August 20, 2015
The August 20, 2015 Toronto Star includes a new guest column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, set out below. This column reflects back on accessibility issues surrounding the Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games. The article offers a balanced perspective, addressing both accessibility accomplishments and shortcomings surrounding the Games.
The AODA Alliance spent a great deal of effort over the past two years advocating to the Wynne Government and the Toronto 2015 Organizing Committee, in an attempt to avoid the kinds of accessibility issues that this article summarizes. This is part of our greater long term strategy of trying to get the Government to use any lever of power and every opportunity to advance the cause of leading Ontario to full accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025. Below we also set out key links to our past Updates that tell that story.
We encourage you to circulate this guest column widely to friends and family, via email, social media like Twitter and Facebook, or if necessary, even by carrier pigeon. Send it to your member of the Ontario Legislature, and to your local media. We express our thanks to the Toronto Star for including this guest column.
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The Toronto Star August 20, 2015
Toronto must do better for people with disabilities
As talk of a Toronto Olympic bid heats up, we must ensure we don’t repeat the shortcomings on accessibility for people with disabilities surrounding the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games.
The Parapan Am Games showed amazing ways that athletes with disabilities play sports that others think impossible. They showed how people with disabilities can participate fully in school, work and play if given a chance.
The Wynne government deserves credit for some real accessibility innovations. It acted on our proposal to provide audio description at some Games events, so blind people like me could follow the action. CBC is said to have given more coverage to the Parapan Games than in the past. Volunteers were warm, welcoming and eager to assist. A great but temporary service (one the government has not committed to continue) let people with disabilities book para-transit rides across municipal borders, without the usual multi-jurisdictional headaches.
Yet several avoidable barriers show that the government’s boasts about the Pan Am Games’ accessibility were over-inflated. Blind computer users like me faced obvious accessibility problems using the Toronto 2015 website and iPhone app. I couldn’t buy tickets using either. Until blasted in the media, the app’s link to the Games’ accessibility features was ironically inaccessible.
No braille room numbers on the athletes’ village guest rooms? U.S. hotels typically have braille signage.
They handed out print programs but offered none in braille at the opening ceremonies for the Parapan Am Games. Goal ball is a sport for blind players. Ironically, there was no braille on public bathroom doors in the stadium where it was played. Spectators could get the rules only in print, not braille.
Properly designed websites are easy for me to use. It was hard to navigate CBC’s website to find Parapan Am broadcasts. It was even worse using an iPhone.
There were bigger failures. An international para-sport official said that before the Beijing and Sochi Paralympics, those governments worked hard to make their communities – not just the stadiums – more accessible. We spent two years urging our government to do this as well.
Yet the government did nothing to improve the accessibility of tourism and hospitality services, like stores, restaurants and taxis. What a legacy of increased community accessibility we could have created had the government listened. If the province had effectively advocated to businesses and targeted Disabilities Act enforcement, it could have made a huge difference.
Instead, it cut back on accessibility enforcement this year. The Pan Am Games committee’s last-minute accessibility seminar for a mere 175 businesses eight weeks before the Games was a drop in the bucket.
As I stood in the crowd at the Parapan Am opening ceremony, cheering 1,600 para-athletes, the electrifying excitement was tempered by my embarrassment as an Ontarian. I knew that if these para-athletes ventured outside the Games’ tiny bubble, they would have a hard time finding places to eat, shop or go to the bathroom. With a billion potential tourists with disabilities around the world, we should have shown our guests a far more accessible community.
The government must do better if it launches a bid for the Olympics. It must ensure that all the stadiums and buildings built for the event meet our Human Rights Code’s accessibility requirements. The government must work vigorously for years before the games to substantially increase accessibility outside the Games’ bubble.
The Parapan Am Games had great potential to tear down stereotypes that hold back the 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities. Yet poor marketing meant that half of the tickets never sold. One hundred thousand empty seats translates into 100,000 people whose attitudes on disability were not changed.
I believe Premier Kathleen Wynne wants to do better. Her government must squarely face the finding of its own independent review that 10 years of implementing our accessibility law has not made a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Ontario is not on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the deadline imposed by the Disability Act.
The government can make groundbreaking progress. As a small illustration, it did so by providing audio description for some of the Games. By listening to us, keeping commitments to us and effectively implementing and enforcing the Disabilities Act, Ontario could become a world leader in accessibility.
David Lepofsky is a blind Toronto lawyer and activist for reforms for the rights of people with disabilities. Reach him on Twitter @davidlepofsky, and visit www.aodaalliance.org
Key Background Links
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.
To read our July 28, 2015 call for a last-ditch effort by the Ontario Government to increase accessibility of tourism and hospitality services in Toronto in advance of the Toronto 2015 ParaPan American Games.
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.