Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
More Media on the Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on People with Disabilities – and – Remembering the Late Peter Cory, Former Supreme Court Justice and compelling Voice for Accessibility Legislation for Ontarians with Disabilities
April 9, 2020
1. More Media Coverage of the Ontario Government’s Failure to Effectively Meet the Urgent Needs of People with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Crisis
QP Briefing, which focuses on stories at Queen’s Park, ran a detailed report, set out below, on April 8, 2020 covering our April 7, 2020 virtual public forum on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on people with disabilities. That article provides an excellent description of a number of the recommendations made at our virtual public forum.
The Government’s few responses, reported in that article, are clearly inadequate. For example, responding to the fact that the Government now has no plans to meet the needs of hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities during closure of schools, colleges and universities and the move to online learning, the article reports in part:
“The government noted that the seniors and accessibility ministry had also asked members of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, of which Lepofsky is a member, about their availability to work remotely. This committee, along with others focused on different sectors, recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers.”
We have been urging the Government without success to task its several AODA Standards Development Committees to hold virtual meetings on an urgent basis to brainstorm recommendations for dealing with the hardships people with disabilities are facing during the COVID crisis. The Government has never said it had agreed to do so. Its recent outreach to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, to which that quotation referred, made no mention of the Committee coming together on an urgent basis to address recommendations for serving students with disabilities during the COVID crisis. , AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of that Standards Development Committee and has been pressing for just such an urgent meeting.
More broadly, none of the Ontario Government’s key offices responsible for dealing with the COVID crisis have reached out to the AODA Alliance in response to our several offers to help, either before or after the April 7, 2020 online virtual public forum. We have not heard from the Premier’s office, the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education or the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.
In another news report, Kitchener Radio 570 published an online report, set out below, about some of the heightened hardships facing people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. This report arose from the station’s interview on April 7, 2020 with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.
That report states that the online public forum on this issue was organized by the AODA Alliance. We want to clarify that it was co-organized by our partner, the Ontario Autism Coalition.
Earlier today, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on Toronto’s CFRB News Talk Radio 1010. Tomorrow morning, he is booked to be interviewed on CTV’s national morning current affairs program “Your Morning” just after 8 a.m. Eastern time. Of course we never know if the time for such interviews might change at the last minute, or get bumped altogether.
We commend those news outlets that have included coverage of this important issue. The media is devoting wall-to-wall coverage to the COVID-19 crisis. It is important for our media to devote more time to the crisis facing people with disabilities during this pandemic.
Please encourage your local media to cover this issue. Encourage them to watch the online virtual public forum that the AODA Alliance and Ontario Autism Coalition held on April 7, 2020. It is permanently available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ23it9ULjc. As of now, it has been viewed over 1,100 times and the number keeps increasing. Check it out yourself. It included captioning and American Sign Language interpretation.
Also please let the media know about the important April 8, 2020 open letter to the Ford Government from over 200 community organizations about the need to protect patients with disabilities from any possibility of discrimination against them due to their disability should critical health services have to be rationed in the face of the COVID-19 crisis.
Please share the word about these issues and about our virtual public forum on social media like Twitter and Facebook. Follow the new hashtag #DisabilityUrgent and include that in your social media posts.
2. Remembering A Strong Voice for Accessibility for People with Disabilities –In Memory of Former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory
We were deeply saddened to learn of the death on April 7, 2020 of former supreme Court of Canada Justice Peter Cory. He will be remembered and honoured across Canada as a wonderful man who devoted years to public service both as a World War 2 bomber pilot and years later as a wise judge on all levels of Canada’s courts. This culminated with him serving for a decade of extraordinary service as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1989 to 1999.
Justice Cory must also be remembered and honoured for generously lending his widely-respected voice in 2000, just one year after he retired from the Supreme Court, to the grassroots call for Ontario to pass a strong Ontario law to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. We set out below his powerful guest column that appeared in the November 7, 2000 Toronto Star.
This important guest column was published in the darkest days of the decade-long campaign from 1994 to 2005 to get the Ontario Legislature to pass a strong Disabilities Act. In the 1995 provincial election, Conservative leader Mike Harris promised a Disabilities Act in his first term, and promised to work with the AODA Alliance’s predecessor coalition (the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee) to develop it. However, in the ensuing half decade, Premier Harris had not come forward with good legislation and had repeatedly refused to even meet with the ODA Committee. During those difficult days, our grassroots movement was strengthened by strong credible voices such as that of Justice Cory, amplifying our call for the law we had been promised.
Two decades later, Justice Cory’s words, set out below, continue to resonate in the face of the ongoing problems we face with getting the Ontario Government to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the law we won five years after Justice Cory’s guest column was published. During this COVID-19 crisis, the accessibility barriers that still predominate in our health care and education systems have come to hurt people with disabilities even more, as we try to cope with this pandemic crisis.
We urge governments at all levels to now urgently heed the undying, wise advice that Justice Cory offered in his November 7, 2000 Toronto Star guest column.
Toronto Star Tuesday, November 7, 2000
Disabilities legislation long overdue
by Peter Cory
Like others I would like to see enacted a strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Two years ago, Former Supreme Court chief justice Brian Dickson called for legislation to tear down the barriers that impede Ontario’s 1.5 million people with disabilities. Based on almost 25 years of judicial experience, I, too, believe that this legislation is long overdue.
Our society has far too many barriers that prevent Ontarians with disabilities from participating fully in community life. Two stairs to get into a restaurant, the lack of sign language interpreters for deaf persons who go to vote at a polling station, or posting job ads on a website that is not designed to be accessible to the wonderful new technology enabling blind and dyslexic people to surf the Internet are examples of how we unthinkingly continue to exclude people with disabilities.
A strong, effective Disabilities Act would benefit us all. It would ensure that those with a disability would finally be included in the rich and rewarding life of other residents of Ontario. Those who now have no disability may well incur a disability as they get older, and they too would be spared these barriers.
Business will profit from both the spending power of consumers with disabilities and talented employees with disabilities who have so much to offer. The taxpayer will benefit from the increased economic activity and from the removal of barriers that prevent more persons with disabilities from moving from social assistance to gainful employment.
I believe that Ontarians care about ensuring that people with disabilities are able to live in a barrier-free province and would support strong legislation removing those barriers. Many already know about the great barriers we have permitted to remain and are aware of the human, social and financial toll that these barriers have inflicted.
Others would benefit from learning from people with disabilities what is in store for all of us if we do not act as a society now. The impressive number of municipal councils – more than 20 – that have passed resolutions calling for this legislation, shows that Ontarians would welcome and support an effective Disabilities Act.
From my experience, I can say that this is a matter requiring mandatory legislation. We applaud those who have taken it upon themselves to voluntarily try to remove barriers. However experience in Canada and abroad shows that without clear, mandatory legislation, things will not change in a timely manner.
It is the Legislature’s role to set standards for all of us. We know how important this is in areas like the environment, criminal law, and public health. It is no less important for making our society barrier-free for all who have a disability.
A law cannot be “voluntary.” It must be mandatory.
I am troubled by any thought that our existing laws, like the Charter of Rights and the Human Rights Code, are enough to solve this problem. Those very important laws should never be cut back. However, it is ineffective, inefficient and inhumane to leave it to vulnerable members of our society, who often cannot pay lawyers for protracted litigation, to bring legal proceedings against each barrier they face, one at a time.
One example suffices. I was a member of the Supreme Court when the unanimous decision was rendered in Eldridge v. B.C. It held that the Charter of Rights requires governments to ensure that sign language interpreters are provided for deaf patients in hospitals, where needed to effectively communicate with their doctor.
In Ontario, it took over two years for provincial funds to be appropriated to comply with our ruling. People with disabilities should not have to suffer years of gruelling litigation, only to find that the requisite government funding was long delayed. A strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act would provide a more sensible, less costly way of addressing the existing problems and preventing new ones.
We can learn from other societies that have made more progress than we have in this area. Most importantly, we should learn how to resolve this problem from those who know most about it –people with disabilities. We can learn from their ingenuity in adapting to our society, which has so often failed to recognize and respect their desire to be fully participating and contributing citizens.
Let’s accept their offer of help in designing and enacting the strong Ontarians with Disabilities Act which they so urgently need and deserve.
Peter Cory served as a judge on the Supreme Court of Canada from 1989 to 1999, on the Ontario Court of Appeal from 1981 to 1988 and on the Supreme Court of Ontario from 1974 to 1981
Kitchener Today 570 News April 8, 2020
Concerns being raised about Ontarians with disabilities during COVID-19
A forum was held Tuesday to discuss challenges that people with disabilities are facing
By: Cali Doran
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance is calling on the government to address challenges that 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities may face during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group held a forum on Tuesday, looking at different hardships and challenges those with disabilities are dealing with.
Access to healthcare, protection from the virus and online learning are just some of the causes for concern that were addressed.
David Lepofsky, Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance told Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke on 570 NEWS that many people with disabilities have someone taking care of them on a daily basis, but this poses some risk to their health.
“Attendant care workers on whom they rely, aren’t necessarily getting access to the protective gear which we all know to be in short supply. You will hear talk of health care workers needing it, but they need it too, and if they don’t get there is the risk of it being transmitted to the individual with a disability.”
He said they are also concerned that people with disabilities will not have the assistance they need when they have to visit the hospital since there are restrictions on who can come into the hospital. He said there needs to be exemptions, so people with disabilities can get access to the care they need.
Online learning is also something that was addressed during the forum.
“There are hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities, for some of them, online learning will present accessibility barriers. If we don’t create content online that is accessible, then our students who are blind or dyslexic won’t be able to read it.”
Lepofsky said there was no strategy outlined by the Ontario Government to help students with disabilities as they made the move to online learning.
QP Briefing April 8, 2020
ADVOCATES TURN TO ONLINE FORUM TO HIGHLIGHT CHALLENGES PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES FACE DURING COVID-19 CRISIS
Organizations supporting vulnerable individuals and people with disabilities gathered online Tuesday to draw attention to the challenges disabled Ontarians are facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and called on the government to do more to support them.
“Government emergency planning must address the urgent needs of all those who will disproportionately bear this disease’s hardships,” said Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is the president of the Ontario Autism Coalition and moderated the online panel with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. She acknowledged that while governments at all levels are working “long days and nights on this crisis,” there are various community groups they can turn to that are willing to help address the challenges people with disabilities face.
Lepofsky said his organization has tried in recent weeks to point out to the government where there is a need for action and offer solutions, and has also encouraged provincial officials to hold a virtual policy forum with disability advocates to discuss this.
Kirby-McIntosh said different segments of the province’s disabled population are experiencing varying challenges, with the panelists pointing to concerns about accessing health-care services and testing, those who receive home-care and can’t self-isolate, the particularly hard hit seniors in long-term care homes and children whose schools are shut.
“Seniors and people with disabilities are the most vulnerable to the dangers of the COVID-19 crisis,” Kirby-McIntosh said. While self-isolating at home is “vital” to try to contain the virus, it also creates additional challenges for people with disabilities, she added. The necessary cancellation of school and daycare is tough on all kids, she noted, but it is “destroying” the routines many children with disabilities “desperately need.” Then there are homeless people who don’t have a place where they can self-isolate, she added.
Below are some of the concerns and asks from community groups and organizations.
Planning for the worst-case scenario
The provincial government is working on “last resort” plans for dealing with a major surge in hospital demand, but people with disabilities previously shared their concerns with QP Briefing that the “draft” document, as Health Minister Christine Elliott referred to it on Tuesday, doesn’t explicitly say people with disabilities are entitled to equal care as neurotypical and able-bodied people.
Roberto Lattanzio, executive director of ARCH Disability Law Centre, a clinic that focuses on disability rights law, said the province’s framework should centre on “Will the ventilator save your life? That’s it, nothing else.” He said an explicit statement should be made in the document that ensures people with disabilities won’t be “deprioritized” if tough decisions need to be made about who has access to a ventilator if supply gets low.
But Elliott tried to quell such fears on Tuesday. Speaking during a press conference alongside Premier Doug Ford, Elliott said she’s aware of concerns from people with disabilities that “they would be cut out of treatment if we got to that point.”
“That is certainly not what that document is meant to deal with, I would never allow that to happen,” Elliott said. “People with disabilities are treated in the same way as everyone else, as they should be.”
PPE needed for disabled Ontarians receiving home care
Wendy Porch, executive director of the Centre for Independent Living Toronto, said physical distancing is “impossible” for many individuals who need assistance from attendants — like personal support workers — in order to be able to live at home. This could include help with bathing, dressing, turning over on a bed to avoid bedsores or preparing meals.
Since many attendants are visiting several people in one day, including those in seniors’ homes, they can be “community vectors” for COVID-19, said Porch, stressing that personal protective equipment (PPE) is important not only for the attendants, but for people with disabilities receiving these services.
“They have been saying, ‘if one of us gets it, all of us are going to get this,’” she said.
Porch called on the government to work with organizations like hers to ensure people using such services can access PPE.
Porch also called on the government to give people with disabilities who might have difficultly getting to a COVID-19 assessment centre the option of “mobile testing,” where they could be tested at their homes.
But before testing can even happen, there are other challenges people with disabilities are facing, said Barbara Collier, executive director of Communication Disabilities Access Canada. For those experiencing symptoms who have disabilities affecting their ability to communicate, Collier suggested the government set up a separate “hotline” that would include a text version, for example.
“What we have now is a system where there’s a hotline, that hotline is a telephone line; how are people who cannot use a phone able to use that system?” Collier asked.
The government’s dedicated COVID-19 website tells people to call their primary care provider or Telehealth Ontario if they have symptoms.
Collier said 165,000 Ontarians have disabilities that affect their communication — either their understanding of what someone is saying or how they speak. She said people like speech pathologists would be helpful at all steps of the process — a “hotline,” at assessment centres or in hospitals.
Thinking about accessibility when preparing surge capacity
As hospitals prepare for a surge in COVID-19 cases and work to boost capacity by setting up tents where patients can be treated or moving those waiting for spots in long-term care homes to hotels, accessibility needs to be a priority, said Thea Kurdi.
Kurdi, who is the vice-president of DesignABLE Environments, which works with clients to create accessible buildings and spaces, listed several ways to help those with disabilities access health care or other sites:
- ensure there’s a covered drop-off area close to an accessible entrance in case a person with a disability needs to go into the facility on their own
- have an entrance that is at ground level with automatic doors and a wide enough doorway for those using wheelchairs, for example
- have an “accessible path of travel” in the facility that allows people to practice physical distancing, such as one-way walking paths, and enough space for people to maneuver with assisted devices
- if using a hotel, ensure the reception area is well lit so people can see clearly; have adequate signage, including in braille
- washrooms should have power-operated doors, grab bars, accessible soap dispensers and taps, and automatic paper-towel dispensers. “All those things could be automated so people don’t have to touch anything,” said Kurdi.
- have accessible portable toilets for “tent cities”
- for individuals being moved to hotels, lower the height of beds if necessary and ensure there is enough space beside a bed for assistive equipment
- have motion-sensor night lights in rooms in case people become disoriented in a new space
- place hand sanitizer, soap and and paper towel available at a reachable level
Additional supports for those on social assistance
Yola Grant, executive director of the Income Security Advocacy Centre (ISAC), called on the government to increase the financial support people can get through the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) or Ontario Works (OW).
In a letter to Minister of Children, Community and Social Services Todd Smith that was also signed by other organizations, ISAC noted that a single person can receive up to $733 per month through OW and up to $1,169 through ODSP.
“These rates are far below the poverty line of $1,767 per month, which contributes to food insecurity, poor health, and the current homelessness crisis — a recipe for disaster during COVID-19,” ISAC said.
Palmer Lockridge, a spokesperson for Smith, said the government is allocating $52 million to its COVID-19 Social Services Relief Fund that would provide “additional resources directly to individuals and families in financial crisis.”
He said for those on social assistance, the government is making “discretionary benefits more accessible for those who need additional support for extraordinary costs, while ensuring no disruption to current their current assistance.” For single individuals this could mean up to $100 and for families, up to $200.
“This funding can be used to meet a broad range of needs, for example: cleaning supplies, transportation, food or clothing that individuals and families may require due to COVID-19,” Lockridge said.
But Grant said these funds aren’t enough and requires people on social assistance to ask busy caseworkers for this additional financing.
Accessing education tools
With elementary and secondary schools and post-secondary institutions moving to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the biggest barriers for students with disabilities is that digital content and tools are not accessible, said Karen McCall, an accessible document design consultant and trainer.
“Just because they’re on the screen doesn’t mean that the adaptive technology like a screen reader or text-to-speech tool is going to be able to read it,” she said.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said in a statement to QP Briefing that “in partnership with school boards and educators, our aim is to ensure every child — irrespective of ability, geography or socio-economic circumstance — can learn safely while at home.”
Lecce has held discussions with his advisory council on special education on how students and families can be supported; the council will be convening again tomorrow.
The government noted that the seniors and accessibility ministry had also asked members of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, of which Lepofsky is a member, about their availability to work remotely. This committee, along with others focused on different sectors, recommends actions the provincial government can take to remove barriers.