Disability Advocates Call for Action Limiting When Principal Can Exclude Student from School


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 30, 2019 Toronto: At a news conference in the Queen’s Park Media Studio today at 10:30 a.m., disability advocates will unite to demand that the Ford Government rein in the sweeping power of school principals to exclude a student from school. The Ford Government has so far announced nothing on this. It hasn’t answered the Ontario Autism Coalition’s December 13, 2018 letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson, which asks the minister to meet about exclusions. It hasn’t publicly responded to recent media focusing on this issue. See e.g. the Globe and Mail.

“School principals have a sweeping, unmonitored discretion to exclude students from school. It’s an especially unfair barrier for students with disabilities, who are too often forced to stay home because the school is failing to provide appropriate supports,” said Laura Kirby McIntosh, President of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a non-profit political advocacy group for people with autism and their families. The principal just has to think that the student “would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils;” (Education Act s. 265)

“In over 5,000 Ontario schools, each principal is allowed to be a law unto themselves. They are not required to keep track of how many students they exclude, or for how long, or for what reason, or to report this information to anyone. They don’t have to tell the student and their family the reason for their exclusion from school or to advise them of their right to appeal,” said David Lepofsky, visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance (which campaigns for disability accessibility, including in Ontario’s education system.)

“Many families have contacted ARCH Disability Law Centre when their child has been denied access to school via formal exclusions or otherwise. It is not unusual in these circumstances that the ultimate problem is that the school has failed to meet its duty to accommodate the student’s disability. With legal assistance, students are more likely to receive appropriate accommodations to facilitate their return to school. Without this assistance, there are many cases where students have endured many months of exclusion,” said Luke Reid, Staff Lawyer at ARCH.

At the news conference, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition will jointly call on the Ford Government to take these immediate actions:

1. The Minister of Education should now convene a summit of key stakeholders to get input on legislation and policy changes to fix this festering mess.
2. In the interim, the Minister of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school.

Contact:
? David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
? Laura Kirby-McIntosh President Ontario Autism Coalition [email protected] 416-315-7939 www.ontarioautismcoalition.com Twitter @OntAutism Background Facts

* There are at least 340,000 students with special education needs in Ontario or 1 out of every 6 students in Ontario-funded schools. That figure does not include all students with disabilities. Therefore at least one-third of a million students with disabilities are exposed to the principal’s arbitrary power to refuse to admit them to school.

* Section 265 of the Education Act requires each school principal to refuse to admit ‘a person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils.’

* In the absence of proper oversight of school boards by the Ministry of Education, it is hard to find out whether a school board has a policy on the use of the principal’s power to exclude a student from school, or how often students are excluded from school, or for how long they are kept out. The AODA Alliance has a team of Osgoode Hall Law School law students now surveying the boards and their websites.

* It is wrong to confuse the issue of exclusions from school with the issue of when students with special education needs should be included in the regular classroom. When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that means that the student is entirely shut out from school, pure and simple. They are excluded from any and all classrooms, be it inclusion in the regular classroom or taking part in a separate or special education class. Any discussion over whether a student should be placed in the regular classroom (inclusion or integration) or in a special education classroom cannot even begin when the principal forbids that student from even coming to school at all.

* In January 2018, the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board submitted a detailed recommendation to the school board trustees. It recommended that the TDSB place clear limits on when a principal can refuse to admit a student to school. One year later, the TDSB just circulated a draft procedure on exclusions from school, which incorporates some of SEAC’s recommendations.

* In a January 7, 2019 article, the Globe and Mail reported that:

“A Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up kids early, start the school day later or simply keep them home for days. Most school districts don’t formally track these exclusions or shortened days. Informally, parent and advocacy groups have documented the problem and have seen a rise in the incidence of these events.”

* “People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, has reported an increase in the number of elementary and secondary school principals who report recommending a special-education student stay home for at least part of a day. The organization found 58 per cent of elementary school heads and 48 per cent of high school principals made the request, up from 48 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in 2014.”

* A recent report by ARCH Disability Law Centre and its partners found that more than half of all students with intellectual disabilities experienced a “shortened day,” losing on average, almost 4 hours out of a 6 hour school day. Almost half of all parents surveyed reported that they had to keep their child home at one time or another as a result of accommodation issues. Finally, the report stated that 25% of parents reported that they had been “told” not to bring their child to school that day, with many of them stating that no reasons were given or that when they were given, they often related to staffing shortages or other accommodation issues.

* The Ministry of Education’s policy directive to school boards PPM-145, available at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/145.pdf states:

“In Part X of the Education Act, clause 265(1)(m) permits a principal to “refuse to admit” to the school or to a class someone whose presence in the school would be “detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. This provision is frequently referred to as the “exclusion provision.” Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline. If a principal does decide that it is necessary to exclude a student from the school, the principal is expected to notify the student’s parents of the exclusion as soon as possible in the circumstances, and to inform them of their right to appeal under clause 265(1)(m).”

* Last September, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).

* The AODA Alliance survey of school boards, still in progress, has yielded the following partial and interim results so far:

* Based on results so far, only about 10% of boards, or 9 boards, have provided a policy that addresses refusals to admit. Four school boards told the AODA Alliance that they wouldn’t say if they had a policy until research approval was obtained from a Research Advisory Committee.

* Before the 2018 Ontario election, a Government-appointed committee was investigating disability barriers in Ontario’s school system, in order to recommend reforms under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. He planned to put the problem of exclusions from school on that committee’s agenda. However, the work of that committee has been frozen for the past 7 months in the wake of last June’s Ontario election. This is so despite the fact that the Conservative Party, while in opposition, had demanded that the former Ontario Government establish that very committee. For more on that issue, visit www.aodaalliance.org/education

* If each school board used a unique attendance code to mark the absence of a student due to the principal’s refusing to admit the student to school, school boards and the Ontario Government would have instant access to comprehensive data on the amount of time that students are kept from attending school on this ground. However, the province does not direct that a unique attendance code be used for that purpose. The Ministry of Education’s policy direction entitled
“Enrolment Register Instructions for Elementary and Secondary Schools” for 2018-2019 states: the following on the duty of school boards to keep records on the refusal to admit a student to school: (which, as far as we have ascertained, is not provincially monitored and enforced)

“Excluded Pupils
Pupils excluded under clause 265(1)(m) of the Education Act should not be demitted from the enrolment register as the school board is actively working to re-integrate the pupil back into the education system.

During the exclusion period, the pupil’s absence is recorded with a “G” on the Daily Attendance Record. An excluded student can remain on the enrolment register until the end of the current school year if the board is actively working to re-integrate the pupil back into the education system.

Retain the following for audit purposes:
? Documentation that shows the reason for the exclusion.
? Documentation of successful notification of exclusion and the response between the school board and the pupil (if the pupil is an adult) or the pupil’s parent or guardian
? Documentation of the plan (signed by the principal) to re-integrate the pupil into the education system.
? Documentation of communication with other parties involved with re-engaging the pupil (e.g. social agencies.)
? Data on the number of students who have been excluded during the school year (including the name of the student, OEN, length of exclusion, and the reason for exclusion.)”



Source link

Disability Advocates Call for Action Limiting When Principal Can Exclude Student from School – AODA Alliance


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

ONTARIO AUTISM COALITION

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Disability Advocates Call for Action Limiting When Principal Can Exclude Student from School

January 30, 2019 Toronto: At a news conference in the Queen’s Park Media Studio today at 10:30 a.m., disability advocates will unite to demand that the Ford Government rein in the sweeping power of school principals to exclude a student from school. The Ford Government has so far announced nothing on this. It hasn’t answered the Ontario Autism Coalition’s December 13, 2018 letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson, which asks the minister to meet about exclusions. It hasn’t publicly responded to recent media focusing on this issue. See e.g. the Globe and Mail.

“School principals have a sweeping, unmonitored discretion to exclude students from school. It’s an especially unfair barrier for students with disabilities, who are too often forced to stay home because the school is failing to provide appropriate supports,” said Laura Kirby McIntosh, President of the Ontario Autism Coalition, a non-profit political advocacy group for people with autism and their families. The principal just has to think that the student “would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils;” (Education Act s. 265)

“In over 5,000 Ontario schools, each principal is allowed to be a law unto themselves. They are not required to keep track of how many students they exclude, or for how long, or for what reason, or to report this information to anyone. They don’t have to tell the student and their family the reason for their exclusion from school or to advise them of their right to appeal,” said David Lepofsky, visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School and chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance (which campaigns for disability accessibility, including in Ontario’s education system.)

“Many families have contacted ARCH Disability Law Centre when their child has been denied access to school via formal exclusions or otherwise. It is not unusual in these circumstances that the ultimate problem is that the school has failed to meet its duty to accommodate the student’s disability. With legal assistance, students are more likely to receive appropriate accommodations to facilitate their return to school. Without this assistance, there are many cases where students have endured many months of exclusion,” said Luke Reid, Staff Lawyer at ARCH.

At the news conference, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition will jointly call on the Ford Government to take these immediate actions:

  1. The Minister of Education should now convene a summit of key stakeholders to get input on legislation and policy changes to fix this festering mess.
  2. In the interim, the Minister of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school.

Contact:

Background Facts

* There are at least 340,000 students with special education needs in Ontario or 1 out of every 6 students in Ontario-funded schools. That figure does not include all students with disabilities. Therefore at least one-third of a million students with disabilities are exposed to the principal’s arbitrary power to refuse to admit them to school.

* Section 265 of the Education Act requires each school principal to refuse to admit ‘a person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils.’

* In the absence of proper oversight of school boards by the Ministry of Education, it is hard to find out whether a school board has a policy on the use of the principal’s power to exclude a student from school, or how often students are excluded from school, or for how long they are kept out. The AODA Alliance has a team of Osgoode Hall Law School law students now surveying the boards and their websites.

* It is wrong to confuse the issue of exclusions from school with the issue of when students with special education needs should be included in the regular classroom. When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that means that the student is entirely shut out from school, pure and simple. They are excluded from any and all classrooms, be it inclusion in the regular classroom or taking part in a separate or special education class. Any discussion over whether a student should be placed in the regular classroom (inclusion or integration) or in a special education classroom cannot even begin when the principal forbids that student from even coming to school at all.

* In January 2018, the Special Education Advisory Committee of the Toronto District School Board submitted a detailed recommendation to the school board trustees. It recommended that the TDSB place clear limits on when a principal can refuse to admit a student to school. One year later, the TDSB just circulated a draft procedure on exclusions from school, which incorporates some of SEAC’s recommendations.

* In a January 7, 2019 article, the Globe and Mail reported that:

“A Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up kids early, start the school day later or simply keep them home for days. Most school districts don’t formally track these exclusions or shortened days. Informally, parent and advocacy groups have documented the problem and have seen a rise in the incidence of these events.”

* “People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, has reported an increase in the number of elementary and secondary school principals who report recommending a special-education student stay home for at least part of a day. The organization found 58 per cent of elementary school heads and 48 per cent of high school principals made the request, up from 48 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in 2014.”

* A recent report by ARCH Disability Law Centre and its partners found that more than half of all students with intellectual disabilities experienced a “shortened day,” losing on average, almost 4 hours out of a 6 hour school day. Almost half of all parents surveyed reported that they had to keep their child home at one time or another as a result of accommodation issues. Finally, the report stated that 25% of parents reported that they had been “told” not to bring their child to school that day, with many of them stating that no reasons were given or that when they were given, they often related to staffing shortages or other accommodation issues.

* The Ministry of Education’s policy directive to school boards PPM-145, available at http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/145.pdf  states:

“In Part X of the Education Act, clause 265(1)(m) permits a principal to “refuse to admit” to the school or to a class someone whose presence in the school would be “detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils”. This provision is frequently referred to as the “exclusion provision.” Exclusion is not to be used as a form of discipline. If a principal does decide that it is necessary to exclude a student from the school, the principal is expected to notify the student’s parents of the exclusion as soon as possible in the circumstances, and to inform them of their right to appeal under clause 265(1)(m).”

* Last September, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

  1. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).

* The AODA Alliance survey of school boards, still in progress, has yielded the following partial and interim results so far:

* Based on results so far, only about 10% of boards, or 9 boards, have provided a policy that addresses refusals to admit. Four school boards told the AODA Alliance that they wouldn’t say if they had a policy until research approval was obtained from a Research Advisory Committee.

* Before the 2018 Ontario election, a Government-appointed committee was investigating disability barriers in Ontario’s school system, in order to recommend reforms under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. He planned to put the problem of exclusions from school on that committee’s agenda. However, the work of that committee has been frozen for the past 7 months in the wake of last June’s Ontario election. This is so despite the fact that the Conservative Party, while in opposition, had demanded that the former Ontario Government establish that very committee. For more on that issue, visit www.aodaalliance.org/education

* If each school board used a unique attendance code to mark the absence of a student due to the principal’s refusing to admit the student to school, school boards and the Ontario Government would have instant access to comprehensive data on the amount of time that students are kept from attending school on this ground. However, the province does not direct that a unique attendance code be used for that purpose. The Ministry of Education’s policy direction entitled

Enrolment Register Instructions for Elementary and Secondary Schools” for 2018-2019 states: the following on the duty of school boards to keep records on the refusal to admit a student to school: (which, as far as we have ascertained, is not provincially monitored and enforced)

“Excluded Pupils

Pupils excluded under clause 265(1)(m) of the Education Act should not be demitted from the enrolment register as the school board is actively working to re-integrate the pupil back into the education system.

During the exclusion period, the pupil’s absence is recorded with a “G” on the Daily Attendance Record. An excluded student can remain on the enrolment register until the end of the current school year if the board is actively working to re-integrate the pupil back into the education system.

Retain the following for audit purposes:

  • Documentation that shows the reason for the exclusion.
  • Documentation of successful notification of exclusion and the response between the school board and the pupil (if the pupil is an adult) or the pupil’s parent or guardian
  • Documentation of the plan (signed by the principal) to re-integrate the pupil into the education system.
  • Documentation of communication with other parties involved with re-engaging the pupil (e.g. social agencies.)
  • Data on the number of students who have been excluded during the school year (including the name of the student, OEN, length of exclusion, and the reason for exclusion.)”



Source link

Accessible Recreational Trails in Ontario


Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, cities and other organizations building or reconstructing recreational trails must make those trails accessible to visitors with disabilities. Accessible recreational trails are paths allowing people of all abilities to move through natural environments or public spaces, like parks or playgrounds.

Accessible Recreational Trails in Ontario

Before Building

Firstly, before beginning to build or renovate a recreational trail, organizations must consult with the public and people with disabilities. This consultation will allow the organizations to learn about the need for, location, and design of:

  • Trail amenities
  • Rest areas
  • Passing areas
  • Viewing areas
  • Other pertinent features

Similarly, organizations building or redeveloping trails must also consult people with disabilities about the need for slopes or ramps. All slopes, ramps, handrails, and boardwalks must comply with the technical requirements found in the Standard. Additionally, cities that have municipal accessibility advisory committees must also consult their committees before building or redeveloping trails.

Minimum Requirements

Secondly, the Standard lists minimum requirements for many aspects of recreational trails. For instance, entrances should have clear openings of between 850 and 1,000 mm. There should be signage at each trail head, that uses good colour contrast and a sans serif font, and details:

  • How long the trail is
  • How wide the trail is on average and at its narrowest point
  • Where amenities are, if they exist
  • How steep the running slope and cross slope are on average and at their steepest inclines
  • What the surface is made of

Trails must have firm and stable surfaces that canes, crutches, or the wheels of mobility devices will not sink into. Likewise, if there are openings in a trail’s surface, they must be smaller than 20 mm so that mobility devices do not get stuck in them. Long, narrow openings should be at right angles to the direction of travel. Moreover, trails must have minimum clear widths of 1,000 mm to ensure room for mobility devices or service animals. In addition, they must have minimum head room clearances of 2,100 mm so that they are free of obstacles overhead that white canes cannot detect, such as signs or tree branches. Finally, trails next to water or drop-offs must have edge protection, a raised barrier that protects people from falling off the trail.

Why we Need Accessible Trails

Accessible recreational trails give everyone space to enjoy the natural environment.



Source link

Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities?


The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

January 28, 2019

SUMMARY

Ontario’s new Ford Government has committed to be more responsible in the use of public money than was the former Ontario Government. Here is an example of where they can and should make a real difference.

We often emphasize that public money should never be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Yet the former Ontario Government’s plans for a new major courthouse in downtown Toronto still lack full and proper accessibility, even though some good steps have been taken to include some needed accessibility features. The AODA Alliance has been in the lead in bringing this issue to public attention.

Here is the latest installment in this story. To its credit, the team leading the design and construction of the New Toronto Courthouse, intended for the heart of downtown Toronto, recently built a mock-up of a courtroom, and a public service counter, to be included in that facility. The team commendably sought input from various stakeholders on this mock-up, including from an accessibility perspective. On January 16, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was given a hands-on tour. He found a number of helpful features in the design, but a number of serious accessibility barriers.

A number of the barriers we discovered are described in the January 21, 2019 letter from the AODA Alliance to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. We set that letter out below. We earlier described other examples of accessibility problems with this courthouse’s design in the AODA Alliance’s October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in our May 22, 2018, letter to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. More on this topic can be found in our May 31 2018 and June 1, 2018 letters to Mr. Pontone, which we set out below.

It is good that there are some helpful accessibility features in this mock-up. However, it is very troubling that there are the accessibility problems that we and others have identified, especially since construction of this courthouse is meant to begin later this year. We await word on what the Ontario Government is going to do about these concerns.

There has been another interesting and important development in our quest for a fully accessible court system. One important way for the public to participate in the justice system is as a member of a jury. Yet people with disabilities have faced barriers impeding them from serving as a juror. Last fall, in a break-through, a person with vision loss was permitted to serve as a juror. Below at the end of this Update is an article from the December 29, 2018 Toronto Star reporting on this event. It quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, among others.

For more background on the courts accessibility issue, you might check out the ground-breaking 2007 official report entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Open to Persons with Disabilities” which you can find on the website for the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Finally, on another accessibility topic, there have now been 221 days since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the AODA Standards Development Committees that were working on recommendations on what the Government should include in the Health Care Accessibility Standard and the Education Accessibility Standard. The longer this freeze goes on, the more students with disabilities and patients with disabilities have to continue enduring unfair accessibility barriers.

MORE DETAILS

January 21, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email: [email protected]
Visit: www.aodalliance.org

January 21, 2019

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General
Via email: [email protected]

CC: The Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General of Ontario
[email protected]
Paul Boniferro Deputy Attorney General for Ontario
[email protected]

Dear Sir,

Re: Disability Accessibility Issues in the New Toronto Courthouse

I am writing to bring to your attention further concerns regarding the plans for accessibility at the New Toronto Courthouse, which is supposed to begin construction later this year. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been raising concerns about this project over the past two years.

We appreciate your efforts and interventions to date to try to address our concerns. As a result of your efforts, there have been some improvements. However, as things now stand, we have no assurance that the courthouse that is to be built will in fact be properly accessible for court participants and other attendees with disabilities. We need your intervention now to fix this.

As you recall, as of the 2017 fall, three years into the design of this courthouse, the initial team setting the accessibility project specifications for this courthouse (which was later terminated), and the subsequent team that is to oversee the bidding process and compliance with the project by the winner as it relates to this issue had never consulted with any people with disabilities. It was only after our discovering this and pressing for change that the Government belatedly decided to form a disability advisory group to review the project plans and offer accessibility input. For the AODA Alliance, I am a member of that advisory group.

By the time our advisory group had been formed and met in the 2018 spring, the Government had already settled on the project accessibility requirements, had conducted the competitive bid, and had chosen the successful bidder and design. Our advisory group quickly discovered a series of serious accessibility problems with the planned design. I have detailed some salient accessibility concerns regarding this project in my October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in my May 22 and 31, and June 1, 2018 letters to you. Key correspondence on point is posted on the AODA Alliance website.

It is our understanding from what we have been told by Government representatives, the Government’s various consultants on this project, and the successful bidder Ellis Don, that some of the accessibility concerns that the disability advisory group has raised cannot be addressed, because it is too far along in the planning for this new courthouse. This is emblematic of the fact that accessibility must be centrally incorporated into a project’s planning from the very start. It should not be left, in whole or in part, to much later in the process, as was the case here.

This should not come as news to the Ministry of the Attorney General, or to Infrastructure Ontario. Both of those public organizations have known this for years but have evidently failed to effectively act on it. We regret that there appears to be within both organizations some systemic impediments to acting effectively on accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is good that the Government is working now on developing a new accessibility standard for new courthouses, and that this is being taken into account earlier in the design of the future Halton Courthouse project. However, the 2007 Weiler Committee report on disability accessibility barriers in the court system had pointed out some 12 years ago about the need to develop a new and update-to-date accessibility standard for courthouse design. Since then, several new courthouses have been built at huge public expense, but without ensuring their proper accessibility. All of this is going on years after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, and a third of a century after equality for people with disabilities was enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

Let me turn to the specifics of the New Toronto Courthouse courtroom and service counters mock-up that I visited on January 16, 2019. It was good to see a number of accessibility features built into the mock-up. However, I identified a number of accessibility concerns. Evidently, others who have earlier visited the mock-up also pointed out the same or different concerns.

It is good that the Government had this mock-up prepared, and that it sought input on it, including on accessibility concerns. It is, however, deeply troubling that a number of these problems made their way into this design even at this late stage. This happened after the Government had consulted with our disability advisory group on the building’s design, after there were two accessibility consultants on retainer to advise on this project (one for the Government and one for EllisDon), and after advice on some of these issues had already been given by the disability advisory group.

1. It appears that in the design of the courtroom mock-up, no account was taken of the space, line-of-sight, and lighting needs to accommodate sign language interpreters in the courtroom. During my review of the mock-up, I asked if the team had consulted a sign language interpreter on this. I was told only that a hard of hearing member of the disability advisory group had toured the mock-up (i.e. after the mock-up had already been designed)

During my tour of the mock-up, I explained that the design needs to accommodate the needs of Sign Language interpreters in several different positions in the courtroom, e.g. interpreting for counsel, or for an accused, or for a witness. More than one interpreter could be interpreting from different positions in the courtroom at the same time. The interpreter needs to have enough room. There must be a clear line of sight to the person for whom they are interpreting. The lighting needs to be appropriate.

I had raised this specific issue months ago, during a meeting the Government and EllisDon had with the disability advisory group. At that time, a lead design official for EllisDon had not even known that Sign Language interpretation had to take place in the courtroom, unlike other spoken language interpreters who can be situated in a remote booth elsewhere in the courthouse.

Because I had given this feedback months ago, it is difficult to understand why this was not further explored and addressed prior to designing the courtroom layout and going to the substantial expense of building the mock-up. Having learned of the failure by the Government and EllisDon to deal with this, I have just connected the Government’s accessibility consultants with a Sign Language Interpreter I know, who works in the Toronto courts, and who is readily available to advise the Government on this issue.

2. It is good that there are power door openers e.g. for the courtroom doors. However, none of these that I examined had accessible Braille signage for them. There was also no Braille signage for security card readers. The card readers I saw were close to a power door operator, both unlabeled, and both similarly shaped. This should be an obvious and simple accessibility provision for all such controls.

3. There is a serious barrier to effective communication at the proposed Court Services counters. The mock-up for the Court Services office has a Plexiglas barrier from the counter level to the ceiling for each public service counter. A couple of small openings are cut out for a member of the public to speak to the Court Services official, behind the barrier, and to pass documents back and forth.

I was told that this partition is intended for security for the Court Services workers. It is not meant as bullet-proof protection. Anyone entering the building is required to go through scanners to prevent weapons from entering the courthouse. Rather, this is to prevent a member of the public for lunging at a Court Services worker.

I pointed out the obvious fact that this Plexiglas partition presents a significant communication barrier for people who have difficulties hearing. I was told that there would be a hearing loop technology available. When I asked, I was told there had been no plans for a speaker to amplify the voice of the Court Services worker.

The designers were evidently aware that there is an issue here, as the mock-up presented three different kinds of openings, through which a member of the public can speak to a Court Services official. I was asked for feedback on which option for openings in the partition seemed more effective for talking to the Court Services staff.

I presented the fact that this communication barrier will be a big problem for many, not just for those who having hearing loss to the degree where they use assistive listening devices. I noted that according to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services officials, the most common request for disability accommodation in the courts is related to hearing loss issues.

I proposed the simple and, I would think obvious solution of replacing the Plexiglas partition with a series of bars, with openings to pass documents through. That would let sound pass through much more easily, while still providing the security needed.

I foresaw that if the Plexiglas design is retained, Court Services workers would have to spend their day yelling through opening in the Plexiglas, while sitting next to other Court Services workers who are similarly yelling through the openings in the partition. I doubt that is an optimal working situation.

I would add to my feedback given at the time that to require members of the public to have to raise their voices to ensure they are heard through the Plexiglas openings might require them to speak loudly about personal information that they would not wish to share with others, who are behind them, waiting in line.

4. I was told that the intention was for only one out of every six or so public service counters in the Court Services office to be an accessible one. This in turn would require Court Services staff to use technology to give priority to members of the public who need the accessible counter, and then to route them to those counters. Not just for this reason, there is a plan for everyone who comes to that Court Services area to use a touch screen device to sign in, get their number, and know which counter to attend. I address this further below.

I asked why they don’t simply plan for all counters in that area to be at an accessible height. I was told that people who are standing prefer not to have to sign a document at the lower counter height. The counter height could be made adjustable. As an alternative, I suggested a simple low-cost solution. On any accessible counter height could be a moveable box, that would provide a signing surface that accommodates a person who is standing. With this, there would be no need to have to have some sort of process for identifying who needs an accessible counter, and for giving them priority and routing them to the right counter.

5. I asked how a person would know that it is their turn to proceed to a Court Services counter. I was told that a light over that counter would illuminate. I explained that this was a clear barrier for people with vision loss. There should also be an audio prompt or announcement.

I explained that Service Ontario had a similar accessibility problem until we brought it to attention of senior Government officials. People coming to Service Ontario for help with such things as a health card used to be given a number and told to watch a screen for when their number came up. This happened to me a few years ago. I am blind, and use a readily visible white cane.

6. As noted above, there is a plan for everyone who wants to go to the Court services counter to have to first get an electronic tablet, key in some information and then get a document printed out that will tell them where to go etc. I suggested the far less costly option of just having everyone line up and wait their turn, as is routinely done at banks and other like services.

The tablet threatens to present accessibility problems. I was told that a Court Services worker would be available to work with people with disabilities. However, this may not be evident to people with disabilities who are there. Moreover, apart from disability concerns, there is always the added confusion of learning to use a new app or tablet, compounded if the system goes out of order. A line-up has none of these problems. I suspect that court attendees would rather not have to learn to navigate some new app.

7. We were told that the plan is for the prisoner’s box in each courtroom in this new courthouse to have a design that lacks accessibility. There is one step up into the prisoner’s box.

If an accused requires an accessible prisoner’s box, one will be brought in and assembled, when needed. We were told that this would take about an hour to do. It requires the court to be notified in advance of the need for this on a particular day. This in turn requires lawyers to all know that they need to request this in advance. It requires that any such request not get lost in the shuffle of a huge, busy courthouse.

I proposed that instead, they should simply design an accessible prisoner’s box for permanent use in each courtroom, rather than planning in advance to create new barriers. This avoids the need in a very busy courthouse to have to be notified in advance, and to have the accessible prisoner’s box brought in and assembled. The risk is real that the message can get lost and the accommodation not set up in time.

Moreover, in a very busy, rapid turnover courtroom like the one on the ground floor for first appearances, the prisoner’s box should always be an accessible one. An accused, arrested the night before, and brought in for a first appearance, will likely not have a lawyer who knows to request an accessible prisoner’s box.

I was told that the reason the inaccessible design was desired was because police would like the accused to be raised up one step, for when the officer reaches in to cuff the accused. I expect that other solutions to address this problem should be discoverable with some creativity, without needing to have an inaccessible prisoner’s box.

8. On the wall just outside the courtroom mock-up is a sign listing points for courtroom decorum. We discussed options for making this available in an accessible format.

However, I also asked if the list of points in this public notice included any announcement of how to seek accessibility accommodations while at court. I was told this was not part of the text.

I have several times raised with Ministry officials at the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee that they need to do a much better job of publicizing the availability of accessibility supports in the courts, including the availability of a Courts Accessibility Coordinator in each court facility. This sign would be an important place to include that information, for the public, as they wait in the hall to enter the courtroom.

I raised a number of other points. The foregoing ones rank among the most serious ones. On the one hand, it is good we are being consulted on this. On the other hand, the fact that these problems were designed into this plan shows that the Ministry and its successful bidder at this late date still are falling quite far short on accessibility.

At this consultation, there were two different accessibility consulting firms present. One was retained by the Government’s project compliance team. The other is retained by EllisDon. The taxpayer is paying for them both. We want to know what accessibility advice they have given on this design. At a recent Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee meeting, the Ministry had indicated that the Government was going to have its accessibility consulting firm report directly to the Ministry, rather than the private architect whom the Government has retained to head the project compliance team. I should note that the head of that team, Roman Mychajlowycz of the Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects firm, has not attended any of the consultation sessions last year at which I was present, where we gave input on the accessibility problems with this courthouse. He was also not present at the consultation on this mock-up I attended. I do not know if he attended any of the other consultation sessions on this mock-up. Given the seriousness of the recurring accessibility problems with the design of this courthouse, direct face-to-face involvement by the head of the compliance team, paid by the taxpayer, would seem to us to be appropriate, and not merely his subordinates.

Finally, we would like to know the status of the Government’s work on developing an accessibility standard for the design of future courthouse facilities. We have understood that the KMA firm was working on that. We earlier requested from the Government a draft of their proposals. We would also like to see any advice on the KMA proposals that have come from the accessibility consulting firm that are being paid by the taxpayer to advise on it.

We continue to be eager to help ensure that Ontario’s courts become fully accessible to people with disabilities, and that any new court facility be designed to be accessible.

Sincerely,
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

May 31, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Date: May 31, 2018

Thank you so much for attending the May 24, 2018 meeting of the Disability Sector Advisory Group that the Government convened this spring to get input on accessibility issues in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse. Construction of that courthouse is expected to commence sometime next year. We need your active assistance and intervention to ensure that accessibility is properly included in this project.

It was helpful to know that the courthouse design team is considering feedback that the Advisory Group had given at our earlier March 20, 2018 meeting. At the March 14, 2018 meeting we had identified serious accessibility problems in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse that the Government had selected in the competitive process. I want to summarize a few of the key points that the disability sector representatives made at the May 24, 2018 meeting.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the information that the design team gave our Advisory Group revealed that in troubling ways, it appears that the private company that is building this courthouse is giving the building’s aesthetics an improper priority over ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, with the Government’s evident agreement or silence. I offer two examples from this meeting.

First, back at the March 20, 2018 meeting, we had pointed out that the use of “open risers” in the feature staircase in the courthouse’s main lobby presents an accessibility and safety problem for people with vision loss, among others. The Government’s specific requirements for this building preclude the use of open risers. Yet EllisDon, whom the Government selected to build this courthouse, disregarded this, and included open risers in the building design. The Government selected that design in the competitive bid process, despite its direct contravention of this accessibility requirement in the Government’s Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS).

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were told that the project design team is considering “options” for dealing with this issue. We asked what options are being considered. We did not get a direct answer. They did not want to say what options were being considered. We don’t understand why this was being withheld from us.

Moreover, one of the design team members in effect asked us at the May 24, 2018 meeting if there was no way that open risers could be included in the building. We said “no”. We explained there that they were treating aesthetics as more important than accessibility.

Second, we had indicated at our March 14, 2018 meeting that the three-storey atrium design of the building created several accessibility problems. There would be inconsistent lighting and glare during the day, creating problems for those with low vision. The acoustics present problems for people who are hard of hearing, or people with vision loss who use echo-location to help navigate. People with sensory integration problems, include some with autism, also experience sensory overload in such environments. Eliminating this atrium design would eliminate these problems and create more useable floor space.

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the project team’s solution appeared to be to keep the atrium design, but to consider canopies, overhangs and blinds to control lighting, and some acoustic protections to reduce acoustic problems. We were told about sound and lighting studies being conducted to look into these effects.

We responded that the aesthetic tail appears again to be wagging the dog. If blinds must be adjusted throughout the day to regulate the light in the building, there is the real risk that this will not always happen. We won’t know that these palliative measures will work until the building is built, by which time it is too late. The acoustic studies did not explore the impact of the acoustic measures on echo-location for navigating the building. We could only be satisfied that these palliative measures all worked if we could now visit a comparably-designed building that includes all these lighting and audio features, to test to see if they are reliable and consistently effective.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were not shown the layout for any of the non-public secured areas of the building, but were assured that they would be accessible. We asked to be able to see those designs, on an undertaking of confidentiality if necessary, so we can give feedback. We appreciate that the project team agreed to look into this.

* We were told at the May 24, 2018 meeting that the seating area that was proposed for people with disabilities who are waiting for Wheeltrans would be inside the vestibule, just inside the main doors. The disability sector representatives identified several problems with this.

That seating location only has a direct line of sight to half of the pick-up spots where vehicles would arrive. There is an obstructed view to the rest of those drop-off spots. In addition, this seating is placed between the doors to the outside, and the doors to the main floor. As such, people sitting there will have to endure regular blasts of cold air when waiting during the winter, and hot air during the summer, each time the doors open and close.

* We noted that placing Court Services on the third floor presents real problems. This can be the first stop for many who arrive at the courthouse. They must clutter up the elevators to get there, and then head up from there to their destination. This first stop should be on the main floor.

* We understand that there is no location planned to situate the courthouse’s disability accessibility and accommodation coordinator on the ground floor. We emphasized that they should be readily available on the ground floor, to be a first contact, where needed, for court attendees with disabilities.

* We were told that the public was to be told by way of posted signs about the availability of disability services. We emphasized that this was insufficient, as it will not accommodate those with vision loss or dyslexia. I would add that this would not accommodate those with literacy issues.

* At our earlier March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that only one interview room per floor would be accessible. At the May 24, 2018 meeting we learned that this information had been incorrect. We were told on May 24, 2018 that all of the interview rooms are accessible, but only one room per floor will accommodate a scooter. We were still not able to learn how these rooms are to be assigned, to ensure that they are not simply used by people who don’t need that accessibility feature.

* We learned at the May 24, 2018 meeting that some important accessibility concerns that we raised at our earlier meeting have not been corrected at all. The problematic layout of the six public elevators has not been changed, despite the accessibility concerns. There has also been no change to the plan to have a universal washroom on only eight of the building’s seventeen floors, and not on every floor. No reason for this was given.

* For some of the other concerns we had raised at the March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that it is now too late in the planning process to change certain aspects of the building’s design. This demonstrates that it was wrong for the Government not to consult on accessibility some three years ago, at the design process’s outset.

We look forward to further meetings with the disability sector advisory group, to ensure that the accessibility concerns with this building are all effectively addressed.

June 1, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Date: June 1, 2018
Re: Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in New Courthouse Construction in Ontario

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today about the future actions needed to ensure accessibility of the New Toronto Courthouse, about accessibility of the forthcoming new Halton Peel Courthouse (at an earlier stage of design) and about the development of a new Government accessibility standard for new court construction. Here are the key items which we requested and those to which you agreed. If I have anything incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible.

Re the New Toronto Courthouse

I asked that you continue to attend any upcoming meetings of the Disability Sector Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. Your oversight is critically important, in our view. Thank you for being agreeable to this.

We have not been told how many future meetings the Government plans for this Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. I recommended to you that this Advisory Group continue to meet with the Government and its contractors until all the accessibility concerns regarding this courthouse have been effectively resolved. I understood you to be supportive of this.

I explained that it is important in this project, and in each future project, that the Government directly retain the accessibility consultant, retained on these projects, and that this consultant report their accessibility advice directly to the Government. Otherwise, as at present, it appears that their accessibility advice is given to the private architecture firm or other private organization that hired them. What the Government and the public learn about that accessibility advice is only that which the retaining private organization chooses to pass along. The public is paying for that advice. The Government should receive that advice directly, and in its entirety. The public should be able to see this advice as well. I understood that you are going to consider this.

The Halton Peel Courthouse

I understand that the accessibility requirements for the future new Halton Peel courthouse have not yet been finalized. The Project Specific Output Specifications PSOS for that project are still under development.

I recommended that the Government now get advice from the disability community, e.g. from the Disability Sector Advisory Group, as these are being formulated, and certainly long before they are finalized. No longer should we ever be told that it is too late in the design process to take into account an accessibility concern. I understood you to be agreeable to and supportive of this.

I therefore asked that the Government now show us these accessibility requirements at whatever stage they have now reached. Even if they are at a draft or preliminary stage, it would help to see what has been developed so far, so that we can give our feedback. As the New Toronto Courthouse experience revealed once again, the earlier in the design development process this consultation occurs, the better will be the end product.

New Accessibility Standard for Future Courthouses

As we discussed, Bob Topping told the Disability Sector Advisory Group at our inaugural March 14, 2018 meeting that his accessibility consulting firm, DesignAble Environments, was working on a new accessibility standard for new court consultation. Corresponding to this, the lead architect for the EllisDon firm told us at that meeting that when they designed the plans for the New Toronto Courthouse, they used the old accessibility standard that the Ministry has had going back many years.

As a result, I asked you to find out who else, if anyone, is working on this new courthouse accessibility standard, beyond DesignAble Environments? We asked to see that standard in its present state of development. We also proposed that the disability community be consulted on this, as early as possible, in its development. I urged you to contact Mr. Topping to follow up on this and to get more information, since it was he who told us about this work at the March 14, 2018 Advisory Group meeting. You agreed to look into this, including speaking to Mr. Topping. Thank you for agreeing to get back to me on this.

In conclusion there is a clear long term need for problems such as these to be resolved on a Government-wide basis. However, in the meantime, resolving the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities in these courthouse projects cannot await a resolution of broader Government-wide deficiencies in how it deals with planning for the accessibility of new infrastructure construction.

I look forward to hearing from you on the important issues we discussed, and especially on those listed in this letter.

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

The Toronto Star December 29, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/11/05/blind-juror-in-toronto-impaired-driving-case-was-almost-rejected.html Blind juror was almost rejected Disability advocates seek removal of courtroom barriers

Betsy Powell Toronto Star

A recent criminal trial at Toronto’s downtown Superior Court featured what may be a first in Ontario: a blind juror.

The fact that is, if not a first, an extremely rare occurrence in Ontario underscores that much more needs to be done to remove the barriers to equal treatment in the criminal justice system, disability advocates say.

“Certainly this applies to ensuring adequate representation of persons with disabilities on juries,” says Luke Reid, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto.

The Criminal Code allows people with vision or hearing disabilities to serve on juries. However, an accused may challenge a juror’s service and the Juries Act deems jurors ineligible if they have “a physical or mental disability that would seriously impair his or her ability to discharge the duties of a juror.”

“However, human rights law would demand that this (or any) requirement not be interpreted in an overbroad way and that persons with disabilities have the right to the necessary accommodations,” Reid wrote in email.

Juror 29743 almost didn’t get picked. While there are likely numerous reasons preventing people with impaired vision from sitting on juries, there is still a “very active debate” around the ability of a “trier of fact” to see a witness’s demeanour in order to assess credibility, Reid noted in an email.

“I think courts tend to err on the side of caution where the right of an accused to a fair trial is potentially at issue.”

This fall, a day before jury selection in an impaired driving causing death trial, prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg told the judge she and defence lawyer Carolyn Kerr had some concerns about a prospective juror, who had shown up at the courthouse with a service dog. Goldenberg told the judge numerous photos would be introduced during the two-week trial.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Rob Goldstein told the lawyers while it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue, he didn’t intend to treat Juror 29743 any differently than other jurors.

“I think it’s something we canvass and we treat her the way we treat any other juror who has a health issue,” Goldstein said. The next day, after Juror 29743 entered the courtroom with her service dog, the judge asked her how she would “deal” with all the photos in the case.

“It would be through description … I cannot see them,” the woman, who works in human resources, told Goldstein.

“OK, all right, so if they are described – you can absorb what’s in them?” the judge asked. She said yes.

The jury selection process continued in the normal course with two already selected jurors, designated as “triers,” deciding whether or not she was an acceptable pick.

Juror 29743 said she had not heard about the case involving a man charged with impaired driving causing death on April 23, 2016, near Jane St. and Humberview Blvd. She also indicated she could consider the evidence without prejudice or bias after being told the accused was a visible minority and Muslim. Nevertheless, the triers immediately rejected her.

Goldstein, however, wasn’t satisfied. He told the triers he was going to reread their instructions and asked them to consult each other again. The test to decide is if a juror would approach jury duty with an open mind and decide the case based solely on the evidence and his legal instructions, the judge told them.

This time, the triers found Juror 29743 acceptable while counsel on both sides said they were “content” with the choice. After a few days of deliberations, the jury returned to court with a guilty verdict. The Star’s attempts to speak to Juror 29743 were unsuccessful.

Lawyer David Lepofsky, a retired Crown attorney who is blind and was not involved in the case, said having a blind juror not only makes the legal system more representative of society, it makes lawyers more effective.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a courtroom that is visual and needs to be explained for the transcript, or audio recording, so having a blind juror will help ensure that happens, “so you get a better record, and it’s better for everybody,” Lepofksy said.

But there are some exceptions where a visually impaired juror might have to be excluded, he added. If, for example, the guilt or innocence of an accused is entirely based on whether a jury believes an accused looks like an assailant captured in a surveillance video.

Lepofksy, now a visiting professor at o University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said traditionally, appeal courts said trial judges were in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses, because they, unlike appeal judges, can access demeanour.

That view has evolved, and now appeal courts are increasingly warning “it’s wrong to over emphasize visual demeanour when assessing credibility.” He uses himself as an example to explain how everyone has different ways of doing that.

“Sighted people use eyes. I listen to a voice … and the whole idea of a jury is it’s a bunch of different people … pooling their different ways of assessing credibility and then voting as a group. Well, who’s to say visual is the only way to do it,” he said.

“Those of us who experience the world non visually, have our own experience too.”

While jurors don’t have to be statistically representative of society, there is an expectation that they bring to the courtroom their own life experience, “drawn from different parts of the community, and they pool to form a collective assessment, a very difficult assessment, who to believe about what happened.”



Source link

Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities? — The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org  [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities? — The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers

January 28, 2019

          SUMMARY

Ontario’s new Ford Government has committed to be more responsible in the use of public money than was the former Ontario Government. Here is an example of where they can and should make a real difference.

We often emphasize that public money should never be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Yet the former Ontario Government’s plans for a new major courthouse in downtown Toronto still lack full and proper accessibility, even though some good steps have been taken to include some needed accessibility features. The AODA Alliance has been in the lead in bringing this issue to public attention.

Here is the latest installment in this story. To its credit, the team leading the design and construction of the New Toronto Courthouse, intended for the heart of downtown Toronto, recently built a mock-up of a courtroom, and a public service counter, to be included in that facility. The team commendably sought input from various stakeholders on this mock-up, including from an accessibility perspective. On January 16, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was given a hands-on tour. He found a number of helpful features in the design, but a number of serious accessibility barriers.

A number of the barriers we discovered are described in the January 21, 2019 letter from the AODA Alliance to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. We set that letter out below. We earlier described other examples of accessibility problems with this courthouse’s design in the AODA Alliance’s October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in our May 22, 2018, letter to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. More on this topic can be found in our May 31 2018 and June 1, 2018 letters to Mr. Pontone, which we set out below.

It is good that there are some helpful accessibility features in this mock-up. However, it is very troubling that there are the accessibility problems that we and others have identified, especially since construction of this courthouse is meant to begin later this year. We await word on what the Ontario Government is going to do about these concerns.

There has been another interesting and important development in our quest for a fully accessible court system. One important way for the public to participate in the justice system is as a member of a jury. Yet people with disabilities have faced barriers impeding them from serving as a juror. Last fall, in a break-through, a person with vision loss was permitted to serve as a juror. Below at the end of this Update is an article from the December 29, 2018 Toronto Star reporting on this event. It quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, among others.

For more background on the courts accessibility issue, you might check out the ground-breaking 2007 official report entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Open to Persons with Disabilities” which you can find on the website for the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Finally, on another accessibility topic, there have now been 221 days since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the AODA Standards Development Committees that were working on recommendations on what the Government should include in the Health Care Accessibility Standard and the Education Accessibility Standard. The longer this freeze goes on, the more students with disabilities and patients with disabilities have to continue enduring unfair accessibility barriers.

          MORE DETAILS

January 21, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

January 21, 2019

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General

Via email: [email protected]

CC: The Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General of Ontario

[email protected]

Paul Boniferro Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

[email protected]

Dear Sir,

Re: Disability Accessibility Issues in the New Toronto Courthouse

I am writing to bring to your attention further concerns regarding the plans for accessibility at the New Toronto Courthouse, which is supposed to begin construction later this year. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been raising concerns about this project over the past two years.

We appreciate your efforts and interventions to date to try to address our concerns. As a result of your efforts, there have been some improvements. However, as things now stand, we have no assurance that the courthouse that is to be built will in fact be properly accessible for court participants and other attendees with disabilities. We need your intervention now to fix this.

As you recall, as of the 2017 fall, three years into the design of this courthouse, the initial team setting the accessibility project specifications for this courthouse (which was later terminated), and the subsequent team that is to oversee the bidding process and compliance with the project by the winner as it relates to this issue had never consulted with any people with disabilities. It was only after our discovering this and pressing for change that the Government belatedly decided to form a disability advisory group to review the project plans and offer accessibility input. For the AODA Alliance, I am a member of that advisory group.

By the time our advisory group had been formed and met in the 2018 spring, the Government had already settled on the project accessibility requirements, had conducted the competitive bid, and had chosen the successful bidder and design. Our advisory group quickly discovered a series of serious accessibility problems with the planned design. I have detailed some salient accessibility concerns regarding this project in my October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in my May 22 and 31, and June 1, 2018 letters to you. Key correspondence on point is posted on the AODA Alliance website.

It is our understanding from what we have been told by Government representatives, the Government’s various consultants on this project, and the successful bidder Ellis Don, that some of the accessibility concerns that the disability advisory group has raised cannot be addressed, because it is too far along in the planning for this new courthouse. This is emblematic of the fact that accessibility must be centrally incorporated into a project’s planning from the very start. It should not be left, in whole or in part, to much later in the process, as was the case here.

This should not come as news to the Ministry of the Attorney General, or to Infrastructure Ontario. Both of those public organizations have known this for years but have evidently failed to effectively act on it. We regret that there appears to be within both organizations some systemic impediments to acting effectively on accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is good that the Government is working now on developing a new accessibility standard for new courthouses, and that this is being taken into account earlier in the design of the future Halton Courthouse project. However, the 2007 Weiler Committee report on disability accessibility barriers in the court system had pointed out some 12 years ago about the need to develop a new and update-to-date accessibility standard for courthouse design. Since then, several new courthouses have been built at huge public expense, but without ensuring their proper accessibility. All of this is going on years after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, and a third of a century after equality for people with disabilities was enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

Let me turn to the specifics of the New Toronto Courthouse courtroom and service counters mock-up that I visited on January 16, 2019. It was good to see a number of accessibility features built into the mock-up. However, I identified a number of accessibility concerns. Evidently, others who have earlier visited the mock-up also pointed out the same or different concerns.

It is good that the Government had this mock-up prepared, and that it sought input on it, including on accessibility concerns. It is, however, deeply troubling that a number of these problems made their way into this design even at this late stage. This happened after the Government had consulted with our disability advisory group on the building’s design, after there were two accessibility consultants on retainer to advise on this project (one for the Government and one for EllisDon), and after advice on some of these issues had already been given by the disability advisory group.

  1. It appears that in the design of the courtroom mock-up, no account was taken of the space, line-of-sight, and lighting needs to accommodate sign language interpreters in the courtroom. During my review of the mock-up, I asked if the team had consulted a sign language interpreter on this. I was told only that a hard of hearing member of the disability advisory group had toured the mock-up (i.e. after the mock-up had already been designed)

During my tour of the mock-up, I explained that the design needs to accommodate the needs of Sign Language interpreters in several different positions in the courtroom, e.g. interpreting for counsel, or for an accused, or for a witness. More than one interpreter could be interpreting from different positions in the courtroom at the same time. The interpreter needs to have enough room. There must be a clear line of sight to the person for whom they are interpreting. The lighting needs to be appropriate.

I had raised this specific issue months ago, during a meeting the Government and EllisDon had with the disability advisory group. At that time, a lead design official for EllisDon had not even known that Sign Language interpretation had to take place in the courtroom, unlike other spoken language interpreters who can be situated in a remote booth elsewhere in the courthouse.

Because I had given this feedback months ago, it is difficult to understand why this was not further explored and addressed prior to designing the courtroom layout and going to the substantial expense of building the mock-up. Having learned of the failure by the Government and EllisDon to deal with this, I have just connected the Government’s accessibility consultants with a Sign Language Interpreter I know, who works in the Toronto courts, and who is readily available to advise the Government on this issue.

  1. It is good that there are power door openers e.g. for the courtroom doors. However, none of these that I examined had accessible Braille signage for them. There was also no Braille signage for security card readers. The card readers I saw were close to a power door operator, both unlabeled, and both similarly shaped. This should be an obvious and simple accessibility provision for all such controls.
  1. There is a serious barrier to effective communication at the proposed Court Services counters. The mock-up for the Court Services office has a Plexiglas barrier from the counter level to the ceiling for each public service counter. A couple of small openings are cut out for a member of the public to speak to the Court Services official, behind the barrier, and to pass documents back and forth.

I was told that this partition is intended for security for the Court Services workers. It is not meant as bullet-proof protection. Anyone entering the building is required to go through scanners to prevent weapons from entering the courthouse. Rather, this is to prevent a member of the public for lunging at a Court Services worker.

I pointed out the obvious fact that this Plexiglas partition presents a significant communication barrier for people who have difficulties hearing. I was told that there would be a hearing loop technology available. When I asked, I was told there had been no plans for a speaker to amplify the voice of the Court Services worker.

The designers were evidently aware that there is an issue here, as the mock-up presented three different kinds of openings, through which a member of the public can speak to a Court Services official. I was asked for feedback on which option for openings in the partition seemed more effective for talking to the Court Services staff.

I presented the fact that this communication barrier will be a big problem for many, not just for those who having hearing loss to the degree where they use assistive listening devices. I noted that according to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services officials, the most common request for disability accommodation in the courts is related to hearing loss issues.

I proposed the simple and, I would think obvious solution of replacing the Plexiglas partition with a series of bars, with openings to pass documents through. That would let sound pass through much more easily, while still providing the security needed.

I foresaw that if the Plexiglas design is retained, Court Services workers would have to spend their day yelling through opening in the Plexiglas, while sitting next to other Court Services workers who are similarly yelling through the openings in the partition. I doubt that is an optimal working situation.

I would add to my feedback given at the time that to require members of the public to have to raise their voices to ensure they are heard through the Plexiglas openings might require them to speak loudly about personal information that they would not wish to share with others, who are behind them, waiting in line.

  1. I was told that the intention was for only one out of every six or so public service counters in the Court Services office to be an accessible one. This in turn would require Court Services staff to use technology to give priority to members of the public who need the accessible counter, and then to route them to those counters. Not just for this reason, there is a plan for everyone who comes to that Court Services area to use a touch screen device to sign in, get their number, and know which counter to attend. I address this further below.

I asked why they don’t simply plan for all counters in that area to be at an accessible height. I was told that people who are standing prefer not to have to sign a document at the lower counter height. The counter height could be made adjustable. As an alternative, I suggested a simple low-cost solution. On any accessible counter height could be a moveable box, that would provide a signing surface that accommodates a person who is standing. With this, there would be no need to have to have some sort of process for identifying who needs an accessible counter, and for giving them priority and routing them to the right counter.

  1. I asked how a person would know that it is their turn to proceed to a Court Services counter. I was told that a light over that counter would illuminate. I explained that this was a clear barrier for people with vision loss. There should also be an audio prompt or announcement.

I explained that Service Ontario had a similar accessibility problem until we brought it to attention of senior Government officials. People coming to Service Ontario for help with such things as a health card used to be given a number and told to watch a screen for when their number came up. This happened to me a few years ago. I am blind, and use a readily visible white cane.

  1. As noted above, there is a plan for everyone who wants to go to the Court services counter to have to first get an electronic tablet, key in some information and then get a document printed out that will tell them where to go etc. I suggested the far less costly option of just having everyone line up and wait their turn, as is routinely done at banks and other like services.

The tablet threatens to present accessibility problems. I was told that a Court Services worker would be available to work with people with disabilities. However, this may not be evident to people with disabilities who are there. Moreover, apart from disability concerns, there is always the added confusion of learning to use a new app or tablet, compounded if the system goes out of order. A line-up has none of these problems. I suspect that court attendees would rather not have to learn to navigate some new app.

  1. We were told that the plan is for the prisoner’s box in each courtroom in this new courthouse to have a design that lacks accessibility. There is one step up into the prisoner’s box.

If an accused requires an accessible prisoner’s box, one will be brought in and assembled, when needed. We were told that this would take about an hour to do. It requires the court to be notified in advance of the need for this on a particular day. This in turn requires lawyers to all know that they need to request this in advance. It requires that any such request not get lost in the shuffle of a huge, busy courthouse.

I proposed that instead, they should simply design an accessible prisoner’s box for permanent use in each courtroom, rather than planning in advance to create new barriers. This avoids the need in a very busy courthouse to have to be notified in advance, and to have the accessible prisoner’s box brought in and assembled. The risk is real that the message can get lost and the accommodation not set up in time.

Moreover, in a very busy, rapid turnover courtroom like the one on the ground floor for first appearances, the prisoner’s box should always be an accessible one. An accused, arrested the night before, and brought in for a first appearance, will likely not have a lawyer who knows to request an accessible prisoner’s box.

I was told that the reason the inaccessible design was desired was because police would like the accused to be raised up one step, for when the officer reaches in to cuff the accused. I expect that other solutions to address this problem should be discoverable with some creativity, without needing to have an inaccessible prisoner’s box.

  1. On the wall just outside the courtroom mock-up is a sign listing points for courtroom decorum. We discussed options for making this available in an accessible format.

However, I also asked if the list of points in this public notice included any announcement of how to seek accessibility accommodations while at court. I was told this was not part of the text.

I have several times raised with Ministry officials at the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee that they need to do a much better job of publicizing the availability of accessibility supports in the courts, including the availability of a Courts Accessibility Coordinator in each court facility. This sign would be an important place to include that information, for the public, as they wait in the hall to enter the courtroom.

I raised a number of other points. The foregoing ones rank among the most serious ones. On the one hand, it is good we are being consulted on this. On the other hand, the fact that these problems were designed into this plan shows that the Ministry and its successful bidder at this late date still are falling quite far short on accessibility.

At this consultation, there were two different accessibility consulting firms present. One was retained by the Government’s project compliance team. The other is retained by EllisDon. The taxpayer is paying for them both. We want to know what accessibility advice they have given on this design. At a recent Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee meeting, the Ministry had indicated that the Government was going to have its accessibility consulting firm report directly to the Ministry, rather than the private architect whom the Government has retained to head the project compliance team. I should note that the head of that team, Roman Mychajlowycz of the Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects firm, has not attended any of the consultation sessions last year at which I was present, where we gave input on the accessibility problems with this courthouse. He was also not present at the consultation on this mock-up I attended. I do not know if he attended any of the other consultation sessions on this mock-up. Given the seriousness of the recurring accessibility problems with the design of this courthouse, direct face-to-face involvement by the head of the compliance team, paid by the taxpayer, would seem to us to be appropriate, and not merely his subordinates.

Finally, we would like to know the status of the Government’s work on developing an accessibility standard for the design of future courthouse facilities. We have understood that the KMA firm was working on that. We earlier requested from the Government a draft of their proposals. We would also like to see any advice on the KMA proposals that have come from the accessibility consulting firm that are being paid by the taxpayer to advise on it.

We continue to be eager to help ensure that Ontario’s courts become fully accessible to people with disabilities, and that any new court facility be designed to be accessible.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

May 31, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance

Date: May 31, 2018

Thank you so much for attending the May 24, 2018 meeting of the Disability Sector Advisory Group that the Government convened this spring to get input on accessibility issues in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse. Construction of that courthouse is expected to commence sometime next year. We need your active assistance and intervention to ensure that accessibility is properly included in this project.

It was helpful to know that the courthouse design team is considering feedback that the Advisory Group had given at our earlier March 20, 2018 meeting. At the March 14, 2018 meeting we had identified serious accessibility problems in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse that the Government had selected in the competitive process. I want to summarize a few of the key points that the disability sector representatives made at the May 24, 2018 meeting.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the information that the design team gave our Advisory Group revealed that in troubling ways, it appears that the private company that is building this courthouse is giving the building’s aesthetics an improper priority over ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, with the Government’s evident agreement or silence. I offer two examples from this meeting.

First, back at the March 20, 2018 meeting, we had pointed out that the use of “open risers” in the feature staircase in the courthouse’s main lobby presents an accessibility and safety problem for people with vision loss, among others. The Government’s specific requirements for this building preclude the use of open risers. Yet EllisDon, whom the Government selected to build this courthouse, disregarded this, and included open risers in the building design. The Government selected that design in the competitive bid process, despite its direct contravention of this accessibility requirement in the Government’s Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS).

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were told that the project design team is considering “options” for dealing with this issue. We asked what options are being considered. We did not get a direct answer. They did not want to say what options were being considered. We don’t understand why this was being withheld from us.

Moreover, one of the design team members in effect asked us at the May 24, 2018 meeting if there was no way that open risers could be included in the building. We said “no”. We explained there that they were treating aesthetics as more important than accessibility.

Second, we had indicated at our March 14, 2018 meeting that the three-storey atrium design of the building created several accessibility problems. There would be inconsistent lighting and glare during the day, creating problems for those with low vision. The acoustics present problems for people who are hard of hearing, or people with vision loss who use echo-location to help navigate. People with sensory integration problems, include some with autism, also experience sensory overload in such environments. Eliminating this atrium design would eliminate these problems and create more useable floor space.

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the project team’s solution appeared to be to keep the atrium design, but to consider canopies, overhangs and blinds to control lighting, and some acoustic protections to reduce acoustic problems. We were told about sound and lighting studies being conducted to look into these effects.

We responded that the aesthetic tail appears again to be wagging the dog. If blinds must be adjusted throughout the day to regulate the light in the building, there is the real risk that this will not always happen. We won’t know that these palliative measures will work until the building is built, by which time it is too late. The acoustic studies did not explore the impact of the acoustic measures on echo-location for navigating the building. We could only be satisfied that these palliative measures all worked if we could now visit a comparably-designed building that includes all these lighting and audio features, to test to see if they are reliable and consistently effective.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were not shown the layout for any of the non-public secured areas of the building, but were assured that they would be accessible. We asked to be able to see those designs, on an undertaking of confidentiality if necessary, so we can give feedback. We appreciate that the project team agreed to look into this.

* We were told at the May 24, 2018 meeting that the seating area that was proposed for people with disabilities who are waiting for Wheeltrans would be inside the vestibule, just inside the main doors. The disability sector representatives identified several problems with this.

That seating location only has a direct line of sight to half of the pick-up spots where vehicles would arrive. There is an obstructed view to the rest of those drop-off spots. In addition, this seating is placed between the doors to the outside, and the doors to the main floor. As such, people sitting there will have to endure regular blasts of cold air when waiting during the winter, and hot air during the summer, each time the doors open and close.

* We noted that placing Court Services on the third floor presents real problems. This can be the first stop for many who arrive at the courthouse. They must clutter up the elevators to get there, and then head up from there to their destination. This first stop should be on the main floor.

* We understand that there is no location planned to situate the courthouse’s disability accessibility and accommodation coordinator on the ground floor. We emphasized that they should be readily available on the ground floor, to be a first contact, where needed, for court attendees with disabilities.

* We were told that the public was to be told by way of posted signs about the availability of disability services. We emphasized that this was insufficient, as it will not accommodate those with vision loss or dyslexia. I would add that this would not accommodate those with literacy issues.

* At our earlier March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that only one interview room per floor would be accessible. At the May 24, 2018 meeting we learned that this information had been incorrect. We were told on May 24, 2018 that all of the interview rooms are accessible, but only one room per floor will accommodate a scooter. We were still not able to learn how these rooms are to be assigned, to ensure that they are not simply used by people who don’t need that accessibility feature.

* We learned at the May 24, 2018 meeting that some important accessibility concerns that we raised at our earlier meeting have not been corrected at all. The problematic layout of the six public elevators has not been changed, despite the accessibility concerns. There has also been no change to the plan to have a universal washroom on only eight of the building’s seventeen floors, and not on every floor. No reason for this was given.

* For some of the other concerns we had raised at the March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that it is now too late in the planning process to change certain aspects of the building’s design. This demonstrates that it was wrong for the Government not to consult on accessibility some three years ago, at the design process’s outset.

We look forward to further meetings with the disability sector advisory group, to ensure that the accessibility concerns with this building are all effectively addressed.

June 1, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance

Date: June 1, 2018

Re: Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in New Courthouse Construction in Ontario

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today about the future actions needed to ensure accessibility of the New Toronto Courthouse, about accessibility of the forthcoming new Halton Peel Courthouse (at an earlier stage of design) and about the development of a new Government accessibility standard for new court construction. Here are the key items which we requested and those to which you agreed. If I have anything incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible.

Re the New Toronto Courthouse

I asked that you continue to attend any upcoming meetings of the Disability Sector Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. Your oversight is critically important, in our view. Thank you for being agreeable to this.

We have not been told how many future meetings the Government plans for this Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. I recommended to you that this Advisory Group continue to meet with the Government and its contractors until all the accessibility concerns regarding this courthouse have been effectively resolved. I understood you to be supportive of this.

I explained that it is important in this project, and in each future project, that the Government directly retain the accessibility consultant, retained on these projects, and that this consultant report their accessibility advice directly to the Government. Otherwise, as at present, it appears that their accessibility advice is given to the private architecture firm or other private organization that hired them. What the Government and the public learn about that accessibility advice is only that which the retaining private organization chooses to pass along. The public is paying for that advice. The Government should receive that advice directly, and in its entirety. The public should be able to see this advice as well. I understood that you are going to consider this.

The Halton Peel Courthouse

I understand that the accessibility requirements for the future new Halton Peel courthouse have not yet been finalized. The Project Specific Output Specifications PSOS for that project are still under development.

I recommended that the Government now get advice from the disability community, e.g. from the Disability Sector Advisory Group, as these are being formulated, and certainly long before they are finalized. No longer should we ever be told that it is too late in the design process to take into account an accessibility concern. I understood you to be agreeable to and supportive of this.

I therefore asked that the Government now show us these accessibility requirements at whatever stage they have now reached. Even if they are at a draft or preliminary stage, it would help to see what has been developed so far, so that we can give our feedback. As the New Toronto Courthouse experience revealed once again, the earlier in the design development process this consultation occurs, the better will be the end product.

New Accessibility Standard for Future Courthouses

As we discussed, Bob Topping told the Disability Sector Advisory Group at our inaugural March 14, 2018 meeting that his accessibility consulting firm, DesignAble Environments, was working on a new accessibility standard for new court consultation. Corresponding to this, the lead architect for the EllisDon firm told us at that meeting that when they designed the plans for the New Toronto Courthouse, they used the old accessibility standard that the Ministry has had going back many years.

As a result, I asked you to find out who else, if anyone, is working on this new courthouse accessibility standard, beyond DesignAble Environments? We asked to see that standard in its present state of development. We also proposed that the disability community be consulted on this, as early as possible, in its development. I urged you to contact Mr. Topping to follow up on this and to get more information, since it was he who told us about this work at the March 14, 2018 Advisory Group meeting. You agreed to look into this, including speaking to Mr. Topping. Thank you for agreeing to get back to me on this.

In conclusion there is a clear long term need for problems such as these to be resolved on a Government-wide basis. However, in the meantime, resolving the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities in these courthouse projects cannot await a resolution of broader Government-wide deficiencies in how it deals with planning for the accessibility of new infrastructure construction.

I look forward to hearing from you on the important issues we discussed, and especially on those listed in this letter.

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

The Toronto Star December 29, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/11/05/blind-juror-in-toronto-impaired-driving-case-was-almost-rejected.html

Blind juror was almost rejected

Disability advocates seek removal of courtroom barriers

Betsy Powell Toronto Star

A recent criminal trial at Toronto’s downtown Superior Court featured what may be a first in Ontario: a blind juror.

The fact that is, if not a first, an extremely rare occurrence in Ontario underscores that much more needs to be done to remove the barriers to equal treatment in the criminal justice system, disability advocates say.

“Certainly this applies to ensuring adequate representation of persons with disabilities on juries,” says Luke Reid, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto.

The Criminal Code allows people with vision or hearing disabilities to serve on juries. However, an accused may challenge a juror’s service and the Juries Act deems jurors ineligible if they have “a physical or mental disability that would seriously impair his or her ability to discharge the duties of a juror.”

“However, human rights law would demand that this (or any) requirement not be interpreted in an overbroad way and that persons with disabilities have the right to the necessary accommodations,” Reid wrote in email.

Juror 29743 almost didn’t get picked. While there are likely numerous reasons preventing people with impaired vision from sitting on juries, there is still a “very active debate” around the ability of a “trier of fact” to see a witness’s demeanour in order to assess credibility, Reid noted in an email.

“I think courts tend to err on the side of caution where the right of an accused to a fair trial is potentially at issue.”

This fall, a day before jury selection in an impaired driving causing death trial, prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg told the judge she and defence lawyer Carolyn Kerr had some concerns about a prospective juror, who had shown up at the courthouse with a service dog. Goldenberg told the judge numerous photos would be introduced during the two-week trial.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Rob Goldstein told the lawyers while it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue, he didn’t intend to treat Juror 29743 any differently than other jurors.

“I think it’s something we canvass and we treat her the way we treat any other juror who has a health issue,” Goldstein said. The next day, after Juror 29743 entered the courtroom with her service dog, the judge asked her how she would “deal” with all the photos in the case.

“It would be through description … I cannot see them,” the woman, who works in human resources, told Goldstein.

“OK, all right, so if they are described – you can absorb what’s in them?” the judge asked. She said yes.

The jury selection process continued in the normal course with two already selected jurors, designated as “triers,” deciding whether or not she was an acceptable pick.

Juror 29743 said she had not heard about the case involving a man charged with impaired driving causing death on April 23, 2016, near Jane St. and Humberview Blvd. She also indicated she could consider the evidence without prejudice or bias after being told the accused was a visible minority and Muslim. Nevertheless, the triers immediately rejected her.

Goldstein, however, wasn’t satisfied. He told the triers he was going to reread their instructions and asked them to consult each other again. The test to decide is if a juror would approach jury duty with an open mind and decide the case based solely on the evidence and his legal instructions, the judge told them.

This time, the triers found Juror 29743 acceptable while counsel on both sides said they were “content” with the choice. After a few days of deliberations, the jury returned to court with a guilty verdict. The Star’s attempts to speak to Juror 29743 were unsuccessful.

Lawyer David Lepofsky, a retired Crown attorney who is blind and was not involved in the case, said having a blind juror not only makes the legal system more representative of society, it makes lawyers more effective.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a courtroom that is visual and needs to be explained for the transcript, or audio recording, so having a blind juror will help ensure that happens, “so you get a better record, and it’s better for everybody,” Lepofksy said.

But there are some exceptions where a visually impaired juror might have to be excluded, he added. If, for example, the guilt or innocence of an accused is entirely based on whether a jury believes an accused looks like an assailant captured in a surveillance video.

Lepofksy, now a visiting professor at o University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said traditionally, appeal courts said trial judges were in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses, because they, unlike appeal judges, can access demeanour.

That view has evolved, and now appeal courts are increasingly warning “it’s wrong to over emphasize visual demeanour when assessing credibility.” He uses himself as an example to explain how everyone has different ways of doing that.

“Sighted people use eyes. I listen to a voice … and the whole idea of a jury is it’s a bunch of different people … pooling their different ways of assessing credibility and then voting as a group. Well, who’s to say visual is the only way to do it,” he said.

“Those of us who experience the world non visually, have our own experience too.”

While jurors don’t have to be statistically representative of society, there is an expectation that they bring to the courtroom their own life experience, “drawn from different parts of the community, and they pool to form a collective assessment, a very difficult assessment, who to believe about what happened.”



Source link

Snow Causing Accessibility Issues in North Bay


CTV Northern Ontario’s Brittany Bortolon talks with a North Bay woman who is frustrated with the inaccessibility of bus stops and sidewalks. Brittany Bortolon, Videojournalist, North Bay
@BrittanyCTV
Published Friday, January 25, 2019

A woman in North Bay is sharing her frustration about problems she’s facing with accessible sidewalks and bus stops with the city.

Butterfly Beth Fields uses a wheelchair to get around and says many of the stops in her area aren’t shoveled out, making it difficult for her and other riders facing similar challenges to board the bus.

“Look at all the snow here that I’ve got to get through to get off the road.” said Fields.

This transit rider says she’s fed up with bus stops in the city not being cleared of snow.

“There’s about eight people in this area that are in wheelchairs that need the bus service. I should have the same access to the city bus system that everybody else has.” said Fields.

Fields says she’s fortunate enough to be able to get up out of her chair to push herself through thick snowy parts, but others aren’t so lucky.

“They’re stuck and they rely on the kindness of strangers.” said Fields.

She adds even when she makes it safely across the street, she still has to sit and wait for the bus on the side of the road and hope she doesn’t get hit by a passing car.

But the city says with hundreds of stops and the unpredictable amount of snow, keeping up to every stop can be difficult.

“In the last week or so, we’ve had probably 25 to 30 centimetres in snow fall, so the sidewalk plows are out doing the best they can to clear out the sidewalks, and at the same time clear out the over 300 bus stops we have throughout the city.” said Remi Renaud, of the City of North Bay.

But snow isn’t the only issue riders like Fields face.

She says the older buses can’t lower to ground level the way the newer buses can.

“There’s no curb on a lot of the streets here in North Bay, and this street here has gravel on the side of the shoulders. And whether its snow or just an older bus, I am not physically capable of pushing myself up on the ramp on the wheelchair.” said Fields.

The city says anyone who may have a concern with an inaccessible area or bus stop should forward their concern to the Public Works Department.

Original at https://northernontario.ctvnews.ca/snow-causing-accessibility-issues-in-north-bay-1.4269451#responsive_main



Source link

What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?


The design of public spaces standard of the AODA outlines the need for newly constructed or redeveloped public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities. This requirement may leave people asking: What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

The Design of Public Spaces Standard describes ways to make communal spaces more accessible. Most of the spaces it covers are outdoors. For instance, there are requirements for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Outdoor public eating areas like rest stops or picnic areas
  • Outdoor play spaces, like playgrounds in provincial parks and local communities
  • Accessible parking (on and off street)
  • Outdoor paths of travel, like sidewalks, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals

In contrast, the Ontario Building Code covers rules for the accessibility of most indoor spaces. However, the Design of Public Spaces Standard includes guidelines for service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas with fixed seating. Finally, the Standard also covers the maintenance and restoration of public spaces.

Who does the Standard Apply To?

The standard applies to new spaces and buildings. It also applies to existing spaces undergoing major renovations. However, existing spaces that do not need major reconstruction do not need to comply.

Furthermore, public sector organizations, and private organizations with fifty or more workers, need to make all of these types of space accessible. In contrast, private organizations with fewer than fifty workers are only required to obey guidelines for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Accessible parking
  • Service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas
  • Maintenance and restoration of public spaces

Why do we need the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

Public spaces are everywhere. We enter public space the moment we step out of our front doors to go anywhere, whether it is down the sidewalk to visit a neighbour, to the beach for a day of fun with friends, to the parking lot of the grocery store, or to the playground with our children. The Design of Public Spaces Standard brings us closer to a province where every person can take all these journeys.



Source link

Accessible Transportation for Colleges, Universities, and Hospitals in Ontario


Under the Transportation Standard of the AODA, colleges, universities, and hospitals that offer transportation services around or between their campuses must make those services accessible upon request. Accessible transportation for colleges, universities, and hospitals applies to all:

  • Public hospitals in Ontario
  • Colleges of applied arts or technology in Ontario
  • Ontario universities, including affiliated or federated colleges, that receive yearly government operating grants

Moreover, these organizations may use integrated or equivalent services.

Integrated Transportation

Some colleges, universities, and hospitals may run their transportation services using accessible vehicles. The section of the Transportation Standard dealing with colleges, universities, and hospitals gives little guidance about what accessibility involves. However, earlier sections of the standard dealing with conventional transit in general offer detailed lists and descriptions of accessible features that should be useful as a guideline for organizations integrating their services. For instance, these features include:

  • Level entrances, ramps, or lifts
  • Spaces for people using mobility devices
  • No charge for storing mobility devices
  • Courtesy seating for passengers with disabilities
  • Audio and visual announcements
  • Stop request and emergency response buttons at a height someone using a mobility device can reach
  • Information about services, such as routes, times, and delays, in accessible formats

In addition, other features of vehicles, such as steps, floors, handholds, signage, and lighting, should conform to regulations in the Standard.

Equivalent Transportation

Colleges, universities, and hospitals are not required to retrofit vehicles that do not adhere to these guidelines. Instead, if their vehicles are not accessible, organizations must offer equivalent transportation services for passengers with disabilities. Furthermore, these equivalent services must have similar routes, schedules, and payment structures to those of the organizations’ conventional transit.

Why we Need Accessible Transportation for Colleges, Universities, and Hospitals

Students, patients, and others must be able to easily go from one point on campus to another or between hospitals in different parts of a city. Therefore, transportation is a key part of college, university, and hospital life. Accessible transportation for colleges, universities, and hospitals ensures that all people have this freedom of movement.

 



Source link

The Ford Government Continues Its Freeze on the Work to Remove Barriers in Ontario’s Education System Against Hundreds of Thousands of Students With Disabilities, While the Media Shines A Much-Needed Spotlight on One Troubling Barrier ? The Sweeping Power of School Principals to Exclude a Student from School


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

January 24, 2019

SUMMARY

There have been 216 days since work on developing a new Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was frozen in the wake of the election of Ontario’s new Government. The work of the two Education Standards Development Committees, appointed to recommend reforms in Ontario’s school system (the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee) and in Ontario’s colleges and universities (the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee), still remains on hold. School boards, colleges and universities continue to leave disability barriers in place. They spend public money to create new barriers, without an AODA Education Accessibility Standard in place to stop that from continuing.

In the meantime, It is great that the Globe and Mail recently focused attention on one of the troubling and recurring barriers in Ontario’s school system that we have wanted to raise at the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee one which the Ontario Human Rights Commission has identified as a human rights issue. It is the sweeping and arbitrary power of any school principal to exclude a student from school. The outdated section 265(1)(m) of Ontario’s Education Act provides:

“265. (1) It is the duty of a principal of a school, in addition to the principals duties as a teacher,

(m) subject to an appeal to the board, to refuse to admit to the school or classroom a person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principals judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils; ”

We have been concerned that this power can be and is misused, especially to keep some students with special education needs away from school. Below we set forth a powerful article in the January 9, 2019 edition of the Globe and Mail focusing on this issue. An earlier January 5, 2019 Globe and Mail article also addresses this issue.

This unfair power is sometimes called the power to exclude a student from school and at other times is called the power to refuse to admit a student to school. It needs to be substantially reined in.

The status quo is unacceptable. Principals have a sweeping discretion to exclude students from school, without any real accountability. Students and their families need not be given proper notice, reasons or due process. Refusals to admit can go on for days, weeks or months. A school board need never track how often students are excluded from school, or for how long, or for what reason.

Last September, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a much better way to deal with this issue. The Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) of the Toronto District School Board passed a detailed motion over one year ago, in January 2018. It called for TDSB to adopt a policy that will ensure that this power is not abused or misused. It includes great ideas on how to deal with this issue.

We support that TDSB SEAC recommendation, which we set out below. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky led the development of that recommendation while he served as chair of TDSB’s SEAC. All are still awaiting a new TDSB policy or procedure on refusals to admit a student to school. Earlier this month, TDSB staff told the TDSB SEAC that a draft policy would be shared with them shortly. We do not yet know how much, if any, of the SEAC recommendation will be adopted.

We offer two important observations on the January 9, 2019 Globe and Mail article that is set out below. First, the article, which is otherwise very commendable, incorrectly confuses the issue of exclusions from school or refusals to admit a student to school, on the one hand, with issues surrounding inclusion of students with disabilities in a regular classroom on the other. This can be a distraction from the problems with the use of the power to exclude a student from school.

When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that means that the student is entirely shut out from school, pure and simple. They are excluded from any and all classrooms, be it inclusion in the regular classroom or taking part in a separate or special education class. Any discussion over whether a student should be placed in the regular classroom (inclusion or integration) or in a special education classroom does not even arise when the principal forbids that student from even coming to school at all. It is wrong to confuse the issue of exclusions from school with the issue of when students with special education needs should be included in the regular classroom.

Second, the Globe article focuses in part on situations where a principal excludes a student from school due to violence. Yet the concern has been raised that principals don’t only refuse students from school due to violence.

When will the Ford Government let us know what it is going to do with the Education Standards Development Committees? As we announced in the January 20, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Government now says it is awaiting the report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review before it decides what to do with these Standards Development Committees. The same goes for the Health Care Standards Development Committee, whose work has also been frozen since the June 2018 Ontario election. CBC asked the Ford Government about this freeze on the work of Standards Development Committees in August and November 2018. Back then, the Ford Government did not say it was awaiting David Onley’s report. Had it done so, we would have pressed Mr. Onley to immediately issue an interim report addressing the need to lift that freeze.

We urge one and all to send David Onley a short email as soon as possible. Please tell him if you support the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief on how to strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, including our call for the Ford Government to immediately lift its freeze on the Education and Health Care Standards Development Committees . You can email David Onley at [email protected]

MORE DETAILS
Globe and Mail, January 7, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-advocates-for-students-with-disabilities-call-on-ontario-to-stop/ Autism advocates push Ontario to ban school exclusions

By CAROLINE ALPHONSO
Staff

Autism advocates in Ontario are calling on the province to remove a principal’s power to exclude students from school for an indefinite period, saying it is being misused as a disciplinary measure that disproportionately targets children with special needs.

A Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up kids early, start the school day later or simply keep them home for days.

Most school districts don’t formally track these exclusions or shortened days. Informally, parent and advocacy groups have documented the problem and have seen a rise in the incidence of these events.

The Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) wrote in a recent letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson that principals are using what it deemed an “outdated” provision in the Education Act to exclude children from school. The group said it violates the rights of children to an inclusive education and has requested a meeting with the minister.

On Saturday, The Globe highlighted the story of Grayson Kahn, a seven-year-old boy diagnosed with autism who was expelled in November from his school in Guelph, Ont., after an incident in which he struck an educational assistant, leaving her with bruises, scrapes and a concussion. Expulsions such as Grayson’s are rare and involve a report by the principal and a hearing by a committee of the school board.

Advocates for students with disabilities say exclusions are much more common and are generally informal: Parents are often given verbal notice; it is usually done at a principal’s discretion; and it can last for months.

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the OAC, said in an interview on Sunday that her parentrun group understands that principals are struggling to support children with very complex needs, but refusing to admit them to school is problematic. She said she’s seen one child being excluded from school for a year. Her own son was excluded for six months.

“We recognize as an organization that our kids are challenging to educate. The solution to that is complex. But the solution that’s being used now is we’ll just throw the kids out,” she said.

“Our kids are not disposable.

They’re not easy to educate. And for some of them, it may be that full inclusion is not the solution.

But neither is full exclusion.”

A spokeswoman for Ms. Thompson did not address the question of how the minister plans to address the situation.

In an e-mail statement, Kayla Iafelice said that exclusions are not to be used as a form of discipline. She added: “Our government’s top priority will always be to ensure that every student in Ontario has access to a meaningful education in safe and supportive school environments.”

Including special-needs students with behavioural issues in regular classrooms has become a matter of debate in many parts of the country, and some educators wonder if it’s gone too far without a rethinking of how children with diverse needs are taught.

Teachers report an increase in violence in schools, from threats to physical attacks, that they say makes teaching more difficult.

Glen Hansman, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, said there has been some good work over the past few years to recognize and address the issue of violence in classrooms. But “we still have a long way to go because … the supports in the classrooms aren’t necessarily as they should be to make sure that people are safe,” he said.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, noted an increase in the number of elementary and secondary school principals who report recommending a special-education student stay home for at least part of a day. The organization found 58 per cent of elementary school heads and 48 per cent of high school principals made the request, up from 48 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in 2014.

Similarly, a survey of parents of children with special needs released in November, 2017, by the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils found that children with special needs were missing anywhere from half an hour to three hours of school a day, or being told to stay home because of staff shortages. A number of children, the survey found, were sent home because of behavioural incidents at school and these exclusions, which were undocumented, would continue for days or weeks.

The North Vancouver and Greater Victoria school districts passed motions this fall to record how many children with special needs are being asked to stay home, or are sent home early or dropped off late and being excluded from field trips.

“It is useful, for the school district and for parents, to have formally tracked information about modified instructional schedules. This can help to provide the best possible educational programs for all students,” said Deneka Michaud, a spokeswoman for the North Vancouver School District.

Toronto District School Board Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) Motion #6 Need for TDSB to Establish A Policy on “Refusals to Admit”

BACKGROUND

At its February 2017 meeting, SEAC received a presentation by the ARCH Disability Law Centre. It raised concerns that school boards, including TDSB, at times inappropriately use “refusals to admit” students to school. This issue can significantly affect students with special education needs and all students with disabilities. A school or principal may tell a their family to keep the student at home for hours, days, or longer, without giving reasons or following safeguards required when a student is suspended or expelled.

ARCH told SEAC it learned that TDSB did not then centrally collect statistics on how often these exclusions occur. ARCH expressed concerns (not limited to TDSB) for example, that a school may tell a family to keep a student with a disability at home, either because proper accommodations have not yet been arranged at school, or because supports, such as a Special Needs Assistant, were away. ARCH said when ARCH lawyers intervene, these situations are more likely corrected (again, not limited to TDSB).

TDSB staff made presentations to SEAC at its May, June and November 2017 meetings. TDSB staff said TDSB has no policy on the use of refusals to admit. Practices can vary from school to school. TDSB has a procedure (not a policy) regarding appeals from a refusal to admit. TDSB staff have been working on draft reforms after SEAC raised this.

Recommendation

SEAC recommends as follows:
TDSB Needs a Refusal to Admit Policy
1. TDSB should promptly adopt a comprehensive, mandatory policy on when TDSB will exercise any power to refuse to admit a student to school. What is a Refusal to Admit?
2. The refusal to admit policy should have no loopholes that would let a principal or teacher exclude a student informally without complying with the policy.
a) A “refusal to admit” should include any time TDSB formally or informally asks or directs that a student not attend school, or that the student be removed from school, whether in writing or in a discussion
b) A refusal to admit includes a TDSB request or direction that a student only attend school for part of the regular school day.
c) A refusal to admit does not include a situation where a family requests that a student be absent from school for all or part of a school day, but TDSB is willing to let the student attend school. Ensuring Alternative Education to Student Whom TDSB Refuses to Admit to School
3. The “refusal to admit” policy should require TDSB to ensure that a student, excluded from attending school, is provided an equivalent and sufficient educational program, and that TDSB keeps record of and publicly accounts for its doing so. When a Refusal to Admit is Allowed
4. The policy should specifically spell out the situations when TDSB can consider refusing to admit a student, including:
a) A refusal to admit should only be imposed when necessary to protect health and safety. b) A refusal to admit should go no further and last no longer than is necessary.
c) A principal should only resort to a refusal to admit if the principal can demonstrate that the student presents an imminent risk to health or safety which cannot be addressed by lesser measures, such as suspension.
d) If a refusal to admit is to take place, the first resort should be to exclude the student from a specific class, accommodating that student in another class. Only if that can’t be sufficient, should a principal consider excluding the student from that school, accommodating the student at another school. TDSB should only refuse to admit a student from any and all schools if it is impossible to accommodate them at any other school.
e) The policy should give clear examples of the circumstances when a refusal to admit is permitted, and when it is not permitted.
f) A refusal to admit should not be allowed to last more than five consecutive school days.
g) TDSB should justify the refusal to admit. It should not be for the student or the students family to justify why the student should be allowed to attend school.
h) When TDSB staff decide whether to refuse to admit a student, they should take into account all mitigating considerations that are considered when deciding whether to suspend or expel a student.
i) TDSB should not refuse to admit a student with a disability on the ground that TDSB staff believe they cannot accommodate the student’s needs, e.g. because staff is absent. Extension of Refusal to Admit
5. The policy should set these terms:
a) If after a refusal to admit expires, TDSB wants to extend it, TDSB staff must justify it.
b) The student’s family need not prove why the student should be allowed to return.
c) An extension of a refusal to admit must first consider excluding the student from a single class, and then the option of excluding the student from that school, and only as a last resort, excluding the student from all schools.
d) An extension should not be permitted if TDSB has not put in place an effective alternative option for the student to receive education. Fair Procedure
6. The “refusal to admit” policy should set out fair procedures that TDSB must follow when refusing to admit a student. These procedures should ensure accountability of TDSB and its employees, including:
a) A student and their families should have all the procedural protections that are required when TDSB is going to impose discipline such as a suspension or expulsion.
b) The principal should be required to notify the school superintendent in writing that the principal is going to refuse to admit a student and the reasons for this.
c) The prior review and approval of the superintendent should be required. If it is an emergency, then the superintendent should be required to review and approve this decision as quickly afterwards as possible, or else the refusal to admit should be terminated.
d) The superintendent should independently assess whether TDSB has sufficient grounds to refuse to admit, and has met all the requirements of the TDSB refusal to admit policy (including ensuring alternative education programming is in place for the student).
e) The principal should be required to immediately notify the student and his or her family in writing of the refusal to admit, the reasons for it, and the duration. That should include outlining steps that TDSB has taken or will be taking to expedite a students return to school and provide an expected timeline for the completion of these steps.
f) The principal should immediately tell the student and the student’s family, in clear and plain language, in writing, what a refusal to admit is, its duration, the reasons for it, the steps TDSB is taking to expedite the students return to school and time lines for those steps, the TDSB’s process for reviewing that decision, and the family’s right to appeal it (including how to use that right of appeal). This should be provided in a language that the family speaks.
g) These procedures should again be followed any time TDSB extends a refusal to admit.
h) A refusal to admit should not be extended for an accumulated total of more than 15 days (within a surrounding 30 day period) without the independent review and written approval of the executive superintendent of the Learning Centre where that student ordinarily attends.
i) No refusal to admit should be extended for an accumulated total of more than 20 days (within a surrounding 45 day period) without the independent review and written approval of the Director of Education. Appeals
7. The refusal to admit policy should include a fair and prompt appeal process which includes:
a) The appeal should be to officials at TDSB who had no involvement with the initial decision to refuse to admit or any extensions of it.
b) TDSB should promptly inform the student and the student’s family about how to start an appeal, who decides the appeal, the procedures for the appeal, that the student and family can present reports, support people or experts or any other information they wish, and can have a representative, either a lawyer or other person, to speak for them or assist them with the appeal. c) The appeal should include an in-person meeting with the student and family. d) The appeal should be heard and decided very promptly.
e) On the appeal, the TDSB should have the burden to prove that the refusal to admit was justified, that it went no further and lasted no longer than was necessary, and that proper alternative education programming was provided or offered. f) A decision on the appeal should promptly be provided in writing with reasons. Accountability and Transparency of TDSB’s Refusals to Admit
8. The policy should include:
a) TDSB should set a unique code for marking attendance for a student who is absent from school for all or part of a day due to a refusal to admit.
g) Each principal should be required to immediately report to their superiors in writing whenever a student is excluded from school, including the student’s name, whether the student has special education needs or otherwise has a disability, the reason for the exclusion, the intended duration of the exclusion, and the substitute educational programming that will be provided to the student while excluded from school. c) TDSB should centrally collect these reports.
d) TDSB should make public quarterly aggregated data (without any names or identifying information) on the number of refusals to admit, reasons for them, percentage that involve , students with special education needs or any kind of disability, the number of days missed from school, and measures to provide alternative education during refusals to admit. Funding for Emergency Disability Accommodation Needs
9. To help ensure that refusals to admit are not used due to a failure to accommodate a student’s disability up to the point of undue hardship, the TDSB should create an emergency fund for accelerating education disability accommodations needed to facilitate a student’s remaining at or promptly returning to school, in connection with an actual or contemplated refusal to admit.

Interim Safeguards
10. Starting immediately, and until a new refusal to admit policy is approved, TDSB should require that any formal or informal refusal to admit a student be in writing, with reasons for it, and with the student’s family being told of their right to appeal under the existing TDSB appeal procedure. TDSB should require that any refusals to admit during this period be centrally reported in writing, with statistics reported quarterly to the Board, the public and SEAC.



Source link

The Ford Government Continues Its Freeze on the Work to Remove Barriers in Ontario’s Education System Against Hundreds of Thousands of Students With Disabilities, While the Media Shines A Much-Needed Spotlight on One Troubling Barrier – The Sweeping Power of School Principals to Exclude a Student from School


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org  [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

The Ford Government Continues Its Freeze on the Work to Remove Barriers in Ontario’s Education System Against Hundreds of Thousands of Students With Disabilities, While the Media Shines A Much-Needed Spotlight on One Troubling Barrier – The Sweeping Power of School Principals to Exclude a Student from School

January 24, 2019

          SUMMARY

There have been 216 days since work on developing a new Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was frozen in the wake of the election of Ontario’s new Government. The work of the two Education Standards Development Committees, appointed to recommend reforms in Ontario’s school system (the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee) and in Ontario’s colleges and universities (the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee), still remains on hold. School boards, colleges and universities continue to leave disability barriers in place. They spend public money to create new barriers, without an AODA Education Accessibility Standard in place to stop that from continuing.

In the meantime, It is great that the Globe and Mail recently focused attention on one of the troubling and recurring barriers in Ontario’s school system that we have wanted to raise at the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee – one which the Ontario Human Rights Commission has identified as a human rights issue. It is the sweeping and arbitrary power of any school principal to exclude a student from school. The outdated section 265(1)(m) of Ontario’s Education Act provides:

“265.  (1)  It is the duty of a principal of a school, in addition to the principal’s duties as a teacher,…

… (m) subject to an appeal to the board, to refuse to admit to the school or classroom a person whose presence in the school or classroom would in the principal’s judgment be detrimental to the physical or mental well-being of the pupils; …”

We have been concerned that this power can be and is misused, especially to keep some students with special education needs away from school. Below we set forth a powerful article in the January 9, 2019 edition of the Globe and Mail focusing on this issue. An earlier January 5, 2019 Globe and Mail article also addresses this issue.

This unfair power is sometimes called the power to exclude a student from school and at other times is called the power to refuse to admit a student to school. It needs to be substantially reined in.

The status quo is unacceptable. Principals have a sweeping discretion to exclude students from school, without any real accountability. Students and their families need not be given proper notice, reasons or due process. Refusals to admit can go on for days, weeks or months. A school board need never track how often students are excluded from school, or for how long, or for what reason.

Last September, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a new policy on accessible education for students with disabilities. Its recommendations to the Ontario Government included, among other things:

“9. Identify and end the practice of exclusion wherein principals ask parents to keep primary and secondary students with disabilities home from school for part or all of the school day (and the role that an improper use of section 265(1)(m) of the Education Act may be playing in this practice).”

There is a much better way to deal with this issue. The Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) of the Toronto District School Board passed a detailed motion over one year ago, in January 2018. It called for TDSB to adopt a policy that will ensure that this power is not abused or misused. It includes great ideas on how to deal with this issue.

We support that TDSB SEAC recommendation, which we set out below. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky led the development of that recommendation while he served as chair of TDSB’s SEAC. All are still awaiting a new TDSB policy or procedure on refusals to admit a student to school. Earlier this month, TDSB staff told the TDSB SEAC that a draft policy would be shared with them shortly. We do not yet know how much, if any, of the SEAC recommendation will be adopted.

We offer two important observations on the January 9, 2019 Globe and Mail article that is set out below. First, the article, which is otherwise very commendable, incorrectly confuses the issue of exclusions from school or refusals to admit a student to school, on the one hand, with issues surrounding inclusion of students with disabilities in a regular classroom on the other. This can be a distraction from the problems with the use of the power to exclude a student from school.

When a principal refuses to admit a student to school, that means that the student is entirely shut out from school, pure and simple. They are excluded from any and all classrooms, be it inclusion in the regular classroom or taking part in a separate or special education class. Any discussion over whether a student should be placed in the regular classroom (inclusion or integration) or in a special education classroom does not even arise when the principal forbids that student from even coming to school at all. It is wrong to confuse the issue of exclusions from school with the issue of when students with special education needs should be included in the regular classroom.

Second, the Globe article focuses in part on situations where a principal excludes a student from school due to violence. Yet the concern has been raised that principals don’t only refuse students from school due to violence.

When will the Ford Government let us know what it is going to do with the Education Standards Development Committees? As we announced in the January 20, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Government now says it is awaiting the report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review before it decides what to do with these Standards Development Committees. The same goes for the Health Care Standards Development Committee, whose work has also been frozen since the June 2018 Ontario election. CBC asked the Ford Government about this freeze on the work of Standards Development Committees  in August and November 2018. Back then, the Ford Government did not say it was awaiting David Onley’s report. Had it done so, we would have pressed Mr. Onley to immediately issue an interim report addressing the need to lift that freeze.

We urge one and all to send David Onley a short email as soon as possible. Please tell him if you support the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief on how to strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, including our call for the Ford Government to immediately lift its freeze on the Education and Health Care Standards Development Committees . You can email David Onley at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

 Globe and Mail,  January 7, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.theglobeandmail.com/canada/article-advocates-for-students-with-disabilities-call-on-ontario-to-stop/

Autism advocates push Ontario to ban school exclusions

By CAROLINE ALPHONSO

Staff

Autism advocates in Ontario are calling on the province to remove a principal’s power to exclude students from school for an indefinite period, saying it is being misused as a disciplinary measure that disproportionately targets children with special needs.

A Globe and Mail analysis found that families with children who have intellectual and developmental disabilities are increasingly being asked to pick up kids early, start the school day later or simply keep them home for days.

Most school districts don’t formally track these exclusions or shortened days. Informally, parent and advocacy groups have documented the problem and have seen a rise in the incidence of these events.

The Ontario Autism Coalition (OAC) wrote in a recent letter to Education Minister Lisa Thompson that principals are using what it deemed an “outdated” provision in the Education Act to exclude children from school. The group said it violates the rights of children to an inclusive education and has requested a meeting with the minister.

On Saturday, The Globe highlighted the story of Grayson Kahn, a seven-year-old boy diagnosed with autism who was expelled in November from his school in Guelph, Ont., after an incident in which he struck an educational assistant, leaving her with bruises, scrapes and a concussion. Expulsions such as Grayson’s are rare and involve a report by the principal and a hearing by a committee of the school board.

Advocates for students with disabilities say exclusions are much more common and are generally informal: Parents are often given verbal notice; it is usually done at a principal’s discretion; and it can last for months.

Laura Kirby-McIntosh, president of the OAC, said in an interview on Sunday that her parentrun group understands that principals are struggling to support children with very complex needs, but refusing to admit them to school is problematic. She said she’s seen one child being excluded from school for a year. Her own son was excluded for six months.

“We recognize as an organization that our kids are challenging to educate. The solution to that is complex. But the solution that’s being used now is we’ll just throw the kids out,” she said.

“Our kids are not disposable.

They’re not easy to educate. And for some of them, it may be that full inclusion is not the solution.

But neither is full exclusion.”

A spokeswoman for Ms. Thompson did not address the question of how the minister plans to address the situation.

In an e-mail statement, Kayla Iafelice said that exclusions are not to be used as a form of discipline. She added: “Our government’s top priority will always be to ensure that every student in Ontario has access to a meaningful education in safe and supportive school environments.”

Including special-needs students with behavioural issues in regular classrooms has become a matter of debate in many parts of the country, and some educators wonder if it’s gone too far without a rethinking of how children with diverse needs are taught.

Teachers report an increase in violence in schools, from threats to physical attacks, that they say makes teaching more difficult.

Glen Hansman, president of the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation, said there has been some good work over the past few years to recognize and address the issue of violence in classrooms. But “we still have a long way to go because … the supports in the classrooms aren’t necessarily as they should be to make sure that people are safe,” he said.

People for Education, an Ontario advocacy group, noted an increase in the number of elementary and secondary school principals who report recommending a special-education student stay home for at least part of a day. The organization found 58 per cent of elementary school heads and 48 per cent of high school principals made the request, up from 48 per cent and 40 per cent, respectively, in 2014.

Similarly, a survey of parents of children with special needs released in November, 2017, by the BC Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils found that children with special needs were missing anywhere from half an hour to three hours of school a day, or being told to stay home because of staff shortages. A number of children, the survey found, were sent home because of behavioural incidents at school and these exclusions, which were undocumented, would continue for days or weeks.

The North Vancouver and Greater Victoria school districts passed motions this fall to record how many children with special needs are being asked to stay home, or are sent home early or dropped off late and being excluded from field trips.

“It is useful, for the school district and for parents, to have formally tracked information about modified instructional schedules. This can help to provide the best possible educational programs for all students,” said Deneka Michaud, a spokeswoman for the North Vancouver School District.

Toronto District School Board Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC)

Motion #6 Need for TDSB to Establish A Policy on “Refusals to Admit”

BACKGROUND

At its February 2017 meeting, SEAC received a presentation by the ARCH Disability Law Centre. It raised concerns that school boards, including TDSB, at times inappropriately use “refusals to admit” students to school. This issue can significantly affect students with special education needs and all students with disabilities. A school or principal may tell a their family to keep the student at home for hours, days, or longer, without giving reasons or following safeguards required when a student is suspended or expelled.

ARCH told SEAC it learned that TDSB did not then centrally collect statistics on how often these exclusions occur. ARCH expressed concerns (not limited to TDSB) for example, that a school may tell a family to keep a student with a disability at home, either because proper accommodations have not yet been arranged at school, or because supports, such as a Special Needs Assistant, were away. ARCH said when ARCH lawyers intervene, these situations are more likely corrected (again, not limited to TDSB).

TDSB staff made presentations to SEAC at its May, June and November 2017 meetings. TDSB staff said TDSB has no policy on the use of refusals to admit. Practices can vary from school to school. TDSB has a procedure (not a policy) regarding appeals from a refusal to admit. TDSB staff  have been working on draft reforms after SEAC raised this.

Recommendation

SEAC recommends as follows:

TDSB Needs a Refusal to Admit Policy
  1. TDSB should promptly adopt a comprehensive, mandatory policy on when TDSB will exercise any power to refuse to admit a student to school.
What is a Refusal to Admit?
  1. The refusal to admit policy should have no loopholes that would let a principal or teacher exclude a student informally without complying with the policy.
  2. a) A “refusal to admit” should include any time TDSB formally or informally asks or directs that a student not attend school, or that the student be removed from school, whether in writing or in a discussion
  3. b) A refusal to admit includes a TDSB request or direction that a student only attend school for part of the regular school day.
  4. c) A refusal to admit does not include a situation where a family requests that a student be absent from school for all or part of a school day, but TDSB is willing to let the student attend school.
Ensuring Alternative Education to Student Whom TDSB Refuses to Admit to School
  1. The “refusal to admit” policy should require TDSB to ensure that a student, excluded from attending school, is provided an equivalent and sufficient educational program, and that TDSB keeps record of and publicly accounts for its doing so.
When a Refusal to Admit is Allowed
  1. The policy should specifically spell out the situations when TDSB can consider refusing to admit a student, including:
  2. a) A refusal to admit should only be imposed when necessary to protect health and safety.
  3. b) A refusal to admit should go no further and last no longer than is necessary.
  4. c) A principal should only resort to a refusal to admit if the principal can demonstrate that the student presents an imminent risk to health or safety which cannot be addressed by lesser measures, such as suspension.
  5. d) If a refusal to admit is to take place, the first resort should be to exclude the student from a specific class, accommodating that student in another class. Only if that can’t be sufficient, should a principal consider excluding the student from that school, accommodating the student at another school. TDSB should only refuse to admit a student from any and all schools if it is impossible to accommodate them at any other school.
  6. e) The policy should give clear examples of the circumstances when a refusal to admit is permitted, and when it is not permitted.
  7. f) A refusal to admit should not be allowed to last more than five consecutive school days.
  8. g) TDSB should justify the refusal to admit. It should not be for the student or the student’s family to justify why the student should be allowed to attend school.
  9. h) When TDSB staff decide whether to refuse to admit a student, they should take into account all mitigating considerations that are considered when deciding whether to suspend or expel a student.
  10. i) TDSB should not refuse to admit a student with a disability on the ground that TDSB staff believe they cannot accommodate the student’s needs, e.g. because staff is absent.
Extension of Refusal to Admit
  1. The policy should set these terms:
  2. a) If after a refusal to admit expires, TDSB wants to extend it, TDSB staff must justify it.
  3. b) The student’s family need not prove why the student should be allowed to return.
  4. c) An extension of a refusal to admit must first consider excluding the student from a single class, and then the option of excluding the student from that school, and only as a last resort, excluding the student from all schools.
  5. d) An extension should not be permitted if TDSB has not put in place an effective alternative option for the student to receive education.
Fair Procedure
  1. The “refusal to admit” policy should set out fair procedures that TDSB must follow when refusing to admit a student. These procedures should ensure accountability of TDSB and its employees, including:
  2. a) A student and their families should have all the procedural protections that are required when TDSB is going to impose discipline such as a suspension or expulsion.
  3. b) The principal should be required to notify the school superintendent in writing that the principal is going to refuse to admit a student and the reasons for this.
  4. c) The prior review and approval of the superintendent should be required. If it is an emergency, then the superintendent should be required to review and approve this decision as quickly afterwards as possible, or else the refusal to admit should be terminated.
  5. d) The superintendent should independently assess whether TDSB has sufficient grounds to refuse to admit, and has met all the requirements of the TDSB refusal to admit policy (including ensuring alternative education programming is in place for the student).
  6. e) The principal should be required to immediately notify the student and his or her family in writing of the refusal to admit, the reasons for it, and the duration. That should include outlining steps that TDSB has taken or will be taking to expedite a student’s return to school and provide an expected timeline for the completion of these steps.
  7. f) The principal should immediately tell the student and the student’s family, in clear and plain language, in writing, what a refusal to admit is, its duration, the reasons for it, the steps TDSB is taking to expedite the student’s return to school and time lines for those steps, the TDSB’s process for reviewing that decision, and the family’s right to appeal it (including how to use that right of appeal). This should be provided in a language that the family speaks.
  8. g) These procedures should again be followed any time TDSB extends a refusal to admit.
  9. h) A refusal to admit should not be extended for an accumulated total of more than 15 days (within a surrounding 30 day period) without the independent review and written approval of the executive superintendent of the Learning Centre where that student ordinarily attends.
  10. i) No refusal to admit should be extended for an accumulated total of more than 20 days (within a surrounding 45 day period) without the independent review and written approval of the Director of Education.
Appeals
  1. The refusal to admit policy should include a fair and prompt appeal process which includes:
  2. a) The appeal should be to officials at TDSB who had no involvement with the initial decision to refuse to admit or any extensions of it.
  3. b) TDSB should promptly inform the student and the student’s family about how to start an appeal, who decides the appeal, the procedures for the appeal, that the student and family can present reports, support people or experts or any other information they wish, and can have a representative, either a lawyer or other person, to speak for them or assist them with the appeal.
  4. c) The appeal should include an in-person meeting with the student and family.
  5. d) The appeal should be heard and decided very promptly.
  6. e) On the appeal, the TDSB should have the burden to prove that the refusal to admit was justified, that it went no further and lasted no longer than was necessary, and that proper alternative education programming was provided or offered.
  7. f) A decision on the appeal should promptly be provided in writing with reasons.
Accountability and Transparency of TDSB’s Refusals to Admit
  1. The policy should include:
  2. a) TDSB should set a unique code for marking attendance for a student who is absent from school for all or part of a day due to a refusal to admit.
  3. g) Each principal should be required to immediately report to their superiors in writing whenever a student is excluded from school, including the student’s name, whether the student has special education needs or otherwise has a disability, the reason for the exclusion, the intended duration of the exclusion, and the substitute educational programming that will be provided to the student while excluded from school.
  4. c) TDSB should centrally collect these reports.
  5. d) TDSB should make public quarterly aggregated data (without any names or identifying information) on the number of refusals to admit, reasons for them, percentage that involve , students with special education needs or any kind of disability, the number of days missed from school, and measures to provide alternative education during refusals to admit.
Funding for Emergency Disability Accommodation Needs
  1. To help ensure that refusals to admit are not used due to a failure to accommodate a student’s disability up to the point of undue hardship, the TDSB should create an emergency fund for accelerating education disability accommodations needed to facilitate a student’s remaining at or promptly returning to school, in connection with an actual or contemplated refusal to admit.

Interim Safeguards

Starting immediately, and until a new refusal to admit policy is approved, TDSB should require that any formal or informal refusal to admit a student be in writing, with reasons for it, and with the student’s family being told of their right to appeal under the existing TDSB appeal procedure. TDSB should require that any refusals to admit during this period be centrally reported in writing, with statistics reported quarterly to the Board, the public and SEAC.



Source link