Adults With Disabilities Face Barriers Accessing Food, Leading to Food Insecurity: U of T Study

During an ice storm, Cynthia, a woman in her 50s who lives in downtown Toronto and uses a walker, didn’t know where she would get her next meal. If she couldn’t afford food delivery, her plan was to drink a glass of water and wait to eat the following day.

This is just one of the troubling personal stories that Naomi Schwartz heard while researching food accessibility for people with disabilities living in Canada’s largest city.

Schwartz, a PhD graduate of the University of Toronto Mississauga’s geography program, along with professors Ron Buliung and Kathi Wilson from U of T Mississauga’s department of geography, geomatics and environment, co-authored the study recently published in the journal Disability & Society.

The researchers found that people with disabilities were at considerably greater risk of food insecurity than others – an outcome partially explained by often interconnected physical and economic barriers.

Schwartz interviewed 23 adults with disabilities who use mobility aids or experience physical barriers to their mobility between 2017 and 2018. To get a better understanding of their everyday routines, she accompanied study participants on a “typical food access journey,” usually to the grocery store.

She was surprised by how many small barriers arose throughout the trip – such as garbage cans blocking pathways, inadequate curb cuts and narrow aisles within stores.

“As a non-disabled researcher, it was so important for me to understand the small-level barriers that we don’t necessarily think of,” Schwartz says.

Buliung adds that the study also provides unique insight into the barriers within people’s homes.

“We really wanted to dig into what’s happening in the home,” says Buliung. “When we think about food access we often think about accessibility in the city. We’re often looking outward at destinations but it seemed a bit rare to look at what’s happening at the home site.”

Within the home, some participants on a limited income or living in subsidized housing lived in spaces that were too small to allow them to move comfortably with their mobility device. Many had inaccessible kitchens, and those in apartments or condos faced potential mechanical breakdowns of important services such as elevators and exterior points of entry.

Among those who used Wheel-Trans – Toronto’s paratransit service which provides door-to-door service at the cost of standard TTC transit fares – people with disabilities sometimes waited for the bus for half-an-hour in freezing weather. Some also said the Wheel-Trans monthly pass, which then cost $146.25, ate up a big part of their income.

Schwartz says she was able to access one food bank with a participant during mobile interviews, but that another participant had indicated some food banks were inaccessible.

“There’s a lot of food banks that might not have a lot of funding themselves, so they’re not running necessarily accessible operations,” Schwartz says.

There are potential solutions to the issues outlined in the study, Schwartz says. More financial support could be given through the Assistive Devices Program for people with long-term disabilities. There could also be greater enforcement and improvement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), legislation that aims to make the province fully accessible by 2025. There could also be a greater emphasis on designing the built environment, including inside and around a person’s residence, with people with disabilities in mind.

“Disability needs to be considered further up in the design process, as part of how things are designed from the beginning,” Schwartz says. “We need accessible spaces, and [to] not consider disability as an afterthought.”

Buliung says that, while AODA is supposed to help produce greater accessibility in new builds, processes and access to resources to support retrofit are messy and unclear.

“There is a long way to go before the ‘accessible’ Ontario vision becomes a reality,” he says. “What I really see happening by 2025 is a sort of accessible Ontario, in some places, for some people, some of the time. The presence of AODA does not mean that someone is going to come into your residence and make it suddenly work for you – many of the barriers identified in Dr. Schwartz’s work are not simply going to magically disappear in the coming years.”

Schwartz adds that offering a basic income supplement or increasing payments through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) could also be part of the solution.

“Higher income levels would support so many things in terms of adequate food, but also housing. Or when there’s an emergency, to be able to afford an alternative, like a taxi,” she says. “Flexible income is needed, and right now the levels of income and things like the ODSP are just not adequate to allow that leeway at all. The basic income supplement is hugely important as well. It would just allow so much more flexibility in people’s incomes.”

Ultimately, she hopes that their study can make an impact on people’s lives.

“I hope it can be used to advocate for increases to disability incomes and act as evidence as a need for a basic income program,” she says, adding that she hopes the team’s research can also be used by the food industry to improve accessibility within their services.

Buliung, whose daughter Asha was born with spinal muscular atrophy type 2 and uses a wheelchair, says the issue is deeply personal to him.

“I want a future for my daughter where she doesn’t have to struggle with the issues that we have described in this paper,” he says. “I don’t want her to have to experience food insecurity.”

The researchers have also co-authored two other studies that focus on food insecurity across Canada, including “Disability and food access and insecurity: A scoping review of the literature and Mobility impairments and geographic variation in vulnerability to household food insecurity,”

published in Health & Place in 2019.

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Ontario COVID-19 Surge Could Force Doctors to Use Online Calculator to Make Life-and-Death Decisions

Published March 28, 2021

If COVID-19’s surging third wave overwhelms Ontario’s hospitals, doctors could soon be using an emergency triage protocol that includes an online calculator to help decide who gets lifesaving care and who does not.

The website, which prompts physicians to key in a critical patient’s diagnosis in order to estimate their chances of survival, is part of an emergency procedure drafted to help doctors make what would normally be unthinkable decisions. The protocol has been distributed to hospitals. But it has never officially been made public.

The province has loosened some pandemic restrictions in recent weeks, even as daily new infections still shoot upward, with more than 2,448 recorded on Sunday and 19 deaths. Ontario counted 390 COVID-19 patients in its intensive-care units, not far from the peak of 420 hit in the second wave of the virus in January.

While the provincial government says it has added hospital capacity, the Ontario Hospital Association warned last Friday that the province’s critical-care system was reaching its “saturation point” and that soon “hospitals will be under extraordinary pressure to try and ensure equitable access to lifesaving critical care.”

To deal with the onslaught, ICUs have been transferring critical patients from packed facilities to those elsewhere that still have space. Patients are being shipped via ambulance helicopter from Toronto to as far away as Kingston. Field hospitals have also sprung up around several health care facilities, including Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.

But more than a year into a pandemic that put hospitals in New York and Italy over the brink, the Ontario government has kept almost all planning for such a worst-case scenario out of the public eye. By contrast, Quebec held open consultations on its emergency triage protocol months ago.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Human Rights Commission and disability rights groups have raised objections for months, warning that leaked drafts of the protocol discriminate unfairly against older and disabled people.

Both a January version of the protocol, developed by the group that co-ordinates critical care across the province, and the online calculation tool have only come to light after being obtained by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a disability rights group. The AODAA has also obtained a “framework document,” prepared by the government’s bioethics table, a committee of experts that has been wrestling with the triage issue for the past year.

The province’s Ministry of Health has said only that the triage protocol, known as an “emergency standard of care,” was drafted by the medical profession and not approved by the ministry.

The notion of an online triage aide may sound strange, but nothing about hospitals swamped by COVID-19 would be normal. The “short-term mortality risk” calculator would allow physicians to type data on the severity of a patient’s conditions ” cancer, trauma, stroke and so on ” to help come up with an estimated chance of survival after 12 months. Those with a higher chance of survival would be given priority for ICU spots. Decisions would be made by two doctors, not one alone.

David Lepofsky, a lawyer and chairman of the AODAA, said it’s the wrong approach.

“It creates the false impression that this can be an objective [task]. Just type in the data, press the button, the computer will tell you who lives and who dies,” Mr. Lepofsky said in an interview.

He takes issue with the protocol’s reliance on a metric for use on those over 65 known as the clinical frailty scale, which measures a patient’s ability to perform various everyday tasks. That, he argues, devalues the lives of disabled people.

James Downar, a specialist in critical care at The Ottawa Hospital and a drafter of the triage plan who sits on the province’s bioethics table, said the online calculator is no different than the paper version that doctors can also use under the protocol.

He said using a scoring system, such as the clinical frailty scale, to evaluate patients is meant to limit the scope of a doctor’s subjective judgements or bias, in order to try to ensure everyone is treated equally. The protocol, he said, is focused on a patient’s risk of mortality at 12 months, not whether they have a disability.

“None of us want to be in a triage scenario,” Dr. Downar said. “The purpose of a triage system is to reduce the number of preventable deaths and reduce the number of people who are denied critical care.”

Dr. Downar said he believed it would be best to make the triage plans public.

“I think the simplest way to address many of these concerns would be to simply show people what the document is,” Dr. Downar said. “This is a document whose goal is to treat people fairly and to try to save lives. Why would we possibly want to hide that?”

A spokeswoman for Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott referred questions about the protocol to Jennifer Gibson, the co-chair of the government’s bioethics table and director of the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics.

Dr. Gibson said the bioethics table has been in discussions with the Ontario Human Rights Commission on addressing its concerns with the triage protocol. She also said the table has previously recommended an open public consultation on the triage issue ” but that the government had so far not acted on this idea.

“We provide advice. And that advice may be taken or it may not be taken,” Dr. Gibson said.

Even with ICUs at a tipping point, Dr. Gibson said she didn’t think it was too late to start a more open discussion of the issues at stake, to build public trust.

Earlier this month, the chief commissioner of Ontario’s Human Rights Commission, Ena Chadha, wrote to Ms. Elliott to reiterate concerns about the protocol, the potential for discrimination against the disabled and a lack of consultation and transparency around it. Ms. Chadha and other groups have been at odds with the government over the issue since last March.

“We have to develop a framework that is equitable, with human-rights considerations being paramount. Which means it can’t be built on ageist or ableist notions, or assumptions about quality of life,” she said. “This is the problem.”

The Opposition NDP’s critic for accessibility and persons with disabilities, Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden, called the notion of using an online mortality calculator to determine the fate of a patient “chilling.” He called the protocol “insulting” to the disabled, and urged the government to have it debated in the open.

“We can’t just have these love-in press conferences,” Mr. Harden said. “We have to have some challenging conversations.”

Michael Warner, the head of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto’s east end, said ICU doctors have been familiarized with the emergency triage protocol ” even though the government says it remains unapproved ” and that committees at hospitals across the province to oversee it have been set up. He held up a paper triage form in a Twitter video on Friday, urging Premier Doug Ford to tighten public-health measures.

He also criticized the government for so far declining to say it would, if needed, issue an order to override Ontario’s health care legislation and allow for the withdrawal of lifesaving care from patients already in the ICU who are unlikely to survive. Under the plan as it stands now, only new patients would face ICU triage.

It’s unclear, Dr. Warner warned, how the plans would roll out in what would be an unprecedented crisis.

“This could be battlefield medicine,” he said. “We may end up having to improvise.”

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Thinking About the Obstacles People Face

This year’s Touchstone Award recognizes Professor Laverne Jacobs. BY Brigitte Pellerin 22 Feb 2021

If we are to address disability inequality, says Professor Laverne Jacobs, we need to start by acknowledging the structural inequalities facing people with disabilities in daily life

Unfortunately, it took a crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic to force society to think about equality issues differently, she notes. “Nevertheless, this is the biggest catalyst that I have seen in our time.”

Jacobs, who founded and directs the Law, Disability & Social Change Project at Windsor University, is the recipient of this year-s
Touchstone Award that recognizes efforts to further equality in the legal community.

As a Black woman with a disability, she hopes the award will encourage legal professionals to think about the obstacles faced by people with disabilities. ‘”Nothing should be done “without us,” she says. “And so I hope that this award will also inspire further allyship than what already exists.”

Jacobs, who experienced a spinal cord injury during her career, has been involved with the Ontario Bar Association since she was a graduate student. She served on the executive of its Administrative Law Section. This experience “has provided me with opportunities to think about the challenges faced by people with disabilities in the administrative justice system,” she explains, noting that access and equality for marginalized communities within the administrative justice system features prominently in her work.

Jacobs often reflects on intersectional challenges. She proudly points to the student researchers at the Law, Disability & Social Change Project to illustrate how their interests range from family law and business law to administrative and criminal matters, and other fields not directly related to disability.

“The students, despite their backgrounds and areas of legal interest are brought together through an effort to view situations in society through the lens of disability equality,” she explains. “When the students graduate and enter into practice, they are thinking about how disability inequality manifests itself in their practice area and, more fundamentally, with respect to the client circumstances that arise before them.”

Understanding the law is important, she says. But meaningfully advancing equality “is to set the law aside and think about how to be a good human being.”

The Touchstone Award celebrates the accomplishments of an individual or an organization who has excelled in promoting equality in the legal profession, the judiciary, or the legal community in Canada. The award recognizes successful promotion or furthering of equality at the national level or a significant contribution relating to race, gender, disability, sexual orientation or other diversity issues in the recipient’s community.

Laverne Jacobs is Associate Dean (Research & Graduate Studies) and an Associate Professor at the University of Windsor, Faculty of Law. She teaches, researches and writes in the areas of law and disability, administrative law and human rights. Her work is characterized by an interest in the everyday experiences of people with disabilities, particularly as they engage with the law, and in ensuring equality, inclusion and fairness within the legal system. Dr. Jacobs is particularly interested in issues at the intersection of disability, equality and the administrative justice system. She has published and presented widely in her fields, in Canada and internationally.

Dr. Jacobs founded and directs The Law, Disability & Social Change Project, a research and public advocacy centre at Windsor Law that works to foster and develop inclusive communities. Working from the disability rights motto, “nothing without us”, the centre undertakes a variety of projects that aim to feed grounded research and theory into policy development and legal decision-making. She is also co-director of the Disability Rights Working Group at Berkeley Law’s Center for Comparative Equality & Anti-Discrimination Law.

Professor Jacobs held the inaugural Fulbright Visiting Research Chair in Canadian Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and was a Visiting Scholar at Berkeley Law’s Center for the Study of Law and Society. Outside of the University, she has held Order-in-Council appointments as a part-time member of the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario and as a member of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Dis

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What the auditor general’s report could mean for disability support in Ontario

Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report highlighted issues with the Ontario Disability Support Program and advocates are worried about what ideas it might give Doug Ford’s government ByTebasum Durrani and Clara Pasieka
Published on Jan 09, 2020

Andrea Hatala lives with a visual impairment. But all her life, she says, people have told her, “Oh come on, you can really see.”

So it was hard for the 52-year-old Toronto resident, who receives income from the Ontario Disability Support Program, when Ontario auditor general Bonnie Lysyk said last month that some people are likely receiving benefits to which they are not entitled.

“I wish that people would trust that we have to go to the doctors to get ODSP,” says Hatala. “We have to get doctors to sign the forms.”

According to the auditor general’s annual report, tabled in the legislature on December 4, the average number of ODSP recipients increased 50 per cent over the past decade (in 2018-19, more than half a million people received income support); during that time, Ontario’s population rose by just 12 per cent. It also found that more than 40 per cent of applicants to the $5.4 billion program “were confirmed as disabled by the Ministry after a cursory review of their application” and that 80 per cent of applicants found to be disabled “were approved for benefits for life without setting a future medical review to confirm they still meet the definition of a person with a disability.”

The ministry’s systems and processes, the report concludes, “are not effective to ensure that only eligible applicants qualify for the program and receive income support.”

But Hatala and other advocates say that the report is based on problematic and incomplete assumptions and reinforces troubling misconceptions about what it means to be a person living with a disability.

The ODSP process was simplified in 2017: individuals whose medical conditions haven’t improved since their initial application are no longer required to fill out the same forms again, although their medical provider needs to confirm that their condition has not improved for them to continue to qualify for income support.

Vanessa Emery, a lawyer at West Scarborough Community Legal Services, says that the system now better reflects the realities of certain types of disabilities. “Medical reviews are now being applied in a fairer and reasonable, thoughtful way,” says Emery, noting that the change could account for the decrease in the number of reviews. Some medical conditions, she adds, may improve with the right treatments, but if a client presents with an established pattern of mental health and substance abuse, for example, a medical review may not be appropriate.

And unnecessary medical reviews mean unnecessary costs, she says. Ordering tests and specialist reports, particularly for conditions that are not expected to improve, places a burden on the health-care system, as well as causing stress for recipients. “There is no certainty for people who deal with the stress of a review in two or five years,” Emery says. “People are constantly worried it contributes to your mental health. We’ve had clients who were unsuccessful at a medical review, and it caused a relapse in their condition.”

Scott Guzman lives in an urban area, but it still takes him two hours to reach his doctor for a medical review. He worries about those who face even bigger logistical barriers. “At least I had a family doctor who has known me for half of my life,” he says. “I have these advantages, but if you don’t have those things, you could get cut off right there.”

Joel Harden, the NDP’s critic for accessibility and persons with disabilities, says that he doesn’t dispute that the number of recipients and the costs of ODSP have gone up but that it’s vital that we focus on the underlying reason for the rise: increasing poverty. “The increases in costs are driven by the fact that we haven’t made substantial efforts at poverty reduction in the province,” he says, adding that he would like to see the auditor general examine other costs to the province of “legislating poverty.”

Windsor West NDP MPP Lisa Gretzky says that changes to the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board process have compounded the problem: “There has been an increase to the number of WSIB claims being denied to injured workers. And what’s happening is, when this happens, they’re ending up on ODSP, when, really, they should be WSIB.”

Advocates are concerned about how the provincial government will act on the report’s findings. In November 2018, then-minister of community and social services, Lisa MacLeod, announced plans to change the definition of disability to align with the more restrictive federal definition used to qualify for the Canada Pension Plan, which requires a condition to be severe and prolonged. Critics worry that the auditor general’s report will be used to speed up those proposed changes, making it harder for people with disabilities to qualify. “People live in fear that [changing the definition] is going to happen, and it is going to kick a lot of people off the rolls, and they will have to rely on Ontario Works,” says Karin Baqi, a lawyer at the Income Security and Advocacy Centre, a legal clinic in Toronto. “This report lays the groundwork to restrict [the definition] of disability.”

Following the release of the auditor general’s report, Toronto city council and Ottawa city council in December passed motions requesting that the Ontario Minister of Children, Community and Social Services maintain the definition of disability for recipients of ODSP.

MacLeod’s successor, Todd Smith, has not yet said whether he intends to make any changes to the definition of disability. He told via email that the government is responding to Lysyk’s report: “We know social assistance in Ontario is broken. The Auditor’s report on ODSP makes that fact abundantly clear.” He also said that the province will develop “smarter ways” to identify and prioritize cases for review and confirm ODSP eligibility.

Hatala worries about the implications of people not qualifying for ODSP which provides individuals with a monthly maximum of $1,169 and about the possible risks of their having to rely on Ontario Works instead. “I’m afraid of people being forced to live on $750 a month,” she says. “Because when you’re sick or depressed, and you have no money, it just adds to your condition.”


Tebasum Durrani and Clara Pasieka are journalism fellows at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health.

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Why This Advocate Fights for Disability Justice

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, talks with Nam Kiwanuka about making change and building a society that fits everybody By Carla Lucchetta – Published on Aug 28, 2019

When Sarah Jama sought advice in Grade 12 about what she should do after high school, she was steered toward another year of high school and told to pursue college instead of university. “It happens to a lot of people not just with disabilities, but also racialized people,” Jama tells Nam Kiwanuka on The Agenda in the Summer.

She didn’t listen to that advice, instead opting to pursue a social-sciences degree at McMaster University, in Hamilton. While a student there, she co-founded the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, a group that works to create a world in which people with disabilities feel free to fit in anywhere and build community. The grassroots organization takes inspiration from Sins Valid, a United States-based collective committed to promoting social and economic justice for people with disabilities.

“Oftentimes, people with disabilities are taught from a young age that you’re a burden on society,” she says. “So, if you need support, you can go to this service or that service. But you’re not taught to ask the critical question of where to go when the services that exist don’t work for you. So we’re building the political capacity in young people to hold community spaces and institutions responsible for the spaces they create.”

Jama makes a distinction between accessibility goals and disability justice: “When people talk about accessibility, it’s usually around how we build a world around this pre-existing society that fits people with disabilities.” Disability justice, though, involves building a society “that’s free and fits everybody,” she says, and asking “How do we interact with our justice system? How do we interact with our education system? How has our health-care system hurt us in a variety of ways that attack our bodily autonomy?”

Through the 2005 Accessibilities for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario government has committed to making the province fully accessible by 2025. In a report released earlier this year, former lieutenant governor David Onley, who was tasked with reviewing the implementation of AODA, found that the province was far from achieving its goals. “Only urgent, wide-ranging action from the provincial government can put a stop to the ongoing cycle of human rights violations,” he told the CBC.

Jama agrees. “[The act] has no teeth,” she says. “You can’t just say, on principle, that we’re going to have an accessible province and not put money where your mouth is. There’s not enough investment in making sure people are being supported financially in businesses and organizations in order to make our province accessible. We need to be directly investing in ways that will incentivize businesses to become accessible. We also need to be thinking beyond just AODA.”

Such thinking, Jama believes, should involve changing how and what students learn about disabilities, accessibility, and differences in people’s abilities. Instead of separating disabled students from their peers and preventing them from participating in activities and class trips which was her experience educators, she says, should put more emphasis on inclusivity and understanding. “It’s important to accommodate students individually while also having systemic analyses in place in these institutions,” she says. “I also think it’s important to teach disability history in our school systems. It’s ridiculous to me that I had to self-teach and learn in post-secondary about the history of treatment of people with disabilities in my province, in my city.”


Carla Lucchetta is a writer and editor at and occasional producer for The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

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ODSP: Redefining Disability

By Dianne Wintermute, Staff Lawyer

On November 22, 2018, the Minister of Children, Community and Social Services announced that social assistance in Ontario would be reformed. One of the changes is to redefine disability under the current Ontario Disability Support Program Act (ODSPA), the law which governs income support benefits that Ontario provides to eligible persons with disabilities. The Minister said that the new definition would be more like the one used in federal government benefit programs.

Generally, there is no one definition of disability that applies provincially or federally. Each benefit program has its own eligibility criteria. This means that you might qualify for one program but not another. That is why the definition of disability is so important.

Currently, in order to qualify for ODSP benefits, a person must show that they have a substantial physical or mental impairment that is continuous or recurrent and expected to last one year or more; that results in a substantial restriction in one or more activities of daily living; and is verified by a prescribed health care provider.

The ODSP definition has been applied in a broad and flexible manner. Courts and Tribunals have recognized that people with disabilities face barriers to work or community involvement or participating in activities of daily living. ODSP benefits include money for shelter and basic needs and provide employment supports. There are other benefits, like medical transportation, drug coverage, vision and some dental care, and help with the purchase of assistive devices. People who receive ODSP can also receive financial gifts and use additional money to pay for disability-related items and/or expenses. ODSP is a social assistance program and is therefore considered to be a “program of last resort”, which means that you own few assets and have little or no income.

Federally, Canada does not have one single definition of disability. The closest program to ODSP is likely the Canada Pension Plan Disability (CPP-D) benefit program. In order to qualify for benefits under CPP-D, a disability must be both “severe and “prolonged, and it must prevent you from being able to work at any job on a regular basis. Severe means that you have a mental or physical disability that regularly stops you from doing any type of substantially gainful work. Prolonged means that your disability is long-term and of indefinite duration or is likely to result in death. In addition, you must have contributed to the Canada Pension Plan through insurable earnings from employment to be able to take advantage of the program. The amount you are entitled to under this plan depends on how much and how long you have contributed to the program. CPP-D does not take into account financial need.

ARCH is concerned that a more narrow definition of disability for ODSP will exclude many persons with disabilities and force them to live on Ontario Works (OW). At present, a single person on ODSP receives $1,169.00 per month. OW provides significantly less income support only $733.00 per month. OW does not provide benefits for disability related supports and services that are so important to the health, well-being, and inclusion of persons with disabilities. OW’s emphasis is on getting more people back into the workforce to earn money and not rely on social assistance. This emphasis on employment might not take into account restrictions that people with disabilities have. This is particularly the case with people who experience chronic or episodic disabilities or those who can work some time but not full time. Very few employers have flexible work schedules to accommodate persons with disabilities. The government is changing social assistance rules but will they also encourage employers to consider different ways that people can participate in work?

There are many details about changes to ODSP or OW programs that the Government of Ontario has not yet released. We do not know what the definition for ODSP will be; we do not know what benefits, and in particular, what disability or health related benefits, will be available; we do not know what kind of employment supports will be put in place. Persons with disabilities are left with a lot of questions and no real answers.

On April 5, 2019, ARCH, along with the Income Security Advocacy Centre, the ODSP Action Coalition and Voices from the Street, among others, participated in an Ontario Government consultation on proposed changes to defining disability. Issues of severity and duration of disability were discussed. ARCH encouraged the government to take an individualized approach to disability, one that will reflect each person’s lived experience and the context in which they experience disability. We also reminded the government of their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which provides that persons with disabilities have a right to an adequate standard of living and social protection. We were told that a summary of the government’s consultations will be made available. We will report back to our communities once we receive it.

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Sudbury Raptors Fan Encounters Accessibility Issues

Molly Frommer, Videojournalist, Sudbury
Published Friday, June 14, 2019

A Sudbury woman just wanted to watch the Raptors game at a restaurant last night, but encountered some challenges.

Sarah Lashbrook has been in a wheelchair since she was fourteen in 1991, and says this isn’t the first time she has had to deal with a situation such as this one.

She says she is beyond frustrated that two different Sudbury restaurants said they could not accommodate her.

The girl was adamant that there’s no reservations, and I asked if there is an exception, and she said no, and then she said a few things, like she called me a wheelchair and again, it wasn’t mean it was just sensitivity training is needed, ” said Lashbrook.

And, on the phone with the second restaurant, Lashbrook was told the she would need to be able to get up on a high bar stool in order to see the televisions.

“So, that doesn’t seem to welcoming to me, and then when I said in the past they have moved a lower table into the bar for me, she said “we no longer do that.” So they have absolutely zero accessible tables in the bar area to watch sports, “said Laschbrook

After dealing with multiple challenges with restaurant employees, Lashbrook decided to call a third restaurant.

“I was frustrated, I was even crying, and it takes a lot to make me cry, and so I called MIC, and I explained the situation and it was a non-issue,” said Laschbrook

One of the MIC managers on duty, did not even think twice about it.

“I didn’t hesitate at all, made sure that we could accommodate her as it was pretty quick, I was just doing my normal job, ” said Chad Gagnon of MIC

Gagnon says the restaurant is always wheelchair accessible, so accommodating Lashbrook was not a problem

“There was just a spot in the back, and we have a nice big screen TV there, and uh put the volume up, it was close to the washroom for her to be comfortable and it just worked out, “said Gagnon

Lashbrook says she was over the moon with the service she received, and says she will definitely be back because she knows they will accommodate her.

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Change In Ontario Law Creates Uncertainty For Service Dogs In Schools

“Are all these school boards going to start saying that the dogs need to be certified?” By Bailey Martens

Fifteen-year-old Cameron Cadarette was a C student, struggling to stay in school in Windsor, Ont. until Vincent came along. The specifically trained golden Labrador helps the teen manage his post-traumatic stress disorder, and gain better focus in classes.

Cameron scratches his arms and legs until they bleed; Vincent is able to interrupt his self-harming behaviour by nudging the teen’s hand. The service animal also keeps the teen safe at night, waking him from night terrors and bringing him water bottles to help him catch his breath during an anxiety attack.

Two years later, Cameron holds an average of 95 per cent in Grade 9 and is able to have relationships with his peers. “He can meld into the school system and not be an outcast,” said his mother, Nicole McMillan.

But a recent change in Ontario’s Safe and Supportive Classroom Act is making McMillan and other families with students who use service animals nervous.

Vague nature of new section concerns dog handlers

A new section on service dogs, which was approved in April, notes that the education minister may create policies and guidelines, and require school boards to comply with them or create their own based on the minister’s parameters.

A draft policy is underway, the Ministry of Education told HuffPost Canada, that will “set out the framework and required components of board policies across the province resulting in greater consistency, transparency and clarity of process when requesting that a student be accompanied by a service animal in school.”

“We are committed to ensuring every student in Ontario has access to safe and supportive learning environments,” said a ministry statement, which noted that it’s aware of 39 of 72 school boards with active policies on service animals.

Still, the vague nature of the new section has left service dog handlers with more questions than answers.

“Nothing is actually changing because they’re just passing a bill that says the minister could do something,” said Deanna Allain, an Ontario-based service dog trainer and lobbyist. But the concern comes in the unknown: “The minister could ban all service dogs, that’s that’s how specific this legislation is.”

Emily Write has been working with her diabetic alert service dog Kailey for six years. Kailey is scent-trained to alert her handler to dangerous changes in blood sugar levels.

Write is nearing completion of her masters degree from the University of Toronto’s Ontario Institute For Studies In Education, and has been doing a required teaching placement at a Catholic school.

“I realize that we can’t just have anyone bring a dog in a school and that the dog does need to have appropriate training levels,” Write told HuffPost Canada. But the new addition in the law is not the way to go about it, she said.

With a lack of clear expectations, it provides no information on the process to bring a service dog to school. “Are all these school boards going to start saying that the dogs need to be certified, and who is going to monitor that? Because we don’t have a certification process,” said Write.

Uneven requirements across Canada

Currently, Ontario only requires a note from a medical professional outlining the need for a service dog. This is contrary to provinces like British Columbia, which mandates a certification test, or Alberta, where certification is voluntary. There’s no national standard or consistency across provincial laws, which becomes problematic when more public places are requesting proof of certifications. An increase in fraudulent registries and copycat harnesses and ID cards doesn’t help either.

Then there’s the issue of reporting complaints. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) that governs service animals does not have a formal complaint process. Write wonders why new service dog legislation would be implemented if it has no clear path to enforcement.

McMillan has fought complex policies before. Cameron’s service dog was initially denied by both the Greater Essex Public School Board and the Windsor-Essex County Catholic School Boards because they couldn’t recognize Vincent’s international training credentials from Florida.

The public school board has its own service dog policies and was considered complaint with the AODA. McMillan took their case to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, which said the issue was settled through mediation in 2017.

Cameron now attends a private school with Vincent by his side.

“All I want for him is an education that he has the right to,” said McMillan.

She feels the new section in provincial legislation can open doors, “but it’s also left room for interpretation, which in the long run, I think you’ll see some battles from families trying to … get their service dogs in schools that are adequately trained for their children.”

“It encourages empathy.
Emily Write

McMillan fears that families will go “school-district shopping” as they try to place students in schools with better service dog policies, as it appears the act’s new section would allow districts to have varying policies.

As a teacher in training, Write points out that service dogs benefit the whole classroom. “It encourages empathy,” she said. She noted how students she worked with, ranging from kindergarten to Grade 12, recognized when the classroom was getting too loud through Kailey’s changing body language and would respond accordingly.

“As an educator, that’s not something I ever knew: that by bringing a service dog into a classroom that it would not just benefit me but also benefit my students,” said Write.

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Even with Success, Disability Advocates and Allies Face a Long Hard Road

Keenan Wellar
June 6, 2019

Editors note: While this wire is about protecting the rights of citizens with disabilities in Canada, it pertains also to this country where, despite the existence of the Americans with Disabilities Act, advocates have recently been forced to fight regressions in funding that would force many people into institutions. As we know, in this as in other efforts to achieve equity, the fight by no means ends with the passage of a law.

According to Statistics Canadas 2017 Survey on Disability, some 22 percent of Canadians over the age of 15 have at least one disability that limits their everyday activities. Canada has various existing frameworks for protecting the rights of citizens with disabilities (including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Canadian Human Rights Act), as do the provinces. (Some even have their own accessibility legislation, such as the AODA in Ontario.) But fundamental issues of accessibility and exclusion are, to varying degrees, a daily challenge for more than six million Canadians.

Witness the recent situation of a couple reportedly left abandoned in their wheelchairs at Vancouver International Airport for 12 hours, with two different airlines disputing their responsibility and accountability in the matter. This example is seen as a case in point by advocates like David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, who points to the lack of standards to ensure the safety and security of citizens with disabilities.

It is appalling treatment, Lepofsky says. The regulator should make it clear that airlines cant pass the buck to each other. I dread entering Canadian airspace if Im travelling alonenot because the service is always bad, but because its not reliably and consistently good.

According to Lepofsky, current avenues for recourse have proven less than satisfying to those who make the effort. The Canadian Transportation Agency, where youre often kicked to, does not, from the perspective of people with disabilities, have a good track record in this area.

For answers to these and other accessibility grievances, disability advocates in Canada have looked south for decades, where the Americans with Disabilities Act has been in place since 1990, signed into law under President George H.W. Bush. The history of ADA enforcement is a fascinating read, featuring everything from an accessible Riverwalk in Milwaukee to a $6.2 million judgement against Sears for failing to properly accommodate employees with disabilities.

Writing in NPQ in 2013 on the acts 23rd anniversary, Rick Cohen summarized progress and challenges related to the ADA, noting that this important legislation didnt solve problems in one fell swoop. Rather, it is a tool that the nonprofit sector can use to address the needs of persons with disabilities.

Last week, after numerous delays in the senate and the adoption of a number of amendments, on the evening of May 29, 2019, MPs voted unanimous consent for Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act: An Act to Ensure a Barrier-free Canada (ACA), which is now awaiting royal assent before it becomes law.

Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility and a former Paralympic athlete, has in many ways been the public face of Bill C-81 and its three-year journey to the May 29th vote.

I am extremely proud of the work we have done in creating this transformative piece of legislation that will improve the lives of millions of persons with disabilities, said Qualtrough.

As with the ADA experience, supporters of the ACA understand that change will not come overnight, that is has limited reach (primarily the federal government itself and the industries it regulates), and that there will continue to be issues with regulation and enforcement. But after years (and for some, decades) of work, they are nevertheless celebrating an outcome that is evidence of progress towards the ultimate goal of a barrier-free society.

ARCH Disability Law Centre is one of the charitable organizations that has been actively promoting the strengthening of Bill C-81 and for many years prior also worked closely with Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), AODA Alliance, and over 90 national, provincial, and local disability groups.

Advocating to strengthen Bill C-81 has provided opportunities for disability communities to work together, says Kerri Joffe, ARCH Staff Lawyer. It has been a privilege to work closely with so many dedicated advocates. The Accessible Canada Act is stronger because of their tireless work.

Along with their allies, ARCH also pointed to a weakness in ACA that was never addressed, noting in their press release response to the Bills passage:

The use of permissive language may rather than directive language shall or must in the Accessible Canada Actgives government, the Canadian Transportation Agency, the CRTC and other bodies power to make and enforce the new accessibility requirements, but does not actually require them to use these powers.

The opposition parties supporting the bill also engaged in a combination of praise and concern. Conservative MP Luc Berthold made a lengthy and at times very personal speech prior to the final vote, discussing his involvement in supporting causes related to cerebral palsy and how this changed his perspective. Everywhere I go, every organization or public building I visit, anytime I play a sport or recreational activity, I always take some time to ask myself whether the space is accessible by all, said Berthold, before expressing a series of concerns: Even with the [Senate] amendments, the bill uses permissive language, as I already mentioned. If possible, I hope that the ministers who will be implementing the bill will change may to must. If they make this personal, they will be able to do it. The bill says that they may do it, and I hope that they will. Cheryl Hardcastle, New Democratic Party (NDP) Critic for Persons Living with Disabilities noted that C-81 confusingly splinters enforcement and implementation over four different public agencies, rather than providing people with disabilities with the simple one-stop-shopping they need.

Taking these concerns in light of the example of stranded couple at the Vancouver airport, there might still be unacceptable bureaucratic barriers to registering and resolving a complaint. However, the ACA certainly offers the possibility of significant incentives for the cooperation of federally regulated industries, with possible fines as high as $250,000 for travel providers (including airlines). The ACA should serve as a tool to force needed improvements to situations that currently can only be potentially addressed through lengthy human rights processes.

Not to be overlooked, the ACA will have a significant impact on the more than 250,000 employees of the federal public service. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, a union representing more than 180,000 of these workers, welcomed the Accessible Canada Act and its accompanying Accessibility Strategy for the Federal Public Service as important first steps. Chris Aylward, PSAC National President, cautions, we must make sure that these are not just documents that sit on a shelfthey must be implemented and make a real difference in the day-to-day lives of people with disabilities.

The ACA passed the House during National AccessAbility Week, which offered opportunities for celebrating some of what is possible when principles of accessibility and inclusion are indeed put into action. This included a ceremony to celebrate a partnership with Ottawa-based charity LiveWorkPlay for a historic result of hiring of more than 70 persons with intellectual disabilities and/or autism in 25 different federal government agencies and departments.

With the proposed legislation our government is transforming how we think about accessibility and work towards a Canada without barriers, we know this is an important culture change and LiveWorkPlay is helping us achieve that vision, said MP Kate Young, Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Qualtrough.

Despite the passage of Bill C-81 and a week-long celebration of meaningful results related to accessibility, its unlikely that everyday citizens are aware of the ACA, its importance, or the issues it hopes to address. Mainstream media coverage was unbelievably scant, and this did not go unnoticed by those who have been toiling in the trenches. A final word from Greg Thomson of the AODA Alliance:

This is a newsworthy subject. This bill directly affects the needs of over five million people with disabilities in Canada. It ultimately addresses the needs of all in Canada, since everyone is bound to get a disability as they age. The media should reflect on this. It is profoundly regrettable that the medias preoccupation with certain scandals and perceived headline-grabbing issues has left far too many Canadians unaware that there even was a Bill C-81 or a campaign to get it strengthened.

Keenan Wellar

Disclosure: Keenan Wellar works for LiveWorkPlay and was a part of the ceremony.

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Accessibility News

“The Premier Online Magazine for Disability Accessibility”


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Federal Government Passes Canada’s First National Accessibility Legislation

by Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Posted May 30, 2019

Disabled Canadians declared a partial victory Thursday hours after the government voted to enact Canadas first national accessibility law, calling it a major step forward while cautioning that more work was still needed to ensure it achieves its goal.

The Accessible Canada Act, which aims to improve life for those with disabilities, received unanimous support in the House of Commons on Wednesday evening. It awaits only royal assent, expected in the coming weeks, before officially becoming law.

Advocates who fought for amendments to strengthen the legislation praised the governing Liberals for delivering on a promise to implement the bill and bring Canada more in line with other countries that have had such laws for years. But they also cautioned against complacency, saying more work lay ahead.

We applaud the government for its willingness to listen to Canadians with disabilities, Council of Canadians with Disabilities chair Jewelles Smith said in a statement.

CCD reminds the government that there are many serious ongoing barriers that will not be addressed by this act, and encourages the federal government to pursue policy solutions to these well-known concerns.

Accessibility Minister Carla Qualtrough, who spearheadded national consultations on the bill and shepherded it through Parliament, hailed its passage as a significant moment.

This is the most transformative piece of legislation since enacting the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and a true testament to the work, commitment and contributions of the Canadian disability community, she said in a statement. This historic act sends a clear signal to Canadians that persons with disabilities will no longer be treated as an afterthought.

The act passed by Parliament bears striking differences from the version initially tabled last June.

Its stated purpose to identify, remove and prevent accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction was greeted with enthusiasm and remains the same. Those areas include built environments, federally run programs and services, banking, telecommunications and transportation that crosses provincial lines.

But disabled advocates almost immediately began raising concerns about the effectiveness of the legislation and lobbied for changes.

Last fall, a group of 95 disability groups signed an open letter outlining nine areas of perceived weakness, including the lack of a timeline for the bills implementation and failure to recognize various forms of sign language as official languages of the deaf.

The Senates committee on social affairs, science and technology, citing community concerns, amended the bill to include sign language recognition as well as a timeline for the bill to be fully implemented by 2040.

Those amendments were reflected in the bill that garnered parliamentary approval.

Activists celebrated the passage of the act as genuine progress, but some continued to voice concerns about areas where they feel it still falls short.

The Arch Disability Law Centre indicated Thursday that it was particularly troubled by the language employed throughout the bill, which repeatedly uses may rather than shall or must when describing initiatives.

This language gives government power to make and enforce the new accessibility requirements, but does not actually require them to use these powers, Arch said in a statement.

An amendment before the Senate committee addressed that concern but was defeated.

Advocates also criticized the bill for granting the government broad powers to exempt people from the new rules, spreading enforcement over numerous agencies, and opting not to withhold federal funding from organizations that dont comply with accessibility measures. Conservatives and New Democrats echoed those issues in Parliament.

Gabrielle Peters, a Vancouver-based wheelchair user, said the governments failure to address those areas leaves the law lacking compared to similar legislation in other countries. She said she questions whether the law will prove significant for all its meant to serve.

I and many like me will be at home with my broken wheelchair in my tiny box of an improperly adapted apartment living in poverty in a city with 8,000 corners where I cant cross the street, she said.

Nothing in the act will change that. But I am glad Canada finally has an Accessible Canada Act, however lacking I find it, and I want to recognize the work of those who actually worked on and for it.

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press

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