Article in the Public Sector Digest

Photo of a ramp with text "Why Organizations Need to be Proactive on Accessibility"

Photo of a ramp with text "Why Organizations Need to be Proactive on Accessibility"

This month’s edition of the Public Sector Digest features an article I wrote about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and why it is so important for both the public and private sector to embrace a culture of accessibility. You can check it out in the November print edition of the magazine or view it online with a membership here.

Do the police fall under the AODA?

Picture of a toy police car

In case you have been living under a rock for the last few days, there is this little thing called the G20 happening in Toronto this weekend and a few people have decided to head down and throw a little protest of some variety. Sarcasm aside, there are some pretty horrible things happening in Toronto right now but I wanted to draw particular attention to a man who was arrested the other day in Toronto. While this may not seem like it should warrant an entire blog post, it turns out this particular man has a hearing impairment and was not provided with a sign language interpreter by the police to explain what was happening to him. I can’t even begin to imagine the sheer horror of finding yourself in an already chaotic situation and being arrested without warning or explanation. What ever happened to that whole “free society” and “human rights” stuff we seem so happy to barf up at the developing world with our chests’ puffed out proudly?

Whether the guy is guilty or not, this story is useful for asking a very important question: as part of the public sector, don’t the police fall under the AODA? If so, aren’t they mandated to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which enforces accessibility in Ontario. One of the key elements of the recently passed Customer Service Standard is that all customers must be treated equally and provided the same level of service. It should be pointed out that all public sector services are required, by law, to comply with this standard as of January 2010. While some may interpret this differently, information coming out of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO) indicates this does include providing alternate forms of communication for people who do not converse orally. While the example generally given by staff of the ADO is the use of paper and pen at a service counter, I don’t think it’s a stretch to include something as important as the reading of “Miranda rights” (for those American readers) under the header of “things that should be available in alternate formats.”

While this is likely an extreme example, given the circumstances of the arrest, it does point to a deeper underlying problem: police in our province are not adequately trained on how to work with and/or (heaven forbid) arrest people with disabilities. While there are obvious problems with attempting to arrest someone with a physical disability (wheelchair accessible patty wagon?), this problem is perhaps even more grave when considering mental illness.  I really hope advocates in the disabled community take this opportunity to demand greater accessibility within the police service and demand better training so officers are equipped to handle this situations fairly and safely.

Anyway, for some “on the ground” reporting on the G20, I highly recommend checking out Steve Paikin (of The Agenda fame) on twitter. Pretty crazy stuff.