Outgoing Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley is saluted while arriving for his last full day in office at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. A former Ontario lieutenant-governor tasked with reviewing the disability legislation says the province is nowhere near meeting its stated goal of full accessibility by 2025.
Darren Calabrese / THE CANADIAN PRESS
For an able-bodied person, whether the pillars on the platform of a train station or bus stop are straight or angled is easily taken for granted. For someone who is sight impaired, an angled pillar can mean the difference between constantly bumping one’s head or shoulder on a part of the pillar that can’t be anticipated by a cane, or being able to commute without threat of pain or injury.This distinction, which David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, demonstrates in a video he posted online last spring, is just one of countless examples of Ontario’s standards of accessibility falling short of the disability community’s needs.For the more than 1.9 million Ontarians who live with disabilities, lack of accessibility is an ongoing barrier to participation in things like education, employment, transit and recreation. From public space design to health care to public information, Ontario’s accessibility standards are nowhere near where they need to be to meet peoples’ needs, nor where the province pledged they would be in the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).On Thursday, the legislative assembly at Queen’s Park will debate my private member’s motion, which calls on the Ford government to implement key recommendations from the third legislative review of the AODA. The AODA mandates the standards that public, private and non-profit sector entities must adhere to in the areas of customer service, public space design, communications, transportation and employment. It has set a firm deadline to make Ontario fully accessible for people with disabilities by the year 2025 — a target that, in 2019, no longer feels far off.To ensure the AODA stays on track, every three years, an independent, non-partisan reviewer is appointed to consult with the disability community and assess whether the AODA and its standards are doing what they’re supposed to do — making Ontario more accessible — plus recommending additional steps as needed, to meet the 2025 obligation.Conducted by David Onley, the former lieutenant governor of Ontario and a disability rights advocate, the AODA’s third review should be a major call to action for Ontarians, and certainly, for the Ford government. Onley’s report paints a grim picture of the status quo for people with disabilities in this province, and portrays the sluggish pace at which Ontario is moving when it comes to setting or enforcing accessibility standards.In his report, submitted to the Ford government on Jan. 31, 2019, Onley writes that the AODA’s vision has turned out to be “a mirage.”“Every day, in every community in Ontario, people with disabilities encounter formidable barriers to participation in the vast opportunities this province affords its residents – its able-bodied residents,” he writes. “For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”Onley’s words echo the frustrations I heard from the dozens of Ontarians living with disabilities who traveled from across the province to attend an April 10 town hall on accessibility that our office held at Queen’s Park. Several of my fellow NDP MPPs joined Lepofsky, Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, and myself, to listen to account after account of people fed up with Ontario’s agonizingly slow progress towards accessibility. Many spoke of the daily barriers they face that stop them living full lives.Onley’s key recommendations to the government include committing to implementing new standards for our built environment, stronger enforcement of the AODA, accessibility training for design professionals and an assurance that public money never again be used to create new accessibility barriers.The Ford Conservatives should establish a clear plan of action for getting Ontario on track to meet its AODA obligations. I invite the government to vote with the NDP on Thursday, and implement Onley’s key recommendations right away, so that Ontarians with disabilities no longer have to wait to live the full lives they deserve.Joel Harden is the Ontario NDP critic for accessibility and persons with disabilities, as well as the MPP for Ottawa Centre.