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CNE under fire for ending free admission for people with disabilities

The CNE is coming under fire for its decision to end free admission for people with disabilities — a plan that’s been in the works for two years and is based on the opinion of a single disabilities advocate.

As CityNews first reported on Tuesday, the CNE is doing away with the long-standing policy of allowing people with disabilities free access to the grounds, although the $18 entrance fee will still be waived for caregivers.

“The CNE is saying that we need to treat everybody in the same manner and that the disabled folks in our community should be treated the same as everybody else in the community,” GM Virginia Ludy said.

“We feel that’s important. We don’t think we should be marginalizing anybody. We don’t think we should be categorizing anybody because of a disability.”

But disabilities advocate and Ontario’s former Lieutenant Governor David Onley says the argument is a smokescreen.

“My gut reaction immediately was, ‘Why are they talking about fairness and equality here?’ This is an economic decision and it’s a poorly made one,” he told CityNews.

“If they’re really talking about equality, my question to them would be, ‘If there’s 15 per cent of the population with a disability in this province, do you have 15 per cent of your workforce at the CNE consisting of people with disabilities? And if not, why not? — if you’re so concerned about equality.”

Ludy said the decision has nothing to do with the money the organization would save, arguing the board agreed the policy needed updating. She didn’t know how many people with disabilities the CNE employs.

The policy, effective this summer, is in line with events and attractions like Fan Expo Canada and the Ontario Science Centre, where people with disabilities pay full admission, but caregivers get a free pass. At the Toronto Zoo, people with disabilities get a 50 per cent discount.

But Onley said the CNE should have got more perspectives from the community, including Ontario’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, rather than speaking to just one woman.

“I have real difficulties with any kind of organization making accessibility-related decisions when they’ve — quote, unquote — consulted one person. That’s nonsensical,” Onley said.

“There’s all sorts of accessibility groups that they could have called upon and sat down with … and would have had a much, much more diverse representation of the community.”

Some 1.8 million Ontarians have some kind of disability, he added. And of those, more than 400,000 live on Ontario Disability Support Program payments. That amounts to about $14,000 a year plus medical benefits, “meaning that you live in a state of virtual poverty … it’s not a good state.”

“For individuals like that, $18 is a significant amount of money,” he said.

“Each of the answers that I’m hearing from the CNE seem somewhat disingenuous and show a lack of understanding about what the disability community is all about.

“Does this violate the exact terms of the (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act)? No, probably not. Does it violate the spirit of the Act? Yes, completely.”