ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

Sign Up for AODA Alliance Updates by writing: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Learn more at: www.aodaalliance.org

AODA ALLIANCE CHAIR TO BE INTERVIEWED ON TV ONTARIO'S "THE AGENDA WITH STEVE PAIKIN" TONIGHT PC CANDIDATE AGREES TO URGE TIM HUDAK TO MAKE ACCESSIBILITY COMMITMENTS AND OTHER MEDIA ELECTION COVERAGE OF DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES

September 20, 2011

SUMMARY

With the election campaign in full swing, we have more news than usual, and so we are circulating more Updates than usual. Here's the latest.

1. WATCH TV ONTARIO'S "THE AGENDA WITH STEVE PAIKIN" TONIGHT

On Thursday, September 22, 2011, AODA Alliance Chair, David Lepofsky will be interviewed on TV Ontario's flagship current affairs program "The Agenda with Steve Paikin." It is anticipated that this interview will include discussion of the disability accessibility issues that the AODA Alliance has spearheaded in the current Ontario election.

We encourage you to tune in. Urge as many others as possible to do so. The program airs across Ontario on TV Ontario at 8 pm and 11 pm.

2. MAKING PROGRESS ONE CANDIDATE AT A TIME-GET YOUR PC CANDIDATE TO CALL TIM HUDAK ABOUT PC DISABILITY PLATFORM

We have just gotten Progressive Conservative candidate Rocco Rossi to promise that he will personally call Tim Hudak to urge him to commit not to cut gains on accessibility we've made, and to instead effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Why don't you call or meet your local PC candidate to ask him or her to do the same? If Rocco Rossi can do it, so can each PC candidate across Ontario! If Mr. Hudak hears from more and more of his own candidates, the pressure will mount for him to make the commitments we seek.

How did we do it? At the September 21, 2011 Candidates' Debate at the Fairlawn United Church in the hotly-contested Toronto riding of Eglinton Lawrence, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky publicly asked PC candidate Rocco Rossi to make this pledge. Mr. Rossi publicly agreed that he would.

Shortly afterward, David Lepofsky reported Mr. Rossi's commitment on a tweet on Twitter. Mr. Rossi responded with a public tweet that confirmed that he made this commitment. We set out these tweets below. For those who don't use Twitter, we explain that a tweet can only be up to 140 characters. Thus one uses short forms like the number 2 to mean the word "to" to cram in the message. The symbol #voteon makes the message searchable for those following the Ontario election.

David Lepofsky's September 22, 2011 evening tweet: " Got #Rocco Rossi 2agree 2call #Tim Hudak 2 ask him 2say he won't cut accessibility Gains and will implement Disability Act #voteon"

Rocco Rossi's September 22, 2011 tweet in response shortly afterwards: " Rocco Rossi posted @DavidLepofsky Happy to ask him David. Thank you for the question and for your ongoing community efforts. #voteon"

Whether you meet your local PC candidate at an all-candidates debate, or call him or her on a radio call-in show, or approach him or her while they campaign in your neighbourhood, or just phone or visit their campaign office, you just have to ask the question! You can also give him or her our September 13, 2011 letter to Tim Hudak. You can print it by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09132011.asp  

If you get a commitment, make it public! And of course, let us know!

It is never too late! In the 1995 Ontario election, PC leader Mike Harris wrote our predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, to promise a Disabilities Act on May 24, 1994. That was just a couple of weeks before election day.

This again shows that the tips we offer in our 2011 Election Action Kit really can work! You can read our Election Action Kit by visiting: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09162011.asp

Our recently expanding our efforts to the social media is already having an impact. Follow us on Twitter. You'll get more information and more quickly! You can follow twitter.com/davidlepofsky or twitter.com/aodaalliance. We use both to send out the same information.

3. OTHER MEDIA COVERAGE

We set out below two recent Toronto Star articles on our issue:

* The September 17, 2011 Toronto Star included a good column by respected columnist Helen Henderson.

* A good article in the September 22, 2011 Toronto Star by social policy reporter Laurie Monsebraaten, identifying a range of important issues, including ours, that have not garnered sufficient attention.

We offer two added comments to these very good articles. Where Helen Henderson reports that the AODA Alliance tells voters to vote for candidates with certain platforms, we wish to clarify that we do not tell anyone who to vote for or against. Where the experts in Laurie Monsebraaten's article offer reasons why voters are not engaged in issues like ours, we respectfully disagree with those experts. We obtained specific commitments from three of the four major parties. Moreover, we find that whenever we get access to an audience of voters, we win strong and substantial support for our concerns. That is why we need everyone receiving this update to help spread the word!

Send us your feedback. Write us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

*****

Toronto Star September 17, 2011

Living

Provincial candidates urged to prevent inclusion barriers

Graphic: Many will consider disability issues when casting their election ballots.

With less than three weeks to go before the province goes to the polls, it's worth noting that of the roughly 1.7 million people with disabilities in Ontario, about a million of them are entitled to vote. Millions more among their friends and families will rank disability issues among priorities when assessing how they will cast their ballot.

Bottom line: Candidates ignore access and inclusion at their peril.

Accessible elections start long before polling day. Indeed, they begin long before the writ is dropped, when potential candidates plan campaigns, gather supporters and set up headquarters. This is why March of Dimes Canada sent out postcards this summer urging anyone planning to enter the race to "feature people with disabilities as part of campaign activities."

It also urged its Ontario members to visit their local campaign offices, to see if they are "friendly to all constituents."

Five years ago, when it started this monitoring process, "we found that about one in every four campaign offices was physically inaccessible," says Steven Christianson, manager of government relations and advocacy. This year, "we're finding a totally different outcome," he said in an email.

"Not only is virtually every office physically accessible . . . but almost every campaign representative or candidate explains that accessibility was a key pillar of planning, reaching out to volunteers and selecting office space."

Needless to say, there are exceptions, among them the "totally inaccessible" campaign office of Rocco Rossi, Progressive Conservative candidate for Eglinton-Lawrence. "It wasn't intentional," says Ron Soreanu of the Rossi campaign. If Rossi wins, his constituency office would be wheelchair accessible, Soreanu adds.

Maybe so. But Christianson says Rossi's choice of campaign office "shell-shocked" him, given that Rossi has experience as a candidate (he lost the Toronto mayoral race to Rob Ford) and is a former chief executive of the Ontario Heart and Stroke Foundation.

It's also a particularly unfortunate oversight at a time when issues of inclusion are gaining the attention they deserve. With the passing of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), the province has started on the path to recognizing that stronger, more vibrant communities emerge when we dismantle the barriers that prevent everyone contributing. That means making sure all facets of life - from education to transportation to elections - are accessible to people who move or communicate or process information differently from what society has decreed to be the norm.

Among inclusion issues high on the March of Dimes' list of priorities is strengthening community supports to help people with disabilities maintain their independence. It is also a member of the AODA Alliance, which held a news conference earlier this month to urge all candidates to eliminate and prevent barriers to the full participation of all Ontarians.

AODA Alliance chief David Lepofsky urges voters to choose candidates who would, among other things:

- Appoint a full-time assistant deputy minister of government services for accessibility, a position established in 2009, then downgraded to part time last year.

- Strengthen the AODA's process for developing accessibility standards.

- Launch "an open, accessible public consultation on how to effectively reform the human rights process in Ontario."

Lepofsky said all four major parties have agreed in principle to work with the AODA Alliance if they are elected. But while the Liberals, NDP and Green Party agree they will not cut back on gains in legislation or regulations that accessibility advocates have won to date, the Conservatives don't, he said.

Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays. helenhenderson@sympatico.ca

****

Toronto Star September 22, 2011

News

Advocates struggle to grab attention of public, politicians; Recession, disengaged voters and limited resources to blame

Graphic: Front row seats are empty as the Colour of Poverty releases its report card on how parties are, or are not, addressing issues the group has identified. RICK MADONIK/TORONTO STAR

With Ontario's election campaign coinciding with events to highlight International Tenants' Month, Harvey Cooper felt the stars had aligned to give affordable housing a long-awaited public and political boost.

But the co-op housing advocate was wrong.

An all-candidates meeting to debate affordable housing he helped organize during the first week of the campaign captured little media attention.

A questionnaire on tenants' issues to the three main parties was ignored by the Progressive Conservatives. And few uncommitted voters showed up at a forum to raise public support for a new housing benefit for low-income Ontarians.

"Well, I think we had a very interesting discussion and gave people a chance to see the candidates in action," Cooper said after the all-candidates meeting in Toronto Centre that featured NDP candidate and long-time homeless advocate Cathy Crowe and Liberal Glen Murray, a former provincial housing minister.

"It's not easy to get the public's attention on these issues," Cooper admitted.

He's not alone.

A vast array of advocacy groups representing causes such as the disabled, child care, poverty and the mentally ill have been staging news conferences, all-candidates meetings and public forums and releasing polls and report cards in an attempt to elbow their way onto the public agenda and influence the parties' tightly scripted campaigns.

But none of the advocates are having much success, notes York University political science professor Robert MacDermid.

A provincial government in deficit, a politically disengaged constituency and charitable status that hamstrings many groups from taking overtly political positions are just some of the problems, he says.

"These groups represent people who are on the lower end of the equality scale and they don't have the power or the time or the money - despite the fact that some are employed on low wages - to fight for these issues," MacDermid says.

Charitable status also serves as "a powerful silencer during elections for many of these groups," he adds. So their messages tend to be less politically charged and therefore less newsworthy.

Politicians feel they can afford to ignore these groups because the people they represent - tenants, the poor, single parents, the homeless, immigrants - often don't vote.

"It's difficult to mobilize that community, so groups have to try to mobilize the issue in front of middle-class people and try to appeal to people's sense of fairness and sympathy," MacDermid says. "Meanwhile (the middle class) is being told they are paying too many taxes and that government services are bloated."

The uncertain economy and a jittery middle class means political parties are less likely to champion the less fortunate, as the Liberals did in 2007 with their promise to draft anti-poverty and affordable housing strategies, says University of Toronto political science professor Nelson Wiseman.

"Groups can be perfectly sane and reasonable, but they're not going to get the same kind of attention now that they did four or five years ago when the economy was in better shape," he says.

"That's why the parties feel they can soft-shoe social policy (and) not make specific commitments that will come back to haunt them," he adds.

Both Wiseman and MacDermid note that the NDP is running a more centrist campaign with a platform that initially contained few details on social programs.

"The NDP used to be the party that talked about social issues during elections," MacDermid says. "But we're not seeing that this time."

For example, Leader Andrea Horwath was in Thunder Bay talking about the NDP's "buy Ontario" policy last Friday when the party's housing and anti-poverty platforms were unveiled by Toronto MPPs in a downtown riding. As a result, there were no suppertime news clips about the NDP's ambitious promises to spend $240 million annually on a new housing benefit and $1.1 billion over 10 years to build 50,000 new affordable housing units.

Ryerson politics professor Myer Siemiatycki has watched this phenomenon both as an academic and as a participant.

"I have been part of that uphill climb in this campaign," says Siemiatycki, who represents a Toronto Jewish congregation on the Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition.

"It is very discouraging," he says of the lack of political and media attention the group's Faith to End Poverty campaign has received so far. "It's almost as if (the politicians) have given up on the poor, the homeless and those in dire need, ironically, as the ranks of the disadvantaged swell ever larger."

However, as a political scientist he understands how political parties are reading the fiscal climate and crafting their campaigns accordingly.

But it doesn't mean he likes it.

"It is a very sad state of affairs that we have arrived at this 'cone of silence' on these issues from our political leaders," he says.

How some advocates engage the voters

Ontario Coalition for Better Child Care

Issue: New funding needed to stop daycares from closing in the wake of chronic provincial underfunding and the loss of 4- and 5-year-olds to all-day kindergarten.

Action: Held a news conference to highlight the issue and launched a website to track daycare closings and spur voters to act.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Issue: Ensure politicians enforce, implement and enhance 2005 legislation that prevents barriers to accessibility for the disabled.

Action: Polled the four political parties on their commitment to uphold and enhance the legislation and staged a Queen's Park news conference to highlight party responses.

Ontario Mental Health and Addictions Alliance

Issue: Ensure a core basket of mental health and addiction services is available to all Ontarians starting with children. Improve access to supportive housing for those with serious mental illness and addictions.

Action: Ten mental health and addiction organizations formed a coalition to share resources and speak with one voice on the need for a comprehensive provincial action plan. They launched a website to inform voters.

Family Service Association and the Daily Bread Food Bank

Issue: Introduce a housing benefit to make rent more affordable for low-income people.

Action: Staged a public forum and all-candidates meeting on the proposal in Scarborough Southwest riding, which was broadcast on the Internet to several other Ontario communities.

Interfaith Social Assistance Reform Coalition, Social Planning Network

Issue: Make poverty elimination a priority.

Action: Organized an election sign blitz and media conferences in 16 Ontario communities.

Colour of Poverty

Issue: Boost racial equality.

Action: Rated the three major party platforms on issues affecting minority communities in a report card released at a news conference.

Laurie Monsebraaten Toronto Star