Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Continued Radio Silence on Key Accessibility Issues So Far from the Ford Government – And Other Accessibility News
March 3, 2019
Here is a collection of sundry important updates on several fronts in our campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities.
1. Still No Action from the Ford Government on Ending the Shutdown of the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees and on the Forthcoming Release of the Final Report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review
There have now been a seemingly-endless 255 days since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the five Standards Development Committees working under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Three of those Standards Development Committees remain frozen, the two Education Standards Development Committees and the Health Care Standards Development Committee. The Ontario Government has not announced when it will say what it will do about this.
The Government has no reason left for continuing to keep these important advisory committees shut down. It has given two successive reasons for this freeze. Both have now evaporated.
Last summer, the Ford Government first said it was freezing the work of those committees in order to give the new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho, a chance to be briefed on these issues. The Ford Government has now had over eight months to brief that minister.
As its second reason, late last December, the Ford Government said it was awaiting the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Yet the Ford Government has now received that report. It was delivered over a month ago, on January 31, 2019.
We have repeatedly pressed the Government to let these advisory committees get back to work. When the Conservatives were in the opposition, they sided with us, pressing the former Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard and to promptly set up an Education Standards Development Committee.
We are still waiting for the Ford Government to make public the David Onley report on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. We are eager to analyze that report, and to work with the Government on getting the AODA’s implementation and enforcement substantially strengthened. The Government has not announced when it will make this report public.
Please tell your member of the Ontario Legislature to press the Government to end the freeze on the Education and Health Care Standards Development Committees, and to immediately make public the report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review.
2. The Ford Government Has Still Not Acted on Our Call for Immediate Action to Rein In the Excessive Power of School Principals to Refuse to Admit Some Students with Disabilities to School
Over a month ago, on January 30, 2019, the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held a joint news conference at Queen’s Park. We called on the Ford Government to rein in the excessive power of a school principal to refuse to admit some students with disabilities to school for an indefinite period, without even having to give the student or their family any reason for doing so.
We called on the Ford Government to take two immediate steps:
- The Minister of Education should now convene a summit of key stakeholders to get input on legislation and policy changes to fix this problem.
- In the interim, the Minister of Education should immediately issue a policy direction to school boards, imposing restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school.
It has now been over a month since that news conference. The Ford Government has not taken either of these steps, nor has it committed to do so. It has given no reason for failing to act.
We invite you to read the joint AODA Alliance/Ontario Autism Coalition January 30, 2019 news release on this issue. You can also watch the captioned video of our January 30, 2019 Queen’s Park news conference on Youtube.
Please ask your member of the Ontario Legislature to press the Ford Government to take the two actions we list above on this issue. You can read more about this issue by visiting www.aodaalliance.org/education
3. No Date Yet Set for the Senate’s Public Hearings on Bill C-81, the Proposed Accessible Canada Act
The Senate has not yet set dates for its public hearings on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. The Senate still has the bill in the midst of its Second Reading debates.
Earlier this year, we made public our strategy for trying to get Bill C-81 strengthened before it is enacted. It is good that this bill aims to achieve a barrier-free Canada for people with disabilities. However, its good intentions are not matched by strong provisions. As now written, it does not require a single disability barrier to ever be removed or prevented. People with disabilities deserve better.
4. More Media on Accessibility Issues
As always, disability accessibility issues continue to get good media coverage. Sometimes we bring an issue to the media. Sometimes others bring accessibility issues to the media. We are delighted that some of the time, when others bring a disability accessibility issues to the media, a reporter will ask us for a comment.
Below you will find three examples of media coverage that individuals themselves initiated. You can do this too whenever you encounter accessibility barriers:
* Text of the accessibility story that aired on CBC TV’s The National on February 24, 2019. CBC approached AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to comment on a troubling accessibility incident that took place in Alberta. CBC asked the AODA Alliance to comment on this issue in the story.
* Two excellent letters to the editor that appeared in the February 14, 2019 edition of the Toronto Star, which we had no role in, voicing the need for strong new provincial action on accessibility for people with disabilities.
* We also invite you to visit the AODA Alliance’s Youtube channel, where we collect past examples of such media coverage. The most recent is the February 2, 2019 CITY TV news story on accessibility problems that York University students with disabilities face when the university fails to properly clear snow off sidewalks that a student must travel to get to and from classes. Here again, the AODA Alliance was called upon to comment in the story.
We invite you to subscribe to and spread the word about the AODA Alliance’s Youtube channel. It’s free!
CBC TV The National February 24, 2019
Woman with disability banned from No Frills store after failing to pack groceries fast enough
Cancer surgery left Linda Rolston with a voice prosthesis and limited mobility in her shoulders and arms
Alberta’s Linda Rolston had her voice box removed due to cancer. The surgery left her with limited mobility in her shoulders and arms, which makes packing up groceries difficult. (CBC)
A woman with disabilities is fighting back after she was told not to return to a popular No Frills grocery store unless she brought help — because she couldn’t pack her groceries fast enough.
When Linda Rolston complained to head office, Loblaw offered the Alberta woman $100 in compensation on the condition she keep quiet about what happened and not take action against the company.
“They can keep the $100. I’m going to tell anybody and continue with my human rights action,” said Rolston, who had her voice box removed in 2014 due to cancer. The surgery left her unable to speak without a prosthesis in her throat, and with limited mobility in her shoulders and arms.
David Lepofsky, a prominent advocate for people with disabilities, calls the company’s compensation offer “a microscopic Band-Aid, which doesn’t fix the problem.”
Lepofsky, who is volunteer chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, says provinces need to set legal standards on accessibility for companies and crack down on those that fail to meet them.
“It’s not going to change just by raising awareness,” he said.
Lawyer David Lepofsky, an advocate for people with disabilities, says change requires government action, not just increased awareness. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)
Rolston often shopped at the No Frills in Whitecourt, Alta. She says she had to “beg and plead” staff for help packing big grocery runs but was often told they were too busy.
No Frills franchises are part of the Loblaw group of companies. It is the kind of grocery store where customers are required to pack their own items and in exchange, the idea is, they pay lower prices.
Fed up with having to beg for help, Rolston says in January she complained to the franchise owner, who promised to fix the problem.
But when she went back a few weeks later, nothing had changed, she says. As she worked to pack her items as quickly as she could, a lineup was forming behind her. That’s when the owner came over, Rolston says, and told her if she can’t bring someone to pack for her, she shouldn’t come back.
Rolston says she had to ‘beg and plead’ — often unsuccessfully — for staff to help her pack up her groceries at her local No Frills store. Until one day the owner told her she needed to go shop somewhere else.
“I was stunned,” she said.
“I said, ‘Are you telling me because I’m disabled I can’t shop here?’ And he said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘I don’t have anyone to help me and I have my prescriptions here.’ He said, ‘Well, you’re just going to have to go somewhere else.’”
Go Public contacted the owner but he declined to answer questions, calling it a “human resources thing.”
Accessibility policy doesn’t apply
Rolston complained again – this time to Loblaw’s head office. Customer service apologized and Rolston says she was told she could continue shopping at the store as long as she called ahead to make sure someone was available to assist her. Rolston said that didn’t seem right since other customers weren’t expected to do the same.
“I’m an adult. I’m not going to phone to get permission to go shopping,” she said in an interview.
Go Public asked Loblaw specific questions about Rolston’s confrontation with the No Frills owner and about Loblaw’s response, including the $100 compensation offer from the company that followed. The compensation letter says Rolston must sign a release form agreeing not to talk about the case or pursue any further action in order to collect the $100.
Rolston says the owner of her local No Frills store told her she needed to bring someone to pack her bags for her if she wanted to shop there.
Loblaw replied with a general statement to Go Public that says it took “immediate action” when it heard what happened and addressed the issue “directly with the store owner.”
Spokesperson Karen Gumbs also wrote that Loblaw is “working with the store’s management to ensure staff at the store receive additional training” regarding the company’s customer service accessibility policy.
However, Gumbs also said that policy — which promises to ensure “equal access” for people with disabilities and provide training for new staff — only applies to “corporate grocery stores,” not the 257 No Frills franchises across the country.
A lack of national, mandatory standards is the problem, according to Mary Ann McColl of the Canadian Disability Policy Alliance.
“[Rolston] was made to feel less human than other patrons in this store,” she said.
Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia are the only provinces with laws requiring public and private organizations to make all spaces accessible to people with disabilities. Penalties for those who don’t comply can be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
McColl says that kind of approach is what’s needed in every province, because accessibility laws set the standard for organizations before problems occur. In most provinces, the only recourse is through human rights laws. While those are good, she says, they can only address individual complaints.
Queen’s University professor Mary Ann McColl says every province needs legislation requiring public and private organizations to make all spaces accessible to people with disabilities. Only three provinces currently have such a law.
“It’s a very slow way to make change in society, one person at a time. Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that if a person is successful … that there will be a structural change as a result of that.”
People with disabilities account for the highest number of human rights complaints in Canada.
Rolston’s home province of Alberta is one of those without an accessibility law.
In November, the province appointed para-athlete Tony Flores as its first advocate for persons with disabilities. In an email to Go Public, Flores says he supports accessibility legislation and plans to “bring that forward to the government.”
He didn’t say when he’ll do that.
Rolston says telling her story publicly was hard.
“I was kind of scared for people to see me. I don’t like to have my picture taken or anything, but I was so upset about this — I wanted everyone to know what they did to me.”
She says she won’t go back to the No Frills store, and is now filling out the paperwork for a human rights complaint.
While Rolston appreciates the apology she got from customer service, she is still waiting for the one she requested from the No Frills owner.
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About the Author
Rosa Marchitelli is a national award winner for her investigative work. As co-host of the CBC News segment Go Public, she has a reputation for asking tough questions and holding companies and individuals to account. Rosa’s work is seen across CBC News platforms.
Toronto Star February 14, 2019
Letters to the Editor
Ontario is failing those with disabilities
Onley’s long road to accessibility a lesson for us all, Cohn, Feb. 9
Kudos to Martin Regg Cohn for demonstrating the “disconnect” between the perceptions of those with and without disabilities.
David Onley is right that those in power fail in their legal obligations to those with disabilities. Onley, as Ontario’s former lieutenant-governor, has privilege and power. It speaks mountains that he continues to face these physical barriers.
But what about the majority of the disabled, the largest group living in poverty, and their ability to have their voices heard?
What of those who can’t have their voices heard within the educational system, a fundamental right and one that opens doors for lifelong success?
What about those whose voices aren’t being heard by government agencies in regards to their mental health and well-being?
It is time for this government to review the legal requirements that are already in place for the protection of the rights of people with disabilities in relation to equity and inclusion. Premier Doug Ford has made it clear that he expects people to do their jobs or the government will act.
That means the government must diligently oversee compliance and enforcement of the Education Act and regulations therein, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Christin Ferreira, Scarborough
The fact that accessibility is not a reality in Ontario should not be a surprise – it is disappointing, but not surprising.
More than 30 years ago, I was working on an integrated studies unit on disability and accessibility with my Grades 4 and 5 students. I wanted to help them to be aware of the difficulties people face if they are not able to get around as well as the majority.
Those children understood the problems because they had to both experience and witness the difficulties faced in their schools, workplaces and their everyday world.
Fast forward to 2019 and where are we? We have progressed very little in making our world accessible. If David Onley continues to experience barriers, as he does, what is going on? Not much. And why not? The people who make the decisions do not care.
Claudine Goller, Scarborough