Still More Media Coverage of Toronto 2015 Games Accessibility Issues As the Games Conclude – AODA Alliance Writes the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee for Specifics on Important Accessibility Issues

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

August 18, 2015


The amazing 2015 Toronto ParaPan American Games have now wound up. Accessibility issues surrounding them still deserve our attention. Here are some key developments in the Games’ last days.

A. More Great Media on Accessibility Issues

Our efforts over the past months in pressing disability accessibility in connection with the Toronto 2015 Games paid off in terms of increased media attention on this issue. Sadly, it did not generate the extent of Government effort on accessibility that we had sought and deserve.

Here is the latest media sampling:

1. An especially important article in the online edition of the August 15, 2015 Toronto Star, set out below, made public two important accessibility shortfalls at the ParaPan American Games.

First, the article revealed that the brand-new Athletes’ Village, built specifically for the Games and intended as a major piece of accessibility legacy for the Games, did not include Braille signage. Unlike one typically finds on the guest room doors of US hotels, the Athletes’ Village, which housed many blind athletes, had no Braille room numbers on the guest rooms. This is an easy accessibility feature to provide.

Second, the article made public our news that at the Games Opening Ceremony, a glossy print program was offered to attendees, but no Braille version was available. The article reported the following excuse for this:

“Officials referred to printing costs and the ability for spectators to read accessible documents online as reasons behind their decision.”

Yet the cost of printing some Braille copies of this program would not have caused the Government undue hardship, within the meaning of the Ontario Human Rights Code, especially when the Games were reportedly millions of dollars under budget. The alternative of offering the program online is no answer. This is because the Toronto 2015 website had real accessibility deficiencies.

Moreover, sighted attendees at the Opening Ceremony were given the chance to read the program there and then. They were not told to go home and read it afterwards. Treating blind people differently hardly is a good illustration of the Government leading by example on accessibility.

2.  An August 12, 2015 story on CITY TV News, (transcript set out below) focused on difficulties para-athletes at the ParaPan American Games faced when leaving the Games bubble and trying to find an accessible place to eat.

3. An August 12, 2015 article in the Toronto Star (set out below) asked how accessible Toronto is from the perspective of para-athletes coming to the ParaPan American Games. Because there are so many barriers in the Toronto community, the article focused on a new app that was released that week. Called “Access Now,” it lets anyone post information about the accessibility of specific locations. Its innovative creator, Maayan Ziv, created it because of the great many barriers she has faced in Toronto.

We commend Ms. Ziv for her ingenuity. We urge one and all to post accessibility information on the Access Now app. You can send in accessibility reports about specific venues to post in the app by email or by visiting the Access Now website.

Because this app was released just before the ParaPan American Games, it was obviously not populated with enough postings to ensure that para-athletes could get around the many barriers in Toronto.

This great new app is no substitute for actually increasing the accessibility of stores, restaurants and other public establishments in our community – something the Ontario Government did not focus on in preparation for the 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games.

4. An article in the August 16, 2015 Toronto Star, set out below, included accessibility as one of the issues to consider when reflecting back on the ParaPan American Games. The article noted:

“An influx of athletes and other visitors with disabilities put accessibility issues top of mind for the week.” It referred to the new Access Now app.

Under the heading “The Bad,” the article included:

“Accessibility barriers

Athletes reported the athletes village was lacking in Braille signs for the visually impaired. Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky commended the organizers for “a number of good accessibility features,” including live audio description, as he took in the ceremonies, wheelchair basketball and goalball. But the service was not well-publicized, he said.”

The article also listed poor attendance at the ParaPan American Games as a negative. It reported that with three days left, fewer than 85,000 of the 200,000 ParaPan American Games tickets had sold.

We consider this a serious failure by the Government and the Toronto 2015 organization. Had these Games been effectively marketed, far more would have attended. One major benefit of the ParaPan American Games is as a means of tearing down attitudinal barriers that impede people with disabilities every day of their lives. Half-empty stadiums at too many of these competitions represent a huge missed opportunity to change public attitudes. It also sent a bad message to the para-athletes who came here to compete.

B. AODA Alliance Calls on the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee to Make Public Important Accessibility Specifics

Before we leave the Toronto 2015 Games behind, we wanted to ensure that we get from the Toronto 2015 organization key information on disability accessibility efforts and accomplishments regarding the Games. This is especially important since the Government keeps claiming that these were the most accessible Games ever. Each time we hear that claim, we wonder how accessible the prior Games were to which the Government compares itself.

Our goal in Ontario is not merely being more accessible than some other countries. It is to become fully accessible to all people with disabilities. That is what the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires.

Below we set out the August 18, 2015 letter from AODA Alliance Chair to Toronto 2015 CEO Saad Rafi. It addresses certain barriers we have learned about at the Games. That letter’s questions for the Toronto 2015 organization focus on these topics:

* Attendance at the ParaPan American Games

* Number of accessible seats at Toronto 2015 Games stadiums

* Accessible signage at Toronto 2015 stadiums

* Providing Official Toronto 2015 brochures and public information in accessible alternate formats

* Legacy of new accessible stadiums

* Accessible signage at the Athletes’ Village

* Future of the Athletes’ Village

* Accessibility problems with the Toronto 2015 website and iPhone app

* The Toronto 2015 Organization’s standard for accessibility

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Toronto Star Online Saturday August 15, 2015

Originally posted at

Blind Parapan athletes face more barriers than most

Advocates decry lack of braille in residence rooms and programs.

KALIE SINCLAIR / Canadian Paralympic Committee

Goalball play Ahmad Ziedidavi, from Port Coquitlam, B.C., said this was one of the best-prepared Parapan cities, though the lack of braille on suite doors in the athletes’ village leaves a blind person “kind of lost.”

By: Michael Robinson Staff Reporter,  Published on Sat Aug 15 2015

Blind judo competitor Marissa Arndt, from St. Louis, Mo., says the friendliness of Torontonians has helped make the city more accessible, though she’s had to rely on “landmarks” to navigate the braille-free dorm.

Despite ramps and powered doors, the absence of a few, tiny dots at the Parapan Am Village  dorms may have been the Games’ biggest barrier of all.

Some 325 Para-athletes with a visual impairment have competed in this year’s Games, which come to a close tonight. Ontario’s laws, however, do not require accessible signage, such as braille, on individual rooms.

This can put athletes like veteran Canadian goalball player Ahmad Ziedidavi in a tricky spot.

“If you want to look for your apartment suite and you don’t have anybody, you are kind of lost,” the Coquitlam, B.C., native said, adding that he did find braille on the elevators, but not on the residences’ apartment doors.

Nevertheless, he was “very impressed” with the Village.

“I’ve been to Previous Pan Am games and this was one of the best,” he said.

Accessibility advocate and lawyer David Lepofsky describes braille as “a bedrock accommodation” for people with vision loss.

“If a sign is posted in print so sighted people can read it, it is an obvious denial of equal treatment to not do the same for blind people in a format they can read,” he said.

“This is especially so for an event like the Parapan American Games, where the government is specifically inviting blind athletes to come to Canada to compete in sports specifically meant for blind athletes.”

“I did notice that there are no raised numbers or braille for the room numbers,” said Tiana Knight, a Calgary goalball player. “Most places now have both, or at least one. “It is sometimes difficult when you can’t read the number.”

Marissa Arndt, a blind judo athlete from St. Louis, Mo., said she has relied on “landmarks” to navigate the dorm.

“My room is on the corner, so I know if I get off the elevator I can feel a metal door and my friend’s room is one more door down,” said the 24-year-old, who compares her eyesight to looking through a tunnel the width of a straw.

Despite assistance from volunteers or her coach, “braille would have been helpful to do it on (my) own.”

TO2015 had volunteers and team officials to help blind athletes, a provision that met customer service requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Human Rights Legal Support Centre, panned the province for only meeting the law’s minimum regulatory requirements.

“It is truly astonishing that an event meant to celebrate the diversity and strength of athletes with disabilities has simply complied with bottom-line building standards,” said Jennifer Ramsay, spokesperson for the Human Rights Legal Support Centre.

The issue is not limited solely to the dorms.

When Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, asked for braille print programming during the opening ceremonies, he was informed that none was available.

“They told sighted people they had a print program and they told blind people you don’t,” he said. “This is very blistering.

“How would sighted people feel if they only gave out braille copies of the program?”

Officials referred to printing costs and the ability for spectators to read accessible documents online as reasons behind their decision.

Earlier this year, the Americas Paralympic Committee called Toronto the best prepared city to ever host the Parapan American Games.


Originally posted at

[reporter] This cobblestone, how difficult is it?

[woman] It is difficult because you have to do like this.

[rumbling] Front wheel, it make bumpy.

[reporter] She’s one of the most decorated paralympians in Jamaican history and has circled the globe as a competitor since 1988.

Sylvia Grant is one of the more than 1,600 Parapan Am athletes competing this week in Toronto and admits when it comes to accessibility, our world class city lags far behind our American neighbours.

[Sylvia Grant] The States is better than Canada. That’s true. [laughs] Everything is there for- and is new. Everything, new building, new everything is there.

But here, I see a lot of old fashion.

[Andrea Piunno] The Distillery District is just steps away from the Athletes’ Village, and while some businesses here have wheelchair ramps to better accommodate the athletes, others don’t.

Here’s what some athletes are faced with – a set of stairs  and no other options.

[David Lepofsky] When they leave the small bubble of the Games, the competition sites themselves, where are they gonna eat?

Where are they gonna shop?

Where are they gonna be able to go to the bathroom?

[woman] It’s frustrating.

[Andrea] Eleven years ago, Louise Russo’s  perspective changed.

She was an innocent bystander left paralyzed from the waist down after a shooting at this North York California Sandwiches shop.

[Louise Russo] I honestly did not know anything until I sat in this chair and maneuvered it and went around.

Buildings where they say they’re accessible are not accessible.

There’s no handle, and to be able to get into a bathroom, you have to wait for someone to open the door.

[Andrea] While the Parapan Am venues cater to the athletes, only one percent of spectator space is dedicated to accessible seating.

[Louise] There should have been at least three percent.

They knew we were coming, they knew, and they should have been well prepared for that, and they were not.

[Andrea] Parapan Am officials say the number of accessible seats is the standard for all events set by the International  Paralympic Committee.

Andrea Piunno, City News.

The Toronto Star, August 12, 2015

Originally posted at

Is our city accessible?; We ask Parapan Am athletes for their take on Toronto

Michael Robinson

Ontario has touted Toronto 2015’s Parapan Am Games as the most accessible Games ever, but what do our visiting athletes think?

The Star asked some of the athletes how the city fares when compared with the barriers they face back home.

From widened doorways to the tiny bumps ahead of a blended curb, they credited building designs and social attitudes as two factors that helped them overcome barriers throughout the wider Toronto community.

In light of the Games, both residents and those visiting have a new tool at their disposal to report barriers they find in public spaces.

A web-based app, called Access Now, relies on crowdsourcing to pinpoint the accessibility status of any hotel, restaurant or attraction on an interactive map.

The tool’s creator, Ryerson University master’s student Maayan Ziv, said the project was fuelled by the frustration she experienced when attempting to dine out with friends.

“I would make plans thinking I could get in and then I’d arrive and there would be a step at the entrance,” Ziv, 25, said. “I want to be able to go where I want to go and do that now.”

This is one of the reasons she wanted to ensure the web application was ready in time for the Parapan Am games.

“A lot of people are coming to Toronto, and they will be looking for accessible places to eat, things to do, or just go out,” she said.

Users can submit their own reviews or rate venues according to four colour-coded categories.

Since it launched last week, more than 600 restaurants, cafes and bars have already been pinned on the map.

“The businesses are missing out, and they are losing a huge customer base,” she said.

Ziv, who has spent the majority of her life in Toronto, identified the city’s Entertainment District as one area that needs improvement.

“These are huge tourist destinations and there isn’t much access,” she said, adding that she hopes the tool will eventually help to break down physical barriers.

“We want to look at those places and see how we can turn them into better access for everyone, so we can all enjoy Toronto.”

Those interested in learning more can access the map at

The Toronto Star August 16, 2015

Eight days of competition, medals and memories
Graphic: Katarina Roxon won gold in the women’s 100m breaststroke SB8.
The Parapan Ams wrapped up Saturday after eight days of competition and hundreds of medals awarded. Here are the some of best and worst moments from the Games.

The good

Canada’s medal haul

Team Canada came into the Games hoping for a third-place finish in the medal count after coming in eighth at the 2011 Parapans. They did one better, finishing second with 168 medals, behind Brazil with 257 and above the third-place U.S., which had 135. The team coming into Toronto was bigger: 216 athletes named at the outset, versus 130 four years ago.

Volunteer spirit

Anyone who has been near the volunteees, orange-shirted balls of energy, knows they have super-humanly high levels of enthusiasm. These are the people that transfer Pachi’s energy into a human comestible.

Inspiring the next generation

Team Canada chef de mission Elisabeth Walker-Young watched as a boy cheered on athletes from the accessible seating at York’s athletics stadium Thursday. As her team approached its goal of a top-three finish, the sight of that fan was all she needed to see.

“Maybe he’s going to be inspired to try out paralympic sport, and I think that’s as important as reaching our top three goal, is having young Canadians who are sick in a hospital or newly injured see that there is an outlet for them to be physically active and participate.”

Focus on accessibility

An influx of athletes and other visitors with disabilities put accessibility issues top of mind for the week. Ryerson University student Maayan Ziv launched Access Now, a web-based app for crowdsourcing accessible spots around town, to correspond with the Games. “A lot of people are coming to Toronto, and they will be looking for accessible places to eat, things to do, or just go out,” she told the Star.

The bad

Accessibility barriers

Athletes reported the athletes village was lacking in Braille signs for the visually impaired. Accessibility advocate David Lepofsky commended the organizers for “a number of good accessibility features,” including live audio description, as he took in the ceremonies, wheelchair basketball and goalball. But the service was not well-publicized, he said.

Low attendance

Whereas the Pan Am Games were able to build momentum and eventually sell more than one million of the 1.2 million available tickets, the Parapans were a tougher sell. With only three days left to go in the Games, organizers said less than 85,000 tickets of 200,000 available had been sold.

Walker-Young concedes the athletes would have liked to see bigger crowds, but there’s still time to build Canadian support for para-sport, especially if Toronto bids for the 2024 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Sexual harassment lawsuit

A lawsuit filed Thursday accuses TO2015 chair David Peterson of sexual harassment. The accuser, Ximena Morris, was working for the organizing committee when, she alleges in her statement of claim, Peterson made repeated sexually tinged comments and invaded her personal space with an unwanted hug. Peterson called the allegations “wild and untrue.” None of the allegations has been tested in court.

Sarah-Joyce Battersby Toronto Star

August 18, 2015 Letter to Toronto 2015 CEO Saad Rafi from the AODA Alliance

1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email Twitter: @aodaalliance

August 18, 2015

Saad Rafi, Chief Executive Officer
Toronto 2015
Via email:
c/o Corus Quay
24 Dockside Drive
7th Floor
Toronto, Ontario M5A 0B5

Dear Sir,

Re: Accessibility Issues and the 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games

As you know, we have led the community-based campaign over the past two years to try to get the 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games to leave behind a strong legacy of substantially increased accessibility for people with disabilities. With the Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games now complete, important accessibility issues remain.

You have told the media that accessibility for people with disabilities is a top priority for you. As such, we would appreciate your answers to the following questions.

I. Attendance at the ParaPan American Games

Media reports state that more than half of the 200,000 tickets for the ParaPan American Games went unsold, as of three days before the end of those Games.

1. What final number of tickets to the ParaPan American Games went unsold?

II. Number of Accessible Seats at Toronto 2015 Games Stadiums

Media reports state that 1% of the seats at Pan/ParaPan American Games stadiums were accessible seats.

2. Were only 1% of stadium seats accessible? If so, why were only 1% of stadium seats accessible, rather than a higher number, such as 3%?

3. Global News has reported that the Toronto 2015 organization did not answer its requests for a breakdown of the number of accessible seats at each stadium for the Pan/ParaPan American Games. We now seek that information. Please list for us, stadium by stadium, for the entire Toronto 2015 Games (including both the Pan American Games and the ParaPan American Games) the total number of seats in each stadium, the total number of accessible seats in that stadium, and the percentage of the stadium’s total seats that are accessible.

III. Accessible Signage at Toronto 2015 Stadiums

On August 15, 2015, we made public on Twitter the fact that at the Mississauga stadium where the goalball competitions were held, there was no Braille or raised large print signage on the public bathroom doors, and no tactile walking surface indicators at the top or bottom of a set of public stairs. As you know, goalball is a game specifically for blind players.

4. In which, if any, of the stadiums, at which the Pan/ParaPan American Games were held, was there Braille and raised large print signage on the public bathrooms? This request refers to permanent bathrooms, not temporary, portable and gender-neutral bathrooms.

5. In which, if any, of the of the stadiums, at which the Pan/ParaPan American Games were held, were there tactile walking surface indicators at the top and bottom of stairs?

6. Why did the Toronto 2015 organization not ensure Braille and raised large print signage on all permanent public washrooms and tactile walking surface indicators at stairs at all stadiums where the Pan/ParaPan American Games were held, and where print signage is provided for the public?

IV. Providing Official Toronto 2015 Brochures and Public Information in Accessible Alternate Formats

At the August 7, 2015 ParaPan American Games official Opening ceremony, attendees were offered a print program. However, we discovered that no Braille version of that program was available. Similarly, at the goalball bronze and gold finals, no Braille or large print versions were available of the official glossy brochures that were offered to attendees, concerning the ParaPan American Games and the medals. As well, there did not appear to be a Braille or large print version available of the goalball rules that were exhibited to the public at a stadium information booth. Toronto 2015 volunteers advised us that others had requested the brochures in Braille.

7. Were any of the Games’ print brochures, or other like documents that were offered to the public attending any of the Pan/ParaPan American Games, made available in Braille or in large print? If not, who decided within the Toronto 2015 organization that this material would not be offered in Braille or in large print?

V. Legacy of New Accessible Stadiums

We have been told that newly-built accessible stadiums would form part of the legacy for the Toronto 2015 Games. We have discovered that the Pan American field where blind and CP soccer was held is only a temporary stadium. We were told that its benches were rented. After the Games, only the Astroturf will remain.

8. How many new stadiums were built for the Pan/ParaPan American Games? Of these, how many are temporary and how many are permanent?

VI. Accessible Signage at the Athletes’ Village

We had been told that the newly-constructed Athletes’ Village was to be built to cutting-edge state-of-the-art accessibility. Yet the August 15, 2015 Toronto Star reported that the Pan/ParaPan American Games Athletes’ Village did not have Braille signage on the rooms, including the guest rooms, to correspond to print signage. It is very common for Braille and raised large print signage to be found on guest room doors in U.S. hotels and on cruise ships.

9. Why was there no Braille and raised large print signage to correspond to print signage in the Athletes’ Village, e.g. on guest room door numbers?

VII. Future of the Athletes’ Village

We understand that part of the Games legacy is to be the conversion of the Athletes’ Village to residential housing that will be available to the public as condominiums.

10. Is there a guarantee that all the accessibility features now at the Athletes’ Village will be retained when it is converted to housing for sale to the public? Will only certain of the units be retained as accessible units?

VIII. Accessibility Problems with the Toronto 2015 Website and iPhone App

We earlier made public the fact that the Toronto 2015 website and its related iPhone app had accessibility problems – problems which had been earlier brought to the attention of the Toronto 2015 organization. These problems were not all resolved before the end of the Games.

For example, we pointed out that these barriers made it hard for people with vision loss to independently buy their own Games tickets via the Toronto 2015 website or the iPhone app. On that issue, your officials referred us to speak with Ticketmaster. It appears that Ticketmaster was given the contract for selling Games tickets to the public. It is our view that if a private company such as Ticketmaster is given a contract to sell Games tickets, the Toronto 2015 organization remains responsible for ensuring that tickets are sold through fully accessible avenues.

11. Why were the Toronto 2015 website and iPhone apps released without ensuring their full and proper accessibility?

12. Why weren’t these accessibility problems fully fixed even by the end of the Games?

13. What conditions, if any, were included in any Request for Proposal (RFP) for sales of the Games tickets for ensuring that all ticketing venues and avenues were fully accessible to people with disabilities?

14. What contractual or other terms were set with Ticketmaster if any, to ensure that all Ticketmaster venues and online avenues for ticket sales were fully accessible to people with disabilities?

15. What steps did the Toronto 2015 organization take to test or audit Ticketmaster sales venues and online ticket sales avenues to ensure their full accessibility to people with disabilities?

The Ticketmaster organization did not contact AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky until Thursday, August 13, 2015 to discuss our concerns about the accessibility of online ticket purchasing of Games tickets.

16. Why was this initial action on this issue delayed until a time when the Games were on the eve of conclusion?

IX. The Toronto 2015 Organization’s Standard for Accessibility

We have heard informal word that the Toronto 2015 organization and/or the Ontario Government has pointed to the accessibility standards set out by the International Paralympic Committee as a benchmark for accessibility at the ParaPan American Games.

17. If so, what steps did the Toronto 2015 organization take to ensure that those accessibility standards are at least as strong as the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code?

18. Did the Toronto 2015 organization aim to comply with the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code, which are paramount over the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario Building Code, and any International Paralympic Committee accessibility standards, where those provide less accessibility?


David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

cc:        Premier Kathleen Wynne, email
Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for the Toronto 2015 Games
Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure email
Drew Fagan, Deputy Minister of the 2015 Games email
Giles Gherson, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, email
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, email
Steven Harlow, Assistant Deputy Minister for the 2015 Toronto Games email