Members Statements in the Ontario Legislature
December 2, 1999
International Day of Disabled Persons
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES LEGISLATION
Hon Helen Johns (Minister of Citizenship, Culture and Recreation, minister responsible for seniors and women): I believe I have unanimous consent for a representative for each party to speak five minutes on the International Day of Disabled Persons.
The Speaker (Hon Gary Carr): Is there unanimous agreement? Agreed.
Hon Mrs Johns: Tomorrow, December 3, is the United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons. This important event provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon issues that affect all of us. It provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon the progress that has been made in communities across the province and to reflect upon our shared goals of a barrier-free Ontario.
I believe that all members of the House share my goals for an Ontario where opportunities are available to all members of society. We share a goal of an Ontario where all of us have the opportunity to be productive members of our community, to share in the benefits of a growing economy and to participate in the social and cultural life of our province.
Tomorrow we will mark the achievements of Ontarians with disabilities and the achievements of persons with disabilities in every part of the globe. Their achievements are many. Through personal endeavour, men, women and young people with disabilities have overcome tremendous barriers and remind us what the world potentially really means. They have championed change and made advances that have benefited all of us and they have inspired us through acts of generosity, public spirit and athletic achievement.
As a government and as members of this House, we have a responsibility to build on their achievements. We are moving forward, and there is a great deal more that needs to be done. This government has announced more than $500 million in initiatives that promote accessibility and create new opportunities. We have enhanced community living and independent living opportunities for people of all ages. We have made enhancements to education that are assisting students with disabilities from preschool right through a transition to post-secondary education. We've also created a new income support and employment program that better meets the needs of people with disabilities. We introduced a range of health initiatives designed to improve care, provide earlier interventions and improve outcomes following serious injuries.
New initiatives are improving accessibility by supporting building and motor vehicle modifications. We are fostering new partnerships and strategic alliances between business and the not-for-profit and broader public sectors. And we have introduced tax measures to assist people with disabilities and offset costs to employers of accommodating employees with disabilities.
I'm very proud that this government was the first in Canada and the only government in the history of Ontario to commit to disability legislation. Just last week in the House we once again renewed that commitment. We look forward to working together with all members of the Legislature and with all of those who share our responsibility for making Ontario more accessible and creating opportunities for all members of our society.
I am sure that all members of the House will join me in celebrating United Nations International Day of Disabled Persons.
Mr Steve Peters (Elgin-Middlesex-London): Tomorrow the United Nations recognizes the International Day of Disabled Persons. It is a day that is intended to further the integration of persons with disabilities into society.
I'm very proud to add my voice to those praising the accomplishments of persons with disabilities; 1999 has been a banner year for many persons with disabilities. This includes the successful athletes at the Ontario Special Olympics and Paraplegic Games and persons with disabilities who have achieved the greatest heights in law, medicine, academics and administration. It also includes the person with a mental handicap who succeeds in getting their first job. It includes the elderly man with fading vision who learns Braille to keep alive his love of reading. It includes every Ontarian with a disability who has looked at a barrier and overcome it.
There is a long way to go, though, Madam Minister, to achieve the goal of a barrier-free Ontario. There is much more that can be done, and the members of this Legislature can help achieve that goal.
Two years from now, when this Legislature again marks this important occasion, we will have hopefully enacted a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Such legislation will go much further towards the goal of integrating persons with disabilities into society. The model legislation from the United States has been universally praised for opening doors for Americans with disabilities, both figuratively and literally. Now it is our turn.
In addition, we must encourage new supportive housing initiatives that are accessible, affordable and plentiful. We must enhance the funding to the special services at home program for those families who are caring for their children with disabilities.
Tomorrow, I would ask my fellow members of the Legislature to consider what each of us can do to address the barriers faced by persons with disabilities in our ridings. If a constituent in a wheelchair came to visit your office, would they be able to enter the door? If one of us was to hire a person with a disability on our staff, as my seatmate has done, would the Legislature offer the necessary services to integrate that person into Queen's Park? If a person with limited sight wanted to receive one of our householders, would they be able to get one in Braille or large print?
Much more, too, needs to be done to improve the accessibility to this building. Over $300,000 was spent this past summer on this very Legislature, but it was cosmetic in nature. It did nothing to improve access for persons with disabilities to become part of and to watch the decision-making process of this province.
It is a constant learning process to identify and remove the steep obstacles to employment, education, transportation and housing that persons with disabilities face, but it is well worth it to integrate a million and a half of our friends, constituents and, yes, voters.
In conclusion, I would like to recognize the accomplishments of countless organizations helping those with disabilities. If I were to start naming all those wonderful groups and people by name, we would be here until next year's International Day of Disabled Persons. However, they should each receive our support and best wishes, from the front-line service providers to those committed lobbyists and advocates who struggle on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Members of the Legislature, let us mark this day and use it as a day to turn the page on the past injustice we have done to persons with disabilities. Let's turn that page. Let's look towards the future, to doing everything we can to remove those barriers to persons with disabilities.
Ms Marilyn Churley (Broadview-Greenwood): Tomorrow is the International Day of Disabled Persons. I'm pleased to speak to this very important day on behalf of the NDP caucus.
First, I want to acknowledge the tremendous work done by people with disabilities in this province, and right now especially by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act committee, in bringing their concerns to the front of the public consciousness. Their drive, determination and hard work is an example to us all.
On this very important day, I want to share with the members of this Legislature what real people with disabilities face in Ontario right now. I want to give some insight into why we need a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act on the books and enforced right now. You see, real people with disabilities live in a province full of barriers.
Offices for government services have rooms and hallways that do not have enough room for a person using a wheelchair or a scooter.
Limited availability of Braille and other alternate formats for print information creates barriers for people who are blind or have visual impairments or other print disabilities.
People often encounter doors too heavy to handle.
Traffic lights do not allow sufficient time for people who walk slowly or who use crutches or wheelchairs to cross the street.
Landlords are often not aware of how to interact appropriately with visually impaired tenants or others with print disabilities.
Many of our school playgrounds and other school buildings are inaccessible to children with disabilities.
Many people with disabilities are not eligible for use of paratransit systems.
The list does go on and on. Has this government made it easier or harder for persons with disabilities to cope with this province so full of barriers? If you are a single mom with a child with a disability and you are on welfare, you have lost over 20% of your income thanks to this government. Did your disabled child lose 20% of his or her need for three meals a day? I don't think so. You have fewer hospitals to go to for medical treatment. You have fewer Human Rights Commission offices to go to if you want to complain about the barriers you face.
The Ontario disability support program is in a state of chaos. You don't have any legislation that protects your rights and provides you with equal opportunity because this government got rid of the NDP's Employment Equity Act, replaced it with nothing, told people to go to the Human Rights Commission and now they've cut that once again. You don't have the transportation accessibility programs the NDP government put in place. They're gone as well.
You have a new minister responsible for people with disabilities every couple of years to make promises and then deliver nothing. To top it off, you have a government that supports a resolution to move forward, once again, with a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act and then the next day starts to make excuses about time frames. This from a government that can turn around record numbers of pieces of legislation overnight, as we see daily in this House. The fact is, this government has continued to treat persons with disabilities like second-class citizens.
Tomorrow is a very important day. We have an opportunity today to ask the government once again to move forward on this important legislation. I hope they will, for once, do more than pay lip service to the 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities and give their issues the priority they deserve.
Polls show that the citizens of Ontario support moving forward with a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and I'm disappointed that on this important day the minister didn't take the opportunity to stand and give us some information and news about where they are in the process of moving forward on this important act. I had hoped she would do that today.
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