May 23, 2014
May 23, 2014 Toronto: We have received troubling word that an All Candidates Debate in an evidently inaccessible location, Fern Avenue Public School, 128 Fern Avenue, Toronto, is scheduled for 7 pm on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in Toronto’s hotly-contested Parkdale High Park riding. We had tweeted to all Ontario election candidates on Twitter, seeking pledges that no candidate will agree to attend an All Candidates Debate in an inaccessible location.
Days ago, when we received word on Twitter about the possibility of an inaccessible All Candidates Debate in this riding, we tweeted the riding’s Liberal, Conservative and NDP candidates, to raise our concerns.
This week, NDP candidate Cheri DiNovo told us by phone that she will not take part in this All Candidates Debate, because of inaccessibility concerns.
On May 20, 2014, Liberal Candidate Nancy Leblanc (Twitter name” @impolitical) tweeted us that she will attend this event, despite any inaccessibility to voters with disabilities. Her public tweet stated:
“@DavidLepofsky We worked w/organizers; they couldn’t secure accessible venue. Will attend; make clear need more accessible venues in community”
In contrast, in her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out the Liberal Party’s 2014 election disability accessibility pledges, Kathleen Wynne wrote in part:
“is a top priority for us to safeguard the interests of Ontarians with disabilities through ease of access to the provincial and municipal elections as does every citizen of Ontario. We will ensure that the Ministry of the Attorney General, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and Elections Ontario are committed to providing the best possible services to ensure accessible elections.”
The riding’s PC candidate, Jamie Ellerton, has not responded to our tweet about this.
“In 2014, the idea of an All Candidates Debate being held in an evidently-inaccessible location is an utterly inexcusable slap in the face to 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan province-wide AODA Alliance, which spearheads a tenacious campaign to make Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities. “It is a cruel irony that this will be in a school, on the very day that has been declared “Education Day.” We have unsuccessfully campaigned for years to get the Government to enact an Education Accessibility Standard under the Disabilities Act, to tear down the many unfair barriers impeding kids with disabilities when they try to get an education. But how can we raise this with candidates in a school house with no assurance that we can get into the room where the event will be held?”
Any community organization that organizes an All Candidates Debate has a choice of where to hold an All Candidates Debate. They don’t need to select an inaccessible location. There should be a clear assurance in advance that the venue is fully accessible. Candidates from any party can ensure that this never happens by simply refusing to attend such an event unless the location is accessible.
“We have tirelessly raised this concern in election after election since the 1995 election. We should not have to raise it again in 2014,” said Lepofsky. “Ontario is now behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025. This is certainly not a great way of signalling an effort to speed up progress on the accessibility front!”
Some other candidates in other ridings have pledged not to attend an inaccessible All Candidates Debate. Liberal Tracey MacCharles, running for re-election in the Pickering-Scarborough East riding, tweeted us on May 22, 2014 as follows:
“@DavidLepofsky @studentvote Plz see my twitter stmt yesterday. Committed to not attending any debate venues that are inaccessible”
The major parties have in the past voiced their support for fully accessible elections. In this election, the major parties each reaffirmed their commitment for Ontario to become fully accessible no later than 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. This kind of incident puts those lofty words to the test. Actions speak louder than words.
We have heard enough to have serious cause for concern about this event’s accessibility. To verify the Fern Avenue School’s accessibility issues, call the school (416) 393-9130. We have been told that there is a ramp outside one entrance, but there is no safe fully-accessible route within the building to its auditorium.
In the 1995 election, when Ontario’s organized disability accessibility movement was in its infancy, we discovered an All Candidates Debate at an inaccessible school in another Toronto riding. The convergence of people with disabilities that night and the attending embarrassing media coverage led the event’s organizers to spontaneously move the All Candidates Debate outside the schoolhouse, holding it instead on the sidewalk in front of the school.
The non-partisan AODA Alliance doesn’t endorse any party or candidate. It advocates on accessibility to all parties.
Contact: David Lepofsky firstname.lastname@example.org
To watch the AODA Alliance’s virtual news conference, unveiling the parties’ 2014 election disability accessibility pledges, all made in letters to the AODA Alliance.
For full background on the ongoing campaign to make Ontario disability-accessible, visit www.www.aodaalliance.org
Follow us on Twitter for all the news from Ontario and around the world on disability accessibility: @aodaalliance