Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities Web: https://www.aodaalliance.org
September 19, 2021
Tomorrow is the final day to vote in the current federal election. Here is a last look at disability accessibility issues as they have been addressed in this election campaign.
We thank all those who lent their support to our effort to raise disability accessibility in this election campaign. Stay tuned for more federal and provincial news on accessibility issues after the votes are counted.
1. Election Front-Runners Trudeau and O’Toole Have Still Never Answered the AODA Alliance’s Request for Disability Accessibility Election Pledges
With less than 24 hours to go, the AODA Alliance has still not received any election commitments from the two front-runners, the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau and the Conservatives’ Erin O’Toole, in response to our August 3, 2021 letter to all major federal party leaders. That letter sought 12 commitments to make Canada accessible to over six million people with disabilities, as the Accessible Canada Act aims to achieve.
The only party that has given commitments in response has been the New Democratic Party. We commend the NDP and have reminded the other parties over this last weekend that it was still not too late to meet or beat the NDP pledges.
Three days ago, the Conservative Party campaign emailed the AODA Alliance to ask for our letter in which we sought these commitments, stating that they had not received it. This is difficult to understand, since we have not only emailed it to them, but tweeted about it to Mr. O’Toole and to as many of their party’s candidates as we have been able. We quickly re-sent it to the Tories on September 16, 2021. We have still heard nothing back from them.
2. Minor Surge in Last-Minute Media Coverage of the Federal Election’s Disability Issues
There has been a bit of a surge in media coverage of disability issues in this election over the final weekend before election day. On Friday, September 17, 2021, City TV news included a story by reporter Mark McAllister entitled: “Accessibility advocates feel left out of election”, which began:
“As the election campaign nears a close, a large portion of the population are still waiting for their concerns to be addressed. Mark McAllister reports on why accessibility may play into the final vote on Monday.”
We could not find the text of that report online, but the report itself is available at https://toronto.citynews.ca/video/2021/09/17/accessibility-advocates-feel-left-out-of-election/
As well, on Saturday, September 18, 2021, under 48 hours before the vote, CBC Radio’s health program White Coat Black Art with host Dr. Brian Goldman included an item on the election’s disability issues. It did not include the AODA Alliance or the specific issues we have raised. A transcript of that program is available at https://www.cbc.ca/radio/whitecoat/transcript-for-white-coat-black-art-rabia-s-family-1.6181372
We appreciate this issue receiving any coverage. It appears that CBC came to it quite late in the campaign. This presents a challenge, since by the time CBC got around to considering it, at least 5 million voters have reportedly voted already. For them, that coverage came too late.
Let’s all watch to see whether the reporters and pundits who spend hours on TV and radio on Monday night, and who write article after article for newspapers and websites on the election results, have much if anything to say on the election’s implications for people with disabilities. After this election is over, the media needs to seriously reflect on why it so systemically and repeatedly treats such issues as secondary, or leaves them out altogether.
3. A Quick Closer Look at Two Troubling Elements in the Liberal platform.
First, in its published platform, the Liberals promise to harmonize accessibility standards for people with disabilities across Canada. “Harmonization” at first sounds positive. However, this promise should worry us.
This could easily lead to a reduction in accessibility protections. Standards on accessibility could be brought in line with each other by reducing them to the lowest common denominator. That would harmfully take protections away from people with disabilities.
In any event, we do not know how the Federal Government has authority to reduce accessibility standards across Canada. An accessibility standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act cannot be altered by the Federal Government.
Second, the Liberals have promised that if they are re-elected, the Federal Government will use the definition of disability in the Accessible Canada Act for all federal programs. This too at first blush sounds appealing. However, it too is a bad idea that can hurt people with disabilities.
The definition of “disability” in any particular federal program must be tailored to the purposes of that program. For some programs, such as the implementation of the Accessible Canada Act, a broad definition of disability is desirable. For other programs, that broad definition would be harmful. A narrower definition of disability would be desirable.
For example, if the Federal Government used the Accessible Canada Act’s broad definition of disability for its employment equity programs, The Government could immediately claim that it has a massive number of people with disabilities now working in the Federal Government, and that no employment equity efforts are needed to expand employment opportunities for people with disabilities. Yet people with disabilities face very troubling rates of unemployment and need to be front and center in any federal employment equity program.