Priorities for millions of Canadians with disabilities 'left out' of election campaign, say advocates

·3 min read
An accessibility access point for a building through a parking garage in downtown Vancouver. It is behind a locked gate and has a grate that is difficult to cross with a wheelchair.  (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)
An accessibility access point for a building through a parking garage in downtown Vancouver. It is behind a locked gate and has a grate that is difficult to cross with a wheelchair. (David Horemans/CBC - image credit)

One of Canada's leading advocates for Canadians with disabilities says they are heading into election day on Monday with little confidence that their needs are a priority — and few firm promises from federal parties.

David Lepofsky, who is blind, is the chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance, or AODA Alliance.

His group, which is non-partisan, sent each party a letter in early August requesting they make 12 specific commitments related to accessibility.

The requests range from making sure voting is fully accessible to promising not to spend public money on projects that perpetuate or create new barriers.

As of Friday, with the election now three days away, only one major party has come on board.

"The NDP made many, if not most, of our commitments. As for the other parties, we got a response from the Trudeau campaign merely acknowledging receipt of our letter," said Lepofsky.

The Conservatives, he said, did not respond to the group at all.

"It's enormously frustrating, unfair and troubling that disability issues in this election have yet again been given short shrift," said Lepofsky.

"Six million people with disabilities and their families and loved ones get left out."

Concern about lack of follow-through

The AODA Alliance is far from the only voice expressing disappointment with how little focus has gone to accessibility issues since campaigning began.

A recent Angus Reid study found that 67 per cent of Canadians with disabilities thought that their needs had not received enough attention during the election.

Other groups, such as the Accessible Housing Network, have also tried to put the issue on the agenda, calling on all parties to require that "all new and refurbished housing be 100 per cent accessible" to increase the dignity, freedom, wellbeing and social inclusion of people with disabilities.

Luke Anderson, who serves as executive director of the Stopgap Foundation, told CBC Toronto he's had to "go digging pretty deep" to find any mention of disability in the party platforms.

Luke Anderson
Luke Anderson

Even after reading what the parties have to say, he has little faith that what's being promised will actually happen.

"I'm scared that their platforms on accessibility and disability aren't going to be enforced and followed through on."

Legislative failures

One area that both Lepofsky and Anderson say badly needs work is the Accessible Canada Act (ACA), passed back in 2019.

The act's stated purpose was to "identify, remove and prevent" accessibility barriers in areas that fall under federal jurisdiction — but Lepofsky says that in practice, implementation has been weak, and the rules are unclear.

"For example, this law does not require that when the federal government gives out billions for infrastructure projects that it ensures that those projects will be accessible to people with disabilities," he said.

His group would like to see the act significantly strengthened, with loopholes closed, clear timelines for organizations to fall in line, and consequences for failing to do so.

Tina Mackenzie/CBC
Tina Mackenzie/CBC

The AODA Alliance would also like to see improvements to the National Building Code, which it says "falls short of the accessibility requirements in the Charter of Rights, applicable human rights codes and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities."

The CBC asked the three major parties to share details on their platforms when it comes to accessibility.

In a statement, the Conservatives said they plan to "boost the Enabling Accessibility Fund by $80 million per year, double the Disability Supplement in the Canada Workers Benefit from $713 to $1,500, [and] overhaul the complex array of disability supports and benefits," among other steps.

The Conservatives did not address their lack of response to Lepofsky's group.

The Liberals touted the passing of the Accessible Canada Act and told CBC Toronto that they "are the only party with a comprehensive plan for persons with disabilities this election — one that includes the implementation of a Canada Disability Benefit modelled after the GIS, and the creation of the Disability Employment Strategy."

According to a party spokesperson, they could find no record of the AODA Alliance's letter.

The NDP did not respond to a request for further comments.

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