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ODA Committee Update
dated July 7, 2003
posted July 8, 2003


Human Rights Commission Focuses On Inaccessibility Of Chain Restaurants - Media Coverage Shows Need For ODA To Be Strengthened So People With Disabilities Not Forced To Fight These Barriers One At A Time

July 7, 2003


The Ontario Human Rights Commission has announced that it is taking further steps to attempt to get restaurant chains to make their premises accessible to persons with disabilities. The Toronto Star has published a series of articles on this. In the most recent article, published July 7, 2003, the ODA Committee highlights the need for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act to be strengthened to require accessibility in the private sector, such as restaurants, so that persons with disabilities are not forced to fight these barriers one at a time. Jeff Adams, chair of the Government-appointed Accessibility Advisory Council, speaks out against imposing mandatory accessibility requirements for businesses such as restaurants.


In a series of recent articles in the Toronto Star on July 4, 5 and 7, 2003, set out below, the newspaper highlights the fact that many restaurant chains still have too many restaurants that are inaccessible to persons with disabilities. The Ontario Human Rights Commission is described as taking steps to try to address these in seven companies under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Under the Code, individual discrimination complaints must be filed against each restaurant, fighting barriers one at a time.

In the most recent of these articles, in the July 7, 2003 Toronto Star, ODA Committee chair David Lepofsky and ODA advocates Ed Rice and Carole Riback are quoted. They focus on the need for the ODA to be strengthened to require mandatory accessibility standards in the private sector, such as in restaurants.

In that article, Jeff Adams, chair of the Conservative Government-appointed Accessibility advisory Council is quoted as speaking out against establishing mandatory provincial requirements for businesses such as restaurants to be made accessible to persons with disabilities. He comments negatively on the Americans with Disabilities Act. In contrast, Keith Norton, Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission, is described in the July 4, 2003 article in the Toronto Star in favour of higher standards such as those in place under the U.S. law.

In public hearings on the Government's ODA bill in 2001, disability organizations and individuals overwhelmingly called on the Government to amend the ODA so that it would require accessibility in the private sector such as in stores and restaurants. The Opposition Liberals and NDP proposed amendments to achieve this. The Government voted down all those amendments.

Below please find these Toronto Star articles, and an excerpt from the Ontario Human Rights Commission's 2002-2003 Annual Report addressing this issue.

We note that when the Conservative Government introduced its ODA bill back in November 2001, it made public statements on the need to remove the kinds of barriers which the Toronto Star describes. The Ontario Government's policy paper, released on November 5, 2001 along with the ODA bill, entitled "The Framework for Change," stated: "More than 20,000 retail businesses in Ontario can, for a modest cost, remove a front step - a barrier that persons with disabilities, mothers with strollers and seniors encounter every day. This small measure, along with other simple changes, could have an immense impact on the ease and independence of persons with mobility disabilities."

During Second Reading Debate in the Ontario Legislature on the Government's ODA bill, Conservative MPP Toby Barrett, speaking for the Government, stated "Minister Jackson this afternoon used the expression "barrier-free Ontario." At first blush I would think, is this possible or is this truly an insurmountable task? I think we all agree that a gap exists between where we are now and where we should be. I don't see this as one gigantic challenge, something we can bite off in one chunk. It will take time. I see it as a series of very small challenges.

I think of the example of the step in front of so many stores and commercial establishments. In the first place, usually, through design, a step like that need not be built. By and large, it's fairly simple to take out a concrete step and redesign the doorway. You have an accessible commercial establishment and the proprietors of that store have access to a new cadre of customers." (Hansard, November 8, 2001)

Unfortunately the Government's ODA bill did not require those barriers to be removed.

In June 2002, over one year ago, the ODA Committee submitted to the Ontario Government our proposed "Government Workplan" for implementing the ODA 2001. In it we suggested the steps that the Government should take over the following year to implement the ODA 2001. Among our recommendations we urged that:

"18. Full public consultations on ... access to chain retail establishments should begin by December 2002. Draft regulations regarding barrier removal and prevention in these sectors should be proposed and published by May 2003, with a view to final regulations being enacted four months later."

The Conservative Government has not followed this proposal. It has now been almost 19 months since the Government enacted the ODA 2001. Since it passed the ODA,it has not announced when or if it will ever make any such provincial standards for the private sector.

Over two years ago, on March 8, 2001, Tourism Toronto, an organization of hotels, restaurants and other hospitality providers in Toronto, held a press conference, in which they declared their intention to make Toronto a barrier-free city for tourists. The Toronto Star's articles demonstrate that such voluntary efforts have not yielded substantial progress towards our goal of a barrier-free society.

In the July 7, 2003 article, the Toronto Star Quotes Jeff Adams, chair of the Government-appointed Accessibility Advisory Council, in the following

"It's the job of disabled activists to ask that Rome be built in a day," and he doesn't feel that's the right approach, he said."

The ODA Committee has never called for every barrier facing persons with disabilities to be removed at once. Rather, the ODA Committee's 11 principles for the ODa (which the Ontario Legislature approved and which have been adopted by many municipalities across Ontario) allow for reasonable time lines for action for barriers to be removed. The ODA Committee is aware of no disability advocates who have called for all
barriers to be removed at once.

We encourage you to send your feedback to the Toronto Star by sending in a letter to the editor. You can email your letters to:


We encourage you to tell the Star what you think about the barriers facing persons with disabilities in getting access to restaurants and stores. Let them know if you think it would be good to have mandatory accessibility standards put in place in this area. Give them your thoughts on whether the ODA should be strengthened to address barriers in the private sector. Share your views on whether it is good enough to have to fight these barriers one at a time under the Ontario Human Rights Code. Get others to write the Star as well.


Toronto Star July 4, 2003

Eatery chains not accessible
Restaurants lack basics for disabled

Major firms cited by rights watchdog


Major restaurant chains are lacking in standards when it comes to access for the disabled, Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton says.

In issuing his annual report yesterday, he cited seven chains for failing to meet building codes standards and human rights code requirements in accommodating disabled patrons.

The commission launched an inquiry into accessibility and paid visits to the restaurants in questions.

"The results of the onsite reviews were disappointing. They show that some facilities in operation in Ontario do not even meet the most basic accessibility requirements from the current building code. Nor do they meet the requirements of the Ontario human rights code," Norton told a news conference.

Norton recently hurt his foot and yesterday said his use of crutches made him realize the difficulties faced by people with disabilities.

He has yet to publicly release the names of the restaurant chains, saying he wants to first give them an opportunity to respond to his concerns. "In some cases facilities were completely inaccessible while in others, persons with disabilities would face significant barriers for example, in accessing washrooms," he said.

Most of the chains also operate in the United States where they are required to respect higher standards of accessibility as set out in the Americans with Disabilities Act, Norton noted.

"There's no reason why we in Ontario should expect anything less," he said.


Toronto Star July 5, 2003

On wheels, fast food isn't easy

It's a ramp, but not a very smooth one, at a Dairy Queen outlet.

Barriers to those with disabilities are rife on Yonge

Informal survey of chain outlets finds many inaccessible


None of the dozens of fast-food restaurants visited yesterday by the Star along a stretch of Yonge St., from Lake Ontario to Major Mackenzie Dr. in Richmond Hill, can be independently entered by customers in wheelchairs.

In the wake of an Ontario human rights report that slammed seven fast-food chains for poor accessibility, the Star did an informal survey of 62 restaurants, chosen at random, and found they all lacked automatic door openers. That forces wheelchair users to ask for help to get in.

Ten restaurants lacked ramps allowing the disabled to bypass steps. Two others had doors impossible to negotiate by a wheelchair user entering alone.

While some restaurant operators said they're working to correct the situation, others say it's got nothing to do with them.

"It's a big problem," said the operator of a Subway shop at 2368 Yonge St. that's accessible only via a flight of eight steps to the basement, "but ... it is a problem for the developer." Calls to Subway's head office weren't returned.

More than 1.9 million Ontarians have disabilities and the number is growing, according to the Ministry of Citizenship.

Although the Ontario Human Rights Commission found some major fast-food chains are failing to meet building code standards and human rights code requirements in accommodating disabled patrons, some chains contacted by the Star said they haven't yet seen the commission's report.

While the commission plans to name the seven chains in about six weeks, spokesperson Afroze Edwards told the Star yesterday, Commissioner Keith Norton has sent out letters to give them time to respond first.

To determine the extent of accessibility, Star reporters visited restaurants belonging to 15 major chains on Yonge St.

Aside from the lack of automatic door openers, none of the restaurants visited north of Steeles Ave. had what could be considered a barrier.

The Star also discovered an absurd anomaly: at least a couple have entrance barriers but sport washrooms labelled wheelchair-accessible (Tim Hortons at 1910 Yonge and McDonald's at 5200 Yonge). So disabled patrons can't get into the restaurants without help, but they are welcome to use the washrooms.

The Ontario Human Rights Code requires all businesses in Ontario to make their facilities accessible and provides only limited grounds for an exemption. But investigations into complaints are done on a case-by-case basis and can take months or even years.

`I can't change unless the landlord changes it.' Koosha Hosseinzadeh, Mr. Sub operator

The Ontarians With Disabilities Act only directly affects the public sector (such as hospitals, school boards and municipal buildings) but does give municipal governments additional powers. Section 29 of the act, for instance, allows municipalities to require that businesses be accessible to people with disabilities as a condition for obtaining, holding or renewing a licence.

And while the Ontario Building Code requires all new restaurants to be constructed barrier-free, there are several loopholes when it comes to renovating older buildings.

For instance, Wendy's has a beautifully decorated fast food outlet in a leased building at 475 Yonge St. Wendy's began renovations when it moved into the building and, aside from a 15-centimetre step at the entrance, the restaurant has an open design that could easily accommodate wheelchair patrons. So why not remove the step?

Dave Carter, Wendy's director of development, said the chain is in negotiations with the building's owner to build a ramp. Otherwise, he said, the building is in complete accordance with the Ontario Building Code.

"Our company as a corporation is very aware and tries to live up to accessibility in all cases," said Carter, adding he hadn't yet seen the Ontario Human Rights Commission report. He said he believed the majority of Wendy's outlets in the GTA "have accessibility."

Just up the street, at 494 Yonge, there's a Mr. Sub that also has a 15-centimetre step. But Koosha Hosseinzadeh said nothing can be done because the premises are leased and small, in a building a century old. "I can't change unless the landlord changes it."

Hosseinzadeh said he does get some wheelchair customers, and either he or their friends help them in. "As long as we can solve the problem, it's okay."

Patti Jameson, vice-president of Tim Hortons, maintains his company meets "all the codes" at its 1,231 Ontario locations.

"I think from Tim Hortons' standpoint, it is important that we understand all the issues that create challenges for all of our customers," said Jameson, adding that she is eager to get a copy of the human rights report. "We need to understand all our obligations in those areas. Once we have a chance to study it, we will tackle it appropriately."

Sometimes a building's design can make it inaccessible.

The main entrance of the McDonald's at 5200 Yonge forces patrons to pass through two doors at right angles, an impossibly tight turn for a wheelchair. The side door is also inaccessible and the front sidewalk has a steep ledge with no ramp.

Local and corporate officials from McDonald's could not be reached for comment.

Two right-angled doors also pose an obstacle at the Pizza Pizza franchise at 6040 Yonge. A cardboard cutout of the Incredible Hulk stands in front of a second entrance, and a sign says to "please use the other door." Head office officials for Pizza Pizza couldn't be reached.


Toronto Star
Monday, July 7, 2003, p. B01
Advocate urges caution on accessibility
Mandated changes in U.S. created 'a lot of ill will' Star survey finds 62 food outlets without automatic doors
Valerie Hauch
Toronto Star

This isn't the right time to bring in mandatory provincial requirements to force businesses such as restaurants to become accessible to the disabled, says Jeff Adams, chair of the province's Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario. "It would be onerous and difficult for them," he said. Adams, a paralympian gold medallist who uses a wheelchair, lived in the U.S. in the 1990s when the Americans with Disabilities Act was taking effect. He said the ADA, which forced U.S. businesses to become accessible, created "a lot of ill will" and confusion. A smoother transition could have been made if more effort were put into educating people about it, he said, adding that's what he and others are trying to do here. Adams has just returned to Canada from a European trip, and said he hasn't taken a close look yet at the announcement Thursday by Ontario Human Rights Commissioner Keith Norton. Seven restaurant chains in the province are failing to accommodate disabled patrons, Norton said. "But I think that any time we take a measured look at accessibility it's a good idea," Adams said.

A recent informal survey by the Star found 62 fast food restaurants on Yonge St. lacked automatic doors.

Adams said his group's mandate is to comment "on the legislation (Ontarians With Disabilities Act) as it now stands," not to suggest changes unless asked to do so. The ODA, passed in 2001, requires public buildings, such as government, hospitals and school boards, to be accessible. "Everyone's complying," said Adams. There's really no need to enact the last remaining provision of the ODA, which hasn't been proclaimed and which provides penalties for non-compliance, he said. "Why enact that if you don't need to?" Adams said.

He believes that information regarding accessibility from municipal planners in the province can eventually be used by private businesses. "It's the job of disabled activists to ask that Rome be built in a day," and he doesn't feel that's the right approach, he said. But the government has had plenty of time to prove its belief that the private sector will voluntarily make their premises accessible, said David Lepofsky, chair of the Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee, a grassroots coalition of groups and citizens.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission's findings that seven chains aren't making their facilities accessible proves mandatory regulations are needed, he said.

"The government's approach has been that 'We don't need legislation, businesses will voluntarily do it' ... well, this proves that's not the case," said Lepofsky. "This is exactly why we need the ODA to provide standards. Right now, the building code doesn't require you to change anything that's there already."

While the ODA currently only covers government and other public buildings, it allows the government, if it chooses, to set standards of accessibility for the private sector. So far, it hasn't done so. The Ontario Human Rights Code does require that all buildings be accessible to the disabled but enforcement is on a case-by-case complaint basis and can take years to resolve. "That's why this is a ridiculous situation and that's why we want them to set standards," said Lepofsky, who applauds Norton "for taking proactive steps" with the report on restaurants. The document won't be fully released until it's tabled in the Legislature although the names of the chains will be made public in about six weeks. "But what we need in addition are mandatory provincial enforcement standards on accessibility."

His group asked the government to include those standards in the ODA when it was passed. The government has long talked about setting standards and MPPs have even admitted in the Legislature that "more than 20,000 retail businesses" in the province have a single step that keep disabled people out of stores, said Lepofsky. "But they don't do anything." Leaving it up to restaurant owners to decide whether or not to put in automatic door openers or ramps is not the solution, said Eddie Rice, 54. He uses a power scooter to get around his Yonge St. and Steeles Ave. neighbourhood and finds that few restaurants or retail stores in the area, outside of malls, are accessible.

"Voluntary means there's no pressure to do anything," said Rice, who adds that when he travels to the U.S. he finds most places accessible. Automatic door openers are important to him, he said, because he doesn't have the upper body strength, as a result of post-polio complications, to pull a street-level door open.

Rice wasn't surprised by the findings of the Star survey. He wonders why more outlets don't install automatic doors, considering the cost is under $1,600.

"We're not talking big bucks ... what's that to a Pizza Pizza or Mr. Sub?" But Carole Riback, a 42-year-old paraplegic who uses a motorized wheelchair, says what's more important is whether a restaurant has a step at the entrance and a wheelchair-accessible washroom. In the Davenport Rd. and Yonge St. area she lives in, there are few that meet her needs, she said. An avid fan of eating out - "it's hard to cook in a wheelchair" - she finds herself going to the same restaurants all the time. She feels legislated standards for accessibility are "critical. If you don't have (those standards) written in ... there's no point in having the legislation (ODA)."



Disability Issues

Following the release of its Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate in March 2001, the Commission continues to undertake several initiatives to ensure equal access to goods, services and facilities for people with disabilities.

1. Building Code and Restaurant Accessibility

In March 2002, the Commission presented an in-depth submission to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing outlining the need for reform to the barrier-free access requirements in the Ontario Building Code. In July 2002, this document was made public along with a report on a Commission initiative to promote accessibility in the restaurant sector. The initiative involved surveying 29 major restaurant chains in Ontario. A review of the responses revealed that the restaurant chains are setting their standards for accessibility based only on the Ontario Building Code that is in effect at the time of construction or renovation. Neither the Code nor the Commission's Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate are considerations in setting standards for accessibility. Accordingly, the Commission initiated its own inquiry into the accessibility of restaurant chains. The Commission's expert visited several locations of each of the seven chains in various parts of the province. The results of the review were disappointing and revealed that there are facilities in operation in Ontario that do not meet even the most basic accessibility requirements of the current Building Code, nor the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code. In some cases, facilities are completely inaccessible while in others, persons with disabilities would face significant barriers, for example, in accessing washrooms. In the next fiscal year, the Commission intends to share the results of this review with the seven chains to ascertain their plans for achieving accessibility in the future. The results of the review will also be made public.

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Last updated July 8, 2003