Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
We’re In the Media Two Days in a Row! A Globe and Mail Article on our January 30, 2019 Joint News Conference on School Principals Excluding Students from School and a Toronto Star Letter to the Editor from the AODA Alliance
February 1, 2019
We’re starting 2019 with great media coverage early in the New Year:
* Below, check out an excellent January 31, 2019 Globe and Mail article. It reports on our January 30, 2019 joint Queen’s Park news conference with the unstoppable Ontario Autism Coalition. We there called on The Ford Government to act now to rein in the troubling excesses in the sweeping power of a school principal to block a student from coming to school, without justifying this by suspending or expelling the student under the law’s process for administering discipline. This article provides a good summary of the key points we made at that news conference, as spelled out in our January 3, 2019 joint news release.
We also set out below the January 30, 2019 statement by Ontario’s New Democratic Party. It supports our position presented at the AODA Alliance/Ontario Autism Coalition news conference. We very much appreciate that support.
You also might wish to check out the media coverage of this issue earlier this month in the Globe and Mail.
It is a step forward that the Globe article shows some potential interest in our proposal that the Ontario Government convene a summit to explore reforming the sweeping power of school principals to refuse to allow a student to come to school.
* We also set out below the letter to the editor by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky that ran in the January 30, 2019 Toronto Star on a broader and equally important topic. Back on January 20, 2019, the Toronto Star ran a guest column by Ms. Karen Stintz. In it, she questioned the need for and the usefulness of accessibility legislation. Ms. Stintz is the CEO of Variety Village. Our letter to the editor refutes her position and emphasizes the importance of accessibility legislation.
Below we set out the fuller version of our letter to the editor which appears in the online edition of the Toronto Star. A slightly shorter version ran in the print version of the newspaper on January 30, 2019.
A disturbing 225 days have now passed since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the AODA Standards Development Committees that were hard at work, developing recommendations for the Government on measures needed to tear down barriers that impede students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system, and patients with disabilities in Ontario’s health care system. The weather is cold enough! We don’t need any more of the Government’s freeze on the important work of those Standards Development Committees.
David Onley was scheduled to deliver his final report of his Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement to The Ford Government yesterday. The Ford Government has said it is awaiting that report before deciding what to do about its freeze on the work of those Standards Development Committees. We are hoping that Mr. Onley will recommend that the Government immediately end that freeze. Once the Government has seen what he recommends on this subject, it should act immediately.
The Globe and Mail January 31, 2019
Groups call on Ford PCs to curb schools’ exclusion of special-needs children
By VICTORIA GIBSON
Disability advocates congregated at Queen’s Park on Wednesday morning demanding that the provincial government rein in the power of principals to exclude students with complex needs from schools across the province.
Both the Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA) called on Education Minister Lisa Thompson to hold a summit of key stakeholders – including parents, teachers, principals, school boards and students – where they can discuss possible legislation and policy changes surrounding exclusions of students with disabilities who are presenting behavioural issues. The groups also asked the minister to issue a policy directive to school boards imposing interim restrictions on when exclusions can be used.
“What is the Ford government going to do to rein in the excessive, unfair and arbitrary power of school principals to exclude students from school?” OAC president Laura Kirby McIntosh asked.
“We just can’t leave the status quo in place,” AODA Alliance chair David Lepovsky said.
The minister’s office responded Wednesday afternoon, with staff member Kayla Iafelice saying the government is aware of the issues cited by the OAC and AODA Alliance and looks forward to providing an update on them “in the near future.”
The Wednesday call to action comes after a story by The Globe and Mail this month that found families with children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up children early, start their school day later or keep them home for days. Most school districts don’t formally track these kinds of exclusions or shortened days. Parent and advocacy groups have informally documented school exclusions, and have seen them rise in frequency. In December, the OAC wrote a letter to Ms. Thompson asking to meet about the issue, which it says has gone unanswered.
“I want to emphasize how incredibly vulnerable a family feels in the face of the might and the resources of a publicly funded school board and all of their lawyers,” Ms. KirbyMcIntosh said. “They are terrified and they are distressed. This is not a new problem, but until recent coverage sparked by The Globe and Mail … it’s now a subject finally getting public attention.”
The Globe’s January story highlighted the plight of Grayson Kahn, a seven-year-old boy with autism and behavioural issues who was expelled from his school in Guelph, Ont. The expulsion followed an incident where the boy struck an educational assistant, leaving her with bruises, scrapes and a concussion. Expulsions such as Grayson’s are rare – they involve a principal’s report and a hearing by a school board committee. Advocates for students with disabilities say exclusions are far more common and are typically informal; parents will be given oral notice of a decision made at a principal’s discretion.
Luke Reid, a lawyer at ARCH Disability Law Centre, said there is no formal legislative or policy limit on how long exclusions can last, and that there is often an absence of due process. “It’s sort of the Wild West in some ways,” he said.
Ms. Kirby-McIntosh added there was “an appalling lack of data” chronicling the frequency at which such exclusions are occurring. “Each principal is essentially allowed to be a law unto themselves,” she said. “We are not saying principals are bad people. They are working with an antiquated funding formula, a shortage of qualified staff and an increasingly complex student population.”
Sam Hammond, president of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), said he agrees that long-term exclusions are “extremely problematic,” and endorsed the idea of a stakeholders meeting. The ETFO has been calling for an increase in direct funding for students with special educational needs, he said. “I say this with all due respect to parents of autistic children and autistic children: What are teachers and administrators supposed to do when they have gotten to the end of the supports and the resources that are available to them?” Mr. Hammond asked.
The OAC and the AODA Alliance didn’t ask for additional resources Wednesday; Mr. Lepovsky said that “especially in the current economic situation and the current discretions in terms of funding,” he thought such a request would slow down their potential progress. “This government’s got fiscal constraints. It’s not a big expenditure to just get us to the table and get us talking, and for them to listen. And it’s not a big constraint to impose the policy directive,” he said.
The Ontario Principals’ Council disputes the idea that decisions on exclusions are made exclusively by a principal, and says it has logged an “unfortunate increase” in incidents involving violent or aggressive student behaviour in recent years. It said on Wednesday that exclusions were used only after other strategies proved unsuccessful.
January 30, 2019 Statement by the Ontario New Democratic Party
Originally posted at https://www.ontariondp.ca/news/its-time-real-action-address-school-exclusions-ndp-mpps January 30th, 2019
It’s time for real action to address school exclusions: NDP MPPs
QUEEN’S PARK — Ontario NDP MPPs Joel Harden (critic for Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities), Marit Stiles (Education critic) and Monique Taylor (critic for Child and Youth Services) released the following statement:
“More than half of all students with an intellectual disability have been excluded from school at least once, impacting the quality of their education and placing a burden on parents who have to stay home with them.
It should never have come to this, and Doug Ford’s cuts to education will only take the problem of exclusions from bad to worse. Instead of cutting back on special education that was already neglected by the previous government, we need new investment in classroom supports so the horrible option of exclusion is not exercised.
We also need to strengthen, not eliminate, class size caps so that students with disabilities get the one-on-one attention they require.
The Ford government must also immediately reconvene the AODA standards development committees that have been frozen since the June election, including one on K-12 education, to address barriers affecting students with disabilities.
It’s time for this government to stop neglecting accessibility in our education system, and start working with disability advocates to make sure students with disabilities can thrive.”
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Toronto Star Online January 30, 2019
Letters to the Editor
Legislation vital to improving accessibility
The limits to legislating workplace accessibility, Jan. 20
Karen Stintz has great intentions, but the wrong idea. She’s proud of progress on accessibility for people with disabilities at Variety Village, where she’s CEO, but she’s wrong to blast the need for laws to tear down the many accessibility barriers impeding people with a physical, mental, sensory or other disability when trying to get a job or education, ride public transit, use public services, shop in stores or eat in restaurants.
Legislation alone isn’t the entire solution, but it’s proven here and abroad to be a vital and indispensable part. Stintz wrongly invents a false dilemma, claiming: “Accessibility and inclusion aren’t about legislation; they are about a social and cultural shift and deep understanding of community.” Countries lacking strong accessibility laws, or which don’t effectively enforce those laws, simply make far less progress on accessibility.
There was great promise when Ontario’s legislature unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. We people with disabilities campaigned tirelessly for it for a decade. Where its impact has fallen short, is not because we don’t need a good law, it’s because the previous government did a poor job implementing and enforcing it. So far, the Doug Ford government hasn’t done any better.
Do you like TTC’s audible announcements of all route stops, for blind people like me? These didn’t come from a culture change at TTC. Those announcements exist because I used the law. I successfully sued under the Human Rights Code. The TTC fought me every step of the way. Thankfully we had laws on accessibility.
When Variety Village commendably offers accessibility training to others around Ontario, it will find audiences more receptive, because accessibility is the law. I encourage Stintz to give this a serious re-think and learn from those of us who’ve battled at the front lines of Ontario’s non-partisan campaign for over two decades, before claiming that accessibility laws have no role to play at all.
David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, Toronto
Toronto Star January 20, 2019
The limits to legislating workplace accessibility
Karen Stintz Opinion
Accessibility and inclusion aren’t about legislation, they are about a social and cultural shift and deep understanding of community.
The Ontario government tried to legislate change when it passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005. The act is intended to identify and break down barriers for people with a disability and is multi-faceted.
The legislation covers areas such as customer service, information and communication, employment standards, transportation standards and design of public spaces. Ultimately, the goal is to create a culture of inclusion in government, education and in workplaces.
Although the act has heightened our collective awareness of inclusion as a worthy goal, no government can legislate culture change within any organization.
In spite of the best efforts of governments and employers across the province, the culture of inclusion remains elusive to many.
At Variety Village, we have achieved a culture of inclusion; however, our success was not determined because we are better at implementing legislation.
Our success hinges on the fact that 50 per cent of the population we serve has a disability so we are already ahead of the curve. Since we have a critical
mass of individuals involved in the organization that either have a disability, or are knowledgeable about disabilities, we are constantly evolving and
responding to the changing needs of our environment.
Variety Village is a leader in inclusion and, now, our organization is taking what it has learned and is bringing that knowledge to communities across
We create agents of change for inclusion through programming that is designed so every child can participate.
Our programs are integrated, which means all participants have the opportunity to become the best version of themselves.
It takes resources and understanding but our programs teach children how to participate in, and create, a barrier-free environment.
Our staff are trained in a culture of inclusion and many go on to other occupations where they become the agents of change in those workplaces. For example,
many camp councillors at Variety Village have become special educational assistants for the school board.
If any organization wants to undertake major organizational change, there needs to be a critical mass of support. Very few organizations are going to have
50 per cent of their employees, students or customers with a disability but every organization needs to have a critical mass of individuals who truly understand
the importance of accessibility if there is going to be a culture of inclusion.
Anyone in an organization can become an agent of change for inclusion by believing the benefits of inclusion are not for the individuals who are accommodated
but for everyone in the community.
Karen Stintz is CEO of Variety, the Children’s Charity, and Variety Village.