ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
Breaking News –Premier Wynne has Just Announced in the Legislature that the Ontario Government Agrees to Develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
December 5, 2016
This news is hot off the presses! In Question Period today, Progressive Conservative MPP Bill Walker asked Premier Wynne to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard to tear down the accessibility barriers impeding hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities in Ontario schools, colleges and universities. Premier Wynne said yes. In fact, she said it twice, after MPP Walker asked her twice. Her final words were:
"We recognize that there's more to be done, and there will be an education standard developed."
Below we set out the exchange in Hansard, the official record of the Ontario Legislature's proceedings. This is the preliminary version of Hansard. It is subject to finalization.
In this exchange, both MPP Walker and Premier Wynne refer to the article in today's Toronto Star, shared in an AODA Alliance Update earlier today. That article reported on the open letter which we sent to Premier Wynne this morning. In it, 22 major disability organizations urged Premier Wynne to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA.
"This is an important step forward for students with disabilities and their families", said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which has led the campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. "This is only the first step. We want to begin the hard work right away, working together with school boards, colleges and universities and those who directly teach our students, to recommend what the Education Accessibility Standard needs to include, so that it ensures that Ontario's education system becomes fully disability-accessible by 2025, the Disabilities Act's deadline."
We commend Premier Wynne for agreeing to develop an Education Accessibility Standard. This is a very important first step along the road to a fully inclusive and accessible education system for students with disabilities. We also thank PC MPP Bill Walker for raising this issue now and back on October 31, 2016 in Question Period.
We thank all the individuals and organizations who have pressed their MPPs and the Government to agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard, by phone, via our open letter, on Twitter or Facebook or in person. We thank all those in the Legislature who echoed our message.
We ask the Government to move quickly to appoint an Education Standards Development Committee to consult the community and bring forward recommendations on what the Education Accessibility Standard should include. No pre-conditions should be imposed on the Standards Development Committee regarding which disability accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system it can consider.
To read the open letter from 22 disability organizations to Premier Wynne, visit http://www.aoda.ca/22-major-disability-organizations-send-premier-wynne-an-open-letter-calling-for-the-wynne-government-to-agree-to-develop-an-education-accessibility-standard-under-ontarios-disabilities-act/
* To see the AODA Alliance's Discussion Paper on what an Education Accessibility Standard could include.
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Ontario Legislature Question Period December 5, 2016
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED
Mr. Bill Walker: My question is to the Premier. It has been 11 years since this Legislature passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Yet, today, over a third of a million students with disabilities continue to face far too many barriers when they try to go to school, college or university in Ontario.
Today's Toronto Star reports that 22 respected community organizations wrote the Premier, urging her to finally say "yes" to creating an educational accessibility standard and tear down those unfair barriers.
Premier, on October 31, you told this House that you were considering this. Will you agree to do it today?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: As the member has said, I have already indicated that I think that this is important. I had a meeting with David Lepofsky, who is, I know, mentioned in the article. The Minister of Education and the Minister responsible for accessibility have also met with David Lepofsky and many other groups.
We recognize that, as we have developed standards in other areas, as a health standard is being developed, that also there needs to be a standard developed in the education sector.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary.
Mr. Bill Walker: Back to the Premier: You've had 10 years and you spent $8 billion on the eHealth registry. I hope that this isn't going to be another fiasco like that.
This government's continued inaction on this file is inexcusable. This government has no comprehensive plan to ensure that our education system will become fully accessible by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. The AODA Alliance has pressed you for over half a decade to agree to develop the standard under the AODA to tackle these barriers.
Can you tell a third of a million students with disabilities and their families what the holdup is, after the five years of this issue being before your government?
Hon. Kathleen O. Wynne: It's interesting. Since we came into office in 2003—and when we came into office, under the previous Premier, there was legislation that was in place that had no teeth and would have produced no results in terms of accessibility. We scrapped that and started again, and put in place legislation that has, over time, developed standards and has put in place acceptable standards across our society.
There's a lot more to do, which is why we are working in the health sector right now. There are billions of dollars that are spent within the education system, whether it's on special education or the $1.1 billion in additional funding that is going into building and renovating schools—all of which goes toward building schools that are more accessible.
Because the reality is, when many of the schools were built—particularly in the Toronto District School Board, where there are many old buildings that are still being used as schools—they were not up to standard. They were not accessible in any way.
We recognize that there's more to be done, and there will be an education standard developed.