ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

Text of Premier Kathleen Wynne’s December 23, 2014 Letter to the AODA Alliance

Note: Premier Wynne’s letter, set out below, answers the AODA Alliance’s September 19, 2014 letter to her, and its summer 2014 letters to ten of her cabinet ministers. Those AODA Alliance letters can all be found at links set out below, after the text of Premier Wynne’s letters.

December 23, 2014

Summary

Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your letter of September 19 and for your additional correspondence to several members of my Cabinet. This letter addresses the concerns you raised in your letters, and I welcome the opportunity to reply on behalf of the government I am honoured to lead.

I understand that your October 14 meeting with Minister Duguid was productive, and that many of the concerns outlined in your correspondence were addressed at that time. Minister Duguid will respond to the May 2 letter you sent to his predecessor.

People with disabilities have long faced barriers that limit their abilities as individuals and limit our strength as a province. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) is helping to ensure that everyone in Ontario is able to reach their full potential, regardless of abilities. Greater accessibility means social inclusion, so that people with disabilities can participate fully in the institutions and communities that make up Ontario, such as our parks, cultural heritage and public spaces. It also means greater opportunity for people with disabilities to participate in our workforce and economy, for entrepreneurs to create new businesses based on inclusive design, products and services; for employers to find untapped talent, and for businesses to harness the buying power of more people, both in store and online. That is why our government is moving forward with our pledges on accessibility, and will continue to implement accessibility standards and appropriate compliance measures to help to build an inclusive and accessible province for everyone.

Our government is fully committed to enforcing all accessibility standards under the AODA. One of the issues you raised was about the length of time it was taking the government to make public its compliance action plan to ensure compliance with the AODA and the five related accessibility standards. As you are aware, our government’s compliance action plan could not be released to the public during the election period. The plan has since been released and is located at http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/compliance_action_plan/index.aspx 
Moving forward, we know that most organizations believe that ensuring accessibility is the right thing to do. We are actively reaching out to the public, private and not for profit sectors to help them understand their obligations under the AODA. We will continue to pursue compliance and enforcement action to bring more organizations into compliance with this important piece of legislation. In 2013, our government began enforcement action with regard to organizations that failed to report, and we are following through on enforcement activities, including sending Director’s Orders with financial penalties, where warranted. The use of some enforcement tools, such as inspections and court enforcement, will be used after all other supports have been exhausted. The compliance action plan referenced above speaks to our commitment to ensuring compliance.

Our government is also committed to continuous improvement in implementing the AODA. In particular, Minister Duguid has received Provost Moran’s final report and recommendations to our government, resulting from her comprehensive review of the AODA. I would like to thank the AODA Alliance for its extensive and thoughtful input into Provost Moran’s review. Our government has pledged to make public the full contents of her final report and recommendations, once the report has been tabled in the Legislative Assembly.

As referenced in your letter, the ministry has also worked to incorporate accessibility into all of its economic development and employment strategies, programs and initiatives. In support of this, a Director of Accessibility Integration and Planning position was created within the deputy minister’s office. A key outcome of this work is the integration of accessibility criteria into our Ontario Youth Jobs Strategy, and investment funding programs, services and supports.

We also know that there is more work to be done. Your correspondence referenced my commitment to moving forward with new AODA standards. As you know, all ministers received their mandate letters from my office, which were made public for the first time. The letter to the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure directed him to explore options for developing new accessibility standards in the education or health sector, which the minister will speak to in the coming weeks. The minister and I look forward to working with you and other stakeholders on this important endeavour.

In your correspondence to the ministers of Education and of Health and Long-Term Care, you referred to the need for improved accessibility in those sectors. A number of initiatives are already underway to enhance accessibility in the education and health care sectors.
 
Our government’s health care system is the heart of our province’s accessibility infrastructure. Putting patients first is our priority. Ontario’s health sector is a committed partner in our government’s goal of being an accessible province by 2025. Groups like the Ontario Hospital Association and a number of hospitals have developed online accessibility toolkits and policies to assist hospitals in meeting their obligations under the AODA. Hospitals, and all members of the broader public service, are 100 per cent compliant with current AODA standards.

In the 2014 Budget, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care committed to including $300 million in capital funding over 10 years to help shift care from hospitals to community settings. This transformational shift will help Ontarians living with disabilities have access to the right care, at the right time in the right place.

In 2010, we passed the Excellent Care for All Act that requires hospitals to prepare an annual quality improvement plan which includes input from patient surveys and the patient relations process, and is made publicly available to show how our hospitals can improve their responses to accessibility concerns. Our government also recently introduced Bill 179 to create a Patient Ombudsman, whose role would include receiving, investigating and facilitating the resolution of complaints from patients.

Likewise, the Ministry of Education has made great strides in the area of accessibility. In particular, the Ministry of Education provides funding to school boards for renovations that they can use to improve accessibility. Boards are responsible for determining which schools will be renovated.

Our government is also committed to improving accessibility awareness in publicly funded schools and publicly funded postsecondary institutions. Learning about accessibility issues and requirements for both educators and students is embedded where appropriate in the Ontario curriculum policy documents used by all school boards. In addition, through the EnAbling Change Program of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, our government has provided grant funding to a number of key umbrella organizations in the education and postsecondary sectors to develop resources for school boards and faculty at colleges and universities. This kind of work is essential to promoting the social inclusion values that underpin the AODA.

To serve staff, students, parents and community members who are Deaf, the Ministry of Education’s Provincial Schools Branch has developed an American Sign Language (ASL) version of its external website. The branch has also created videos consisting of visual ASL interpretation of its internal employee policies. In addition, the ministry provided Unified English Braille training to teachers in Ontario school boards, and continues to work with the Education Quality and Accountability Office to produce accessible versions of assessments (for example, Braille, large print and DAISY audio) that are used in provincial schools and in school boards across Ontario.
 
With respect to publicizing recent accessibility amendments to the Ontario Building Code and providing user guides, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) is committed to developing and publishing materials that will assist builders, designers, municipal officials and the public in understanding and implementing the barrier free provisions of the amended 2012 code. As you know, these amendments to the code will improve accessibility in newly constructed buildings and in existing buildings that are to be extensively renovated. Examples of accessibility enhancements include:

To complement these recent accessibility enhancements to the Ontario Building Code, MMAH has provided appendix notes to assist code users in understanding the intent of the enhanced accessibility requirements. As recommended in your correspondence to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the ministry intends to publish a guide aimed at providing further clarity on the barrier free requirements within the 2012 Building Code. This guide will include supporting materials such as illustrations and best practice information on recommendations from the Accessible Built Environment Standards Development Committee that could not be incorporated into the code, for example contrasting paint colours, flooring textures and patterns.

As noted in my letter to the AODA Alliance dated May 14, 2014, our government is committed to ensuring that public dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers to Ontarians with disabilities. The Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation under the AODA requires public sector organizations to incorporate accessibility design criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities. Likewise, our government’s Ten Year Infrastructure Plan requires all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings, major expansions or renovations to demonstrate how funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility, where feasible. Through an annual budgeting process, our government reviews its infrastructure spending together with operating expenses to ensure alignment with government priorities. We will continue to ensure that our planning supports the ongoing implementation of the AODA.
 
Regarding your concerns about accessibility in new public transit stations, Metrolinx is working to develop accessibility guidelines for passenger facilities that will be applied to the Eglinton Crosstown Light Rail Transit and other Metrolinx projects. In addition, the Transportation Standard, established under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, addresses ways to prevent and remove accessibility barriers to public transportation so that everyone, including people with disabilities, can travel more easily in Ontario. Under the Transportation Standard, public transit providers must consult with people with disabilities when developing accessibility plans. These plans must address the prevention and removal of accessibility barriers. This approach gives people with disabilities the opportunity to provide input into the design and delivery of accessible public transportation services, rather than taking a one size fits all approach to accessibility.

As we move forward with Ontario’s transit infrastructure investments, the Ministry of Transportation is committed to delivering accessible public transit services and facilities, and will work with Metrolinx, and other public transit agencies to ensure that public transit accommodates people of all ages and disabilities. To this end, I understand that you recently had a productive meeting with both Metrolinx and Ministry of Transportation officials with regard to these issues, and I look forward to seeing the fruits of that continued engagement.

As referenced in your correspondence, government procurement must include accessibility considerations. The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, through Supply Chain Ontario, has implemented government wide policies to ensure that procurement processes are accessible, and that all vendors are aware of accessibility requirements. For example, Ontario Public Service (OPS) procurement directives and resource materials have been developed to assist ministries in taking accessibility requirements into consideration in the procurement of goods and services. In addition, the OPS’s Chief Diversity and Accessibility Officer is a member of the OPS Supply Chain Leadership Council, and provides advice on accessibility obligations regarding significant government procurements of $2 million and greater.

As you mentioned, the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games are fast approaching. Ontario is excited to be hosting the Games, which will showcase the value of sport and the health benefits of active living for all citizens, regardless of age, fitness level or ability. Ontario is dedicated to hosting an accessible and inclusive Games that reflect the values of our province.

In my September 25, 2014, mandate letter to each minister, I outlined the key items and priorities that will be used to guide the work of their respective ministries. In my letter to Minister Michael Coteau, Minister Responsible for the Pan/Parapan American Games, I provided instruction that his priority is to work with stakeholders to make Ontario a more accessible and barrier free tourist destination, and to showcase this accessibility to an international audience. Also, my letter directed Minister Coteau to work to ensure that the Games showcase the talents of athletes of all abilities, and to promote Ontario’s success in creating a more accessible, inclusive society.
Your correspondence referenced the need for an accessibility legacy of the Games. I would like to highlight two recent Games related accessibility achievements that I am very proud of, as well as one soon to be announced initiative of which I am equally proud.

The Pan/Parapan American Kids (PPAKids) program, announced as part of Ontario’s Promotion, Celebration and Legacy Strategy, has already impacted over 50,000 children and youth in Ontario who have participated in the program. PPAKids is intended to raise awareness of and increase access to sport and para sport, with accessibility features woven throughout the resources, including instruction on and participation in sitting volleyball, goal ball and boccia. Integrating youth through sport and para sport will continue to support increased physical literacy and participation for all Ontarians.

The Canadian Sport Institute Ontario (CSIO), in its new, state of the art facility at the Toronto Pan Am Sport Centre on the University of Toronto Scarborough campus, will provide support for high performance athletes and para athletes with expanded training facilities and supports. The CSIO has been built on the principle of inclusiveness and will be a centre of excellence for accessibility for decades to come. In particular, the CSIO is now the official home base and training centre for Wheelchair Basketball Canada’s National Academy. This groundbreaking initiative is the world’s first full time, year round daily training environment for high performance wheelchair basketball athletes. During my recent tour of the CSIO, I was thrilled to see the many inclusive features and equipment that have been incorporated to provide the best possible sport and recreation experience for athletes with disabilities, and help to inspire generations of athletes and para athletes.

In early 2015, the province will announce that we are working with the tourism industry on an accessible accommodation initiative that will support tourists in making informed choices about where to stay while visiting the Golden Horseshoe area. The 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games is providing an impetus to advance the efforts of the tourism industry. I am happy to see the leadership that the tourism industry is showing, and excited about the potential of this project to demonstrate Ontario’s commitment to accessible tourism for years to come.

Ontario will also become a true world leader in accessibility by providing, for the first time ever, live broadcast of select Parapan American Games events, including the opening and closing ceremonies. This commitment toward showcasing the abilities and achievements of para athletes from throughout the Americas will not only promote para sport to millions of people, but also will help to encourage and inspire new generations of people with disabilities to become active, try new activities or sports, and not to feel limited in reaching for their goals.
 
Your letter to the Minister of Government and Consumer Services references the need to ensure accessibility within the OPS. I am proud of the great strides we have made in this regard. Our government has promised that the OPS will lead by example on accessibility by serving as a model to the broader public sector and the private sector on how to build an accessible organization.

Many instruments and approaches have been, and will continue to be developed, to advance accessibility for OPS employees with disabilities and to improve the accessibility of our services and facilities. For example, an annual, enterprise wide compliance attestation process, entitled Getting to Yes, reports ministries’ compliance with the AODA and its regulations to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. The process requires that each deputy minister or chief administrative officer certify ministry compliance, and culminates in a single OPS compliance report, signed by the Deputy Minister of Government and Consumer Services. Through this process, we monitor and ensure implementation of accessibility requirements throughout the organization. Each year, the attestation process is reviewed to continually improve the compliance framework.

A single office in the OPS is designated for guiding ministries and OPS business areas in achieving organizational readiness for compliance with accessibility standards, and for coordinating enterprise planning and reporting. A deputy appointed committee that includes OPS employees with disabilities has been created, and focuses on improving awareness of accessibility issues that impact employees with disabilities across the OPS. Likewise, an I and IT Assistive Technology Support Service was implemented to simplify the process for OPS employees with disabilities obtaining the assistive technology required to perform their work. Regular, mandatory enterprise wide training on accessibility requirements has been implemented, and policies and strategies are regularly updated as they pertain to Ontario government programs and services.

You will be pleased to know that the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services mandate letter publicly commits to a vision of an inclusive organization that is diverse and accessible, and delivers excellent public services. Senior executive leadership is accountable for and dedicated to achieving accessibility and diversity commitments. The OPS Chief Diversity and Accessibility Officer reports directly to the Secretary of the Cabinet on accessibility issues. Likewise, deputy ministers are responsible for ensuring that their ministries comply with the AODA and its regulations.

Senior decision makers with enterprise portfolios, such as human resources and I and IT, are consulted regularly for strategic advice on implementing the AODA standards in the OPS, as well as on accessibility priorities, requirements and approaches. Your correspondence references the need to strengthen the current accessibility leads model within the OPS. I am pleased to say that we are working to strengthen and improve this model. Ministry accessibility leads provide guidance, monitor progress and make recommendations to management on meeting accessibility requirements. They are supported with training and other resources to maximize success and consistency in meeting the OPS’s commitment to removing barriers to accessibility.
Your correspondence also refers to removing accessibility barriers facing voters in municipal elections. Municipal clerks are responsible for conducting such elections, and are required under the Municipal Elections Act, 1996, to have regard for the needs of candidates and electors with disabilities, and to ensure that all voting places are accessible. Municipalities are also subject to the regulations and standards set out under the AODA.

I understand that you feel there are further improvements that could be made to accessibility in municipal elections. As you are aware, the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing reviews the Municipal Elections Act following each municipal election. You can be assured that your input will be considered as part of the review. I urge you to work with that ministry to address your concerns.

With respect to provincial elections, the Ministry of Intergovernmental Affairs has completed a review of potential barriers in Ontario’s provincial election legislation. Our government has taken important legislative steps to make the provincial election system more accessible to people with disabilities. These include requiring that all polling stations be accessible, mandating that voters have the opportunity to comment on proposed polling locations before they are selected, requiring that accessible equipment which allows people to vote privately and independently be provided for use at returning office advance polls during provincial elections, and allowing voters to vote by special ballot, including permitting voters with a disability who need help with special ballots to request a home visit from an Elections Ontario official.

Ontario’s Chief Electoral Officer is able to approve the future use of alternative voting methods that make voting easier, provided that they are successfully tested at a byelection, meet security and integrity standards, and are approved by a legislative committee. The Chief Electoral Officer has completed the study of alternative voting technology mandated under the Election Act. His report concluded that there is no viable method for networked voting at this time, including Internet and telephone, that would meet integrity and security standards for use in Ontario elections. This conclusion is shared by Elections Canada and Elections BC after conducting separate studies that considered the integrity and security of Internet voting. Our government will continue to examine and assess legislative opportunities to enhance the accessibility of Ontario’s provincial elections.

With regard to your suggestions to further improve accessibility in the courts, the Ministry of the Attorney General (MAG) has reviewed the important advice contained in the 2006 report, Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities. The ministry also continues to seek further advice through the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee and from the community as its accessibility work progresses.
 
The ministry has established courthouse accessibility coordinators in all of its courthouses. Key documents and permanent signs let people know that they can contact a coordinator. Through the delivery of accessibility coordinator services, we are learning more every day about how to improve accessibility. For example, a review of the most frequent accommodation requests showed the greatest need is for assistance with hearing. In response, each of our ministry run courthouses now offers assistive listening devices.

Training and education in the justice sector continue to be a priority for our government. MAG staff are currently working on a project led by a mental health community organization to develop training for justice sector professionals on improving communications with people who have mental health disabilities.

Lastly, your correspondence refers to my predecessor’s commitment to review legislation and regulations to identify and remove accessibility barriers. A review of 51 statutes with the greatest impact on people with disabilities is under way. I expect to receive a recommended approach to address the findings of this review by the end of 2014.

Our government recognizes that greater accessibility means greater opportunity for Ontario. The AODA will help improve inclusion for everyone in Ontario, regardless of their abilities, so that everyone can participate in their community and in our economy. We are working to ensure that the AODA achieves its goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025, while also considering the needs and constraints of Ontario’s organizations. I value your organization’s ongoing commitment to sharing recommendations on ways to enhance accessibility in Ontario. We will consider the recommendations outlined in your recent letters, as well as those of other stakeholders, as we determine our path forward.

Thank you again for writing. Please accept my best wishes.

Sincerely,

Original signed by Premier Kathleen Wynne
 
c:          Steve Orsini, Secretary of the Cabinet
The Honourable Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure
The Honourable David Orazietti, Minister of Government and Consumer Services
The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General
The Honourable Michael Coteau, Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Minister Responsible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games
The Honourable Liz Sandals, Minister of Education
The Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Health and Long-Term Care
The Honourable Michael Chan, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade
The Honourable Reza Moridi, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities and Minister of Research and Innovation
The Honourable Deb Matthews, Deputy Premier and President of the Treasury Board
The Honourable Ted McMeekin, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Wendy Tilford, Deputy Minister of Government and Consumer Services
Giles Gherson, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure
Drew Fagan, Deputy Minister of Tourism, Culture and Sport and Deputy Minister Responsible for the 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games
Patrick Monahan, Deputy Attorney General
George Zegarac, Deputy Minister of Education
Dr. Bob Bell, Deputy Minister of Health and Long Term Care
Helen Angus, Deputy Minister of Citizenship, Immigration and International Trade, Deputy Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues and Deputy Minister Responsible for Seniors
Deborah Newman, Deputy Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities
Greg Orencsak, Deputy Minister of the Treasury Board
Laurie LeBlanc, Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
Virginia Hatchette, Chief Inclusion and Accessibility Officer of Ontario

Links to the AODA Alliance’s Letters in the 2014 Summer to the Ontario Government, Which Premier Wynne’s December 23, 2014 letter Answers

Here is how to find all of the AODA Alliance's letters to the Ontario Government in August and September 2014, listing proposed accessibility priorities:

To read the AODA Alliance's August 14, 2014 letter to Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure Brad Duguid

To read the AODA Alliance's August 28, 2014 letter to the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games Minister Michael Coteau.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 12, letter to the Government and Consumer Services Minister David Orazietti.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Ted McMeekin.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to International Trade Minister Michael Chan.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to Ontario Attorney General Madeleine Meilleur.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to Treasury Board President Deb Matthews.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to the Minister of Education Liz Sandals.

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to the Training, Colleges and Universities Minister Reza Moridi (who is also responsible for Training and Innovation).

To read the AODA Alliance's September 16, 2014 letter to the Minister of Health Eric Hoskins.

To read the AODA Alliance’s September 19, 2014 letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne.