ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

Ontario Government's Promised Plan to Increase Private Sector Employment for Ontarians with Disabilities Turns Out To Be More Delay, Re-Inventing the Wheel, No Teeth and No Imminent Practical Improvements

February 7, 2014

Summary

We have learned that to keep its year-old Throne Speech commitment for action to increase employment of Ontarians with disabilities in the private sector, the Ontario Government still has no prompt results in mind, and just more delays. It is planning to set up a new advisory council to suggest ideas on how to increase the private sector employment of persons with disabilities in Ontario, to report by the end of 2014. Below, we set out the text of a letter that the Government has sent to people it is encouraging to apply to sit on that Council. We also set out  an article in the February 7, 2014 Toronto Star describing some of our concerns with this.

Rather than now implementing prompt, bold new action that will effectively help unemployed persons with disabilities, the Government seems headed on a course of slowly re-inventing the wheel.  The many unemployed and underemployed Ontarians with disabilities may see and feel no results for months, if ever. 

In this Update we describe what the Government is proposing to do, explain why we disagree with the Government's approach, and propose a quicker, better plan of action.

More details

1. Our Response to the Government's Plans

The Government is setting up a new advisory council, to include representatives from business and the disability community. This Council is expected to make recommendations on how to increase the private sector employment of persons with disabilities in Ontario.

At first blush, this sounds great. Anything that helps create more job opportunities for persons with disabilities should be welcomed. Anything that directly engages the private sector in this cause should be especially desirable.

Yet we have serious concerns:

* The Government has taken far too long to get moving on its commitment regarding the chronic unemployment plight facing persons with disabilities. Fully one year ago, on February 19, 2014, in Premier Kathleen Wynne's first Throne Speech, the Government said that employment would be a new priority, with a new minister responsible for employment. That minister is Dr. Eric Hoskins.  He is the same person responsible for leading the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That Throne Speech called on the private sector to specifically address employment for persons with disabilities.

It should not have taken a year to get this process started. The Government should already have developed and launched an action plan to get more employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. Last summer, Dr. Hoskins proclaimed that accessibility for persons with disabilities is a "top priority" for him and the Ontario Government.  

* The Government is giving this new advisory council an excessive ten months to come up with recommendations. The text of the Government's letter, set out below, states "…it will be the objective of the council to submit its final report before the end of 2014." 

This shouldn't take as much as ten months. No doubt, the Government contemplates yet more delay after receiving that report, to decide what to do with the Council's recommendations. Unemployed and underemployed persons with disabilities should not have to suffer yet more delay. The AODA requires a fully accessible by 2025, 20 years after it was enacted. Nine of those 20 years have already passed. Only eleven years remain.

* This feels like a bad case of déjà vu. The Government has already created, staffed and operated a multi-year advisory committee drawn from the disability community, the private sector and the broader public sector, to identify impediments to employment for persons with disabilities, and to recommend corrective action. Back in 2007, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Ontario Government appointed the Employment Standards Development Committee. It was required to consult the public and craft recommendations for an Employment Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the AODA.    

That Committee worked hard. It presented its final recommendation to the Government in September 2009. The Government invited and received public input on those recommendations.

The Government studied that feedback for at least one year. After this, the Government enacted the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation in June 2011 under the AODA. That regulation includes a series of provisions addressing accessibility in the workplace for persons with disabilities.

Regrettably, when the Government passed that regulation, it did not incorporate all our recommendations to make it strong and effective. The Government seems now to be creating yet another committee to re-plough much of the same terrain.

We agree that the employment accessibility provisions passed under the AODA in June 2011 don't go far enough, and have time lines that are too long.  Reinforcing this, the Honourable Frances Lankin et al rendered an important report in October 2012 at the Government's request entitled: "Brighter Prospects-Transforming Social Assistance in Ontario." It reaffirmed that persons with disabilities need more to gain proper access to employment. That report stated:

"Third, governments, employers, and indeed all of us, must do more to remove the significant barriers that people with disabilities face. Discrimination, a lack of workplace accommodation, and other barriers can discourage or undermine individual efforts to engage in the labour force or community, despite high personal motivation. While there has been progress in removing workplace barriers for people with disabilities, it will take time to see the full impact. For example, the Accessibility Standard for Employment under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is being phased in over five years (from 2012 to 2017). As long as systemic, structural, and attitudinal barriers impede employment and participation, these barriers must be recognized in the Pathway to Employment Plans for people with disabilities."

That report made detailed recommendations for action.

* Since the AODA was enacted in 2005, the Government has also appointed and maintained the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC). It includes representation from the disability community, the public sector and the private sector. Giving advice on strategies for improving the employment of persons with disabilities is well within that under-utilized Council's mandate.

* The Government stated as follows in a February 4, 2014 email to us: 

"The Partnership Council will provide strategic advice and recommend best practices to government as we develop our first-ever employment strategy for people with disabilities. This council is different than the advisory panel that helped develop our employment standard because it is focused on working with the business community to raise awareness about the economic opportunities of hiring people with disabilities to grow our economy and create jobs. We anticipate the Partnership Council will make its final report before the end of the year."

Yet it is our understanding that this very activity was part of the focus of the Employment Accessibility Standards Development Committee from 2007 to 2009.

* Making this worse, the Government seems to be taking all this time to re-invent a wheel that it has already invented. For example:

a) Years ago, the Ontario Government retained the Martin Prosperity Institute to do a major study of the benefits of making Ontario disability-accessible. In the 2010 summer, an excellent and thorough report was produced as a result. For more on the Martin Prosperity Institute's Report on the benefits of accessibility for Ontario.

b) The Ontario Government's Ministry of Community and Social Services (which had lead responsibility for the AODA until last year) has for several years spearheaded the Government's "Don't Waste Talent" initiative to promote employment for persons with disabilities.  For more on the Ontario Government's "Don't Waste Talent" program.

c) The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, the branch of the Ontario Government that is mandated to oversee the AODA's implementation and enforcement, has for several years operated the Enabling Change Program. In this program, the Government has partnered with several private sector organizations and funded several projects to promote accessibility.

d) The Federal Government has already undertaken a project to gather input on a similar topic. The Government of Canada's "Re-Thinking Disability in the Private Sector – Report from the Panel on Labour Market Opportunities for Persons with Disabilities".

e)  If the Government were to now simply do an internet search, it would instantly find many other sources of good ideas for an employment strategy for persons with disabilities in the private sector, such as:

The Harvard Law School's Project on disability.

The International Labour Organization I.L.O.’s new initiative to promote employment of disabled people in the private sector.

The U.S. Government's "Job Accommodation Network" has operated for years, providing information supports for employers in the area of employment for persons with disabilities. To learn more about the U.S. Job Accommodation Network.

Read Strategies to Support Employer-Driven Initiatives to Recruit and Retain Employees with Disabilities:  A joint publication from the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development and the Kessler Foundation, by visiting http://nod.org/assets/downloads/Employer_Driven_Initiatives.pdf

2. What the Ontario Government Should Be doing

We believe these steps are long overdue:

  1. First and foremost, the Ontario Government should immediately effectively enforce and make full use of the employment accessibility requirements of the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation that it enacted in June 2011.

    For example, section 4 of that regulation directs that by January 1, 2014, private organizations in Ontario with at least 50 employees are required to establish, implement, maintain and document a multi-year accessibility plan. It must outline the organization’s strategy to prevent and remove barriers and meet its requirements under that Regulation. This includes reviewing and addressing barriers to employment in the workplace.

  2. The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment should quickly assemble a list of options for a disability employment strategy, drawn from the Government's own past and present programs, and from the programs and ideas that others have accumulated. The internet makes this very quick and easy to do. The Government should immediately make this list public.

  3. If the Government wishes to informally bring together a group of disability advocates and private sector leaders to discuss action options to expand disability employment, it should hold that meeting within the next four weeks.

    No fancy and formal "council" is needed, with all the attending bureaucracy and cost. The attendees should be given in advance the list of action options from Ontario and around the world that the Ministry has discovered.

  4. That informal group should take one or two days to brainstorm its own ideas and offer members' reactions to the list of action options that the Ministry has accumulated. The group should not be bogged down with voting on any of the options, but just offer individual feedback.

  5. The Government should then review this feedback and announce and implement its action plan within four weeks of that meeting.

With the prospect of a possible spring election in Ontario, persons with disabilities should not have to wait months or years before action is taken.

We always urge you to send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com 

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Text of Ontario Government Letter Regarding Participation in its Proposed Private Sector Disability Employment Council

Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment
Office of the Minister
8th Floor, Hearst Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto ON M7A 2E1
Telephone: (416) 325-6900
Facsimile: (416) 325-6918

January 23, 2014

As Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment with responsibility for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, I am writing to invite you to submit an application to join the Ontario government’s Partnership Council on Employment Opportunities for People with Disabilities.

In the 2013 Ontario Budget, our government committed to proactively supporting employment opportunities and greater workplace participation for Ontarians with disabilities. We did this by signalling the establishment of a new partnership council to be comprised of corporate leaders, people with disabilities, academics, advocacy groups and not-for-profits, and with executive representation from other ministries.

The Partnership Council will champion the hiring of people with disabilities and provide strategic advice and guidance to the government, thereby supporting employment opportunities and greater workplace participation for Ontarians with disabilities. The council’s recommendations will inform the government’s first ever employment strategy for persons with disabilities.

The council will have a Chair selected from its membership. Its work will be supported by an advisory committee chaired by an Assistant Deputy Minister from the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, with further research, administration and logistical support provided by the ministry.
 
As part of its work and early in its operation, the council will host an Ontario Accessibility Summit to learn about the challenges and opportunities involved in hiring people with disabilities. A final report will be submitted to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment, providing recommendations to the government on increasing the participation of Ontarians with disabilities in the provincial labour force. With support from the ministry, it will be the objective of the council to submit its final report before the end of 2014.

Please review and complete the accompanying Application for Appointment form and Personal and Conflict of Interest Disclosure form and return them to my office by mail to the address above. Do not hesitate to contact Alyson Rowe (alyson.rowe@ontario.ca) should you have any questions regarding the partnership council or the application forms.

Yours sincerely,
 
Dr. Eric Hoskins
Minister

Text of the Toronto Star February 7, 2014 Article

Posted at
http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2014/02/07/ontario_convenes_new_partnership_council_to_boost_jobs_for_disabled_people.html

Toronto Star February 7, 2014
Ontario convenes new ‘partnership council’ to boost jobs for disabled people
But one leading advocate calls the new group a stall tactic to avoid fixing the crisis of unemployment among people with disabilities.
By: Laura Kane, News reporter

Photo: Lawyer David Lepofsky, who is blind, is skeptical about whether the province's new council, composed of business leaders, people with disabilities and academics, will be any more effective than past efforts at ensuring that people with disabilities have employment opportunities. Photo by: ANDREW FRANCIS WALLACE / TORONTO STAR

A new provincial panel that will explore solutions to unemployment among people with disabilities is a “stall tactic” to avoid fixing the crisis now, one advocate says.

The Star has learned the province will soon announce a “partnership council” of people with disabilities, business leaders and academics to create the province’s first-ever employment strategy for disabled people by the end of 2014.

But to one accessibility advocate, it’s a case of déjà vu.

“This is reinventing the wheel,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “This is delay, not action. There are things they could be enforcing right now that would be very helpful.”

The council was first promised in last year’s budget, but the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment began recruiting members in January and expects to announce details in mid-March.

It’s not the first time the province has convened such a panel. In 2007, it brought together business leaders and people with disabilities to create accessibility regulations for employers. The Integrated Accessibility Standards were enacted in 2011.

For the 1.9 million people with disabilities in Ontario, waiting another year for the recommendations of yet another panel is simply too little, too late, Lepofsky said.

“How long do you have to stay poor and unemployed?” asked Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind. “We have a lot of talent to offer, and every person with a disability who gets a job is one less person on social assistance.”

Minister Eric Hoskins said in an interview that the goals of the new council are very different from those of the 2007 panel. While that one was focused on regulations, this council will focus on job creation, he said.

“This is to seek out and engage champions of the business community to demonstrate leadership, and make the argument among their peers of why it makes good business sense to hire people with disabilities,” he said.

Hoskins said the council would engage with businesses as soon as it convenes. The province will not wait until the results of the report to take action, he said.

“It’s very much an action-oriented council. The mandate before them is to result in Ontario businesses employing more people with disabilities.”

About 25 per cent of disabled people in Ontario’s labour market are unemployed. If all the people who have given up looking for work are included in the statistics, that number rises to 75 per cent, said Joe Dale, executive director of the Ontario Disability Employment Network.

Dale has been tapped to sit on the new council. He said he is hopeful that bringing business leaders and people with disabilities together will be productive, but he won’t know until he has more details.

“If they’re going to start trying to reinvent a dialogue about what are the barriers to employment, then I think that book’s already been written. Let’s read it and start from there, and say: What do we do about it?”

Numerous studies have already explored unemployment among people with disabilities. The federal government released the results of a major study last year called “Re-Thinking Disability in the Private Sector.”

Meanwhile, the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services — which had responsibility for the accessibility file until last year — has for several years spearheaded the government’s “Don’t Waste Talent” initiative to promote employment for people with disabilities.

Still, the new council could be useful if it focuses on the “carrot” — teaching employers why it’s beneficial to hire people with disabilities — rather than the “stick” of regulation, Dale said.

“Businesses are much more responsive when you can show there’s a business benefit of being an inclusive employer, and when they hear that message from other businesses that have been successful,” he said.

Studies have shown that workplaces that hire people with disabilities have lower turnover, lower non-wage payroll costs, better safety records, better loyalty to the employer and dedication to the job, Dale said.