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Breaking Down Education Barriers - Building Opportunities for Toronto's Students

Pictured to the right: Public School Trustee, Gord Crann, Steve Mastoras, Managing Director of Whistler's, and Warren of Warren's World.

Note: This survey is of candidates' awareness of disability issues accessibility to Toronto's public schools. March of Dimes and Warren's World in no way endorse any candidate in any election. We wish to recognize and acknowledge the commitment to accessibility of all candidates who responded. We further wish to recognize the suggestion on the part of Gord Crann to embark on this specific survey in the first place. Such acknowledgement in no way implies any form of endorsement, but recognition of a constructive, non-partisan way of advacning the issues.

Media Release
For Immediate Release

November 2, 2006

Breaking Down Education Barriers – Building Opportunities for Toronto’s Students

Did you know that School Trustees have both the authority and duty to ensure full accessibility for students with disabilities in our public schools? But how many candidates are aware of this responsibility?

Toronto - Join Us at Whistler’s Café-Bar & Grille, Monday November 6, 2006, at 11:00 am to hear the results of Toronto’s first study on accessibility, inclusion and breaking down barriers for students with disabilities, and the commitments of Toronto’s 97 candidates running for the Toronto District School Board.

During October 2006, Warren’s World (a March of Dimes Advocacy Project, found at ( HYPERLINK "http://www.warrensworld.ca" www.warrensworld.ca) surveyed the opinions, knowledge and commitments of each of the 97 registered candidates running for the Toronto District School board on issues of inclusion, accessibility and breaking down barriers for students with disabilities.

This is part of a process of promoting accessibility and determining if candidates will commit to achieving barrier-free schools. March of Dimes and Warren’s World emphasize accessibility for people with physical disabilities.

“Toronto District School Trustees hold a key position in creating barrier-free learning spaces and opportunities for students with disabilities,” said Warren Rupnarain of Warren’s World. “They can and should do something to break down the barriers and build opportunities for all students in Toronto. But, according to our survey, very, very few of these candidates fully understand this responsibility or demonstrate much creativity in breaking downs the barriers that exist.”

Warren Rupnarain and Neil Prime-Coote of Warren’s World will speak about the importance of breaking down barriers.
Steven Christianson, March of Dimes Manager of Government Relations & Advocacy, will outline the details and results of the study.
Gord Crann, Candidate for School Trustee in Toronto-Danforth (Ward 15), will brief attendees on his commitment to breaking down barriers and how he inspired the March of Dimes group to initiate the study in the first place.
Steve Mastoras, Managing Director of Whistler’s, will talk about the need for partnership with Toronto’s business leaders in finding practical solutions to making all of Toronto’s public schools fully accessible and inclusive to all students.

Where: Whistler’s Café-Bar & Grille
995 Broadview Avenue, Toronto, ON M4K 2S1
When: Monday November 6, 2006 - 11:00 am
Contact: Steven Christianson
Manager, Government Relations & Advocacy - March of Dimes
416-425-3463, ext. 7326 HYPERLINK "mailto:schristianson@dimes.on.ca" schristianson@dimes.on.ca


Roughly 75% of all registered candidates for Toronto School Trustee completed the 10-minute survey. One quarter did not respond.

More than half – 55% -- of the incumbent Trustees on the TDSB did not respond.

Two-thirds of all candidates who responded stated that they did not have a campaign position or commitment, in either their literature or on their websites, to achieving barrier-free accessibility in Toronto’s schools. Ten percent of respondents said that issues surrounding access for students with disabilities would now be part of their campaigns as a result of the March of Dimes survey.

15% of Toronto’s candidates running for School Board said accommodating students with disabilities is “not really” a top priority.

Solidly half of Toronto’s candidates stated that they feel the Toronto District School Board is not doing enough to accommodate students, staff and teachers with disabilities.

When asked if they would earmark a designated Accessibility Budget to upgrade, improve and remove barriers in schools, all candidates said they would do so, with 30% describing such a move as a great idea, if accompanied by the necessary, authorized funding.

In one question, we informed candidates that there are public schools in Toronto that, due to stairs or other physical barriers, do not facilitate entry for a wheelchair user. In offering their opinions on immediate solutions, not one candidate suggested working with local businesses or other agencies to immediately remove and prevent barriers.

The Commitment of Toronto’s School Trustees
A Duty to Accommodate in the 2006 Municipal Election

This year’s Toronto municipal election features a plethora of candidates running for offices ranging from Mayor and Councillor to School Trustee and Catholic Trustee.

As with any election, there is an equally abundant plethora of interest groups and advocacy movements pressing candidates on their commitments, campaign promises and their stand on the various issues.

Warren’s World, a March of Dimes Advocacy Project, has over the last year become well known in the advocacy and election landscape. This unique initiative features the drive and passion of Warren Rupnarain, a 23-year old who uses a motorized wheelchair due to cerebral palsy. His work at March of Dimes focuses on raising awareness of the important contributions that people with disabilities can make. His message focuses on getting commitments from people to remove barriers to the full inclusion of people with disabilities in all aspects of life.

The March of Dimes’ team in Warren’s World surveyed the candidates running for each of the 22 wards for the Toronto District School Board. A total of 97 individuals are registered. The Toronto District School Board is the largest in Canada and the fourth largest in North America.

The position of School Trustee is perhaps one of the most underappreciated in municipal politics, but, when it comes to the inclusion of students with disabilities, School Trustees are among the key decision makers. There are still many schools in Toronto that are inaccessible. This is primarily due to age and the time when the school was constructed. But the bottom line is, an individual like Warren cannot enter the building.

What do the candidates think about this? What do they plan to do about it, if anything at all? How committed are they to breaking down barriers and achieving opportunities for full inclusion?

The Ontario Human Rights Code states the following:
Every person has a right to equal treatment with respect to services, goods and facilities, without discrimination because of race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status or handicap

The Code continues by outlining this right:
You have the right to be free from discrimination when you receive goods or services, or use facilities. This right applies to:
schools, universities and colleges;
public places, amenities and utilities such as recreation centres, public washrooms, malls and parks;
services and programs provided by municipal and provincial governments, including social assistance and benefits, and public transit;

Furthermore, provincial legislation, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, requires schools and school boards to annually prepare Accessibility Plans that identify barriers and outline an action plan to remove and prevent barriers to the inclusion and participation of people with disabilities.

What the Candidates Said:

Barriers can be physical, social, systemic but all have to be eliminated. We all have a responsibility to act where we can and not leave it to others or for later. Discrimination hurts us all.

The trustees must advocate for the school system not act as "budget cutters" for the provincial government. I believe it is time to take a strong stand. Our children need more not less. The future of our society is at stake.

While this is important to me and my community, it is not on my literature because it is not an election issue. It would be your responsibility to make it one.

Every person regardless of his/per status in society, has the right to have access to education. Therefore, the school board must ensure that there should be no barriers for any persons of mental or physical disabilities to have access to a good education. Teachers with physical disabilities must have access to the school so he/she can be able to perform his/her duties as teacher.

I did not see the need to high-light the issue since I believed it was school board policy. However, I observed at the all candidates meeting held in Thorncliffe Public School that one of the councillor candidates was prevented access to the stage because there was no provision for accessibility. It is essential that all of the schools provide barrier-free accessibility from the outside and also inside the school.

"Once monies have been allocated for that particular purpose, there's no reason to commit myself on its implementation to schools under my care".

Accessibility is an issue that I believe has been only marginally responded to by all levels of government. Most probably because of concerns of potential costs. My view is that a society is only one that is truly just if each member of that society has access to public education, healthcare, public institutions and to follow their dreams. I also believe that there should be legislation enacted to see new private buildings, along with public ones, be accessible to all. I will continue to fight for these values and this cause at the Toronto District School Board and will raise my efforts even more there if re-elected as trustee.

I really am very strongly committed to issues of ability and access. I think students with disabilities are among the most vulnerable in the system and accommodations must be made for those students and supports provided to their families

I feel strongly that accessibility is an important issue and that barriers should not exist for students, staff and teachers with disabilities. As a member of the Ontarians With Disabilities Act (ODA)Committee, I have been advocating for the rights of people with disabilities for more than a decade.

This survey made me more aware about the barrier-free issues that our students are facing in our schools.

I will be your voice in council to make sure the educational programs in our community and school system will remain in place to ensure that each child has the opportunity to realize his or her self-worth and potential to embrace and conquer the challenges life has to offer.

The Province has taken this out of the Board's hands with the funding formula and budget cuts.

Primary Questions and Results (aggregate data, excluding comments and open-ended questions)

What are your top three issues in your School District?
Equal Access to Education for students with any form of disability
Funding formulas with the provincial government
Safety in schools

Do you currently have a position or commitment in your campaign literature or website to achieve full, barrier-free accessibility in Toronto’s public schools?
NO 63.6%
YES 36.4%

What measures would you begin immediately accommodating students with disabilities? (candidates could select as many as desired and offer other suggestions).
Consulting with parents of students of disabilities
Working with barrier-free design experts to identify barriers
Ensuring that all social activities are inclusive
Installing ramps
Assessing washroom facilities
Consulting with the Provincial government
Holding town-hall meetings
Replacing outdated playground equipment with accessible equipment
Widening doors
Installing elevators
One informed candidate stated that there should be full compliance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act as soon as possible. Other good suggestions included sensitivity training for teachers and staff, and one candidate suggested the current educational curriculum be examined through a disability lens. One candidate responded to this question by stating the following: “I have not had any accessibility concerns brought to my attention.”

Is accommodating students with disabilities a top priority in your agenda?
Absolutely 57.5%
Most Likely 22.5%
Somewhat 5%
Not Really 15%

Do you agree that the Toronto District School Board is doing enough to accommodate students, staff and teachers with disabilities?
Strongly Agree 0%
Agree 8.3%
No Opinion 41.7%
Disagree 41.7%
Strongly Disagree 8.3%

Which of the following statements most closely matches what you plan to do in removing barriers for students, staff and teachers with disabilities?
I will immediately find the means to remove barriers 16.7%
I will hold consultations with key stakeholders 33.3%
I will explore options 27.8%
I’m not sure how to proceed 0%
I have other priorities that must take precedence 5.6%

Other suggestions in this category included:
No funding (presumably indicating that nothing can be done)
Lobbying the Province and raising public awareness of the issues
Including barrier-free access as part of the real costs of education, thereby incorporating accessibility into the provincial funding formula for the Toronto District School Board

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