October 20, 2014
1. Metrolinx Backs Down – Open Government Can Really Mean Open Government!
On Friday, October 17, 2014, Metrolinx contacted AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to let him know that Metrolinx President/Chief Executive Officer Bruce McCuaig will waive the $250 fee that it had asked Lepofsky to pay, to get Metrolinx to answer Lepofsky’s August 22, 2014 Freedom of Information application. It was within two hours of the AODA Alliance’s publicizing Metrolinx’s attempt to charge this $250 fee to the public and the media that Metrolinx decided to grant Lepofsky’s request to waive this fee. Below we set out the text of the email that Lepofsky received on Friday afternoon, October 17, 2014, just after the Metrolinx Freedom of Information coordinator personally phoned Lepofsky to let him know that this fee was to be waived.
Since June, The AODA Alliance has raised with Metrolinx serious concerns about the safety and accessibility of the platform design in several stations on the new Eglinton Crosstown subway line, now in the early stages of construction in Toronto. On August 22, 2014, Lepofsky had to resort to a Freedom of Information application to get answers to questions Metrolinx has dodged to date, on why Metrolinx insists on using a problematic platform design, from the perspective of people with certain disabilities such as blindness. Metrolinx is the agency of the Ontario Transportation Ministry that leads this public transit development.
On October 3, 2014, Metrolinx wrote Lepofsky, charging a $250 fee, or else Metrolinx won’t reveal the public information he seeks. In his October 10, 2014 letter, Lepofsky called on Metrolinx to waive its $250 charge. Lepofsky pointed out that he is the chair of the AODA Alliance, an unfunded, voluntary, non-partisan grassroots coalition. It has no money. It seeks this information in the public interest, to hold the Government to promises the Premier made to the AODA Alliance. This fee flies in the face of Premier Wynne’s recent pledge to make the Ontario Government the most open government in Canada.
On Friday, October 14, 2014, the AODA Alliance made public the fact that Metrolinx was trying to extract this fee, and his request a week earlier that Metrolinx waive that fee. We emailed this news to the AODA Alliance’s email list. It was sent out to Ontario’s media. It was posted on the AODA Alliance’s website. It was broadcast on Twitter and Facebook.
Within two hours of hitting the “send” button, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky received a call from Metrolinx. He was told that the Metrolinx President/CEO Bruce McCuaig had decided to waive this fee.
This is a needed victory on the long, bumpy road to a barrier-free Ontario. This is the second time in just over one year that resort had to be made to a Freedom of Information application, to get proper answers on promises that the Government made to us on disability accessibility. It is the second time in that period that the Government tried to impose a hefty fee before it would hand over information that the Freedom of Information Act gives the public a right to receive. It is the second time we have stood our ground, pressing to get that fee waived in the public interest. It is the second time the Wynne Government backed down, and waived the fee it had tried to charge.
We now wait for Metrolinx to comply with this Freedom of Information Act application. We have asked Metrolinx to give us any information they can, as soon as they can, rather than holding it all back until it is all assembled. We will keep you posted on the next episode in this saga.
To watch an August 19, 2014 Toronto Star video of an interview with AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky in two TTC subway stations, one with a centre platform design and one with the safer side platform design.
To read our Friday October 17, 2014 AODA Alliance Update that made public the Metrolinx attempt to charge this $250 fee, David Lepofsky’s request for a fee waiver, and the AODA Alliance’s public response to this fee (along with other related correspondence).
To learn more about the Wynne Government’s attempt in the 2013 fall to charge AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky $2,325 to answer his earlier Freedom of Information application to learn what the Government was doing to keep its promise to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
To read NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo’s question in Question Period on October 29, 2013 on why the Government was trying to charge the AODA Alliance that earlier hefty fee to answer his earlier Freedom of Information application on enforcement of the AODA.
To read the Toronto Star’s October 31, 2013 editorial, slamming the Wynne Government for trying to charge that earlier fee to answer the AODA Alliance chairs earlier Freedom of Information application on AODA enforcement.
2. A Week of Great Media Coverage of Accessibility Issues
This recent development came at the end of a great week, in which we were approached by four different news stations, in different parts of Ontario, to be interviewed on a range of different accessibility issues. When the media comes to us with stories, rather than us having to go to the media with stories, you know we are making an impact.
* On Monday, October 13, 2014 CBC-TV News in Toronto included a great story on the fantastic work of StopGap, a non-profit organization that builds ramps for businesses for free. We commented in that story on the need for better AODA accessibility standards to address that accessibility issue. The text of that story is set out below.
* On Thursday, October 16, 2014 CBC Radio in Ottawa did a news story on a bank branch having an automatic teller machine in a location that is not disability-accessible after hours. We were asked to comment on this story. We are troubled that some incorrectly think that any federally-regulated organization, like a bank, is automatically exempted from complying with the AODA. The text of that story is set out below.
* On Tuesday, October 14, 2014, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on CBC Thunder Bay Radio’s morning show “Superior Morning.” He addressed the need for better provincial leadership to remove barriers that voters with disabilities continue to face in municipal elections.
* On Monday, October 13, 2014, CBC Radio in London interviewed AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky on municipal elections accessibility issues. We do not know if that interview was aired.
3. The Accessibility Clock Ticks On
Let’s again drop in on the accessibility clock. A disturbing 337 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-three 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 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, 419 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 262 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!
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Text of the October 17, 2014 Email to David Lepofsky from the Metrolinx Freedom of Information Coordinator
Thank you for your letter, dated October 10, 2014. Please find attached a response from Metrolinx, waiving the fees associated with your Freedom of Information file. A signed copy will be sent to you via regular mail.
Please feel free to contact me should you have any questions.
Christina MacDonald Ruder
Freedom of Information Coordinator
97 Front Street, 2nd Floor
Toronto, ON M5J 1E6
Text of the October 17, 2014 Attached Letter to David Lepofsky from the Metrolinx Freedom of Information Coordinator
October 17, 2014
Dear Mr. Lepofsky,
RE: FREEDOM OF INFORMATION REQUEST Fee Waiver Request
Thank you for your letter, dated October 10, 2014, supporting your request for a waiver of the fees associated with your Freedom of Information Access Request. Metrolinx has reviewed your position and has agreed to grant a waiver of the fees, totalling an estimated $250.00.
Metrolinx is currently processing your Access Request. As per my letter of October 3, 2014, this file was placed on hold pending additional information to support your fee waiver request or payment of the fee deposit. As such, the adjusted deadline for response to your request is November 14, 2014.
If you have any further questions please contact me, the undersigned, by telephone at 416-202-5518, or email at Christina.MacDonaldRuder@Metrolinx.com.
Christina MacDonald Ruder
Freedom of Information Coordinator
Text of the CBC-TV Toronto October 13, 2014 News Item on Accessibility
CBC TV Toronto
October 14, 2014
Provincial government failing to make Toronto barrier free, disabilities activist says
Preparations for Pan Am Games should consider tourists with disabilities, David Lepofsky says
CBC News Posted: Oct 13, 2014 5:23 PM ET| Last Updated: Oct 13, 2014 9:15 PM ET
Making Toronto more accessible
The Ramp Project: tackling access for the disabled one storefront at a time
The provincial government needs to do more to make Toronto accessible for people with disabilities in the build up to the 2015 Pan Am Games, a prominent activist said Monday.
This month marks 10 years since the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed. The legislation accompanied a goal to make the province “barrier free” by 2025.
David Lepofsky, chair of a group that advocates on behalf of people with disabilities, said the province has done little to make Toronto more accessible.
But David Lepofsky, chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance, said the government has largely failed to follow up on that promise. He said it could cost Toronto when tens of thousands of tourists, many of whom may have a disability, arrive for the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games next summer.
“[The government] has not enacted anything to effectively address the one or two steps in front [of] a lot of stores and restaurants” throughout the city, Lepofsky said.
He said many tourists will leave Toronto jaded because barriers will impede their experience.
StopGap ramp project
The StopGap Foundation has installed more than 400 ramps at locations throughout Toronto, depending entirely upon volunteers and donated building materials.
“We’d like them to see a city that’s ready to welcome tourists with disabilities and their families. But right now we’re on the path to a huge global embarrassment of a city that basically isn’t ready to meet their needs.”
The lack of government action spawned a grassroots effort led by Luke Anderson, a former high performance athlete left paralyzed by an accident. The movement has tried to increased accessibility at locations throughout the city.
‘Designing with everybody in mind’
Anderson co-founded StopGap Foundation, a non-profit organization that relies on help from volunteers and donated supplies to install 15-centimetre ramps on steps outside most store fronts, about three years ago.
Luke Anderson founded the StopGap Foundation 3 years ago to help improve the quality of life for people with disabilities in Toronto. (CBC)
The organization has built and distributed orange and yellow ramps to more than 400 businesses, and recently began installing ramps in new neighbourhoods.
“A single step can make such a difference for many people. Not just wheelchair users, but for people pushing strollers and delivery people too,” Anderson said.
“It means that people understand the value of inclusion, of designing with everybody in mind.”
While Lepofsky supports the movement, he said the fact that making Toronto barrier-free requires the generosity of volunteers is “symptomatic of the government’s failure” to follow through on their commitment.
With files from CBC’s Lucy Lopez
Text of October 16, 2014 CBC Ottawa Radio News Story on Accessibility
CBC Radio News Ottawa
October 16, 2014
Sussex Drive Scotiabank complies with bylaw despite lack of ramp
‘Tight timelines’ blamed for lack of ramp entrance to location that opened in July
Photographer Steve Gerecke said it seemed “surreal” that a major bank wouldn’t have an access ramp to its automated teller machines. (Steve Gerecke)
The City of Ottawa said a Scotiabank branch without a ramp at its Sussex Drive street entrance complies with bylaws because the bank can be accessed from an interior lobby door.
Photographer Steve Gerecke, who uses a wheelchair, had complained the branch at 700 Sussex Drive — a temporary location while work is done at the bank’s Rideau Centre location — should have an accessibility ramp on the street.
Wheelchair users can access the branch — which opened in July — from an interior lobby door, but the bank’s main doors facing Sussex are accessible only by steps. As the lobby door is not accessible after hours, Gerecke said he couldn’t use the bank’s ATM after hours either.
But in a letter Thursday, the City of Ottawa said access to the Scotiabank ATMs is good enough, because the building code doesn’t specify that “barrier free access” must be from the door providing direct access to the exterior.
“The building designer opted to provide the barrier free access from the lobby of the main building in view of the elevation changes on Sussex Drive,” the city said in a statement. “This was an option permitted by the Building Code and benefits all tenants occupying the unit recently re-fitted for the bank. This is the same condition as the original construction and the previous tenants also utilized doors from the lobby area to provide barrier free access.”
‘An unfortunate position to hide behind,’ disabled advocate says
Advocates for the disabled say it’s an unacceptable situation.
“If they had a sign out saying women can only go in here certain hours, but men anytime, would we be having this conversation?” said David Lepofsky, a lawyer who volunteers for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance.
David Ferguson, the executive director of the Ottawa-Carleton Association for Persons with Developmental Disabilities, said the city’s response is “an unfortunate position to hide behind.”
“I think the bank should be working with the person and the bank to make access available — that’s not a good circumstance in 2014,” he said.
In Ontario, public buildings and most places where there is any kind of kiosk need to meet the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requirements. But banks are federally regulated and exempt from meeting the AODA requirements.
In a statement to the CBC, Scotiabank public and corporate affairs spokeswoman Sheena Findlay said the company was looking for solutions to the problem.
“We are aware of the situation and we sincerely apologize and understand that it has caused our customers frustration,” wrote Findlay.
Findlay said the relocation to Sussex Drive was done “under tight timelines to assist the City of Ottawa with their efforts to build an LRT and make Ottawa a better place to live.”
“While there is an accessible entrance during our regular hours of business we have been and are continuing to explore solutions to provide access 24 hours a day to all customers,” she wrote.
Gerecke said he has been disappointed with the company’s response.
“It just seems so surreal. There are a lot of old stores and old restaurants that don’t have accessibility, but we’re talking about an international institution.”