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Presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, Ottawa,concerning the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act, 2004

Date: 
Tuesday, February 1, 2005

NATIONAL FEDERATION OF THE BLIND: ADVOCATES FOR EQUALITY,
OTTAWA-GATINEAU CHAPTER Presentation to the Standing Committee on Social Policy, Ottawa, February 8, 2005

The Chair: Our next presentation is waiting. Please have a seat.

Ms. Melanie Marsden: Thank you. My name is Melanie Marsden and I'm the chapter president for the National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality, an advocacy group for persons who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted. We support all briefs that have been submitted by all members of the NFBAE. As a consumer group, we welcome new members, either persons with a disability or persons who are able-bodied.

We seek full equality in all parts of society, which includes but is not limited to the following:

Any documents that are available to the public must be offered in alternative formats, i.e. Braille, large-print, cassette or computer disk etc. Just think of all the print material you receive in one day. Furthermore, all buildings, parks and streets must have universal signage, i.e. Braille, large-print, audible signs and signals and user-friendly transit. By user-friendly transit, we are referring to bus stops that are called out by name so that people can get off the bus independently, without always asking a driver for a specific stop. Universal design benefits all people in society. Buildings need ramps in and out the buildings, bright lights and tactile markings, for just one example.

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The National Federation of the Blind: Advocates for Equality wishes to be consulted with regard to any issues pertaining to the act. We understand that the AODA aims to have full access in 20 years. However, we recommend the following:

-- That there be a formal process put in place immediately to make sure that the necessary steps for access be accounted for. If there are no benchmarks for accountability, the AODA will sit on the shelf and collect dust.

-- The necessary steps need to be formally documented and available in alternative format, which we made reference to above.

-- There needs to be a plan put in place to illustrate what has been done in 2005-06 etc. Also, where are we going from here, and what are the other issues that still need to be addressed so that the goal of the 20-year access will be attained? We all know that if we assume that this act will just come together in 20 years -- well, we know what "assume" does.

Ms. Kim Kilpatrick:. My name is Kim Kilpatrick. I'm the executive assistant with the NFBAE. I want to thank you very much for all the work you're doing with these hearings and listening to everybody's points of view. I think this will really help to ensure that the new bill will be better than the old bill.

I'd like to talk a little bit about the composition of the committees. As a consumer organization, we recommend that the bulk of the representatives on the committees come from the disability community, and we recommend that they come from organizations of persons with disabilities. These groups need funding in order to dedicate the time needed to participate in these committees. We recommend that cross-disability training be provided for everybody on these committees so that everybody knows about various disabilities. Also, the information on these committees should be available in alternative formats, as we've discussed. We may need some resources on these committees, possibly readers or other resources. We think that disabled people should also be considered in the process of hiring inspectors to inspect the work sites. As to the makeup of the committees, even within the blind community there are differing needs for totally blind people versus partially sighted versus deaf-blind people, so they should all be represented on these committees.

We feel that this bill as it is doesn't give persons with disabilities the opportunity to file complaints. People have talked already about the Human Rights Commission. We need the ability to file complaints and have them dealt with.

It seems to be a common theme here today, and I'm going to touch on it a little bit again: public education. We feel this is very important. Educating kids when they're in the school system helps to break down the barriers earlier. I can't tell you how many kids will tell their parents not to touch my working dog. We saw a young man earlier today who was very eloquent in speaking about his sister with autism. This is an example of a young person who has been educated about someone with disabilities.

We also think that education should extend to professionals as well, for example doctors. I visited a doctor's office recently and he refused to have my guide dog in the examining room with me. He said he was terrified of dogs and made someone take it outside. Then I was unable to leave the room independently because my dog was not there. Someone would not make someone in a wheelchair leave their wheelchair outside an exam room.

Social workers and employment counsellors should be educated as to the careers that people with disabilities can pursue, given the right accommodations. Architects -- someone mentioned this before -- in designing buildings, should make sure that buildings are not only accessible but easy to get around in and not too confusing. For example, I practically need a compass to navigate some of the local malls around here because there are no straight lines and they're so confusing.

We think the education should not be just in, say, medical school or in social work school but in ongoing public education throughout professionals' careers so they can continue to learn and be open.

We expect this bill to make a difference in our lives. We're hopeful of that. We expect it.

That's all we have. If you have any questions, we'd be happy to answer.

The Chair: Are there any questions? We'll start with the government side.

Mr. Ramal: Actually, I don't have a question. I agree with whatever they mentioned. Hopefully, if this bill passes, it will achieve our goal and your goal to have Ontario barrier-free. You can go to the mall without any complications, and if you go to the doctor, you'll be able to take the dog with you. That's the intent of the bill, to assist people with disabilities to have access to all the places, whether it's a mall, a hospital, a doctor's office, a coffee shop or a restaurant. That's our aim, and with your support and other people's support, hopefully we can pass this bill and achieve our goals. Thank you very much for coming.

Ms. Marsden: I think we've found it's attitudinal as well. Sometimes people are very helpful and want to help you, but they go overboard. There's that assumption that you absolutely have to have help to come to this table or you have to have help to do whatever. So it's also about letting people choose what they'd like.

Mr. Ramal: Definitely, attitudinal barriers are very important. It has to go through educational messaging, through the media, school, university, the social network, in order to send a message.

Ms. Kilpatrick: The way that people with disabilities are portrayed in the media makes a difference as well, so that education carries over to the media. If we're portrayed as helpless and incapable, then that's what society believes about us.

Mr Leal: Thanks very much, Melanie and Kim. Do you feel there's a need to have an advocacy provision in this bill? Going to the Ontario Human Rights Commission has been a very slow process in the past. Perhaps an advocacy provision within the legislation would help people who have come across additional barriers.

Ms. Marsden: Absolutely.

Ms. Kilpatrick: Yes, I think so. You'd have to see how it was worded, but complaints processes, as people have said before about going to the Human Rights Commission, are so slow. If it takes you two years to get access to somewhere or two years to get the taxi driver to let you in his taxi with your dog, that's two years too long. It shouldn't take two years.

Ms. Wynne: Kim, I think it was you who said that the bulk of the representation on standards committees be people -- and I didn't catch whether you said "from the disability community." I wanted to clarify, because there has been some distinction made between people and organizations who represent people with disabilities and people with disabilities.

Ms. Kilpatrick: We believe that the bulk should be people with disabilities. We understand that people who represent people with disabilities do have very good intentions and knowledge, but we feel that the people who best function are the people who live in the shoes.

Ms. Wynne: And by bulk, you mean the majority?

Ms. Kilpatrick: Yes, I would say the majority.

The Chair: Mr. Marchese.

Mr. Marchese: Thank you both. I have just a couple of comments of agreement with what you've said.

One of the major weaknesses of the bill is that there is no ability to file complaints, as you pointed out, and Bill 118 still leaves you vulnerable to having to file a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission. Whatever we're dealing with now when people do not abide by the current law, we will continue to have the same problems under Bill 118, because there is no process in place, including no tribunal that's been mentioned, which may or may not happen, that would deal with actual individual complaints. I wanted to point out, in agreement, that this is a major flaw.

You are the second person to mention employment equity practices as related to inspectors, and I agree with that. If they are going to hire inspectors -- because it says they "may"; I believe they should hire them -- I believe they should employ the employment equity practices that you've suggested. I hope the Liberal members are listening to that.

Ms. Kilpatrick: The other thing about the inspectors is that the inspectors are doing a public education job as they go forth to inspect, and they are then also saying, "This is the reason why this is not quite right" -- so even as ambassadors as well as inspectors.

Mr. Marchese: I agree absolutely with that.

The third point I want to agree with -- and you're the first one to talk about this, as far as I recall -- is the cross-disability training to be provided in the standards committee. No one else has talked about that.

Ms. Marsden: Well, the thing is that we know ourselves. My vision is different from Kim's and the next person's, or two people can be in a wheelchair and have different needs. They all have different needs. That was in reference to that.

Ms. Kilpatrick: If you're on a committee where you're trying to do all these access standards, you need to have some knowledge; not that you'll have as personal a knowledge, but you need to have some knowledge of all the disabilities you're trying to represent.

Mr. Marchese: Of course. Thank you very much. I hope Mr. Ramal is listening.

The Chair: Thank you very much for your presentation.

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