ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

With a Possible Spring Election Looming, AODA Alliance Writes Ontario Party Leaders to Request Election Commitments on Disability Accessibility

March 3, 2014

Summary

Media reports abound suggesting that there is a good chance that Ontario will have a general election this spring. Ontario's minority government could be defeated at any time.

As a result, we have just written the major party leaders to seek election commitments in the area of disability accessibility. Our March 3, 2014 letter to Kathleen Wynne, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath is set out below, preceded by a summary of the commitments we seek. We will make public the responses each party gives us. We of course welcome commitment from other political parties that have no representation in the Ontario Legislature.

If no spring election is called, our letter still provides a great agenda for action now on implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, both for the Government and the opposition parties.

We encourage you to  

As in the past, our participation in any election will be entirely and strictly non-partisan. We do not seek to elect or defeat any party or candidate. We seek to win strong commitments from each party, and to urge voters to consider these issues on election day. While we focus on issues on accessibility, we urge you to also raise any other disability issues that you consider important.

Did you know that the AODA Alliance, preceded by its predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, has been raising accessibility issues in every Ontario election since 1995? In 1995, 1999, 2003, 2007 and 2011, election commitments were made on disability accessibility by some or all of the three major parties. In each case, their election platforms in this area were set out in letters to us or our predecessor coalition. This included:

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MORE DETAILS

Summary of the Commitments we Seek

In our letter to the leaders of the three parties in the Ontario legislature, we seek commitments in 8 areas, to:

A. Generally strengthen implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

B. Ensure that all enforceable requirements under the AODA are effectively enforced

C. Develop the new Accessibility Standards under the AODA needed to achieve full accessibility by 2025

D. Ensure taxpayers' money is never used to create or buttress disability barriers

E. Ensure accessibility of provincial and municipal elections

F. Substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service ensures the accessibility of its services, facilities and workplaces

G. Complete the overdue promised review of all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers

H. Foster our ongoing relationship with your party

AODA Alliance's March 3, 2014 Letter to the Leaders Of the Political Parties in the Ontario Legislature

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Visit: www.aodalliance.org

March 3, 2014

Hon. Ms. Kathleen Wynne, Premier
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1
Email: Premier@ontario.ca

Mr. Tim Hudak, Leader - Official Opposition
Room 381, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A8
Email: tim.hudakco@pc.ola.org

Ms. Andrea Horwath, Leader - Third Party
Room 113, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A5
Email: ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca

Dear Leaders,

Re: 2014 Election Commitments on Disability and Accessibility

Our non-partisan coalition seeks the achievement of a fully-accessible Ontario for people with disabilities, through the prompt, effective implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). There is a real possibility of an election this spring or later this year. In anticipation of this, we seek election commitments on steps to make Ontario barrier-free for over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities.

Media reports make it clear that there is a real possibility of a spring election in Ontario. In each Ontario election since 1995, party commitments on disability accessibility issues have been announced in correspondence with us, or with our predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. We again write in our spirit of non-partisanship to seek your election commitments.

We will share your responses with the public and urge voters to consider this issue in the election. We would appreciate receiving your response by March 24, 2014. Please email your response to us at aodafeedback@gmail.com. We look forward to working with all parties on implementing these commitments.

If no election is called this spring, your Party's commitments will nevertheless be very important and helpful. They can guide actions by the Government and opposition parties in the Legislature, on disability accessibility.

A. Generally Strengthen Implementation of the AODA 2005

In 2005, all parties unanimously voted for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to becoming fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025. In the 2007 election, your parties each committed to strengthen the AODA's implementation. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10012007.asp

Ontario's next Government must plan to treat the achievement of a fully accessible Ontario by 2025 as a top priority, to ensure that Ontario will reach that goal. Nine of the twenty years allocated to reach full accessibility have already passed. Only 11 years remain. If an election is held this year, then Ontario's next Government will have a mandate that extends to 2018, just seven years before Ontario reaches 2025.

We therefore ask you to commit to:

1. continue to fully support the AODA and its goals.

2. strengthen the implementation of the AODA 2005 and the companion Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, and not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation, in regulations enacted under them, in any policies, practices, strategies or initiatives of or within the Ontario Government that exist to implement them or achieve their objectives, or any rights that persons with disabilities enjoy under the Ontario Human Rights Code or in rules or regulations made under it.

3. reaffirm and stand by your Party's previous commitments on disability accessibility and the AODA.

B. Ensure that All Enforceable Requirements under the AODA are Effectively Enforced

In 2003, the current Government commendably promised the effective enforcement of the AODA. All parties voted in favour of including in the AODA important enforcement powers for audits, inspections, compliance orders, and stiff monetary penalties. Earlier, on October 29, 1998, all parties supported a resolution in the Legislature that required the Disabilities Act to have teeth.

Government records show that that the Government has not been effectively enforcing the AODA. As of November 2013, the Government knew that fully 70% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees had not filed mandatory self-reports on their compliance with the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard. Those organizations had well over five years to comply. Despite this, as of November 2013, the Government had not conducted a single audit or inspection of any private sector organizations, or issued a single compliance order, or imposed a dime in monetary penalties.

For years, the Government has had unused appropriated funding available for enforcement and an unused plan on how to enforce this legislation. Since we revealed this situation in November, 2013, any new Government enforcement effort has focused only on 2,500 of the 36,000 private sector organizations with at least 20 employees, and which are clearly violating the AODA. There is no indication that the Government has taken any action to enforce the AODA vis a vis private sector organizations with under 20 employees, or vis a vis any AODA requirements in force regarding transportation, employment or information and communication.
 
We therefore ask your Party to commit to:

4. in order to achieve full compliance with the AODA, effectively use all AODA enforcement powers, and to use them to enforce all requirements that are in force under the AODA, and in connection with all classes of organizations that are obliged to comply under the AODA.

5. immediately give Ontario Government inspectors and investigators under other legislation a full mandate to include enforcement of the AODA when they inspect or investigate an organization for any other reason.

6. within two months of a spring 2014 election (or, if no election is called this spring, then by March 15, 2014), make public a detailed plan for enforcing all AODA requirements. ("Enforcement" referring to audits, inspections, compliance orders and monetary penalties) Among other things, this should include establishing and publicizing an accessible toll-free phone number for members to report violations of AODA requirements.

7. semi-annually give a detailed report to the public on levels of compliance with AODA requirements, and frequency of measures taken to audit, inspect or otherwise enforce AODA requirements. This should include the amount of funds appropriated for, and the funds spent on, implementing the AODA, including on enforcement.

C. Develop the New Accessibility Standards under the AODA Needed to Achieve Full Accessibility by 2025

We need the Ontario Government to develop and enact new accessibility standards. The AODA requires the Ontario Government to enact and implement all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible to all people with disabilities by 2025. The accessibility standards enacted to date will not ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025, even if they are fully enforced and complied with.

The Ontario Government has not designated any new accessibility standards to be developed since well before the 2011 Ontario general election. For over two and a half years, we have advocated for the next three accessibility standards to address disability barriers in health care, education (including schools, universities, colleges and other educational institutions), and residential housing.

On January 21, 2013, the Government announced that it would decide which accessibility standards it would next create based on information already gathered. The Government also announced that it designated the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC) to develop any new accessibility standards that the Government directs. However, the Government has not directed ASAC to develop any new accessibility standards.

It can take years to develop a new accessibility standard. With only eleven years left to reach 2025, it is necessary for the Ontario Government in the next term to ensure that all accessibility standards are developed and enacted that will ensure that that goal is reached.
 
We therefore ask your Party to commit to:

8. develop accessibility standards under the AODA in the areas of education, of health care, and of residential housing, with work on these to begin immediately.

9. over the three months immediately following a spring 2014 election (or between May and July 2014, if there is no spring 2014 election), consult with the public, including the disability community, on all the other accessibility standards that need to be developed to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025, with a decision to be announced on those standards within three months after that consultation.

Shortly after the AODA was enacted in 2005, the Government committed to create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. This was needed to ensure that Ontario's built environment becomes accessible to people with disabilities.

In July 2009, the Government announced that the first phase of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard would only address the accessibility of new buildings and major renovations of existing buildings. It then committed that retrofitting of existing buildings that are not undergoing major renovations would later be addressed through the standards development process.

On August 19, 2011, during the 2011 Ontario general election campaign, the current Government promised that it would enact its promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard "promptly." In December 2012, the Government enacted a small part of this promised accessibility standard under the AODA - the portion to deal with "Public Spaces" (e.g. recreational trails, sidewalks and parking spots). In December 2013, the Ontario Government enacted new accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code to address the accessibility of new buildings and major renovations. This was not enacted as a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA.  

If the only accessibility requirements for the built environment address new construction and major renovations, then Ontario's built environment will not become fully accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. Much of the 2004-05 debate in the Legislature leading up to the enactment of the AODA addressed the need to make Ontario's built environment accessible to people with disabilities. The twenty years that the AODA allows to achieve full accessibility was driven in large part by the time needed to address retrofitting of the built environment.

The Government has not announced when it will commence the promised next phase of the development of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, namely requirements for retrofitting existing buildings for accessibility where needed to achieve the AODA's goals. We
therefore ask your Party to commit to:

10. ensure that the accessibility of the Built environment is fully and effectively addressed by requirements enacted under the AODA, e.g. by immediately commencing the development of the next phase of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, to address accessibility retrofits in existing buildings.

D. Ensure Taxpayers' Money is Never Used to Create or Buttress Disability Barriers

The Government has a promising but largely-untapped additional way to help ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025. It can immediately be fully deployed within the Government's existing budget.

The Ontario Government spends billions of public dollars each year on capital and infrastructure projects, and to procure goods, services and facilities for use by itself or the public. Ontario needs a new, comprehensive, effective strategy to ensure that no one ever uses Ontario tax dollars to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. This can be done within the existing budget for infrastructure and procurement.

Even in recent years, public money has unjustifiably been spent to create new barriers against people with disabilities. For example, the Ontario Government created the new Presto Smart Card, replete with barriers, for paying public transit fares.

Moreover, the Ontario Government is heavily investing in the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has not announced a comprehensive plan for a disability accessibility legacy. On October 1, 2013, we made public our own proposal for a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the 2015 Toronto Games, which is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10012013.asp

We ask your Party to commit to:

11. implement, monitor, enforce and publicly report on a comprehensive strategy to ensure that public money is never used by anyone to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities, for example, in capital or infrastructure spending, or through procurement of goods, services or facilities.

12. ensure that the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games have a strong disability accessibility legacy. Among other things, it should lead public and private sector organizations to significantly increase the accessibility of the infrastructure, services, facilities and goods for serving the public, especially the tourism market, in the regions that will host the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. This should include such things as public transportation, taxis, hotels, stores, restaurants, tourist sites and other tourism facilities. It should also leave a lasting legacy by investing in Ontario's parasports system to ensure that children and young people with disabilities have equal opportunity for participation in sports and recreation.

E. Ensure Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections

In the 2007 election, your parties committed that if elected, you would implement an accessible elections action plan. In 2010, the current Government brought forward Bill 231 to modernize provincial elections. At that time, we called for that bill to be amended to substantially strengthen provisions to ensure elections accessibility for voters and candidates with disabilities. Both opposition parties commendably supported many, if not most of our proposed amendments. The current Government supported fewer of our proposals. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/ElectionInOntario.asp

In 2009, the current Government introduced Bill 212 into the Legislature. Among other things, it required some accessibility improvements for municipal elections. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12172009.asp

Those two new Ontario laws did not solve the problem of barriers facing voters with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections. The current Government said its election accessibility action plan would be something in addition to those bills. To date, no elections accessibility action plan has been announced.

During the 2011 election, the current Government committed to further progress in the area of elections accessibility. In his August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance, then Premier McGuinty pledged: "we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible." Since then, we have seen no new steps by the Ontario Government announced to expand the accessibility of provincial or municipal elections.

Accessible telephone and internet voting would increase the accessibility of the voting process for many voters with disabilities. Yet it wrongly remains banned in provincial elections. Elections Ontario has been very resistant to telephone and internet voting. It has refused to test them in any by-elections even though it has had a legislative power to do so since 2012, and earlier committed to be ready to test these options by a 2012 by-election.

At present, at least 44 Ontario municipalities have used telephone and/or internet voting in municipal elections. The practice appears to be spreading at the municipal level.

We ask your Party to commit to:

13. consult with voters with disabilities for three months immediately after a spring 2014 election (or no later than by the end of June 2014, if no spring election is called), and then introduce in the Legislature within 9 months, with a view to passing a bill that comprehensively and effectively addresses accessibility needs of voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections. This bill should, among other things, ensure telephone and internet voting in Ontario elections and by-elections.

F. Substantially Improve How the Ontario Public Service Ensures the Accessibility of its Services, Facilities and Workplaces

There is a pressing need to substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service and the Ontario Government ensures that its services, facilities and workplaces are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Despite some progress, barriers still remain. As well, accessibility is still too often inadequately dealt with in isolated silos within the Ontario Public Service. There is no systematic monitoring or accountability. No one is ultimately and effectively in charge of ensuring that the Government's accessibility obligations and commitments are kept and met.

We therefore ask your Party to commit to:

14. after promptly consulting with people with disabilities within the Ontario Public Service and in the general public for no more than 2 months, announce and implement a plan to re-engineer how the Ontario Public Service discharges its duty to ensure that its own services, facilities and workplaces are fully accessible. This should include, among other things, ensuring that the accessibility of the Ontario Public Service's services, facilities and workplaces is regularly and comprehensively audited and that public servants are made accountable for ensuring their accessibility.

15. ensure that the Premier and Premier's Office promptly directs the appropriate cabinet ministers and senior public officials to implement the Government's accessibility obligations and commitments, and to make this direction public, once given. This plan should include among other things, the position in each Ontario Government Ministry, now called "Accessibility Lead," should be made in all cases a full-time position, and should be designated to directly report to that Ministry's deputy minister, rather than remaining buried lower down within the ministry.

16. establish a full-time Deputy Minister responsible for ensuring the accessibility of the Ontario Government's services, facilities and workplaces.

G. Complete the Overdue Promised Review of All Ontario Laws for Accessibility Barriers

In the 2007 election, your parties committed that if elected, they would review all provincial laws for accessibility barriers. The current Government did not start this full review until the 2011 spring. In contrast, back in 1982 the Charter of Rights gave governments three years to review all legislation for all equality issues, not just disability equality.

We ask your Party to commit to:

17. complete a review of all legislation for accessibility barriers by 2015, and all regulations by 2016, and to introduce into the Legislature, with the intent of passing it, a first omnibus bill to amend any legislation as needed a result of this review, by the end of 2014, with a further omnibus bill to be introduced at the review's completion by July 1, 2016.

18. amend any regulations that the government deems necessary as a result of the accessibility review, by the end of 2016.

H. Foster Our Ongoing Relationship with Your Party

Our coalition and its predecessor (the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee) have repeatedly been recognized in the Legislature and elsewhere for our advocacy for disability accessibility. Over the past eleven years, with some important exceptions, the current Government has been commendably open to soliciting our views, and to frankly discussing issues and concerns with us, at the highest levels, before key decisions were made, whether or not we agreed on the Government's plans. Both opposition parties have also been open to frankly discuss policy issues with us. Between 1995 and 2003, the previous Government was very resistant to frankly and directly discussing accessibility issues with us.

We ask your Party to commit to:

19. as Premier, periodically meet with us to discuss issues concerning persons with disabilities and accessibility such as the implementation of these commitments, including once within the first four months of taking office, and to have your minister responsible for disability issues, and any other minister with responsibility bearing on our issues, meet with us where needed. If your Party does not form the Government, then to meet with you periodically, and for your Party to be open to raise our concerns in the Legislature, including in Question Period, where appropriate.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance