Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic
June 30, 2020
With the delight of summer and the ongoing terrible stress of COVID-19 both upon us, here is a grab-bag of latest news in our multi-front campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. We wish one and all a safe, happy and accessible Canada Day.
1. Support Keeps Growing for the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on Protecting Students with Disabilities During the Transition to School Re-opening
An impressive list of 12 disability-related organizations have now endorsed the 19 recommendations to the Ford Government in the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance brief on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the transition to school re-openings. Those organizations now include:
- March of Dimes of Canada
- Citizens with Disabilities Ontario
- Community Living Ontario
- Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
- The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
- the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University
- Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy
- Balance for Blind Adults
- The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford
- Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired)
- Ontario Autism Coalition
- Integration Action for Inclusion
As we announced on June 26,2020, our brief’s recommendations have also been endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of public high school teachers. Thus our recommendations have a broad consensus of support from a diversity of voices within the front lines of the disability community and from teachers who work at the front lines of our education system.
It is not too late for you as an individual, or for an organization with which you are connected, to write the Ministry of Education to endorse the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on school re-openings. Email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. We’d welcome the chance to add more organizations to this list.
2. What Has TVO Done to Fix Its Website Accessibility Problems?
The Ford Government has repeatedly announced that it has partnered with TVO to deliver online learning content to students during distance learning, while schools are closed due to COVID-19. Back on May 4, 2020, we made public the fact that there are significant accessibility problems with the online learning resources offered on the website of TVO, Ontario’s publicly-owned and operated public education TV network. This was revealed during the May 4, 2020 virtual town hall that was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We are proud that since then, over 1,600 people have watched that virtual town hall. It is still available online for you to watch, and for you to share with others to watch!
Since we revealed this problem, the AODA Alliance has expressed its concerns in detail to TVO in a 30-minute phone call on May 14, 2020 between AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the TVO vice president for digital content. The AODA Alliance followed this up with a detailed letter to TVO’s digital content vice president on May 21, 2020. We have also raised this issue at the highest levels within the Ministry of Education. The Ministry oversees TVO.
Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO. TVO has not told us of anything it has done, if it has done anything, to act on the serious accessibility problems we identified and the concrete recommendations for action that we offered.
3. More Media on the Impact of COVID-19on People with Disabilities
For more than three months, our media has devoted most of its attention to the COVID-19 crisis. Despite that, it has been incredibly hard for the disability community to get sufficient and appropriate media attention on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people with disabilities, and on the failure of our governments to effectively address the unmet needs of people with disabilities during this pandemic. We have tried hard and will continue to try hard to get the media to properly cover these issues.
Set out below are three good media reports that have accrued over the past weeks that we’ve wanted to share with you:
- An article in the June 23, 2020 Mississauga News on the barriers for people with disabilities that are threatened by Mississauga’s approach to allowing restaurants to open patios to serve the public. For practical suggestions on how to ensure such patios are accessible to people with disabilities, and don’t create barriers to people with disabilities, check out a list of tips from DesignAble Environments, an accessible design consulting firm.
- The May 6,2020 Global News report on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, and
- The May 5, 2020 report in QP Briefing on the virtual town hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.
4. Delay and Delay and More Delay from the Ford Government
There have now been 516 days, or a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.
There have been fully 97 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.
Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!
Mississauga News June 23, 2020
‘Waived all the red tape’: Mississauga to allow more bar and restaurant patios starting Wednesday
Patios could be ‘navigational nightmare,’ accessibility advocate says
NEWS Jun 23, 2020 By Steve Cornwell Mississauga News
When Ontario allows Mississauga bars and restaurants to serve customers outdoors starting Wednesday, June 24, you may see proliferation of patios in the city.
Mississauga council is moving forward with a temporary bylaw relaxing restrictions and fees on restaurant patios in strip mall parking lots, public streets and on sidewalks.
Prior to the new bylaw, restaurants patios were permitted on private property in Mississauga’s downtown area, Port Credit or where the city has allowed them through a zoning variance.
The new rules apply to the city’s five business improvement areas and wherever restaurants have their own entrances.
Restaurant patios can extend for free once establishments reopen: province
Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the move is meant to help restaurants and bars revive revenues impacted by the COIVD-19 pandemic.
“We’ve waived all the red tape,” she said. “We’ve waived all the fees and we’re just telling them to get ready because as soon as they get the green light from the province to open Phase 2 they can start serving.”
Peel Region, including Mississauga, is not yet in the province’s Stage 2 reopening phase, which allows restaurants and bars to host patrons on outdoor patios. The province will allow Peel to move to that stage June 24.
Until then, the city would continue to enforce COVID-19 emergency orders forbidding restaurants and bars from having services beyond takeaway and delivery, according to Mississauga’s planning commissioner, Andrew Whittemore.
Patios on sidewalks and on public streets would still require a temporary permit. Parking lot patios in strip malls would also need to be permitted by property managers.
Crombie also said inspectors will be out ensuring that the patios meet Mississauga’s building standards.
But accessibility advocate David Lepofsky said a sudden surge of new furniture on sidewalks could be a big proplem for individuals that use mobility devices or have low vision.
“For people like me who are blind, those patios that stick out on the sidewalk are just a big navigational nightmare in the best of times,” said Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “And they can be unpredictable. It’s there one day; it’s not there the next day.”
He said problems for people with accessibility needs could be intensified during the pandemic as there are more concerns around interacting with others for help to get around obstacles.
“Ordinarily if you got something that’s a little uncertain (in your path) you could just ask a stranger,” he said.
“But that means that I take your arm. Well, I don’t want to take your arm and you don’t want me taking your arm because now we’re not two metres apart.”
City council still needs to hold a July 8 planning and development meeting to officially pass the temporary bylaw. However, it voted to relax enforcement on patios that would be allowed under the new rule — after Mississauga enters Stage 2 — in the meantime.
Toronto is moving ahead with a similar program, CaféTO, which aims to streamline the placement of temporary sidewalk and curb lane patios, once permitted.
That program requires a minimum 2.1 metres of clearance for pedestrians and for any patio installation to be cane-detectable, meaning individuals with low or no vision can use their white-cane to navigate around it.
Global News Online May 6, 2020
Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/
‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National
BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS
Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.
“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy. Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.
“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”
But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.
“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”
One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.
David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.
A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.
“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.
Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind. When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.
“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.
March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19, people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.
“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.
Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.
Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.
The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.
But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.
Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.
“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.
Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.
The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”
QP Briefing May 5, 2020
Some Ontario e-learning doesn’t work for students with disabilities
Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, said Karen McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtual town hall hosted on Monday by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12 AODA standards committee, and Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.
None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”
Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.
“She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if I’m a student who’s trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter,” McCall said.
Another gap came during a science class. “Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, ‘Watch what happens,’ and then did not describe what was happening,” she said.
But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own course preview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.
“If they’re going to rely on this kind of content, they’ve got to make sure it’s properly accessible,” Lepofsky said of the provincial government.
Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.
Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce has held two meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson.
Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.
“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.”
The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29 letter to Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.”
The town hall’s last guest was Jeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.
The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.
Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: “I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.”
He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”
It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.
For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. “We can’t tell those kids, ‘Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.’”
A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.
“This is really something we can’t leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”
Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a “spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links,” but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.
“Please learn from this town hall,” she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.
“The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.”