Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

ONTARIO GOVERNMENT CONSULTANT’S STUDY ON EFFECTIVENESS OF STANDARDS DEVELOPMENT COMMITTEES MISSES KEY PROBLEMS WITH FLAWED IMPLEMENTATION OF THE AODA

February 2, 2008

SUMMARY

Last year, the Ontario Government had a consultant investigate the effectiveness of the first two Standards Development Committees (SDCs) The SDCs’ work is central to the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

The internal report that this consultant prepared overlooks several serious problems with the work to date of the first two Standards Development Committees under the AODA. Implementation of the consultant’s report’s recommendations will not fix the key problems that have led to the failure to date of the Ontario Government to effectively implement the AODA.

BACKGROUND

The AODA requires the Ontario Government to appoint a series of Standard Development Committees to develop strong, effective accessibility standards in different sectors of the Ontario economy, to make Ontario fully accessible no later than the year 2025. These SDCs include representatives from the disability community, industry and government. Once an SDC develops a proposed accessibility standard, it is publicly circulated for comment. After that, the SDC is supposed to review the public input. Based on it, the SDC is supposed to come up with a final proposal for an accessibility standard. Then the SDC submits its final proposal for an accessibility standard to the Ontario Government. The Government can then enact the accessibility standard into law, either as it was proposed, or with any changes the Government chooses to make to it.

The work of these SDC’s is therefore absolutely essential to the effective implementation of the AODA. The Government’s consultant was assigned to investigate the work of the first two SDCs. The first was the Customer Service SDC. That SDC’s work resulted in the enactment in 2007 of the first and only accessibility standard under the AODA. That standard is very weak and ineffective, as is explained in detail at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09122007.asp

The second SDC which the consultant studied was the Transportation SDC. In the summer of 2007, that SDC produced a draft public transportation accessibility standard, which has been circulated for public comment. The Transportation SDC is now reviewing feedback it obtained from the public. The proposed transportation accessibility standard is also very weak and ineffective. Concerns with that draft standard are detailed at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08132007- Support-BriefOnProposedTransportationAccessibilityStandard.asp

Last summer, the AODA Alliance learned from the public minutes of the Transportation SDC that the Government had commissioned this consultant’s study and that the consultant submitted its report to the Government. Last summer, the AODA Alliance asked the Ontario Government’s Accessibility Directorate to release a copy of that report, dated June 2007. They eventually did so. We here make the internal report of that consultant public. You can download it at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/122007-StandardsDev.doc

OUR RESPONSE TO THE CONSULTANT’S REPORT

At bottom, this consultant’s report mainly missed the mark, from the perspective of the disability community.

* The consultant’s report revealed the very troubling fact that there was a serious problem with the SDC members’ most basic understanding of their job. The report concluded among other things:

A) The follow up interviews with committee members indicated that there was a lack of clarity regarding roles and responsibilities.

B) A number of the members of the SDCs commented that they had neither a good understanding of the terms of reference for the committee nor did they fully understand their roles and responsibilities.

* This study was supposed to explore the effectiveness of the work of the Standards Development Committees. Yet fundamentally problematic with the consultant’s work is that it didn’t attempt to make any contact with or get any feedback from the very community that is supposed to benefit from accessibility standards, i.e. the broad and diverse disability community (beyond the consultant’s merely talking to the handful of people from the disability community that the Government selected to sit on these Standards Development Committees). As but one small example, the consultant didn’t talk to people who might have wanted to give their input to the Transportation Standards Development Committee while it was developing its proposed standard, but who weren’t given that opportunity.

This is especially significant since during the October 2007 Ontario election, all three major political parties’ leaders agreed that the Standards Development Committees need to be able open up their processes to public consultation.

* The consultant’s report didn’t attempt to examine the product of the Standards Development Committees’ work. This is especially striking since the proposed Transportation Standard has subsequently been publicly condemned by the Human Rights Commission as falling well short of the Ontario Human Rights Code’s requirements. You can see what the Human Rights Commission said at:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09052007- ACCESSIBILITYFORONTARIANSWITHDISABILITIESACTALLIANCEUPDATE.asp

To be fair, we must of course note that the Human Rights Commission released that finding after this consultant’s study was completed. Nevertheless, for a study of the effectiveness of the first two standards development committees to be at all useful, it must consider whether their work yielded a useful product. The consultant’s study didn’t, for example, inquire whether if the Customer Service Standard or the proposed Transportation accessibility standard were fully implemented, Ontario would have fully accessible customer services and public transportation by 2025. In fact, neither standard comes close to that benchmark. As such, these standards are a failure.

* The consultant’s report didn’t identify that the entire work of these first two SDCs was fundamentally wrongly-directed. This is because the SDCs weren’t attempting to develop standards that meet the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights code. Senior Government officials responsible for working with the SDCs confirmed this fact about their approach to the Human Rights Code in a meeting last summer with AODA Alliance representatives. For more on this, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10222007.asp

* To evaluate the effectiveness of an SDC, it would be absolutely vital to see how much the SDC actually used input it got from the people the accessibility standard is supposed to serve and benefit. After the Customer Service SDC brought forward its initial proposal for a Customer Service Standard, public input on it was gathered (as the AODA requires). The Customer Service SDC was supposed to take that public input into account when it formulated its final proposal for a Customer Service Standard that it recommended to the Ontario Government. We understand that there was feedback from the disability community that had properly criticized the Customer Service SDC’s initial proposal as too weak.

The consultant’s report didn’t appear to examine how much the Customer Service SDC actually used this public input on its initial draft standard before that SDC came up with its final proposal for the Government, i.e. to convert that input into real improvements. The consultant’s report’s comments on this input process are decidedly vague.

* The consultant’s report didn’t identify one of the key problems with the work of the first two SDCs. This is a serious problem with these SDCs that the AODA Alliance brought to public attention and that led all three political parties to promise specific action in the October 2007 Ontario election.

Specifically, this is the fact that the disability representatives on these SDCs were only a minority of each SDC’s total membership. There was no equal representation of the disability community at the table. By being out-numbered, out-resourced, and out-gunned, the disability sector representatives were hopelessly unable to ensure that the proposed accessibility standards were strong and effective.

All three political parties pledged to explore increasing the number of disability sector representatives on the SDCs and to give them added support to help them do their work on these important bodies. To see more on these commitments, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10012007.asp

* We have learned from this consultant’s report that the Ontario Government hired the Canadian Standards Association to draft “seed documents” or draft accessibility standards for these SDCs. These seed documents appear to have been meant to be the starting point for the SDCs’ discussions and work. Evidently the CSA did this in consultation with the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.

These “seed documents” were not made public during the first two SDC’s work. The SDCs should have made these public at the earliest opportunity and should have invited public input on them. Although there is some mention of this in the consultant’s report, it doesn’t adequately discuss this serious deficiency in how the SDCs were doing their work.

* The report doesn’t appear to have considered whether the Transportation SDC properly considered the role of cost issues. For example, the report stated:

“The Transportation SDC took significantly longer to produce draft standards. Members of that committee representing the transportation sector indicated that philosophically they support accessibility for people with disabilities, but must take the realities of cost into consideration when developing the standard. While there was not full agreement on the draft standards, there was agreement that the document had reached a point where it could be submitted for public review.”

The AODA Alliance has serious concern that a majority of the Transportation SDC may have taken an erroneous approach to the role of cost in their considerations, to the detriment of persons with disabilities. In the AODA Alliance’s September 10, 2007 letter to the Assistant Deputy Minister with responsibility for the AODA’s implementation, we said, among other things:

“We reported to you that at an August 21, 2007 Toronto focus group on the proposed transportation standard that your Ministry held (which an AODA Alliance represented attended) a member of the Transportation Standards Development Committee from the transit sector explained that the reason the proposed transportation standard was the way it was all because of cost. He said that at the Transportation Standards Development Committee meetings, they had asked where the money man was. In effect the message we got was that this proposed standard was drafted as it was because it was expected that more wouldn’t be done to achieve accessibility unless the Ontario Government provided new funding for it.

We expressed to you at our meeting, as we expressed at that focus group, that such an attitude is seriously problematic. It proceeds on the assumption that no transit provider, public or private, need spend a dime on achieving accessibility unless the Ontario Government foots the bill. Put simply, transit providers can’t keep contravening the Human Rights Code until and unless the Ontario Government pays them not to. The Supreme Court’s Via Rail decision made this clear. Moreover, there are important measures to improve accessibility that cost little or nothing.

We recognize that the availability of funds can affect the timing of progress, but it can’t be an excuse for undue delay or total failure to make required progress. Transit providers ( many of whom have been the beneficiaries of widely-publicized new government funding announcements in recent years) can’t off-load onto the Province their duty to not discriminate against persons with disabilities. If this proposed transportation Standard was based on such a wrong understanding, it further shows how seriously deficient it is.”

Also see the discussion of the cost issue at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01082008.asp

Moreover, the consultant’s report doesn’t appear to critically consider whether the costing information that the SDCs were given was reliable. If that data over-stated the cost of providing accessibility, that could lead the SDC to propose poorer and weaker accessibility standards.

The Ontario Government’s website made public a costing study that appears to have been used by the Transportation SDC. It purports to assess the cost of making public transit in Ontario fully accessible. We have ourselves posted it as well at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/122007-CostingStudy.doc

To properly study the SDCs’ effectiveness, it would be very important to examine the reliability of the cost data that the SDC used. It does not appear that the consultant did this.

There are serious concerns regarding the transportation accessibility cost study, from a preliminary examination of it. For example:

a) The cost study says:

“The costs reflect incremental costs over and above what transportation service providers are already doing, or planning to do in the area of accessible transportation by 2025, and are incremental to planned transportation related funding provided by the government. While transportation service providers may choose to exceed the Standard, the costs do not reflect any voluntary initiatives over and above the minimum requirements in the Standard.”

This begs the vital question of whether the transit providers are currently doing, or planning to do all that is currently required of them by the Human Rights Code, to meet the needs of passengers with disabilities. If they are not, then the “incremental or added costs” in issue are in reality costs they were required to spend, but which they are not now spending.

b) The cost study concludes: “The incremental cost of implementing the Standard is estimated to be in the order of $525 million across all transportation sectors between 2007 and 2025…”

This no doubt may sound to some transit providers as a frightening amount. Yet there is cause for concern that this cost figure is exaggerated. Elsewhere, the Report says:

“The research, consultation, and analysis indicate that the main incremental costs of implementing and maintaining the Transportation SDC's Standard are associated with establishing an electronic stop announcement system in visual and audio formats in the Transit sector, increasing the level of service of Accessible Public Transit (e.g., specialized transit for persons with disabilities), and increasing the number of accessible taxis.”

The cost of an electronic automated route stop announcement system on transit vehicles for the benefit of visually impaired persons could be saved if transit providers use the virtually costless option, which TTC was ordered to implement by the Human Rights Tribunal, of having transit drivers themselves announce each route stop. Of course, the automated system does provide the advantage of visual stop announcements for deaf, deafened and hard of hearing passengers.

Also, to the extent that such adaptive technology is widely deployed, the cost per unit can substantially decrease.

c) The cost study under-values the benefit of providing fully accessible transit. It states:

“Although the different transportation sectors will incur incremental costs to meet the requirements of the Standard, benefits of advancing transportation accessibility in Ontario may include:

It does not, for example, acknowledge that accessible transit also enables customers with disabilities to more readily get out and shop, which benefits retailers. It expands Ontario as a tourism destination for tourists with disabilities, which also benefits Ontario’s economy.

d) It is also difficult to see how the cost study can put such price tags on compliance with the proposed transportation accessibility standard. So much of that standard is so vague and unclear that it doesn’t adequately delineate what concrete steps transit providers must take in many situations. See generally the link to the AODA Alliance’s critique of that proposed standard, above.

Send us your feedback at: aodafeedback@rogers.com