Skip to main content Skip to main menu

Does A Toronto Star Queen’s Park Columnist Hint that David Onley’s AODA Independent Review Will Find Ontario’s Disability Accessibility Situation in Need of Reforms?

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

February 11, 2019


The February 9, 2019 Toronto Star includes a column by veteran Star columnist Martin Regg Cohn, set out below, that reports on David Onley’s great frustration with the accessibility barriers he continues to face. On January 31, 2019, Mr. Onley submitted his final report on his Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The Star column makes it clear that Mr. Onley did not reveal what he told The Ford Government in his report. However, a glimpse is evident from the article. Mr. Onley reportedly finds it very frustrating that he himself continues to face so many disability barriers, including in the built environment. The article says this about Mr. Onley:

“A longtime believer in the original legislation, which passed with all-party support, he now fears that its 2025 target for full accessibility will go unfulfilled.”

We hope that this means that David Onley’s report calls for substantial new action by the Ontario Government to kick-start and speed up the AODA’s sluggish implementation and enforcement that we recommended in our detailed brief to Mr. Onley. The article describes a concern of Mr. Onley’s which, we believe, may refer to a widely-viewed online video that the AODA Alliance made public in late 2017 about the serious accessibility problems at the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre. The Star article states:

“Onley is especially vexed by the lack of foresight from the self-styled visionaries who make up the architectural community. He points to new buildings that win architectural awards but get a failing grade for accessibility, which should surely disqualify them from recognition.”

In light of this, it is even more obvious and urgent for the Ford Government to immediately lift its 235-day-long freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. These committees were appointed under the AODA to recommend what disability barriers must be removed and prevented in Ontario’s health care system and education system. They have a job they must do under the AODA. They should be allowed to do that job. As well, the Ford Government should immediately make public Mr. Onley’s report.

On February 6, 2019, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario’s Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho, to take those two actions now. We will continue to press for action in this area.

Meanwhile, it is great that so many are continuing to tweet pictures and descriptions of disability barriers they face on Twitter using the hashtag #AODAfail that we invented three years ago. Keep them coming! You can learn more about our successful “Picture Our Barriers” campaign on our website. MORE DETAILS
The Toronto Star February 9, 2019

Originally posted at Onley’s long road to accessibility a lesson for us all

Martin Regg Cohn OPINION

We all complain, habitually and self-pityingly, about punishing snowfalls. Especially lately.

But for David Onley, the snow banks and other barriers never truly melt away.

For a time, as Ontario’s lieutenant-governor, the obstacles were magically cleared away. Enveloped by an entourage, cocooned by bodyguards, he surmounted the roadblocks.

An elevator was installed in the vice-regal suite at Queen’s Park, and a ramp was retrofitted in front of the legislature. Thanks to the superhuman powers emanating from the Crown – which he embodied from 2007-14 – Onley not only made his way, but also paved the way for other wheelchair-bound Ontarians.

Ensconced in his scooter, chauffeured in a specially outfitted van, backed by his band of official enablers, his disability – or inaccessibility – seemingly diminished. But after a lifetime spent grappling with the fallout from a childhood bout of polio, Onley always knew it was only a matter of time before he was on his own again.

Now, Onley no longer speaks for the Crown. But he still has a voice.

He is using it to describe what he sees at ground level – and getting a hearing from the powers above. Appointed last year by Queen’s Park to conduct a formal review of accessibility in Ontario, he has just submitted his findings to the Progressive Conservative government.

There is still a stunning disconnect for the disabled, and a growing gap in how the able-bodied perceive the reality of inaccessibility.

Onley wouldn’t tip his hand about the details of his report, which will be shared with the public later. But he didn’t disguise his disappointment.

“We still have a very inaccessible society, a built environment that is very inaccessible,” he told me. “The people who believe it’s accessible are members of the able-bodied population.”

A longtime believer in the original legislation, which passed with all-party support, he now fears that its 2025 target for full accessibility will go unfulfilled.

Onley points a finger not only at politicians but bureaucrats, architects, developers, administrators and inspectors who fail to do their duty to the disabled.

And all of us. For the disabled are us, sooner or later.

The older we get – and our population is aging fast – the more likely we are to find ourselves in their shoes: First with canes, then walkers, then wheelchairs.

Eligible, ultimately, for those special parking permits in our windshields that confer priority access to reserved spots. Paradoxically, the advent of priority parking has helped to distort the reality of disability today in Ontario.

Those signs are ubiquitous, serving as a symbol of access and open doors. But the typical reserved parking spot is a dead end – leading only to barriers that leave the disabled out in the cold at most malls and public buildings.

“It’s shocking the number of places that are fully inaccessible and yet out front, you’ll see a wheelchair sign,” he said. “It depends on how angry you want to be.”

The problem isn’t just the false signal it sends to the disabled on the spot, but the facade it conveys to society at large that access is everywhere.

Onley is especially vexed by the lack of foresight from the self-styled visionaries who make up the architectural community. He points to new buildings that win architectural awards but get a failing grade for accessibility, which should surely disqualify them from recognition.

Over the years, I had watched Onley’s handlers help him navigate unforeseen obstacles and predictable impediments. This week, I watched him flying solo again, when he wended his way to a Ryerson University democracy forum I hosted for Onley and his successor as lieutenant-governor, Elizabeth Dowdeswell: A Conversation with the Crown.

Without government officials to smooth the way, it fell to Ryerson organizers to ensure that he didn’t stumble on his journey. In preparation, Onley patiently walked me through his detailed checklist to overcome any obstacles.

Yes, they had a ramp leading onto the stage, but had they verified its dimensions to ensure his scooter could mount the slope? Was the platform wide enough for him to pre-position without toppling over? Any stairs along the way leading to the campus venue?

Where was the nearest parking? Was it underground or at least sheltered? Was there an underground passageway leading to the event? If not (and there wasn’t), what about the weather? Who would shovel any snow in the way?

Presciently, as it turns out, Onley reminded me of the perils of ice and snow for someone in a scooter. Even a few centimetres can gum up his wheels, and a serious snow bank is a dead end.

Even before Toronto’s unexpected 20-centimetre snowfall that came after our chat, Onley had confided that he typically refuses all winter speaking engagements – too unpredictable and insurmountable. But he was making a rare exception to be with his successor, Dowdeswell.

Practiced in both logistics and logic, Onley made it onstage without a hitch, and expounded on vice-regal arcana without a verbal stumble.

While it’s always an education hearing him talk about the abstractions of our constitution, he also delivers enduring lessons on the reality of inaccessibility.

Twitter: @reggcohn