Columns

Provincial update: An accessibility wake up call

Submitted by Joel Harden, MPP Ottawa Centre – 

From time to time, a report comes along that rouses us from complacency and shows us the need for action. The release of Hon. David C. Onley’s Report on the Third Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is one of those times. 

As the official opposition critic for accessibility and people with disabilities, I have heard repeatedly from disability advocates that Ontario is woefully behind the goal, established by the AODA, of full accessibility by the year 2025. 

The Onley Report confirms and expands upon these warnings from the disability community. In his introduction, Onley movingly lays out how this slow pace of change negatively impacts people with disabilities: 

“Every day, in every community in Ontario, people with disabilities encounter formidable barriers to participation in the vast opportunities this province affords its residents – its able-bodied residents…For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.” 

This is more than a report, it’s a wake up call. 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities are fed up with waiting for their rights to be respected. It’s time for urgent action to dismantle barriers – physical, attitudinal, architectural or technological, that prevent people with disabilities from living their fullest lives.

In his report, Onley lays out 15 recommendations for how Ontario can get back on track towards becoming a fully accessible province. Among the most notable is implementing a requirement that public money is never used to erect new barriers. 

The inaccessibility of the built environment was identified by the report as one of the most significant issues facing people with disabilities. New buildings, including those constructed on the public dime (Ryerson’s Student Learning Centre is one particularly egregious example), are being erected that are simply not accessible. Moreover, residential housing is generally exempt from accessibility standards.

We’re calling on the government to move swiftly in implementing all 15 of Onley’s recommendations. To help spur action, our office is hosting an accessibility town hall at the legislature to hear directly from those affected by Ontario failing to meet AODA targets on April 10. We’re excited to hear from experts and those who have lived experience encountering and working to dismantle barriers.

Do you have ideas to share with us about how to improve accessibility in our community and across Ontario? Send us your thoughts at jharden-qp@ndp.on.ca.

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