At Samara Canada, we have long sought to make political spaces more inclusive and accessible. But it was not until we met Luke Anderson that the urgent need to democratize physical spaces became clear to our organization.
As the 2015 winner of the Everyday Political Citizen award, Luke was recognized for his work to improve accessibility in Ontario by putting in place “stop gap” measures while advocating for enforcement to catch up with legislation. His StopGap ramps allow the built environment to be more accessible—for everyone. Luke simultaneously advocates for enforcement of the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which calls for a barrier-free Ontario by 2025. (We were so impressed by his work that we cast him in our latest animated video.)
Luke advised Samara on how to make our office event space accessible to a greater number of people and this commitment was top of mind as we began to plan this year’s Wonk Prom, the official after-party of the Public Policy Forum Testimonial Dinner and our biggest fundraising event of the year.
Beginning in October of last year, we set out to find a venue in Toronto’s downtown core that was physically accessible but also accommodated at least 350 people and satisfied a number of other financial and logistical constraints. Easy enough, we figured, as the AODA is already halfway through its mandate. We were shocked to discover just how limited our options turned out to be.
By November, we had only found one venue that checked every box, but the event date had already been booked! Every week, for two months, we returned to our team meeting feeling slightly more deflated; some venues were physically accessible but couldn’t hold a sizable cross-section of our community, others were prohibitively expensive or far away.
Approaching the eleventh hour, and with considerable preparation and promotion still to be done, we had to accept the fact that the city of Toronto is a long way to becoming truly accessible to all and book a venue that was not accessible.
This experience has left us with some uncomfortable lessons about the challenges of building more inclusive and accessible democratic spaces. If Canadians of all abilities cannot congregate in a shared public space—perhaps for a public meeting or consultation—how can we expect our democracy to flourish?
Meanwhile, Luke and countless more Ontarians are tirelessly working to help the AODA achieve its mandate by 2025.
You can join Luke’s efforts by visiting stopgap.ca today.