Ontario PCs won’t commit to accessibility improvements, disability advocate says

Click to play video: 'Doug Ford campaigns quietly'
Doug Ford campaigns quietly
WATCH: For most of the Ontario election campaign, Doug Ford’s political handlers have kept him out of the reach of journalists. As Seán O’Shea reports, that’s a contrast with other campaigns—but Global News caught up with Ford to ask why. – May 23, 2022

David Lepofsky has been at the forefront of advocacy for people in Ontario living with disabilities for decades.

The blind lawyer chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, a non-partisan group that campaigns for disability and accessibility reform.

Election season is a busy period for Lepofsky, as he and his organization chase candidates seeking office for promises. Every campaign period his requests have been answered, he said — until this year.

“Doug Ford is the first Tory leader in almost two decades, in fact the only leader of any party in almost two decades, to refuse to even answer a request for election commitments,” Lepofsky told Global News.

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Lepofsky recently chaired an all-party debate organized by several groups including the Canadian Centre for Care-Giving Excellence to discuss the needs of disabled Ontarians but the PC Party failed to field a candidate, he said.

The latest annual AODA report published by the province reported 2.6 million people in Ontario have a disability. It said that number is expected to grow as the population ages.

“It looks to us like the Tory war room has somehow decided that people with disabilities … just don’t matter — they don’t need to appeal to them,” Lepofsky said. “And we think people with disabilities deserve better.”

Global News reached out to the Progressive Conservative campaign multiple times for comment but did not hear back in time for publication.

Lepofsky said he has not given up on promises from the PCs and urged voters to raise the issue with local candidates.

He said that, under Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario became “a more inaccessible place for people living with disabilities.”

The three other parties have offered a variety of promises around accessibility.

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The Ontario Liberals promised to increase Ontario Disability Support Program payments by 20 per cent, while the NDP promised an increase of 40 per cent. The PCs promised a five-per cent increase after the election campaign kicked off. The Greens said they would double it.

Steven Del Duca’s Liberals also promised to build at least 2,500 supportive homes for people with developmental disabilities. The party said it would increase inspections relating to the AODA and appoint a standalone minister for disability issues.

The NDP pledged to implement “all recommendations” from Ontario’s former lieutenant governor David Onley, who laid out key steps to improve accessibility.

The Green Party made several commitments in its platform, including plans to “substantially strengthen” enforcement of accessibility standards and creating incentives to retrofit buildings to be accessible.

The 2022 Ontario budget, acting as the PC platform, does not mention the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act once.

This matters, Lepofsky explained, because the deadline for Ontario to achieve the wide-ranging accessibility goals set out in the AOD Act will arrive in 2025. The current election is the final provincial ballot before the Act’s goals were meant to have been achieved.

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The legislation — which includes both private and public institutions — is designed to make Ontario accessible for people with disabilities.

“We need the next government, whichever party it is, to come forward with a detailed plan B, to get us as close to accessibility as they can by 2025,” Lepofsky said.

“We now sadly know that Ontario will not be accessible by that date, because of, frankly, blunders of government after government on this issue. We’ve made some progress, but we are way behind schedule.”

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