Watch TVO Ontario’s “The Agenda” Program’s May 28 2010 Broadcast Item on the AODA Alliance’s Work

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June 6, 2010


On May 28, 2010, TV Ontario’s widely-respected flagship current affairs program “The Agenda with Steve Paikin,” airing across Ontario, included a 15-minute interview with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. It focused primarily on our campaign for fully-accessible elections in Ontario. It ran on the eve of National Access Awareness Week, and before the release of the Charles Beer Independent Review Report on the AODA’s implementation..

At least for the next while, you can see that program by going to:

You should search down for the name David Lepofsky and click on the nearest link.

Below we set out the text of that interview.

TV Ontario’s public affairs programs have covered our campaign for a barrier-free Ontario a number of times over the past years. This has including inviting us to attend their election-night coverage during the last two provincial elections. This further shows how our movement has secured a recognized place on Ontario’s political landscape. Send your feedback to:


Anchor – Steve Paikin: Up next the path to accessibility.

David Lepofsky: You bemoan the low voter turn out; we are here for voters who want to vote.

Steve: David Lepofsky on his fight to eliminate barriers to voting.

David Lepofsky: There’s steps to be taken that they pick polling stations we can use and get into.

Steve: Accessing the vote, that’s next on “the Agenda.” Joining us now David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. We welcome you back to TVO, good to see you.

David Lepofsky: Thank you very much.

Steve: Let’s start with basic background. We are told there are a million people in this province with a disability. Disability defined as what?

David Lepofsky: It’s actually over a million and a half, a significant physical, mental or sensory disability. I’m blind. I have a sensory disability. There are people with learning disabilities. People who can’t walk, maybe using a wheelchair, scooter, walker. But whether a physical or mental or sensory condition limits some of their activities if the environment isn’t built accessibly.

Steve: A couple governments in the past decade have tried to pass laws dealing with people who have disabilities, one in 2001 and another attempt in 2005. Can you tell us what the 2005 act attempted to do that the previous act didn’t cover?

David Lepofsky: The first thing it does, it sets an end date by which Ontario must be fully accessible for people with disabilities. The goods, services and employment opportunities everybody else enjoys have to be accessible to us. That’s 2025. For some it may seem a long way out. But it was felt that we needed an end date. I know of no other jurisdictions in Canada, or elsewhere, that set an end date. The second thing, it applied to the private as well as public sector. It covers everybody. And the third thing it does, is requires the government to develop, enforce accessibility standards that explain to people what needs to be done to become accessible and by when. To develop it it’s not just something from Queen’s Park, it’s supposed to be in consultation with the business community and experts in disabilities, namely people with disabilities.

Steve: If they have 15 year to pull this together still, how do you make sure they are on track and on time to meet those targets?

David Lepofsky: Well, we actually think they are behind schedule. They’ve had twenty years since the law was passed. They’ve already eaten up five years. There is a couple of ways. One is going to the public and letting them know how it’s going. But another way is that we built in the legislation requirement that after four years – that was last year – the government appointed an independent review to see how things are going and recommend what needs to be done. That review was completed and we are awaiting that final report and recommendations, which we hope will be out in the next few weeks.

Steve: Who is the guy in charge of the review?

David Lepofsky: The government appointed Charles Beer, former Cabinet Minister from some years ago, but he is independent of the government now, to study, to listen to the disability community. We offered all sorts of ideas what we thought needed to be done to get the government back on schedule to meet full accessibility by 2025 because we are concerned we are lagging behind.

Steve: And final background question here. If on a scale of 1-10 where one is, things are pathetic and 10 is it’s a paradise in Ontario if you happen to be disabled, where are we?

David Lepofsky: I think we are way behind the United States. People who are thinking of somewhere to go for a holiday would much rather go to the states, easier access to hotels, restaurants, public transportation, tourist sites as compared to Canada and as compared to Ontario. Ontario is making progress since 2005, and a lot of sleeves have been rolled up to work on this. But we think we need to be moving quicker.

Steve: Closer to ten or closer to one?

David Lepofsky: I’m not sure you can put a simple number because it’s a work in progress. There are countries that way ahead us and some that are way behind us. Once we get Charles Beer’s report and if he recommends speeding things up we could get ourselves close to a ten if the government puts itself back on schedule and does what needs to be done, unfortunately we aren’t there now.

Steve: Let’s talk voting. For whatever relatively small percentage of us who do decide to vote for most so-called able-bodied people it’s not that difficult. You show up at the polling station, and so on. You recently complained to a group of MPP’S hearing this issue that the province isn’t doing enough for people with disabilities. So, let me ask you first of all, in the last Ontario election, 2007, did you vote?

David Lepofsky: I sure did.

Steve: How did you vote? I don’t mean for whom, how did you actually do it?

David Lepofsky: Well, I can’t see but I can walk, so I don’t have a problem getting into polling stations. Lots of people with disabilities face the prospect of a polling station they can’t get into because of barriers getting in. But in my case, I don’t have a private ballot. The private ballot is fundamental to a democracy, to mark your choice on your own, nobody else knows who you are voting for and to check and make sure you got it right. I have two choices from Elections Ontario. I either have to get someone else to mark my ballot for me and hope they get it right and hope they didn’t spoil the ballot and hope they keep their commitment to keep it confidential. The other option is they give you a template you can lay over the ballet with holes cut where each of spots where you can vote for people. The problem is you never know if the template is lined up right and if you mark it had correctly.

Steve: How did you do it?

David Lepofsky: I had someone mark my ballot for me.

Steve: Someone you trust.

David Lepofsky: Someone I trust. I’m confident that the person who marked by ballot, who happens to be my wife, is as trustworthy as one could want, but I don’t have what sighted people enjoy, which is the right to a secret ballot.

Steve: Ok, give me an idea how you could improve the process.

David Lepofsky: There are two separate issues, making sure the polling station is accessible, that people can get in. Elections Ontario, when they send you a card saying your polling station will be accessible, voters don’t know whether it will turn out to be the case until they get there. A number of times it is, a number of times it isn’t. And if it isn’t then it is too late.

Steve: Some don’t have ramps and that kind of thing.

David Lepofsky: We found in the Toronto centre by-election February 4th they moved – a principal at the school moved the polling station from a level access area to another level where you had to go downstairs because they were making sure the gym could be used for a volleyball game. So volleyball trumped democracy. There are steps to be taken to make sure they pick polling stations we can use and get into. That requires planning right now. And we’ve called on Elections Ontario right now to start planning for the polling location to be used a year and a half from now. For marking a ballot independently, there is technology available that is affordable, that is workable and that would be attractive, not only to voters with vision loss like me, but I think to everybody. And that would be telephone or internet voting. If you can pick up your phone and bank by phone or bank by internet or file your income tax by internet there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to cast your ballot. The government was concerned about ensuring security. I think the banks could explain to them how to ensure security because they are protecting our money from being stolen. And I suspect one is going to be more interested in hacking in to get my money but they want to hack in to get my vote.

Steve: Ok. That is probably true. Having said that, I did read some of the transcript of the committee at Queen’s Park that listened to this issue. One of the numbers they put forward was they apparently looked into this and thought it might cost $15,000 a copy for voting machines at polling places for example. A, is that true, b if not is it true, is that a problem?

David Lepofsky: No, they were talking about something different. The government passed a law – we fought to get this changed – passed a law that bans internet voting and bans telephone voting. It actually makes a certain form of access technology illegal which is unheard of. Instead, I’ll tell you what they have put in to try to lift that ban because there is a process to try to lift that ban. What they put in place as an interim measure is elections Ontario tested a voting machine. It is a stand-alone machine; it is not connected to a network — where someone like me could put on head phones, click on who I want to vote for, it will print a ballot and tell me how it was marked. That’s the machine that’s supposed to cost $11,000 even though those figures I think are high. The government committed to put one of those machines in each riding, not one of in each poll. One in each riding, which means say people get to vote in the polling station nearest their house, blind people get one per riding where they can exercise a private vote and verify their choice. That’s not equality. We said they don’t need to spend money on any of this hardware because telephone voting could be done with central piece of technology. They don’t have to have machines for processing this at every polling station. Just vote from home or vote on the telephone or via internet. And it would be way cheaper. So the government opted for the more expensive and less accessible option. They said they put in a process for lifting the ban. Originally the bill would have made it permanently illegal to use telephone or internet voting but what they have done after our advocacy efforts is to say Ontario Elections must study this. So, it gives them a leisurely three years what could probably be done in a few months to study it. They let elections Ontario test it and recommend a committee to the legislature lift the ban after 2011. So we have to wait three years to study, at least a year and a half before they can consider lifting the ban. It leaves our democratic rights in the hands of the unelected elections Ontario on whether they will recommend that the legislature even consider lifting the ban.

Steve: I get everything you are saying. Here is the smart ass question for a lack of a better way to put it. Do you know for a fact that more people with disabilities would in fact vote, if in fact this simpler technology were in place?

David Lepofsky: Here is the irony, Politian all bemoan when we have low voter turn out. We are folks who want to vote. When this issue came up at Queen’s Park – it was just in front of the legislature over the past few months – the overwhelming feedback on the bill, the public hearings on the bill were predominantly the focus of folks with disabilities coming forward, who want to be able to vote and vote independently, similarly writing politicians and so on, and the media. We are hearing from the disability communities yes they do want to vote, and want to have the freedom everyone else enjoys to get in a polling station or over the phone mark their ballots independently.

Steve: Let me put a chart that might speak to that as well. Here is Ontario voter turn out. The numbers here are not great for people who care about people showing up to polls to vote. Back in 1975, almost 70% of people voting and in the last election in 2007 barely over half the people voting. The question is do you have any evidence there’s a correlation between the inaccessibility of a polling station or the vote itself and voter turnout?

David Lepofsky: How would you prove that? The only information we have and I think it’s telling is elections Ontario itself did a survey, commissioned Ipsos Reid to do an independent survey with voters with disabilities to see what their experience was. 44% encountered difficulties or barriers trying to vote. 44%. That makes Florida in the 2000 election sound like a paragon of democracy. People with disabilities, almost one out of two surveyed, encountered difficulties. Seems someone else would have to make the case why that wouldn’t deter people from voting rather than the reverse.

Steve: Greg Sorbara, the MPP from Vaughan, said during the committee that he understood that perhaps offering internet voting or some kind of electronic voting to people with disabilities might help them but he thought it might be also a charter of rights issue, you have to offer it to everybody, you can’t just offer to one group in particular.

David Lepofsky: For one thing, we are content to have it offered for everybody. We think people without disabilities would love to vote via phone or internet. Coburn did it in 2006. Like it so much they are doing it in 2010 at the municipal level. Other municipalities elsewhere in the world have done it as well. We aren’t trying to restrict it to us. But in any event using Mr. Sorbara’s statement, we are using a method of voting that already singles out a group for worse treatment. It is called the paper ballot. The victims of that inequality is like the person you are interviewing now.

Steve: Gotcha. All of this is in a bill that is making its way through Queen’s Park. Where does it stand now?

David Lepofsky: The bill was passed. We’ve written to election Ontario to say we’d like to get to work quickly, please. Election Ontario, the chief electoral officer, admitted openly before a committing at the legislature that Elections Ontario has substantial improving to do in the area of meeting the needs of voters with disabilities. We agree, we offered to work with them but also said they shouldn’t take a leisurely three years to study the telephone voting that Colbert is already using. They should get to work on it now and be ready to ask the legislature to lift the ban, January 2012 as soon as the law allows.

Steve: One last thing. People obviously have followed your career as you have worked and champions issues around disability, I think it’s fair to say one reason they may know you best, you are the guy that got the drivers on the Toronto transit commission to announce the stops. If you take the bus, subway or a streetcar they announce the stops now because you made it so. The question is, it doesn’t happen everywhere around Ontario. There are a lot of transit systems still fighting you and don’t want to force their drivers to do that. Do you think it’s possible you will see one standard set of service for everybody, in every transit system around this province soon?

David Lepofsky: That is exactly what is supposed to be done with the disabilities act passed five years ago. And a transit standard was proposed to the government to address this across-the-board and we have been waiting months and months for the government to finalize the terms of that standard. We want legislation to require them to do it. They’ve got a proposal on the government’s desk. We are waiting for them to get it done and get it implemented and enforced.

Steve: Have you yet heard a good reason why drivers can’t do this?

David Lepofsky: Absolutely not. Every bus has a driver, every driver has a mouth and hopefully they know where they are.

Steve: I know where we are, we are at the end of our time. David it’s always good for you to come into tvo, we appreciate it.

David Lepofsky: Thanks so much for having me on.