Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

AODA ALLIANCE WRITES ELECTIONS ONTARIO IN PURSUIT OF BARRIER-FREE ELECTION

October 4, 2007

SUMMARY

* As part of the AODA Alliance’s campaign for fully accessible elections in Ontario, we have written to the Chief Elections Officer. See our October 1, 2007 letter below.

All three major political parties have pledged in this election that they support the next Government of Ontario developing an action plan to make all elections in Ontario fully accessible to voters with disabilities. This is a major achievement for the AODA Alliance and Ontario’s disability community.

* A sad illustration of the barriers people with disabilities still face in taking part in the elections process was reported on October 1, 2007’s Toronto Star. It reported on a Toronto area All Candidates Debate that was held in an inaccessible location. (See the article below.)

This is an especially cruel irony for voters with disabilities. In the earliest days of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, the AODA Alliance’s predecessor, we used the spectacle of an inaccessible Toronto area All Candidates Debate in the 1995 election campaign, fully 12 years ago, to raise this issue. A dozen years and two accessibility laws later, the same spectacle occurs in 2007. To learn more about that event back in the 1995 Ontario election, we set out below an excerpt from the published history of the Disabilities Act movement, written by David Lepofsky, entitled: “The Long, Arduous Road To A Barrier-Free Ontario For People With Disabilities: The History Of The Ontarians with Disabilities Act — The First Chapter” published in the National Journal of Constitutional Law.

* With less than a week to go before the October 10, 2007 Ontario election, be sure to make arrangements to vote. If you need para-transit, book it early. Check with Elections Ontario to find out where an accessible polling station is. Make sure you bring all the identification documentation they require. Your voter registration card alone isn’t sufficient. To find out more about voting, including advance polls, call toll free to:

1-888-668-8683
TTY 1-866-273-4612

* There’s another accessible all-candidates’ debate on October 4, 2007.

Thursday, October 4 - 6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Brock University
500 Glenridge Avenue, St. Catharines
Mackenzie Chown Complex – Room: Pond Inlet
Campus Map found at:
http://www.brocku.ca/facilitiesmgmt/MB_CAMPUS_MAP_LARGE.htm
Moderator: Paul Hamilton, PhD, Professor, Brock University
Speakers: Ontario Liberal Party
John Mastroianni
Ontario Progressive Conservative Party
Ron Bodner
Ontario New Democratic Party
Peter Kormos
The Green Party of Ontario
Mark Grenier

The meeting is open to all members of the public. The following accessibility services will be provided: sign language interpreters, intervenors, attendant services, and captioning services. For more information please contact 416-425-3463 ext 7387, TTY 905-984-8916, or wrupnarain@dimes.on.ca.

* Learn more about the election’s disability accessibility issues at:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/election2007/default.asp

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014

October 1, 2007

To: Mr. John L. Hollins
Chief Electoral Officer
Elections Ontario
51 Rolark Drive
Toronto, ON M1R 3B1

Dear Sir,

Re: Making Ontario Elections Fully Barrier-Free for Voters with Disabilities

I write on the AODA Alliance’s behalf. The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is: "To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).” We’re the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, the coalition that led the decade-long campaign for the AODA’s passage.

We write to seek your assistance in our effort to ensure that the current Ontario election and all future elections in Ontario are fully barrier-free for voters with disabilities. The holding of barrier-free elections in Ontario is required by several laws, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code. Elections Ontario is, of course, an important player in any effort to attain this goal.

In the current Ontario election we have asked each of the three major party leaders to commit, if elected, to developing an action plan to make all provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities. We are delighted to let you know that all three party leaders have made this commitment to us in writing. You can see the correspondence between us and the three party leaders at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/election2007/default.asp

We are eager to work with you and with the next Ontario Government, on making our shared goal of fully accessible elections a reality. We understand that Elections Ontario has been working on this issue for some time, vis à vis Ontario provincial elections. To this end, we are eager to ask what steps Elections Ontario is now taking to ensure that the current Ontario election is fully accessible. We also ask that Elections Ontario actively track and document, to the extent feasible, the barriers that voters with disabilities do face in this election, so that we can work together after this election to ensure that those barriers are never faced again.

We recognize that Elections Ontario is only responsible for provincial elections, not municipal elections. We hope and trust that the next Ontario government will bring together all the major participants involved in provincial and municipal elections, so that we can together devise a comprehensive, effective action plan that ensures full accessibility in both provincial and municipal elections.

We look forward to hearing from you, and to working together with you on the next Government’s elections accessibility action plan.

Sincerely,

Doreen Winkler, Ph. D., R.S.W.
Acting Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

*****

Toronto Star
October 1, 2007
Access denied to disabled at all-candidates debate
Daniel Girard

Earlier in the election campaign, activist Sharon Dever used an all-candidates debate to grill the candidates of Don Valley West on their party's plans to make lives better for Ontarians with disabilities.

Dever made an even more powerful statement yesterday without saying a word.

Following an often raucous two-hour all-candidates debate, people filing out of Leaside High School were greeted by the sight of Dever and two other people in wheelchairs at the bottom of a set of imposing cement stairs. They were unable to attend the meeting because the school is inaccessible.

"I wanted to make a statement," Dever said of waiting out front until the meeting ended. She was clutching a sign reading "Access Denied."

"This isn't right," she said.

The day's main combatants, Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory and Liberal Education Minister Kathleen Wynne, clearly agreed. Each stopped to apologize to Dever and her colleagues, explaining they believed when the sight was chosen for the debate it was fully wheelchair accessible.

"It's important to make the community aware," said Dever, noting there were, no doubt, plenty of other buildings in the riding available for the meeting on a Sunday afternoon.

*****

EXCERPT FROM “THE LONG, ARDUOUS ROAD TO A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES: THE HISTORY OF THE ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT — THE FIRST CHAPTER” BY DAVID LEPOFSKY

On a beautiful spring evening, just before the all-candidates' debate began, our small contingent clustered in front of the stairs leading to the school door. Members of the public strode past us to attend the meeting. Utterly unplanned, one of our contingent who could climb stairs opted to go into the public meeting. That person evidently publicly chastised the candidates for leaving people with disabilities outside.

Much to our surprise, the candidates left the meeting and came outside to speak with us. Television cameras hungrily recorded this scene. When an all-news radio station declined to send a reporter, we took it on ourselves to call in our report by cell phone. The station put us on the air live, with us acting as our own on-the-scene reporter.

Embarrassed, the candidates spoke to us for a few moments. They then started heading back inside. One of our contingent complained aloud that the candidates couldn't just leave us behind outside.

As the candidates apologetically made their way toward the door, the school door unexpectedly opened from inside. Members of the audience, who had been waiting inside, and who didn't want to wait any longer, started streaming outside. Their trickle became a flood. Organizers of the event ran inside to bring chairs outside for the entire audience. In the end, the all-candidates' debate was reconvened outside the school on the sidewalk. People with disabilities and those without disabilities sat side by side. Television cameras continued to roll. As these events unfolded, we phoned in an update to the all-news radio station. It put the update on the air live. Over that night and the next morning, our tiny contingent, numbering no more than a dozen, generated great coverage on television, on radio and in the newspaper.