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AODA birthday signals urgent need

In honour of the UN International Day of Persons with Disabilities, and to celebrate 25 years since the grassroots origins of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), 150 people gathered at Queen’s Park in Toronto on December 3 to hear a clear and urgent message: this province is not nearly accessible and inclusive enough.

Spearheaded by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario and March of Dimes Canada, and joined by other disability organizations including the ALS Canada, Arthritis Society, Centre for Independent Living in Toronto (CILT), CNIB, Easter Seals, MS Society, Muscular Dystrophy Canada and  Ontario Brain Injury Association, the event featured a vibrant panel of speakers: MC Wendy Porch, Executive Director of CILT; Hon Raymond Cho, PC Minister of Seniors and Accessibility; MPP Joel Harden, NDP Critic, Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities; Clara McIntosh, 17-year-old autism advocate; Danielle Kane, Danforth shooting victim and accessibility advocate; MPP John Fraser, Interim Leader of Ontario Liberal Party; Abhijeet Manay, Deputy Leader of Green Party of Ontario; and David Lepofsky, law professor and accessibility advocate.

With an audience of MPPs, community members, business partners and charity volunteers and staff, the rooms in the historic Ontario Legislature building were bursting – both with the volume of guests and the energy of the conversations. Wendy Porch welcomed all as she told the story of the small group of people who gathered in a room in Queen’s Park 25 years ago and worked together to ensure people with disabilities had a voice in the province. This group developed into the AODA. “As a person with a disability myself,” said Wendy, “I believe it is critical for us service providers to make it a top priority to uncompromisingly ensure that the voice of people with disabilities from the grassroots movement is heard and heeded in the halls of government and in the community.”

 

Panelists Carla McIntosh and Danielle Kane

SCIO Board members (l-r) Joanne MacDonald, Mark Abraham and Sarah Hicks

 

The Hon Raymond Cho introduced a few of the Ministers and MPPs in the room and thanked the many organizations that came together for the event. “These groups are working hard to improve the lives of people with disabilities in Ontario,” he said. “Empowering everyone to write their own futures on their own terms.”

Danielle Kane talked about the pride she felt growing up in Canada, where she believed people are taken care of when they become sick or injured. When she was shot on the Danforth in 2018, there was a team to nurse and rehabilitate her back to health. But, she says, “Despite all the assistance I received, they did not prepare me for the world outside the rehab centre, where there is a never-ending set of challenges for someone like me.” She could not return to her basement apartment and found there was not a single wheelchair accessible apartment available in Toronto. Only through media attention and Go Fund Me donations she was able to buy a home in Oshawa, which is currently under renovation to make it fully accessible. “But not all folks living with a disability are so fortunate as to be a headline,” she said. She outlined some of the many barriers facing people with disabilities and reinforced the need to continue to push for Ontario to become more accessible.

NDP MPP Joel Harden said he knows we can do better and, as Jack Layton had taught him, not necessarily through the head, but through the heart. He acknowledged the power of stories and invited people from disability organizations to contact his office to share their stories and work together to improve inclusivity in the province “so all people can be themselves”.

Clara McIntosh, diagnosed at age 4 with autism, talked about her life-long activism. “I am part of the generation,” she says, “that wants the world in which we grow up to be part of, to be a better world. Where we can breathe the air, drink the water, and be fully included as equals.” She talked about her generation as being activists: “We are passionate, we are loud, and we are not afraid to speak our minds….We know how to get the job done.” And for that, Clara, we are all thankful!

MPP Abhijeet Manay expressed gratitude to those in the room who have worked so hard to improve accessibility in Ontario and acknowledged that current legislation “doesn’t do enough.” He identified the lack of training in accessibility for builders and architects, suggesting “housing needs to be accessible based not just on the AODA standards, but on the gap that exists between the minimums defined and what the Human Rights Code is asking for.” (To great applause!)

MPP John Fraser suggested the role of politicians is to see the world through the eyes of others, and that this event has helped do that. He shared a personal story of his father-in-law, who had come to rely on a wheelchair, and saw clearly the challenges he faced in an inaccessible environment. He believes that legislators are here to hear the voices that are most hardest to hear, and thanked the organizations present for helping raise those voices.

David Lepofsky, representing the AODA Alliance, shared warm thanks with event organizers and inspired the room with a high-energy review of the birth of the AODA, saying, “What started that day was a tenacious, unstoppable, relentless movement and it’s carrying forward with the same tenacity as it has throughout those 25 years.” He spoke about the success in getting disability consumer organizations to work together, to ‘rock the boat’ at Queen’s Park and to get political parties to make commitments to their agenda. With great respect to the activists who did so much in the past and to the younger generation taking on this critical work, David literally passed the torch, handing out home-made torches to Clara, Danielle and others to take selfies to promote greater awareness of the work ahead. The large birthday cakes were then cut amid an emotional sense of celebration, belonging and shared experience.

SCIO was thrilled to be a part of this event and, as always, part of this powerful, active community. We thank all participants and guests.

The AODA Alliance live-streamed the panel discussion on Facebook, which you can view here.

 

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