ODA Committee Update
dated August 11, 2003
posted August 28, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Toronto Star Reports on Upcoming Sault Ste. Marie Conference on ODA Implementation
August 11, 2003
The August 9, 2003 edition of the Toronto Star includes an article on the September 10-11, 2003 conference which the City of Sault Ste. Marie is hosting on implementing the ODA 2001. See this article below.
We encourage you to write a letter to the editor commenting on this column
You may also wish to write a letter to the editor of your own local newspaper to encourage them to cover this conference. Ask if your own municipality is sending people to attend this conference.
In your letters to the editor, you might wish to call on the Conservative Government to create a fund to provide funding for people to attend this important conference. You might wish to point to other Ontario Government expenditures, such as their political advertisements, that might not be as worthwhile a use of public funds.
This is a great chance to contribute to this summer's ODA Committee "Letters to the Editor Blitz." For tips on writing letters to the editor, and email addresses of newspapers around Ontario, visit:
Toronto Star Saturday, Aug. 9, 2003 Page K-5.
Queen's Park adds its own barriers
There are two distinctly different stories on how things are progressing in the drive to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities.
There's the widely disseminated official government version: Everything is running smoothly. Then there's the story behind the story.
For many municipalities, on whose shoulders the responsibility has been downloaded, the path to accessibility is anything but smooth.
They say the province is stifling the constructive exchange of ideas, starving them of resources and making the process unnecessarily complicated.
Attempts to communicate these concerns have been what you might call discouraged. But Sault Ste. Marie discovered what was really going on when it thought about putting together a conference to pool ideas.
Keep in mind that the Ontarians With Disabilities Act, rammed through the Legislature in the dying days of Mike Harris' leadership, does not cover private companies.
Unlike its U.S. counterpart, it contains no mandatory changes, no deadlines for accomplishing anything and no means of enforcement. It covers only the public sector and hands off the responsibility for change to communities.
By Sept. 30, cash-starved municipalities are supposed to have in place game plans for dismantling physical and attitudinal barriers.
Not only are they receiving no funding from the province to help reach this goal, the Tory platform for the upcoming fall election undermines their power to raise funds for any purpose whatsoever. (Premier Ernie Eves says his party, if elected, wants referendums to be held every time a municipality needs to raise taxes.)
So, what's been happening in Sault Ste. Marie?
"We're a dedicated group; we really want this thing (the ODA) to work," says Tracey Roetman of the municipality's accessibility advisory committee.
With that in mind, the group asked the provincial accessibility directorate for a list of municipalities across Ontario so members could contact their counterparts to toss around ideas.
They were turned down flat, Roetman says.
"We were told we can communicate with other municipalities only through the directorate."
The group's members were still convinced that brainstorming was the route to go, but they weren't sure how to proceed. Then they started hearing stories about other municipalities being barred from directly sharing ideas, community to community.
"That did it," says Roetman. "We were determined to put something together."
They wanted something that would represent what the communities, not the province, thought. So, in March, they started "spending 80 to 100 hours a week" contacting every municipality across Ontario.
Contrary to the party line about everything coming together smoothly, they found many community accessibility committees struggling.
"They're not prepared at all," Roetman says. "If even 50 per cent have plans, they don't have the means to implement them."
The result is a two-day conference, Sept. 10 and 11, in Sault Ste. Marie. It will offer help to municipal participants drawing up a first-year accessibility plan and a chance to exchange ideas and information.
Among the speakers: lawyer David Lepofsky, founder of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee; and Kevin Duguay, city planner for Peterborough, which has been winning kudos from the disability community for some years.
Participants will also receive an Ontario database that can be used to exchange information. They will be able to browse through a trade show featuring companies specializing in barrier-free technologies. And a province-wide bi-monthly newsletter is planned.
Roetman hopes the conference will be the first step in forming a coalition of cities to help everyone work together to make Ontario accessible.
As its information flyer states: "This coalition plans to work with the Ontario Accessibility Directorate to find resources, both human and financial, to assist municipalities to implement all aspects of the ODA."
Roetman says the idea has had a great response.
The one snag is money. The fee for the two days is $175 ($125 for those who registered before Aug. 1).
"People are trying to scrape together the money," she says.
Appeals for funding help from the province have been turned down.
Many accessibility committee members are feeling defeated, Roetman says.
"I spend half my time saying: `Please don't quit - at least until after the conference.'"
Seems to me if Ernie Eves and his Tories really want an accessible Ontario, they'd back Sault Ste. Marie's efforts and put their money where their mouth is.
Write: Helen Henderson, Life Section, Toronto Star, One Yonge St., Toronto, M5E 1E6. Please include your telephone number. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
ODA Committee Update dd July 29, 2003 - City Of Sault Ste. Marie to Host Major Open Conference on Implementing the ODA 2001 September 10 and 11, 2003
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Last updated August 28, 2003