Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Smorgasbord of Recent Media Coverage of Disability Barriers Shows Why the Ford Government Must Ramp Up Action to Make Ontario Accessible to 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities
December 22, 2021
As 2021 nears a close, we want to catch you up on a mix of different news items that have run on disability accessibility issues in Ontario that our earlier AODA Alliance Updates did not include. These seven stories show the very wide spectrum of different disability accessibility issues that are going on simultaneously in the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. The first four of these articles quote the AODA Alliance’s chair, David Lepofsky:
- The December 9, 2021 City News report about the disability barrier experienced by people with disabilities at shopping malls in which the benches have been removed.
- The December 8, 2021 article in The Pointer about disability barriers to following the proceedings of some city council proceedings during the pandemic.
- The December 17, 2021 article in The Robot Report, reporting that Toronto City Council has banned robots from sidewalks due to the barrier they present for pedestrians with disabilities.
- The December 21, 2021 report in the British “Cities Today” publication on Toronto’s decision to ban robots from sidewalks. To our knowledge, this is the first time the AODA Alliance has been quoted in a British publication.
- The October 25, 2021 CTV News Toronto report on the disability barrier that can be created by a failure to plow snow in a way that ensures clear accessible paths of travel and the implications of a recent Supreme Court of Canada ruling.
- The November 21, 2021 CBC News report on the disability barrier facing people with disabilities because Ontario requires one to have a driver’s license to renew an Ontario Health Card online. The AODA Alliance is not quoted in this article and had no involvement in getting this great coverage. To learn more about that barrier, check out the AODA Alliance’s December 20, 2021 news release.
- The December 8, 2021 CTV report on the same barrier to renewing Ontario Health Cards. Here again, the AODA Alliance had no involvement in getting this great coverage of that issue.
With 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities facing so many different disability barriers, it is even more wrong for the Ford Government to still have no comprehensive plan in place to fully implement the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that David Onley conducted. The Ford Government received the Onley Report a deplorable 1,056 days ago. That report concluded that Ontario is full of “soul-crushing barriers” facing people with disabilities and that progress on making Ontario disability-accessible has been “glacial.”
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1. CityNews December 9, 2021
Originally posted at https://toronto.citynews.ca/2021/12/09/calls-to-return-bench-seating-in-public-settings-such-as-shopping-malls/
Calls to return bench seating in public settings such as shopping malls
A call to bring back mall benches
It was done to protect public health but now one disability advocate says the time has come to return corridor seating to local shopping malls. David Zura explains.
By David Zura
In the early part of the pandemic, the decision was made to remove benches and public seating areas from within malls as part of public health measures to protect the public. But now, Toronto area shoppers are saying it might be time to bring them back.
“Many people with disabilities, they can’t walk long distances without taking a rest,” says David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
Lepofsky says many people have conditions that cause fatigue or chronic pain and need places to periodically sit to shop comfortably. He adds, mall benches are easily cleaned and don’t impact vaccine status, mask use or distancing.
“This isn’t rocket science. So, the solution of leaving people with disabilities, who need a bench to rest on, out in the cold, is no solution.”
“You kind of feel it as you walk around, that there’s nowhere to sit,” says one shopper at Yorkdale Mall Thursday evening. Another saying “It would make sense to put the benches back.”
In a statement, Yorkdale Mall explains both benches and planters were removed from the mall at the request of Toronto Public Health.
“There is seating available in the food court, at restaurants and near valet. Wheelchairs are available for Yorkdale shoppers who require assistance at Guest Services,” read the statement.
Officials of the mall go on to say they look forward to reinstating corridor seating once public health restrictions are lifted.
Until then, Lepofsky says the lack of benches remains a barrier to those with a disability, as well as for businesses in urgent need of shoppers.
“Our stores are hurting after this pandemic, they want more customers.”
2. The Pointer December 8, 2021
‘They are engaging in a fundamental violation of the Human Rights Code’: Virtual council meetings a nightmare for local accountability
By Isaac Callan – Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
It isn’t uncommon for Brampton’s 11 council members to be confused. They constantly mix up technical terms like referral or deferral and they often find themselves mired in tangential discussions during council meetings.
None of them have two full terms of experience and five are rookies in their first term.
It falls to Peter Fay, the City Clerk, to put them right. With his mask strapped beneath his chin and a mop of sometimes misbehaving hair, the veteran bureaucrat battles to keep council within the rules meant to govern their conduct.
Fay helps councillors navigate the pesky procedures designed to keep the process of local government open and democratic, always responsive to the people who put them in office. Members of the public hoping to keep track and help ensure accountability are too often on their own.
“Obviously it’s impossible to follow what they’re talking about because you don’t have the text to follow what the propositions are,” David Lepofsky told The Pointer.
He had reviewed a video of Brampton’s October 20 council meeting and was left somewhat dismayed.
Lepofsky is a blind lawyer and leading advocate for people living with disabilities. He is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA) and has pushed forward key concerns for those living with disabilities, including strong opposition to electric scooters.
“I can tell you, by comparison, when for example in the Ontario legislature we took part in debates over legislation like 10, 20 years ago, if a standing committee received amendments they were read out and they voted on them.”
Peter Fay coordinates Brampton’s meetings (Image from City of Brampton/YouTube)
Inside Brampton’s legislative chamber, things can be chaotic, especially for those who are unable to see what councillors are seeing.
“At the beginning of the meeting, there was the added item 14.5 regarding a request from Blackthorn Developments for a Minister’s Zoning Order resolution, and there was a consideration to deal with both of the items together,” Fay explained to councillors on October 20, trying to stickhandle a last-minute discussion about two requests made by Mayor Patrick Brown to bypass the traditional development planning process by using a provincial approval tool instead. “So we just need a moment to bring them up because we need them to be introduced before we can put them on the screen. So, Charlotte has on the screen the first motion as it relates to 14.3 and just momentarily we’re going to bring up the second motion as it relates to 14.5. There it is there, Charlotte.”
Brampton’s agenda promises these sorts of basic communication barriers should not exist.
“Meeting information is also available in alternate formats upon request,” it states. The claim is not backed by the typical communications offered for public meetings, as issues around accessibility for residents living with and without disabilities abound.
The videos of council meetings on Brampton’s website don’t offer accessible navigation in the standard player, for example. Video files matched to agendas have some options to skip through by clicking on specific items, but the buttons to fast forward and rewind by those with visual impairments. Anyone who uses accessible technology has to watch the full meeting to catch a particular moment or exchange.
Councillors walk motions onto the floor without providing written materials to the public and motions are drafted on the spot often without being read out in full. Sometimes decisions flash across a non-accessible online projection for mere seconds.
Brampton councillors race through meetings, sometimes approving items or allowing procedural advancement without any discussion or description of what has happened, referencing items using short-form and agenda item numbers and barely drawing a breath before moving toward adjournment.
“It’s a joke,” Lepofsky said, “it’s a joke. These guys are on there and I’m going to gamble that most city councillors who are one meeting after the next going on Webex may well be oblivious they are engaging in a fundamental violation of the Human Rights Code. They’re flying in the face of the objectives of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These laws require that they not create new barriers — well, they did.”
The City of Mississauga began reading its items and bylaws out in full at meetings during 2020 to make them more accessible. The same practice was introduced at the Region of Peel. But the broader issue of accessibility, including for those less comfortable with various technology platforms used during the pandemic and now, in some cases, being taken up more routinely, is a systemic problem.
It’s often older residents most engaged in the civic process who feel most cut off from a system that’s supposed to serve them.
Before the pandemic, Brampton councillors met in-person (Image from The Pointer files)
Many accessibility issues existed before the pandemic, with chaotic council meetings cutting people out. The transition to virtual meetings has compounded the situation. Access to technology and the quality of internet connections are now often a prerequisite to present to council.
In Caledon and Brampton, in particular, key decisions are being rushed through without public notice. Some community members have found their attempts to present shut down and their audio connections muted before they feel they have been able to make key arguments.
“I do not like virtual meetings because they result in people not really able to express themselves,” Joe Grogan, a long-time resident of Bolton, told The Pointer. “Some people are intimidated by the process because the technology is so depersonalizing. In my opinion, the process does not encourage or facilitate citizen engagement.”
When COVID-19 forced the end of in-person gatherings in March 2020, the Province amended the rules governing councils to allow them to meet digitally. Elected officials and bureaucrats switched almost instantly to a virtual format. A return to in-person meetings has been more drawn out, and in some jurisdictions, like Brampton, one gets the impression elected officials such as Mayor Patrick Brown prefer the lack of direct public scrutiny.
Even before the pandemic, more and more debate was being conducted in-camera, behind closed doors, away from public view, an issue that some Brampton councillors have openly raised during the so-called public portion of meetings.
“In consideration of the current COVID-19 public health orders prohibiting large public gatherings and requiring physical distancing, in-person attendance at Council and Committee meetings will be limited to Members of Council and essential City staff only,” reads a note that has sat at the top of Brampton’s agendas in some form for almost two years.
Mayor Brown recently said in-person meetings would return “whenever it is deemed appropriate” without offering a timeline. This is the same person who was pushing to re-open restaurants and bars during the height of the pandemic. Meanwhile, many other cities have returned to in-person meetings.
As of September 7, Mississauga resumed in-person meetings for council and all standing committees, with an option for virtual participation for those who still prefer the digital format.
It’s unclear why Brampton has not done the same.
Potential advantages to online meetings remain. Councillors can take part in discussions from anywhere in the world when exceptional circumstances force them to miss a meeting, while residents can present without travelling to City Hall if they don’t have the time or access to transportation. Advocacy groups can appear virtually at councils across Ontario from a single office, maximizing the often limited resources of non-profit organizations.
These advantages don’t all come automatically, and there are clear trade-offs.
Lengthy motions in Brampton flash across a screen briefly before being adopted (Image from Isaac Callan/The Pointer)
Grogan, who professes to not love technology, says the pandemic’s impact on local council killed his engagement. He went from a regular council watcher and an engaged taxpayer to a frustrated citizen.
“In my case, I used to follow agendas and meetings religiously. Not anymore,” he said. “The effort required is just not worth it. In the past, it would be easier to raise last-minute concerns from the floor of the meeting; this is less possible with virtual meetings. Moreover, how can citizens challenge items as in the past? The entire situation is orchestrated and controlled.”
Councillors also no longer have to appear in person at the meetings. Residents or members of the media cannot catch their attention after meetings to raise concerns or ask questions; both groups are often forced to deal with faceless email accounts instead.
Lepofsky experienced the extreme limits of poorly thought-out virtual meetings last summer.
In the heat of a battle between electric scooter lobbyists and disability advocates, he planned to appear before Toronto City Council. His speech was a key moment for the campaign to limit e-scooters on Toronto’s sidewalks after months of lobbying efforts. He only had a few minutes to put the concerns of Ontarians living with disabilities on the table.
The meeting was scheduled to take place using Webex, a system that lacked accessibility features, especially early in the pandemic. Its icon-heavy design, with limited keyboard shortcuts, meant Lepofsky was forced to call into the meeting by phone instead of using his computer. “I’m a blind guy, for me to use my computer I have a program called a screen reading program,” he said.
He recalls the encounter vividly.
To make sure he didn’t miss his spot, Lepofsky had to call into the meeting 30 minutes early. He listened to the clerks organizing the agenda until the meeting began at 9:30 a.m. and then sat through a further hour of discussions unrelated to his item. Finally, e-scooters came up and Lepofsky paid close attention to the lobbyists, preparing to make his remarks and rebut some of their arguments.
“Our next speaker is David Lepofsky,” the chair said. His sentence was followed by a heavy silence.
On the other end of the phone, Lepofsky was growing more frustrated by the second: “This is David Lepofsky, can you hear me?”
“Mr. Lepofsky? Has Mr. Lepofsky called in? We have no indication — he’s not here,” the chair continued.
Lepofsky’s heart was pumping. He began desperately sending emails to City staff and council members telling them he was in the meeting trying to speak. The presentation he planned to make was pushed to one side in his mind, as he scrambled to secure a speaking spot he had already been granted.
“I’m screaming into the phone like my blood pressure is going through the roof,” he recalled. “There’s no phone number to call and I’m starting to email as many people as I can, and this is all because they’re using an inaccessible app.”
It is one of many barriers to accessing local council that have developed through the pandemic. These obstacles are more than inconvenient: they actively limit residents’ rights to take part in the democratic process.
A lack of public participation in local democracy leaves councillors to govern people, not listen to residents (Image from Google Maps)
It is unclear when all councils in Ontario will return to full in-person meetings. Brampton is currently considering plans for a hybrid system to be implemented in January, although it is unclear how new variants or provincial health measures could impact this plan.
“Following the Province’s announcement of its Plan to Safely Reopen Ontario and Manage COVID-19 for the Long-Term, the City is planning to expand its safe reopening and resumption of in-person services – including Council meetings,” a Brampton spokesperson told The Pointer in October. “We’ll have more information in the coming days.”
That was a month after Mississauga had already moved to an in-person option.
On November 16, a spokesperson said to keep waiting. “Discussions on timeline and other aspects such as vaccination proof requirements are underway,” they said. “We can provide more details once they are available.”
The failure to do what Mississauga and other jurisdictions did, to ensure democratic participation, has meant the Brampton budget process for 2022 has been done virtually, shutting some residents out of the debate to decide how their money will be used.
In-person meetings are also rife with barriers to accessibility that are borne from ignorant or lazy meeting structures. An example of this is councillors springing new motions at the start of a meeting so that those who require an accessible agenda are unable to read the details of what has been proposed. The switch to a virtual format has made things worse.
Inaccessible technology put up more walls, and made many parts of the local democratic process less accessible to a range of local residents.
“I sort of don’t need to parse out whether they know better or they should have known better, they know better and don’t care or should have known better and didn’t think about it,” Lepofsky said. “In 2021, there is no way an elected politician could reasonably expect anybody watching [the Brampton October 20 council meeting]… to have the slightest idea what they’re deciding.”
3. The Robot Report December 17, 2021
Originally posted at https://www.therobotreport.com/toronto-city-council-votes-to-ban-sidewalk-robots/
Toronto City Council votes to ban sidewalk robots – The Robot Report
Tiny Mile’s robots have operated in Toronto for over a year, but were pulled from the streets last week. | Source: Tiny Mile
Today, the Toronto City Council voted to ban sidewalk robots until the council has the opportunity to further study the effects they have on the community.
The ban will prevent all robots that operate on anything other than muscular power, are automated or remote controlled, and don’t transport passengers from traveling on the sidewalks and in bike lanes. Violators will face a $150 fine.
Councillors approved important amendments to the ban today to leave room for potentially opening the sidewalks of Toronto back up to robots in the future.
It will be in effect until the Ontario Ministry of Transportation’s pilot program is implemented and the City Council decides if they want to opt into the project.
“I can’t go around doing all the boasting I do about all the smart people, and the great tech ecosystem and why this is a great place for people to invest and create jobs, especially for innovative tech companies, and then say that we’re not going to welcome innovation,” Mayor John Tory said. “But at the same time, it can’t just be a free-for-all”
The ban proposal was put forward by the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee, in response to a proposed ten year pilot program by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, which municipalities can opt into. The Committee expressed concerns about sidewalk robots being hazards for people with low mobility or vision, as well as elderly people and children.
The pilot program did set specifications on how robots should operate. Robots must be marked with the operator’s name and contact details, and would be required to have audible signals, reflectors with lights, brakes, insurance and must yield to pedestrians. The program also states that robots couldn’t travel about 10 km/hr, about 6 mph.
“Sidewalks are an important publicly-funded public resource, created for pedestrians to safely use,” David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said in a letter to the Council. “Their safe use should not be undermined for such things as private companies’ delivery robots.”
The Council also approved what Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam, an advocate for the bill, called a “friendly” amendment that would issue a Transportation Innovation Challenge in the second quarter of 2022.
This event would give the City Council an opportunity to explore and support local economic development with respect to the sidewalk robots. The amendment requests that the general manager of transportation services consult with local entrepreneurs, sidewalk robot manufacturers, accessibility community members, law enforcement and more. The general manager would then report back to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on their findings. Last week,
Tiny Mile, a company operating delivery robots in Toronto, announced on its
Instagram that it would temporarily remove its robots from the city in the spirit of good faith.
Yesterday, Ignacio Tartavull, the CEO of Tiny Mile, expressed dissatisfaction with the now adopted Transportation Innovation Challenge, and the Councils offer to allow sidewalk robots to use the Canadian National Exhibition for testing ground.
“Under this challenge we will be able to operate at the Canadian National Exhibition,” Tartavull said in a LinkedIn post.
“The only problem is that there are no deliveries to be done there … how do you fundraise as a startup if you have no customers using your product?”
Tiny Mile has operated in Toronto since September 2020.
The robots aren’t autonomous, but are controlled remotely by human operators. Ryan Lanyon, the manager of strategic policy and innovation in transportation and chair of the Automated Vehicles Working Group, stated during the meeting that the city had not received any 311 complaints about the robots.
However, a concern for the council was that the sidewalk robots don’t fall under a specific jurisdiction, and citizens may not be sure where to file complaints.
The Toronto City Council isn’t the first governing body to put limitations on delivery robots. In December 2017, San Francisco voted to ban delivery robots on most sidewalks, and greatly restrict use in permitted areas. The ban prevented robotics companies from operating sidewalk delivery robots in San Francisco until 2019, when Postmates Serve (now the independent company Serve Robotics) was approved for the first permit to test sidewalk deliveries in the city.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brianna Wessling is an Associate Editor, Robotics, WTWH Media. She joined WTWH Media in November 2021, and is a recent graduate from the University of Kansas. She can be reached at email@example.com
4. Cities Today December 21, 2021
Originally posted at https://cities-today.com/toronto-city-council-votes-to-ban-pavement-robots/
Toronto city council votes to ban pavement robots
by Christopher Carey
Toronto City Council has voted to ban automated robots from operating on pavements and cycle lanes until a provincial pilot scheme is in place.
The decision prohibits the use of “automated micro-utility devices” such as food delivery robots operated by robotics company Tiny Mile, which some city restaurants have been using to courier orders.
The ban came after the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee – composed of members of the public and the City Council – asked city councillors to restrict the devices over safety concerns.
“We applaud Toronto City Council for stopping the creation of a serious new disability barrier and for requiring City staff to consult with people with disabilities as well as law enforcement and public safety experts about the dangers that robots on sidewalks pose for the public,” said David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA Alliance).
“The Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become accessible by 2025. Far behind that schedule, Toronto can’t afford to create these new disability barriers.”
Speaking at an earlier hearing, City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said: “We want to remove external barriers so that people can participate in public life.
“With people who are facing barriers, with disabilities, our job is to make sure that that community has a voice to city council.”
The committee’s recommendation was aimed at reducing hazards for people with low mobility or vision, as well as the elderly and children, who may be impeded by the devices or unable to detect their presence.
But the City Council plans to hold a ‘Transportation Innovation Challenge’ in the second quarter of 2022, which would explore and support local economic development with respect to pavement robots.
The amendment requests that Toronto’s General Manager of Transportation Services Barbara Gray consult with local entrepreneurs, sidewalk robot manufacturers, accessibility community members and law enforcement before reporting back to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee on their findings.
“We of course would rather not have to fight this battle again next year, but are ready to do so if necessary,” Lepofsky told Cities Today.
“We are also happy to see that a City staff investigation of this issue requires consultation with people with disabilities and to law enforcement.
“People need to seriously talk about how such robots could be misused if allowed on sidewalks.”
Tiny Mile’s delivery robots, nicknamed Geoffrey, began delivering in Toronto in September 2020.
The devices, which can travel at a speed of up to 6 kmph, are remotely controlled by human operators from a central office.
“Governments – like most organisations – make decisions based on information, many times incomplete information which leads to the wrong decisions,” Tiny Mile CEO Ignacio Tartavull said on LinkedIn.
“What’s deeply worrying is that the process that led to this decision didn’t include any research but only brainstorming ways to mislead the public on the reasoning and the outcome.”
5. CTV News October 25, 2021
People with disabilities hope snow clearing ruling means more accessible streets
CTV News Toronto Videojournalist
TORONTO — Advocates for people with disabilities say they are hoping a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that makes cities more accountable for accidents related to snow clearing will lead to more accessible streets across the country.
Observers say the decision could extend to legal liability for other municipal activities from filling potholes to swimming pools to garbage collection, which may bring improved service but also higher costs.
The case — based on a woman injuring herself while clambering over a snowbank that had been left on a sidewalk by city workers in Nelson, B.C. — could have implications for cities across Canada, said lawyer David Lepofsky.
“I hope it’s going to make municipalities sit up and take a listen, and make sure they get it right,” said Lepofsky, a lawyer who is legally blind and represents the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance.
He said he knows people with disabilities who have navigated into the roadways to avoid snowbanks left by city crews.
“They can create very serious barriers for people with disabilities,” he said.
The far-reaching decision stems from the snow piles that the city of Nelson, B.C. created when a worker cleared snow from downtown streets after a storm in early January 2015.
Nurse Taryn Joy Marchi, 28 at the time, parked in an angled spot on the street and tried to cross the snow pile to get to the sidewalk. She claimed her right foot dropped through the snow and her leg was seriously injured.
She said the city should have left openings in the sidewalk to allow safe passage, as other cities in the area did. But the trial judge dismissed the case, saying that cities were immune from lawsuits relating to policy decisions.
However, on appeal first to the B.C. Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court, judges found that clearing the snow was not a “core policy decision” and so the regular principles of negligence apply.
“I think it’s going to help improve snow clearing — if we can do it correctly—so we don’t leave snowbanks in the way or potential hazards for members of the disability community,” said Anthony Frisina of the Ontario Disability Coalition.
Those hazards have been an issue for Toronto resident Alison Brown, who is legally blind and navigates the city with the help of Ellis the vision dog. She says sometimes the city doesn’t make it easy for her.
“We’ve experienced many situations where the snow is blocking the sidewalk. It becomes a stress factor and makes our ability to maneuver challenging,” she said.
She said she’s not sure what the court decision means to her — but hopes that cities get the message to “clear the snow.”
The Supreme Court decision can apply to other things a city does, or doesn’t do, said personal injury lawyer Melissa Miller with Howie, Sacks & Henry LLP.
“This case is more far-reaching than simply snow removal, which is what’s so significant about it,” she said.
“A pothole that isn’t filled in downtown Toronto that bottoms out your car and causes you a significant injury is potentially now the subject of a lawsuit,” she said.
Toronto City Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam said the ruling is a sign that cities must take the responsibilities of clearing snow seriously for all people.
“We have now heard a statement that says everybody get your house in order,” she said. “You have a responsibility to make sure roads and sidewalks are safe.”
Wong-Tam seconded a motion at Toronto city council in May that asked the General Manager of Transportation Services to report on the feasibility of clearing snow from accessible parking spaces by July. That date was pushed to September — but she said the report still had yet to happen.
“This is a very wealthy city. Things should not be falling apart as long as we maintain it,” she said.
Lepofsky said the case may lead to more scrutiny for snow-clearing city employees, and snow-clearing robots, which are being tested right now in Ontario.
“No matter how clever a robot is, and I don’t think it’s that clever, the danger is that they will also shovel snow into the path of a person with disabilities,” he said.
In that case, it may be less obvious who to sue if there is not a clear connection between the robot’s actions and the person who programmed it or is monitoring it, he said.
The City of Toronto, which intervened in the lawsuit, said through a spokesperson that it will “continue to deliver a comprehensive snow and ice clearing service this winter, with council approval, has the capability to adjust service levels if required.”
6. CBC News November 21, 2021
Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-s-online-health-card-renewal-system-excludes-people-with-disabilities-advocates-say-1.6255828
Ontario’s online health-card renewal system excludes people with disabilities, advocates say | CBC News Loaded
Province looking at upgrading its system but declined to comment on the record
Samantha Beattie CBC News
People line up outside at a Service Ontario location in Toronto during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Derek Hooper/CBC)
The thought of driving her son to a Service Ontario centre to renew his health card fills Jane Toner with dread.
Ben, 22, suffers from chronic pain and nerve damage, which makes the bumps, vibrations and cold temperatures that inevitably come with a ride in a car excruciating — not to mention the wait in line outside the provincial centre’s location, Toner said.
But soon they’ll have no other choice. In Ontario, only people with a driver’s licence can renew their health cards online, leaving those who use photo ID cards like Ben with few other options than to physically go to a centre.
Toner says it’s “shameful” that the province is imposing such a limitation on people living with disabilities and on seniors with mobility issues.
“Really, what it’s saying is that if you have a disability, we don’t care, they don’t matter,” she said.
“It boggles my mind.”
Ben’s health card expired about a year ago, but he hasn’t had to renew it yet because the province extended the validity of Ontario cards to Feb. 28, 2022 in response to the pandemic. Toner has tried acting on his behalf, filling out and dropping off all the required paperwork at Service Ontario, but was informed Ben still needed to come in to have a new photo taken.
Ben Toner was diagnosed with a rare condition known as thoracic outlet syndrome as a child and has undergone surgeries and treatments to help ease his chronic pain. (Submitted by Jane Toner)
Toner hopes changes will be made before then, but said so far calls to elected officials on both sides of the aisle have gone unheard.
“These are the people who need their help most,” she said. “I thought maybe somebody would take up the torch for us, but obviously not.”
The government’s stance is that it’s looking at expanding online services and encourages anybody who is having difficulties renewing their health card to call Service Ontario. The province refused to provide an on-the-record statement for this story.
‘Level the playing field’
Crystal Barnard has been in and out of hospital for months following major back surgery. Like Ben, she also has an expired health card and no driver’s licence and is faced with a similar dilemma where there’s “no way” she can go to a Service Ontario herself.
“When it comes to disabled people, we end up having all sorts of hoops and cracks to jump over in order to do things ourselves,” said Barnard.
Come February, she said she will have to find a doctor to sign a medical exemption form. To complicate matters she doesn’t have a family doctor. Then she’ll have to get her father — who requires two canes to walk — to drop off the forms at a Service Ontario location for her. They’re hoping she can reuse her photo from her old health card.
“If they could find a way that renewing online could be made possible for everybody involved, disabled and able-bodied people alike, it would just be so much easier all around,” said Barnard.
“It would equal the playing field for everybody.”
Anthony Frisina, a disability advocate who uses a wheelchair, said the current system is a “huge complication.” It doesn’t factor in that people without driver’s licences face more challenges getting to a Service Ontario location than those who drive, such as needing to rely on public transportation and facing accessibility barriers.
And getting someone to go in their place is problematic, too, he said.
“You want to be in control of your own issues, your own quality of life and your actual activities of daily living.”
7. CTV News December 8, 2021
Health experts say it’s ‘concerning’ that those without a driver’s licence can’t renew their OHIP cards online
CTV News Toronto Multi-Platform Writer
Published Wednesday, December 8, 2021 4:28PM EST
A person is seen typing. (Pressmaster/shutterstock.com)
Healthcare experts are calling on the province to address inequities in Ontario’s online OHIP card renewal requirements.
At the moment, Ontario health cards can only be renewed online if the individual has a driver’s licence. While government issued identification that shows proof of residency and personal identity is acceptable for in-person renewal, the requirements are different online.
“This is concerning at any time, and it is particularly concerning during a pandemic,” said Sarah Hobbs, CEO of Alliance for Healthier Communities, in a release issued on Tuesday.
She pointed to people with disabilities as just one group that could be disproportionately impacted by these rules.
“People made more vulnerable by the pandemic, and at higher risk, are also faced with inequitable access to this system,” she said.
Katie Hogue, a nurse practitioner in Ontario, added that there are a wide range of medical reasons that could prevent a person from driving, such as mobility challenges, vision impairment, dementia and epilepsy.
“The system is not considering these people or their needs,” Hogue said.
According to the government website, if you cannot visit a Service Ontario for a medical reason, a physician or nurse practitioner can fill out a medical exemption form. Although, once the form is completed, someone must deliver the documents to a Service Ontario to finish the renewal process.
More widely, the pandemic has highlighted inequities that span across the entire healthcare system, Caroline Lidstone-Jones, CEO of the Indigenous Primary Health Care Council, said.
“This discrimination is one example of an inequitable system but this one has a quick solution,” Lidstone-Jones said. “Allow people with a photo card to renew their health card online, the same way those with a driver’s licence can.”
When Minister Ross Romano was asked to address the subject at Queen’s Park earlier in the week, he said that the government is working towards “modernizing” the process of renewing OHIP cards, making it “digital first not digital only.”
“But I want to be crystal clear that the way in which you would have renewed your health card in the past, you can still do the same renewal processes you always could and we are just making it better,” he added.
Romano acknowledged how important it is to have access to OHIP renewal throughout the province and said he will have more to say about the topic at a future date.
Do they not work? Or not available?
So they hover over the video, so you cannot use them if yoiu can’t see them. David told me when I sent him the video to watch