Brendon Pooran: Lawyer Works to Remove Barriers for People with Disabilities

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Trish: Hey there listeners welcome to access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining the good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities and I'm your host for the show Trish Robichaud. Disability inclusion coach, author facilitator and motivational speaker. A woman with a disability but definitely not a disabled woman the access talk with Trish radio show can be heard live on Wednesdays at 11:30 a.m. Eastern at accesstalkwithtrish.com or you can listen to past show recordings on demand at any time at the same address or on iTunes if that's how you roll. This show is brought to you by changing paces. An accessibility consulting firm that simplifies disability legislation for organizations that don't think they have the time or money for compliance. Visit changingpaces.com and nurture culture of inclusion where everyone matters. On that note I'd like to introduce you to my guest for this week. Brendon Pooran. Brendon is the founding lawyer at Pooran Law Professional Corporation. He's involved in all areas of the firm's practice and regularly provides advice to individuals, families, organizations and government in the areas of disability and human rights law, wills and estates planning, employment law government benefits and human rights for people with disabilities and corporate law for nonprofit and charitable organizations. In addition to being a lawyer Brendon teaches critical disability law at York University, is the past president of community living York South and is a founding director of plan Ontario. He's also a lawyer member of the Ontario consent incapacity board. Pooran Law was founded as a resource for individuals with disabilities that families and community organizations that support them. Pooran law practice members are dedicated to working with individuals with disabilities and their families to ensure their social inclusion self-actualization and long term security. They specialize in maximizing access to financial supports such as the ODSP program. Ontario Disability Support Program, passport and other forms of individualized funding, the registered disability savings plan and various benefits through the income tax system. They also facilitate innovative housing solutions and work with families to establish trusts and estate plans that ensure continued financial stability. Pooran Law firm members have received international recognition as authorities on disability issues and have spoken at hundreds of conferences and seminars on various matters related to the community. They are also actively engaged in efforts to reform and modernize the law regarding disability issues in an effort to achieve a society that promotes autonomy personal choice and inclusion for all.
So it sounds like you've dedicated your entire career to serving people with disabilities and their families is there some personal reason you have chosen this population as your advocacy focus?

Brendon: Yeah I mean I've been lucky enough to be part of the disability community for most of my life. Having grown up with disability in my family I have siblings with disabilities. disabilities growing up and so not only was I able to sort of learn from them on a regular basis but was also able to sort of witness the barriers and some of the challenges that they faced on a on a daily basis. So that sort of led us down this path and now we've got a practice and a job that we very much enjoy doing.

Trish: Beautiful beautiful. It's just such a blessing when you get in into a career that serves your passions as opposed to just the paycheck you know.

Brendon: Oh I couldn't agree with you more. I mean it's one thing to think about an economic return and in life but having a social impact I think is what drives most of us and it's definitely at the core of what we do here at the firm.

Trish: Faboulous. I understand you serve as corporate and labor and employment counsel for numerous non-for-profit organizations and disability sector. What types of issues are you most often seeing come to light?

Brendon: Yeah I mean we are corp counsel for a lot of disability organizations and we deal with something new every day. I would say if we sort of grouped them into three main areas the first would be just sort of on the corporate the corporate governance side not that's really gonna be a focus too much of today's session but you know just ensuring that from a governance standpoint the not-for-profits and the charitable organizations are at the right policies, practices and procedures in place and they're not no issues with their boards and that everything is just sort of generally running smoothly from a corporate standpoint. Second I would say there are a lot of matters that sort of come up related directly to the people that the organization's are supporting so those could be in the area of consent capacity and legal decision making, banking or meeting their medical needs or housing so just a wide wide range of issues. And third within the labour and employment context I've got a partner here that sort of heads up that part of the firm but where I sort of come in is sort of what I really enjoy doing is working with organisations to ensure that they're meeting their obligations not only meeting but exceeding their obligations under the Human Rights Code as well as the accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Yeah.

Trish: Wonderful. Glad to see while things are quite varied for you then.

Brandon: Oh yes each day there's something new and something different but that's what keeps the work interesting.

Trish: Fabulous. You were quoted by LA Times news.com as saying there are massive systemic problems with income support, legal capacity housing and employment. They get much less attention than they deserve. Let's give them some attention here and now. Please expand on that statement for our listeners Brendon.

Brendon: Sure. I mean I think I could probably go on for hours but there are so many issues you know that affect people with disabilities here in Canada. I think we have moved we have been moving generally in the right direction over the past few decades. Our ratification of the Convention on the Rights of persons with disabilities back in 2010 was very much welcomed and just a couple of weeks ago we saw the Minister table legislation for us to sign on to the optional protocol which would allow us to have a little bit more accountability, transparency and a complaint based mechanism in terms of meeting our obligations under the Convention. But that doesn't mean that there aren't problems here. I mean there are issues there are obstacles, they're are new barriers not only existing barriers that people with disabilities face in all aspects of life but they're new barriers that get unnecessarily created because when implementing one policy were not necessarily applying an access of the living lens within the process. So you you touched on a couple of them Trish that we work on you know inclusionary and affordable housing for people with disabilities is lacking. I don't have the stats in front of me right now but there's a high percentage of people disabilities living below the poverty line and so income security is an issue within certain areas of or for certain people with disabilities when we talk about their right to exercise their legal capacity and make their own decisions they're discriminatory legislation across the country in places still prohibits them from doing those things. So plenty of issues but like I said I think Canada is generally moving in the right direction.

Trish: Glad to hear it. We're going to head out to a commercial break right now and when we come back we're gonna talk about barrier free environments.

Brendon: Sounds good.

Trish: and we're back. I know you're passionate about making sure people with disabilities enjoy barrier free environments in all aspects of their lives Brendon. What are some of the strategies for making that happen?

Brendon: Well I think from a government standpoint I mean Ontario was the first province or in Canada to pass accessibility legislation. The Ontarian with Disabilities Act came into force back in 2001 and its successor legislation the accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has been around since since 2005. And in 2005 I think the government made a firm commitment to make Ontario accessible by the year 2025 and and their plan in doing so was was through the implementation of various regulations or various standards under the AODA and and we sort of saw the first one come into play back in 2008 that related specifically to customer service. Since then we've had we've had additional standards in the areas of employment information and communications transportation built environments and it looks like education is on the way as well.

Trish: yaay cool. I understand...well as you've said that you also consult an AODA or accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act issues. As a professional deeply dedicated to the rights of people disabilities how do you the AODA vision for a fully accessible Ontario by 2025?

Brendon: Well I think ideologically it's fantastic and you know I wish that all provinces sort of embraced that vision. I think practically there have been some just some difficulties. From a strategic standpoint if we were to compare the AODA in the Human Rights Code here in Ontario the AODA is meant to function more like a curate rather than a stick. So it's the government's thing. We want Ontario to be accessible and and for all businesses in Ontario here is what you have to do to to assist with that. And we're gonna help you do that we're gonna we're gonna draft all of these compliance assistance materials to help you become accessible but the onus is on you to fulfill your own requirements. And unfortunately I think what we've seen is there hasn't been a whole lot of compliance and enforcement. And so I don't know what the latest statistics are in terms of organizations out there that are compliant with the AODA but my guess is that the majority of them are not and without any strong sort of enforcement arm or enforcement process I don't see the those organizations becoming compliant overnight. So there are tons of barriers unfortunately they still exist for Ontarians with with disabilities.

Trish: and there are many of us who are still waiting to see those statistics.

Brendon: Yeah absolutely I know that there's another compliance report due at the end of this year 2017. So perhaps some statistics will be forthcoming but...

Trish: it would be nice to see more transparency on that after this reporting period. absolutely

Brendon: Absolutely.

Trish: Yeah so in terms of 2025 does it feel realistic to you?

Brendon: Well it's a big question. I mean I guess we're what are we seven years away? I mean I guess we could sort of you know have an entire session just dedicated to what does accessibility really mean. I don't know given where we are right now whether or not that's that's practical I mean I'm a glass half-full type of guy but with was seven years to go with the current enforcement or lack of enforcement framework work in place I question whether or not that goal can actually be achieved. Now we do know that there is a federal legislation in the pipeline?

Trish: Yes.

Brendon: Similar to legislation at the federal level that will impact federally regulated businesses that operate here in Ontario and across the country. So maybe that will help but I really don't think that if things remain status quo that we will get there.

Trish: Yeah and a lot of us are with you right there. Okay so do you have one or two recommendations you'd like to leave wih our listeners with disabilities or their caregivers about how to address their social inclusion, self actualization or long-term security?

Brendon: Yeah I I've got a lot but I mean I you know just to keep things a bit succinct I think when people approach us to talk about barriers to accessibility and obstacles that they may be facing especially when it comes to the provision of services, customer service, the built environment, transportation, education, employment a lot of times people will sight to the AODA. They'll say well here's what the AODA says and this business is not complying so what can I do to ensure that they comply? What we generally say is that you know you can file a complaint. Here you can can inform the the Directorate that there may be an issue with non-compliance but you don't really have an individual remedy available to you through the AODA. At the end of the day the Human Rights Code has been around for a long time and the Human Rights Code states that all organizations all businesses have to have an obligation to accommodate people with disabilities. And so you know if you're facing a barrier not that you want to necessarily have to end up in a in a litigious environment but I do think that people need to leverage the Human Rights Code a little bit more than they're doing right now. That would sort of be I think the first plan of attack in terms of responding to barriers seeking a bit of advice with respect to what are my rights under the code and and is my employer or is this place of business really fulfilling their obligations to accommodate me. And there's some great resources out there not only online but there's a human rights legal support Center where people can...

Trish: Is that human rights legal support center is it successfully supporting complaints?

Brendon: I mean I can't really necessarily speak to that because we do have interaction with the center but but obviously don't work there. I mean what I can say is that I've met a lot of individuals who have been able to at least get a little bit of summary advice from the center and there are certain cases I that I'm aware that the center will take on in terms of representing people before the tribunal. I mean with any sort of legal aid type of clinic or you know public entity quasi-public anything like that I mean demand or supply definite you know exceeds or demand definitely exceeds supply but you know at the very least it may be a first point of contact for some people. There are law firms out there who will provide consultations you know 30-minute consultations just to help people figure out whether or not there is a case. That's something that we do and there are number of other firms that do that but I would encourage people to really really ensure that their rights are being when it comes to the Human Rights Code obligations on business.

Trish: yeah and I can speak from personal experience that filing human rights complaint is completely doable. I've been there done that.

Brendon: Yeah it's not that daunting that you know it doesn't have to be as daunting necessarily than it's made out to be and now with the support center out there and with you know and a lot of law firms out there that may either take on cases pro bono or have different compensation models in place I think the system has become a little bit more accessible for people.

Trish: I can tell you when my human rights complaint, I couldn't find a lawyer to represent me so I went without. And it was at the federal level of human rights and it was in the early nineties and so there was there wasn't a lot of support for me. I swear I couldn't find a lawyer that would give me time of day whereas nowadays I see lawyers on television on commercials advertising for disability rights. So things have changed since the 90s as far as I'm concerned.

Brendon: Yeah I think you're right Trish. I think there are a lot more resources out there that the people can access. I don't want people to think that it's necessarily going to be easy to get a lawyer on boars or to get support but I think it's definitely easier.

Trish: Yeah. Alright so Brendon if any of our listeners want to contact you about your services or run a question or set up a free consult how can they do that?

Brendon: The best way is is to just jump on our website to go to www.poornlaw.com and all of our contact information is there and everything related to what the firm does. Listing of our lawyers and answers with their expertise and and yeah just feel free to reach out.

Trish: Awesome and I see that you have a Facebook page for our Facebook fans.

Brendon: We absolutely do so we do have a Facebook page thank you for inviting me. You can also follow us on twitter at at brendon Pooran and and we've got a LinkedIn profile as well.

Trish: Beautiful and your Facebook Page is pooran law PC.

Brendon: poor in law PC correct.

Trish: and PC what does that stand for?

Brendon: Professional Corporation.

Trish: There we go now we know now we can remember the P as opposed to T you know.

Brendon: Yes Yes Yes wonderful.

Trish: Anyways actually this has been a fabulous interview Brendan I really appreciate you joining me today.

Brendon: My pleasure Trish thank you for having me.

Trish: And thank you to our listeners so much for being here today with us and for today's episode of access talk with Trish. A 30-minute weekly online radio segment dedicated to examining the good the bad and the reality of accessibility in our communities. Please join us again next week 11:30 on Wednesday. This show is brought to you by changing paces an accessibility consulting firm that simplifies disability legislation for organizations that don't think they have the time or the money for compliance. Visit changingpaces.com and nurture a culture of inclusion where everyone matters. Till next time take self-care seriously and God bless folks.

Or CLICK HERE to download transcript

My guest this week is Brendon D. Pooran. Brendon is the founding lawyer at PooranLaw Professional Corporation.

He is involved in all areas of the firm’s practice and regularly provides advice to individuals, families, organizations and government in the areas of: disability & human rights law; wills & estates planning; employment law, government benefits and human rights for people with disabilities; and corporate law for not-for-profit and charitable organizations.

In addition to being a lawyer, Brendon teaches Critical Disability Law at York University, is the Past-President of Community Living York South and is a founding director of PLAN Toronto.  He is also a lawyer member on the Ontario Consent and Capacity Board.

PooranLaw was founded as a resource for individuals with disabilities, their families and the community organizations that support them.

PooranLaw practice members are dedicated to working with individuals with disabilities and their families to ensure their social inclusion, self-actualization and long-term security.

They specialize in maximizing access to financial supports such as the Ontario Disability Program (ODSP), Passport and other forms of Individualized Funding, the Registered Disability Savings Plan (RDSP) and various benefits through the income tax system.  They also facilitate innovative housing solutions and work with families to establish trusts and estate plans that ensure continued financial stability.

PooranLaw firm members have received international recognition as authorities on disability issues and have spoken at hundreds of conferences and seminars on various matters relevant to the community.

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