Table of contents

  1. Summary of Recent Events
  2. News Coverage
  3. Next steps
  4. Contact info

Summary of Recent Events

April and May have been busy for people around our country who are advocating for laws to remove and prevent barriers against people with disabilities. That includes great efforts by provincial coalitions that have also agreed to be affiliates of Barrier-Free Canada.

In British Columbia, Barrier Free BC held a major kick-off event for its campaign for a British Columbians with Disabilities Act, and continues to get more organizations to support its cause.

Barrier-Free Saskatchewan worked on setting up contacts with elected politicians to build support for a Saskatchewan disability Act. In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance has worked on several fronts to press the Ontario Government to beef up its implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

In Manitoba, Barrier-Free Manitoba engaged in a major collaborative effort to mount an impressive campaign during the recent provincial election in that province to raise disabilities issues, entitled “Disability Matters”. This included a focus on the implementation of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act.

All the front-line work of those provincial coalitions will serve to lay a fantastic foundation for participation later this year in the forthcoming Federal Government Consultation on the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act. There is also some grassroots work brewing in Québec that can help with this upcoming effort.

We continued to expand our social media presence; steadily increasing our Facebook and Twitter followers. Many supporters have been using social media to communicate with us and we are pleased to announce that we are now including posts in French to our Facebook page.

In the most recent news, the Federal Government’s Cabinet Minister responsible for developing the Canadians with Disabilities Act, Carla Qualtrough, reached out to seek a meeting with the co-chairs of Barrier-Free Canada. The meeting took place in Toronto on May 2, 2016. Only co-chair David Lepofsky was able to attend. It was a very positive first meeting. We shared our ideas on what the new Act should include and what we are looking for in the public consultations that the Federal Government is now preparing to conduct. We offered to do whatever we can to help the Federal Government on both the consultation process itself, and on what the law needs to do to be strong and effective. The Minister was very welcoming and receptive to receiving our input.

News Coverage

Media coverage of the Canadians with Disabilities Act is slowly expanding.

In April, Donna Jodhan was interviewed by Accessible Media Inc and by Radio Connect; the official radio station of the Royal National Institute for the Blind in England.

Below are two interesting news articles and we believe that these are further evidence for Canada to pass a Canadians with disabilities Act.

* Toronto Star Online April 25, 2016

Originally posted at

Family protests airline’s rejection of special seat for son who has cerebral palsy

Cathay Pacific had approved the seat months before but turned it away at Pearson, says mother of boy with cerebral palsy, who can’t sit up without it.

Alastair Sharp, daughter Tallula, 3, son Sebastian, 7, and wife Kara found themselves turned away from a flight to Australia at Pearson Airport last week because the airline refused to let them use Sebastian’s special seat designed to help him sit upright. Richard Lautens / Toronto Star Order this photo

By: Michael Robinson Staff Reporter, Published on Mon Apr 25 2016

Kara has a moment with Sebastian, who was anxious to get on the Cathay Pacific plane. After the standoff about the special seat, the airline arranged for an alternative flight through Air Canada.

A Toronto family’s vacation plans were temporarily grounded last week when they clashed with Cathay Pacific Airways over a special seat used by a child who has a disability.

Kara Sharp said her family faced disability discrimination twice after the Hong Kong- based airline barred her from using a specially designed seat for her 7-year- old son, Sebastian, who has cerebral palsy.

Sharp, along with her husband and two other children, had been planning to depart from Toronto’s Pearson Airport for Melbourne, Australia, on Wednesday afternoon, when they were turned away from the gate.

“We were going to see his grandparents,” she said last Thursday. “Sebastian is upset, stressed … he doesn’t want to do anything but go on the plane.”

The family has routinely used the seat for international flights before, she explained, adding Sebastian cannot sit upright without it. Sharp refused the airline’s offer to use Cathay’s in-house five-point harness instead. She argued it was designed for children much larger than her son and wouldn’t be as secure.

“Their solution was to use their own five-point harness and a pillow to prop him up while we have a $4,000 special-needs seat they had pre-approved in the first place,” she said. In an effort to avoid any last-minute issues, Sharp added she called Cathay four months prior to the trip and staff approved the seat, an orange-red seat called the Carrot 3.

In an emailed statement, the airline expressed “how sorry it was to learn of the difficulties the Sharp family faced,” but emphasized that Sebastian’s safety and comfort was their top priority.

Spokesperson Jennifer Pearson said reservation staff failed to provide Sharp with the correct information on car safety seats and posture support equipment.

“Cathay Pacific prides itself in providing our customers with a positive travel experience and clearly we failed in this particular case,” said Pearson, adding staff provided the family with hotel accommodation, meals and vouchers.

The Sharps’ struggle has sparked the ire of disability lawyer and accessibility advocate David Lepofksy, who said the clash with Cathay illustrates the need for a national transportation accessibility standard.

“Air travel in this country is not pretty for people with disabilities,” he said. “The laws on the books right now are not working. We need federal legislation with teeth to ensure barriers like these do not happen again.”

A spokesperson for Canada’s aeronautical watchdog said airlines are responsible for their own seating policies. However, the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) also requires them to “provide accommodation that considers disabled passengers’ unique needs.”

But while the CTA lays out the expectations for aircraft accessibility, whether or not a seat is safe and sound is actually up to Transport Canada.

Further, it isn’t clear if foreign carriers are required to abide by Canada’s accessibility standards or stick to those of their native country. “Canada should have a clear rule: If you want to land your plane on our property, you play by our rules,” said Lepofksy.

Lepofsky’s comments were echoed by the Ontario Federation for Cerebral Palsy, a non-profit that advocates for those living with the illness.

The group’s president, Victor Gascon, said the situation was “unacceptable” and blasted Cathay for failing to be flexible.

“Cerebral palsy is one of those disabilities where one or two cases are not alike,” he said. Airlines should consult with disability groups before drafting their accessibility policies, he said, so situations like these don’t occur in the future.

By late Thursday evening, the Sharp family finally departed Toronto to Sydney via Vancouver, albeit via Air Canada and arranged for by Cathay.

“Just got cozy for our flight,” Sharp wrote above a photo caption of Sebastian tucked into his orange-red seat. “Australia here we come!”

The family has since touched down safely in Oz, landing on the beach shortly after their arrival. As for how they will eventually make it home, Sharp said those travel plans are still up in the air depending on whether Cathay eventually decides to clear the seat for take-off.

* Ottawa Citizen May 5, 2016


Malhotra and Lieffers: Assisted dying? Let’s talk about accessible living first Doctor and patient sitting on the desk . Art gathered for future stories on doctor assisted dying and suicide

Assisted dying debate may be overshadowing other important discussions. lenetsnikolai – Fotolia

Since the Supreme Court of Canada’s “Carter” decision finding the prohibition on assisted dying to be unconstitutional, disability rights advocates have devoted considerable time and energy to debating and publicizing this multifaceted issue. Assisted dying is understandably a difficult and challenging matter for policymakers as it raises complex legal, ethical and religious questions. Finding complete consensus is likely impossible, both in society in general and within the disability community.

As we debate the issue of death, let’s not forget the ongoing matter of life with a disability in Canada. Assisted dying is an important and closely related conversation, but the current focus on this problem should not lead policymakers to forget the many other disability rights issues that create barriers for people on a daily basis. As disability rights advocates who are neutral on assisted dying, we think it is important that public dialogue on disability should not happen exclusively through the prism of this one issue.

From taxation policy, to modernizing income support programs for the 21st century, to the need for a Canadians with Disabilities Act, there are numerous initiatives that could help remove the pernicious barriers that still limit people with disabilities in employment, transportation and beyond. About 3.8 million adult Canadians reported having a disability in 2012, and many of us will become disabled over the course of our lives. Ensuring that people with disabilities are able to participate fully in society is a project that deserves our concern.

A federal Canadians with Disabilities Act could be modelled on the successful legislation enacted in 2005 in Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. By requiring the removal of barriers on a set timeline, it would fulfil the promise of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with specific, enforceable rights.

It would also be consonant with Canada’s ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. As the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living have argued, such a framework ought to include a Commissioner of Disability and Inclusion who would report directly to Parliament and recommend detailed standards in tandem with the legislation.

As proposed by advocacy organizations, a second valuable feature of a Canadians with Disabilities Act would be the creation of an Accessibility Design Centre that could serve as a clearinghouse to monitor barrier removal and enforce appropriate accessibility standards.

Finally, such legislation could also create a Full Inclusion Policy Centre that would develop best practices to remove barriers in federal government departments.

Laws do much more than lay out rules to be followed. Legal scholars Frank Munger and David Engel have demonstrated that in the United States the mere passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) empowered individuals with disabilities, even if they themselves never filed litigation. The simple existence of the law often changed the self-perception of individuals with disabilities, who gained more confidence to succeed in the workplace and in completing post-secondary education.

Some would argue that adding to the regulatory web governing businesses is counterproductive. They would suggest that in a time of economic austerity, we can simply not afford new expenses. However, a quick visit to American airports, train stations and restaurants will quickly reveal how far behind Canada is in providing accessibility for people with disabilities. Inclusion of people with disabilities – people who want to work, go to school, travel, and patronize accessible businesses – in the economy means greater productivity.

This is a challenge and a moral imperative that we cannot afford to avoid. While we’re talking about death, let’s also talk about life.

Ravi Malhotra is Associate Professor at the University of Ottawa, Faculty of Law, Common Law Section, a graduate of Harvard Law School and a member of the Human Rights Committee of the Council of Canadians with Disabilities. Caroline Lieffers is a PhD student in the history of science and medicine at Yale University and a 2015  Trudeau Scholar.

* From the Ottawa Citizen

the disabled, slowing traffic

Ottawa Citizen Editorial Board Published on: May 9, 2016 | Last Updated: May 9, 2016 7:00 AM EDT

Man sitting on a wheelchair

Time for a ‘Canadians with Disabilities’ Act?

Simone Becchetti / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Let’s do more for the disabled

Re: We need assisted living too, May 5.

Indeed we do! Ravi Malhotra and Caroline Lieffers make excellent suggestions for people with disabilities. Our neighbours to the south have had the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) since 1990 and, over 25 years, some Canadians have benefited from the ADA standards for barrier- free living, which are adopted by American international companies.

For example, American-owned hotel chains offer a minimum number of parking spaces for the handicapped, automatic-opening front doors, levered (not rounded) door handles, wide doorways for wheelchairs, and accessible rooms with support grip bars for the showers and toilets.

At Lansdowne Park, as another example, Whole Foods provides underground parking for the disabled, automatic-opening doors, large elevators and easily accessible travelling spaces in the store for electric wheelchairs and scooters. However, other new facilities at Lansdowne do not provide automatic or push-button opening doors. There do not appear to be above-ground designated parking spaces with blue and white signs. City officials issue parking tickets and fines to the disabled, although free parking for the handicapped is provided on city streets.

Universal accessibility is a human rights issue. Federal facilities have gradually improved, especially airports. The National Building Code needs strengthening and enforcement by regulators. Although the Accessibility for Ontarians Act is being slowly enacted, many other provinces do not have equivalent guidelines and requirements. At the municipal level, Ottawa, despite an accessibility policy, is allowing new construction that does not incorporate universal accessible design elements. Canada may be entering a new era of compassion, consultations, consensus-building and progressive social policies. In 2016, there might be a multi-partisan, multi-jurisdictional, multi-stakeholder development of a Canadians with Disabilities Act (CDA) and related initiatives to improve the quality of life of all. Let us hope so.

Padraig Finlay, Ottawa

Next steps

Our next steps include encouraging individuals and organizations to send feedback to us on David Lepofsky’s discussion paper on what the promised Canadians with Disabilities Act should include, and to continue our effort to ensure that the upcoming public Federal Government public consultations on this law are broad, open, accessible and inclusive.

Contact info

To contact us, please send an email to

To keep abreast of our updates visit

Visit us at
Follow us on Twitter @barrierfreeca
And like us on Facebook at


Donna Jodhan founder and co-chair
David Lepofsky co-chair,

The Barrier Free Canada – Canada sans Barrières steering committee includes Steven Christianson, Marc Workman, Jutta Treviranus.

Our five founding organizations are:
CNIB, March of Dimes, the MS Society of Canada, the Canadian Hearing Society, and Accessible Media Inc. A list of our supporting organizations is listed below along with the date on which they signed on.

April 02
Irene Lambert
(Past president, program director)
The Low Vision Self-Help Association
West Island, Montreal Quebec

June 01
Kim White, Manager of Strategic Initiatives
On behalf of Kelly White, Executive Director
The Coalition of Persons with Disabilities – NL

June 10
Penny Leclair
President, Guide Dog Users of Canada (GDUC)

June 12
Louise Gillis
National President, Canadian Council of the Blind (CCB)

June 15
Dar Wournell
National President, Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC)

June 16
Shane Holten
President, SPH Planning & Consulting Limited

June 21
The Rick Hansen Foundation

June 22
Lucio D’Intino
President, Quebec Federation of the blind

June 26
Barbara Collier Reg. CASLPO. F. ISAAC
Executive Director, Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)

July 14
Karen Bell
Manager Policy & Stakeholder Relations
Community Living Toronto

July 21
Roxanna Spruyt Rocks
Chief Executive Officer
Deaf Blind Ontario Services

July 31
Jerry Dias
Unifor National President

September 11
Teren Clarke, BN, MM (Mgmt)
Chief Executive Officer
Spinal Cord Injury Alberta

September 13
Luke Anderson
StopGap Foundation

September 15
Pat Seed
Chair Person
Citizens with Disabilities Ontario

Sep 22
Teren Clarke CEO
Spinal Cord Injury Alberta

October 1
Dave Starrett, President and CEO
Easter Seals Canada

October 25
R. E. (Rob) Sleath
Chair, ASIC

November 19
Bill Cowie
Chief, Every Canadian Counts Coalition

March 9, 2016
Québec Accessible
Melanie Benard

April 18, 2016
Michael Ciccone
Executive Director Centre for Equitable Library Access / Centre d’accès équitable aux bibliothèques

May 13
Rytch Newmiller
Accessibility Services Manager
Deaf & Hear Alberta

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