August 11, 2015
1. Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee Concedes that it’s Not Good Enough to Ensure Accessible ParaPan American Games Stadiums – Accessibility of Community Tourism and Hospitality Establishments Must Also Be Improved
We have received a boost from the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee! A senior official at the Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games Organizing Committee has acknowledged that the needed legacy of increased disability accessibility for the Toronto 2015 Games must go further than the accessibility of the competition stadiums. It must include increased accessibility of tourism and hospitality services like restaurants and stores. We have been advocating that position to the Wynne Government for two years.
As background, in the past few days, the AODA Alliance has secured even more media coverage of the Ontario Government’s failure to ensure a proper disability accessibility legacy of the 2015 Games by achieving an increase in the accessibility of tourism and hospitality services in the community, like restaurants and stores. Among recent coverage was a Sunday, August 9, 2015 interview on CBC’s weekend morning radio Fresh Air program, heard across Ontario, on this topic. This has also been covered recently by Global News in its August 6 and 7, 2015 broadcasts, set out below, and in an interview on August 10, 2015 on CFRB Toronto Talk Radio 1010.
On Monday August 10, 2015, CBC Radio’s flagship weekday morning public affairs program, Metro Morning, interviewed Toronto 2015 senior official Kristina Molloy. Among other things, the CBC presented Ms. Molloy with a part of the earlier Fresh Air interview with David Lepofsky, and asked for her response.
In the exchange, which we set out below, Ms. Molloy confirmed that the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee had been focused on ensuring that the Games’ competition stadiums are disability accessible. As for the accessibility of tourism and hospitality services in the Toronto area outside the Games stadiums, Ms. Molloy said:
“if all we do is put on a great Games, I don’t think any of us would think that was successful. The opportunity here is for the Games really to be a catalyst, to enlist the change within the city, and to really push the bar higher, in terms of what we can do for accessibility.”
We commend Ms. Molloy for echoing the position we have tried to impress on the Ontario Government for many months. Ms. Molloy then mentioned a workshop the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee held in downtown Toronto in May, just two months before the 2015 Games were to begin. She said:
“So we actually, several months before the Games, had an “Are You Ready?” challenge to businesses in the tourism sector, to provide them with some resources and information on how they can become more accessible in advance of the Games. And so that’s something we’ve been wanting to do is work with our partners.”
The workshop to which Ms. Molloy referred was only attended by some 175 organizations, according to an August 6, 2015 Global TV news report, which we set out in full below. In contrast, according to that Global news report, there are some 8,000 restaurants in Toronto alone. If we add to that number the stores and other tourism and hospitality sites in Toronto, and then add the number of all those kinds of public establishments in other communities where ParaPan American Games are being held (e.g. Mississauga and Whitby), the attendees of that workshop are a tiny drop in the bucket. As well, we have seen from the Toronto 2015 organization no indication of how many such establishments actually increased their disability accessibility as a result of that workshop.
We have commended Toronto 2015 for holding that workshop, a small step to try to start to fill the huge gap that the Wynne Government had left unfilled. However, that workshop came very late in the day. we were urging the Wynne Government to take actions like that fully two years ago, when these establishments would have had much more time to take action on their accessibility.
As David Lepofsky emphasized in the Fresh Air interview, the Wynne Government has simply dropped the ball on this issue. Our website demonstrates that the Government had lead responsibility for increasing community accessibility outside the Games venues, and did nothing in effect over the past two years to achieve this. Almost a year ago, on September 25, 2015, Premier Kathleen Wynne directed her minister responsible for the Games, Michael Coteau, to work with stakeholders on achieving a Games legacy of increased tourism/hospitality accessibility. Yet he did not do so.
In an August 8, 2015 speech at an event which the Wynne Government organized and at which Premier Wynne spoke, an international para-sports official noted that before hosting previous Paralympics, both Beijing and Sochi each undertook focused efforts at increasing the disability accessibility of their communities. Ontario’s failure in this regard, we say, stands in sad contrast to those cities.
2. A Personal Reflection on Accessibility at the Official Opening of the 2015 Toronto ParaPan American Games by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky
“I attended the August 7, 2015 official Opening Ceremonies of the 2015, ParaPan American Games. Unfortunately, the tickets were quite expensive, but the evening was electrifying.
From a disability accessibility perspective, the New York University stadium had a number of accessibility features. As well, the volunteers were cheerful and helpful.
Moreover, the Toronto 2015 organization commendably acted on our recommendation, and provided live audio description of the event for those of us in attendance. This was a first! It made the event much easier for me to follow. No doubt it could be very helpful for athletes with vision loss at this event. As well, for those not at the event, a number of hours of audio description are available over the week of the Games on cable TV at home through the excellent services of AMI-TV, Accessible Media.
On the other side of the accessibility ledger, as we were entering the stadium, volunteers offered us a detailed printed program for the Opening Ceremonies. I asked if it was available in Braille. I was told that it was not available in Braille.
For the Wynne Government to claim earlier that day at a news conference that this is the most accessible ParaPan American Games ever, it seemed rather shocking that so basic an accommodation was left out. The world was quickly alerted about this on Twitter.
On the way into the stadium, I was approached by a series of around five or six different officials. Each asked to conduct a short oral survey on transportation coming to the event. I encountered a person doing the same survey days later at one of the Games events at a different location. I was told that they were doing this for the Transportation Ministry.
It is truly sad that the Government did not send out a squad like this two years ago to stores and restaurants near the Games venues, to ask about their accessibility and to try to get them to make improvements. What a better use of public money that would have been.
One of the survey questions concerned the accessibility of transportation getting to the event. I question how useful this survey data will be. They are only asking people who actually made it to the event, not those who were prevented by barriers from getting there. Moreover, I was told that they ask this accessibility question of all people surveyed, not just those with disabilities. If every person without a disability tells them they faced no disability barriers, this will result in statistics that would wrongly suggest that transportation accessibility barriers are not a real problem in getting to the Games.”
3. Use Public Attention on Disabilities during the ParaPan American Games to Keep Up the Pressure on Accessibility Issues
We encourage one and all to keep bringing any examples of accessibility barriers to the public’s attention, whether these barriers are at the Toronto 2015 Games, or outside the Games in our community. Publicize them on social media using the hashtag #accessibility. Contact the local media to seek coverage of them.
Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.
Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.
Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates.
Excerpt from August 10, 2015 CBC Radio Toronto Metro Morning Interview with Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee Official Kristina Molloy
CBC: You’re saying that many of the athletes are applauding your efforts. We heard yesterday on our sister program Fresh Air from David Lepofsky. He is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. And he too applauded what’s been done for athletes and spectators to the venues. But he did express some concerns with the missed opportunities Beyond the Games. Here’s part of what he had to say:
David Lepofsky: Where they’ve fallen down is on what happens for the 1,600 athletes with disabilities and the many more tourists with disabilities from here and from abroad. Once they go outside the bubble of the Games themselves, if they leave the stadium and want to find something to eat, or shop in our stores, or just find a place to go to the bathroom, or an accessible taxi, whatever it may be.
CBC: Do you share that concern?
Kristina Molloy: I think that definitely from an Organizing Committee perspective, we really focused on, you know, how can we deliver the most accessible Games. And so for us, that’s been around both our capital construction projects, so that new venues that we’ve been able to build, that will be a legacy for the city long after the Games, to also how we can upgrade some of the existing facilities that we are using, to make them more usable, and to leave that as a legacy as well.
But we recognize the very same thing that Mr. Lepofsky is talking about, and that’s the fact that if all we do is put on a great Games, I don’t think any of us would think that was successful. The opportunity here is for the Games really to be a catalyst, to enlist the change within the city, and to really push the bar higher, in terms of what we can do for accessibility.
So we actually, several months before the Games, had an “Are You Ready?” challenge to businesses in the tourism sector, to provide them with some resources and information on how they can become more accessible in advance of the Games. And so that’s something we’ve been wanting to do is work with our partners.
CBC: What is something a business owner can do?
Kristina Molloy: So, it’s as simple as again ensuring a no-step entrance to their venue. It’s about thinking about how there is being laid out in a way that might be accessible to someone in a wheelchair. It’s about considering alternative formats for maybe it’s their menu, their communications on line, and those types of things. So it doesn’t have to be this daunting, big investment that they have to do, that they’re worried about being able to achieve. I think it’s really about just starting the dialogue and being able to provide people with resources on how they can really start to take those steps to get there.
Global News August 6, 2015
Parapan Am Games athletes and spectators may face barriers in Toronto: advocate
By Christina Stevens
Accessibility advocates say Parapan Am Games athletes and spectators using mobility aids will face barriers in Toronto. One man is doing what he can to find a solution. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO — Athletes and spectators are arriving in Toronto for the Parapan Am Games, but some who require mobility aids could encounter difficulties accessing certain businesses.
“Athletes and their families — they won’t be able to get into every restaurant they want to check out and that’s a disappointing thing,” said Luke Anderson, founder of the StopGap Foundation.
StopGap has been doing what it can to make it easier to overcome physical barriers, building custom-made wooden ramps that can be deployed when needed, so people who cannot navigate stairs can still get inside.
Anderson has already made inroads at one major tourist draw in the city — Kensington Market.
Several StopGap ramps can be seen in doorways of popular locations such as Jimmy’s Coffee, where a red StopGap ramp welcomes customers inside.
“It’s not a huge deal to put it out there for us, but it can make a huge difference to a lot of people,” said Manager Rachel Dineen.
Anderson said that businesses that get onboard will reap the rewards, both in goodwill and increased revenue.
Yet there are still countless businesses with only stairs as an option.
“We have a long way to go,” said Anderson.
Tom’s Place is just across the street from Jimmy’s Coffee, but Anderson said he could not get inside due to a single stair.
He was directed to another door, where there was a narrow ramp, but there was also a ledge Anderson said he could not go over in his electric chair.
Tom’s staff said their contractor had assured them the ramp was accessible, but they also said they could bring clothes outside.
When the store owner arrived at work he was eager to talk with Anderson about building a ramp and said they would make it their first priority.
“This is a family store, it’s a community, a great area and everybody should be able to come,” said Tom Mihalik.
“We failed at that and I apologize to everybody but we will make the change.”
While Anderson’s foundation is pretty much on its own, some U.S. cities have reportedly blitzed local businesses before major events to educate them on accommodating people with disabilities.
Before the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, Toronto2015 hosted a conference to provide information to interested business.
They said 175 signed up but when compared to the number of businesses in the city, which has 8,000 restaurants alone, it’s clear that more needs to be done.
Anderson said an influx of Parapan Am Games athletes and spectators could help to open the eyes of more business owners.
“That’s when the real change is going to happen,” said Anderson. “I’m excited about that.”
Global News August 7 2015
Advocates say there are flaws in ‘most accessible Parapan Am Games ever’ claim
Advocates are saying the claim that Toronto is hosting the “most accessible Parapan Am Games ever” may be unfounded. They say some venues are already outdated. Christina Stevens reports.
TORONTO — As of Jan. 1, 2015, the Ontario Building Code requires a minimum three per cent of spectator seating to be accessible seating.
Plans to increase the minimum from one to three per cent had been in the works for years.
“But unfortunately the ParaPan Am Games failed to capitalize on that,” said Peter Athanasopoulos. Manager of Public Policy and Government Relations, at Spinal Cord Injury Ontario.
Instead, they built to the old minimum required seating.
Toronto 2015 organizers said they followed international Paralympic guidelines.
In a previous statement they said their venues “meet or exceed the industry standard of a 1 per cent capacity of accessible seats.”
That statement was sent to Global News in June.
Since then, repeated requests for a breakdown of numbers venue by venue have gone unanswered.
But Global News went to the minister in charge of both infrastructure and accessibility issues on Friday, to ask why the new venues would be built to the old one per cent standard when they knew they were planning to increase it to three per cent.
“What we’ve achieved is the most accessible games ever put on,” responded MPP Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.
“Have we got it perfect at this point and time? I would suggest we are going to continue to learn.”
Other shortfalls with accessibility have cropped up as well.
After Global News reported the official Toronto 2015 App wasn’t accessible to those who are visually impaired, it was fixed.
But there are also problems with the website.
“I gave up and asked a sighted friend of mine to buy tickets,” said David Lepofsky with the AODA Alliance.
He said that his group’s recommendations were not acted upon by organizers.
Meanwhile, Athanasopoulos said they would have happy to provide input to organizers, but they were not asked.
“We were not contacted at all about venues and what it takes to be accessible.”
To see a detailed “Reality Check” on the Wynne Government’s exaggerated claim that these will be the most accessible ParaPan Am Games ever, in its August 4, 2015 news release.
To read the Toronto Star’s September 3, 2014 article, raising these issues again several months ago.
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.