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Hamilton Ends Free Bus Rides for Blind, Disabled Residents

Advocates are urging council to reconsider the end of the ‘voluntary pay’ program – or at least offer more accessible boarding and payment options. July 2, 2024
By Matthew Van DongenReporter

Hamilton has ended free transit for blind residents and those using wheelchairs, but affected riders are pushing city council to rethink the change.

Council voted last year to adopt a new affordable transit program that offers a 30 per cent fare discount to low-income riders and families. In theory, up to 88,000 residents are eligible.

But as of July 1, the city also ended a long-standing “voluntary pay” program for blind residents and those using large mobility devices. That program allowed wheelchair users to board the bus through the rear door, a practice that is also now supposed to end.

The latter change, in particular, will make it “extremely challenging” for Jake Maurice to continue using the HSR with his wheelchair and service dog, Ellie.

“I feel like I will be losing a huge piece of my independence,” said the 27-year-old daily transit rider.

Maurice said the layout at the front of many HSR buses makes it difficult to avoid bumping into, or rolling over, the feet of seated riders “who won’t or are unable to move” out of his path to a designated wheelchair space. Rear-door boarding largely avoids this problem, he said.

Maurice is able to carefully roll himself up bus ramps with Ellie walking behind him but having to simultaneously manipulate a PRESTO tap card is “probably not going to work.”

“I’m afraid it is going to result in injury to myself or my service dog,” he said.

Maurice was one of several residents and advocates who urged councillors to reconsider the end of the voluntary program at the final public works committee meeting before the July 1 deadline.

The free transit option was originally supposed to stop in January, but council voted to add a six-month grace period that is now over.

Maurice said he has seen rear-door boarding offered on Toronto buses, along with back-of-the-bus payment options or portable “tap” technology that allows wheelchair users to pay after reaching a safe, designated spot.

James Kemp, who chairs the city’s accessibility committee for persons with disabilities, reiterated the program changes – and “inadequate” PRESTO payment options – are leaving some residents at a disadvantage.

“I cannot argue against the HSR requiring (all residents) to pay fares, but they have to provide us with an accessible means to do so,” he said, arguing the city is “forcing us to conform to what everyone else can do.”

Brad Evoy, from the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, told councillors the end of the voluntary-pay program means further economic hardship for some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.

Evoy said extending affordable transit to more people is good – but not if it means “ostracizing” disabled riders who either cannot afford to pay or negotiate the new boarding requirements.

The new discount program “isn’t really about equity,” he argued, if it effectively excludes some residents from being able to take the bus.

At that meeting, transit head Maureen Cosyn Heath stressed the goal of the new affordable transit program was to “help as many Hamiltonians as possible,” but added “we know it is not a perfect program.”

Cosyn Heath said the city continues to advertise the new program and run “outreach” sessions to help disabled residents get used to front-door boarding.

She acknowledged a “a lack of appreciation” for the Metrolinx-owned PRESTO automated payment technology, but noted Hamilton – like most other GTA cities – is contractually bound to use the system.

She estimated five riders or fewer ask to use rear-door boarding on any given day, but added drivers can still use their discretion to make that option available if necessary in the future.

The affordable transit fare pilot program is attracting about 40 applications a day, she told councillors, but a total tally for riders now using the discount was not available at the meeting.

Because the program is a pilot, council can make tweaks or larger changes in the months to come, Cosyn Heath stressed.

Some councillors signalled a willingness to consider changes but not without more data and specific recommendations to chew on.

Ideally, a formal recommendation would come from the city’s own accessibility committee after consultation with other groups representing disabled residents, said Coun. Cameron Kroetsch.

“I think what we’re hearing from people is there are gaps (in the current pilot),” he said in an interview. “I’m open to hearing suggestions for what the solutions might be.”

Kemp later said he is hopeful potential recommendations will be discussed at a future accessibility committee meeting. The next opportunity is July 9.

Matthew Van Dongen is a Hamilton Spectator reporter specializing in transportation and the environment. Reach him at mvandongen@thespec.com.

Original at https://www.thespec.com/news/council/presto-hsr-affordable-transit-program/article_e2363c55-fab9-5946-9ff6-6f9e5ace8aa2.html

Abbotsford Student’s Speech About Accessibility Challenges at Her School Censored by Administrators

Shannon Paterson
Multi-skilled Journalist, CTV News Vancouver
Published June 28, 2024

As part of her Grade 12 art activism class, Lexis De Meyer was tasked with investigating accessibility challenges faced by people with disabilities in her community of Abbotsford.

Just days after her presenting her report, she broke her ankle playing rugby. She was on crutches, and she learned her own school, Robert Bateman Secondary, is not easy to navigate for students with physical disabilities.

“Our school doesn’t have any functioning automatic doors. They are pull doors and very heavy to open, and there is also a latch you have to push and pull. I didn’t have hands to open the door at all, so I needed a hero to get in,” said De Meyer, who also found there were a limited number of elevator keys for the three-storey school, and she didn’t always get one.

“My teacher was like, ‘Why don’t you write a letter to the principal about this?’ Because nobody did that as a part of their project. And I said, ‘Absolutely, I will,'” said De Meyer.

She was invited to meet with the principal, who De Meyer says told her the school was up to code.

“I felt super dismissed, and he didn’t really care about the things I raised,” De Meyer said.

It was then that she decided the theme for the painting that would serve as her final project for the class. It depicts a student in a wheelchair at the bottom of the stairs, looking up at her classroom, which she can’t get to. Words on the stairs read: “There is no elevator to success. You have to take the stairs.”

In her written artist statement that accompanied the painting, she wrote about her own experiences with accessibility challenges while using crutches at her school.

“They say the school district runs on student voice and agency, and I said, ‘I hope they hear my voice and help fix the problems at Bateman so everybody can get the education they deserve,'” said De Meyer.

But just hours before she was set to present her painting and artist statement, her teacher pulled her aside.

“(She) tells me she had to change my artist statement, or the administration wouldn’t let her hand out the books that contained the rest of everybody’s artist statements,” De Meyer recounted.

In the book, her original statement had been covered by a sticker with a new statement on it, partly written by the teacher, and it removed any references to De Meyer’s issues getting around at school.

“They gave me something that was almost kind of the opposite of what actually happened and what I wrote. That really bothered me because it wasn’t even my words at that point,” said De Meyer.

She was also told to remove any references to accessibility shortfalls at Robert Bateman Secondary in the speech she was set to give at the art show, “because they couldn’t include anything that was demeaning or bad-mouthing or making anything that made the school look bad,” said De Meyer.

Outraged that her words had been censored, the 17-year-old spoke to a reporter with the Fraser Valley Current.

“My mom’s phone was going off non-stop with people texting her and leaving comments on Facebook, just showing their support. It felt really good, because I remember feeling on that Saturday so alone and so silenced,” said De Meyer.

On Friday, the Abbotsford School District issued a news release. In it, Superintendent Sean Nosek said: “We are investigating the circumstances surrounding the censorship of Ms. De Meyer’s speech. We understand that this action may have silenced an important student voice and caused frustration.”

“We are reviewing our approach to handling student speeches and written statements at public events,” he continued. “We acknowledge that altering Ms. De Meyer’s speech may have compromised out commitment to open dialogue.”

In the release, Shirley Wilson, chair of the Abbotsford School Board said: “We are addressing the concerns raised by Ms. De Meyer’s speech about accessibility challenges within her school. We recognize these issues may have hindered students’ ability to navigate the school comfortably.”

When asked what she hopes the school and school district have learned from this episode, De Meyer said: “Not to silence their students’ voices. And when problems are raised, just because there is an issue with your school, that doesn’t mean you have to cover it up and hide it.”

De Meyer graduated from high school on Monday. After what happened in her final weeks, she is even more sure of what she wants to pursue in the future. Lexis wants to be a lawyer.

Original at https://bc.ctvnews.ca/abbotsford-student-s-speech-about-accessibility-challenges-at-her-school-censored-by-administrators-1.6946123

N.B. Program Aims to Educate, Encourage Employers to Hire More People With Disabilities

Laura Brown
CTV News Atlantic Journalist
Published June 26, 2024

When asked what she likes most about her job, Kyra Thomas will tell you it’s helping people – and the money.

The Fredericton woman is refreshingly honest about her current employment, after working in retail for about a decade.

But she wasn’t always treated the same as her coworkers.

“The presumed incompetence was, just that overarching concept that was, as a parent, so difficult because she was being denied a human right to work and make a fair wage for the job that she was doing,” said Kyra’s mother, Debbie Thomas.

Kyra was being paid a stipend for the work she was doing, which was less than minimum wage.

Relatively new changes to the Employment Standards Act has made that practice illegal in New Brunswick.

“Unfortunately, there were some companies that, I’ll say they were unscrupulous and they took advantage of people with intellectual disabilities or physical disabilities and had them doing work that other people would have to do and didn’t pay them minimum wage, at the very least. So that’s wrong,” said N.B. Education Minister Bill Hogan.

But the Thomas’ say there’s still more work to do to ensure an inclusive workforce in the province.

One of the barriers? The employers themselves.

“Building capacity for us means providing support to those with an inclusive mindset, and sometimes to those without an inclusive mindset, but to bring them around to understand with the right tools, strategies and resources that we can make inclusion a reality,” said Tara Werner, the director of Inclusive Communities Institute at Inclusion NB.

Inclusion NB is launching a training program for employers who might need some education and encouragement to hire people with disabilities – especially those with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

That demographic are about 80 per cent unemployed, says Thomas.

And she says while many businesses – around 90 per cent – say they focus on diversity, equity and inclusion, fewer are actually putting that to practice.

“Only four per cent include persons with disabilities in their plans,” she said. “So we know that this is still a big gap of knowledge.”

The Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency are helping fund the program with over $231,000, and the N.B. government is investing $75,000.

“I mean, it’s the right thing to do, and employers receive such a benefit when they have young people with special needs working for them and working in their store because they’re so friendly and they bring such an added value to the shopping experience,” Hogan said.

Kyra is working toward a more independent life. To do that, she needs to make money.

She’s now working a job where she’s making more than minimum wage after receiving a raise when a number of customers told her boss’ how helpful she was.

“It’s very validating because I knew she was capable. She just needed the opportunity,” said Thomas.

Original at https://atlantic.ctvnews.ca/mobile/n-b-program-aims-to-educate-encourage-employers-to-hire-more-people-with-disabilities-1.6942080

Funding for New Accessible Trail in Annapolis County

24 June 2024

Annapolis County residents and visitors can enjoy a new accessible trail thanks to support from a provincial grant.

“Everyone deserves to be able to enjoy the outdoors without barriers affecting their participation,” said Jill Balser, Minister of Labour, Skills and Immigration and MLA for Digby-Annapolis, on behalf of Allan MacMaster, Minister of Communities, Culture, Tourism and Heritage. “That’s why it’s critical to develop accessible infrastructure like trails so people of all abilities can engage in the interests, activities and hobbies they love.”

The Moon Mist Trail, located in Upper Clements, is an all-accessible 550-metre double-track loop connected to the Annapolis Valley trail system and other nearby trails. It is 1.5 metres wide with a hardpacked crusher dust surface, wooden perimeter edges, rest stops and an accessible port-a-potty located near the parking area.

This community grant is part of a series of announcements taking place across the province.

Quotes:

“The partnership among the Province, county and Annapolis Basin Outdoors Adventures Society has allowed for the creation of something magnificent. This new addition will strengthen community through physical activity, while fostering social connections and stewardship of public spaces. It will broaden the appeal to seniors and differently able persons, which will improve conditions around mobility, seeing, hearing, autism and mental health.” – Alex Morrison, Warden, Municipality of the County of Annapolis

Quick Facts:

the Municipality of the County of Annapolis received a grant of $27,000 the Moon Mist Trail officially opened Saturday, June 22
the Province’s accessibility strategy, Access by Design 2030, outlines how the government will achieve its goal of an accessible province by providing people with disabilities equitable access to programs, services, information and infrastructure

Original at https://news.novascotia.ca/en/2024/06/24/funding-new-accessible-trail-annapolis-county

Confirmation that Despite Trudeau Government Promises, Canada Disability Benefit Will Only Lift Very Few People with Disabilities Out of Poverty

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

June 28, 2024

SUMMARY

A June 8, 2024 Toronto Star report confirms that contrary to earlier promises by the Trudeau Government, the forthcoming new Canada Disability Benefit will only lift very few people with disabilities out of poverty. In that report, set out below, only about 25,000 impoverished people with disabilities will be lifted out of poverty. Notably, there are approximately 1.6 million people with disabilities who now live in poverty. Thus, 25,000 who will be lifted out of poverty is a tiny drop in the huge poverty bucket.

When Bill C-22 (the Canada Disability Benefit Act) was being debated in Parliament in 2022 and 2023, the AODA Alliance and many other disability advocates pressed for the bill to be strengthened. The Trudeau Government pledged that this bill would lift hundreds of thousands of people with disabilities out of poverty. Yet we and others warned that the bill was so weak that there was no assurance that it would live up to the Government’s hype about it.

We and other allies pressed for amendments to the bill to ensure that the Canada Disability Benefit would be large enough to lift people with disabilities out of poverty. The Trudeau Government was not agreeable to those amendments. The Minister then responsible for this bill, Carla Qualtrough, and the Government’s sponsor of this bill in the Senate, Senator Brent Cotter, said that people with disabilities should trust the Government.

Some disability charities actively opposed the bill being amended in the House of Commons and the Senate to strengthen it. They believed that the Government would “co-create” the regulations with the disability community that would set the specifics, such as the amount of the Canada Disability Benefit and who is eligible to receive it.

We and several other disability advocates believed it was far too risky to trust the Government any present or future government on issues like this. We argued that people with disabilities deserved rights, not charity. As written, Bill C-22 is a charity bill, not a rights bill.

Since then, the $200 per month for the Canada Disability Benefit that the Trudeau Government has announced is grossly inadequate to lift most impoverished people with disabilities above Canada’s official poverty line. Those who opposed the bill being strengthened are now leading the call for the Government to raise the Canada Disability Benefit above the paltry $200 per month maximum that the Trudeau Government has announced. It is important for one and all to draw from this experience the importance of supporting and not opposing efforts at strengthening important disability-related laws like the Canada Disability Benefit.

How You Can Help

The time is extremely ripe to pressure the Trudeau Government to increase the Canada Disability Benefit and to amend Bill C-22 to strengthen it so that it lives up to the Government’s promises and lofty rhetoric. After the Federal Liberals recently lost a Toronto by-election this week, they are scrambling to increase their popularity.

The time is also extremely ripe to press the opposition parties, the Tories, NDP and Bloc Quebecois to commit to raise the Canada Disability Benefit and to strengthen Bill C-22. It is not good enough for them to simply blast the Trudeau Government on this issue.

Moreover, the Federal Government has just launched an 86-day public online consultation on its proposed new regulations to implement the Canada Disability Benefit. Everyone can give their written feedback. At first blush, this looks like a garden variety normal public consultation process. It is not a process where the Government “co-creates” the regulations with disability community, as some had hoped.

We encourage you to:

* Give your feedback to the Federal Government’s online public consultation on the regulations it proposes to enact to implement the Canada Disability Benefit. Tell the Government that $200 per month is far too low.

* Write your Member of Parliament and the federal party leaders. Call on them to commit now to raise the Canada Disability Benefit so that it truly lifts impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty. Urge them to commit to amend Bill C-22 so that the Canada Disability Benefit is legally guaranteed in the future to lift impoverished people with disabilities out of poverty. Ask them to specify what dollar amount they’d approve for the Canada Disability Benefit if they are elected.

* Send letters to the editor to your local media on this issue.

* Raise this issue with friends and family.

To learn more about this issue, check out:

* AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s May 24, 2024 guest column on the Canada Disability Benefit in the Toronto Star’s Metroland online newspapers around Ontario.

* AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s April 27, 2023 testimony at Canada’s Senate Standing Committee calling for Bill C-22 to be strengthened through amendments.

* The AODA Alliance’s advocacy efforts on Bill C-22 over the past two years, which are all documented on the AODA Alliance website’s Bill C-22 page.

MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star June 8, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/trudeau-governments-new-benefit-for-canadians-with-disabilities-will-lift-just-a-fraction-out-of/article_b964a782-24d4-11ef-9b56-ab1cd5d6f3e3.html

Disabled benefit will lift very few out of poverty
Government data shows it will help 4% of 600,000 eligible to apply

Mark Ramzy Toronto Star
OTTAWA – It was supposed to drastically reduce poverty rates among Canadians with disabilities. But only a fraction will be lifted out of poverty.

Just 25,000 working-age people with disabilities will escape poverty as a result of the Canada Disability Benefit, about four per cent of those eligible at the height of its rollout at least three years from now, newly released government data shows. An additional 15,000 family members will also be lifted out of poverty.

Minister for Persons with Disabilities Kamal Khera shared the data in a letter to the House of Commons human resources committee this week, after repeatedly avoiding revealing the figure when asked by media and opposition MPs.

The findings come as frustrated advocates have railed against the federal government’s funding of the disability benefit, arguing it was too little, covers too few people, and has too many obstacles to qualify for it.

“The numbers confirm what we knew to be true,” said Green MP Mike Morrice, who had requested the information. “The proposed Canada Disability Benefit is going to lift almost no one out of poverty, and the proposal they’ve put forward includes nothing of what the disability community was actually calling for.”

According to StatCan, there are 911,000 Canadians between the ages 15 and 64 with disabilities living in poverty, though the disability benefit will cover ages 18 to 64, and the government expects around 600,000 people to be eligible after the first few years.

The government uses the market basket measure, which employs a “specified basket of goods and services representing a modest basic standard of living,” to define the official poverty line by region and population.

For a single person living in Ontario, the average is $27,097.

The Trudeau government has earmarked $6.1 billion over six years and $1.4 billion annually after that towards the $200 per month benefit, which will roll out in July 2025.

But the newly released information is once again raising questions about whether the government listened to the disability community after touting its collaborative approach.

Khera’s office revealed in the letter she had not yet met with four of 13 provincial and territorial ministers to discuss the benefit, including her Ontario counterpart, despite suggesting the threat of provincial clawbacks were the biggest barrier to increasing the benefit.

“I’m surprised it’s actually gonna lift anybody out. I’m outraged,” said Amanda Mackenzie, the national director for external affairs at March of Dimes. “If you’re a Liberal minister and you can get a meeting with Premier Danielle Smith’s minister, why can’t you get a meeting with (Ontario’s minister)?”

Asked about the letter at a news conference in Brampton on Friday, Khera defended the benefit as the “single largest line item” in the budget that will support “some of the most vulnerable, poorest individuals with disabilities in this country.”

“One of my biggest priorities right now is to make sure that we work alongside provinces and territories to ensure that there are no clawbacks to the benefits that we have put forward,” she said.

In 2022, prior to Khera being shifted to her current role, Employment and Social Development Canada acknowledged the disability community wanted a benefit that would reach $2,200 per month when combined with provincial supports, according to data obtained by the Star through an Access to Information request. While provincial supports vary, the benefit amount falls far short of what the Parliamentary Budget Officer estimated was necessary to address that gap.

In an interview with the Star last month, Khera would only say the benefit would “close the gap” and the current funding for the benefit is just a first step intended to be built upon.

CRTC Launches Consultations to Ensure Programming is Accessible to All Canadians

From: Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission

News release
June 25, 2024 – Ottawa-Gatineau – Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)

The CRTC is taking another step forward in the implementation of the Online Streaming Act (formerly Bill C-11).

Today, the CRTC is launching two public consultations to help ensure broadcasters, including online streaming services, offer programming that is accessible to persons with disabilities.

Closed captioning assists persons who are Deaf or hard of hearing, while described video and audio description assist persons who are blind or partially sighted. The CRTC is seeking feedback on how broadcasters and online streaming services can better meet the needs of Canadians who use these services to enjoy their favourite programming.

The CRTC is now accepting comments and interested parties can participate by:

filling out the online form for closed captioning and the online form for described video and audio description; writing to the Secretary General, CRTC, Ottawa, Ontario K1A 0N2; or sending a fax to 819-994-0218.
Canadians can also submit their comments in American Sign Language or Langue des signes quebEcoise by filing a link to their sign-language videos using the online form. Canadians who wish to request accommodations to facilitate their participation or require assistance submitting their comments can contact the CRTC’s Public Hearings group at hearing@crtc.gc.ca.

All comments and sign-language video transcripts will form part of the public record and will inform the CRTC’s decision.

As a quasi-judicial tribunal, the CRTC will continue to balance consulting widely with moving quickly to build the new regulatory framework.

Quotes

“All Canadians deserve access to the programming they enjoy and the information they rely on. We look forward to hearing a diversity of perspectives and we encourage everyone to participate.”

– Vicky Eatrides, Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, CRTC

Quick facts

The CRTC is an independent quasi-judicial tribunal that regulates the Canadian communications sector in the public interest. The CRTC holds public consultations on telecommunications and broadcasting matters and makes decisions based on the public record.

The Online Streaming Act, which amended the Broadcasting Act, requires the CRTC to modernize the Canadian broadcasting framework.
Closed captioning enables persons who are Deaf or hard of hearing to have full access to audio-visual content by displaying what is being said and providing additional contextual information for the viewer by describing who is speaking, what music is playing, and other audible cues.

Described video and audio description enable persons who are blind or partially sighted to have full access to visual content.

Described video provides a narration of important visual details and information about actions, characters, scene changes and on-screen text that cannot be understood from the main soundtrack alone. Audio description is often used for information-based programming (including newscasts, weather reports, sports scores and financial data) and provides a voice-over description of key elements such as text and graphics that appear on the screen.

This consultation is aligned with the government’s policy direction that directs the CRTC to support the provision of programming that is accessible without barriers to persons with disabilities. It is the latest step in the CRTC’s efforts to improve accessibility and advance the principles of the Accessible Canada Act.

Contacts

Media Relations
media@crtc.gc.ca
819-997-9403

General Inquiries
819-997-0313
Toll-free 1-877-249-CRTC (2782)
TTY 819-994-0423

Original at https://www.canada.ca/en/radio-television-telecommunications/news/2024/06/crtc-launches-consultations-to-ensure-programming-is-accessible-to-all-canadians.html

The Toronto Star’s 25 Metroland Online Local Newspapers Announce New Monthly Disability Rights Column by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Twitter: @aodaalliance
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

June 27, 2024

SUMMARY

When the mainstream media reports on the disability barriers that still plague Ontarians with disabilities, it really helps our advocacy efforts to tear down those unfair barriers. Yet the media employs fewer and fewer reporters. How do we get them to cover our issues?

We need to become citizen journalists and write the stories ourselves. One way to do that is to send letters to the editor of media organizations like newspapers. The gateway for doing this is when the media run a story on which you can comment.

Below is an example. It’s a letter to the editor that the Toronto Star printed on May 29, 2024. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky applauded the City of Toronto for banning electric scooters. The gateway that opened the door to his writing this letter was a guest column that the Toronto Star had published earlier that blasted Toronto for banning e-scooters.

Another way to contribute is to submit a guest column to a newspaper or news website on a disability topic. We are delighted to announce that the Toronto Star’s Metroland newspapers, posted on 25 websites and addressing local communities around Ontario, has invited AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to write a monthly guest column on disability issues. Below you can read the first such column.

^How You Can Help

Whenever you read a news story on a website or in a newspaper, think of ways you could respond to it by a letter to the editor in which you raise a disability issue that relates to the story. Check out the news publication’s website to see what the email address is for sending a letter to the editor. You should also read their rules or guidelines for letters to the editor. Usually, the letter needs to name the story that you are responding to and be no more than 300 words long.

If you are more ambitious, try submitting a guest column to the news publication. Before you do that, you should also consult its website to see what guidelines they have for guest columns.

Let us know what you try. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

There are now only 188 days until 2025, the deadline when the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to have become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities. Where’s Premier Ford’s plan of action?

MORE DETAILS

Metroland Simco.com June 19, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.simcoe.com/opinion/contributors/welcome-to-metroland-s-new-monthly-guest-columnist-on-disability-issues/article_2e82d61c-01e8-59f8-ba09-70282e31ad1b.html OPINION Welcome to Metroland’s new monthly guest columnist on disability issues.
This monthly column, written by a retired lawyer who is blind, offers insights into various disability issues faced by individuals in Ontario. It emphasizes the importance of advocating for the rights of persons with disabilities.

By David Lepofsky
Wednesday, June 19, 2024

David Lepofsky is a retired lawyer who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

I’m delighted that Metroland invited me to write a monthly guest column on disability issues. Let me introduce myself. I’m 67, a lifelong Toronto resident, and a retired or better put a recovering lawyer. I’ve been totally blind since my early 20s. Before that I had no vision in one eye, and gradually dwindling partial vision in the other eye.

During my 33 years of law practice, I worked as counsel for the Ontario government. I argued civil cases, constitutional cases, and for the last 23 years, criminal cases. I appeared in the Supreme Court of Canada on 30 cases, and in the Ontario Court of Appeal on around 200 appeals.

I spent much of my free time over those years, and much of my retirement, doing voluntary advocacy to fight for new laws to protect the 2.9 million Ontarians who now have a disability, and all the rest of Ontarians who eventually will get a disability as they get older.

Because I don’t know how to slow down after retiring, I teach law part-time. I’m now the visiting research professor of disability rights at the law school at Western. In whatever spare time is left, I religiously get my 10,000 steps per day and can never watch enough “Star Trek.”

Why a column on disability issues? It’s because we are the minority of EVERYONE! Everyone has a disability now, or gets one later. Disability issues are everyone’s issues.

Disabilities include physical disabilities, sensory disabilities (like my blindness), mental health conditions, learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, communication disabilities, neurological disabilities, and many more. We all face too many disability barriers, whether in public transit, in our education system, in our health-care system, or when we try to get a job or go shopping. Those barriers hurt us all.

I aim to identify recurring barriers that need to be fixed. I also believe in offering practical, workable, constructive solutions.

Here’s just one example: Thirty years ago, I asked the Toronto Transit Commission to audibly announce all subway stops, so we blind folks could know what stop we had arrived at. Their answer was not very helpful. What did I do? I brought a legal case against them and won it. I later had to bring another case to force TTC to announce all bus stops. Now they’re doing it, but only after years of battling me.

Why do I do this advocacy? I suppose it’s because I care about it and I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it. I’m also doing what I can to reach the next generation to help them carry on with the cause.

The one thing I don’t now do is to represent or advise clients. This is because I retired from the practice of law.

So what are the big disability issues facing us in this province and this country over the next weeks and months, you might ask? Well, that is the question that this column will try to answer. I hope you enjoy it.

Toronto Star May 29, 2024

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/opinion/e-scooters-create-more-dangers-than-benefits-especially-for-people-with-disabilities/article_27196b84-1c4a-11ef-a545-8f8e71a1eae5.html

Letters to the Editor

E-scooters create dangers for those with disabilities

Why Toronto needs to embrace e-scooters: a path to a more connected and a sustainable Toronto, May 26

Guest columnist Walied Khogali got it crushingly wrong when he blasted city council for saying no to e-scooters. E-scooters especially endanger vulnerable seniors and those with disabilities. Blind people like me can’t tell when e-scooters, a silent menace, rocket at them at more than 20 km/h, driven by unlicensed, untrained, uninsured, often unhelmeted fun-seeking joyriders. Left strewn on sidewalks, e-scooters are tripping hazards for blind people and accessibility barriers for wheelchair users. Toronto has become less accessible to people with disabilities. Allowing e-scooters would make that worse.

Allowing e-scooters would impose significant costs on taxpayers for new law enforcement, OHIP for treating those injured by e-scooters, and lawsuits by the injured. Toronto has more pressing budget priorities.

Toronto’s official Accessibility Advisory Committee has three times pressed city council to say no to e-scooters. More than 20 major disability organizations representing a diversity of disabilities pleaded with city hall to say no to e-scooters. The dangers e-scooters pose to the public have been repeatedly proven in cities that allow them. We thank an overwhelming majority of city councillors for listening.

We support battling climate change and strongly applaud micromobility to help with this. But we don’t need e-scooters for this, with all the dangers they create. Other forms of micromobility, like cycling, amply meet our needs. Where they are allowed, e-scooters don’t add substantial new benefits. They just add new dangers.

David Lepofsky, Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, Toronto

Canadian Couple Create Art that’s Accessible to All

Arts Southeast’s ON::View Artists-in-Residence Invite Participation By Beth Logan
June 25, 2024

Ten times a year established and emerging artists, working in all media, occupy an Arts Southeast studio that features a large, Bull Street-facing window. The ON::VIEW Artist Residency has been so named because of that window: The artists’ work is always on view, and passersby are encouraged to come inside to visit. Pedestrians witness the artists’ process as it unfolds in real time, seeing all the steps involved from concept to final execution.

It is an exciting residency program: a robust selection committee headed by Jon Witzky, director of exhibitions, fields applications from around the globe. Besides offering a free workspace, the nonprofit provides accommodation in the 5th Dimension Apartment, located just five blocks away, to comfortably house the artists during their stay. In the past, residents have come from such places as Savannah, Germany, Japan, England, California, and New Zealand.

This month, the artists hail from Ontario, Canada. I met David Bobier and Leslie Putnam just two days after they arrived in Savannah and was instantly put at ease in their presence; both are warm and engaging, politely interrupting each other to explain a concept or add a memory. One can tell this is a respectful and loving couple who, despite each having their own individual artistic practice, genuinely relish creating together.

Putnam says her practice is sculpture and installation, “I use every kind of medium depending on what I want to say.” She earned a five-year studio art degree from Concordia University in Montreal, moved to Europe, had a studio in Luxembourg, returned to Canada to earn a bachelor’s in education, and taught art (wrapped into science) for 20 years as a single parent raising two children, while still finding time to maintain her studio practice.

Bobier, also trained as an artist, graduated from Novia Scotia College of Art and Design, and later earned a master’s degree from the University of Windsor in Ontario. He says, “I came out of there doing more sound installation work,” but put his university teaching career and art practice on hold to become the primary caregiver for two adopted half-siblings, “both deaf and indigenous,” who he and his ex-wife decided to raise “culturally Deaf, meaning integrating them into the deaf community using American Sign Language.”

Bobier returned to sound installation work after attending a concert in Toronto put on by a Ryerson University department that focused on inclusive media design. “They were hosting this event with chairs created to vibrate in a cinema so that the deaf could experience the sound production of the movie through sound vibration.” He goes on, “A lot of the things that happen within the academic realm remain in the academic realm, but I saw a use for this out in the community,” both for the deaf and the autistic community. He became involved with their work as a visiting artist, later establishing and serving as Director of VibraFusionLab in London, Ontario in 2012. The Lab has worked with Deaf and disabled artists and musicians from Canada, the U.S., Holland, and the U.K. to create compositions and expand artistic practices designed to be experienced as tactile stimuli. It also strives to expand art audiences to include the Deaf and variously disabled.

Now married (“We’ve been together-we keep forgetting-for 14 or 15 years,” Putnam says), Putnam and Bobier often work collaboratively as the o’honey collective. “The first time we worked as o-honey we made a nest [out of willow branches] about the size of this room. It went to a few exhibitions, and visitors got into the nest and listened to a sound recording of the two of us talking about moving furniture around-about us nesting-while we documented their interactions via a webcam.” Inspired by the popularity of eagle nest cams, this project seems somewhat cute, but their collaborations have since evolved into a more therapeutic realm.

Putnam continues, “David works in the Deaf and disability community, and when I first met him and looked at my own art, it became apparent that it was extremely limited. It was mostly visual. That’s when I started creating environments, using sound, and using vibration.” This concept is difficult to understand until you experience it.

Putnam hands me her first vibro-tactile piece: a white ceramic structure shaped like an anatomical heart, covered in various textures reminiscent of corals or urchin spikes. It gently vibrates and makes quiet sounds-such as whale song-when I hold it. She next shows me another sculpture project created with two Canadian poets-a
vintage suitcase overflowing with green, felted tendrils. At the end of four particularly long tendrils are felted fidget-pods which one holds. As the pod softly vibrates, I hear poetry read by one of the collaborators (a disabled, queer, homebound, published poet) and the meditative vibrations of a singing bowl. “So, the idea is that four people can sit, and can feel it together.”

It is, quite simply, beautiful. Calming and peace-inducing.

For the ON::VIEW residency, o’honey collective is creating “a vibro-tactile sound quilt, a soundscape, sort of mapping out Savannah by sound and vibration.” Exhibitions and Residency Director Witzky tells me, “One of the most exciting things about David and Leslie’s work is that is made specifically for those who are traditionally left out of the art conversation – the deaf, blind, and disabled.”

Bobier’s “Private Eye,” incorporates found objects, and is both a tactile and visual representation of sound
Putnam explains, “We’ll use some found objects, some felting, incorporate braille. The idea being that if you are blind you could follow along and feel the quilt. The transducers will be behind the fabric and will play recordings David makes in Savannah.” Transducers change sound into vibration, which allows the audience to experience what is known as haptic empathy. Normally, galleries do not encourage touch, but “all our work is touchable. It’s to be experienced. A tactile and visual representation of sound.”

Back to the window: Even when the artists are not working in the studio, the public can still engage by laying hands onto the pane to feel, experience and hear a beautiful soundscape of susurrus waves and underwater sounds that Bobier recorded during a residency in the south of France. He has changed the window into a vibrotactile speaker by connecting it to one of his vibrotactile pillows. He often uses these pillows, sometimes up to 50 or 60 of them, to create greater accessibility for the Deaf and disabled in a live theater setting.

Putnam says, “As humans we do not access vibration like we used to. For example, originally when string quartets were moved onto a stage, musicians were furious as the audience could no longer “feel” the music. When I first started working with David, it became apparent that appreciating and analyzing art is all visual. We are missing so much. To have artists and audiences who have been left out able to participate is so important.”

Bobier adds, “It’s just all about communicating. Art can be very elitist. But we want it to be accessible to all.”

Bobier and Putnam’s collaborative ON::VIEW Residency runs from June 13-July 5. They will give an artists’ talk on Saturday, June 29, at 2 p.m. at Arts Southeast, 2301 Bull St. Their project finale will be on view during First Friday in Starland, Friday, July 28 from 5-9 p.m. Find out more at https://artssoutheast.org/putnamandbobier. Follow Putnam on Instagram @lputnaml and follow Bobier’s VibraFusionLab projects @vibrafusionlab.

Original at https://www.connectsavannah.com/arts-and-entertainment/canadian-couple-create-art-thats-accessible-to-all-22455328

Halifax School Installs Stairlift Following Student Petition to Improve Accessibility

Lift to basement classroom now in place at Fairview Junior High, HRCE says Gareth Hampshire, CBC News
Posted: Jun 24, 2024

While she might not get to see a new stairlift in action at Fairview Junior High school, the student who campaigned for it is pleased it has now been installed.

“It’s pretty cool,” said 15-year old Lux Melanson, who is about to graduate from Grade 9. “It’s not functional yet, but there is definitely something. There has been work done, it’s obvious to see.”

Melanson was bothered by the fact some students could not access the school’s technology-education classroom in the basement and launched a petition in February.

It called for a lift on the stairs that lead to the classroom so that barrier could be removed for students who use mobility aids.

Now, she said a new railing has been installed down the steps as well as a control panel.

“It’s really nice to see that more students will be able to participate in that class,” she said.

At the time Melanson started her campaign, the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE) said it had already recognized the issue and was working through a procurement process.

The HRCE said staff were able to “support all students and deliver curriculum in other learning spaces in the building.”

It initially forecast the lift would be in place by the end of March, but that was changed to the end of May when it was determined a specialty lift would be needed.

HRCE said the lift is now in place.

“Installation and testing of the chair lift at Fairview Junior High has been completed. Inspection by the Department of Labour is the next step and once approved, it will be operational for students,” a statement released to CBC News said.

No timeline was provided regarding when the inspection might take place. Since June is a busy month in schools, HRCE said it could not accommodate a request from CBC News to see the lift.

‘Who cares if I see it?’

Melanson’s mom Anya Nordeen said she is inspired by her daughter.

“She was up against a lot. The fact she saw something was missing is remarkable. The whole family is proud of her,” Nordeen said.

Because of her effort, younger students will realize they can make change and have a voice, Nordeen said.

And it’s those students Melanson is happiest for.

“I have friends that are in lower grades than me and they’ll be able to tell me. And as long as students can access the classroom now and can participate, who cares if I see it?”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gareth Hampshire began his career with CBC News in 1998. He has worked as a reporter in Edmonton and is now based in Halifax.

Original at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/nova-scotia/stairlift-fairview-junior-high-school-lux-melanson-1.7242392

Accessibility Uproar After Olds, Alta., Woman With Cerebral Palsy Threatened with $5K Fine for Using Mobility Aid

Mark Villani
CTV News Calgary Video Journalist
Published June 21, 2024

An Olds, Alta., woman with accessibility issues is speaking out against the town after local bylaw officers informed her she would receive a $5,000 fine if she was caught using her mobility scooter on any street, sidewalk or pathway in town.

Jennifer Clarke, 48, was born with cerebral palsy and for the past six years she has been using her Gio All-Season Enclosed Mobility Scooter to get around town to complete day-to-day tasks.

On June 6, that all changed when she was operating her scooter in a nearby park.

“I was stopped and given a warning that I’d be fined $5,000 or that my mobility scooter would be towed if I used it on a public pathway,” Clarke said.

“I don’t think people realize how important accessibility is,” she said. “This is my independence that enables me to go to the grocery store or to the hospital for bloodwork.

“It (the warning) takes away my independence,” she added. “I feel like I’m just being discriminated against.”

Other incidents

Other local residents including senior citizens like Robert Fisher, who uses the same mobility scooter, have also been warned about not using the device around town.

“These scooters are roughly $8,500 to purchase,” he said.

“I guess mark this down as senior abuse,” Fisher said. “It’s not hurting anybody, like if it was, you should have it taken away but we’re using it accordingly.”

According to Alberta Transportation and the Traffic Safety Act, mobility scooters and electric scooters are classified as ‘prohibited miniature vehicles.

Currently, Alberta’s municipalities do not have the authority to create their own bylaws for the operation and regulation of e-scooters on sidewalks and roadways.

All jurisdiction over what type of vehicles are permitted on roadways, cycle tracks, and sidewalks lies with the Government of Alberta.

‘If the mobility aid has a back seat’
In a letter obtained by CTV News following several complaints over mobility scooters, Alberta Transportation Minister Devin Dreeshen says a mobility device is defined as being used to ‘facilitate the transport, in a normal seated orientation, of a person with a physical disability.’

“The department has noticed newer devices being sold that claim to be mobility aids, but do more than just help a person get around,” the statement read.

“If the mobility aid has a back seat or a large cargo area, then it is considered to be more like a car than a mobility aid. Enforcement officers may then treat it like a motor vehicle and prohibit it from operating in pedestrian areas.”

Sean Crump, the CEO of Included By Design is a well-known accessibility advocate who uses a power-chair himself to get around.

He says the province should consider improving its infrastructure to help those with mobility issues get around, but also make proper exceptions to these types of bylaws.

“Not all curbs are cut the right way,” Crump said, “and not all paths are built to current accessible standards for mobility aids that are a little larger, you may actually be required to use the road or an alleyway cut out and therefore there needs to be a balance.”

“I think the town needs to sit down and re-evaluate with the province how this bylaw works and look at some of the discrepancies that it creates, along with the kind of restrictions it poses for people using mobility aids.”

Town of Olds asking province for clarification

The designation of what is considered a mobility scooter sits with Alberta Transportation and municipalities have been told thy must uphold this principle and bylaws for the safety of all residents.

The Town Of Olds provided the following statement to CTV News:

“The Town of Olds recognizes that having access to a mobility aid is vitally important for those with different physical abilities,” read the statement.

“As per the Alberta Government documentation, mobility aids are different than prohibited miniature vehicles. The Town of Olds has reached out to Alberta Transportation to try to get official clarification regarding Gio Mobility Scooters.”

The province would have to provide an exception, it added, acknowledging that, “We received complaints about prohibited vehicles driving on roads and investigated accordingly.”

CTV News has reached out to Alberta Transportation for clarification on its criteria for certain mobility aids.

A department spokesperson says this vehicle can’t be registered or insured, so it’s not allowed on the road — but it remains unclear if it’s allowed on a sidewalk.

Golf carts

That said, a pair of central Alberta municipalities – Sylvan Lake’s Summer Village of Half Moon and the Village of Delburne – have recently called on the province to allow the use of golf carts in certain approved roads or public lands within their jurisdictions.

In May of last year, Saskatchewan began allowing municipalities to pass bylaws allowing golf carts on certain roads as a result of a resolution passed at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association convention

B.C. has also launched pilot projects to determine the best way to safely allow golf carts on local roads in Chase and Qualicum Beach and Ontario has similar projects on Pelee Island and Huron-Kinloss.

Original at https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/accessibility-uproar-after-olds-alta-woman-with-cerebral-palsy-threatened-with-5k-fine-for-using-mobility-aid-1.6936579