ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Upcoming Priorities for Community Action on Disability Accessibility - and - Blizzard of Great Recent Media Coverage
February 18, 2014
Here are upcoming priorities and events that we all need to be ready to address as events unfold over the next weeks.
- We encourage you to give feedback to the Mayo Moran Independent Review of the AODA's implementation and enforcement.
- Get ready to raise disability accessibility issues during the winter and spring, during this lead-up to a possible spring Ontario general election.
- Prepare to give input to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council on its forthcoming proposals to improve the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
As well, we encourage you to take a look at the blizzard of great media attention that the AODA, and problems with its implementation and enforcement, has secured in the past month.
We always urge you to send us your feedback. Write us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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1. Give Your Feedback on the AODA's Implementation and Enforcement to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review
The Mayo Moran Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its implementation is now in full operation. This spring, it will be consulting the public, including persons with disabilities, on how effective the AODA has been at achieving a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities. It will make recommendations for the Government.
Plan to give Dean Mayo Moran your input:
* Is Ontario on schedule for reaching the mandatory goal of full accessibility by 2025?
* What progress have you seen towards a barrier-free Ontario since 2005? Since 2010?
* How effectively has the Government been at implementing and enforcing the AODA? Offer suggestions on how the AODA's implementation and enforcement can be improved.
You will be able to give the Moran Independent Review your input and ideas in writing and in person. We expect that the Mayo Moran Independent Review will be holding public forums and meetings to gather input in March and/or April. We will keep you posted as we receive more information.
We encourage you to invite Mayo Moran to a public forum, meeting or other event that your community organization is hosting, to give people a chance to give her direct feedback. You can email the Moran Independent Review to send Dean Moran an invitation, or to share your feedback on the AODA and its implementation and enforcement, by writing firstname.lastname@example.org
The AODA Alliance is now developing its brief for the Mayo Moran Independent Review. We welcome your input. Send us your ideas and thoughts. Email these to us at email@example.com
To learn more about the Mayo Moran Independent Review, including to learn over the next days when and where it will be holding public forums, visit the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review website at http://aodareview.utoronto.ca/
2. February 13, 2014 By-Elections are Over But a Possible Spring Election Looms - Be Ready to Raise Disability Accessibility Issues
We thank everyone who helped us raise disability accessibility issues in the two February 13, 2014 by-elections. The media is full of reports about a possible spring Ontario general election.
Because Ontario now has a minority government, we cannot know for certain at this time whether Ontarians will be going to the polls this spring. We need to be ready to again raise disability accessibility issues with all the parties, in our ongoing spirit of non-partisanship.
On December 3, 20153, we made public a list of 9 priorities for immediate action on our disability accessibility agenda. We urge you to now contact your local member of the Ontario Legislature, whatever be his or her party, and any candidates nominated in your riding. Urge them to personally commit to our 9 priorities for immediate accessibility action. Press them to get their party to do the same. You can see our 9 priorities for immediate disability accessibility action.
As has been done in each Ontario election since 1995, election commitments on disability accessibility will be sought from all of the major parties. We aim to have more information for you on this over the next weeks.
In the recent February 13, 2014 by-elections, we sought five commitments from the three major parties in the Ontario Legislature. Only the New Democratic Party made all the commitments we sought. To see the commitments of the three parties in the Ontario Legislature on disability accessibility in the February 13, 2014 by-elections.
It is necessary to comment on certain statements that the Liberal candidates in the two February 13, 2014 by-elections made in response to our request for effective enforcement of the AODA. Among other things, they wrote:
"Since taking office, Ontario Liberals have doubled the number of companies that are complying with these standards. Of course, there is still more to do. Our government is the first to use all enforcement tools available to us under the AODA. We are in the process of fining companies that have not filed their compliance reports."
We wish to note the following:
* They indicate that they are in the process of fining companies that have not filed their compliance reports. Yet they do not say how many companies have been fined. The Government has to date only publicly announced that it was writing 2,500 of the 36,000 Ontario private sector organizations with 20 or more employees that had not filed a required accessibility report by last November. The Government has not announced how many it has fined.
It sounds as if the Government is taking no enforcement steps regarding the vast majority of the private sector. The candidates only refer to enforcing as against to non-filing organizations. About 90% of the private sector (those organizations with under 20 employees) has no obligation to file an accessibility report, but still must comply with the AODA.
* They say that their Government has doubled the number of companies that are complying with these standards. This sounds great, until it is examined more closely.
The only measure of compliance they seem to be using is how many companies have filed compliance self-reports under the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. This does not prove full compliance with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It proves nothing about compliance with requirements in other accessibility standards that are now in force.
Moreover, as of last November, fully 70% of private sector companies with 20 or more employees had not filed mandatory self-reports. This is extremely low and unacceptable, even if it reflects a doubling of their filing rate.
* These candidates claimed that theirs is the only government that has used the AODA's enforcement tools. Yet it was their Government that enacted the AODA. No other party has been in power since these enforcement tools were created.
3. Accessibility Standards Advisory Council to Seek Your Input Soon on Measures to Strengthen the Customer Service Accessibility Standard
Under the AODA, the Government is required to appoint a body to review the Customer Service Accessibility Standard which was enacted back in 2007. In 2013, the Government announced that it would assign that task to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC).
It is our understanding that ASAC will soon be making public its initial proposals for changes to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. After that, we will all get a period of time to send in our feedback. ASAC will then review that feedback, and prepare its final recommendations for the Ontario Government.
We will let you know what ASAC proposes as initial draft recommendations as soon as they are made public. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions for us to consider in our feedback to ASAC on this topic, send your ideas to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
4. Blizzard of Great Recent Media Coverage on the AODA
During this potential lead-up to a spring Ontario general election, our campaign for a fully-accessible Ontario has garnered amazing media coverage. When it is read together, it reveals serious and ongoing problems with the Government's implementation and enforcement of the AODA.
We set out a number of items below. This includes, among other things, the Toronto Star's February 1, 2014 editorial that calls on the Ontario Government to take swifter and more decisive action to aid unemployed persons with disabilities find jobs. That followed on our revelation of the Government's inadequate plans for addressing this unemployment problem, included in the Toronto Star in its Friday, February 7, 2014 edition.
This is the 12th newspaper editorial our Disability Act movement has secured in the past 16 years of advocacy, (as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee from 1994 to 2005, and as the AODA Alliance from 2005 to the present). To read the first 10 editorials supporting our accessibility cause.
Included in the articles below are two articles that we included in recent AODA Alliance Updates. We are repeating them here both to give you the full context of follow-up coverage, and to show the combined impact of all of this coverage.
Below you will find:
- The January 29, 2014 Toronto Star's report on horrific barriers facing a woman with a disability riding a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Kitchener. It includes the troubling Ontario Government response (previously included in an AODA Alliance Update).
- The February 3, 2014 Toronto Star report on barriers in school facing students with autism who want to bring a service dog to school. That article shows the pressing need for the Ontario Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA.
- The February 6, 2014 Toronto Star's follow-up report on the Greyhound bus incident, including our response to the Ontario Government's troubling reaction.
- The February 7, 2014 Toronto Star Report on the Government's inadequate plans to address the plight of unemployed Ontarians with disabilities (earlier included in a previous AODA Alliance update).
- The February 10, 2014 Toronto Star editorial, demanding more immediate action on the plight of unemployed Ontarians with disabilities.
- A supportive letter in the February 10, 2014 Toronto Star on the problem facing students with autism when seeking to bring a service dog to school.
- A letter in the February 18, 2014 Toronto Star supporting our concerns with the Government's delay in addressing the plight facing unemployed Ontarians with disabilities.
It is wonderful when you can take stories about individual disability barriers to your local media, or write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper to raise disability accessibility issues. You can email letters to the Toronto Star by writing to email@example.com
The Toronto Star January 29, 2014
'Traumatic' ride has student seeking changes; Faulty equipment, driver training issues result in painful, frigid 4-hour bus ordeal
Graphic: Laurier University student Chantal Huinink, 30, was trapped on a Greyhound bus last week when its wheelchair lift malfunctioned. Glenn Lowson for the Toronto Star
It was the trip from hell.
Except temperatures were hovering close to -20 C last Wednesday evening when Chantal Huinink, a master's student at Wilfrid Laurier University, arrived at the Toronto Coach Terminal to board a Greyhound bus back to Kitchener.
Huinink, who uses an electric wheelchair, was in Toronto with a friend to see Les Misérables and had booked the trip with the bus company's accessibility office a week before.
But what should have been a one-hour journey turned into a bone-chilling, four-hour ordeal. The 30-year-old social work and divinity student came close to being seriously injured and then stranded in the freezing cold, due to faulty equipment and untrained drivers. Huinink finally had to be rescued by firefighters.
"This was an emotionally traumatic and physically troubling experience," she said in an interview this week. "I believe it violated the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in many ways, and I really want to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone in the future."
Provincial regulations requiring transit companies to provide accessible equipment and trained operators have been in force since 2011, said disability activist David Lepofsky. "The Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) has important enforcement provisions. It has stiff fines, provisions for directors and inspectors, and appeals to a tribunal," he said.
"Yet as far as we can discover, there is no Ontario government phone number that people like Chantal can call to report a barrier that violates the AODA," he said. "We have been asking for this since 2012."
A spokesperson for Eric Hoskins, the minister of economic development, trade and employment, said the act sets standards; it doesn't play a role in resolving complaints.
Individuals are encouraged to contact organizations directly. If they feel their rights are still not being upheld, they can file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, said Gabe DeRoche.
But Lepofsky said people with disabilities shouldn't be forced to go to the Human Rights Commission.
"We have never said (the government) should send an investigator for every complaint," he said. "But there should be a number to call to lodge a complaint so the government can track what's going on."
Huinink has faced faulty equipment and untrained drivers on Greyhound and GO Transit buses before. But this trip was particularly egregious. She arrived at the bus terminal to find the wheelchair lift ready for her. But she had to wait for 25 minutes in frigid temperatures while the driver struggled unsuccessfully to untangle the tie-downs for the lift.
Finally, at 8:30 p.m., she was asked to take another bus, which she boarded without incident. Anxious not to miss her pre-booked accessible-transit ride home from the Kitchener bus terminal, Huinink didn't argue when the driver used only two straps to secure her wheelchair. But when the driver hit the brakes, Huinink's wheelchair jerked forward and her feet became painfully wedged in the seats in front. Unable to move the seats - and apparently unaware of how to operate the side door to access the straps and free Huinink - the driver returned to the bus terminal for help.
With no other accessible buses available, the driver and other Greyhound staff eventually used a cable to secure everything in place.
Since Huinink had now missed her connection in Kitchener, Greyhound staff agreed the driver would drop her off at the university.
But when the driver arrived at the busy intersection of University Ave. and Hazel St. and opened the accessible door to activate the wheelchair lift, it descended to the sidewalk and got stuck, leaving Huinink stranded on the bus with the door open.
"The driver tried troubleshooting - opening the lift, closing the lift, fastening the seatbelt, unfastening the seatbelt, trying to drive the bus with the lift down and the door open. . . This went on for half an hour," Huinink said, noting that the bus alarm - which activates when the door is open - was deafening.
"My companion and I were very cold and it was too loud for us to tolerate," she said in an interview.
By this time, Huinink had to use the washroom. "The driver could offer no ideas as to how or when I would be able to get off the bus," she said. "He seemed at a loss at what to do."
Huinink finally called campus security, who called the Waterloo fire department. Firefighters helped her safely off the bus - three and a half hours after her ordeal began.
Greyhound officials will be contacting Huinink to apologize, said a company spokesperson in Dallas. "This is not reflective of how Greyhound operates. We pride ourselves on stellar customer service and a stellar travel experience. It appears this situation does not reflect that," Alexandra Pedrini told the Star.
Greyhound, which is subject to Ontario accessibility standards, is conducting an internal investigation, including interviews with the drivers.
All coaches are checked daily to make sure the lifts and tie-downs work. Those inspections did occur in this case and the buses were found to be "roadworthy," said Pedrini.
Drivers undergo extensive training, including the operation of wheelchair equipment, she said.
"We're looking into exactly what the cause was for the entire situation and we're working to make sure this doesn't happen again," Pedrini said.
"Establishing reliable transit, where all the drivers are trained and equipment is in good working order, is important for my full employment and my ability to serve others as well," Huinink said. "But it is a bigger issue than just me. Everyone deserves equality of service. It is supposed to be the law in Ontario."
GO Transit: All buses are accessible. Highway coaches have a motorized lift; low-floor models have a ramp. All buses are inspected nightly, including ramps. Riders needn't call ahead unless they're not sure their stop is accessible. All GO trains include an accessible coach, but six stations remain inaccessible. GO plans full accessibility by 2016.
TTC: All buses are accessible by ramp or lift. Drivers must ensure ramps work before leaving. Subway trains are accessible, but only 32 of 69 stations are. Future streetcars will be accessible, but current ones are not. Drivers get equipment and sensitivity training.
Via Rail: Long-haul trains are accessible and have wheelchair tie-downs. Stations have elevators, sliding doors, Braille signage, accessible washrooms, wheelchair lifts. Train staff are expected to assist passengers at unstaffed stations and en route, if service is requested 48 hours before.
Laurie Monsebraaten and Tess Kalinowski
The Toronto Star February 3, 2014
The fight for autistic kids to have dogs at school; Parents push reluctant boards to change rules so children needing service animals can bring them
Graphic: Braydon Drexler, 6, and his service dog, Keats. After a years-long fight, his Winnipeg school has agreed to accept the dog. But his mother, Tracey, says the conditions are so restrictive, she has begun to search for private schools. Incredible changes have been seen in autistic teen Eric Segal, thanks to his service dog, Azra. Vince Talotta/Toronto star
Parents of children with autism are battling school boards on an equal rights issue that promises to heat up ahead of this month's provincial byelections.
Do dogs belong in classrooms?
Families who have seen their easily agitated, sometimes non-verbal children blossom into calmer, more communicative kids around highly trained service animals think so.
Supported by lawyers and equal rights activists, they are fighting for the dogs to be viewed as assistive devices, no less essential than hearing aids in helping kids absorb curriculum.
But school boards have wildly inconsistent or nonexistent policies on the issue, forcing many parents to spend months - sometimes years - negotiating their way through the system as their children languish academically.
While federal law protects a blind person's right to be accompanied in any public place by a service animal, the rights of children with autism who rely on trained dogs to keep them safe, regulate unruly behaviour and help them develop socially are not so clear.
National service dog agencies estimate that nearly 1,500 children with autism have been paired with an animal. The Star spoke with families from across Canada who have these animals. Several described drawn-out, draining meetings where "standoffish" board officials debated the value of the dogs.
They raised concerns about potential allergies, cultural sensitivities (can a child who is prohibited by religion from drawing an animal be in the same room as one?), strained resources (who would fill the dog's water bowl?) and liability insurance.
Only one mother, Ali MacDonald, a nurse in the military community of Kingston, N.S., praised school and board staff for making the process an "easy" and positive one for her 11-year-old son, Noah.
"Parents of children with disabilities should not have to fight one school at a time, and one barrier at a time, to ensure that their kids can fully participate in and benefit from school," said David Lepofsky of the non-profit Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
Having schools and boards across the province "reinvent the wheel" every time this issue arises "wastes public resources," said Lepofsky.
His group is now campaigning for an Education Accessibility Standard.
"We aim to make this one of the issues in the two Ontario byelections."
ARCH Disability Law Centre, a Toronto-based legal aid clinic that defends and advances equality rights for Ontarians with disabilities, is also lobbying for a fair, standardized policy on service dogs in schools.
In Beamsville, Ont., after a year of discussions that included intervention from an equality-rights lawyer, Senator Gibson Public School agreed to take Kaitlyn Younger's black Labrador named Catch, on the condition that if the dog relieves itself on school property, the Grade 2 student's mother will clean the mess.
"They'll put a pylon beside it in the schoolyard, they'll call me and I have to come get it," said Ingrid Hansen-Younger, who has spent the past year trying to help other families navigate the service dog issue with school boards.
School principal Andrea Grieve said the protocol is "part of our board's procedure." She said "having Catch has been a very positive experience for us."
In Burlington, 10-year-old Sasha Pohl-Weary has a desk at the back of a classroom but spent most of the fall semester in her school's dimly lit chill-out room or at home trying to manage her overwhelming anxiety. For some children, having autism is at times like being in a space crammed with television sets, each operating at a different volume with pictures blurring in and out, a sensory overload. That's how a former special education teacher from Halton, Cate Hawkins, has come to describe it. Sasha calls it going black.
Reid, the shaggy dark Labrador she received from Lions Foundation of Canada Dog Guides in December 2012 helps reduce those episodes.
"If I get the dog engaged with her, it helps regulate her and bring her back down," said Sasha's mother, Colleen Pohl-Weary.
The school board says the issue comes down to staffing. Sasha does not have a devoted education assistant to direct the dog as needed. "If she hit other kids, she could get an EA but kids who implode don't qualify," Pohl-Weary said.
A spokeswoman for Halton District School Board said support is provided for students with disabilities based on individual needs. She would not explain what criteria the board uses to allocate resources.
A Lions Foundation trainer is working with Sasha to see if she can assume the trainer role herself though another national service dog agency advises families and schools against this practice.
"Children with autism are not in a position to independently handle and direct their dogs. The whole point actually is that they don't," said Danielle Forbes, executive director of Cambridge, Ont.-based National Service Dogs, the first agency in the world to train autism service dogs.
But even children who have an education assistant are not guaranteed access.
Sixteen-year-old Eric Segal of Vaughan shares two assistants with a handful of classmates at Stephen Lewis Secondary School.
Mom Sharon Gabison has been meeting with school and board members since last May. She described the initial gathering as "standoffish."
"The general flavour was they couldn't understand the point of the service dog," she said. "At one point, I said, 'It appears you've already made up your mind.' "
At home, Gabison, a physical therapist, said she's seen incredible changes in her son since he received the Lions Foundation service dog. He sleeps through the night, no longer getting up to wander the house or neighbourhood. He picks up the telephone when it rings, more confident and capable of talking with whoever is on the other end of the line.
Eight months later, she is still hopeful the school can accommodate Eric's dog, Azra. Last week, the board reviewed with her its draft protocol on service animals, which laid out a 15-point checklist of things that must happen before Azra can attend school. They assured her these are not barriers or delay tactics but she is skeptical because there is no mention of a time frame.
Also alarming is a proviso that parents bear the full financial burden of hiring a dog handler to work with the child on school property.
Steven Reid, York Region District School Board superintendent of student services, confirmed the protocol should be in place by year's end, if not sooner. It will be posted publicly so everyone has a "clear understanding of the process."
In deciding whether to accommodate a service dog, the York board's draft protocol states school principals must consider the medical needs of students and staff (with respect to allergies), children with fear of dogs and those with a cultural sensitivity to animals.
"In cases where the accommodation of a service dog is required and there are medical or sensitivity issues in the class or school, provision may need to be made for the student and the service dog to attend either a different class or school," the draft policy states.
Laurie Letheren, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre, said concerns about service dogs are often overblown because of a basic misunderstanding. "You're not petting this dog," she said.
Tracey Drexler has had enough. The Winnipeg mom will start scouting private schools for 6-year-old son Braydon this month even though technically she won her years-long battle with Sansome School and the St. James-Assiniboia School Division. She started when Braydon was in kindergarten and on the waiting list for a service animal. They requested a standard poodle because it's hypoallergenic. She pressed the school division to create a policy on service dogs. Eventually it did.
While the school has agreed to conditionally accept Braydon and his dog, Keats, as of March, Drexler said the process has been excruciating and doesn't consider it a win. She feels the amount of documentation they requested violated Manitoba's human rights code and was a strategy to send her "running around in circles." The school is insisting she purchase expensive liability insurance and will not allow the dog to take the bus for field trips.
She is also upset the school will be sending home a letter to parents about Braydon and Keats but has refused to tell her how widely it will be circulated or what it will say.
The school and the division have not responded to the Star's requests for comment.
"It's kind of ridiculous," said Drexler, a nurse who took a leave from work to enrol in the education assistant program at University of Winnipeg so she could become a better advocate for her son and other children. She graduates this month.
She may have given up on Sansome School, but the battle isn't over.
"I'm part of a group of six outspoken moms of children who have autism. We're all going to be running for school division spots this fall to pass some new policies."
Diana Zlomislic Toronto Star
Toronto Star February 6, 2014
Greyhound steps up accessibility training for bus drivers
Star gets action: Waterloo woman’s "trip from hell" prompts company to replace equipment and give drivers more frequent refresher courses.
Wilfrid Laurier University student Chantal Huinink's complaints about her ordeal aboard a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Waterloo has led to some important changes at the company.
GLENN LOWSON / FOR THE TORONTO STAR
Wilfrid Laurier University student Chantal Huinink's complaints about her ordeal aboard a Greyhound bus from Toronto to Waterloo has led to some important changes at the company.
By: Laurie Monsebraaten Social justice reporter, Published on Wed Feb 05 2014
All Greyhound bus drivers in Canada will receive a refresher course on accessibility equipment over the next three weeks, after a Waterloo woman’s “ride from hell” last month, company officials say.
Faulty wheelchair straps will be replaced immediately and driver training on accessible equipment will go from once every two years to every year, said Greyhound spokesperson Alexandra Pedrini.
Wilfrid Laurier University student Chantal Huinink, who uses an electric wheelchair, came close to being seriously injured and then stranded in freezing weather due to defective equipment and poorly trained drivers during a trip from Toronto to Waterloo on the evening of Jan. 22. Temperatures at the time hovered at -20C.
As reported in the Star, the one-hour trip turned into a bone-chilling, four-hour ordeal that ended with Huinink having to be rescued by Waterloo firefighters.
“Please accept our apologies for the issues you experienced and know that I have taken your suggestions on how we can improve to heart,” David Butler, Greyhound’s director of passenger services and garage operations for Eastern Canada, wrote in an email follow-up to a phone call with Huinink late last week.
Butler also offered Huinink several free trips for travel on Greyhound for her trouble.
Huinink is happy the company has vowed to make changes. But with just 10 per cent of Greyhound buses equipped to handle wheelchairs and without standard equipment on every accessible bus, she wonders how well drivers will remember the training, even if they will now get it every year.
She was also surprised to learn that the provincial Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act only requires buses purchased after 2011 to be accessible. The legislation doesn’t require private bus companies to retrofit existing buses.
“I don’t want to seem like a pessimist, because it’s obvious that they are making some effort for change,” she said. “But for such a large company with so many staff and so many buses and a lack of standardization, it’s really hard to know if this is going to make a substantial difference or not.”
Huinink doesn’t understand why the province doesn’t have a number she and others with disabilities can call when they experience unreasonable barriers.
“The reason I called the media is I didn’t know who to call,” she said.
A spokesperson for Eric Hoskins, the minister of economic development, trade and employment, said individuals are encouraged to contact the offending organization to complain and then the Ontario Human Rights Commission, if they feel their rights are still not being upheld.
But disability rights activist David Lepofsky said the government’s response is “a cruel slap in the faces of Ontarians with disabilities.”
“Ontario’s Liberals promised disability accessibility legislation with teeth and effective enforcement, so that individuals with disabilities wouldn’t have to suffer the ordeal of battling barriers one at a time by personally fighting human rights complaints,” he said.
The OADA is supposed to make Ontario accessible by 2025, by enacting and effectively enforcing accessibility standards in areas such as transportation, Lepofsky said, but the ministry has chosen not to enforce the law.
Meanwhile, Huinink is glad her complaint has been heard, for the sake of others faced with similar situations.
“My intention is not that people with disabilities will refrain from using buses because of my bad experience,” she said. “Rather, I want to ensure that precautions are taken so that the service is accessible and safe for all, and people are encouraged to go where they need and want to go.”
With files from Tess Kalinowski
Toronto Star February 7, 2014
Ontario convenes new ‘partnership council’ to boost jobs for disabled people
But one leading advocate calls the new group a stall tactic to avoid fixing the crisis of unemployment among people with disabilities.
By: Laura Kane, News reporter
Photo: Lawyer David Lepofsky, who is blind, is skeptical about whether the province's new council, composed of business leaders, people with disabilities and academics, will be any more effective than past efforts at ensuring that people with disabilities have employment opportunities. Photo by: ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR
A new provincial panel that will explore solutions to unemployment among people with disabilities is a “stall tactic” to avoid fixing the crisis now, one advocate says.
The Star has learned the province will soon announce a “partnership council” of people with disabilities, business leaders and academics to create the province’s first-ever employment strategy for disabled people by the end of 2014.
But to one accessibility advocate, it’s a case of déjà vu.
“This is reinventing the wheel,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “This is delay, not action. There are things they could be enforcing right now that would be very helpful.”
The council was first promised in last year’s budget, but the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment began recruiting members in January and expects to announce details in mid-March.
It’s not the first time the province has convened such a panel. In 2007, it brought together business leaders and people with disabilities to create accessibility regulations for employers. The Integrated Accessibility Standards were enacted in 2011.
For the 1.9 million people with disabilities in Ontario, waiting another year for the recommendations of yet another panel is simply too little, too late, Lepofsky said.
“How long do you have to stay poor and unemployed?” asked Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind. “We have a lot of talent to offer, and every person with a disability who gets a job is one less person on social assistance.”
Minister Eric Hoskins said in an interview that the goals of the new council are very different from those of the 2007 panel. While that one was focused on regulations, this council will focus on job creation, he said.
“This is to seek out and engage champions of the business community to demonstrate leadership, and make the argument among their peers of why it makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities,” he said.
Hoskins said the council would engage with businesses as soon as it convenes. The province will not wait until the results of the report to take action, he said.
“It’s very much an action-oriented council. The mandate before them is to result in Ontario businesses employing more people with disabilities.”
About 25 per cent of disabled people in Ontario’s labour market are unemployed. If all the people who have given up looking for work are included in the statistics, that number rises to 75 per cent, said Joe Dale, executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network.
Dale has been tapped to sit on the new council. He said he is hopeful that bringing business leaders and people with disabilities together will be productive, but he won’t know until he has more details.
“If they’re going to start trying to reinvent a dialogue about what are the barriers to employment, then I think that book’s already been written. Let’s read it and start from there, and say: What do we do about it?”
Numerous studies have already explored unemployment among people with disabilities. The federal government released the results of a major study last year called “Re-Thinking Disability in the Private Sector.”
Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services — which had responsibility for the accessibility file until last year — has for several years spearheaded the government’s “Don’t Waste Talent” initiative to promote employment for people with disabilities.
Still, the new council could be useful if it focuses on the “carrot” — teaching employers why it’s beneficial to hire people with disabilities — rather than the “stick” of regulation, Dale said.
“Businesses are much more responsive when you can show there’s a business benefit of being an inclusive employer, and when they hear that message from other businesses that have been successful,” he said.
Studies have shown that workplaces that hire people with disabilities have lower turnover, lower non-wage payroll costs, better safety records, better loyalty to the employer and dedication to the job, Dale said.
The Toronto Star February 10, 2014
Disabled only in some eyes
Mark Wafer travels the world giving corporate leaders his business case for hiring disabled workers - and he's attracting a receptive audience. Increasingly, business sees the value they bring to the workplace.
But here in Ontario, home to Wafer's seven Tim Hortons franchises, government policies still actively hinder the economic and emotional growth of disabled residents. It doesn't have to be this way.
While Premier Kathleen Wynne's government still needs to develop an overarching strategy for the long-term housing and care of the disabled in a province where many people have varying degrees of disability, there's no reason why some employment barriers at least can't be quickly stripped away.
Consider Wafer, a man who understands disabilities. He's deaf. With a small empire of Tims restaurants in Scarborough, he's been hiring the disabled for years. Some are intellectually challenged, with Down syndrome. Others have severe autism, or Tourette's syndrome. Some just need a wheelchair.
As he says of his employees, "We tend to put limits on people with intellectual disabilities but we really don't know what their limits are until we get them into the workplace." What he discovered, over the years, is both inspiring and maddening. Some of those intellectually challenged workers turn out to be his best employees.
Individually, they blossom, taking on responsibilities their families had never imagined. Collectively, they've enabled Wafer to achieve an increase in productivity, a drop in absenteeism and a relatively low turnover rate of 40 per cent, half of Ontario's fast food average of 75 to 90 per cent. Since it costs some $4,000 to advertise for, hire and train each new staff member, the savings are notable. As Wafer says, that's good business.
But perversely, some Ontario government policies serve to block people with disabilities from entering the workforce. That's wrong. And the Wynne government has something to learn by listening to advocates like Wafer, or Joe Dale of the Ontario Disabilities Employment Network, who have ideas for getting people off social assistance and helping them join the workforce.
For example, parents often don't want their working-age child to give up the security of a rare and coveted spot in a daytime enrichment program for a job that may or may not pan out. That might force their child back to the bottom of a long waiting list for programs and services. As Dale says, the province should allow for a "rapid reinstatement" of services. Mitigating the risk of taking a job would encourage more people to try working. If Wafer's experience rings true many will succeed, freeing up space in day programs for others.
Some need the expensive drug coverage they only receive under the Ontario Disability Support Program, for those on social assistance. There should be some provision to provide essential coverage for the disabled who are working.
There's more that can be done. As Progressive Conservative deputy leader Christine Elliott notes, tweaking the education system could bring rewards. Creating disability-friendly training programs in community colleges, for example, could open doors to jobs.
"Many families liken the end of high school to 'falling off a cliff' because their children have no supports, either vocational or recreational, to turn to after age 21. They end up watching TV in their parents' home," Elliott says.
Moreover success in the workplace needn't require big spending. It can be as simple as training that is tailored to a person's disability. Or giving workers with poor eyesight larger computer screens. Nobody is advocating big provincial subsidies to spur hiring.
As Wafer says, "This is not charity. Of the 92 people I've hired with a disability, every single one of those was meaningful with competitive pay."
That's just the point. Whether a physically disabled worker is earning a hefty paycheque in say, the technology industry, or an intellectually challenged worker is making basic wages in a restaurant, they've built their own success.
This is one area where the Wynne government shouldn't have to strike yet another panel for discussion and debate. Some of the solutions seem obvious. What's needed are a few basic changes to help people to thrive.
The Toronto Star February 10, 2014
Autism dilemma unnecessary; The fight to let dogs help kids with autism, Feb. 3
The fight to let dogs help kids with autism, Feb. 3
It's shameful that families are faced with this unnecessary dilemma. There would be no question about a guide dog for a blind child or a hearing dog for a deaf child.
Some people may be unfamiliar with dogs well-trained to assist children who live with autism or seizure disorders. These dogs help a child be successful at school. Both the Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005) provide for barrier-free accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with the right of full participation including provisions for service dogs to accompany their handlers in all public places, including schools and buses.
Several years ago at the request of and in consultation with families and the professionals who recommended them, the Simcoe County District School Board developed a thorough guide on the use of service dogs in schools. Currently there are well-trained service dogs in Simcoe schools that support students with autism with great success. Perhaps those families and schools that are struggling could use that guide as a model for expediting the approval of the mandated use of service dogs their local schools.
Laura LaChance, Collingwood
The Toronto Star February 18, 2014
Access delayed is access denied; Disabled only in some eyes, Editorial Feb. 10 Council to boost jobs for disabled, Feb. 7
Council to boost jobs for disabled, Feb. 7
Kudos to David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. He is right in stating, "This is delay, not action. There are things they could be enforcing right now that would be very helpful." Action and access delayed is action and access denied. According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission documents, if accommodations are not provided in a timely manner, that is discrimination.
It is time for Premier Kathleen Wynne to focus on social justice. All Ontario citizens deserve to be treated equitably and readily have full participation in their communities. Without action for compliance and enforcement of any and all legislation dealing with individuals with disabilities, the Ontario government is ignoring its responsibility to one of the largest minority groups in this province.
Janis Jaffe-White and Reva Schafer, Toronto Family Network