David Lepofsky has been at the forefront of disability rights advocacy in Ontario for decades.
The blind lawyer chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance, a non-partisan group advocating for disability and accessibility reform.
The election season is a busy time for Lepofsky, as he and his organization pursue candidates looking for promises. Every campaign period his demands have been answered, he said – until this year.
“Doug Ford is the first Conservative leader in nearly two decades, in fact the only leader of any party in nearly two decades, to refuse even to respond to a request for campaign pledges,” Lepofsky told Global News.
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The AODA Alliance recently hosted an all-party debate to discuss the needs of Ontarians with disabilities, but the PC Party did not field a candidate, the alliance said.
The latest AODA annual report released by the province reports that 2.6 million people in Ontario have a disability. He said that number is expected to increase as the population ages.
“It seems to us that the conservative war room has kind of decided that people with disabilities … just don’t matter – they don’t need to be appealed to,” Lepofsky said. “And we believe people with disabilities deserve better.”
Global News reached out to the Progressive Conservative campaign several times for comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.
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Lepofsky said he had not backed down from PC promises and urged voters to raise the issue with local candidates.
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He said that under Doug Ford and the Progressive Conservatives, Ontario had become “a more inaccessible place for people with disabilities.”
The other three parties offered various promises regarding accessibility.
The Ontario Liberals promised to increase Ontario Disability Support Program payments by 20%, while the NDP promised a 40% increase. The Conservatives promised a 5% increase after the start of the election campaign. The Greens said they were going to overtake him.
The Steven Del Duca Liberals also promised to build at least 2,500 homes with support services for people with developmental disabilities. The party said it would increase AODA inspections and appoint a stand-alone minister for disability issues.
The NDP has pledged to implement “all recommendations” from former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley, who outlined key steps to improve accessibility.
The Green Party has made several commitments in its platform, including plans to “significantly strengthen” enforcement of accessibility standards and create incentives to renovate buildings to be accessible.
The 2022 Ontario Budget, acting as a PC platform, does not once mention the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
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This is important, Lepofsky explained, because the deadline for Ontario to meet the far-reaching accessibility goals set out in the AOD Act will come in 2025. The current election is the last provincial ballot before the accessibility goals the law are deemed to have been achieved.
The legislation — which includes both private and public institutions — is designed to make Ontario accessible to people with disabilities.
“We need the next government, regardless of party, to come up with a detailed plan B, to get us as close to accessibility as possible by 2025,” Lepofsky said.
“We now know with sadness that Ontario will not be accessible on that date, due, frankly, to the mistakes of government after government on this issue. We have made progress, but we are way behind schedule.
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