Despite All the Official Rejoicing, Toronto 2015 Pan Am Games Sadly Missed a Huge Chance for a Great Legacy for Ontarians with Disabilities by Failing to Increase Accessibility of Tourism/Hospitality Venues like Restaurants and Stores – Before any 2024 Toronto Olympic Bid, Ontario Must Ensure It Doesn’t Repeat This Wasteful Mistake

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

July 28, 2015


Toronto: Despite all the official self-congratulation over the Toronto 2015 Pan American Games, Ontario inexcusably missed a huge chance to create a lasting Games legacy of increased accessibility of tourism/hospitality services (like restaurants, stores, hotels, taxis and public transit) for tourists and local residents with disabilities.

“When all eyes were on Toronto, including up to one billion people with disabilities world-wide, the cruel reality is that many if not most restaurants and stores remain inaccessible,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, which led the campaign to get the Government to create a strong Games legacy of improved tourism/hospitality. “These barriers, which daily confront over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, hurt so many and cause Ontario to lose out on a massive tourism market.”

Even though this summer the Wynne Government celebrated the tenth anniversary of Ontario’s Disabilities Act, it has repeatedly dropped the ball when it comes to implementing and enforcing that law, which requires the Government to lead Ontario to become fully disability-accessible by 2025. The Toronto 2015 Games gave the Government a great chance to use its leadership and its enforcement powers to get Ontario’s tourism/hospitality providers to gear up to increase their accessibility.

Yet the Government again missed the boat. Two years ago, on August 28, 2013, when the Wynne Government unveiled its plans for the 2015 Games’ legacy, it announced no plans for a legacy of increased accessibility of tourism and hospitality services. The AODA Alliance spent the last two years pressing the Government to expand its legacy plans, and offered the Government a detailed plan of action.

For months, the Government did nothing about this. Ten months before the Games, on September 25, 2014, Premier Kathleen Wynne at last directed her cabinet minister responsible for the Games, Michael Coteau, to work with stakeholders to ensure a Games legacy of improved tourism/hospitality. As far as we could discover, the Government still did nothing. Therefore the 2015 Games have so far left no legacy whatsoever of increased accessibility of community-based tourism and hospitality.

The Government has aimed to ensure that the Games sports venues are accessible for para-athletes at the upcoming ParaPan Am Games. That is not enough. We remain profoundly concerned that Toronto and the other communities hosting the Toronto 2015 Games are not ready to effectively accommodate the needs of tourists and athletes with disabilities who venture out of the small bubble of the sports stadiums and athletes’ village. If tourists and athletes with disabilities want to eat in our restaurants, shop in our stores, visit our tourism sites, take a taxi, ride public transit, or even find a place to go to the bathroom, they will run up against the many pervasive barriers which have impeded Ontarians with disabilities for years.

As a small effort to fill in for the Government’s failure in this area, the Games organizers held a seminar for some tourism/hospitality providers last spring to emphasize benefits of increasing accessibility. However, much more was and is needed than one limited workshop.

This Government failure is inexcusable. The Government is behind schedule for ensuring that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025.

To make up at least in part for this major missed opportunity, we urge two constructive actions:

First, the Wynne Government should use these ten days before the ParaPan Am Games for a last-minute accessibility blitz, targeted at key tourism/hospitality services like restaurants and stores. Public attention over the next days will be focused with heightened emphasis on disability issues as the ParaPan Am Games approach.

It won’t take long for a restaurant to order a Braille and large print menu, or make sure its menu is posted in an accessible format on its web site. A ramp to bridge a few steps at the front door can be put in place relatively quickly. A focused public blitz could be deployed to ensure that restaurants do not block people with disabilities with service animals, and hotels don’t try to charge them an illegal pet fee.

The Ontario Government can also help by taking steps to get municipalities not to impede local businesses, like stores and restaurants, who want to do the right thing by installing a ramp at their front door. The Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Report recently highlighted the importance of the Government using the Toronto 2015 Games to increase the accessibility of Ontario as a tourism destination.

The Government cannot use a lack of money to justify any further inaction. The Toronto 2015 Games announced weeks ago that they are tens of millions of dollars under budget.

Second, as the media and political leaders ponder whether Toronto should bid on the 2024 Olympics, Ontario must learn from its recent big mistakes. Before committing to any such bid, our government should publicly pledge to make increased accessibility of tourism and hospitality services a central and important goal of any such bid. Ontario cannot afford to miss any more opportunities to increase disability accessibility. Ontario now has no comprehensive plan that will ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025.

Contact: David Lepofsky Twitter: @davidlepofsky and @aodaalliance

Key Links

To read the AODA Alliance’s August 28, 2014 letter to 2015 Toronto Games Minister Coteau.

The AODA Alliance’s October 1, 2013 Proposal for a Strong and Lasting Disability Accessibility Legacy.

To read what was said at the August 28, 2013 Government news conference on the 2015 Toronto Games, and our reaction to it.

To read the Toronto Star’s September 3, 2014 article, raising these issues again several months ago.

To read the Ontario Human Rights Commissions’ May 21, 2015 public statement, endorsing the AODA Alliance’s call for a strong Toronto 2015 Games legacy of improved tourism/hospitality accessibility.

To read our analysis of the June 2, 2015 letter to the AODA Alliance from the Toronto 2015 Games Deputy Minister Drew Fagan, which further shows the Government didn’t plan for a Games legacy of increased tourism/hospitality accessibility.