Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Two Major Developments on the Accessibility Front Outside Ontario – Carla Qualtrough is Back as Federal Minister to Lead Bill C-81 Through Parliament – and – BC Government Commits to a BC Disabilities Act
July 25, 2018
Even though it’s the middle of a hot lazy, hazy summer, there is so much happening on many fronts, in the campaign to win accessibility for people with disabilities. We have already reported to you on our outreach to Ontario’s new Premier Doug Ford and to Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. At the same time, the past few days have seen important developments in our country, outside Ontario.
1. A New Federal Cabinet Minister is Assigned to Lead the Passage of Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act
In the most recent federal Cabinet Shuffle, Carla Qualtrough has returned as the federal minister with lead responsibility for Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. This is great news. She is known to have a strong commitment to this issue. She was the lead minister on this file for the critical period from October 2015, when the Trudeau Government took office, up to the end of August 2017.
She knows the file well, and has made a number of very helpful statements on the need for this legislation. She can hit the ground running on this file, without needing extensive briefings.
Minister Qualtrough is also continuing to serve as the federal minister responsible for the federal public service and for procurement. These are critical portfolios where we need a strong new injection of action on accessibility.
Once the legislation is enacted, it will be important for the minister responsible for this legislation to not also have responsibility for the public service. We need this to avoid the kinds of conflict of roles that we witnessed in Ontario at the provincial level from early 2017 to the recent Ontario election.
We thank the other two previous federal ministers who served on this file over the past year, Kent Hehr (from August 2017 to February 2018 and Kirsty Duncan (who served from February 2018 to the present). We hope that Carla Qualtrough will remain on the file until this legislation gets through Parliament. It is important to people with disabilities in Canada that this legislation be strengthened via amendments and then enacted before the fall 2019 federal election. We need one minister to stay in the lead from now through the entire legislative process.
The AODA Alliance is now working hard on its brief to the Federal Government on what amendments will be needed. We will circulate a draft of this brief for your input as soon as it is ready for prime time! In the meantime, send us any ideas by emailing [email protected]
2. British Columbia Government commits to Enact BC Accessibility Legislation
In an article, set out below, that appeared in the July 15, 2018 Vancouver Province newspaper, the BC Government is quoted as committing to bring forward a provincial Disabilities Act. This would make BC the fourth Canadian province to do so. In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. In 2013, Manitoba passed the Accessibility for Manitobans Act. In 2017 Nova Scotia passed the Nova Scotia Accessibility Act. The AODA Alliance was called on to give advice and tips to the wonderful grassroots disability advocates in Manitoba and Nova Scotia that advocated on their legislation.
In October 2015, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky helped kick off Barrier-Free BC, the tenacious grassroots advocacy coalition that has slogged for the past three years to reach this important milestone in their province. We congratulate Barrier-Free BC on this achievement, and remain ready to help them in their efforts at any time.
We would welcome the chance to help all the other Canadian provinces and territories take the same action. the Federal Government’s commendable work on developing Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, should signal to all provinces the importance and value of this kind of legislation.
The Vancouver Province July 15, 2018
Originally posted at:
B.C. moves toward accessibility law; Residents with disabilities demand a say on proposed act meant to ensure access to goods, services and employment
Gerry Kahrmann / Journalist and health educator Kent Loftsgard is part of a group of disabled people advocating for provincial accessibility legislation.; Gerry Kahrmann / Public transit was difficult for writer Amanda Reaume after she suffered a mild traumatic brain injury last year. Reaume says becoming disabled made her realize the severity of the struggle for accessibility.; Nick Procaylo, Postmedia / Vivian Ly, executive director of Canadian Autistics United, finds barriers throughout B.C.;
For Amanda Reaume, acquiring a disability meant awakening to a civil rights movement in a way made possible only through lived experience.
Last year, the 33-year-old writer suffered a brain injury that left her with balance problems and having to relearn how to walk and talk at the same time. She returned to work in Vancouver six months later but with a new, invisible disability.
“Becoming disabled, it really makes me consider accessibility a lot more, and the ways in which our society really restricts access,” she said. “Disabled people often struggle in ensuring that their dignity is respected and that they are included and get proper services.
“Having disability legislation on the provincial level is critical to ensuring that their human rights are respected.”
Reaume struggled with using public transit during her recovery. Unable to walk and talk simultaneously, she couldn’t speak up for a courtesy seat on the bus and had to rely on expensive taxi trips to get around.
More than a year later, Reaume sees gaps in accessibility and inclusion for others wherever she goes, and is calling on government to listen to a broad range of people wit disabilities when it drafts legislation to protect their civil rights.
“The thing about accessibility is that it’s not something that just disabled people should be working on. Accessibility is something that all of us should be working on.”
More than 600,000 people in B.C. have disabilities. Many of them encounter barriers in society that keep them from fully participating. While they are protected by human rights legislation, they must prove on a case-by-case basis that their rights have been denied.
To address that – and after federal legislation was proposed last month to improve accessibility for people with disabilities – the B.C. government will begin creating a provincial disabilities act this fall.
People with disabilities in B.C. are making it clear they want to play a major role in its design.
“Without legislation, we end up having these discussions on a personal, not policy, level,” said Gabrielle Peters, a Vancouver writer who uses a wheelchair. “It would change the focus from ‘Oh no, she can’t get into ‘Why the hell are you not in compliance with the accessibility laws?’” Peters is on Vancouver’s Active Transportation Policy Council and last year led a successful campaign to install a mat at English Bay to make the beach accessible to wheelchair users.
She said such a law would move the onus away from the person with the disability to fight each and every battle for accessibility and explain why each transgression is unfair. Rather, society would have to meet provincially enforced accessibility standards.
“There is some deep indignity, that’s very hard to explain, about opening up my computer and seeing an article congratulating some business person for making their office accessible,” she said.
“If you think about it, imagine we did that for you. I said, ‘Hey, look, I found a restaurant right here, in Vancouver … that you’re allowed into, with a washroom you can use!’” In order for the legislation to be adequate, a diverse group of people with disabilities must be involved in drafting it, not just charity organizations, Peters said. She wants the government to pay particular attention to people with disabilities who live in poverty, many of whom are struggling after a decade of frozen government-assistance rates.
David Lepofsky is an adviser to Barrier-Free B.C., a group pushing for a “strong and effective” disabilities act in the province. He led a decade-long campaign to bring disabilities legislation to Ontario in 2005. The only other provinces with disabilities laws, which are meant to ensure the accessibility of goods and services, jobs, information and communications, public transportation and outdoor-built environments such as sidewalks, pathways and parks, are Nova Scotia and Manitoba.
A part-time law professor and retired lawyer who is blind, Lepofsky said the B.C. government can draw from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the proposed federal Accessible Canada Act.
The federal government says its legislation will “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas under its jurisdiction, such as buildings and public spaces, employment, information and communication technologies and transportation.
But that jurisdiction includes only Parliament, government of Canada agencies, the federally regulated private sector (transportation, broadcasting, telecommunications and finance), Canadian Forces and the RCMP.
“We need legislation at both levels,” Lepofsky said.
Yet, at the same time, there’s a myth that Ontario’s legislation has made all new buildings accessible, Lepofsky said. A search of his name on YouTube turns up videos in which he identifies major accessibility failures at Ryerson University’s student learning centre and Toronto-area transit stations.
Ontario has given itself until 2025 to implement full accessibility, including installing elevators to street level at all subway stations. Meantime, government data obtained by the Accessibilty for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, of which Lepofsky is chairman, showed that since 2013, 57 per cent of private-sector companies with at least 20 employees hadn’t filed mandatory compliance reports.
“In 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined, for the thousands of private sector organizations known to have violated this legislation, the government only imposed a total of five monetary penalties,” the alliance reported in April.
The most important thing B.C. can learn from the Ontario experience is the need for a strong, independent enforcement body and process, Lepofsky said. Without that, any legislation lacks the teeth it needs to be effective.
“I was very disappointed the first time I went to Toronto, several years ago,” said Kent Loftsgard, 49, a Vancouver journalist and health educator who has cerebral palsy.
During his first visit there, he and a fellow journalist with cerebral palsy found themselves unable to enter nightclubs and restaurants because their mobility scooters had been barricaded by stepped entryways.
The problem with steps in Ontario is so bad that a nonprofit, the StopGap Foundation, has distributed more than 1,000 simple ramps. Loftsgard also found many of the subway stations inaccessible.
“A best-case scenario for me would be to have a provincial disabilities minister (in B.C.) as a complement to the office of the federal disabilities minister,” Loftsgard said. “A lot of the reporting and enforcement of disability issues on all different levels is going to come down to provincial reporting.”
Vivian Ly, executive director of Canadian Autistics United, said the legislation must be created through a “disability lens.”
Ly offered the City of Vancouver’s recent approval of a ban on plastic straws as an example of a failure to consider the perspective of people with disabilities. When someone needs a straw to drink at a restaurant, they may be pressured to justify its use and disclose their disability, Ly said.
“That doesn’t work, because that adds additional barriers,” Ly said.
‘CURB CUT EFFECT’
Ly also wants universal design to be included in the legislation so that products, environments and means of communication can be used by the greatest number of people possible. Ly pointed to the “curb cut effect.” While the cuts make sidewalks more accessible to people who use wheelchairs, they also help seniors, parents with strollers and anyone else who uses a mobility aid.
“If a built environment is universally accessible, then we don’t have to ask for these specific accommodations,” Ly said.
Jessica Leung, who is with the Cascadia Deaf Nation, wants provincial legislation so that people who are deaf or have other disabilities can overcome high unemployment and a lack of sign language interpreters in public services.
Deaf people in minority groups, including those who are black, Indigenous, or people of colour, prisoners, the homeless and mentally ill, face particular hurdles in accessing interpreters in courts and in hospitals, Leung said.
Leung said what matters most about the design of legislation is that it include feedback from people with disabilities.
“We cannot afford hearing, able-bodied folks to just make a change for us,” Leung said.
In an interview, Shane Simpson, NDP MLA for Vancouver Hastings and minister for social development and poverty reduction, said he is committed to bringing legislation to B.C. and pledged to ensure people with disabilities play a substantial role in its creation.
“They’re going to have to be at that table, not others solely speaking on their behalf or speaking about them.”
Now that federal legislation is in the works, the province is moving toward consultation with British Columbians about provincial legislation in the fall, though there is no deadline for its completion, Simpson said.
Simpson said his first priority will be to understand what his government and people with disabilities want to accomplish.
What he hears most from people with disabilities is that they want access to employment.
A 2017 Angus Reid survey found that 37 per cent of working-age Canadians with a disability were unemployed. Two-thirds of those people cited their disability as the reason for being out of work, and only 23 per cent of respondents said they felt comfortable disclosing their disability to a potential employer before interviews began. B.C. businesses have been receptive to legislation, though the government will have to find ways to support small businesses with no human resources departments, said Simpson.
Ontario, for example, requires businesses to ensure accessibility in their hiring practices and accessibility to workplace information such as training manuals and bulletins through formats such as braille, audio and large print, or communication supports such as captioning, screenreader software and sign language interpretation.
Businesses with 50 or more employees in Ontario must also create a process to support employees who have missed work because of a disability and who need accommodations upon their return.
Simpson admitted that he does not “have a good handle” yet on all aspects of creating accessibility legislation, such as how to appropriately change building codes.
But he vowed he will get it done.
“We’re committed to it in a way that persons living with disabilities have every opportunity to have as full and complete a life as we all want,” Simpson said.
“There’s no reason why a disability, whatever the nature of it, should hold you back from having the opportunity to build that life for yourself.”
With files from The Canadian Press [email protected] Twitter.com/nickeagland