ODA Committee Update
dated Sept. 4, 2003
Posted Sept 5, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Conservative Citizenship Minister Slams Sault Ste. Marie Grassroots Disability ODA Conference Organizers
September 4, 2003
In an extraordinary article posted on the website for the September 3, 2003 edition of the Sault This Week, Conservative Citizenship Minister DeFaria criticizes the organizers of next week's conference on implementing the ODA, to be held in Sault Ste. Marie. In this article, set out below, the Minister is reported as suggesting that the Sault Ste. Marie Accessibility Advisory Committee, which is spearheading this conference, has exceeded its mandate by holding such a conference. The article states regarding Minister
DeFaria: "He insisted that the troubles being experienced by the Sault Accessibility Committee are attributable to the local committee trying to take on a role wider than the legislation provides for in addition to a regrettable lack of planning."
It is surprising that on the eve of a provincial election where grassroots ODA supporters will be raising the ODA issue, the Conservative Party's spokesperson on the ODA, Citizenship Minister DeFaria, would choose to slam grassroots persons with disabilities who are devoting so much effort to organizing this much-needed conference. For its part, the ODA Committee has applauded the Sault Accessibility Advisory Committee in taking the lead in organizing this conference. In fact, as part of our effort to help with the effective implementation of the ODA 2001 (and despite our disappointment with that legislation), our 2002 Municipal Barrier Busters Action Kit had recommended months ago that the Ontario Government convene such a conference. That Kit, which is posted on the ODA Committee website (a website that is regularly visited by the Minister's staff) recommended this action by local ODA supporters:
"Urge your municipality or the Citizenship Ministry's Accessibility Directorate to hold a province-wide conference of Accessibility Advisory Committees, the ODA Committee, the Ontario Government-appointed provincial Accessibility Advisory Council and other interested parties to share ideas for action in this area."
The Government did not take up the idea of hosting such a conference. Thankfully the Sault Accessibility Advisory Committee has shown leadership by filling in this vacuum. The Minister's inaction on that score comes despite the Conservative Government's commitment to "lead by example" in the area of removing barriers facing persons with disabilities.
The article below further states: "DeFaria said Henderson is wrong to suggest there is insufficient funding available to local committees and is incorrect in implying the Directorate is not helping local committees, and the problems faced by the Sault committee are a result of people trying to leap to the next stage without doing the homework, and although comprised of dedicated well-intentioned people who are passionate in trying to advocate for disabled persons in their community, they are nevertheless too quick to see everything as a barrier or a block and moved too quickly in planning the conference without submitting a grant application for money that they should have known was available to them."
If there was an intent to leave the impression that the Sault Accessibility Committee is acting too hastily in its efforts to facilitate the ODA's implementation, that would be unfair. It stands in sharp contrast to the Government's multi-year delay in enacting the promised ODA, its many months of delay in proclaiming its provisions in force, and its ongoing failure to enact any much-needed regulations to implement the ODA.
In the article the Minister is reported to have said that it is not the role of municipal accessibility advisory committees to advocate on behalf of persons with disabilities. This contradicts the speeches of Minister DeFaria's predecessor, Citizenship Minister Cam Jackson, who brought this legislation before the Legislature in 2001. How could these committees help put the disability community in the driver's seat, driving change in Ontario, as Mr. Jackson promised on behalf of the Conservative Government, if these committees are not to advocate for persons with disabilities?
There is a suggestion in the article that the ODA 2001 requires barriers to be removed that face persons with disabilities. This reference is not linked to the Minister's interview. In fact, the ODA 2001 does not require barriers to be removed. The ODA Committee had asked the Government to amend its bill to include such a requirement. The NDP and Liberals proposed such an amendment. The Conservatives voted against those amendments, ensuring that they were defeated.
Let your candidates in this election know what you think about the positions expressed in this article. Send in a letter to the editor to your local newspaper, and to other papers around Ontario. It's timely during this election campaign. For tips on how to do this, and for email addresses for newspapers around Ontario, visit:
To learn more about how you can help the campaign for a barrier-free Ontario during the current Ontario election, visit:
SAULT THIS WEEK SEPTEMBER 3, 2003 Page 1
Provincial Minister DeFaria says Sault committee making mistakes Sault's Barrier Buster Tracey Roetman fights back
BY PETER ROWE
Special to Sault This Week
In the Aug. 9 edition of the Toronto Star, hard-hitting columnist Helen Henderson wrote that the Sault Ste Marie Accessibility Advisory Committee is being starved of resources and faces unnecessary complications from the province as it seeks to comply with the Ontario With Disabilities Act. The stated purpose of the ODA, passed December, 2001, according to Access Ontario Conference literature is to "make Ontario accessible so that disabled citizens can enjoy equal opportunity and participate fully in the life of the province."
Under the provisions of the ODA, each municipality of more than 10,000 residents must have an accessibility advisory committee, composed of more than 50 per cent disabled persons, a city councillor, city staff and interested residents appointed by city council. Henderson wrote there are two stories: the official provincial version "where everything is running smoothly" and the "story behind the story" where downloading responsibilities onto cashstrapped municipalities in a complicated, secretive process is hampering the efforts of local communities to meet the Sept 30 provincial deadline to have an accessibility plan in place to eliminate attitudinal and physical barriers for persons with disabilities.
Henderson said Premier Ernie Eve's election promise to enact legislation requiring municipalities to hold a referendum prior to tax increases means municipalities will not be able to raise the money needed to meet provincial targets. The Sault's Accessibility Advisory Committee is hosting an accessibility conference and trade show Sept. 10 and 11 to: bring municipal and provincial representatives together with people with disabilities to discuss implications of the new act; to facilitate increased accessibility to disabled Ontarians; and to showcase new technologies which enhance independence. Sault resident Tracey Roetman, conference chair, said despite the presence of delegates coming from as far away as Kenya and internationally renowned speakers, provincial and municipal organizations have provided little support apart from $5,000 granted by the city in start-up funds.
Roetman questioned the priorities of the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, FedNor, and the CDC for spending more than $100,000 for eco challenges and golf tournaments while providing no money for this conference. Roetman stresses volunteers are working 80 hours a week to ensure that the conference goes ahead despite raising only $2,000 of the $7,000 originally budgeted. Roetman said the Sault is not alone in facing difficulties and she cites the lack of provincial funding for the cancellation of five conferences, and estimates that 60 per cent of the municipalities will probably fail to meet the provincial deadline. She says the Ontario Directorate of Accessibility formed by the Ontario Ministry of Citizenship to assist municipalities is preventing communities from communicating with each other directly and refused to provide her organization with the contact persons in other municipalities, and if she wants to share information or best practices with the Sudbury committee she is expected to write the Directorate and have them contact Sudbury and then wait for a reply.
Instead, she says local volunteers have spent countless hours phoning other municipalities to get the information that they need to organize the conference. In an interview with Sault This Week, the Minister of Citizenship and Culture Carl DeFaria, said Henderson's article ignores improvements made by the province to the quality of life of disabled persons. He said she mistakes the intent of the Act which is to ensure that no new barriers to access are created, as a first step in removing barriers.
He insisted that the troubles being experienced by the Sault Accessibility Committee are attributable to the local committee trying to take on a role wider than the legislation provides for in addition to a regrettable lack of planning. DeFaria said the act was designed as a set of stages because improving accessibility is not just a municipal matter but needs to be addressed by all levels of government and the private sector as well, and his department funded a review by the Canadian Standards Association to develop customer service standards and guidelines for government agencies, businesses, universities, public transit authorities, and municipalities to follow to improve accessibility.
DeFaria pointed to recent changes to the provincial Web site which increase accessibility by disabled persons, and new guidelines on tendering contracts which give preference to firms which eliminate barriers to access and provide for increased participation of disabled persons including employment. DeFaria said Henderson is wrong to suggest there is insufficient funding available to local committees and is incorrect in implying the Directorate is not helping local committees, and the problems faced by the Sault committee are a result of people trying to leap to the next stage without doing the homework, and although comprised of dedicated well-intentioned people who are passionate in trying to advocate for disabled persons in their community, they are nevertheless too quick to see everything as a barrier or a block and moved too quickly in planning the conference without submitting a grant application for money that they should have known was available to them.
DeFaria said they can access grants of from $5,000 to $10,000 from a $2.3 million yearly fund, and the information has been on the Directorate's Web site for more than a year. He said Kitchener/Waterloo has received approval for funding for a similar project, the fund has never run out of money since its inception, and the Enabling Change Program provides money for public and private partnerships. DeFaria said he met with Sault committee members in November and described their role under the legislation which he says they have not adjusted to, which is not to advocate on behalf of the disabled but to coordinate local efforts to improve access, in cooperation with the province.
DeFaria believes Henderson and Roetman are mistaken in criticizing the Directorate for not releasing the names of other committee members in the province because the lists are confidential and include the home numbers of persons with disabilities who might not want this information shared. DeFaria said that every local committee is mandated to have a city councillor on board who can access this information through the Association of Municipal Managers and Clerks with one phone call. The Directorate was formed to assist local committees and projects, however, DeFaria believes building relationships takes time and effort. He expects staff will try to attend the conference and confirmed his commitment to working with the Sault committee and added he plans to visit the Sault at the earliest opportunity. He would have liked to attend the conference himself but he said a scheduling conflict does not permit this, and regrets Sault organizers neglected to contact his office to check his schedule prior to setting a date for the conference. (See further comments from Roetman)
Sault's Tracey Roetman disappointed, not surprised by DeFaria
In reaction to comments made by Minister of Citizenship and Culture Carl DeFaria to Sault This Week and reported on Page 1 and 3, Tracey Roetman responded:
"Budget planning has been painstakingly thorough, constantly evolving as funding requests were denied. Those planning this Conference were conscious of the fact that those persons with disabilities wishing to attend and paying out of their own pockets would face financial hardship if the registration costs were too high and that municipalities bearing the cost of sending people to the north would not be able to do so if the registration costs were prohibitively high. The planning committee is even providing the finger foods for the reception at their own expense to cut down on costs."
DeFaria said Roetman should not be given contact information for other committee members around the province. Roetman said, "Accessibility Committees across the province readily shared their contact information with the conference planners because they agreed there was a great need for committees to share information and ideas." DeFaria said improvements had been made in removing barriers to the disabled. Roetman said, "If you speak to ordinary people with disabilities, we would be hard pressed to find improvements which make a huge impact on our daily lives."
DeFaria said the Disability Act provides steps to be followed. Roetman said, "Minister DeFaria is choosing to interpret the Act in this way. In reality the Act doesn't provide "steps", but rather indicates that existing barriers must be removed, as well as new barriers prevented. Barriers which current government practices/policies have imposed on those with disabilities which would make a significant impact would be:
1) not increasing the ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) payments for those on assistance;
2) communication with Accessibility Advisory Committees both ways--the Ministry failed to notify the Chairs of the Committees that Ministry funding was available, what the deadlines were and what was required to apply.
The Committees created under the ODA must be treated with respect and their input and ideas respected." DeFaria said the committee misunderstands its role. Roetman said, "Mr. DeFaria is jumping to conclusions without all the facts. The Act doesn't prohibit Committees from taking on such an initiative. If the Ministry isn't willing to provide support and information, are Accessibility Committees expected to be ineffective and weak because they don't have the resources necessary to do their jobs well?...
The Sault AAC, in its attempts to find support and information about how other communities were undertaking accessibility planning, realized there was a need to help each other and to share information. The SSM AAC should be supported, rather than being criticized for their efforts to promote accessibility planning that is thorough and effective.
Mr. DeFaria is not well informed about the level of planning which has taken place for this conference. He fails to realize that the people planning this grassroots conference are almost all people with disabilities. In order to physically travel to the CDC offices, for example, I had to have an attendant transfer me at my home into my vehicle, be helped out of the vehicle at the other end and into my wheelchair just to get there and then do the whole process in reverse when the meetings were over. Imagine having to do this several times a day, every day for volunteer work for which you aren't being paid."
Minister DeFaria needs to get his facts straight once again. He should read the Act carefully, as it doesn't require the private sector to comply with accessibility planning (ODA Committees wanted the private sector to be included in the Act!). The Act addresses accessibility planning for the provincial government, municipalities, schools at all levels, transit authorities and hospitals. The federal government doesn't fall under the purview of the Act either.
DeFaria said information the Committee needed is on the Ministry Web site. Roetman said, "It is commendable that the government's web sites will be accessible to people with screen reading software. This is definitely needed, but there are other higher priorities. Minister DeFaria should find out how many people with disabilities own computers, as most people with disabilities are unemployed (the statistics are available) or on assistance and can't afford to own a computer, let alone get access to the Internet.
Firms eliminating barriers (old and new) will have a greater chance at government contracts - this helps the firm and perhaps may provide improved access for current employees, however, doesn't guarantee that firm will actually hire a disabled person.) It would be more helpful to the majority of people with a disability if ODSP payments were increased and employment opportunities were created for persons with disabilities. It would be interesting to know what percentage of the Accessibility Directorate's paid staff have a disability....
Minister DeFaria shouldn't expect that just because information is on the Internet, everyone knows about it. John Fedorchuk, Chair of the SSM AAC doesn't have a computer, never mind access to the Internet. Ask him why!" Minister DeFaria shouldn't accuse the Sault AAC of trying to leap to the next stage without doing their homework. Many of us were involved, on a volunteer basis, for several years trying to convince the government to pass a strong and effective ODA.
We have done our homework and that's why this conference is necessary--something the province would have realized if they had been listening to AACs and others with a disability. We aren't leaping to the next stage, only trying to leap real barriers to get to the first stage! The Minister shouldn't state that we are too quick to see everything as a Barrier--this is rather broad, especially when stated by someone who doesn't face daily barriers." DeFaria said organizers neglected to call his office and check his schedule before they set a date for the conference, so he will not be able to go.
Roetman said, "The Ontario government requires the AACs to have their first year Accessibility plan finished by September 30. Many committees weren't formed until late last fall and are not yet well organized. At the same time, they are attempting, to the best of their ability, to create a good working accessibility plan for their municipality for the coming year. This is a daunting task for a volunteer committee of dedicated individuals who want to do the best for their communities. The conference was planned in only six months, as that is when the need became known, and since it isn't practical to plan a conference to take place in the summer, and the Sault is a popular tourist destination for people taking the Agawa Canyon tour train, the conference was planned around availability of hotel rooms, not Minister DeFaria's schedule."
"The Minister states that his government has made positive improvements to accessibility since the enactment of the ODA. They have begun to do so, however the changes required to make the most impact in the most effective way will continue to be communicated to the Minister and his staff by those people living with a disability every day whether he likes to hear them or not. There won't be significant barrier reduction or elimination in this province unless the Minister and his staff become more sensitive, respectful and accommodating to people with disabilities in this province."
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Last updated Sept. 5, 2003