Deserting the disabled

By cutting down on accessibility compliance inspections, Ontario's goverment is failing its disabled populace

Imagine wanting to shop in a trendy little boutique in Pape Village — but just getting through the door is a struggle. Or wanting to eat at a restaurant along the Danforth that you’ve heard good things about — but the dog who you need to help you navigate isn’t welcome. These are scenarios that the disabled people of our province face all the time… and there isn’t enough being done about it.

Ontario is home to 1.8 million disabled people, and this abstract number represents a community that is currently being neglected.

Picture this: There are 53,000 businesses that employ more than 20 people at one time in Ontario right now. In accordance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and official legislation, these establishments are required to file reports about how they train staff to accommodate disabled customers, and how their facilities correspond to the needs of consumers with disabilities.

Seems straightforward, right? Apparently not. The latest figures show that not only have almost 60 per cent of these businesses not filed their reports for 2014, but that 65 per cent of them haven’t even filed their reports for the year 2012. This is an absolutely appalling reality, not to mention a violation of the AODA on an ominously grand scale.

But instead of combating this with stricter measures and turning on the proverbial heat, it appears that the government has decided to diminish the rules and their enforcement. In fact, Brad Duguid, the economic development minister, has affirmed that this year, provincial officials will be conducting 1,200 “compliance activities” — a number that is significantly lower than the 2,000 checks conducted last year and the 1,900 the year before that.

This seems like a hugely uncaring gesture toward the community’s disabled. It doesn’t take much to understand that establishments are and have been getting away with not doing their rightful duty toward their fellow citizens. And by scaling back on the regulations, the government is pouring fuel all over an already-flaming fire.

We are failing a significant number of Ontario’s residents, and the authorities in charge either don’t understand that failing or don’t care. Either way, we are on the way to becoming a less feeling society, and we need to reverse course. The inexcusable figures of the rampant violations thus far should be a wake-up call for our officials to come down harder on establishments than ever before, and fight for our disabled.

That power-door needs to work. And the service dog needs to be let in. Because if accessibility isn’t for all, then we should all be for accessibility.