Oct 12, 2020
When London’s accessibility committee showed up in council chambers two years ago with resignation letters in hand, politicians promised change. But accessibility issues still aren’t taken seriously, advocates say, leading a longtime chairperson to resign her post and file complaints alleging city hall violated Ontario’s accessibility law.
City hall’s accessibility advisory committee hasn’t met since the start of the pandemic ” missing seven meetings so far ” and members say there’s been no reasonable explanation for the gap.
“After all this, the city obviously does not value us in any way shape or form. I thought, I’m not going to beg or plead anymore, I’m just going to go,” former chair Jacqueline Madden said.
She filed a report arguing the lack of meetings violates the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which requires all cities with a population of more than 10,000 people to have an accessibility advisory committee. By law, the group’s job is to advise council about accessibility standards and requirements.
Madden and Michael Dawthorne, a 10-year veteran of the committee, say council business has continued without any thought to accessibility issues since their group doesn’t have the chance to do its work.
“This has just gone on and on and on, and in the meantime, they’re doing their normal city business. I know, in particular . . . sidewalks they decided not to construct. If that’s not an accessibility issue, I don’t know what is,” Madden said.
Under Ontario disability law, corporations that violate the act can face penalties up to $100,000 for every day the offence occurs.
But Jeff Preston, professor of disability studies at King’s University College, said there are only a few, extreme scenarios where the province has agreed an organization didn’t comply with the act.
“They forgot to write the teeth into the legislation,” he said.
Council approved a motion amid the pandemic that would allow its advisory committees to meet virtually, but only the group on heritage issues ” the only other legally required committee “has been given the green light.
City clerk Cathy Saunders said committees that are “legislatively required” to meet will do so during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Currently LACH (London Advisory Committee on Heritage) is meeting when required for legislative purposes. Any other advisory committee would meet if required to do so to meet legislative requirements,” she said.
All other business has been postponed.
“By not consulting with us, there’s no accessibility lens that’s been done on any of the committee business. We are to provide that accessibility lens on everything they do, or everything that would be pertinent. We haven’t given any input of any kind,” Madden said.
Preston said a pandemic is an especially important time for an accessibility advisory group to be giving advice to council.
“Look no further to the rate of the death in long-term care, which are populated by disabled people, to see how important it is that we have an accessibility lens during this crisis,” he said.
“As soon as that committee starts saying “we’re not being listened to, we’re not even really advising anymore, we’re just speaking into the air,’ that should be a real concern, I think, for all Londoners. It’s very easy for us to say “accessibility issues are not my issues. I don’t have a disability.’ The reality is that every Londoner will likely experience a disability in their lifetime.”
Dawthorne slammed politicians’ earlier promises to listen and consider accessibility issues as “little more than tokenism.”
“To see that we’ve got a city government essentially saying we don’t care . . . it’s frustrating.”