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Please Support a Strong & Effective ODA


ODA Action Tip
May 21, 2001

Here is the text of a column by ODA Committee Chair,
David Lepofsky. It ran in the Toronto Star on Monday,
May 21, 2001.

This column gives some examples of what a strong and effective ODA
would achieve. During the upcoming Sixth Anniversary of Inaction
on Mike Harris's promise to enact the ODA, from May 24 to June 2,
you might wish to make use of this column.

Why not:

* Send it to your nearest Conservative MPP.

* Use it when you visit or phone your nearest Conservative MPP to
explain to them why an ODA is important to you. Add your own
examples to the ones included in this column.

* Prepare a column for your local newspaper to illustrate why a
strong and effective ODA is important for you and your community.

* Send this column to your friends and family members to help
educate them on the need for a strong and effective ODA.

* If you are connected with a community organization, print up
copies of this column and distribute them to the public with other
pamphlets that your organization usually offers to the public.

* Write a letter to the editor at the Toronto Star, whether you
live in Toronto or elsewhere. Give your feedback on what this
Sixth Anniversary of Inaction means for you and your community.

Email it to: Lettertoed@thestar.ca


Toronto Star Monday, May 21, 2001 Page A-9

New law needed on accessibility for disabled
David Lepofsky

Ontario needs to enact the Ontarians with Disabilities
Act (ODA) to achieve a barrier-free province for people with
physical, mental and sensory disabilities.

Ontarians with disabilities face physical barriers,
such as steps to enter a new city bus, when an accessible one could
have been bought instead; technological barriers, such as Web sites
that do not include simple features to make them compatible with
adaptive computers for blind and dyslexic people, and other kinds
of barriers.

A strong ODA would benefit all. If you are one of the
1.5 million Ontarians now with a disability, you face unfair
barriers when you try to work, or to use public goods, services or
facilities. If you have no disability, you likely will have as you
age. Most avoid thinking about this. If your family member or
friend has a disability, the barriers blocking them hurt you. If
you operate an Ontario business, you may miss out on the untapped
spending power of millions of consumers with disabilities here and
around the world.

What would an effective ODA do?

It would mandate eventual achievement of barrier-free
public transit for people with disabilities. Many people with
disabilities cannot use inaccessible public transit. Parallel
transit services are under-funded, overworked and uncoordinated
between local jurisdictions. A barrier-free public transit system
would give Ontarians with disabilities greater access to more
workplaces so they could apply for jobs, to more colleges so they
can get training, and to more stores to shop. It would help Ontario
become an attractive destination for tourists with disabilities who
now prefer other destinations like the U.S., thanks to American

An effective ODA would achieve barrier-free education
from kindergarten through university. No special needs students
should again suffer the second-class treatment meted out during
last month's Toronto school strike. Most kids without disabilities
went to school; special needs kids were told to stay home.

Employers will benefit when more people with
disabilities can expand their skills through accessible education
and training.

The ODA would achieve a barrier-free health-care
system. No more government decisions closing more accessible
hospitals in favour of less accessible ones. No more hospital
emergency rooms and other health services without anyone available
to interpret in sign language so that deaf people can communicate
with hospital staff. Imagine if you cannot communicate your
symptoms, or the staff cannot communicate their diagnosis, whether
the patient is you, your child or parent.

Incorporating accessibility costs little or nothing if
done in advance


A sensible ODA would stop provincial and local
governments from using billions of your tax dollars to create new
barriers against people with disabilities in new infrastructure
projects. Incorporating accessibility in advance costs little or
nothing. Now people with disabilities must resort to filing human
rights complaints or Charter of Rights suits against each barrier
we face, and spend years litigating. An enforceable ODA would
reduce the need for piecemeal litigation. The ODA would set
practical provincial standards for reaching the goal of being
barrier-free, so that all would know what they need to do and would
be on a level playing field.

A sensible ODA would have sector by sector standards
designed in consultation with business, local governments and
people with disabilities. Business and local governments will be
more accepting of standards in which they have a say, which apply
to all competitors, and which are sensitive to their needs. These
standards will best serve the needs of people with disabilities if
we, the experts in our needs, can share with all at the
consultation table. These standards must be mandatory, not
voluntary, or they will not consistently be followed.

It's not practical to remove all barriers immediately.
Many can be removed soon at little or no cost. A realistic ODA
would allow more time for corrective actions that cost more. A
comprehensive ODA would drive down the cost of these changes. ODA
standards and technical support can make it cheaper and easier for
those who need to act, so they won't have to reinvent the wheel.
Increased demand for adaptations, such as Braille elevator button
markings, will reduce their cost.

The ODA will help our economy. More people with
disabilities will have access to jobs, reducing demands on social
assistance. More of us will pay into the public purse in taxes. The
more products designed to be used by people with disabilities, the
greater the market for them here and abroad.

More than 20 municipal councils have called for the
ODA. So have three unanimous resolutions in the Legislature.
Government and private polls show public support for such
legislation. Liberals and the NDP support it.

Six years ago, on May 24, 1995, Mike Harris pledged to
enact the ODA in his first term. He still hasn't done so. Let's
make this the last anniversary of that unkept promise.

David Lepofsky is chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee,
a voluntary, non-partisan coalition advocating for the ODA.


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