September 12, 2016 Toronto: Over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities are waiting to see if Premier Wynne’s Throne Speech at Queen’s park today will announce new, decisive action to get Ontario back on schedule for becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, under 8.5 years from now. Premier Wynne promised to ensure Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, when she ran for leadership of Ontario’s Liberal party. Ontario’s Disabilities Act sets the 2025 deadline.
Eleven years after passing the Disabilities Act, Ontarians with a physical, mental, sensory, learning, communication or intellectual disability still face too many barriers when trying to go to school or university, use Ontario’s health care system, ride public transit, take a cab, shop in stores or eat in restaurants. Search the Twitter hashtag #AODAfail for many crowd-sourced examples around Ontario.
Two years ago, a troubling report of a Government-appointed Independent Review of the Disabilities act found Ontario behind schedule for becoming accessible by 2025. It reported that after ten years on the books, Ontario’s Disabilities Act, for which people with disabilities fought from 1994-2005, had not made a significant difference in their lives. The Government has not effectively enforced accessibility rules, even though it promised effective enforcement.
“We’re watching to see if Premier Wynne’s Throne Speech makes disability accessibility a priority for her term’s second half,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance which spearheads the non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario, and who will be on hand at Queen’s Park to respond to the Throne Speech at the scrum. “Will the Throne Speech promise to create an Education Accessibility Standard so 334,000 students with special education needs in Ontario-funded schools can get an equal education? Will she commit to new action to effectively enforce Ontario’s accessibility laws?”
The Government knows of three years of rampant private sector Disabilities Act violations, and about unspent budget for enforcing this law. Last year it cut accessibility audits by over one third . After public criticism, the Wynne Government promised to increase them, but we’ve seen no evidence that this has happened.
The AODA Alliance commended the Wynne Government last summer for appointing Tracy MacCharles as Ontario’s first Accessibility Minister. The Throne speech can show if this goes beyond symbolism. Her predecessor, Brad Duguid admitted to media on June 3, 2015 that the Government’s handling of this issue flagged in recent years.