to address these problems.

Signs of her government’s inaction abound. For example, despite a 2012 deadline, more than 30,000 of Ontario’s private businesses with 20 or more employees still haven’t even bothered to comply with the most basic reporting requirements, such as describing how they accommodate disabled customers, train staff and listen to feedback. None of them have been penalized or fined.

Another clear sign of the government’s indifference is the fact that four different cabinet ministers since 2011 have been handed responsibility for implementing and enforcing the AODA. The current minister is Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid.

While Wynne has promised her government will meet the 2025 goal, the reality is the government has been paralyzed in recent years, with no effective enforcement of the act, no real effort to strengthen it and no plan to achieve full accessibility by 2025.

Ontarians with disabilities deserve better. As a start, the premier should quickly launch a new campaign to enforce and strengthen this vital legislation.

As Lepofsky says, “Inaction speaks louder than words.”

Bob Hepburn’s column appears Thursday.


20 Years of Tenaciously Campaigning to Tear down Barriers Impeding over 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities

Ontario Human Rights Code amended, to make it illegal to discriminate because of physical or mental disability.  Charter of Rights enacted, including right to equality for people with mental or physical disabilities.

Spring, 1994
NDP MPP Gary Malkowski introduces Private Member’s Bill, proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act. First such bill in Ontario.

November 29, 1994
Public hearings on Malkowski’s bill begin in Ontario Legislature. Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee is formed in meeting room at Ontario Legislature.

May, 1995
Ontario election called. Malkowski’s bill dies on the order paper.

May, 1995
Liberal Leader Lyn McLeod promises to enact Disabilities Act if elected. Conservative leader Mike Harris promises to enact Disabilities Act in his first term if elected. These are in letters to the ODA Committee.

June, 1995
Mike Harris elected Premier of Ontario.

May 16, 1996
Ontario Legislature unanimously passes resolution presented by NDP MPP Marion Boyd, calling on the Harris Government to keep its promise to pass the Disabilities Act, and to work with the disability community to develop it.

October 29, 1998
Legislature unanimously passes Liberal MPP Dwight Duncan’s resolution calling for Disabilities Act to be passed, that complies with the ODA Committee’s 11 principles to make it strong, effective and mandatory.  Liberal Opposition leader Dalton McGuinty appears at a Queen’s Park news conference with ODA Committee Chair David Lepofsky, to publicly pledge for the first time that, if elected, he will pass a Disabilities Act that fulfils this resolution.

November 23, 1998
Conservative Minister Isabel Basset introduces into the Legislature Bill 83, a three-page proposed Disabilities Act. It required no barriers to be removed or prevented. It dies on the order paper days later, after wide condemnation.

Spring, 1999
Ontario election called. Premier Mike Harris did not enact the Disabilities Act in his first term, despite promising to do so.  In Ontario election, Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Howard Hampton each promise that if elected, they would pass a Disabilities Act that fulfils the ODA Committee’s 11 principles. These are in letters to the ODA Committee.  Mike Harris Conservatives elected to second term in office.

November 23, 1999
Ontario Legislature unanimously passes resolution introduced by Liberal MPP Steve Peters calling on the Government to enact the Disabilities Act within two years.

November 5, 2001
PC Minister Cam Jackson introduces Bill 125, the Conservatives’ second Disabilities Act bill. It goes to public hearings.

December 13, 2001
Conservatives pass the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001. Liberals and NDP in opposition vote against it as being too weak, not covering the private sector, and lacking enforcement.

Spring, 2003
Liberal leader Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Howard Hampton promise in the 2003 election campaign that if elected, they would enact a Disabilities Act that fulfilled the ODA Committee’s 11 principles. These are in letters to the ODA Committee.

October, 2003
Dalton McGuinty elected Ontario premier, to head new Liberal Government.

October 12, 2004
Liberal Citizenship Minister Dr. Marie Bountrogianni introduces into the Legislature Bill 118, the Liberals’ proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Fall, 2004
Conservative leader John Tory announces that the Conservative Party will support the mandatory, enforceable Bill 118 – changing party policy from the Mike Harris years.

January-February, 2005
Legislature holds public hearings on Bill 118, first time public hearings were televised while held outside Toronto.

May 10, 2005
Ontario Legislature unanimously passes Bill 118, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. MPPs give standing ovation to this historic event right after this vote.

August, 2005
ODA Committee winds up, having secured enactment of the AODA. It is replaced by its successor coalition, the AODA Alliance, with a mandate to get the AODA effectively implemented and enforced.

Summer, 2007
Ontario Government enacts the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, the first accessibility standard enacted under the AODA.

September 14, 2007
Premier McGuinty makes written election promises to strengthen the implementation of the AODA during the 2007 election campaign. NDP leader Howard Hampton and PC leader John Tory make election commitments on this topic. All are in letters to the AODA Alliance.

May, 2010
Legislature enacts Bill 231 to modernize Ontario elections. Includes some of the amendments the AODA Alliance sought, to remove voting barriers facing voters with disabilities.

June 3, 2011
Ontario Government enacts the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR), an accessibility standard under the AODA to address barriers in employment, transportation and information and communication.

August, 2011
Premier Dalton McGuinty and NDP leader Andrea Horwath make written election pledges to AODA Alliance to strengthen the implementation of the AODA during the 2011 election.

October, 2011
Premier McGuinty’s Liberals win third term, but as minority Government.

December, 2012
The Government amends the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation to address physical barriers in public spaces e.g. recreation trails, public parking, service areas.

December 3, 2012
Kathleen Wynne, running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, promises the AODA Alliance that as premier, she would keep all her Government’s earlier promises on accessibility, and would ensure Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.

November 18, 2013
AODA Alliance reveals that Government knew for months that 70% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees violated AODA without any real Government enforcement. This was despite the Government having ample enforcement powers and unused budget on hand for enforcement.

December, 2013
Government passes limited accessibility amendments to the Ontario building code for new buildings and major renovations, but no accessibility standard under the AODA to address many physical barriers in the built environment.

January 26, 2014
Kathleen Wynne wins Liberal Party leadership and becomes next Ontario Premier.

May, 2014
Three parties make written election pledges to the AODA Alliance during the 2014 election.

June 12, 2014
Liberals under Premier Kathleen Wynne win fourth term in office, now as majority government.

September 25, 2014
Premier Wynne writes “Mandate Letters” to each cabinet minister, to set their marching orders and priorities. Many if not most Government promises and duties on disability accessibility are systematically left out of these letters. On May 14, 2014, Premier Wynne had promised the AODA Alliance in writing that she would instruct cabinet ministers and other senior officials on their accessibility promises and duties.


To read the Ontario legislature’s October 29, 1998 resolution, adopting the ODA Committee’s 11 principles.

For all the background on the work of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee from 1994 to its dissolution in August 2005.

For all the work of its successor coalition, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, from Fall 2005 to the present.

For a detailed, captioned video series on the 20-year campaign for a barrier-free Ontario for people with disabilities.

Twitter: @aodaalliance


November 12, 2014 Email from Dalton McGuinty to the AODA Alliance

From: Dalton McGuinty
Date: Wed, Nov 12, 2014 at 1:35 PM
Subject: Re: Invitation to Dalton McGuinty

Dear David,

Please allow me to congratulate and thank you and all the AODA Alliance gang for your hard work, leadership and inspiration over so many years.

It was my honour to have led an opposition party and then a government that took steps to fully embrace Ontarians with disabilities by making our province truly accessible to them. We can all take pride in having come a long way but we must also look to the future with renewed purpose and an unrelenting commitment to achieve our goal, an Ontario that is barrier free to family, friends and neighbours with a disability.

I say that I led my party and government in taking steps forward but, in truth, I was following you, David, and so many other Ontarians with disabilities who have inspired me with their courage and determination.

I am grateful for your leadership and I wish you continuing success.