BourneFlosman: Carleton University Isn’t Living Up to Its Accessibility Pledge


How is it, in 2021, that ableism is still a systemic issue at a Canadian institution of higher learning?

Author of the article:Ben BourneFlosman
Publishing date:Sep 17, 2021

Carleton University student Ben BourneFlosman has been unable to attend his first year of university in person because of limits on the institution’s support for disabled students on campus.

It was April of 2019 when I first got a glimpse inside Carleton University: my father’s alma mater, and a place well-known for its disability support programs. I have Spinal Muscular Atrophy, which is a neuromuscular disease that causes me to use a wheelchair due to its negative effects on my nerves and muscles.

Back in 2019, I was told that I would be able to access personal support worker assistance provided by the University 24/7 as a student. I require support like this for assistance with essential personal care. Needless to say, I was sold.

However, this year, on May 10, after accepting my offer for a BA Honours in political science, I received an email from the Attendant Services Program (Carleton’s support program that provides PSWs for its students) stating that “in consultation with Ottawa Public Health, the university has decided to delay the resumption of the Attendant Services Program” until the potential restart of the program in January 2022.

This program provides a service I cannot live without. Following my appeals, the university confirmed a few weeks ago that I cannot live on campus because of the “unique needs of the (Attendant Services Program), the current pandemic, and public health and safety requirements.”

Carleton is still providing me with an academic education, albeit online. Unfortunately, the university experience is composed of more than just class. It is extremely disheartening to watch as my able-bodied peers enter campus and embark on a part of life that is defined by independence, belonging to a community, and autonomy. It is this broader learning of life that I do not have access to.

Carleton’s own website repeats its mandate (echoing similar post-secondary policies) that “all members of the Carleton community” must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 15. As well, the university opened its indoor gyms and athletic facilities in July.

There is a disconnect that Carleton University will permit indoor gatherings and access to the residences for its able-bodied students while denying the same access to students with disabilities who require care by medical professionals that are affiliated with the university (and subject to its vaccination requirements). How does this situation reflect the university’s commitment to “being the most accessible campus in Canada” (as stated on its website)?

How is it, in 2021, that ableism is still a systemic issue at a Canadian university? Carleton University’s own Human Rights Policies and Procedures states “Carleton University is committed to providing access to the educational experience and accommodation to the point of undue hardship in order to promote academic accessibility for individuals with identified and duly assessed disabilities.” My question for “Canada’s most accessible campus” is simple: At what point does treating students with disabilities with the same dignity as those who are able-bodied go beyond being an undue hardship for this university?

Instead of indicating a probable start date in January, Carleton should be looking to hire employees as soon as possible for its Attendant Services Program. Giving all students an opportunity to be involved in campus life must be Carleton’s top priority, to fulfil the “university’s obligation ” to accommodate students with disabilities.”

After a year of isolation, we have all had time to reflect on how we can improve. Carleton’s opportunity to do better is still within reach.

Ben BourneFlosman is a 17-year-old Carleton University student with big dreams of success and happiness. Contact him at: [email protected]

Original at https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/bourneflosman-carleton-university-isnt-living-up-to-its-accessibility-pledge




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Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News


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

September 19, 2021

Tomorrow is the final day to vote in the current federal election. Here is a last look at disability accessibility issues as they have been addressed in this election campaign.

We thank all those who lent their support to our effort to raise disability accessibility in this election campaign. Stay tuned for more federal and provincial news on accessibility issues after the votes are counted.

1. Election Front-Runners Trudeau and O’Toole Have Still Never Answered the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges

With less than 24 hours to go, the AODA Alliance has still not received any election commitments from the two front-runners, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, in response to our August 3, 2021 letter to all major federal party leaders. That letter sought 12 commitments to make Canada accessible to over six million people with disabilities, as the Accessible Canada Act aims to achieve.

The only party that has given commitments in response has been the New Democratic Party. We commend the NDP and have reminded the other parties over this last weekend that it was still not too late to meet or beat the NDP pledges.

Three days ago, the Conservative Party campaign emailed the AODA Alliance to ask for our letter in which we sought these commitments, stating that they had not received it. This is difficult to understand, since we have not only emailed it to them, but tweeted about it to Mr. O’Toole and to as many of their party’s candidates as we have been able. We quickly re-sent it to the Tories on September 16, 2021. We have still heard nothing back from them.

2. Minor Surge in Last-Minute Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disability Issues

There has been a bit of a surge in media coverage of disability issues in this election over the final weekend before election day. On Friday, September 17, 2021, City TV news included a story by reporter Mark McAllister entitled: “Accessibility advocates feel left out of election”, which began:

“As the election campaign nears a close, a large portion of the population are still waiting for their concerns to be addressed. Mark McAllister reports on why accessibility may play into the final vote on Monday.”

We could not find the text of that report online, but the report itself is available at https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2021/09/17/accessibility-advocates-feel-left-out-of-election/

As well, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, under 48 hours before the vote, CBC Radio’s health program White Coat Black Art with host Dr. Brian Goldman included an item on the election’s disability issues. It did not include the AODA Alliance or the specific issues we have raised. A transcript of that program is available at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/transcript-for-white-coat-black-art-rabia-s-family-1.6181372

We appreciate this issue receiving any coverage. It appears that CBC came to it quite late in the campaign. This presents a challenge, since by the time CBC got around to considering it, at least 5 million voters have reportedly voted already. For them, that coverage came too late.

Let’s all watch to see whether the reporters and pundits who spend hours on TV and radio on Monday night, and who write article after article for newspapers and websites on the election results, have much if anything to say on the election’s implications for people with disabilities. After this election is over, the media needs to seriously reflect on why it so systemically and repeatedly treats such issues as secondary, or leaves them out altogether.

3. A Quick Closer Look at Two Troubling Elements in the Liberal platform.

First, in its published platform, the Liberals promise to harmonize accessibility standards for people with disabilities across Canada. “Harmonization” at first sounds positive. However, this promise should worry us.

This could easily lead to a reduction in accessibility protections. Standards on accessibility could be brought in line with each other by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. That would harmfully take protections away from people with disabilities.

In any event, we do not know how the Federal Government has authority to reduce accessibility standards across Canada. An accessibility standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act cannot be altered by the Federal Government.

Second, the Liberals have promised that if they are re-elected, the Federal Government will use the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act for all federal programs. This too at first blush sounds appealing. However, it too is a bad idea that can hurt people with disabilities.

The definition of “disability” in any particular federal program must be tailored to the purposes of that program. For some programs, such as the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, a broad definition of disability is desirable. For other programs, that broad definition would be harmful. A narrower definition of disability would be desirable.

For example, if the Federal Government used the Accessible Canada Act’s broad definition of disability for its employment equity programs, The Government could immediately claim that it has a massive number of people with disabilities now working in the Federal Government, and that no employment equity efforts are needed to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet people with disabilities face very troubling rates of unemployment and need to be front and center in any federal employment equity program.




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Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Neither Election Front-Runner, Trudeau or O’Toole, Ever Ended Up Answering the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges – And Other Last Minute Election News

September 19, 2021

Tomorrow is the final day to vote in the current federal election. Here is a last look at disability accessibility issues as they have been addressed in this election campaign.

We thank all those who lent their support to our effort to raise disability accessibility in this election campaign. Stay tuned for more federal and provincial news on accessibility issues after the votes are counted.

1. Election Front-Runners Trudeau and O’Toole Have Still Never Answered the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges

With less than 24 hours to go, the AODA Alliance has still not received any election commitments from the two front-runners, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, in response to our August 3, 2021 letter to all major federal party leaders. That letter sought 12 commitments to make Canada accessible to over six million people with disabilities, as the Accessible Canada Act aims to achieve.

The only party that has given commitments in response has been the New Democratic Party. We commend the NDP and have reminded the other parties over this last weekend that it was still not too late to meet or beat the NDP pledges.

Three days ago, the Conservative Party campaign emailed the AODA Alliance to ask for our letter in which we sought these commitments, stating that they had not received it. This is difficult to understand, since we have not only emailed it to them, but tweeted about it to Mr. O’Toole and to as many of their party’s candidates as we have been able. We quickly re-sent it to the Tories on September 16, 2021. We have still heard nothing back from them.

2. Minor Surge in Last-Minute Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disability Issues

There has been a bit of a surge in media coverage of disability issues in this election over the final weekend before election day. On Friday, September 17, 2021, City TV news included a story by reporter Mark McAllister entitled:

“Accessibility advocates feel left out of election”, which began:

“As the election campaign nears a close, a large portion of the population are still waiting for their concerns to be addressed. Mark McAllister reports on why accessibility may play into the final vote on Monday.”

We could not find the text of that report online, but the report itself is available at https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2021/09/17/accessibility-advocates-feel-left-out-of-election/

As well, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, under 48 hours before the vote, CBC Radio’s health program White Coat Black Art with host Dr. Brian Goldman included an item on the election’s disability issues. It did not include the AODA Alliance or the specific issues we have raised. A transcript of that program is available at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/transcript-for-white-coat-black-art-rabia-s-family-1.6181372

We appreciate this issue receiving any coverage. It appears that CBC came to it quite late in the campaign. This presents a challenge, since by the time CBC got around to considering it, at least 5 million voters have reportedly voted already. For them, that coverage came too late.

Let’s all watch to see whether the reporters and pundits who spend hours on TV and radio on Monday night, and who write article after article for newspapers and websites on the election results, have much if anything to say on the election’s implications for people with disabilities. After this election is over, the media needs to seriously reflect on why it so systemically and repeatedly treats such issues as secondary, or leaves them out altogether.

3. A Quick Closer Look at Two Troubling Elements in the Liberal platform.

First, in its published platform, the Liberals promise to harmonize accessibility standards for people with disabilities across Canada. “Harmonization” at first sounds positive. However, this promise should worry us.

This could easily lead to a reduction in accessibility protections. Standards on accessibility could be brought in line with each other by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. That would harmfully take protections away from people with disabilities.

In any event, we do not know how the Federal Government has authority to reduce accessibility standards across Canada. An accessibility standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act cannot be altered by the Federal Government.

Second, the Liberals have promised that if they are re-elected, the Federal Government will use the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act for all federal programs. This too at first blush sounds appealing. However, it too is a bad idea that can hurt people with disabilities.

The definition of “disability” in any particular federal program must be tailored to the purposes of that program. For some programs, such as the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, a broad definition of disability is desirable. For other programs, that broad definition would be harmful. A narrower definition of disability would be desirable.

For example, if the Federal Government used the Accessible Canada Act’s broad definition of disability for its employment equity programs, The Government could immediately claim that it has a massive number of people with disabilities now working in the Federal Government, and that no employment equity efforts are needed to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet people with disabilities face very troubling rates of unemployment and need to be front and center in any federal employment equity program.



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On the Eve of the Federal Election, Tories Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance Request for Federal Election Commitments – Liberals Say They’ll Enact At Least Some Accessibility Standard Within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Passage


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

On the Eve of the Federal Election, Tories Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance Request for Federal Election Commitments – Liberals Say They’ll Enact At Least Some Accessibility Standard Within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Passage

September 17, 2021

        SUMMARY

The federal election is just three days away. We have more breaking news on our efforts to get the federal parties to all make strong commitments on making Canada accessible to over 6 million people with disabilities in Canada.

As of now, only the New Democratic Party has answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 election commitments on the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities. The NDP made many if not most of the 12 election pledges we requested.

We thank and congratulate the NDP for doing so. We urge all other parties to do the same, in our spirit of non-partisanship.

1. Federal Conservatives Say They Will Try to Answer the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 Letter

On September 16, 2021, the AODA Alliance received an email from the Conservative Party. It asks for a copy of the AODA Alliance’s request for election commitments, and says they will try to respond before voting day. The email indicates that they had not received our request for commitments before this.

We again quickly provided the Tories our August 3, 2021 letter to the federal parties in response to that email. We originally emailed it to Erin O’Toole on August 3, 2021. We posted it on the AODA Alliance website the next day. Over the past days, we have tweeted at Mr. O’Toole and many Conservative Candidates, trying to get them to answer this letter. Moreover, the September 6, 2021 report in the Hill Times, set out below, states that that newspaper reached out by email to the Tories about this issue but got no answer.

From the email we received from the Conservatives, it appears that they reached out to us because they had received a media inquiry on why they had not answered our request for commitments. This further shows how people with disabilities lose out when the media either do not cover this story at all, or delay coverage till late in the campaign.

2. Liberal Cabinet Minister Carla Qualtrough Says the Liberals Would Enact Accessibility Standards within Four Years of the Accessible Canada Act’s Enactment

The Liberal Party has also not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, requesting 12 pledges on disability accessibility. However, in an interview published in the influential Hill Times newspaper dated September 6, 2021, set out below, federal Disabilities Minister Carla Qualtrough commits that the Federal Government would enact accessibility standards within four years of the Accessible Canada Act’s enactment. However, she did not say which accessibility standards would be enacted within that time frame. She also said that “hundreds” of accessibility standards would be needed.

Finally, she recognized that the Accessible Canada Act has room for improvement. However, she did not commit to making any specific improvements.

The September 6, 2021 Hill Times article, set out below, states that none of the federal parties had answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, that seeks election commitments. Since that article was written, the NDP answered our request, as noted above.

3. More Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disabilities Issues Days Before the Election

In an earlier AODA Alliance Update, we noted that CBC was one of the media organizations that had not been covering the election’s disability issues. The CBC has now started to do so, but only in the past two days. Two articles are set out below. One could say “better late than never.” However, we qualify this by noting that for the millions of voters who already have voted, late is the same as never!

We have also benefitted from coverage on Sauga Radio with Karlene Nation, CHML Radio Hamilton with Bill Kelly, and Sirius XM Radio with Dahlia Kurtz. We thank them all for shining the spotlight on this election issue.

        MORE DETAILS

The Hill Times September 6, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.hilltimes.com/2021/09/06/disability-groups-still-waiting-for-most-parties-to-address-accessibility/315130

Disability groups still waiting for parties to address accessibility

Advocates say they are the largest minority in Canada. Some groups say that in the long run they are ‘the minority of everybody,’ as the policies they are fighting for will impact everyone at some point in their life.

By Ian Campbell

Disability advocacy group says that it has yet to receive a reply from any of the federal parties after it sent them an open letter at the beginning of the campaign seeking specific commitments about making Canada more accessible.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA Alliance), which is chaired by Osgoode Hall law professor David Lepofsky, said they released their open letter on Aug. 3 because they knew an election was imminent and wanted their concerns to be on the radar of parties and voters throughout the campaign.

The letter listed twelve commitments the group is seeking from the parties related to the implementation and amendment of the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), a law that was passed by the Liberal government in June 2019.

Some of the items the group is calling for include a commitment that federal government grants will not go to projects that do not meet accessibility standards, and the removal of loopholes in the ACA that allow some organizations to be exempt from its requirements. The AODA Alliance also wants a four-year timeline for enforcement of the accessibility standards required by the Act.

“We are concerned that the law itself is too weak and the government’s actions to implement it fall short,” said Mr. Lepofsky in an interview with The Hill Times. “Not that they’re doing nothing. They’re just not doing enough, and they’re not moving fast enough.”

 

The Hill Times reached out to each of the four main federal parties that are running candidates across Canada, asking for an interview with one of their candidates who identified as having a disability and who could speak to the party’s policies related to disability and accessibility. The Conservative Party did not reply to multiple emails. The Green Party replied with a policy statement but was not able to make a candidate available for an interview.

The AODA Alliance released a statement on Sept. 2, the day following the release of the Liberal party platform, criticizing the platform document as well as the continued lack of response from the other federal parties to their letter.

“[The Liberals, Conservatives, and NDP] mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms,” said the statement. “This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need.”

“The only party that says anything about strengthening the weak Accessible Canada Act is the NDP. [The Liberals and the Conservatives] don’t really say very much at all on this. But none of them make the 12 commitments that we seek,” Mr. Lepofsky said.

Mr. Lepofsky said his group always writes to parties in each election campaign, because platforms tend to offer a more general, high-level discussion of issues, and that seeking specific policy commitments is important to his organization.

“We know that a platform may only have a couple of sentences, which is why we write to the parties. So the first thing that’s worrisome is they’re not answering,” said Mr. Lepofsky.

“In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago: namely, promising a disability lens on all government decisions, and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The government’s record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive.”

As an example, Mr. Lepofsky pointed to the ArriveCan application, which can be used to facilitate the process of crossing the border into Canada. Mr. Lepofsky said the application has significant accessibility barriers for people who are visually impaired.

In an interview with The Hill Times, Carla Qualtrough (Delta, B.C.), who has served as Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion in the Liberal government, said now that the Liberal platform has been released, she is able to make more specific commitments in response to the items raised by Mr. Lepofsky in the AODA Alliance’s Aug. 3 letter.

“I can tell him that there will be enforceable standards within four years,” said Ms. Qualtrough. “The goal in the act is a barrier-free Canada by 2040, and all the work that I think David and other advocates, and perhaps rightfully so, kind of worry will be at the back end of the next nineteen years is being done now.”

Ms. Qualtrough added that while she is committed to having enforceable standards within four years, she cannot yet say which ones. She said that implementing the act involves developing highly detailed standards across every federally regulated sector.

“We’re talking standards in every aspect of federal government jurisdiction. So if you think of banks alone, there will be a standard for ATMs, for entrances, for money, for customer service. There are hundreds of standards that need to be developed over the course of the years. And there’s big ones, like an employment standard, but then there will be super technical ones, like counter height at a bank. So all of this will take time.”

Ms. Qualtrough said she understands the urgency that advocacy groups feel.

“I think that 2040 feels like a long way away, and it is for people who’ve been discriminated against their entire life, of course it is. But that doesn’t mean that work hasn’t already started and won’t be done.”

Ms. Qualtrough said that the vast majority of time since the ACA has been in place was during the pandemic, but that progress was still made in that time.

“I think that what we’ve done under the ACA, in the midst of all that, is phenomenal,” she said. “We’ve set up Accessible Standards Canada. We’ve set up the board, on which half of the members are persons with disabilities. We’ve put in place technical groups that are headed by people with disabilities to work on the first four standards.”

Mr. Lepofsky and other advocates have expressed concern that two key positions related to the enforcement of the ACA, the Accessibility Commissioner and the Chief Accessibility Officer, have not yet been filled.

NDP candidate Sidney Coles, who is running in Toronto-St. Paul’s, said that part of her party’s commitment to improve the ACA relates to looking at issues of jurisdiction.

“[NDP leader Jagmeet Singh] has committed to work to improve the Accessibility Act. Where we’re not quite clear, jurisdictionally, is who is going to enforce standards,” said Ms. Coles, who has limited mobility due to a leg injury.

“We need to work with the provinces to figure out how we do that from the municipality, to the province, to the federal level, and specifically with jurisdictional overlays, transport being one. When you’re improving a train, that may be a federal issue if it’s a national train. The municipality also has to respond and make sure that once passengers are coming off that train that the stations are set up to also accommodate passengers.”

Ms. Qualtrough said she sees the ACA as a major accomplishment, but there remains room for improvement.

“We will always look at making this law better. In my mind—and I’m saying this as a human rights lawyer—this is probably the most significant advancement in human rights for people with disabilities since the Charter. Like, this is an entirely… new system of accountability and prospective barrier removal that’s going to prevent discrimination. We’re trying to make our disability conversations across the country about human rights. It’s not this medical or charity model. It’s a human rights and poverty reduction lens.”

Ms. Qualtrough, who is legally blind, said she is thrilled to see these issues getting discussed during a federal election campaign.

Poverty relief essential: Adair

Mr. Lepofsky’s organization is not the only one calling for attention to disability issues during this election.

Bill Adair, the executive director of Spinal Cord Injury Canada, said that poverty is one of the key issues his organizations would like to see addressed on the campaign trail.

“The reality is that almost four million people in Canada live in poverty. One third of those people are people with disabilities,” said Mr. Adair.

“So our call is for a basic income to be provided to people living with disabilities to ensure that they no longer live in poverty.”

Mr. Adair said that the Canada Disability Benefit, introduced by the Liberal government in June in the final days of the last Parliament, indicated the “intent to do something specific about this,” but there needs to be much more detail than was included in that announcement.

“It needs to be much more robust,” said Mr. Adair. “We’d like to know, how soon is it going to be created? How much will be provided? How will this be coordinated with provinces and territories to ensure that they do not claw back benefits that people with disabilities are already receiving?”

“We understand this is not a simple equation that can just be solved quickly, but we are looking for something with details. We are looking for something which lifts people out of the poverty that is preventing them from participating in our great democracy.”

Jewelles Smith, communications and government relations coordinator at the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD), said that democratic participation is one of the most important topics of all, and that means making election campaigns accessible so that voters who have a disability can fully participate in the process of shaping the government.

“For people with disabilities to make an informed choice when casting their ballot they need full access to candidates’ campaigns,” said Ms. Smith.

She said that she has not consistently seen sign language interpreters appearing next to the party leaders, such as was seen next to the public health officers during the pandemic, and that many of the parties’ websites are lacking in accessibility features.

“I thought that with the pandemic it’s kind of a lesson learned,” she said. “I thought we would be seeing it from the primary candidates who are trying to get our votes.”

Ms. Smith said that Elections Canada now allows candidates to spend money on accessibility-related costs that will not go towards their campaign spending limits. A portion of these costs also qualify for reimbursement from Elections Canada.

Mr. Lepofsky said that, with his group’s focus on seeking public policy commitments related to accessibility, it is vital that all voters experience an accessible election process.

“We say that we’re the minority of everybody,” said Mr. Lepofsky. “Because everybody either has a disability now or gets one later. If you can see perfectly right now, as you get older, you might not be able to. So the barriers we’re fighting, if it’s not relevant to you now, it could be relevant to you later.”

[email protected]

The Hill Times

 CBC News September 17, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/priorities-for-millions-of-canadians-with-disabilities-left-out-of-election-campaign-say-advocates-1.6178053

Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities ‘left out’ of election campaign, say advocates

Kate McGillivray

CBC News

Toronto

An accessibility access point for a building through a parking garage in downtown Vancouver. It is behind a locked gate and has a grate that is difficult to cross with a wheelchair. (David Horemans/CBC)

One of Canada’s leading advocates for Canadians with disabilities says they are heading into election day on Monday with little confidence that their needs are a priority — and few firm promises from federal parties.

David Lepofsky, who is blind, is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance.

His group, which is non-partisan, sent each party a letter in early August requesting they make 12 specific commitments related to accessibility.

The requests range from making sure voting is fully accessible to promising not to spend public money on projects that perpetuate or create new barriers.

As of Friday, with the election now three days away, only one major party has come on board.

“The NDP made many, if not most, of our commitments. As for the other parties, we got a response from the Trudeau campaign merely acknowledging receipt of our letter,” said Lepofsky.

The Conservatives, he said, did not respond to the group at all.

“It’s enormously frustrating, unfair and troubling that disability issues in this election have yet again been given short shrift,” said Lepofsky.

“Six million people with disabilities and their families and loved ones get left out.”

Concern about lack of follow-through

The AODA Alliance is far from the only voice expressing disappointment with how little focus has gone to accessibility issues since campaigning began.

A recent Angus Reid study found that 67 per cent of Canadians with disabilities thought that their needs had not received enough attention during the election.

Other groups, such as the Accessible Housing Network, have also tried to put the issue on the agenda, calling on all parties to require that “all new and refurbished housing be 100 per cent accessible” to increase the dignity, freedom, wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities.

Luke Anderson, who serves as executive director of the Stopgap Foundation, told CBC Toronto he’s had to “go digging pretty deep” to find any mention of disability in the party platforms.

Luke Anderson says people with disabilities are once again being left out of the pre-election conversation. His StopGap Foundation builds ramps for single-step storefronts and raises awareness about barriers in our built environment. (Luke Anderson)

Even after reading what the parties have to say, he has little faith that what’s being promised will actually happen.

“I’m scared that their platforms on accessibility and disability aren’t going to be enforced and followed through on.”

Legislative failures

 

One area that both Lepofsky and Anderson say badly needs work is the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), passed back in 2019.

The act’s stated purpose was to “identify, remove and prevent” accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction — but Lepofsky says that in practice, implementation has been weak, and the rules are unclear.

“For example, this law does not require that when the federal government gives out billions for infrastructure projects that it ensures that those projects will be accessible to people with disabilities,” he said.

His group would like to see the act significantly strengthened, with loopholes closed, clear timelines for organizations to fall in line, and consequences for failing to do so.

David Lepofsky says: if the Liberal and Conservative leaders are ‘not prepared to respond to our inquiries now, in the middle of election, it doesn’t give you any confidence that they’re going to be any more responsive once the election is over.’

The AODA Alliance would also like to see improvements to the National Building Code, which it says “falls short of the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, applicable human rights codes and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.”

Of the three major parties, only the Conservatives responded to a request from CBC News for details on their platform and an explanation for why they did not respond to the AODA Alliance.

The party says it plans to “boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund by $80 million per year, double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit from $713 to $1,500, [and] overhaul the complex array of disability supports and benefits,” among other steps.

The Conservatives did not address their lack of response to Lepofsky’s group.

 CBC News September 15, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/ask-accessible-voting-election-disabilities-1.6175148

How accessible is voting for people with disabilities?

Tyler Bloomfield

CBC News

A lawn sign from a Disability Matters Vote (DMVote) campaign is seen in Manitoba in 2019. DMVote is a non-partisan public awareness campaign that supports Manitobans with disabilities so they can participate fully in election activities. (Tyson Koschik/CBC)

This story idea came from an audience member, like you, who got in touch with us. Send us your questions and story tips. We are listening: [email protected]

For some people, voting isn’t as simple as showing up to the polls on election day and casting a ballot.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities.

CBC News readers have been asking us about them and the accessibility of the federal election in general.

From getting voter information to upholding the privacy of a ballot, advocates say there are barriers that exist in the voting process for people with disabilities. Listen to a text-to-speech version of this full story. 6:30

Getting the resources you need

Before someone with a disability even gets to the polls there are hurdles to clear. One, for example, is getting the voter information you need in a format that works for you.

Elections Canada offers voter information — like its guide to the federal election and list of accepted forms of ID to register and vote — as an American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise (LSQ) video with open captioning.

You can also order physical resources in braille, large print or as an audio CD.

Have an election question for CBC News? Email [email protected] Your input helps inform our coverage.

For people who are deaf or partly deaf, Elections Canada also has an ASL version of a video explaining how it is making federal elections accessible and an ASL version of its video that covers voting assistance tools and services.

If a family member or friend has asked you for help voting, Elections Canada has a section on its website clarifying what is and is not allowed when offering support.

Accessibility at the polls

If you’re voting in person on election day, you’ll want to make sure your assigned polling station has everything you require to vote safely and accurately.

Returning officers use an accessibility checklist, which contains 37 criteria — 15 of which are mandatory.

A polling station, for example, is required to provide a level access instead of stairs to the entrance and the voting room must be on the same level as the entryway.

But Elections Canada does not mandate parking spaces for people with disabilities.

You can check to see exactly how accessible your nearest polling station is by searching your postal code on Elections Canada’s voter information service. If you are deaf or partly deaf you can Teletype (TTY) 1-800-361-8935 for more information.

If your assigned polling place does not meet your needs, the agency says to contact your local Elections Canada office and you may be issued a Transfer Certificate. This would allow you to vote at a more accessible polling place in your riding.

David Lepofsky is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a visiting professor at Osgoode Hall Law School at York University in Toronto. He points out that the COVID-19 pandemic also introduces barriers at the polls for electors with disabilities.

For instance, if a voter who is blind or partly blind shows up on their own, he says they might require another person to guide them, but “you can’t take someone’s arm and be guided if you’re trying to socially distance.”

Lepofsky adds that minimizing the distance between the doors of the polling station and where you go to cast your ballot could be one way to help address that issue, as well as including properly colour-contrasted tape and stanchions to assist people so they can know by touch.

Elections Canada says high-visibility physical distancing markers will be in place at polling places, so that electors who are partly blind can more easily see them and maintain physical distance.

Each polling station will also carry tools to make reading and marking your ballot more accessible. If you ask a poll worker they should be able to provide you with a large-print or braille list of candidates, tactile and braille voting templates, magnifiers, large-grip pencils and voting screens that let in more light.

The right to a private ballot

 

An issue Lepofsky says is harder to address is maintaining the right to a private ballot for people who are blind or partly blind.

“We have never had that right. We have had to either have somebody else mark our ballot for us, which means you have to tell someone else — a trusted friend or a public official — who you’re voting for,” he said.

“People without disabilities take this right for granted because they don’t even have to think about it.”

David Lepofsky, the Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says people who are blind or partly blind have never had the right to mark and independently verify their own ballot in federal elections.

Elections Canada told CBC News in an email that the secrecy of those votes are maintained by the oaths taken by those who assist them.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector. It’s always done in the presence of a witness. If the elector requests assistance from someone they know, that person is required to sign an oath before they provide assistance,” said Matthew McKenna, a spokesperson for Elections Canada.

But Lepofsky says he believes the process still amounts to a systemic denial for people with disabilities to mark and verify a ballot on their own.

There are ways to ensure they can vote in private and to verify their choice, he says, but the federal government and Elections Canada have not applied those in this election.

More accessible voting methods

 

One of Lepofsky’s suggestions is to introduce more accessible ways of voting, like telephone voting. This method would allow electors to call in to vote and has been used in provincial elections across Canada.

In B.C., assisted telephone voting is available to voters who are blind, or who have a disability or underlying health condition that prevents them from voting on their own. It was also made available during the 2020 provincial election for people who had to self-isolate during the last week of the campaign period because of a positive COVID-19 test or exposure.

Introducing new technology and voting methods into federal elections raises security and accuracy concerns.

Aleksander Essex, an associate professor of software engineering at Western University in London, Ont., specializes in voting technology. He doesn’t recommend phone voting, he says, because of what he has seen in Ontario municipal elections that use the method.

He says there were instances where the call would drop, leading to more problems.

“The voter would call back and they would say, ‘Well, sorry, you can’t vote because you’ve already voted.’ So they had to go back and sort of work with the city to literally pull the vote out of the telephone system to have it reset.”

He acknowledges that methods like online voting could also reduce barriers, but he says the security risks outweigh the benefits.

“We can’t make this a zero-sum game between accessibility and cybersecurity. We have to have both.”

Lepofsky also mentioned that accessible voting machines are used in some places, but that they have had problems with reliability in the past.

Elections Canada says the voting methods used by Canadians are prescribed in the Canada Elections Act. Changes to the way votes are cast would require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change.

“I don’t believe that we need to just accept the status quo, replete with disability barriers or do nothing,” said Lepofsky.



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Human Resources Policies to Enhance School Accessibility


Currently, there are no AODA education standards. However, two AODA standards development committees have drafted recommendations of guidelines that AODA education standards should include. One committee has recommended guidelines for the kindergarten to grade twelve (K-12) education system. In this article, we outline recommended guidelines for human resources policies to enhance school accessibility.

Human Resources Policies to Enhance School Accessibility

The Committee recommends that every school board should create and enact human resources policies that make the school board more accessible. These policies should ensure an environment where students of all abilities can fully participate in school. For instance, principles, vice-principals, and other teaching staff should know how to promote inclusion and full participation. Therefore, school board hiring and promotion policies should include knowledge of and experience with accessibility as an important qualification for these staff. As a result, principals and teachers who know how to work with students who have disabilities can support other school staff in ensuring an accessible environment.

Similarly, performance reviews should also assess how well staff members include students with disabilities in lessons and other school activities. For example, reviews could assess how a teacher has accommodated students, including:

  • Implementing Universal Design for Learning (UDL) principles, such as finding multiple ways to:
  • Ensuring the accessibility of activities outside the classroom, such as:
  • Working with other professionals within or outside the classroom, such as:
    • Sign Language interpreters or real-time captioners
    • Teachers of the blind or visually impaired (TVIs)
    • Educational assistants
    • Social workers
    • Psychologists
    • Occupational therapists

All these policies would give more students with disabilities a well-rounded, fulfilling school experience equal to their peers without disabilities.




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Some Media Cover the Federal Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues and/or the Inaccessibility of Mail-In Ballots


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

September 14, 2021

SUMMARY

Canada’s September 20, 2021 election is just six days away. We have been trying very hard to get the media to cover this election’s disability issues, especially as they relate to the requirement in the Accessible Canada Act that Canada become accessible by 2040. It should be extremely newsworthy that only one of the federal party leaders has even answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 specific commitments regarding disability accessibility.

As we have found in past elections, it is very hard to get the media to cover this election issue. This is so, even though major media outlets devote a great deal of time and space to election issues. Of course, the accessibility issue on which the AODA Alliance has concentrated is only one of several important disability issues in this election.

In this Update, we share three recent news reports:
* CTV News Online on September 9, 2021
* The September 13, 2021 report by the Canadian Press, published in different media, including that date’s Chat News Today. This article was picked up by a number of other news outlets, like the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, but the Star and Globe edited out its references to the party leaders who have not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 request for election pledges on accessibility.

In addition to that coverage, CTV’s September 8, 2021 national “Your Morning”, included a six -minute interview on the federal election’s disability issues. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed, as well as accessibility consultant Thea Kurdi. This interview is now available with captions at https://youtu.be/ZJ6yEOvOm8I We are tweeting this interview to as many candidates as possible during the federal election. We invite you to share it with candidates, voters and anyone else. Use email, social media or any other way you can to circulate it. If you want to see the names, email address and Twitter handles for as many of the candidates as our volunteers could dig up, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2021-federal-Election-Candidates-Final-List.docx

To date, we have not found CBC covering the election’s disability issues. We have reached out to CBC among many other media organizations.

One of the 12 commitments we have sought from the parties relates to making federal elections accessible to voters with disabilities. As with all of our requests, none of the parties have answered except the NDP. In the meantime, mail-in ballots have become much, much more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mail-in ballot system operated by Elections Canada is quite substantially inaccessible to voters with certain disabilities such as vision loss or dyslexia. Two of the articles set out below address this obvious barrier.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, himself totally blind, used the mail-in ballot. He tweeted about its inaccessibility. Elections Canada heard about these tweets and tweeted to David Lepofsky. David Lepofsky then responded to Elections Canada on Twitter. These tweets are all set out below.

MORE DETAILS

Sept 11 and 12 2021 tweets on accessibility of mail in votes by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

September 11, 2021
David Lepofsky: I voted by mail to avoid COVID-19 danger. Canada’s mail-in ballot is inaccessible to #blind voters like me. I can’t mark my ballot independently in private & verify my choice. This violates the Charter of Rights & Canada Human Rights Act. #elxn44 #CRPD September 12, 2021

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

Elections Canda: @DavidLepofsky You can find the contact information for your local office here: https://www.elections.ca/Scripts/vis/FindED?L=e&QID=-1&PAGEID=20 (3/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: Not ideal? The mail-in ballot process is totally inaccessible to #blind people like me. That’s much more than “not ideal”! #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #elxn55

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I don’t want any election officials seeing who I vote for. That violates the secret ballot. #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I did not go to the polling station, in order to avoid unnecessary exposure. My wife, who would come with me, has a compromised immune system #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

CTV News September 9, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/canadians-with-disabilities-say-they-re-missing-from-the-election-discussion-1.5577558

Canadians with disabilities say they’re missing from the election discussion

Jeremiah Rodriguez
CTVNews.ca Writer
@jererodriguezzz

TORONTO — Federal party leaders aren’t listening enough to the concerns of disabled Canadians, advocates say. They say key priorities missing from campaign pledges include equitable emergency relief, stronger housing, and workplace polices that address all types of disabilities.

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, said this lack of scope boils down to a “lack of understanding of what systemic ableism looks like.”

“Nothing is prioritized by the government unless there’s people campaigning behind it,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

She said this could be partially addressed by having more disabled candidates running for office or being key parts of campaign decision-making. Jama said people in power don’t always make appreciate just how many Canadians have some form of a disability.

Disabled people make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s entire population. And between 62 and 75 per cent of people with disabilities have disabilities which aren’t immediately apparent, such as deafness, blindness or autism.

One of the biggest issues that Jama says hasn’t received enough attention during this campaign is overhauling care for vulnerable people who currently receive care at home or live in long-term care homes.

Jama said she likes the NDP’s platform commitments to end the private long-term care home system, but wants to see the next government go even beyond that.

“We need to reimagine what long-term care looks like in Canada,” she said. She said she wishes party leaders put forth policies that give vulnerable people more affordable options to receive care at home, keeping them out of long-term care facilities.

Jama also said “it’s also embarrassing” that Canada doesn’t yet have universal pharmacare, and that she wishes all parties agreed that it was essential, especially for people with disabilities.

Both the NDP and the Greens have advocated for a national pharmacare program that would provide prescription drug coverage for all Canadians and permanent residents. And while the Liberals have spent the past few years saying they’re moving forward on pharmacare, their platform only notes existing progress on the file, including the signing of the first provincial-territorial agreement to accelerate its implementation. The Conservatives haven’t endorsed a national pharmacare plan but, in their platform, they promise to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug prices.

Jama also called for more concrete provisions for disabled people during natural disasters, to ensure they’re prioritized during evacuations.

Many disability advocates have also been critical of recent expansion of access to medical assistance in dying (MAID). They argue that instead of making it easier for disabled people to die, the government should be working to make workplaces and housing more functional for them.

Jama says she supports the parts of the Conservative platform around strengthening protections for disabled people when it comes to MAID, including reinstating the 10-day waiting period, to ensure decisions aren’t made at people’s lowest point. No other major party references further adjustments to MAID in its platform.

ACCESIBILITY TO HOUSING, WORKPLACES TOO MUCH AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’

Thea Kurdi, vice president of DesignABLE Environments INC, told CTV’s Your Morning that the situation for disabled people is “much worse than non-disabled people suspect.”

She said accessibility in housing or workplace policies is too often treated as an “afterthought,” instead of a priority aligning with Canada’s commitments to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Kurdi said that too often, although wheelchair access is prioritized, spaces aren’t also made to be truly accessible to deaf, blind or autistic people. Making spaces accessible for visually-impaired people for example, can mean ensuring braille materials or screen-reading software are available; and, for people with hearing concerns, ensuring there are clear fonts in materials and phone or video relay services.

Jama said any parties’ affordable housing policies must address accessibility concerns but only the Greens and NDP have explicitly connected the two.

The Greens are calling for housing developments receiving federal funding to ensure that 30 per cent of all units are affordable and/or available to people with disabilities. The NDP has advocated for accessibility in housing as well.

The Liberals’ platform says only that affordable housing should keep people with disabilities in mind, while the Conservatives haven’t explicitly linked housing and accessibility in their platform.

ACCESSIBLE CANADA ACT STILL TOO WEAK: ADVOCATE

David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said people with disabilities were left out of decision-making throughout the pandemic, including when it came to recovery programs and vaccine prioritization.

“We’ve disproportionately suffered the consequences of the pandemic, and disproportionately been left out of the proper planning for urgent needs during the pandemic,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. He cited the federal government’s one-time payment took months to get to recipients.

Lepofsky also said that the Accessible Canada Act, which passed two years ago, is still far too weak because it doesn’t include enforceable regulations nor adequate compensation for victims of discrimination.

“We’ve written all the parties to ask them if they will strengthen and offered 12 ways to make things better,” said Lepofsky. Only the NDP responded and pledged to make many of the commitments, he said.

Lepofsky said Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau who promised ambitious implementation of the act and his government have been “dragging their feet.”

As for Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, he hasn’t pledged to make any of the commitments put forth by Lepofsky’s advocacy group —
despite the fact that during parliamentary debates in 2018, his party said it would strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if the Liberals didn’t.

“We’re not partisan. We want all of the party leaders to make those commitments,” he said.

Chat News Today September 13, 2021

Originally posted at https://chatnewstoday.ca/2021/09/13/blind-lawyer-says-lack-of-accessible-private-voting-options-violates-charter/

Blind lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options violates Charter

Maan Alhmidi
The Canadian Press
SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021

David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, for ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

CTV News September 6, 2021

Originally posted at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/mail-in-ballots-still-inaccessible-for-blind-voters-advocates-say-1.5575148

Mail-in ballots still inaccessible for blind voters, advocates say

Alexandra Mae Jones
CTVNews.ca

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

TORONTO — The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) is calling on the government to do more for blind Canadians, pointing out that the Special Ballot to vote by mail is useless to blind voters unless they gain aid from a sighted person, impeding their right to vote in secret.

In a press release Friday, the organization said it was time to fix the discrimination that leaves out these voters, saying they expected more since this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which aiming to introduce more legislation to aid those with disabilities.

“Due to the pandemic, there are voters who want to vote by mail,” the release stated. “For blind voters, for whom print is a barrier, the mail-in Special Ballot, which is a printed paper ballot, is proving problematic.”

Since ballots need to be filled out exactly in order to be counted, a blind voter would need the assistance of a sighted person to verify that they had filled out the ballot correctly.

“The inaccessible Special Ballot robs blind voters of the right to vote in secret, which is a key principle of democracy,” the release states.

The release added that the requirement to upload scanned identification to register for mail-in ballots online also requires a blind voter to seek help from a sighted person, and that there is no information about candidates in Braille at advance polls.

“We have been hearing that the mail-in ballot process is not one that can be negotiated independently by all blind voters,” Heather Walkus, CCD 1st vice chair, stated in the release. “As this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which promised no new barriers, this is all very disappointing. Blind voters were expecting to finally exercise their franchise in secret this election the same as other voters.”

Elections Canada said in an email statement to CTVNews.ca that they are “committed to responding to the diverse needs of Canadians.”

They said that among the accessibility services they offer, they have sign language interpretation and have redesigned the ballot to improve readability for people who use screen readers.

Elections Canada added that they have a number of tools and services for voting in person, such as large-print candidates lists on advance polling and election days, and Braille lists of candidates on election day. There are also Braille voting templates available on advance polling and election days, they stated.

“We recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for electors who are unable to mark their own ballot,” the statement continued. “Instead of voting by mail, electors who need help marking their ballot may contact their local Elections Canada office to make an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer, who will complete their registration and mark their ballot on their behalf.”

This does not address the issue of voters being entitled to a secret voting process, CCD pointed out. The CCD release stated that they have been calling for other methods to vote for years, such as adding the ability to vote through accessible voting machines and electronic voting.

“We are not seeking an end to the paper ballot, but the addition of accessible voting options so that all voters can exercise their franchise independently and in secret,” Walkus said.

The Accessible Canada Act, which came into effect in 2019, was intended to eliminate barriers and provide greater opportunities for disabled Canadians. It did not specifically include promises for making the voting process more accessible.




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Some Media Cover the Federal Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues and/or the Inaccessibility of Mail-In Ballots – AODA Alliance


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Some Media Cover the Federal Election’s Disability Accessibility Issues and/or the Inaccessibility of Mail-In Ballots

September 14, 2021

        SUMMARY

Canada’s September 20, 2021 election is just six days away. We have been trying very hard to get the media to cover this election’s disability issues, especially as they relate to the requirement in the Accessible Canada Act that Canada become accessible by 2040. It should be extremely newsworthy that only one of the federal party leaders has even answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 written request for 12 specific commitments regarding disability accessibility.

As we have found in past elections, it is very hard to get the media to cover this election issue. This is so, even though major media outlets devote a great deal of time and space to election issues. Of course, the accessibility issue on which the AODA Alliance has concentrated is only one of several important disability issues in this election.

In this Update, we share three recent news reports:

  • CTV News Online on September 9, 2021
  • The September 13, 2021 report by the Canadian Press, published in different media, including that date’s Chat News Today. This article was picked up by a number of other news outlets, like the Toronto Star and Globe and Mail, but the Star and Globe edited out its references to the party leaders who have not answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 request for election pledges on accessibility.

In addition to that coverage, CTV’s September 8, 2021 national “Your Morning”, included a six -minute interview on the federal election’s disability issues. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed, as well as accessibility consultant Thea Kurdi. This interview is now available with captions at https://youtu.be/ZJ6yEOvOm8I We are tweeting this interview to as many candidates as possible during the federal election. We invite you to share it with candidates, voters and anyone else. Use email, social media or any other way you can to circulate it. If you want to see the names, email address and Twitter handles for as many of the candidates as our volunteers could dig up, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/09/2021-federal-Election-Candidates-Final-List.docx

To date, we have not found CBC covering the election’s disability issues. We have reached out to CBC among many other media organizations.

One of the 12 commitments we have sought from the parties relates to making federal elections accessible to voters with disabilities. As with all of our requests, none of the parties have answered except the NDP. In the meantime, mail-in ballots have become much, much more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mail-in ballot system operated by Elections Canada is quite substantially inaccessible to voters with certain disabilities such as vision loss or dyslexia. Two of the articles set out below address this obvious barrier.

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, himself totally blind, used the mail-in ballot. He tweeted about its inaccessibility. Elections Canada heard about these tweets and tweeted to David Lepofsky. David Lepofsky then responded to Elections Canada on Twitter. These tweets are all set out below.

MORE DETAILS

Sept 11 and 12 2021 tweets on accessibility of mail in votes by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

September 11, 2021

David Lepofsky: I voted by mail to avoid COVID-19 danger. Canada’s mail-in ballot is inaccessible to #blind voters like me. I can’t mark my ballot independently in private & verify my choice. This violates the Charter of Rights & Canada Human Rights Act. #elxn44 #CRPD

September 12, 2021

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

Elections Canada: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

Elections Canda: @DavidLepofsky You can find the contact information for your local office here: https://www.elections.ca/Scripts/vis/FindED?L=e&QID=-1&PAGEID=20 (3/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: Not ideal? The mail-in ballot process is totally inaccessible to #blind people like me. That’s much more than “not ideal”! #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #elxn55

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky Hello David, we recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently. (1/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I don’t want any election officials seeing who I vote for. That violates the secret ballot. #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

David Lepofsky: @DavidLepofsky: I did not go to the polling station, in order to avoid unnecessary exposure. My wife, who would come with me, has a compromised immune system #accessibility #AccessibleCanada #Elxn44

@ElectionsCan_E: @DavidLepofsky If you require assistance to mark your ballot, we recommend you contact your local EC office to request an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer. They will help complete your registration process and then can mark your ballot on your behalf. (2/3)

 CTV News September 9, 2021

Originally posted at https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/canadians-with-disabilities-say-they-re-missing-from-the-election-discussion-1.5577558

 

Canadians with disabilities say they’re missing from the election discussion

Jeremiah Rodriguez

CTVNews.ca Writer

@jererodriguezzz

TORONTO — Federal party leaders aren’t listening enough to the concerns of disabled Canadians, advocates say. They say key priorities missing from campaign pledges include equitable emergency relief, stronger housing, and workplace polices that address all types of disabilities.

Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, said this lack of scope boils down to a “lack of understanding of what systemic ableism looks like.”

“Nothing is prioritized by the government unless there’s people campaigning behind it,” she told CTVNews.ca in a phone interview.

She said this could be partially addressed by having more disabled candidates running for office or being key parts of campaign decision-making. Jama said people in power don’t always make appreciate just how many Canadians have some form of a disability.

Disabled people make up approximately 22 per cent of Canada’s entire population. And between 62 and 75 per cent of people with disabilities have disabilities which aren’t immediately apparent, such as deafness, blindness or autism.

One of the biggest issues that Jama says hasn’t received enough attention during this campaign is overhauling care for vulnerable people who currently receive care at home or live in long-term care homes.

Jama said she likes the NDP’s platform commitments to end the private long-term care home system, but wants to see the next government go even beyond that.

“We need to reimagine what long-term care looks like in Canada,” she said. She said she wishes party leaders put forth policies that give vulnerable people more affordable options to receive care at home, keeping them out of long-term care facilities.

Jama also said “it’s also embarrassing” that Canada doesn’t yet have universal pharmacare, and that she wishes all parties agreed that it was essential, especially for people with disabilities.

Both the NDP and the Greens have advocated for a national pharmacare program that would provide prescription drug coverage for all Canadians and permanent residents. And while the Liberals have spent the past few years saying they’re moving forward on pharmacare, their platform only notes existing progress on the file, including the signing of the first provincial-territorial agreement to accelerate its implementation. The Conservatives haven’t endorsed a national pharmacare plan but, in their platform, they promise to negotiate with the pharmaceutical industry to reduce drug prices.

Jama also called for more concrete provisions for disabled people during natural disasters, to ensure they’re prioritized during evacuations.

Many disability advocates have also been critical of recent expansion of access to medical assistance in dying (MAID). They argue that instead of making it easier for disabled people to die, the government should be working to make workplaces and housing more functional for them.

Jama says she supports the parts of the Conservative platform around strengthening protections for disabled people when it comes to MAID, including reinstating the 10-day waiting period, to ensure decisions aren’t made at people’s lowest point. No other major party references further adjustments to MAID in its platform.

ACCESIBILITY TO HOUSING, WORKPLACES TOO MUCH AN ‘AFTERTHOUGHT’

Thea Kurdi, vice president of DesignABLE Environments INC, told CTV’s Your Morning that the situation for disabled people is “much worse than non-disabled people suspect.”

She said accessibility in housing or workplace policies is too often treated as an “afterthought,” instead of a priority aligning with Canada’s commitments to the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Kurdi said that too often, although wheelchair access is prioritized, spaces aren’t also made to be truly accessible to deaf, blind or autistic people. Making spaces accessible for visually-impaired people for example, can mean ensuring braille materials or screen-reading software are available; and, for people with hearing concerns, ensuring there are clear fonts in materials and phone or video relay services.

Jama said any parties’ affordable housing policies must address accessibility concerns but only the Greens and NDP have explicitly connected the two.

The Greens are calling for housing developments receiving federal funding to ensure that 30 per cent of all units are affordable and/or available to people with disabilities. The NDP has advocated for accessibility in housing as well.

The Liberals’ platform says only that affordable housing should keep people with disabilities in mind, while the Conservatives haven’t explicitly linked housing and accessibility in their platform.

ACCESSIBLE CANADA ACT STILL TOO WEAK: ADVOCATE

David Lepofsky, the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said people with disabilities were left out of decision-making throughout the pandemic, including when it came to recovery programs and vaccine prioritization.

“We’ve disproportionately suffered the consequences of the pandemic, and disproportionately been left out of the proper planning for urgent needs during the pandemic,” he told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. He cited the federal government’s one-time payment took months to get to recipients.

Lepofsky also said that the Accessible Canada Act, which passed two years ago, is still far too weak because it doesn’t include enforceable regulations nor adequate compensation for victims of discrimination.

“We’ve written all the parties to ask them if they will strengthen and offered 12 ways to make things better,” said Lepofsky. Only the NDP responded and pledged to make many of the commitments, he said.

Lepofsky said Liberal Party Leader Justin Trudeau– who promised ambitious implementation of the act – and his government have been “dragging their feet.”

As for Conservative Party Leader Erin O’Toole, he hasn’t pledged to make any of the commitments put forth by Lepofsky’s advocacy group — despite the fact that during parliamentary debates in 2018, his party said it would strengthen the Accessible Canada Act, if the Liberals didn’t.

“We’re not partisan. We want all of the party leaders to make those commitments,” he said.

 Chat News Today September 13, 2021

Originally posted at https://chatnewstoday.ca/2021/09/13/blind-lawyer-says-lack-of-accessible-private-voting-options-violates-charter/

Blind lawyer says lack of accessible, private voting options violates Charter

 

Maan Alhmidi

The Canadian Press

SEPTEMBER 13, 2021

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021

David Lepofsky was not able to mark his choice independently on the mail-in ballot Elections Canada sent to him because he is blind.

He opted to not vote in person with his wife because she has a serious immune limitation and they don’t want to risk being infected with COVID-19.

Lepofsky, who is a lawyer advocating for accessibility for disabled people, said the voting options available for blind people don’t allow them to cast their ballots privately.

He said the lack of accessible voting options is a violation of section 15 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which requires equal protection and benefit of the law to those living with mental or physical disabilities.

“This is just awful,” he said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

“The basic right we’re all supposed to enjoy is the right to mark our own ballot in private and to mark it independently, for ourselves, and to be able to verify this mark the way we want. And I currently don’t have that as a blind person at the federal level.”

Elections Canada responded to his complaint on Twitter on Sunday saying the agency recognizes “the special ballot process is not ideal for an elector who is unable to mark their ballot independently.”

Lepofsky said describing the situation as being “not ideal” is an “offensive understatement” because the mail-in ballots are not accessible.

He said the other option of voting in-person at a polling station also would not allow him to vote in private because an Elections Canada officer would have to read and verify his voting choice.

An Elections Canada spokesperson said those who provide assistance to voters must take oaths to protect the secrecy of those ballots.

“In the case of a poll worker, oaths are taken as part of the job when they provide assistance to an elector,” Matthew McKenna said in a statement.

According to Statistics Canada, about three per cent of Canadians aged 15 years and older, or about 750,000 people, have a seeing disability that limits their daily activities and 5.8 per cent of this group are legally blind.

Lepofsky, who is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said his group sent a letter last month to all main federal parties asking for 12 commitments on accessibility, including one on accessibility of the electoral process.

“Only one leader has answered us. And that is (NDP Leader) Jagmeet Singh,” he said.

“We don’t support anyone or oppose anyone. We try to get the strongest commitments we can, but we have not even gotten an answer from (Liberal Leader) Justin Trudeau or (Conservative Leader) Erin O’Toole.”

He said there should be voting options at the federal level for people with disabilities that allow them to vote without needing help from anyone. He said voting by phone through an automated system can be a good option.

“In New Zealand, they have a phone-in ballot which is not internet-connected. That’s available for voters with vision loss. There are different options around the world but we are lagging way behind,” he said.

“We’re in the dark ages.”

Last year, Elections BC provided a telephone voting option for voters who are unable to vote independently, including people who have vision loss, those who have a disability or an underlying health condition that prevents them from voting independently and those who were self-isolating during the last week of the campaign and unable to vote by mail.

McKenna said introducing other voting options requires a law change.

“Changes to the way Canadians vote, including telephone voting, would in almost all cases require authorization from Parliament, typically in the form of legislative change,” he said.

“When assessing new voting processes or services, we undertake significant planning and testing to ensure that the new option is accessible, and that the confidentiality, secrecy, reliability and integrity of the vote are preserved.”

 CTV News September 6, 2021

Originally posted at: https://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/federal-election-2021/mail-in-ballots-still-inaccessible-for-blind-voters-advocates-say-1.5575148

Mail-in ballots still inaccessible for blind voters, advocates say

Alexandra Mae Jones

CTVNews.ca

A mail-in voting package that voters will receive if requested is seen in Calgary, Alta., Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021.

TORONTO — The Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) is calling on the government to do more for blind Canadians, pointing out that the Special Ballot to vote by mail is useless to blind voters unless they gain aid from a sighted person, impeding their right to vote in secret.

In a press release Friday, the organization said it was time to fix the discrimination that leaves out these voters, saying they expected more since this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which aiming to introduce more legislation to aid those with disabilities.

“Due to the pandemic, there are voters who want to vote by mail,” the release stated. “For blind voters, for whom print is a barrier, the mail-in Special Ballot, which is a printed paper ballot, is proving problematic.”

Since ballots need to be filled out exactly in order to be counted, a blind voter would need the assistance of a sighted person to verify that they had filled out the ballot correctly.

“The inaccessible Special Ballot robs blind voters of the right to vote in secret, which is a key principle of democracy,” the release states.

The release added that the requirement to upload scanned identification to register for mail-in ballots online also requires a blind voter to seek help from a sighted person, and that there is no information about candidates in Braille at advance polls.

“We have been hearing that the mail-in ballot process is not one that can be negotiated independently by all blind voters,” Heather Walkus, CCD 1st vice chair, stated in the release. “As this election follows the passage of the Accessible Canada Act, which promised no new barriers, this is all very disappointing. Blind voters were expecting to finally exercise their franchise in secret this election the same as other voters.”

Elections Canada said in an email statement to CTVNews.ca that they are “committed to responding to the diverse needs of Canadians.”

They said that among the accessibility services they offer, they have sign language interpretation and have redesigned the ballot to improve readability for people who use screen readers.

Elections Canada added that they have a number of tools and services for voting in person, such as large-print candidates lists on advance polling and election days, and Braille lists of candidates on election day. There are also Braille voting templates available on advance polling and election days, they stated.

“We recognize that the special ballot process is not ideal for electors who are unable to mark their own ballot,” the statement continued. “Instead of voting by mail, electors who need help marking their ballot may contact their local Elections Canada office to make an appointment to vote with the assistance of an election officer, who will complete their registration and mark their ballot on their behalf.”

This does not address the issue of voters being entitled to a secret voting process, CCD pointed out. The CCD release stated that they have been calling for other methods to vote for years, such as adding the ability to vote through accessible voting machines and electronic voting.

“We are not seeking an end to the paper ballot, but the addition of accessible voting options so that all voters can exercise their franchise independently and in secret,” Walkus said.

The Accessible Canada Act, which came into effect in 2019, was intended to eliminate barriers and provide greater opportunities for disabled Canadians. It did not specifically include promises for making the voting process more accessible.



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Concerns Raised Over Accessibility Ahead of Digital Vaccine Passport Rollout in Ontario


Spencer Turcotte
CTV News Kitchener Multimedia Journalist
Updated Sept. 4, 2021

KITCHENER – As the Ontario government gets ready to roll out a
digital vaccine passport system next month, some are wondering how they’ll be able to access the QR code and verification app.
Penny Frankland, 75, has a phone with no internet access on it, and is feeling forgotten after hearing about the vaccine passport plan.

“What does one do if you do not have internet on your phone?” she said. “I don’t know what they’re going to do, but they’re going to have to do something else so that we’re all included in this.”

The province has split its vaccine passport rollout into two stages. Starting on Sept. 22, fully vaccinated residents will need to print off their vaccination receipts as a PDF or save it to their phone. This will be used as proof of vaccination in non-essential settings.

On Oct. 22, the QR code and verification app will come into effect.

“We have no assurance, since we haven’t seen the app, that the app they create will be accessible for people with disabilities that do have a smart phone,” said David Lepofsky, the chair of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

In a statement, the government of Ontario says they will provide additional support in the coming weeks for people who don’t have an email, health card or ID. The province also says the QR code can be printed out and will be accepted in paper form.

“That presupposes that you have a computer and a printer, that you have access to technology to be able to use it, and that their website for delivering all this will also be accessible,” said Lepofsky.

Advocates aren’t sure what the passport system will look like for marginalized groups, but are asking for equal and accessible options.

Places like Quebec rolled out their own vaccine passport system this week, where iPhone users were able to download the app right away, but Android users had to wait several days.

The Ontario government says it will be watching closely to make sure those same mistakes don’t happen here.

Original at https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/concerns-raised-over-accessibility-ahead-of-digital-vaccine-passport-rollout-in-ontario-1.5574057




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New Federal Liberal Party Platform Offers None of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Requested


The New Democratic Party Added One Requested Commitment in Its Response to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

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

September 2, 2021

SUMMARY

Here’s a rapid response to announcements we learned of yesterday by the federal Liberal and New Democratic Parties regarding accessibility for people with disabilities.

The three major parties mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms. This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need. No party leader has yet answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, seeking commitments on disability accessibility.

We encourage you to learn more about the federal parties’ disability commitments. Urge them to make the 12 accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance sought in its August 3, 2021 letter to the party leaders. Below we set out a summary of the commitments we seek.

We remind you that the AODA Alliance is non-partisan. We do not support or oppose any party or candidate. We aim to get the strongest commitments we can get from all parties on achieving accessibility for people with disabilities in Canada.

We comment here only on party commitments addressing the issue of making Canada accessible for people with disabilities. This election has other important disability issues as well. We encourage a careful review of the party platforms on all issues important to people with disabilities.

1. The Liberal party of Canada

Yesterday, the Liberal Party of Canada released its full election platform. It includes a “Disability Statement.” Below we set out excerpts from the platform that make commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities.

On the accessibility issue, in substance this new platform includes little or nothing new that is positive. The Liberals make none of the 12 commitments that we requested in the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the federal party leaders. It mainly restates promises it made two years ago, in the 2019 election, promises it failed to keep. It also makes one new commitment that is a source of serious concern.

All federal parties had ample time to consider our requests. We also made 11 of the 12 requests in the 2019 election.

In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago, namely promising a disability lens on all Government decisions and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The Government’s record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive. As AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky wrote in his August 31, 2021 guest column in the Toronto Star’s Metroland newspapers:

No national accessibility standards have been enacted to require specific actions to remove and prevent disability barriers. The federal government has not even hired the national accessibility commissioner or the chief accessibility officer, pivotal to lead the ACA’s implementation.

There was no disability lens when the federal government released the ArriveCan app for people entering Canada, replete with accessibility barriers for blind users. The federal government pours billions into infrastructure projects without requiring their disability accessibility.

That column was written before the Liberal Party released its new September 1, 2021 platform document. We regret that nothing in that new platform document reduces the guest column’s concerns.

Making this worse, we are very concerned about the Liberal Party’s commitment to the “the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada.” “Harmonization” initially sounds great. Yet there is a real danger that this could lead accessibility standards across Canada being reduced to the lowest common denominator. That would hurt people with disabilities. The Liberal Party needs to immediately rescind this platform pledge.

New Democratic Party of Canada

Yesterday, the New Democratic Party of Canada sent the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) a response to its request for election commitments. We set it out below as well.

The New Democratic Party’s response to the Questions from the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians makes one of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance requested of all the major political parties. It commits the NDP to:

ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

So far, the NDP commitments on accessibility are stronger than those from the other parties. However, the NDP commitments fall well short of what that party committed to us on the same issues two years ago in the NDP’s September 16, 2019 letter to the AODA Alliance during the 2019 federal election campaign. We have no idea why the NDP hasn’t gone as far in this election as it did in the last one.

It is not too late for all parties to do better before voting day.

What We Requested of the Federal Parties

Here is a summary of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance asked each party to make in its August 3, 2021 letter to the leaders of the six major federal parties:

1. Enforceable accessibility standard regulations should be enacted within four years of the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act.

2. The ACA should be effectively enforced.

3. Federal public money should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers.

4. The ACA should never reduce the rights of people with disabilities.

5. Section 172(3) of the ACA should be amended to remove its unfair and discriminatory ban on the Canadian Transportation Agency ever awarding monetary compensation to passengers with disabilities who are the victims of an undue barrier in federally-regulated transportation (like air travel), where a CTA regulation wrongly set the accessibility requirements too low.

6. The ACA’s implementation and enforcement should be consolidated in one federal agency, not splintered among several of them.

7. No federal laws should ever create or permit disability barriers.

8. Federal elections should be made accessible to voters with disabilities.

9. Power to exempt organizations from some ACA requirements should be eliminated or reduced.

10. Federally controlled courts and tribunals should be made disability-accessible.

11. Proposed Opposition amendments to the ACA that were defeated in the House of Commons in 2018 and that would strengthen the ACA should be passed.

12. Ensure that the National Building Code meets the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, the Canada Human Rights Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and commit that any efforts to harmonize federal and provincial building codes will never reduce or dilute accessibility protections for people with disabilities. For More Background

For more background, check out:

* The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the major federal party leaders, seeking election commitments on tearing down barriers impeding people with disabilities.
* The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release, explaining why it was wrong for the Federal Government to give up to 7.5 million dollars to the Rick Hanssen Foundation for its problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.
* The AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report and its August 15, 2019 supplemental report that each details serious problems with the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification and training program.
* The August 27, 2021 AODA Alliance Update that sets out the commitments of the major federal parties as of that date on accessibility for people with disabilities, in their publicly-posted platform documents.
* As a helpful point of comparison, read the AODA Alliance’s October 17, 2019 issue-by-issue comparison of the commitments that the federal parties made in that election on disability accessibility.

MORE DETAILS

Excerpts from the Liberal Party of Canada September 1, 2021 Platform

1. a re-elected Liberal government will… Undertake a comprehensive review of access to the Disability Tax Credit, CPP-Disability and other federal benefits and programs to ensure they are available to people experiencing mental health challenges. (page 5)

2. a re-elected government will… Double the Home Accessibility Tax Credit, to $20,000, putting up to $1,500 back in the of Canadians who need it. (page 17, helping seniors and people with disabilities live at home)

3. a re-elected Liberal government will…
Develop and implement an employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities. This strategy will be focused on supports for workers and employers and creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces. It will also include an investment in the Ready, Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Create a new stream of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program (YESS) to support 5000 opportunities a year for young people. This would help young Canadians with disabilities gain the skills, experience, and abilities they need to make a successful transition into the labour market and build successful careers (page 39)

4. (from the Liberal Party Platform’s “Disability Statement”)

Moving forward, there is much more work to be done. A re-elected Liberal government will build on our previous investments through the implementation of the first-ever Disability Inclusion Action Plan, in consultation with the disability community.

The objectives of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan are to:

Improve the social and economic inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

Reduce poverty among Canadians with disabilities.

Contribute to the realization of a barrier-free Canada.

Improve access to federal programs and services for persons with disabilities and ensure that disability inclusion is considered in all government programs, policies, and services.

Foster a culture of inclusion and a shift away from attitudes of disablism and discrimination.

As part of our Disability Inclusion Action Plan, a re-elected Liberal government will re-introduce and implement the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which will create a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities ages 18-64. This will reduce poverty amongst persons with disabilities in the same way the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit have reduced poverty among seniors and families with children.

A Liberal Government will also develop and implement an employment strategy focused on supports for workers and employers, creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and building business disability confidence.

This strategy will include an investment in the Opportunities Fund and the Ready Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support employment for persons with disabilities.

We will also commit to making permanent funding to support services that ensure equitable access to reading and other published works for Canadians with print disabilities so that more Canadians are able to fully participate in these activities.

We will proceed with the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act and the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada. We will work across federal departments and agencies to uniformly adopt the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act. We will adopt a consistent approach to disability inclusion across the federal government. We will put a disability lens on decision making. This will specifically include our child care and infrastructure commitments. We will assume a more prominent role within the international disability inclusion community.

Only a re-elected Liberal government will build on the foundational work to date to support persons with disabilities in the post-pandemic recovery, by continuing to build back better, for everyone.
Response of the New Democratic Party of Canada to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians
1. It is well recognized that there are barriers in Canadian society that people with disabilities are facing on a daily basis. People who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted face barriers such as transportation accessibility, access to the built environment and access to print materials. What is your party prepared to do to reduce and eliminate these barriers?

We can do much more to make Canada an inclusive and barrier-free place. As a start, New Democrats will uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to cover all federal agencies equally with the power to make accessibility standards in a timely manner. We will also ensure that these accessibility standards are vigorously enforced.

We will make sure that the federal government is a leader in removing barriers, applying a disability lens to government decisions, policies, and regulations, and ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

2. Since many Canadians were eligible for the CERB (up to $38,000), and disabled Canadians receiving the Disability Tax Credit were given a paltry one-time payment of $600, what is your party prepared to do to reduce the chronic level of poverty among blind, deafblind, partially sighted and otherwise disabled Canadians? If elected, when can we expect this to happen?

Far too many Canadians living with disabilities are living in poverty. The Liberals have been promising a new Canada Disability Benefit since 2020, but with no plan to implement the benefit before 2024. Then they chose to cynically introduce Bill C-35, a bill that provides no details on benefit amount or eligibility and no timeline, right before the legislature adjourned for the summer, knowing full well the bill would never be debated.

An NDP government will not play politics with the livelihood of people living with disabilities. An NDP government will move quickly to lift all persons living with a disability above the poverty line as part of our plan to build towards a basic guaranteed livable income for all Canadians. We will not make people with disabilities wait three years to receive an unknown amount of money but will take action immediately.

3. Many medical devices are currently not usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians. Will your party require Health Canada to approve only devices that are usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians? Will you commit to working with the provinces and territories to ensure all prescription and other healthcare information is made accessible?
New Democrats want to build a society in which all of our citizens are able to participate fully and equally. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and apply a disability lens to all of the decisions, policies, and programs of the federal government, including regulatory decisions. We will also apply this same lens to negotiations and management of shared programs with the provinces and territories to ensure that we are doing everything we can to remove barriers and promote full inclusion of people living with disabilities.

4. As you know, job creation and “building back better” are major preoccupations for Canadians and, as you are aware, our community suffers from an approximate unemployment rate of 75%, what is your party prepared to do to increase the level of employment for those of us who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted?

The many barriers to employment that still exist are one reason why so many Canadians with disabilities are living in poverty. An NDP government will work to dismantle barriers and expand employment opportunities for people living with disabilities. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to ensure that accessibility is real, meaningful, and enforced. Finally, we will invest in training programs that will help workers with disabilities gain the skills they need to find employment.

5. The National Housing Strategy requires that a mere 20% of new housing starts be accessible. As this is woefully inadequate, given the fact that our population is aging, by how much is your party committed to increasing this target?

Far too many Canadians don’t have access to affordable, accessible housing. But under the Liberal government, funding for affordable housing for low income Canadians has been declining and very few new homes have actually been built. An NDP government will get to work immediately to construct, repair, and preserve 1.7 million homes over the next decade. This will include investments in new, affordable, accessible housing for people living with disabilities and seniors in communities across the country. It will also include repairs to existing homes to make them more accessible and energy-efficient. We will also support innovative solutions for people living with disabilities and seniors such as co-housing.




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New Federal Liberal Party Platform Offers None of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Requested – The New Democratic Party Added One Requested Commitment in Its Response to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

New Federal Liberal Party Platform Offers None of the Commitments on Disability Accessibility that the AODA Alliance Requested – The New Democratic Party Added One Requested Commitment in Its Response to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

September 2, 2021

        SUMMARY

Here’s a rapid response to announcements we learned of yesterday by the federal Liberal and New Democratic Parties regarding accessibility for people with disabilities.

The three major parties mention needs of people with disabilities several times in their platforms. This is a step forward from some past elections. However, they fall well short of what people with disabilities need. No party leader has yet answered the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter, seeking commitments on disability accessibility.

We encourage you to learn more about the federal parties’ disability commitments. Urge them to make the 12 accessibility pledges that the AODA Alliance sought in its August 3, 2021 letter to the party leaders. Below we set out a summary of the commitments we seek.

We remind you that the AODA Alliance is non-partisan. We do not support or oppose any party or candidate. We aim to get the strongest commitments we can get from all parties on achieving accessibility for people with disabilities in Canada.

We comment here only on party commitments addressing the issue of making Canada accessible for people with disabilities. This election has other important disability issues as well. We encourage a careful review of the party platforms on all issues important to people with disabilities.

1. The Liberal party of Canada

Yesterday, the Liberal Party of Canada released its full election platform. It includes a “Disability Statement.” Below we set out excerpts from the platform that make commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities.

On the accessibility issue, in substance this new platform includes little or nothing new that is positive. The Liberals make none of the 12 commitments that we requested in the AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the federal party leaders. It mainly restates promises it made two years ago, in the 2019 election, promises it failed to keep. It also makes one new commitment that is a source of serious concern.

All federal parties had ample time to consider our requests. We also made 11 of the 12 requests in the 2019 election.

In so far as the issue of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities is concerned, the Liberal platform mainly repeats what it promised two years ago, namely promising a disability lens on all Government decisions and pledging the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act. The Government’s record over the past two years on both commitments is unimpressive. As AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky wrote in his August 31, 2021 guest column in the Toronto Star’s Metroland newspapers:

No national accessibility standards have been enacted to require specific actions to remove and prevent disability barriers. The federal government has not even hired the national accessibility commissioner or the chief accessibility officer, pivotal to lead the ACA’s implementation.

There was no disability lens when the federal government released the ArriveCan app for people entering Canada, replete with accessibility barriers for blind users. The federal government pours billions into infrastructure projects without requiring their disability accessibility.

That column was written before the Liberal Party released its new September 1, 2021 platform document. We regret that nothing in that new platform document reduces the guest column’s concerns.

Making this worse, we are very concerned about the Liberal Party’s commitment to the “the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada.” “Harmonization” initially sounds great. Yet there is a real danger that this could lead accessibility standards across Canada being reduced to the lowest common denominator. That would hurt people with disabilities. The Liberal Party needs to immediately rescind this platform pledge.

New Democratic Party of Canada

Yesterday, the New Democratic Party of Canada sent the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) a response to its request for election commitments. We set it out below as well.

The New Democratic Party’s response to the Questions from the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians makes one of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance requested of all the major political parties. It commits the NDP to:

… ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

So far, the NDP commitments on accessibility are stronger than those from the other parties. However, the NDP commitments fall well short of what that party committed to us on the same issues two years ago in the NDP’s September 16, 2019 letter to the AODA Alliance during the 2019 federal election campaign. We have no idea why the NDP hasn’t gone as far in this election as it did in the last one.

It is not too late for all parties to do better before voting day.

What We Requested of the Federal Parties

Here is a summary of the 12 commitments that the AODA Alliance asked each party to make in its August 3, 2021 letter to the leaders of the six major federal parties:

  1. Enforceable accessibility standard regulations should be enacted within four years of the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act.
  1. The ACA should be effectively enforced.
  1. Federal public money should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers.
  1. The ACA should never reduce the rights of people with disabilities.
  1. Section 172(3) of the ACA should be amended to remove its unfair and discriminatory ban on the Canadian Transportation Agency ever awarding monetary compensation to passengers with disabilities who are the victims of an undue barrier in federally-regulated transportation (like air travel), where a CTA regulation wrongly set the accessibility requirements too low.
  1. The ACA’s implementation and enforcement should be consolidated in one federal agency, not splintered among several of them.
  1. No federal laws should ever create or permit disability barriers.
  1. Federal elections should be made accessible to voters with disabilities.
  1. Power to exempt organizations from some ACA requirements should be eliminated or reduced.
  1. Federally controlled courts and tribunals should be made disability-accessible.
  1. Proposed Opposition amendments to the ACA that were defeated in the House of Commons in 2018 and that would strengthen the ACA should be passed.
  1. Ensure that the National Building Code meets the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, the Canada Human Rights Act and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and commit that any efforts to harmonize federal and provincial building codes will never reduce or dilute accessibility protections for people with disabilities.

For More Background

For more background, check out:

  • The AODA Alliance’s August 3, 2021 letter to the major federal party leaders, seeking election commitments on tearing down barriers impeding people with disabilities.
  • The AODA Alliance’s August 24, 2021 news release, explaining why it was wrong for the Federal Government to give up to 7.5 million dollars to the Rick Hanssen Foundation for its problem-ridden private accessibility certification and training program.
  • The AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report and its August 15, 2019 supplemental report that each details serious problems with the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification and training program.
  • The August 27, 2021 AODA Alliance Update that sets out the commitments of the major federal parties as of that date on accessibility for people with disabilities, in their publicly-posted platform documents.
  • As a helpful point of comparison, read the AODA Alliance’s October 17, 2019 issue-by-issue comparison of the commitments that the federal parties made in that election on disability accessibility.

        MORE DETAILS

 Excerpts from the Liberal Party of Canada September 1, 2021 Platform

  1. a re-elected Liberal government will… Undertake a comprehensive review of access to the Disability Tax Credit, CPP-Disability and other federal benefits and programs to ensure they are available to people experiencing mental health challenges. (page 5)
  1. a re-elected government will… Double the Home Accessibility Tax Credit, to $20,000, putting up to $1,500 back in the of Canadians who need it. (page 17, helping seniors and people with disabilities live at home)
  1. a re-elected Liberal government will…
  • Develop and implement an employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities. This strategy will be focused on supports for workers and employers and creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces. It will also include an investment in the Ready, Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
  • Create a new stream of the Youth Employment and Skills Strategy Program (YESS) to support 5000 opportunities a year for young people. This would help young Canadians with disabilities gain the skills, experience, and abilities they need to make a successful transition into the labour market and build successful careers (page 39)
  1. (from the Liberal Party Platform’s “Disability Statement”)

Moving forward, there is much more work to be done. A re-elected Liberal government will build on our previous investments through the implementation of the first-ever Disability Inclusion Action Plan, in consultation with the disability community.

The objectives of the Disability Inclusion Action Plan are to:

Improve the social and economic inclusion of Canadians with disabilities.

Reduce poverty among Canadians with disabilities.

Contribute to the realization of a barrier-free Canada.

Improve access to federal programs and services for persons with disabilities and ensure that disability inclusion is considered in all government programs, policies, and services.

Foster a culture of inclusion and a shift away from attitudes of disablism and discrimination.

As part of our Disability Inclusion Action Plan, a re-elected Liberal government will re-introduce and implement the Canada Disability Benefit Act, which will create a direct monthly payment for low-income Canadians with disabilities ages 18-64. This will reduce poverty amongst persons with disabilities in the same way the Guaranteed Income Supplement and the Canada Child Benefit have reduced poverty among seniors and families with children.

A Liberal Government will also develop and implement an employment strategy focused on supports for workers and employers, creating inclusive and welcoming workplaces, and building business disability confidence.

This strategy will include an investment in the Opportunities Fund and the Ready Willing and Able inclusive hiring program to support employment for persons with disabilities.

We will also commit to making permanent funding to support services that ensure equitable access to reading and other published works for Canadians with print disabilities so that more Canadians are able to fully participate in these activities.

We will proceed with the timely and ambitious implementation of the Accessible Canada Act and the harmonization of accessibility standards across Canada. We will work across federal departments and agencies to uniformly adopt the definition of “disability” in the Accessible Canada Act. We will adopt a consistent approach to disability inclusion across the federal government. We will put a disability lens on decision making. This will specifically include our child care and infrastructure commitments. We will assume a more prominent role within the international disability inclusion community.

Only a re-elected Liberal government will build on the foundational work to date to support persons with disabilities in the post-pandemic recovery, by continuing to build back better, for everyone.

Response of the New Democratic Party of Canada to the Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians

  1. It is well recognized that there are barriers in Canadian society that people with disabilities are facing on a daily basis. People who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted face barriers such as transportation accessibility, access to the built environment and access to print materials. What is your party prepared to do to reduce and eliminate these barriers?

We can do much more to make Canada an inclusive and barrier-free place. As a start, New Democrats will uphold the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to cover all federal agencies equally with the power to make accessibility standards in a timely manner. We will also ensure that these accessibility standards are vigorously enforced.

We will make sure that the federal government is a leader in removing barriers, applying a disability lens to government decisions, policies, and regulations, and ensuring that all government spending, whether it is on infrastructure, transfer payments, research grants, or contracts, neither creates nor perpetuates barriers for people living with disabilities.

  1. Since many Canadians were eligible for the CERB (up to $38,000), and disabled Canadians receiving the Disability Tax Credit were given a paltry one-time payment of $600, what is your party prepared to do to reduce the chronic level of poverty among blind, deafblind, partially sighted and otherwise disabled Canadians? If elected, when can we expect this to happen?

Far too many Canadians living with disabilities are living in poverty. The Liberals have been promising a new Canada Disability Benefit since 2020, but with no plan to implement the benefit before 2024. Then they chose to cynically introduce Bill C-35, a bill that provides no details on benefit amount or eligibility and no timeline, right before the legislature adjourned for the summer, knowing full well the bill would never be debated.

An NDP government will not play politics with the livelihood of people living with disabilities. An NDP government will move quickly to lift all persons living with a disability above the poverty line as part of our plan to build towards a basic guaranteed livable income for all Canadians. We will not make people with disabilities wait three years to receive an unknown amount of money but will take action immediately.

  1. Many medical devices are currently not usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians. Will your party require Health Canada to approve only devices that are usable by blind, deafblind and partially sighted Canadians? Will you commit to working with the provinces and territories to ensure all prescription and other healthcare information is made accessible?

New Democrats want to build a society in which all of our citizens are able to participate fully and equally. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and apply a disability lens to all of the decisions, policies, and programs of the federal government, including regulatory decisions. We will also apply this same lens to negotiations and management of shared programs with the provinces and territories to ensure that we are doing everything we can to remove barriers and promote full inclusion of people living with disabilities.

  1. As you know, job creation and “building back better” are major preoccupations for Canadians and, as you are aware, our community suffers from an approximate unemployment rate of 75%, what is your party prepared to do to increase the level of employment for those of us who are blind, deafblind or partially sighted?

The many barriers to employment that still exist are one reason why so many Canadians with disabilities are living in poverty. An NDP government will work to dismantle barriers and expand employment opportunities for people living with disabilities. We will uphold the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and strengthen the Accessibility Act to ensure that accessibility is real, meaningful, and enforced. Finally, we will invest in training programs that will help workers with disabilities gain the skills they need to find employment.

  1. The National Housing Strategy requires that a mere 20% of new housing starts be accessible. As this is woefully inadequate, given the fact that our population is aging, by how much is your party committed to increasing this target?

Far too many Canadians don’t have access to affordable, accessible housing. But under the Liberal government, funding for affordable housing for low income Canadians has been declining and very few new homes have actually been built. An NDP government will get to work immediately to construct, repair, and preserve 1.7 million homes over the next decade. This will include investments in new, affordable, accessible housing for people living with disabilities and seniors in communities across the country. It will also include repairs to existing homes to make them more accessible and energy-efficient. We will also support innovative solutions for people living with disabilities and seniors such as co-housing.



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