ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

Toronto Star Reports on Wynne Government's Failure to Ensure an Effective Disability Accessibility Legacy for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games

September 3, 2014

Summary

On page A-8 of the September 3, 2014 Toronto Star is an excellent article reporting on the Wynne Government's failure to ensure that the huge public investment in the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games leaves behind a strong and substantial legacy of improved disability accessibility. We set out that article below.

The 2015 Games' legacy includes the long-term benefits to Ontario that will be left behind from the massive public investment in the 2015 Games. Both the recent Vancouver and London Olympics included efforts to plan to leave behind a legacy of improved disability accessibility.

Over a year ago, on August 28, 2013, the Ontario cabinet minister who was then responsible for the 2015 Games held a news conference to unveil the legacy planned for the 2015 Toronto Games. That minister, Michael Chan, said nothing about a disability accessibility legacy. We have been pressing this issue since then. The news article set out below arises from our latest effort at getting the Wynne Government to take this issue more seriously.

Almost a year ago, on October 1, 2013, we made public our own proposal for a strong disability accessibility legacy for the 2015 Games. Last week, on August 28, 2014, one year to the day after the Government held its 2015 Games legacy news conference, we wrote the new Ontario cabinet minister, Michael Coteau, to try to get him to take up the slack on this issue.

As the Toronto Star reports, one of our major concerns is that the Government is not taking strong and effective action to ensure that there is a substantial increase in accessible hospitality and tourism services, like restaurants, hotels, taxis and public transit. It is very troubling that what Minister Coteau had to offer the Star, according to this report, is:

"Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau said the government is working with the tourism industry on an Accessibility Tourism Directory that will list the most accessible hotels, restaurants and other venues for people "to stay, eat and relax." Coteau said it is important the visitors "have a stay that meets a certain comfort zone." He added "there is no question that you have to leverage everything you're doing in government to make sure it becomes a more accessible friendly province.""

Yet to prepare a directory of existing accessible tourism services doesn't go anywhere near far enough. It is critical that the Government take concerted action to significantly increase the number of accessible restaurants, public transit, taxis, hotels and other hospitality and tourism services to be included in that directory. The 2015 Games' accessibility legacy should not just be a directory that reminds us how few accessible hospitality and tourism services we now have. Ontarians with disabilities and tourists with disabilities from elsewhere deserve better.      
 
We encourage you to:

* Write a letter to the Toronto Star sharing your thoughts on this issue. You can email letters to:  lettertoed@thestar.ca

* Encourage your local media to cover this issue. Send them this Update. Call them to urge them to take up this story. Tell them why it matters to you.

* Spread the word to friends and family, by circulating this email, and sharing it on social media like Twitter and Facebook.

* Call your MPP. Tell them to press the 2015 Games Minister Michael Coteau to do better.

To read the AODA Alliance's August 28, 2014 letter to 2015 Toronto Games Minister Coteau

Our October 1, 2013 Proposal for a Strong and Lasting Disability Accessibility Legacy.

To read what was said at the August 28, 2013 Government news conference on the 2015 Toronto Games, and our reaction to it.

To read the Toronto Star's August 27, 2013 report on the inaccessible invitation which the Government sent to the AODA Alliance chair for that news conference.

Of course, the Accessibility Clock keeps on ticking. A troubling 289 days have now passed since we revealed that the Ontario Government was not enforcing the AODA, and that there have been rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Government still has not made public its promised plan for the AODA's effective enforcement. One hundred and ninety-five days have passed since the Toronto Star reported on February 20, 2014 that the Government would be publicly posting that new enforcement plan "in short order."

To read our November 18, 2013 revelation that the Government was failing to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act despite knowing of rampant private sector violations, and funds on hand for enforcement.

To read the Government's February 20, 2014 pledge to publish in "short order" its plan for enforcing the Disabilities Act.

As well, 371 days have passed since the Government unveiled its plans for the legacy of the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has still not released details and specifics of a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the Games. Only 310 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!

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MORE DETAILS

Text of the September 3, 2014 Article in the Toronto Star

The Toronto Star September 3, 2014 
News
Advocate calls for Pam Am Games to leave accessibility legacy

Ontario is nowhere near ready to welcome visitors with disabilities to the province for next year's Pan Am Games, a prominent advocate says.

David Lepofsky, a spokesperson for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said Queen's Park is missing a unique opportunity to use the games as a catalyst to improve accessibility in restaurants, hotels and transit, among other things.

"We're just not ready," Lepofsky told the Star Tuesday.

It will cost taxpayers at least $2.5 billion to host the Games, which will host 7,666 athletes competing in 51 sports at venues in 16 municipalities, including Toronto, Hamilton, Milton, Ajax, Whitby, Oshawa, Caledon, St. Catharines and Welland.

Lepofsky told the Star the Liberals' 2005 commitment to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025 is woefully behind schedule and urges the province not to miss this unique opportunity to promote accessibility beyond the gates of the various venues.

"The government has an obligation under the Disabilities Act to lead this province to become fully accessible by 2015.

"We are behind schedule and we have to use every opportunity we can get. One huge opportunity is the Pan Am and Parapan Games," he said.

"It is not enough to say that 'we're going to have accessible buildings for the athletes to live in,'" he said.

Lepofsky said the province is expecting 250,000 visitors for the Games and they will all need a place to stay, a place to eat and will need to get around by transit or taxi.

"Toronto wants to be a world class city and part of that is a city which can accommodate conferences, and individual tourists which includes people with disabilities," he said.

Tourism, Culture and Sport Minister Michael Coteau said the government is working with the tourism industry on an Accessibility Tourism Directory that will list the most accessible hotels, restaurants and other venues for people "to stay, eat and relax."

Coteau said it is important the visitors "have a stay that meets a certain comfort zone."

He added "there is no question that you have to leverage everything you're doing in government to make sure it becomes a more accessible friendly province."

Lepofsky said the government should be encouraging businesses in the tourism sector to make the changes they need and if that doesn't happen, he says, Queen's Park should see to it that employees and volunteers for the Pan Am Games not frequent their businesses.

"The government should be making clear that they will not use any hotel, they will not use any restaurants, they will not use any venue for formal events or even informal events . . . unless they are accessible," he said.

Lepofsky said games organizers and provincial government officials are always talking about the legacy the games will leave and says there's no better legacy than improving accessibility.

"They talk about cultural legacy and athletics legacy but we say what about the legacy of accessibility? If you don't organize it in advance it won't happen," he said.

"We have been on their tail for over a year now saying 'it's time already.' "

Richard J. Brennan Toronto Star