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Advocates welcome Ontario minister responsible for accessibility

July 3, 2018
Laurie Monsebraatan

Advocates for the disabled are praising the Ford government for appointing a cabinet minister to oversee the often-intersecting areas of accessibility and seniors’ issues.

And they hope Ottawa’s recently announced federal accessibility legislation follows Ontario’s lead by setting a deadline for full accessibility.

Blind lawyer and accessibility advocate David Lepofsky says he is pleased Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has a minister reponsible for accessibility and seniors’ issues.

“We are pleased that in the new smaller Ontario cabinet there’s still a stand-alone minister of accessibility and seniors,” said David Lepofsky, a blind lawyer who leads the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

“Disability issues are often seniors’ issues and seniors’ issues are often disability issues, so it’s a good combination of related portfolios,” he added.

Progressive Conservative Premier Doug Ford appointed Scarborough North MPP Raymond Cho minister for seniors and accessibility on June 29.

Ottawa’s long-awaited national accessibility legislation was tabled June 21. Lepofsky, who has been advocating for provincial and national accessibility legislation for more than 30 years, called the proposed federal law “the most substantial piece of legislation introduced by any government in Canada.”

But he said it needs “substantial improvements,” including a deadline to reach full accessibility, similar to Ontario’s landmark 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA.) Ontario’s legislation mandates Queen’s Park to ensure the province is fully accessible by 2025.

Ontario’s legislation also includes “a duty” for the government to enact accessibility standards, another feature missing from the proposed federal law, Lepofsky said.

The federal Accessible Canada Act, covers federally regulated sectors such as banking, inter-provincial and international transportation, telecommunications and government-run services such as Canada Post. It aims to “identify, remove and prevent” barriers for an estimated 4 million Canadians with physical, sensory, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or other disabilities.

Ottawa has earmarked $290 million over six years to implement the legislation, which includes fines of up to $250,000 for violations.

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A spokesperson for Kirsty Duncan, federal minister responsible for persons with disabilities, said concerns raised by advocates “would definitely be discussed in committee hearings” next fall before the act becomes law.

Under the federal legislation, a barrier is defined as anything “architectural, physical, technological or attitudinal” that “hinders the full participation in society of a physical, mental, intellectual, learning, communication or sensory impairment or functional limitation.”

Some of the federal barriers raised by people with disabilities over the years include banks with counters that can’t be reached by someone in a wheelchair, airport check-in kiosks that can’t be used by people who are blind, Via Rail trains that can only accommodate one person in a wheelchair at a time, and the lack of employment opportunities for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

Lepofsky praised the federal act’s proposed creation of a chief accessibility officer to monitor implementation and an accessibility commissioner to oversee enforcement and says both positions are an improvement on Ontario’s law. But he says the positions should report to Parliament rather than the minister responsible for the act.

Lepofsky also welcomed a proposed Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization to research, develop and recommend standards to the minister responsible for accessibility.

But he criticized the federal act’s proposal to make the Canadian Transportation Agency responsible for transportation accessibility and for telecommunications issues to be handled by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission.

“That kind of splintered approach to implementation and enforcement is a formula for confusion, delay, duplication and ineffectiveness,” he said. “We would rather have it all under one roof.”