October 24, 2014
The AODA Alliance invites you to join us at the Ontario Legislature Building, Room 228, at Queen’s Park on Friday, November 28, 2014, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., to celebrate the 20th Anniversary of the birth of Ontario’s grassroots, non-partisan movement to make Ontario barrier-free for over 1.8 million Ontarians with a physical, mental, sensory, or other disability. Our movement was formed spontaneously in that very building, back on November 29, 1994. American Sign Language, Captioning and attendant care are being provided, thanks to the Canadian Hearing Society and the March of Dimes respectively.
Below we give you more background on that important day twenty years ago, when about twenty people ended up in a room at Queen’s Park, determined to fight for new legislation to make Ontario fully accessible to all people with disabilities. They could not have known that day how the next twenty years would turn out.
It is 100 percent, absolutely essential that anyone attending RSVP by email, no later than November 14, 2014. Space is limited. Due to security concerns, the Legislature requires us to submit a list of attendees well in advance. You must be on that list, to be able to get in. We will accept RSVP’s on a first come, first served basis. If the capacity is filled, we will maintain a waiting list. Send an RSVP, including your name, email address and phone number, to firstname.lastname@example.org
We also encourage individuals and organizations around Ontario to organize their own local celebrations of this historic anniversary. Let us know what you have planned, and we would be happy to spread the word. You might choose to hold an event that week, or the next week, which includes December 3, 2014, the International Day for People with Disabilities.
This 20th anniversary of our grassroots movements comes at an especially critical time. From 1994 to 2005, originally called the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, we fought a long, difficult, and ultimately successful campaign to win the enactment of disability accessibility legislation. In 2001, we won enactment of the weak and limited Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. It was passed by the Conservative Government under Premier Mike Harris. Four years later, in 2005, after we kept up our campaign, we won the passage of the stronger Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. That latter legislation requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. It was passed by the Liberal Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty.
For the next decade, from 2005 to the present, re-formed as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, we have waged a similarly tenacious campaign to try to get this legislation effectively implemented, and to get the Government to keep its many promises on disability accessibility. Over this decade, we won the enactment of accessibility standards under the AODA addressing barriers in customer service, employment, transportation, information and communication, and in certain parts of the built environment. In 2009-2010, we also won limited amendments to Ontario legislation governing provincial and municipal elections, to address barriers facing voters with disabilities.
Over these twenty years, we can be proud that we have put disability accessibility on the political map, garnering tons of media coverage from one end of Ontario to the other. We put forward constructive proposals for action. We hold politicians accountable on this issue. We have waged non-partisan disability accessibility campaigns during every Ontario election since 1995, and have gotten election pledges on disability accessibility from at least two parties, if not three, in every one of those six provincial elections.
Our strength, from beginning to end, has been our many wonderful grassroots supporters, both individuals and organizations, selflessly toiling away, tirelessly, right across Ontario. Each one has helped our cause by writing or meeting their MPP, telling the media about a barrier in their community, educating their local businesses and community organizations on accessibility, serving on a municipal or provincial accessibility advisory committee, council or other body, tweeting about our campaign, posting on the web about accessibility, calling a phone-in radio program, writing a letter to the editor or guest newspaper column, organizing a local accessibility event, submitting briefs to the Government, reading and forwarding our email Updates, or sending us feedback and ideas. This is our chance to celebrate all these collective efforts.
This major anniversary is also a good time for us to turn our attention to the decade that lies ahead, leading up to 2025. Despite our efforts, and progress to date, Ontario is now not on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. Far too many Government promises to us on disability accessibility remain unkept, such as the pledge to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the promised effective enforcement of the AODA, commitments to incorporate accessibility as a fundamental part of major Government decisions, pledges to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities, and the Government’s legal duty to enact all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025.
This was sadly highlighted most recently, when Premier Wynne’s September 25, 2014 “Mandate Letters” to each Cabinet Minister, setting out their priorities, systematically left out many if not most of the Government’s duties and promises on disability accessibility. We need to get the Government to kick-start stalled efforts on this issue, so that the next decade sees Ontario achieve the goal of full accessibility by 2025, if not sooner.
To learn more about the events on November 29, 1994 that led to the launch of our organized accessibility movement, we set out a three-page excerpt below from the history of the first eight years of our movement. It appears in a 200-page published article entitled “The Long Arduous Road to a Barrier-free Ontario for People with Disabilities: The History of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act – The First Chapter,” found in volume 15 of the National Journal of Constitutional Law. It was written by David Lepofsky, who led the ODA Committee from 1995 to 2005, and who has chaired the AODA Alliance since 2009. Footnotes are omitted from this excerpt.
If you would like a copy of the full 200-page article in MS Word format, send a request to us at: email@example.com
Although the ODA Committee no longer exists, its website remains as a record of its legacy. To see the entire public record of the ODA Committee’s ten year campaign to win the enactment of accessibility legislation in Ontario.
To see the public record of the AODA Alliance’s efforts since the 2005 summer to get this legislation effectively implemented, check out its website.
As we prepare for this exciting anniversary, the Accessibility Clock of course keeps on ticking. A disturbing 341 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 plan for the AODA’s effective enforcement. Two hundred and forty-seven 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 sixty-four 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.
As well, 423 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 258 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!
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EXCERPT FROM “THE LONG ARDUOUS ROAD TO A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: THE HISTORY OF THE ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT – THE FIRST CHAPTER” BY DAVID LEPOFSKY, PUBLISHED IN THE NATIONAL JOURNAL OF CONSTITUTIONAL LAW, VOLUME 15.
a) The Birth of the Organized ODA Movement
The realization within Ontario’s disability community that a new law was needed to tear down the barriers facing persons with disabilities did not take place all at once as the result of a single catastrophic event. Rather, it resulted slowly from a simmering, gradual process. That process led to the birth of Ontario’s organized ODA movement.
How then did the organized ODA movement get started? Most would naturally think that it is the birth of a civil rights movement that later spawns the introduction into a legislature of a new piece of civil rights legislation. Ironically in the case of the organized ODA movement, the opposite was the case. The same ironic twist had occurred 15 years before when the Ontario Coalition for Human Rights for the Handicapped formed in reaction to the Government’s introduction of a stand-alone piece of disability rights legislation.
In the early 1990s, after the enactment in the U.S. of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990, sporadic voices in Ontario began discussing the idea of seeking the enactment of something called an “Ontarians with Disabilities Act.” There was little if any focused attention on what this new law would contain. It was understood from the outset that an ODA would not be a carbon copy of the ADA. For example, some parts of the ADA were already incorporated in the Ontario Human Rights Code. There was no need to replicate them again.
In the 1990 Ontario provincial election campaign (which happened to take place just days after the U.S. had enacted the Americans with Disabilities Act) NDP leader Bob Rae responded to a disability rights legal clinic’s all-party election platform questionnaire in August 1990 with a letter which, among other things, supported appropriate legislation along the lines of an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Rae’s letter didn’t spell out what this law would include. This letter did not get serious airplay in that election campaign. It was not well-known when the NDP came from behind in the polls to win that provincial election. Because the NDP had not been expected to win, it was widely seen as campaigning on a range of election commitments that it never anticipated having the opportunity to implement.
Despite sporadic discussions among some in the early 1990s, there was no grassroots groundswell in Ontario supporting an ODA. There was also no major grassroots political force building to push for one. This was quite similar to the fact that there was no organized grassroots disability rights movement pushing for the inclusion of disability equality in the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1979, before the Ontario Government proposed its new disability discrimination legislation in that year. In the early 1990s, Ontario disability organizations involved in disability advocacy were primarily focused on other things, such as the NDP Ontario Government’s proposed Employment Equity Act, expected to be the first provincial legislation of its kind in Canada. That legislation, aimed at increasing the employment of persons with disabilities as well as women, racial minorities and Aboriginal persons, was on the agenda of the provincial New Democratic Party that was then in power in Ontario.
What ultimately led to the birth of a province-wide, organized grassroots ODA movement in Ontario was the decision of an NDP back-bench member of the Ontario Legislature, Gary Malkowski, to introduce into the Legislature a private member’s ODA bill in the Spring of 1994, over three years into the NDP Government’s term in office. By that time, the NDP Government had not brought forward a Government ODA bill. Malkowski decided to bring forward Bill 168, the first proposed Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to focus public and political interest in this new issue. Malkowski was well-known as Ontario’s, and indeed North America’s, first elected parliamentarian who was deaf. Ontario’s New Democratic Party Government, then entering the final year of its term in office, allowed Malkowski’s bill to proceed to a Second Reading vote in the Ontario Legislature in June, 1994, and then to public hearings before a committee of the Ontario Legislature in November and December 1994.
In 1994, word got around various quarters in Ontario’s disability community that Malkowski had introduced this bill. Interest in it started to percolate. Malkowski met with groups in the disability community, urging them to come together to support his bill. He called for the disability community to unite in a new coalition to support an Ontarians with Disabilities Act. A significant number of persons with disabilities turned up at the Ontario Legislature when this bill came forward for Second Reading debate in the Spring of 1994.
Over the spring, summer and fall months of 1994, around the same time as Malkowski was coming forward with his ODA bill, some of the beginnings of the organized ODA movement were also simmering within an organization of Ontario Government employees with disabilities. Under the governing NDP, the Ontario Government had set up an “Advisory Group” of provincial public servants with disabilities to advise it on measures to achieve equality for persons with disabilities in the Ontario Public Service. In the Spring of 1994, this Advisory Group set as one of its priorities working within the machinery of the Ontario Government to promote the idea of an ODA.
This public service Advisory Group met with several provincial Cabinet Ministers and later with Ontario’s Premier, Bob Rae, to discuss the idea of an ODA. It successfully pressed the Government to hold public hearings on Malkowski’s ODA bill.
As 1994 progressed, Malkowski’s bill served its important purpose. It sparked the attention and interest of several players in Ontario’s disability community in the idea of an ODA. No one was then too preoccupied with the details of the contents of Malkowski’s ODA bill.
Malkowski’s bill had an even more decisive effect on November 29, 1994, when it first came before the Legislature’s Standing Committee for debate and public hearings. On that date, NDP Citizenship Minister Elaine Ziemba was asked to make a presentation to the Committee on the Government’s views on Malkowski’s bill. She was called upon to do this before community groups would be called on to start making presentations to the legislative committee. The hearing room was packed with persons with disabilities, eager to hear what the Minister would have to say.
Much to the audience’s dismay, the Minister’s lengthy speech said little if anything about the bill. She focused instead on the Government’s record on other disability issues. The temperature in the room elevated as the audience’s frustration mounted.
When the committee session ended for the day, word quickly spread among the audience that all were invited to go to another room in Ontario’s legislative building. An informal, impromptu gathering came together to talk about taking action in support of Malkowski’s bill. Malkowski passionately urged those present to come together and to get active on this cause.
I was one of the 20 or so people who made their way into that room. In an informal meeting that lasted about an hour, it was unanimously decided to form a new coalition to fight for a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. There was no debate over the content of such legislation at that meeting. However, there was a strong and united realization that new legislation was desperately needed, and that a new coalition needed to be formed to fight for it. This coalition did not spawn the first ODA bill. Rather, the first ODA bill had spawned this coalition.
Days later, in December 1994, the Legislature’s Standing Committee held two full days of hearings into Malkowski’s bill. A significant number of organizations, including disability community organizations, appeared before the Legislature’s Standing Committee to submit briefs and make presentations on the need for new legislation in this area. Among the groups that made presentations was the Ontario Public Service Disability Advisory Group which had pressed for these hearings to be held. Its brief later served as a core basis for briefs and positions that would be presented by the brand-new Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee.