ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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HAMILTON SPECTATOR ARTICLES SHOW WHY IT IS SO IMPORTANT TO GIVE THE MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT FEEDBACK NOW ON ITS PROPOSED ACCESSIBILITY REGULATION BEFORE THE DEADLINE TOMORROW

March 17, 2011

SUMMARY

A series of articles in the Hamilton Spectator this month show that it is very important for as many individuals and organizations to urge the McGuinty Government to strengthen its proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation. The McGuinty Government has given the public until tomorrow, March 18, 2011, to give feedback on its proposed Accessibility Regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Please take 3 minutes to let the Government know if you support the enactment of a strong accessibility regulation, and if you endorse the March 11, 2011 brief of the AODA Alliance. Below you'll find the contact information you need. These articles, set out below, show the ill-informed and inaccurate "push-back" against this proposed regulation that is unfortunately coming from some within the Municipality of Hamilton.

If you live in Hamilton, we also encourage you to call on the Hamilton City Council to take a more positive and accurate approach to meeting the human rights of persons with disabilities.

MORE DETAILS

It is very important for us all to make sure the McGuinty Government strengthens its proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation, and to make sure the Government doesn't weaken it.

Below we set out articles in the March 1, 3, 9 and 15 Hamilton Spectator. In those articles can be found several good reasons why Ontario needs strong, effective accessibility regulations under the AODA. However, the March 3, 2011 article below also includes inaccurate and troubling arguments from City of Hamilton officials which support weakening this draft regulation. In it, the City officials make the grossly-exaggerated claim that the City of Hamilton will, because of this regulation, have to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to comply with the regulation. It complains about the cost of measures that are not even in the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation, especially requirements to widen sidewalks.

The Hamilton City officials referred to in that article may not realize that the measures in the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation are all required under the Human Rights Code, and have been required for decades. If so, it is more important than ever for the Integrated Accessibility Regulation to be amended, as we propose, to require them to be trained on their duty to accommodate persons with disabilities under the Human Rights Code. Our March 11, 2011 brief on the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation shows that this proposed regulation is, if anything, in several ways weaker than the Human Rights Code.

We must not let such ill-informed, inaccurate claims undermine our effort towards making Ontario fully accessible by 2025. We commend Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur for writing to the Spectator to counter these claims. Her letter, set out below, was in the March 9, 2011 edition. We also commend her for rejecting efforts by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario to stall the enactment of this regulation. AMO has been at the table throughout the several years when these requirements were being devised. We, an unfunded community coalition, got our brief submitted a week before the deadline, using volunteers. With the ample resources of Ontario's many municipalities and their paid staff, behind it, AMO and its members could certainly have done the same.

We also commend the chair of Hamilton's Accessibility Advisory Committee, Tim Nolan, for his articulate and well-reasoned response, published in the Spectator on March 15, 2011 and set out below. We urge Hamilton to listen to its Accessibility Advisory Committee, and adopt a more accurate assessment of the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation.

Please treat these articles as a call to action. We urge as many individuals and organizations as possible across Ontario to now let Premier McGuinty and Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur know that you want this draft regulation strengthened, not weakened. We set out their contact information below.

The McGuinty Government set Friday, March 18, 2011 as its deadline for receiving feedback. Please take a moment to send them an email with your thoughts. It can be very short, if you wish. You can go into as much detail as you like.

Of course, you can write the government about this after March 18. However you are more likely to have an impact if you write in time for that deadline. We are concerned that the Government may get similar ill-informed "push back" from some others, complaining that the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation expects them to do too much, and too soon. We have to keep the pressure up, to counter that risk.

You can download our brief in Microsoft Word format by clicking here:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/default.asp

The government's draft accessibility regulation, that our brief comments on, aims to address barriers facing people with disabilities in transportation, employment and in information and communication. You can find the Government's draft regulation on our website at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02012011.asp

Write Premier McGuinty and Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur. You can write as an individual. If you are involved with a community organization, get it to write on behalf of that organization. If you are on a municipal Accessibility Advisory Committee, please get your committee to write them as a group. Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees are created by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. They have expertise with the AODA from which the Ontario Government can benefit. If not, write the Government on your own behalf as a member of an accessibility advisory committee.

To reach Premier McGuinty, you cannot write to a public email address. You have to go to a website page and enter your email message there. Go to: http://www.premier.gov.on.ca/feedback

The Premier’s other contact information is:

Hon. Premier Dalton McGuinty
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1
Facsimile: (416) 325-9895
Voice phone: (416) 325-1941
 
To contact Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur:

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister
Community & Social Services
Hepburn Block
6th Floor, 80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1E9
Facsimile: (416) 325-3347
Email: mcssinfo@css.gov.on.ca
Voice phone (toll free): (888) 789-4199


March 1, 2011
TheSpec.com
New act knocks down barriers
New provincial rules will require businesses to ensure handicapped customers get the same treatment as the able-bodied.
Steve Arnold

Business owners are being warned to get ready now for tough new accessibility rules that start taking effect next year.

The new rules, under the five-year-old Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, will require most businesses to meet new standards that ensure handicapped customers get the same treatment as the able-bodied. The new customer service rules include having written policies for meeting the goals and ensuring staff are properly trained. They take effect Jan. 1.

While the new act will be enforced by new provincial inspectors, business operators were urged in a seminar yesterday to get ready because it's good business and socially the right thing to do.

On the business side, former Ontario cabinet minister Marie Bountrogianni told the thinly attended seminar the background studies that went into creating the new Ontario law showed similar legislation in the United States brought an additional $12 billion in revenue into the hotel and restaurant industry from the new customers who gained access to buildings.

“That shows that people with disabilities have money and they want to spend it,” she said. “Businesses have wanted that business, but they didn't know how to get it.”

Bountrogianni was Ontario's minister of citizenship in 2005 when Premier Dalton McGuinty asked her to stickhandle the creation and passage of a new accessibility act “with teeth” and to have it ready within a year.

“For me, this was my single most fulfilling experience in politics,” she said. “We got the support of the business community because we were reasonable and gave them a long lead-in time.”

A Royal Bank study in 2000 estimated Ontario has 1.8 million people who meet the definition of disabled — that's about one in every seven, and the number is expected to grow to one in five by 2025. That population represents $25 billion in consumer spending.

Pieces of the new legislation, such as the customer service standard, started coming into effect in January 2010, affecting the public service. Now the requirements are being extended to private businesses. Those with more than 20 employees must file regular reports on their compliance, while smaller firms and agencies must still meet the standard but are spared the reporting requirement.

Despite the term “customer service standard,” the new rules don't apply just to stores. The definition used in the act also applies to clients, patients, constituents and patrons.

Brad Spencer, executive director of PATH Employment Services in Hamilton, explained the customer service standard requires businesses to think about things such as doing business over the phone for customers who physically can't get into a store, or amending “no return” policies for handicapped customers who can't use in-store change rooms.

Other issues include whether people attending events to support a handicapped person should be charged full rate, and how to accommodate customers with guide or service dogs.

There's also a requirement for written policies on how to handle those situations and records of staff training to be maintained.

Another standard being developed under the act will require businesses to ensure their websites are accessible to people with a broad range of handicaps.

Randy Bassett, of Hamilton-based DataCPR Inc., said the information and communications standard is designed to give everyone the same chance to use the Internet to enhance their lives — something that's being denied to people who don't have the physical dexterity to use a mouse or the vision to navigate a graphics-heavy site.

Making the changes needed to remove those barriers, Bassett said, will benefit everyone using a company's website.

More information on these and other provincial standards is available at  www.ontario.ca/AccessOn.

sarnold@thespec.com
905-526-3496


March 3, 2011
TheSpec.com
Upgrades will cost hundreds of millions
Emma Reilly

It's going to cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars to implement the province's tough new accessibility standards, says Hamilton's finance chief.

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the province is mandating that people with disabilities receive the same treatment as able-bodied people. That means the city will have to update everything from the width of sidewalks to its website in order to accommodate people who are handicapped.

Although it's too early to calculate the total impact of the upgrades, the changes will load huge costs onto the city, said Roberto Rossini, the city's general manager of finance.

Updating the transit system alone will cost about $6.5 million.

“This is significant. And we haven't even gotten to the (infrastructure) regulation, which is going to be even more significant,” Rossini told members of the audit, finance and administration committee on Wednesday. “That would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The city is considering asking the province to either relax their standards or help pay for the upgrades.

The province is requiring the city to implement the accessibility in five stages.

The first, customer service, is already complete.

The province is now asking municipalities to update three more categories: transportation, information and communications, and employment.

This set of upgrades will require the city to pay for website and equipment upgrades, consultants, training, and new tools and software licences. In terms of transit, some of the biggest costs are for more drivers and staff and their training.

But it's the final stage of upgrades — infrastructure such as sidewalks, buildings and vehicles — that will cost the most.

For example, Rossini says the province is asking cities to widen all their sidewalks to two metres wide. Not only will the city have to cover the costs of construction, but it's also on the hook for land, labour and engineering.

“I've heard estimates that are huge. I've heard numbers for sidewalks that are $100 million, $200 million,” he said.

Other than the cost of the upgrades, one of the main concerns raised by councillors at Wednesday's audit and administration meeting was the province's timing.

The draft of proposed standards for the transportation, communications, and employment upgrades was released on Feb. 3 and forwarded a few days later to city staff, who have spent the past few weeks studying its ramifications.

That leaves only a little more than two weeks for the city to meet a March 18 deadline set by the province for municipalities to provide their feedback.

Councillor Russ Powers, who sits on the Association of Ontario Municipalities, says AMO has asked the province to extend its deadline.

Council will debate the issue at the next general issues committee meeting.

ereilly@thespec.com
905-526-2452


TheSpec.com
Minister: Accessibility essential
March 9, 2011

Re: Upgrades will cost hundreds of millions; Disabled will benefit from provincial act (March 3)

I am writing in response to the recent article regarding proposed standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The article left readers with the impression the province has not provided municipalities and businesses with enough time to review or provide feedback on the proposed accessibility standards.

Not only have municipalities been involved in the actual development of these standards, but the standards have now been posted three times for public review: individually in 2008 and ’09 and then as a single, integrated regulation first in September 2010 and again in February 2011. I spoke about them at last year’s Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference, and provincial staff have presented at or attended municipal conferences for the past two years to share information and answer questions about these upcoming accessibility laws.

The final standard — which covers the design and building of indoor and outdoor spaces — does not include a requirement to retrofit buildings or rebuild sidewalks. It will only apply to new construction or major renovations.

We recognize change is not always easy. We have worked to develop standards that are realistic and balance the needs of the public and private sector with those of people with disabilities. We are also phasing in the requirements between now and 2025, giving organizations the flexibility they need to include accessibility in their regular planning and budget cycles.

Disability is something that personally affects more than 15 per cent of Ontarians. This number will grow as our population ages. When you think of it that way, Ontario simply cannot afford to not be accessible.

Madeleine Meilleur, Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services


Hamilton Spectator
March 15, 2011

Accessibility is opportunity for all

Re: The cost of accessibility

Where is the threshold between cost of accessibility and benefit to society? And who draws that line?

In history, there have been many great leaders and contributors to society who have or had a disability. Each of them has contributed to a world of change: economic, social, industrial, political and artistic.

This list includes, but is not limited to, Socrates, Leonardo da Vinci, Columbus, Mozart, Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Edgar Allan Poe, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Orville Wright, Franklin Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill and Stephen Hawking.

Presumably all of these great people of their time were able to make change, not just for their own benefit, but for that of all humankind. With tremendous barriers and obstacles confronting them, they were or are the authors of remarkable achievements.

Had their societies been openly accepting of people with disabilities, imagine what they may have accomplished?

Moreover, imagine how many other great people may have emerged had their society been accepting and accessible? Now imagine what future people with disabilities might achieve if we give them the chance?

An accessible society makes opportunity for itself and individuals with disabilities. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is for all Ontario, not just those persons with disabilities.

In my Ontario, the cost is the lost opportunity for the next Hawking, Ford, Churchill, Poe or Socrates.

Tim Nolan, Chair,
Advisory Committee for Persons with Disabilities,
City of Hamilton