ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

Windsor Star Reports Raise More Concerns about the Need for Effective Enforcement of Accessible Customer Service for Ontarians with Disabilities and Reminder to Attend May 9, 2013 Toronto Transit Commission Public Forum on Accessible Transit

May 6, 2013

SUMMARY

Here is the latest news on these topics:

1. More troubling media reports, this time from Windsor Ontario.  raise concerns about the need for effective enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

2. Recent Windsor and Toronto incidents also highlight the need to strengthen the customer Service Accessibility Standard, and for the Government to now appoint all members to the mandatory Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, so that the mandatory review of that accessibility standard can at last get underway.

3. We await with anticipation the Government’s appointment of the Next Independent Review of the AODA. The person to conduct that Independent Review must be appointed by May 31, 2013.

4. We remind you to Attend the May 9, 2013 Toronto Transit Commission Public Forum on Accessible Public Transit, which happens to fall on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

If you experience barriers to accessible customer service, let your local media know! Also tell the Ontario Government!

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MORE DETAILS

1. Another Troubling Media Report Raises Concerns about Effective Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Another troubling incident concerning disability accessibility has been reported in the Ontario media. It signals the need for the Ontario Government to now keep its oft-repeated promise to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

According to an article in the May 3, 2013 on-line edition of the Windsor Star, a store in Windsor restricted access to the store to a patron using a motorized wheel chair. This was reportedly not an issue of stairs blocking physical access. According to the article, set out below, the store’s staff did not want people in motorized wheelchairs in the store out of fear that they could damage products for sale.

The AODA Alliance has no direct knowledge about this incident beyond the report in the Windsor Star. We of course, cannot comment on whether these events occurred as reported. However, the AODA Alliance has again swung into action to bring to the public’s attention the importance of that news report for our ongoing campaign to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible to all people with disabilities, as the AODA requires.

We contacted the Windsor Star. We emphasized that this recent news story highlights the need for the Ontario Government to keep its promises to ensure that the AODA is effectively enforced. As a result, the May 5, 2013 on-line edition of the Windsor Star included an additional article emphasizing this issue. We also set that second Windsor Star article out below.

We want to clarify one aspect of the May 5, 2013 Windsor Star article. To ensure that we are accurately understood, it is our position that the Ontario Government is not effectively enforcing the AODA. Any enforcement steps that the Ontario Government has taken under the AODA have been insufficient. It is not our position that the Government has done absolutely nothing to enforce the AODA at any time. Put simply, the Government needs to do much, much more, and to do so now.

This news from Windsor all comes just two weeks after the Toronto Star included a similarly-troubling report about a Toronto restaurant that reportedly restricted access to a patron with hearing loss who was using a Hearing Ear dog. In that earlier instance, we brought to the Toronto Star’s attention the importance of such reports for our campaign to get the AODA effectively enforced. Read about the Toronto Star’s reports on the recent Toronto incident concerning accessible customer service for people with disabilities at a Toronto restaurant.

Back in the 2011 Ontario general election, Premier Dalton McGuinty again promised Ontarians with disabilities that the AODA would be effectively enforced. Dalton McGuinty’s August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance.

On December 3, 2012, as she campaigned for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne promised us in writing that she would honour all Dalton McGuinty’s promises on disability and accessibility. That includes the pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. She is now Ontario’s premier. We need her to show strong leadership on this issue. Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA alliance.  

2. Windsor and Toronto Incidents Also Highlight the Need to Strengthen the Customer Service Accessibility Standard and for the Government to Now Appoint All Members to The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council

These media reports don’t just demonstrate the need for the AODA to be effectively enforced, though that alone is a critical issue for Ontarians with disabilities. These reports also show us that the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, which the Ontario Government enacted in 2007 under the AODA, needs to be substantially strengthened.

Under the AODA, the Government is obliged to launch a full review of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard five years after it was enacted. We are now at that point in time. It has been five years since 2007. 

The Government has not yet launched the mandatory review of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. The Government announced last year that it would task a revamped Accessibility Standards Advisory :Council (ASAC) (created under the AODA), with responsibility for the development and review of all accessibility standards under the AODA. On January 21, 2013, the Government announced the appointment of Mr. Jim Sanders to chair the newly revamped ASAC. On that date the Government  also repeated its earlier 2012 announcement that ASAC would be responsible for developing all new accessibility standards and reviewing any existing ones under the AODA. The Ontario Government’s January 21, 2013 news release, announcing the revamped ASAC, and the appointment of Jim Sanders as its chair.

As another cause for serious concern, the Ontario Government has still not appointed any of the other members of ASAC, apart from its chair Jim Sanders. The Government, we understand, is hoping to announce the other members of ASAC soon.

The Government should have appointed all members of ASAC much sooner. This unwarranted delay is made all the worse since back on October 31, 2012, the Government posted an announcement inviting people to apply to be appointed to the newly revised ASAC which would enjoy this broadened mandate to develop all new accessibility standards and to review existing ones.  That posting gave the public until November 27, 2012 to apply. Learn more about the Government’s October 31, 2012 public invitation to apply to be appointed as a member of ASAC.

ASAC has not even met this year. Of course, if it only has one member, it is not able to do much of anything.

ASAC is not an optional body. Section 31 of the AODA makes it mandatory. It provides:

“31.  (1)   The Minister shall establish a council to be known in English as the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and in French as Conseil consultatif des normes d’accessibilité.  2005, c. 11, s. 31 (1).

Members
      (2)   A majority of the members of the Council shall be persons with disabilities.  2005, c. 11, s. 31 (2).

Remuneration and expenses
      (3)   The Minister may pay the members of the Council the remuneration and the reimbursement for expenses that the Lieutenant Governor in Council determines.  2005, c. 11, s. 31 (3).

Duties
      (4)   At the direction of the Minister, the Council shall advise the Minister on,
         (a)    the process for the development of accessibility standards and the progress made by standards development committees in the development of proposed accessibility standards and in achieving the purposes of this Act;
         (b)    accessibility reports prepared under this Act;
         (c)    programs of public information related to this Act; and
         (d)    all other matters related to the subject-matter of this Act that the Minister directs.  2005, c. 11, s. 31 (4).

Public consultation
      (5)   At the direction of the Minister, the Council shall hold public consultations in relation to the matters referred to in subsection (4).  2005, c. 11, s. 31 (5).

Reports
      (6)   The Council shall give the Minister such reports as the Minister may request.” 

 

3. We Await with Anticipation the Appointment of the Next Independent Review of the AODA

It seems to us as if the Ontario Government’s action on accessibility has in many respects ground down to a snail’s pace. This cannot be excused simply by the fact that Ontario has a new premier, and that responsibility for the AODA has shifted to a new ministry, and to a new minister. This snail’s pace was evident for months, before the new premier took office. Moreover, the new premier and her Government have been able in short order to take swift action on other fronts. The new premier, Kathleen Wynne, swiftly appointed a new Cabinet, announced a comprehensive new agenda in its February 19, 2013 Throne Speech, and later tabled a new Ontario Budget on May 2, 2013.

The issues raised in this Update have been ongoing for months or years. Most recently, we promptly alerted the new premier, Kathleen Wynne, and the new minister responsible for the AODA, Dr. Eric Hoskins, about the top priorities for action in the disability accessibility field. You can see our February 27, 2013 letter to Dr. Eric Hoskins, minister responsible for the AODA, by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02272013.asp 

You can see our March 4, 2013 letter to Premier Wynne, by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03042013.asp

It is especially timely that by the end of this month, May 31, 2013, the Ontario Government is required by the AODA to appoint an independent person to conduct another Independent Review of the effective of the AODA and its implementation. The last Independent Review was conducted by Charles Beer in 2009-2010. The Government tabled the final report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA in the Ontario Legislature on May 31, 2010. Three years from that date, the obligatory deadline for appointing the next Independent Review, is May 31, 2013.

We await with eager anticipation the Government’s announcing no later than May 31, 2013 the name of the person to conduct the next Independent Review of the AODA. It is important that the person whom the Government chooses meets several important criteria. He or she should be:

* completely independent of the Government, and willing to take a very fair and independent look at how effective the AODA and its implementation has been going.

* knowledgeable about disability accessibility or able to quickly learn about it, through expertise in public policy.

* seen to be fair and arms-length both by the disability community and the organizations who must comply with the AODA (particularly the private sector and the broader public sector)

* skilled to be able to listen fairly and impartially to all sides, after holding an open, accessible public consultation around Ontario.

* a credible and respected individual whose advice and opinions will deserve and will secure the attention and respect of the Government and the public, including Ontarians with disabilities and organizations that must comply with the AODA.

Section 41 of the AODA provides:

"41.  (1)   Within four years after this section comes into force, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations and report on his or her findings to the Minister.  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (1).

Consultation
      (2)   A person undertaking a review under this section shall consult with the public and, in particular, with persons with disabilities.  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (2).

Contents of report
      (3)   Without limiting the generality of subsection (1), a report may include recommendations for improving the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations.  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (3).

Tabling of report
      (4)   The Minister shall submit the report to the Lieutenant Governor in Council and shall cause the report to be laid before the Assembly if it is in session or, if not, at the next session.  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (4).

Further review
      (5)   Within three years after the laying of a report under subsection (4) and every three years thereafter, the Lieutenant Governor in Council shall, after consultation with the Minister, appoint a person who shall undertake a further comprehensive review of the effectiveness of this Act and the regulations.  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (5).

Same
      (6)   Subsections (2), (3) and (4) apply with necessary modifications to a review under subsection (5).  2005, c. 11, s. 41 (6)."

Read the 2010 Final Report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA, and see all the AODA Alliance’s efforts to give input to that review and later to get its final report implemented.

4. Remember to Attend the May 9, 2013 Toronto Transit Commission Public Forum on Accessible Public Transit

We again encourage as many as possible to attend the May 9, 2013 Toronto Transit Public Forum on Accessible Public Transit. This event happens to occur on the day which has been internationally designated as Global Accessibility Awareness Day. Events on accessibility for people with disabilities will be occurring around the world. We don’t know if it is just a happy coincidence that TTC chose this day to hold this annual event.

TTC’s website includes this information about the event:

“You are invited to give us ideas on how to make our services and facilities better for people with disabilities.

Thursday May 9, 2013,
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

Queen Elizabeth Exhibit Hall, Exhibition Place - 180 Princes’ Boulevard

One-on-One Discussions:
6:00 pm to 7:00 pm - Take the opportunity to speak to TTC staff and ACAT members on your own.

Open Public Forum:
7:00 pm to 9:00 pm

ASL, captioning, and attendants will be available.

TTC Board, TTC Staff, and members of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT) will be on hand to hear from the public about the accessibility of conventional TTC and door-to-door (Wheel-Trans) public transit services in Toronto. Let us know how the TTC can make the system accessible for everyone.

Topics

1. Discussion of previous Public Forum concerns and progress made.
2. Review of new service initiatives.
3. Opportunity for the community to voice concerns or suggestions for accessible transit improvement.

How to get there:
An accessible shuttle bus service will operate from  Bathurst Station to the Queen Elizabeth Hall starting at 5:00 pm. Return buses will start at 9:00 pm. Regularly scheduled accessible bus service is also available on the 29 Dufferin bus route.

Can't attend?
If you cannot attend, but would like to contribute suggestions about TTC conventional and Wheel-Trans services, call 416-393-3030 (TTY, Hearing Impaired Service at 416-338-0357) daily from 7:00 am to 10:00 pm, except statutory holidays. You may also complete our on-line survey.”

Learn more about the background to the TTC’s annual Public Forum on Accessible Transit, and how it originated in the cases that David Lepofsky personally brought against TTC to get all bus and subway stops audibly announced to accommodate blind passengers.

*****

The Windsor Star On-Line May 3, 2013

Originally posted at http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2013/05/03/women-say-store-refused-them-entry-because-of-wheelchairs/

Women say store refused them entry because of wheelchairs
by Rebecca Wright

PHOTO:  Jacqueline Coyne sits outside of Cose Belle Gifts and Unique Shop at 380 Ouellette Ave. Friday, May 3, 2013. Coyne says she was was refused service by the business owner because she uses a motorized wheelchair. (DYLAN KRISTY/The Windsor Star)
 
Two women say they were kicked out of a downtown store for using wheelchairs.

Jacqueline Coyne staged a one-woman protest Friday outside the Cose Belle gift shop at 380 Ouellette Avenue Friday afternoon. She wore a sign saying, “I was refused service because I’m in a wheelchair,” referring to her attempt to browse through the store Thursday evening.

“The door was open so I just went in,” said the 64-year-old former retail worker from Windsor.

“The man (who runs the store) approached me. I thought he was going to ask if I needed assistance. But he waved his hand and said, ‘No, you can’t come in here. You’ve got to leave.’ He said, ‘We’ve got nice things in here and we don’t want them broken. We don’t allow scooters in the store.’”

Coyne, who plans to write a letter to the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association, called the experience  hurtful.

Within minutes of Coyne staging her protest, another woman — also in a wheelchair — joined her, saying that last week she was also told to leave Cose Belle because she was in a wheelchair.

“I’ve always admired what’s in the store,” said Claudia Stillman. “I just went in for a second and he said, ‘You can’t come in.’ I just wanted to look around. And he rushed right at me. It was offensive. I’ll never go back.”

A man pricing items at the Cose Belle counter Friday afternoon, who would only give his name as Peter, said he never refused anybody entry. He said he merely stopped the wheelchairs from coming past the front part of the store, which sells such things as clothes, jewellery and decor.

“I did not refuse service,” Peter said. “I said, ‘Do you need some help? Because you can’t go any further. We’re a small store. We can’t accommodate those big wheelchairs.’”

Peter said his policy is a matter of safety.

“I don’t want other customers getting hurt,” he said. “It’s happened before. I’ve had damage done on the shelving, damage done on the door frame. I wish I could accommodate them (wheelchairs). But I can’t. Any further than the front, I can’t.”

Joyce Zuk, executive director of Family Services Windsor-Essex, which advocates for seniors and people with disabilities, considers even stopping someone at the front of the store wrong.

“How’s that any different from telling them they have to sit at the back of the bus?” she asked. “If the store owner feels like his store aisles aren’t wide  enough to accommodate wheelchairs my suggestion to him is: widen the aisles.”

Zuk said the store should try harder to accommodate wheelchairs.

“We don’t hear about this kind of complaint very often because a lot of businesses do really try to make their facilities more accessible,” said Zuk, noting that Cose Belle is only hurting itself. “From a business point of view, it’s a foolish move. But from a rights point of view, it’s unconscionable.”

Afrose Edwards, spokeswoman with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, said each case is looked at on its merits, but that generally merchants have a duty to make their establishments accessible.

“The principles under the (human rights) code are that people with disabilities have the right to equal treatment and equal access to services, including at shops and restaurants,” Edwards said.

She said anybody who feels they did not receive equal treatment can make an application with the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario, which may hold a hearing. The tribunal’s rulings are binding, and can include orders to improve accessibility and occasionally, monetary awards.

*****

The Windsor Star On-Line May 5, 2013

Originally posted at http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2013/05/05/downtown-store-restricting-wheelchair-entrance-may-be-breaking-law/

Government not enforcing Disabilities Act, says advocate
by Rebecca Wright

PHOTO:  Jacqueline Coyne sits outside of Cose Belle Gifts and Unique Shop at 380 Ouellette Ave. Friday, May 3, 2013. Coyne says she was was refused service by the business owner because she uses a motorized wheelchair. (DYLAN KRISTY/The Windsor Star)
 
An Ontario disability advocate says a downtown Windsor store that allegedly restricted access to people in wheelchairs may be breaking the law.

David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, said he was concerned when he read a Windsor Star article online Friday about two local women who said they were restricted access in certain areas of Cose Belle gift shop on Ouellette Avenue. He said he and the Alliance lobbied the government for more than a decade for a law to prohibit this type of restriction for people with disabilities.

“We fought to get a law enacted so that this kind of thing wouldn’t happen and if it did happen, you didn’t have to go and make a complaint with the Human Rights Commission individually to fight to solve these problems one barrier or one store at a time,” said Lepofsky from his home in Toronto Sunday.

In 2005, Lepofsky said, the government passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. With it came the need to create accessibility standards, said Lepofsky. So in 2007, the government then passed the Customer Service Accessibility Standard.

“That standard required all governments and municipalities and hospitals and businesses with more than one employee to develop a policy to ensure people with disabilities get good accessible customer service,” said Lepofsky.

He said the law gave businesses a five year limit to comply with the new standards, so all businesses in Ontario should have been fully accessible for people with any disability by the end of 2012.

“So a store like this should have a customer service accessibility policy. They’re required to,” said Lepofsky.

He said the issue with the law is that the provincial government does not enforce it.

When Dalton McGuinty was premier, he promised the Disabilities Act would be effectively enforced, said Lepofsky. “Because a law without enforcement is sort of pointless.”

He repeated that promise, he said. “And when Premier Wynne was running, she wrote us a letter saying she would keep all of McGuinty’s promises. We don’t see this effective enforcement we’ve been promised.”

He said the reason his group fought so hard to get the law  was so that the onus is not put on the individuals with disabilities being denied access, but rather the business.

“We shouldn’t have to fight barriers and publicly prosecute or sue the people who impede us,” said Lepofsky.

Lepofsky, who is blind, said he had to sue the Toronto Transit Commission personally to get them to reliably announce all the bus stops or subway stops for visually impaired people.

“When I won it, I had to make a case to make it all of the bus stops. This is just an example of having to fight one barrier at a time, and so we wanted a law enacted that would provide a solution to this so that we didn’t have to fight these one at a time, and we won that law in 2005,” said Lepofsky.

So in a situation like the two women being  allegedly restricted access to the downtown Windsor store, it should be the Ontario government stepping in to enforce the law. Instead, the women felt obliged to stage a protest in front of the store in their wheelchairs, he said.

“When a story like this runs in The Windsor Star, the question we ask is where’s the province of Ontario with their promise of effective enforcement? They have a law that says that a store like this not only have a customer service accessibility policy, but they’re supposed to have trained all of their frontline employees on it so that they know what they’re supposed to do,” said Lepofsky. “It sure raises some questions about all of this. Do they have a policy and did they train their staff on it? And if they didn’t, what’s the province of Ontario going to do to enforce the law?”

He said a similar incident was just reported in a Toronto Star article a couple of weeks ago about a person with a seeing hear dog who was restricted from sitting in certain areas of a chain restaurant in Toronto.

This news comes just two weeks after the Toronto Star included a similarly-troubling report about a Toronto restaurant that reportedly restricted access to a patron with hearing loss who was using a Hearing Ear dog. In that earlier instance, we brought to the Toronto Star’s attention the importance of such reports for our campaign to get the AODA effectively enforced. You can read about the Toronto Star’s reports on a recent incident concerning accessible customer service for people with disabilities at a Toronto restaurant by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04232013.asp

“I’m certainly going to be using The Windsor Star article, just like we used The Toronto Star article, as an illustration of why we need the standard strengthened and we need the law effectively enforced,” said Lepofsky.