March 19, 2001
With only 249 days remaining until the Legislature's November 23, 2001
deadline for enacting the Ontarians with Disabilities Act into law,
lots has been going on around Ontario on the ODA front.
Here's a quick sampling:
1. The Parry Sound Muskoka by-election is three days away. ODA
supporters have been active in that riding, raising the ODA
issue. It has been raised in the "All Candidates' Debates"
setting. All three parties have been contacted about this issue.
In last fall's Hamilton by-election, the Conservative candidate
refused to even meet with ODA supporters. The Conservative
candidate in Parry Sound has undoubtedly learned from that
mistake, and met today with ODA supporters.
2. One week ago, on March 12, Ottawa's para-transit system went
on strike. ODA supporters have been bringing to the media's
attention the need for a strong, mandatory ODA so that persons
with disabilities can have, among other things, accessible public
transit. The lack of an ODA, combined with downloading public
transit onto the cities, contributed to the horrible problems
which persons with disabilities in Ottawa now face during this
3. A Kingston suporter of the ODA was coverd in a recent
article in the Kingston Whig Standard. See this article below.
4. One of Toronto's best-known alternative newspapers, "Now,"
featured a large, two-page spread on the barriers facing persons
with disabilities in Toronto and the need for the ODA to be
enacted. It featured another strong ODA supporter. See below.
5. Finally, and in dramatic contrast, Premier Harris's office
has written us, again deflecting our efforts at meeting with him
to discuss the ODA. His office refers us to the new Citizenship
Minister Cam Jackson. Mr. Jackson has not yet responded to our
letter to him written almost four weeks ago. See the letter from
Premier Harris's office below.
Kingston Whig-Standard Saturday, March 17, 2001
Disability motivates dad to push for change
Michael Lea, The Whig-Standard
James Stinson, at his home north of Sydenham, recently graduated
with a degree in environmental studies from the University of
Waterloo. James Stinson is a resourceful man.
Where some might see the onset of multiple sclerosis as a
crushing blow, Stinson saw it as an opportunity to complete his
education. Now that he's done that, Stinson is turning his
attention to the problem of accessibility.
He hopes his perspective will help him speed up improvements that
have often been slow to occur.
"Some businesses volunteer to make their services accessible for
people in wheelchairs but unless you have legislation they won't
have to," he says. Stinson, 47, has used a wheelchair for the past
three years. As a passionate blues fan, Stinson attended the
Limestone Blues Festival last summer, but couldn't get into all the
For Stinson and his family, long trips are even more frustrating.
To plan their last vacation, Stinson's wife spent hours on the
phone finding accessible accommodation, transportation, and places
to go sightseeing. In Ottawa, his family stayed at a 300-room hotel
where only two rooms were deemed wheelchair-
accessible, but Stinson found them restrictive. While the
washroom was designed for disabled people, he had a hard time
moving in the room because of all the furniture.
"I just wanted to be with the girls," said Stinson. He and his wife
have two daughters, 11 and 14 years old.
"It's hard for them. I can accept my disability but they have to
live with it, too," Stinson said.
UNIVERSITY OF WATERLOO
Don't bet against Stinson being successful in his quest for
universal accessibility. Last fall, the Sydenham man graduated from
University of Waterloo with a degree in environmental
Stinson began his studies through distance education 20 years ago
while working for the Ministry of the Environment. When work and
family commitments became too much, he put aside his education
until he went on disability leave.
The day of his convocation was his first time on campus. It was
also the first time he came face to face with his professors, whom
he called often to talk about course work.
Dr. Trudi Bunting, a professor of geography and urban planning,
remembers her former student.
"He worked really hard and did a solid job," Bunting recalled.
Bunting guided Stinson in his thesis on urban accessibility. This
last course he took was an elective to his environmental studies
major. Stinson researched how accessible housing is designed, how
it is concentrated in urban centres, what it costs and what
government financing might be available.
His research and personal experiences have moved him to write
letters to government seeking more stringent laws on
Stinson and other accessibility advocates want the province to pass
an Ontario disability act. Such an act, which the
Conservatives promised to bring forward in 1995, would make the
province barrier-free. It may help people like Stinson, who are
physical disabled but mentally capable of doing their jobs from
"I'd rather not be in this situation, but now that I am, I have to
figure out how I can smooth things over," Stinson said.
"That's why we really need an Ontario disability act."
March 15-21, 2000
Newsinsight: Access denied
A Five-inch step between her and lunch
By Greg Konstantinidis
Try shopping and dining in T.O. if you use a wheelchair or
scooter and you'll quickly learn that there's one city for those
who walk on their own and another for those who are mobile by other
means. And you'll get no help from the province -- there's still no
legislation to equalize access. Here's a small sampling of services
blocked to thousands of our neighbours. When are shopkeepers going
to get it? it should be easy for anyone to buy clothes, food or
just a coffee in Toronto. Unfortunately, it's not. For someone like
music festival organizer Ann Kennedy, who has spina bifida and uses
a scooter, many businesses are simply off limits, as a trip around
town reveals. We start our tour at the Body Shop on Queen West. As
Kennedy in her vehicle goes through the glass doors, the
salesperson seems edgy.
Thump! Kennedy raps into the soap-bar stand because her scooter
can't squeeze past a stool. With a horrified look, the rep
scampers over, saying, "Here, let me get that." She slides the
offending stool over so Kennedy can pass. But that's not the only
obstacle. The three steps leading to the next section, a feature
the company must consider a cute marketing touch for its high-end
products, stop Kennedy. The hemp-enriched and Ayurvedic health
products are above and out of her reach -- unless, that is, she
asks the rep to get them from the far corner. The rep, feeling some
guilt, admits, "This isn't the best-designed store," and awkwardly
chuckles. (No kidding.) Kennedy pulls a three-point turn to leave.
At least she got into the Body Shop. The three semicircular
concrete steps outside the Bata store at the corner of King and
Peter are a barricade. In these situations she usually has to wait
until a clerk notices her just to find out if there's a way in.
But there isn't a clerk on the main floor, so she waits outside.
But even if she could get in, six more steps come between her and
the area where hiking boots, just like the ones she has on, are
Nothing pisses Kennedy off more than the two side-by-side shops on
Spadina south of Queen. The Subway and the Great Canadian Bagel
Company both have single 5-inch steps beneath new logo-plastered
"It's ridiculous! Why is there one step?" she fumes. Stopped by a
solitary riser. How hard can it be to blast them down and make a
"___!" she says. "There are, like, 5 inches between me and a Subway
sandwich. No one gives a ____."
One person who does is David Lepofsky, chair of the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act Committee. He helped create the proposed act,
similar to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, that would
improve accessibility for the 1.5 million disabled
His committee's biggest obstacle has been the Harris government.
"In May 95, Harris (in a letter) said they would enact this act in
his first term, and he would work with us," Lepofsky says. Since
then the premier "has refused to speak with us. He's broken every
promise he's made to us."
Lily Weedon, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Citizenship,
doesn't want to talk about Harris's past commitments to the ODA
committee, but says, "We are working on legislation at this point,"
although those details can't be revealed. "There was a commitment
made on November 23, 1999, that the disability act will be passed
by November 23, 2001."
If an act, which may not be like the ODA's proposal, is passed by
that time, fixing the 8 1/2-inch step barring Kennedy from the
Pizza Pizza at Bathurst and Queen could be mandatory.
The clerk's answer to why she can't get in? "I dunno," she
shrugs, and dashes to the oven to shift some pizzas around. The
customer at the counter shakes her head. "That's rude. They should
have a ramp."
On the Bathurst side of Honest Ed's, it seems that at least one of
the seven locked ground-level doors could be made into an
accessible automated door. At the main entrance on Bloor, there's
a wheelchair-access sticker and a sign that says, "For assistance
please ring buzzer."
Buzz. A while later, a woman inside unlocks the door and pushes it
open a short arm's length, as if we've disturbed her. Like, sorry
for bugging you.
Getting through the aisles isn't that hard for Kennedy as long as
her scooter keeps going straight. When she tries to turn, it gets
more difficult. And it's not hard to get trapped in a tight corner.
Crash! Her scooter knocks into the chip stand. Then she has to pull
a four-point turn and reverse just to get out.
In the east building, a clerk tells her it's OK to use the
elevator to get to another floor -- the same one that says
"freight elevator only." But Kennedy finds there's no way to get to
the west building except for a small section in the basement.
So -- no prescriptions, CDs or videos for Kennedy. No cheesy rugs
or towels. No chance. "I have a right to junk," she says. But even
if she could buy the stuff, she couldn't get through any of the six
cash lines in her scooter.
"What if I bought something?" she wonders before heading out
through the narrow manual door.
At the McDonald's and Starbucks on Yonge just south of Bloor it's
a similar scene, same attitude. The McDonald's has four steps that
need climbing, the Starbucks three. And the clerks inside don't
have a clue about how a person in a scooter can get into the store.
Kennedy knows these responses all too well. It's just like the
endless ignorant scooter speed jokes she's heard. "Hey, that's a
sharp scooter," the waitress shot out with a wink at JJ Muggs,
where Kennedy used the washroom.
"This Starbucks is just another place where there's no way of even
asking for help -- there's no doorbell, no buzzer. I'll take my
money elsewhere, because apparently they don't want it here."
Office of the Premier
March 15, 2001
Mr. David Lepofsky
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
1929 Bayview Avenue
Dear Mr. Lepofsky,
Thank you for your letter requesting a meeting with Premier Mike
Harris to discuss the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
I understand that you have also written to the Honourable Cam
Jackson, Minister of Citizenship. As the issues you wish to
discuss are within his area of responsibility, you may wish to
follow up directly with the minister's office at (416) 326-9326.
Tour and Public Events
c: The Honourable Cam Jackson
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Last updated March 20, 2001