Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Tell Toronto City Council to Ban Robots from Sidewalks, Because They Endanger People with Disabilities, Seniors, Children and Others
December 8, 2021
How many new disability barriers can crop up in one year?
Next week, on December 15 or 16, 2021 Toronto’s City Council will decide whether to ban the use of robots (such as those that deliver packages) from public sidewalks. We’ve written Toronto Mayor John Tory and all members of Toronto City Council to urge them to vote for this ban. You can read our letter, below.
We urge you to email or call Toronto’s Mayor and members of Toronto City Council, if you live in Toronto or if you visit Toronto. Tell them to vote to ban robots from Toronto sidewalks. You can find the email addresses of all members of Toronto City Council in our letter to them, below.
As the AODA Alliance’s October 20, 2021 brief to the Ford Government and its December 7, 2021 letter to Toronto City Council explain, robots on sidewalks endanger safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. There are no safeguards to overcome these dangers. There is no effective way to regulate robots on sidewalks, short of a total ban.
This ban would not stop a person or company from using robots on their own private property, if they wish. We only here object to robots on public sidewalks and other public walkways.
Our letter to Toronto City Council answers a dubious argument against us that a few have raised on social media. Our letter states:
” Some claim that to oppose robots on sidewalks is to oppose innovation. This is wrong. People with disabilities are among society’s core of innovators, daily innovating in our personal lives and regularly using innovative technology.
We do not oppose innovation. Rather, we oppose any technology, new or old, that endangers our safety or accessibility. We hope and trust that you do too.”
We applaud the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee for raising this issue, for welcoming public input (including a deputation by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky), and for voting to recommend that Toronto ban robots on sidewalks. We also commend the Toronto City Council’s Infrastructure Committee for passing a motion to ban robots on sidewalks, and for getting this issue placed on the agenda of Toronto City Council on December 15-16, 2021.
We need the Ford Government to stop creating new barriers against people with disabilities. It should call off its plans to hold a ten-year pilot project with robots on sidewalks – a pilot project that would inflict on people with disabilities the undue hardship of having to battle in one Ontario city after the next to prevent municipalities from opting into that wrong-headed pilot project. It would be far more helpful for the Ford Government to enact a strong Pedestrian’s Bill of Rights.
It helps that there is growing media coverage of our concerns. On December 6, 2021 the Canadian Press published an excellent article on it. Below we set out the text of that article that appeared on the CBC website. It also appeared in the hard copy of the December 7, 2021 Globe and Mail, and on other media websites such as Global News. As well, the CBC TV News at 6 pm on Friday December 3, 2021 included a report on this issue, quoting AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.
December 7, 2021 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Toronto Mayor John Tory and Members of Toronto City Council
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
December 7, 2021
To: Mayor John Tory and Members of Toronto City Council
100 Queen St. W.
Toronto, ON M5H 2N2
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Dear Mayor Tory and Members of Toronto City Council,
Re: Protecting People with Disabilities, Seniors, Children and Others in Toronto from the Dangers Posed by Robots on Sidewalks
Please vote to ban robots from Toronto sidewalks and other public walkways, such as robots that deliver packages. Robots on sidewalks endanger safety and accessibility for people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. This ban would not prevent a person or company from using robots on their own private property, if they wish.
After receiving feedback from the public, the Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee recently recommended that Toronto City Council ban sidewalk robots. Toronto’s Infrastructure Committee then commendably followed that recommendation, and voted to ban sidewalk Robots. At its December 15-16, 2021 meeting, Toronto City Council is scheduled to vote on their proposal to ban robots from Toronto’s sidewalks and other public pedestrian walkways.
In Toronto, robots are now used on some public sidewalks, e.g., to deliver packages. The Ontario Government told us that the use of robots on sidewalks is unregulated, is a gray area, and results in a free-for-all. The Ontario Government’s impending solution, to allow a ten-year pilot with sidewalk robots at municipal option, is no solution at all.
People with vision loss risk not knowing that a robot is heading right at them, or that one is in their path of travel. Such robots can pose a tripping hazard, or a danger of collision. For people with mobility disabilities, including those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs, such robots risk becoming a physical barrier in their path of travel. They can transform an accessible route into an inaccessible one. For people with balance issues, such robots present a danger of losing balance from any inadvertent brush with a robot.
These robots will be constantly on the move, and such unpredictable barriers are unforeseeable in advance. People with disabilities cannot plan strategies to avoid them, short of isolating at home.
Sidewalks are an important publicly-funded public resource, created for pedestrians to safely use. Their safe use should not be undermined for such things as private companies’ delivery robots.
Roads, and not sidewalks, are the place for vehicles to travel, including powered vehicles. As it is, public sidewalks and other paths of travel have far too many accessibility barriers. They are increasingly cluttered with street furniture, art, signage, plants, sidewalk restaurant eating areas, and other clutter. In residential areas, this includes weekly garbage bins.
For those who have just acquired a disability, sidewalk robots threaten added hardships. For example, a senior who just lost their vision needs to undergo training on how to safely and independently walk around in public. The added burden of coping with these robots will make that challenge more difficult.
For Toronto to allow these robots would be to knowingly create a substantial and worrisome new disability barrier impeding people with disabilities in their safe use of public sidewalks and other public paths of travel. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become accessible by 2025. Toronto is far behind schedule for reaching that fast-approaching goal. Toronto cannot afford to create any new disability barriers.
Toronto needs a total ban on these robots on sidewalks and other public pedestrian walkways. If police or members of the public encounter a robot in forbidden locations like a public sidewalk, they should be able to seize the robot and dispose of it. That would quickly and effectively end the problem.
If robots are permitted on sidewalks, enforcing the law will be exceedingly difficult, when someone is injured or endangered. The victim won’t know who to sue or prosecute for their injuries. You cannot prosecute or sue a robot, or make it produce a valid insurance policy.
If a person is injured by a robot, and the robot keeps moving, the individual has no capacity to stop it and to try to identify its source. This is all the more so for a person with a disability such as a mobility impairment or vision loss.
It can be hard to know who has deployed the robot. A robot might have a company name on it. However, there is no assurance that this company name is accurate.
It is no solution to require the company name, if present, to be in braille. It is unreasonable to burden people with disabilities with having to find the robot, and then grope it to find a braille label. Braille labels cannot be read if the robot is moving. The very notion that a person with vision loss should try to chase down a robot in public that has injured or endangered them, with one hand on their white cane and guide dog, and their other hand flailing around to see if there is a braille label to read on the robot, illustrates the absurdity of this idea.
Moreover, many people with vision loss do not read braille. Most who lose their vision have this happen later in life.
It is unfair to burden a person suffering personal injury or property damage due to these robots to have to sue for damages. How does an injured plaintiff meet their burden to prove who is responsible for their injuries?
These dangers are not reduced if the law requires a robot to have a remote driver or monitor. Such a requirement cannot be effectively policed. It is impossible to know from looking at a robot, barreling towards you on the street or sidewalk, whether there is a remote driver somewhere who is attentive to steering the robot. There is no way to know if a remote driver is directing multiple robots at the same time and thus dangerously dividing their attention. Even then, the simple fact that a human being is remotely involved does not ensure that they have the skills and knowledge needed to safely operate the robot.
There is no way to police whether the remote driver is paying attention and is not intoxicated or has their degree of attentiveness otherwise impacted. Indeed, there is no way for the public to know if a remote driver is even in Ontario and within the reach of a police investigation, or is situated halfway around the world, far removed from the reach of Ontario law and the damage that their remote driving can cause.
Robots can also damage a person’s property. This in turn would shift an unfair burden to those suffering property damage to have to prove who is at fault, and the value of the loss. If the person is not present when the damage is caused, this will be impossible to do. If the person has vision loss, they may not be able to provide the necessary information to prove the claim.
Some claim that to oppose robots on sidewalks is to oppose innovation. This is wrong. People with disabilities are among society’s core of innovators, daily innovating in our personal lives and regularly using innovative technology.
We do not oppose innovation. Rather, we oppose any technology, new or old, that endangers our safety or accessibility. We hope and trust that you do too.
When it comes to robots on sidewalks, a spectrum of important issues should be extensively explored, in addition to the disability issues raised here, before ever allowing them. For example, it is important for the City to first extensively consult police and other public security experts to explore the danger that such robots, dressed up as a delivery vehicle for a big box store, could in the wrong hands be perverted into a dreadful weapon.
Please make pedestrian safety your top priority. End the free-for-all that now seems to be permitted. Ban robots from public sidewalks and other public pedestrian walkways.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
CBC News December 7, 2021
Toronto committee calls for ban on robots from sidewalks, bike paths
Committee’s recommendation aimed at reducing hazards for people with low mobility, vision
Tara Deschamps · The Canadian Press · Posted: Dec 06, 2021 4:36 PM ET | Last Updated: December 6
Geoffrey, pictured here in pink, provides contactless delivery while being controlled by an employee of Tiny Mile, a food delivery company in Toronto. (Angelina King/CBC)
A Toronto committee is pushing for the city to ban some robots and other automated or remote controlled devices from sidewalks, bike paths and pedestrian ways.
The Toronto Accessibility Advisory Committee is asking city councillors to vote next Wednesday in favour of prohibiting devices from these spaces that run on anything but muscle power.
The committee’s recommendation is aimed at reducing hazards for people with low mobility or vision, as well as seniors and other children, who may be impeded by stopped or stalled devices or unable to quickly detect their presence and manoeuvre around them.
The recommendation permits mobility devices like scooters used by people with disabilities, but would ban food delivery robots like Tiny Mile’s pink, heart-eyed ones named Geoffrey, which some Toronto restaurants have used to courier orders.
Tiny Mile did not respond to requests for comment, but circulated a petition on social media, which calls for a stop to the “illogical” ban accused of hurting innovation.
However, the committee’s chair insists the proposed ban is not about stifling innovation, but rather encouraging accessibility.
“We want to remove external barriers so that people can participate in public life,” said Kristyn Wong-Tam, a city councillor, who represents the Toronto-Centre area and recently put forward a motion calling for the ban.
“With people who are facing barriers, with disabilities, our job is to make sure that that community has a voice to city council.”
Measures not enough, says professor
Wong Tam’s motion was prompted by discussions the committee and city staff had after Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation solicited feedback on a pilot allowing micro-utility devices, including automated personal delivery devices, for off-road use in places such as sidewalks in September.
The 10-year pilot proposal suggested such devices travel at no more than 10 km/hr on sidewalks, be marked with an operator’s name and contact details, and have mandatory audible signals, reflectors with lights, brakes, insurance and a requirement to yield to pedestrians.
These measures are not enough, said David Lepofsky, chairman of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School.
He worries about all the dangerous situations that could arise for people with disabilities and even those without.
“It’s everything from a robot, which could be in your path or travelling becoming a tripping hazard, to a robot that’s fallen over or could be in motion and could injure you,” he said.
“If you have a guide dog or you have got a kid with you, they could also be injured.”
Wong-Tam has similar concerns and feels if they aren’t addressed early, tech companies may continue to push limits and the devices could become even more dangerous.
“Will (the devices) become taller and larger?” she said.
“Unless there are regulations that tell us how fast they can operate or how large they can be, how tall they can be, how wide they can be, they’ll just keep on going.”
‘You can’t arrest a robot,’ advocate says
While the province is mulling collision reporting for the pilot, Lepofsky feels there will be little recourse for pedestrians.
“You can’t arrest a robot and prosecute them,” he said.
And worse, he says the province’s plan to allow municipalities to opt into the pilot could put the onus on Canadians with disabilities to repeatedly defend their rights and ensure they can safely use sidewalks.
“We don’t want to have to fight robots one city after the next all the way across Ontario,” he said. “That is totally dumping an unfair burden on people with disabilities.”
If Wong-Tam’s motion succeeds at city council on Dec. 16, accessibility advocates like Lepofsky will have one less battle to fight and an example of a region that took a hard stand to use elsewhere.
The motion was already approved by the city’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee last week.