Toronto Star Runs An Amazing Column on Tomorrow’s Celebration at Queens’s Park for the 20th Anniversary of the Grassroots Campaign for a Fully-Accessible Ontario for All People with Disabilities

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

November 27, 2014


On Thursday, November 27, 2014, the Toronto Star ran a wonderful column by senior Star journalist Bob Hepburn on the celebration of the 20th anniversary of Ontario’s grassroots non-partisan campaign to make Ontario barrier-free for all people with disabilities. This celebration will be held on Friday, November 28, 2014 at 10 a.m. at Queen’s Park. The column by Bob Hepburn is set out below.

We are delighted that over 160 people have sent us an RSVP to join us at Queen’s Park Friday morning, from various parts of Ontario. We again encourage everyone who plans to attend to arrive as early as possible, well before 10 a.m. Queen’s Park security will need time to check to make sure you are on the RSVP list, and to admit you to the building. If you did not RSVP, you won’t be on that list. Queen’s Park security will only admit people on that list.

Shortly after 9 a.m., we will have AODA Alliance volunteer stations inside, at each public entrance to Queen’s Park, to offer directions or assistance to get to the rooms where the event will be held. We will start at 10 a.m. sharp.

Our event will be located in Rooms 228 and 230 at the Legislature. The actual presentation will be in Room 228, with ASL and captioning. Room 230 is our “overflow room.” There will only be limited visibility of events in Room 230, but we have arranged to bring in audio loud-speakers so that people in Room 230 can hear the presentation. Admission to Room 228 will be on a first come, first served basis. Of course, if anyone needs to be in Room 228 for disability-related reasons (e.g. need to be able to see the ASL or captioning), they will get priority access to Room 228. We ask everyone to be flexible to help us make this happen smoothly.

Please encourage your local media to cover this event. Send them the Toronto Star column, set out below.

We encourage any attendees to “live tweet” this event on Twitter. If you want to see any live tweets on our event as it unfolds, you can:

* Go to Twitter, at even if you have never signed up for Twitter, and search on #AODA – that is the “hashtag” we encourage people to include in every tweet, so you can search for it.

* Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., just search for #AODA on your computer’s or smart phone’s web browser.

* If you are on Facebook, you can “like” our Facebook page. Our live tweets will show up there instantly. Our Facebook page is entitled “Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.”

Please re-tweet our tweets on Twitter, or share them with your friends on Facebook. That helps to spread the word.

The Accessibility Clock keeps on ticking as our 20th Anniversary approaches. A disturbing 374 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 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-seven 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, 457 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 223 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!

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Toronto Star November 27, 2014

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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.

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.

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.