Peer Activist Feedback from Candidate Debates on Disability Issues

Edward Rice and Louise Russo, peer activist and co-chairs of Ontarians with Disability Committee of B'nai Brith Canada and Canadian Coalition for Mobility Challenged Drivers (CCMD) attended 3 candidate debates, sponsored by B'nai Brith Canada in the Willowdale, Thornhill and Eglinton/Lawrence ridings.

At each debate, they raised critical questions regarding Disability issues impacting Ontarians. A common question they asked was as follows; "By a show of hands, how many of you know what the AODA legislation is?" The response was alarming. Less than 10% of the audience knew anything about the AODA legislation. Louise and Edward had to vehemently remind everyone what the legislation is about and is currently not on track to be fully implemented by 2025 – as was initially promised by the current government.

As the debates progressed, they asked all participating political candidates key questions pertaining to select disability topics.

AODA - Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

  1. What commitment will you give to see that the AODA legislation is improved and enforced? 
  2. Will you ensure that a person with a disability is consulted with and included in the planning stages of a project? Furthermore, will you make it mandatory for the architects responsible for the structural design of the building to be knowledgeable in “accessibility principles” to avoid creation of design barriers? For example, do you agree with the current design of the new Ryerson University Building in Toronto and the completion of the York University TTC subway station which is not accessibility friendly or barrier – free?
  3. The Province of Ontario spends millions of tax dollars educating students with disabilities to increase labour market participation and employability rates. Why is this policy not included in the AODA itself?
  4. Finally, why isn’t the requirement of having access to full service at self-serve gas stations included in the AODA? This recommendation was first proposed by the CCMCD (the suggestion for a Mobile Fuel Service app called fuel service ltd was proposed to the government last year, CCMD is still waiting for a response and practical action on the issue). 

Accessible Parking Permits

There are over 900,000 accessible parking permits in the province of Ontario, 80% for drivers and 20% for organizations that provide mobility service for individuals with disabilities. There is large misuse of Accessible Parking Permits, by persons other than the Permit Holder. More often than not, Permits are too easily obtained and people with long-term disabilities have a difficult time finding a parking spot. Healthcare professionals who have authority to issue permits sign off without conducting proper due diligence, fraudulent permits are far too easily obtained and the policy lacks strict enforcement due to the lack of available parking enforcement officers (6 in the whole city of Toronto).

Question posed for the party candidates:

Given that there is such misuse of “Accessible Parking Permits”, by person other than the Permit Holder, if elected, would you personally commit to in strengthening the requirements for obtaining an accessible parking permit for individuals that really need it. What would you do? The answers from all the candidates were the same and quite predictable. Common responses included the following:

  • Yes, we have to enforce the AODA by 2025
  • Yes, there needs to be better planning and enforcement of accessibility design principles to avoid creation of barriers.
  • Yes, province wide and sector-wide consultation is required to resolve the matter effectively. 

Many candidates were of the opinion that Accessible Parking Permit was a Municipal matter; they didn’t know that the permits are given out by the Province. This indicates that we need to create more awareness around the issue to inform our politicians and amplify our community’s voice.