To Honour National AccessAbility Week, the Ford Government Announces Nothing New to Address the Unmet Urgent Needs of 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

To Honour National AccessAbility Week, the Ford Government Announces Nothing New to Address the Unmet Urgent Needs of 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis

June 5, 2020 Toronto: The Ford Government’s self-congratulatory June 1, 2020 announcement to mark National AccessAbility Week (set out below) announces no comprehensive plan of new action to address the unmet urgent needs of 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead it once again simply re-announces measures that have been in place for months or years and that have failed to redress the serious additional hardships that COVID-19 inflicts on many people with disabilities.

“For almost three months, we’ve been pleading with the Ford Government to announce a plan of action to address the disproportionate hardships that people with disabilities face in Ontario’s health care, education, housing and income support programs during the COVID-19 crisis, but neither Premier Ford nor the Premier’s office have even answered our March 25, 2020 letter or our pleas for help,” said David Lepofsky, Chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, a grassroots disability coalition that has tenaciously campaigned on this issue. “Instead, the Ford Government claims to be ‘leading by example’ on accessibility for people with disabilities. This hurtful, protracted neglect is not the example by which we deserve to be led.”

Patients with disabilities, who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19, are now facing new and stressful barriers in our health care system. Students with disabilities as well as their parents, teachers and school boards are left by the Ford Government to struggle and flounder, each trying to figure out how to help these students learn at home during the COVID-19 crisis. The Ford Government announced nothing new for any of these people with disabilities during National AccessAbility Week.

Instead, the Government’s June 1 announcement pointed to such failed strategies as its diverting public funds into the seriously flawed Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification program. Neither the Ford Government nor the Rick Hansen Foundation has publicly refuted the serious problems with that program that the AODA Alliance publicly documented last summer. Since then, the Government has not pointed to a single barrier in any building in Ontario that has been removed as a result of its commitment to spend 1.3 million public dollars on that program.

This is part of a bigger picture. On May 30, 2019, during last year’s National AccessAbility Week, the Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat a resolution that called on the Government to create a plan to implement the report of former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government then invoked false and hurtful stereotypes about the Disabilities Act, unfairly disparaging its implementation and enforcement as “red tape.”

The Government’s June 1, 2020 statement, set out below, is transparently incorrect where it claims that “we are making significant progress in implementing the AODA.” There have been 491 days since the Ford Government received the blistering Onley Report. That report documented that progress on accessibility in Ontario has proceeded at a “glacial” pace for years. The Government has still announced no plan of action to effectively implement that report. That failure has weakened the Government’s ability to respond to the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As the COVID-19 crisis drags into its fourth month, with no clear end in sight, it is more important than ever for the Ford Government to announce and implement comprehensive plans targeted at meeting the additional needs that people with disabilities are suffering during this pandemic,” said Lepofsky. “National AccessAbility Week would be a great time to do so. We remain eager to help.”

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com

Twitter: @aodaalliance

For more background, check out:

* The AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page, listing all that coalition’s efforts to raise these issues since mid-March.

* The April 7, 2020 virtual Town Hall on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, now viewed almost 3,000 times.

* The May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on how to teach students with disabilities during the COVID-19crisis, also jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition, viewed over 1,500 times.

The May 27, 2020 online virtual fireside chat on the impact of , COVID-19 on Ontarians with disabilities with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and Green Party Leader Mike Schreiner.

June 1, 2020 Mass Email Announcement by the Minister of Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho

To our valued partners:

This year, National AccessAbility Week comes during a particularly challenging time. COVID-19 has forced many people to stay home and practice physical distancing. This can be stressful and lonely, and we must pay close attention to ensuring accessibility remains a priority and be mindful of potential barriers.

Our government is proud to work towards creating a society and economy that is accessible and inclusive for all Ontarians. Our work has been especially significant during the COVID-19 outbreak, and it is more important than ever that we come together to support our communities, including people with disabilities and seniors.

I am proud to share that we recently invested $11 million into the Ontario Community Support Program, which helps deliver hot meals, medicine and other essentials to low-income seniors and people with disabilities. We’ve also partnered with SPARK Ontario and invested $100,000 towards a provincial hub that connects volunteers to community organizations that support seniors and people with disabilities.

In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and our commitment to making the province barrier-free continues today.

We recently announced a new cross-government framework called Advancing Accessibility in Ontario, which will help focus our work in four key areas as we move forward working with partners inside and beyond government.

Our government is working hard to lead by example and improve accessibility in our role as policy maker, service provider and employer. For example, we are making significant progress in implementing the AODA. As an organization, we are ensuring Ontario’s own ministries are taking accessibility into account as a key consideration when developing policies.

This includes supporting Ontario’s Standards Development Committees as they continue their important work to develop proposed accessibility standards in the Kindergarten to Grade 12 and post-secondary education sectors, as well as a proposed accessibility health care standard for hospitals.

We are also dedicated to breaking down barriers in the built environment. To do this, we are working with key partners in architecture, design and building to enhance curriculum and training on accessibility to help ensure new and existing buildings can be planned and built to be more accessible. We recently invested $1.3 million over two years for the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch a certification program in Ontario to help remove barriers in buildings.

Part of our Advancing Accessibility in Ontario framework focuses on increasing participation in the economy for people with disabilities. We have helped businesses in Ontario realize the benefits of employing people with disabilities through working with our Employers’ Partnership Table. As our government turns towards recovery efforts, we will work to ensure it includes innovative and focused approaches for people with disabilities.

Another key area in our new framework is about improving understanding and awareness about accessibility. We know this is a key focus for many of your own groups. Our government provides free webinars with practical tips on accessibility for organizations and the public. We also fund the development of many free resources and training materials through our EnAbling Change Program to further educate businesses and communities.

Many of the guides and resources about how to make businesses and organizations more accessible and inclusive can be found at the webpage

ontario.ca/AccessibleBusiness.

From May 31 – June 6, I ask everyone to take time to recognize the importance of accessibility and inclusion in our communities and workplaces, as well as acknowledge the contributions of Canadians with disabilities. I would also like to thank all of the individuals, groups and partners working together towards creating a barrier-free Ontario.

Each step we take together to remove barriers will make a difference today and in the future.

Sincerely,

Raymond Cho

Minister for Seniors and Accessibility