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Invictus Games are an Opportunity to Advocate for Disability Rights

The Invictus Games will be a tremendous moment to celebrate our veterans and their sacrifices. The Games can also be a chance to apply pressure on our elected leadership to follow through with action on the promises they made for disability advocacy. By Adam Kassam
Fri., Aug. 18, 2017

I Am.

These two diminutive words have featured prominently in arguably one of the most patriotic advertising campaigns in this country’s history. And while Molson was able to capitalize on nationalistic pride by creating the “I am Canadian” commercials, the slogan I Am, inspired by key phrases of the Invictus poem, will carry an entirely different meaning in the coming weeks.

From Sept. 23 to 30, Toronto will play host to the Invictus Games, an initiative started by Prince Harry with his vision to create an international version of the U.S.-based Warrior Games for wounded, ill and injured military personnel and veterans. Invictus Latin for unconquerable is also the title of the poem that inspired the I Am slogan.

Interestingly, the poem was penned by William Ernest Henley, who suffered from tuberculosis and received a below-knee amputation. That Prince Harry named the Games as a subtle nod to an English poet who could relate to other amputees many of whom will be competing in the Games is quite an elegant anecdote.

Not so elegant, however, is the considerable amount of work we as a society still need to do in terms of advocacy and accessibility for those with disabilities. Canada has an opportunity to be a global leader in this area, but it needs to improve its track record of championing causes for both veterans and civilians with disabilities.

Disability, as defined by the World Health Organization, is an umbrella term covering impairments, activity limitations, and participation restrictions. An impairment is a problem in body function or structure; an activity limitation is a difficulty encountered by a person in executing a task or action; while a participation restriction is a problem experienced by an individual in involvement in life situations.

Military veterans often suffer violent injuries on the battlefield. These include physical injuries such as traumatic amputations, brain injuries and spinal cord injuries, in addition to the development of latent diseases including chronic pain and mental health disorders including depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Moreover, a study published in the Journal of Disability and Rehabilitation shows that Canadian military veterans are more than twice as likely as the rest of the population to experience a long-term disability.

Canada’s defence minister, Harjit Sajjan, recently announced the federal government’s defence policy entitled “Strong, Secure and Engaged,” which comes with a price tag of $62 billion. Most of the investment will focus on military infrastructure, however, $198.2 million or just $9.91 million a year will be invested in what is described as the Total Health and Wellness Strategy. Disappointingly, this represents less than 0.5 per cent of the entire budget. Put another way, the federal government spends more than twice on the prime minister’s personal security than it plans to spend for all military veterans’ disability-related health needs in a given year.

To its credit, Canada is one of a few nations to have a federal minister dedicated to addressing the needs of those with disabilities. However, nearly two years after being installed as Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Carla Qualtrough has yet to produce the legislation she was tasked with.

In her mandate letter from the Prime Minister, her top priority was to lead an engagement process with provinces, territories, municipalities and stakeholders that will lead to the passage of a Canadians with Disabilities Act. While the minister indicated it was too early to speculate on a timeline for this legislation, two years can seem like an eternity for those dependent on these initiatives.

Even provincially, the government has failed to keep its promise of enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This comes as Premier Kathleen Wynne recently amended the requirements of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, enacted under the disabilities act, in what critics have called “a sad game-changer for 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities.”

The Liberal government has even gone so far as to obstruct investigations by disability advocates. This does not seem like leadership “committed to building a more accessible Ontario as it is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do.”

The Invictus Games will be a tremendous moment to celebrate our veterans and their sacrifices for the freedoms we enjoy every day. It will also be a high-profile event attended by all levels of government. With municipal, provincial and federal elections around the corner, the Invictus Games can serve the function of applying pressure on our elected leadership to follow through with real action on the promises they made for disability advocacy.

Adam Kassam, MD, is a resident in the Department of Physical Medicine and rehabilitation at Western University in London, Ont.

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Legislation Would ‘Move the Needle’ on Accessibility in N.L.: Advocate

Provincial government committed to making it happen, says consultations will happen in the next year Louis Power
Published on August 16, 2017

Barrier-Free Newfoundland and Labrador is a new group whose sole purpose is to lobby for accessibility legislation.

The conversation about accessibility in our communities has been going on for decades, and it’s time for action through legislation, some advocates say.

Debbie Ryan of CNIB Newfoundland and Labrador is among the members of Barrier-Free Newfoundland and Labrador, a group whose sole purpose is to lobby for accessibility legislation. The local chapter was formed in November, after Barrier-Free Canada co-chair David Lepovsky visited St. John’s as part of consultations on federal accessibility legislation.

“David talked about civil and constitutional law. He talked about the fact that people with disabilities … live in a society that is designed as if we’re not there. And when you look at the fact that across this country, there are four million Canadians living with a disability, that’s scary,” said Ryan.

To give a little local perspective, she said there are currently 3,600 people in the province registered with CNIB and at least 20,000 more living with vision loss.

For those residents, and residents living with other disabilities, progress has been slow when it comes to knocking down accessibility barriers.

That’s what Ryan is referring to when she says the province needs to “move the needle.” She said making accessibility in public spaces law, with a timeline in mind Nova Scotia’s Accessibility Act, which aims for an accessible province by 2030, for instance would help our communities get there quicker.

“It has to be a much faster process. We need to look at what needs to be done, set timelines and meet those timelines, but that, unfortunately, has not been the case.

For example, right here in Metro St. John’s we, as an organization, have 1,100 clients that we provide services to, but there are only three accessible pedestrian signals in the City of St. John’s,” she said.

“That’s just a small example of why I feel there’s a necessity to move the whole conversation about legislation to the forefront, so that people will understand that … with legislation comes education. Because in order to implement legislation, you have to inform the people in the community of how they are to follow that legislation. So there’s automatically an education component to it.”

Not replacing Charter

Ryan said people often say legislation shouldn’t be necessary to prevent discrimination, as there’s already a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and human rights codes, to protect people who feel they’ve been victims of discrimination.

“But the Charter of Rights and the human rights code really, while it tells us you can’t discriminate, and you need to accommodate the needs of people with disabilities up to the point of undue hardship, it doesn’t have enforcement. It’s not out there ensuring that people are doing what they should be doing, so what it does is it forces people who are living with disabilities to become, as David called them, ‘accessibility cops.’ And they have to fight their own cases, and there’s something fundamentally wrong with that. People with disabilities should not have to go and fight for themselves, and oftentimes, somebody living with a disability has barriers to employment, and often don’t have the resources to take on those issues,” Ryan said.
“That’s another reason why we think we need a law that will not one that will replace human rights or the charter of rights, but one that will actually make them work. One that will get us action without us having to fight one barrier at a time, or one organization at a time.”

The Government of Canada consulted with groups and individuals around the country this year on federal accessibility legislation. But federal laws don’t cover everything, Ryan says, and provincial laws are needed to effect change in communities. She points to other provinces, likeNova Scotia, that have similar legislation in place, and says Newfoundland and Labrador doesn’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to set our own goals.

Province committed

Lisa Dempster, minister of Children, Seniors and Social Development and the province’s minister responsible for the status of persons with disabilities, said it’s her mandate to review existing laws and implement inclusion-based legislation in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Inclusion-based or broad-based accessibility legislation is a growing trend across the country. It goes beyond making our buildings accessible to making sure all aspects of our communities and private and public services are accessible to everyone,” she wrote to The Telegram.

“Our commitment to inclusion-based legislation demonstrates the seriousness and necessity of designing and providing inclusive, services, buildings, facilities, communities. It is about removing barriers and preventing new barriers.”

Dempster said the provincial government will consult with people with disabilities, organizations and municipal governments in the coming year.

“Individuals and groups are already turning their minds to what legislation could look like. The Provincial Advisory Council for the Inclusion of Persons with Disabilities has begun discussions on legislative options.”

She said the province is paying attention to what’s happening elsewhere in Canada Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Nova Scotia all have legislation in place, and others including Newfoundland and Labrador have committed to doing the same.

“Legislation in other provinces includes regulated and mandatory standards in specific areas, such as customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation, and the built environment,” Dempster wrote.

“We want to hear from people in the province, and work with community organizations and other stakeholders. We want to create inclusion-based legislation that works for this province a ‘made in Newfoundland and Labrador’ legislation, not necessarily a replica of what is happening in other provinces or federally.”

Ryan said Barrier-Free NL wants to be at the table to help guide that process. She said she knows it’s not going to be easy, and she knows it’s going to take time; there are many aspects to accessibility, from paratransport to painting sidewalks to help people with low vision. She feels setting a date, like other provinces have, will give the community time to make adjustments and help move things along.

“We need to establish a goal to work towards one that will force us to move that needle that’s been basically sitting there for far too long,” she said.
Twitter: @TelyLouis

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Toronto Couple with Service Dog Barred From Prince Edward County B&B

Prominent lawyer and accessibility advocate says that’s against the law By John Rieti and Taylor Simmons, CBC News
Posted: Aug 17, 2017

The owners of this Bloomfield, Ont. B&B say they weren’t told some of their guests were bringing a service dog until they arrived. Refusing to welcome them has resulted in a series of critical posts online.

A Toronto couple were shocked when they were forced to leave a Prince Edward County bed and breakfast that wouldn’t accept their service dog.

David Greenwood is visually-impaired and relies on Romy, his black Labrador, to get him around. “She’s basically my eyes,” he told CBC Toronto.

But when Greenwood and his wife, Jill, arrived at Sunrise Bed and Breakfast in Bloomfield, Ont., this summer, they were told its no-pet policy extends to service animals even though they showed the owners all of the proper paperwork.

“We were set aback,” said Greenwood.

“We mentioned that service animals are allowed in all public places, and they said this isn’t a public space, this is their home,” he said.

John Stenning, who runs the Sunrise along with his wife, Joan, is also upset about what transpired, although he stands by his decision.

Stenning says he wishes the couple had told him they were bringing a service dog (Greenwood says he can’t remember if he did,or not), so he could have told them months in advance and helped find them another place.

Stenning says he didn’t want to house the dog because he was worried it would leave allergens that would bother future guests of his two-room facility, noting he often hosts people with breathing issues.

The ordeal has left both Greenwood and Stenning wondering what the rules are in a situation like this.

Refusing couple violates accessibility rules, province confirms

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario said in an emailed statement that if a bed and breakfast has at least one employee, it must adhere to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which states people with disabilities must be able to bring service animals with them in areas open to the public.

Prominent accessibility lawyer David Lepofsky, who chairs the AODA Alliance, says refusing someone with a service animal also violates Ontario’s Human Rights Code, which guarantees everyone equal treatment with respect to services and facilities.

“Renting a hotel or a B&B room would seem to me to be pretty obviously a service or facility,” he said.

Stenning has hired his own lawyer, Anthony Peter Girard.

On TripAdvisor, where several online posters lashed out at Stenning for refusing a service dog, Girard wrote a post accusing them of making libelous comments.

The lawyer also suggests bed and breakfasts are private homes that have “limited accomodations for the public” and don’t have to adhere to Bill 80 of the Ontario Service Dogs Act 2016 a piece of legislation that hasn’t cleared Queen’s Park.

B&B association says its advice is to welcome service animals

Kitchener-Conestoga PC MPP Michael Harris is behind the bill. His executive assistant, Rob Willett, says the legislation is intended to get service animals into more places, not fewer, and suggested the language could be changed to specifically include places like bed and breakfasts.

Doug Frost, president of the Federation of Ontario Bed & Breakfast Accomodation, says his organization has never obtained a legal opinion about whether or not B&B operators must be prepared to welcome service animals.

“If someone requires a service dog, our general policy is the service dog should be allowed into the house,” he said.

In cases where the host can’t do that, they’re urged to help find another option.

Frost, noting many bed and breakfasts are run from family homes, suggests guests should let the host know that they’re bringing a service dog in advance and provide relevant documentation.

Lawyer blasts ‘ridiculous’ treatment of those who rely on service animals

Greenwood and his wife wound up staying at a hotel in Trenton, Ont., more than 40 kilometres away from where they wanted to be.

He says he’s not planning on launching any legal action as a result of what happened, but he hopes it will educate some other bed and breakfast owners.

“I hope that people are cognizant of the law,” he said.

He also wants the government to make the rules clear. Meanwhile, Lepofsky, accessibility advocate, says it’s time the province starts cracking down on those violating the AODA.

“The frustrating thing is this: people who use a guide dog or a service animal continue to face exclusion and discrimination all over the place,” he said.

“In the year 2017, it’s ridiculous.”

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Helping Retailers in Ontario Improve Accessibility

News provided by Retail Council of Canada
Aug 14, 2017

Retail Council of Canada launching retail-specific training Workshop and Webinar Series to make it easier for retailers to comply with Ontario’s accessibility laws.

TORONTO, Aug. 14, 2017 /CNW/ – As part of an EnAbling Change project with the Government of Ontario, Retail Council of Canada (RCC) has developed a retail-specific Workshop and Webinar series to help retailers know what they need to do to comply with legislation that aims to improve accessibility in areas that impact the daily lives of people with disabilities.

With a compliance reporting deadline of December 31, 2017, the launch of the 2017 EnAbling Change for Retailers Workshop and Webinar series could not be more timely.

“We’re very honoured to have been selected as a key partner in helping retailers in Ontario succeed at making their stores more accessible,” said Diane J. Brisebois, President and CEO of Retail Council of Canada, adding, “Shopping is such an important part of peoples’ everyday lives and removing barriers to help all people in Ontario have a better retail experience is an excellent example of how retail matters in this province.”

This year’s series will consist of a Workshop held at Retail Council of Canada’s offices in Toronto on September 29, 2017 as well as a series of five webinars. The first webinar, entitled How to Comply is on August 22, 2017. The webinars are free and open to all retailers.

View the full schedule of EnAbling Change for Retailers Workshop and Webinar series at the link below.

Along with prominent retailers, guest speakers in this series include representatives from:

  • Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
  • Ontario Human Rights Commission
  • Ministry of Municipal Affairs
  • Canadian Mental Health Association

The EnAbling Change Program is an Ontario Government initiative that provides support to non-profit organizations to help an industry or sector comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and increase accessibility in workplaces and communities.

About Retail Council of Canada

Retail is Canada’s largest employer with 2.1 million Canadians working in our industry, which annually generates over $73 billion in wages and employee benefits. Core retail sales (excluding vehicles and gasoline) were $353 billion in 2016. Retail Council of Canada (RCC) members represent more than two thirds of core retail sales in the country. RCC is a not-for-profit industry-funded association and represents small, medium and large retail business in every community across the country. As the Voice of Retail in Canada, we proudly represent more than 45,000 storefronts in all retail formats, including department, grocery, specialty, discount, independent retailers and online merchants.

SOURCE Retail Council of Canada

For further information: Branka Stavric, Senior Director, Marketing and Communications, | 416.467.3772, Retail Council of Canada,

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Port Robinson Ferry Meeting Accessibility Standards

By Laura Barton, Tribune Staff
Thursday, August 10, 2017

Port Robinson ferry service, Bridget-it, operator Trevor Neufeld stands beside the accessibility ramp on the ferry, which goes out onto the newly graded dock. He’s hoping it will encourage more people to use the service. The project began earlier this summer and was completely mid-June; it was partly funded by the St. Lawrence Seaway. Laura Barton/Welland Tribune/Postmedia Network

Recent upgrades done to the Port Robinson ferry and its docks mean it is now accessible to people with disabilities.

Manoj Dilwaria, acting chief administrative officer for the City of Thorold, said the project to upgrade the cross-canal ferry service called Bridge-it in Thorold began earlier this year and ended mid-June.

The roughly $136,000 project was funded in part by St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corp. Rankin Construction completed the work on the docks. Work done, such as installing a ramp to the boat and grading concrete docks, has brought the free ferry service up to code with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act standards.

“We were committed to providing these accessible docks and accessible ferry,” Dilwaria said, adding the city wants everyone to be able to enjoy the service connecting Bridge Street East to Bridge Street West in Thorold.

The ferry can transport up to five adults with five bikes at a time for each three-minute ride across the canal. With the new ramp attached to the boat and the graded incline on the shore, non-motorized wheelchairs are also able to get on board.

The ferry makes 30 to 40 trips a day on weekdays, transporting roughly 60 to 100 people. On weekends, the number of people can be as high as 200.

Operator Trevor Neufeld said the record so far this summer is 236 people in one day and patrons use the ferry to travel from the west to east side of the canal, or vice versa, to go cycling, to go to Port Robinson Park, to a restaurant and ice cream parlour or to the post office and corner store on the east side.

According to, the ferry originally opened in 1974 and has carried cyclists and pedestrians across the canal ever since. Dilwaria said there was a bridge across the canal, but when it was knocked down by a ship, the ferry was put in its place. It was at that time co-funded by the St. Lawrence Seaway and Thorold; Dilwaria said Niagara Region has provided funding for the ferry since last year.

Both Neufeld and Dilwaria said that more people are using the ferry this year.

New signage announcing the accessibility component and proactive promotional work done by a committee made of up residents and both municipal and regional councillors that meet monthly are factors that Dilwaria sees as having contributed to this rise in usage.

Rita Dillon, president of the Niagara Freewheelers Bicycle Touring Club, a group which used the ferry often, said the signs are a great addition. Before the updates, there weren’t any signs saying the ferry is there, so many people didn’t know about it.

She said the ferry is great for people using the Greater Niagara Circle Route because it cuts through the 140-kilometre multi-use trail and gives riders the chance to do a half go around the route if they don’t feel up to the full length of it.

The Freewheelers are having an event for the ferry this Sunday between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. to celebrate its updates. Dillon said the group will be set up at the foot of Bridge Street West, which is what Port Robinson Road turns into, with cookies and lemonade. They’re also happy to take anyone interested on a mini-tour of the area using the ferry.

She said the ferry is a unique feature of the community that they’d like to see preserved. The only way to do that is to let more people know about it and show how much it is needed, which is what they’re hoping to do with this event.

Overall, Dilwaria said the city is pleased to be able to offer the ferry service.

“The whole intent is to increase the ridership and create a pleasant experience for someone who has come from outside to travel the Niagara region,” he said.

In addition to the enhanced docks and ferry and new signs, the hours have also been extended; until the end of August the service will be available between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m. and in September and October the service will run from 9 a.m. until dusk.

When there are unexpected closures, Neufeld said posts are made to the ferry service’s Facebook page, which can be found by searching Port Robinson Ferry Boat Service in Facebook’s search bar.

Twitter: @LBartonTribune

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Helping California National Parks Become More Accessible for Visually Impaired

August 10, 2017
Lisa Shirota

Megan Conway examines media accessibility during a recent visit to Haleakala National Park.

In their continuing efforts to “audio describe the world,” researchers at the University of Hawai?i at Manoa will collaborate with Google, the American Council of the Blind (ACB), and the National Park Service to audio describe print brochures at 15 park sites throughout the state of California.

This latest phase of the UniDescription project will focus on description of the primary print brochures available in California’s national parks, distinguishing it as the first state in the country to feature such widespread accessibility for people who are visually impaired or blind. This research project’s funding, $75,000, will be shared between UH Manoa and ACB, with the National Park Service adding significant in-kind support at each of the involved sites. Google, which operates out of headquarters in Mountain View, California, was founded under a mission “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Toward that purpose, it offers various grants for accessibility-oriented initiatives and research.

More about the UniDescription Project

Philipp Jordan examines 3-D fiber-optic map at the Monocacy National Battlefield.

The UH Manoa research teamled by associate professor and principal investigator Brett Oppegaard in the School of Communications in the College of Social Sciences, and faculty members Megan Conway and Thomas Conway in the Center on Disability Studiesstarted the UniDescription project in the fall of 2014, as a way to improve and encourage better audio description. Audio description is the translation of visual media, such as photographs and maps, into acoustic media in an effort to allow the ear to hear what the eye might not be able to see. This UH team already has audio described brochures at 40 National Park Service sites, throughout the countryincluding at Yellowstone National Park, Hawai?i Volcanoes National Park and the Washington Monumentwith that description planned for release later this year. For its contribution to this phase of the project, the UH team will translate print brochures using the web tool it has created, which includes distribution through mobile apps and websites, while simultaneously studying and refining best practices in the field.

The ACBincluding Executive Director Eric Bridges, President Kim Charlson and Dan Spoone, chair of the organization’s Audio Description Projectwill be providing multiple quality-control services, including usability and site testing at each park.

The National Park Service, through the service of Michele Hartley, media accessibility coordinator at Harpers Ferry Center, has supported the UniDescription project from its inception. A long-range goal of this project is to audio-describe all of the 400-plus park sites throughout the United States.

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Doing More For People With Disabilities Is Doing More For Canadians

People with disabilities still make up a disproportionate number of professionals working in jobs that are below their skills level. 08/11/2017

Most of us take for granted the ability to easily perform daily activities or engage in social interactions. We do not wake up each morning with debilitating pain, or require the assistance of a guide dog to leave our homes. For the over 3.8 million Canadians living with a chronic health condition or health-related problem, however, performing what some might consider routine tasks can be a serious challenge.

Statistics Canada reports that as of 2012, 14 per cent of the country’s population is living with a disability. Take a moment to put a face to this number. These are our parents, our sons and daughters, our friends. As a country that takes great pride in being inclusive and kind, it is time we do more for people with disabilities.

During my time as Ontario cabinet minister, I had the distinct pleasure of consulting with both disability groups and business owners to author the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In June of 2005, Ontario became a world leader in accessibility when the legislation came into law. Business owners were informed that they had 20 years to take the appropriate measures to make their businesses accessible. More importantly, people with disabilities were shown that they are valued members of society. Twelve years later and more than halfway towards the 2025 deadline of making Ontario accessible, how are we doing?

People with disabilities still make up a disproportionate number of professionals working in jobs that are below their skills level. This is called mal-employment. Moreover, the Canadian Survey on Disability reports that the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Ontario is 16 per cent. Hoping to improve these numbers, Ontario just unveiled a strategy called Access Talent which asks employers with more than 20 staff members to hire at least one person with a disability.

Meanwhile, DiverseCity onBoard is helping place qualified candidates from underrepresented groups on the boards of governance of Canada’s not-for-profit organizations. The program recently became AODA compliant. In my opinion, serving on a board is an invaluable opportunity to ladder one’s leadership skills.

“Why wait to do the right thing?

During the time I was consulting for the AODA, there was one interaction in particular that really resonated with me. Following a meeting, a senior executive approached me to confess, “Minister as a businessman, you are scaring me. But as a father of a girl with a disability, you are not moving fast enough.” His words really pulled at my heartstrings. Making our businesses accessible is not only the smart thing to do, it is the right thing. We are all affected by disability.

Carla Qualtrough, Federal Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, is currently working to develop national accessibility legislation. Visually impaired since birth, Minister Qualtrough travelled the country earlier this year consulting Canadians on accessibility. Her goal is to have legislation ready to present in the House of Commons next spring. I have a great deal of admiration for the minister and the progress she has made.

I recently visited the offices of The Ability Project at NYU where they support research and innovative projects that make use of technology to create services and products for people with disabilities. Back in Canada, Mayan Ziv used crowdsourcing to fund the development of an app called Access Now. Incubated at Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, the app helps people with disabilities identify local accessible businesses. And Canada’s favourite coffee chain, Tim Horton’s, has shown their commitment to accessibility by supporting multiple initiatives such as the eSSENTIAL Accessibility tool for their website.

Of course, change will not happen overnight. There is still a lot of work to be done. Activism needs to continue, and compliance with the law needs to be enforced. However, what business owners sometimes do not consider is that people with disabilities are a potential revenue source. Money spent on renovations or development would be paid back tenfold if these clientele are treated equally and with respect. They will be loyal customers for life. So why wait to do the right thing?

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Court Report Confirms Dismal State of Sidewalks for Disabled New Yorkers

New York, NYAugust 10, 2017

Special Master Robert L. Burgdorf, Jr., one of the nation’s leading experts on disability rights, issued a 285 page report finding that it could take another 20 years or more to bring New York City street corners into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, if a proposed class settlement is upheld.
Concluding that such a result would be “unconscionable,” Special Master Burgdorf recommended that the New York federal judge presiding over the suit reject the intended class settlement as not being fair, reasonable or adequate for people with disabilities.

The report stems from a lawsuit filed by Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association (EPVA) against the City in 1994 and settled in 2002 to address sidewalk and pedestrian ramp accessibility. Confirming the disability community’s ongoing complaints, the detailed report states that 27 years after passage of the ADA and 15 years after settlement was reached in the EPVA suit, 80% of curb cuts are not ADA compliant. The City’s data reveals that 75% of curb cuts have defects related to slope, width, etc., and 25% have no detectible warning tiles used primarily by people who are blind. The parties entered a new agreement in 2016 to address the continued state of non-compliance and disrepair across the five boroughs.

Believing the new agreement, like the old agreement, to be highly deficient and ineffective, a broad coalition of disability rights organizations, strenuously objected to approval of the settlement. The objecting organizations include Center for Independence of the Disabled New York, Brooklyn Center for Independence of the Disabled, Bronx Independent Living Services, Harlem Independent Living Center, Disabled In Action of Metropolitan New York, American Council of the Blind, American Council of the Blind of New York, and United for Equal Access. The coalition is represented by Disability Rights Advocates and Cravath Swaine & Moore LLP.

“People with disabilities have already been forced to deal with decades of unequal access to New York City sidewalks,” said Michelle Caiola, Director of Litigation at Disability Rights Advocates. “The Special Master’s report calls the City out for this ongoing discrimination and recognizes that lip service does not yield results.”

“We applaud the Special Master for a very thorough report,” said Sid Wolinsky, Co-Founder and Supervising Attorney at Disability Rights Advocates. “We also applaud the work of the Objector organizations as without their dedication and perseverance the City’s massive failure to comply with federal law requiring sidewalk accessibility would not have come to light.”

“People with disabilities put their lives at risk on the sidewalks every day,” said Susan Dooha, Executive Director of Center for Independence of the Disabled New York. “When there are no ramps, or the ramps are defective, we are denied access to community life in New York City. We expect that this report will lead the City to take swift action to protect our rights.”

The report provides 12 recommendations that are necessary to ensure a fair settlement and provide equal access to sidewalks and curb cuts in New York City, including the following:

  • The City should complete a comprehensive survey of all pedestrian crossings for ADA compliance within 90 days.
  • The City should develop a detailed plan for installing ADA-compliant pedestrian ramps at all corners within the next 5 years and bringing all non-compliant ramps into compliance within the next 8 years.
  • The settlement should require the court to appoint a monitor to ensure that the City is making progress toward installing and upgrading curb ramps.

The report can be found at the link below.

About Disability Rights Advocates (DRA)

Disability Rights Advocates is the leading national nonprofit disability rights legal center. With offices in Berkeley and New York City, DRA’s mission is to advance equal rights and opportunities for people with all types of disabilities nationwide. In recent years, DRA has brought successful suits in the City of New York, challenging the exclusion of people with disabilities from taxis, polling sites, and emergency preparedness plans. For more information, visit

About Center for Independence of the Disabled, New York


The Center for Independence of the Disabled in New York is a leading advocate for people with disabilities in New York City. It was founded in 1978 to ensure full integration, independence and equal opportunity for all people with disabilities by removing barriers to the social, economic, cultural and civic life of the community. In 2016, CIDNY served nearly 23,000 New Yorkers. For more information, visit


Michelle Caiola, DRA Director of Litigation Disability Rights Advocates (212) 664-8644,

Jess Powers, CIDNY Director of Communications
(646) 428-4481,

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Tune in Online to the August 22, 2017 Conference on What the Promised National Accessibility Law Should Include

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Twitter: @aodaalliance

August 11, 2017


What should be included in Canada’s forthcoming national accessibility law that the Federal Government promised to enact? Here is a great way to hear from policy experts on accessibility legislation from Canada and around the world.

On Tuesday, August 22, 2017 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. EDT, plan to settle in at your computer, tablet or smart phone to watch a three-hour online conference on this topic. It will be streamed live over the internet and then archived for anyone to watch in the future.

The conference is being convened by the Alliance for an Inclusive Accessible Canada, a coalition of 12 national disability organizations. The AODA Alliance supports the work of that coalition. We know it may at times be hard to keep all these “alliances” straight!

This August 22 conference will be chaired by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. The link to watch the conference is

The Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada has announced that ASL and CART services will be provided. Check the website of the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada for instructions on how to get those services, which is at:

Disability Expert Conference

It is wonderful that attending the conference in person will be the federal cabinet minister who is leading the development of the promised national accessibility law, Carla Qualtrough, Canada’s Minister for People with Disabilities. She will get to hear first-hand from the experts, brought together via the internet from around the world.

Below we set out a news release from the alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada, giving you more details. We also set out an excerpt from the web page that gives more details about the conference, including a list of the speakers.

Please spread the word about this event. Encourage others to login and take part. If you are part of a community organization, please publicize this conference via your organization’s website, email and social media.

This conference will of course be helpful to Members of Parliament, public servants and members of the public, as the Federal Government works towards introducing a bill into Parliament. It aims to also be helpful to any provincial government that is considering enacting or strengthening a provincial accessibility law or its implementation. The conference’s benefits will spread beyond Canada’s borders. Any other country that is considering enacting accessibility legislation can learn from the experts that will come together at this conference.


News Release by the Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada

For immediate release

Alliance for An Inclusive and Accessible Canada convenes world disability experts in first-ever online conference: What should Canada’s promised national accessibility law include?

Toronto, August 10, 2017 The Alliance for An Inclusive and Accessible Canada will convene the first-ever online disability expert conference, What should Canada’s promised national accessibility law Include? Tuesday, August 22, from 10:00 a.m. to 1 p.m., EDT, at OCAD University.

Lawyer, disability rights advocate and community organizer, David Lepofsky, who is also a visiting professor at the Osgoode Hall Law School, will chair the three-hour forum, which will be live-streamed and available as an archived recording.

“This extraordinary conference brings together experts from around the world to share cutting edge ideas on how to design a strong and effective national accessibility law for over four million people with disabilities in Canada,” says Lepofsky. “I’ll probe the experts with tough questions so we can all learn from what others did right, and how to improve on mistakes learned elsewhere.”

“We are delighted and honoured that Canada’s first Minister Responsible for People with Disabilities, the Honourable Carla Qualtrough, has agreed to attend to hear from the amazing array of experts speaking to us from Canada, the U.S., Israel, and Switzerland,” added Lepofsky.

A full list of speakers and how to watch the live stream is available at

During the 2015 federal election, Justin Trudeau’s Liberals promised to enact a national accessibility law to remove the many accessibility barriers that prevent Canadians living with disabilities from fully benefiting from federal employment opportunities, air travel, telecommunication services, banking and federal government services, and other programs and services. The Liberal promise was in response to grassroots activism of Canada’s disability community.

The media is invited to cover this ground-breaking event and the public is invited to join on August 22 by accessing the live stream at: Questions for panel members can be submitted ahead of time by emailing

The Alliance for An Inclusive and Accessible Canada is made up of 12 member organizations and four partner organizations from Canada’s disability community. For more information about the Alliance, visit:

This project is funded by the Government of Canada’s Social Development Partnerships Program Disability Component.


Media contact:
Dave Carragher
Communications and Project Manager Assistant, Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada
Tel: 343-291-1117

Web Page Announcement of the August 22, 2017 Online Experts Conference

Originally posted at

What Should Canada’s Promised National Accessibility Law Include? Cutting-edge Ideas from Experts from Around the World

The Alliance for an Accessible and Inclusive Canada is proud to be hosting our pioneering conference, called “What Should Canada’s Promised National Accessibility Law Include? Cutting-edge Ideas from Experts from Around the World”.

Hosted by David Lepofsky, the event will be live streamed on August 22nd, 2017 from the Ontario College of Arts and Design in Toronto, ON from 10:00 am-1:00pm ET. Watch the live stream on The Alliance for an Inclusive and Accessible Canada’s YouTube channel and see below for the full list of speakers.

The session will bring experts in the field of disability from around the world into one conference to discuss what other countries have learned while going through the process of creating accessibility legislation. This conference lends the opportunity to learn some innovative ideas for creating a strong and effective Canadian accessibility law.

**ASL and CART services will be provided on the live stream.**


* Minister Qualtrough, Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities (Delta MP)
* Hosted by David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
* Zvia Admon, lawyer and consultant on disability and accessibility legislation
* Charles Beer, led the first legislated independent review of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
* Bila Berg, State of Israel, Minister of Justice
* Dr. Jerome Bickenbach, author on defining disability for public policy purposes
* Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, authored and oversaw the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)
* David Capozzi, Executive Director of the U.S. Access Board
* Lucy Grecco, Web Accessibility Evangelist, University of California, Berkeley
* Jennifer Howard, former Manitoba Provincial Minster led the enactment of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act
* Thea Kurdi, expert in built environment accessibility requirements
* Mayo Moran, Independent Reviewer for the 2013 Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
* Valérie Picher, former Chief of Staff to Minister of Community and Social Services during the enactment of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation
* John Wodatch, created and led the Department of Justice’s section in charge of enforcing the ADA

On August 22nd at 10:00 am ET, visit The Alliance’s YouTube Channel to watch the live stream. Click on the logo below to be redirected to The Alliance YouTube channel.

Photo Credit: Yutta Fricke

Take The Survey Now

More Backround Resources from the AODA Alliance

To read the Federal Government’s report on its public consultation on promised federal accessibility legislation, visit

To read the Federal Government’s summer 2016 Discussion Guide for this consultation, released last summer, visit

To read the Discussion Paper on what the Canadians with Disabilities Act should include, which AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky made public in August, 2016, visit

We encourage you to forward this Update to your Member of Parliament in Ottawa. Urge them to ensure that the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act will address the issues in this analysis, and not just those conclusions in the Federal Government’s consultation report.

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at

Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to:

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.

Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign.

Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates:

Follow us on Twitter. Get others to follow us. And please re-tweet our tweets!! @AODAAlliance

Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting

Americans with Disabilities Act: An Epic Tragedy of Good Intentions

By Mark Pulliam
Jul. 27, 2017

This column first appeared July 27 on Library of Law and Liberty.

Looking back at the Americans with Disabilities Act, passed by Congress in 1990[1], one has to be struck by the extent to which the ADA’s lofty sentiments have been overwhelmed by its adverse results. If it’s true that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the ADA is a veritable Autobahn of wishful thinking gone awry. Yet no one seems inclined to reroute the ill-fated traffic; some states are even widening the highway with additional lanes.

As I explained in a recent article for City Journal (“The ADA Litigation Monster,” Spring 2017), the statute has producedand continues to producemany unintended consequences. In the area of employment (covered by its Title I), the ADA has spawned a large and growing caseload of “discrimination charges” at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Each and every year, more than 26,000 disability complaints are filed with the EEOC, accounting for about 30 percent of its entire administrative caseload. Disability complaints are now as common as sex-discrimination claims, with over 400,000 having been filed with the EEOC since 1990the vast majority of which the commission has determined to be meritless.

But this doesn’t deter the filing of Title I lawsuits in federal court. Most are unmeritorious, but all are expensive to defend, difficult to dispose of before trial, and governed by vague and often nonsensical definitions of what constitutes a “disability” and what “accommodation” is required. Due to these factors, and especially because of the ADA’s one-sided award of attorneys’ fees (plaintiffs recover them if they prevail but employers do not), most Title I cases settle out of court.

Employers pay to make them go away. It is not a pretty picture.

In 1997, Walter Olson wrote an outstanding book on the subject, The Excuse Factory: How Employment Law is Paralyzing the American Workplace. Here’s a policy tip: Always make the recovery of attorneys’ fees reciprocal, meaning that whoever loses foots the bill.

It is hard to believe, but the physical “accessibility” provisions of the ADA, set forth in Title III, and applicable to virtually every business and public entity in America, are even worse. Title I at least has a 15-employee threshold. Title III has none, hence by some estimates, six million privately-owned businessesmost of them small businessesare covered. Under Title I, a EEOC charge has to be filed as a prerequisite for litigation. Not so with Title III. Title I applies to employment, and in the employment context, an ADA plaintiff has to have been an employee who requested but was denied accommodation. Under Title III, anyone can file an accessibility lawsuit. Title III plaintiffs are not required to make any prior demand or notice to a business before filing suit. Indeed, a Title III plaintiff doesn’t even have to have been a customer or patron of the business being sued.

Another truism comes to mind here, from the movie Field of Dreams: “If you build it, they will come.” In enacting Title III, Congress apparently felt that abusive litigation wouldn’t be a problem, because damages are not recoverable in accessibility lawsuits. But “costs” and “attorneys’ fees” are. Lawyers respond to monetary incentives with the alacrity of sharks smelling blood in the water. Because Title III is a “strict liability” lawif the business is noncompliant, the plaintiff wins regardless of the defendant’s intent or even knowledgeaccessibility lawyers can file (or threaten to file) “cookie cutter” lawsuits against small businesses that are not in total compliance with the ADA’s voluminous regulations, called the “Technical Assistance Manual.” Imagine a building code or design standards drafted by the Internal Revenue Service. Few small businessesespecially mom and pop businessesare in full compliance, making them sitting ducks for extortionate lawsuits by enterprising plaintiffs’ lawyers.

A small number of lawyers account for the bulk of Title III litigation, sometimes filing thousands of lawsuits apiece. They are not the most savory characters you will ever meet, falling somewhere between urban “squeegee boys” and patent trolls in the hustlers’ hierarchy. Some of the most prolific litigants have been disbarred, deported, or banned from filing further lawsuits, but as soon as one disappears, another lawsuit “mill” pops up to take his place, in Whack-A-Mole fashion. Even though the recovery from each lawsuit is only a few thousand dollars, predatory “drive-by” litigation can be lucrative if done on a volume basis. And the volume of this cottage industry has doubled in the past six years.

Title III litigation is concentrated in statessuch as California, Florida, and New Yorkthat allow recovery of monetary damages for ADA violations in addition to costs and attorneys’ fees. For example, California’s Unruh Act provides for the trebling of actual damages, with a minimum recovery of $4,000 (reduced to $1,000 in certain cases under reforms passed in 2012). As one might expect, the volume of ADA litigation is heavier in California than any other state, accounting by some estimates for 42 percent of all such lawsuits nationwide. Here’s another policy tip: Don’t make a bad law worse by incentivizing predatory litigation.

Lawsuit abuse under Title III has been widely reported in local and national media, and is universally criticized, but Congress has taken no action to reform the ADA. The “disability lobby” is too powerful. Not only that, the plaintiffs’ bar has an amazing ability to adapt to technological change. Tired of trolling strip malls for noncompliant parking lots and restrooms, lawsuit mills have targeted the digital economy. Twenty-seven years after passage of the ADA, websites and cyber-commerce are the new frontier of disability litigation, which is ironic because the ADA doesn’t even mention websites, and was enacted before they existed. Now, the disabled who use computers contend that websites fail to accommodate them by neglecting to provide adequate “assistive technology.” (I discussed this phenomenon recently in the L.A. Times).

Supposedly if a company’s “brick and mortar” operations open to the public are subject to the ADA, its website should be, too. There are a few problems with this logic. Some businesses operate only through a website and have no “brick and mortar” counterpart that could fairly be deemed a “public accommodation.” In some cases, judges have said, “Tough luck. If you do business with the public in any fashion, you are covered by the ADA.”

The overriding problem is that, unlike the U.S. Department of Justice’s detailed accessibility standards for physical establishments, there are no official standards for what makes a website sufficiently accessible. No mattercourts are entertaining lawsuits despite the lack of any formal rules for determining a violation. Even mobile applications are subject to the risk of litigation.

Unlike the Title III lawsuits against small retail businesses, the web-accessibility litigation is sometimes brought as a class action, creating significant legal risk to corporate defendants and imposing enormous legal costs. Predictably, class actions usually settle out of court, often for large sums.

Web-access litigation, usually brought by visually impaired or deaf consumers, is gaining speed. Many cases have been filed (or threatened) and settled, but apparently only one has actually gone to trial, in Miami, Florida against the supermarket chain Winn-Dixie. The company lost. The court rejected its claim that failure to provide screen-reader software so that blind customers could use its website was not a violation because the plaintiff was not denied physical access to the stores. Winn-Dixie reportedly plans to appeal.

Granted, there are informal industry guidelines for web access (really “best practices”), but they are not definitive and have not been adopted by the federal government. “Accessibility” can be very expensiveupwards of $50,000 to make a website compliant under the informal standards. The Department of Justice is not expected to issue web-access regulations until 2018. In the meantime, millions of commercial websites face the potential for litigation without clear regulatory guidancethe worst of both worlds. Cyber commerce represents a huge segment of the U.S. economy. Exposing businesses to potentially ruinous litigation in the absence of specific rules is an affront to the rule of law.

Here’s a final policy tip: Regulatory enforcement mechanisms depending entirely on private litigationmercenary lawsuitsare a bad idea. Trained governmental personnel provide more consistency and fairness, and are subject to greater political oversight.

This essay is adapted from a speech delivered on July 20, 2017 to the American Legislative Exchange Council’s Civil Justice Task Force at ALEC’s national meeting in Denver, Colorado.

Original at