Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

TELL THE HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL IF YOU SUPPORT OUR PROPOSALS ON THE TRIBUNAL’S PROPOSED ACCESSIBILITY POLICY

June 20, 2008

SUMMARY

The Human Rights Tribunal announced that it intends to establish a formal policy on ensuring accessibility of the Tribunal’s services to equality-seeking groups, including persons with disabilities. The Tribunal’s 4-page draft accessibility policy, on which it seeks input, is set out below. The Tribunal asked for public input by June 23, 2008.

The AODA Alliance commends the Tribunal on its intention to establish an accessibility/accommodation policy. The AODA Alliance has submitted a brief to the Tribunal on how the draft policy can be improved. Our brief is set out below.

We encourage you to let the Tribunal know if you support the AODA Alliance’s recommendations, and to offer any additional recommendations of your own. You can email the Tribunal at:

Reema.Khawja@Ontario.ca

The Tribunal’s other contact information for feedback is set out below, with the Tribunal’s draft policy.

It is equally important for the McGuinty Government’s new Human Rights Legal Support Centre to have a comparable accessibility/accommodation policy in place when it opens its doors to the public on June 30, 2008. We regret that to date, we are not aware of the Human Rights Legal Support Centre's announcing such a policy, or consulting with the public on such a policy.

When Bill 107 was before the Legislature in 2006, the McGuinty Government used its majority to defeat an amendment, that we proposed, that would have required the Human Rights Legal Support Centre to have an accessibility policy. Because the McGuinty Government passed a “closure motion”, that amendment wasn’t fully debated before the Government defeated it.

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

BRIEF TO THE HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL OF ONTARIO ON THE TRIBUNAL’S DRAFT ACCESSIBILITY POLICY

June 20, 2008

The AODA Alliance welcomes the Tribunal’s invitation to comment on its draft accessibility policy. We commend the Tribunal for its intent to establish an accessibility policy. The Human Rights Tribunal, as well as the Human Rights Commission and the new Human Rights Legal Support Centre, should each be flagships, leading by example in the full provision of accessibility to the services they provide the public.

We offer these recommendations to improve upon the Tribunal’s draft accessibility policy:

1. We re-submit here all the recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s March 28, 2008 brief to the Human Rights Tribunal on the Tribunal’s proposed rules of procedure, insofar as they address barriers to accessibility in the Tribunal’s proposed rules. We are aware that the Tribunal rejected many of those recommendations when it recently finalized its rules of procedure. We nevertheless ask that the Tribunal reconsider them here, when finalizing its accessibility policy. We emphasize that our March 28, 2008 brief to the Tribunal was endorsed by a number of community organizations. That brief can be found at: 

http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03282008.asp

2. We recommend that the Accessibility Policy’s preamble be amended to state that a purpose of the Policy is to ensure that persons who use the Tribunal’s services are provided a welcoming environment within which to seek and receive accommodation of their Code-related needs.

3. The Accessibility Policy should be amended to require any Tribunal staff who deal with the public to inform members of the public with whom they deal about the Tribunal’s Accessibility Policy and about their right to ask for Code-related accommodations. For example, each Tribunal adjudicator should begin mediations, pre-hearing conferences or conference calls, or hearings by asking if there are any accessibility/accommodation needs.

4. It is recommended that the Accessibility Policy be expanded to give more examples of the kinds of accommodations the Tribunal will consider providing. The more examples that are given, the easier it will be for members of the public to understand the policy, and to make accommodation requests. Any such list will necessarily be non-exhaustive.

5. It is recommended that the accessibility policy be amended to commit that if any document is posted on its website in PDF format (well-known to create accessibility problems for adaptive software for vision impaired computer users), those documents should also be posted in a fully accessible format, such as MS Word format. We commend the Tribunal for posting its new Rules of Procedure and its User’s Guide in both formats. However, the Tribunal’s new application form is inexplicably only posted in PDF format, not also in MS Word format. This is unacceptable. PDF documents such as this are harder for vision-impaired computer users to navigate. The Tribunal’s new application form is absolutely vital for launching a human rights complaint under the new system. This barrier to full accessibility unjustifiably makes it more difficult for persons with vision loss to even get in the Tribunal’s front door.

The usual justification given for using PDF format is that the document supposedly is unalterable. In fact, it is possible to modify PDF documents, if one is sufficiently computer-savvy.

6. We recommend that the Tribunal incorporate in its Accessibility Policy a commitment not to set any dates for proceedings on a human rights complaint, without first consulting the parties on their availability. Despite our recommendations to the contrary in the AODA Alliance’s March 28, 2008 brief on the Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure, the Tribunal has given itself the power in its new Rules of Procedure to set dates for Tribunal proceedings without consulting the parties. At a minimum, the Tribunal needs to know in advance whether a party or their witnesses have Code-related accommodation needs in terms of scheduling. The Tribunal should not shift to the parties the burden of having to ask for adjournments to address those accommodation scheduling needs.

7. If this recommendation is again rejected, then it is recommended that the Tribunal add to its Accessibility Policy a commitment that if the Tribunal sets a proceeding date which creates an accessibility or accommodation need or difficulty for a party or witness, the Tribunal will grant an adjournment on the request of that party, unless the Tribunal or an opposing party can make a compelling case that no such scheduling accommodation is needed.

8. It is recommended that the Tribunal amend its Accessibility Policy’s reference to the term “undue hardship”. It should clarify that “undue hardship” means undue hardship to the Crown in right of Ontario, and not merely undue hardship to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. The Tribunal cannot refuse to grant an accommodation because the Ontario Government gave it insufficient budget to do its job in an accessible way, consistent with the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

9. The Tribunal is commended for the accessibility features that it says its new Toronto premises will have. We hope and trust that these premises are adjacent to a sufficient number of disability parking spots, and that the elevators in the building housing their new offices have Braille on the buttons, and audible announcement of floors.

10. It is recommended that the Accessibility Policy be amended to commit that whenever the Tribunal holds hearings outside its Toronto premises (i.e. anywhere else in Ontario), it will only use fully accessible premises, which are also near to a sufficient number of disability parking spots, and to public transit(where such exists).

11. The Tribunal is commended for its commitment to have a TTY phone line. We hope and trust that the Tribunal is committing to ensure that this line will be monitored and answered throughout regular office hours.

12. To maximize the accessibility of Tribunal rulings, it is recommended that the Tribunal amend the Accessibility Policy to commit that all Tribunal decisions will be promptly posted on the Tribunal’s website in a timely way, and in an accessible format.

13. It is recommended that the Accessibility Policy be amended to clearly commit to training all Tribunal staff who deal with the public, including all adjudicators, on the Accessibility Policy and the steps needed to make sure accessibility accommodations are provided in an effective and a timely way. The draft Accessibility Policy addresses this issue, but is too equivocal. It now says: The Tribunal will provide training for the Registrar and for other Tribunal employees and members as appropriate.”

14. It is recommended that the Accessibility Policy be amended to provide that where an accommodation is refused, the Tribunal should give reasons, preferably in writing.

15. It is recommended that the Accessibility Policy be amended to establish a simple, fair, expeditious and arms-length complaint resolution policy where a member of the public alleges that the Tribunal has failed to fulfil its duty to accommodate. It is not realistic for an aggrieved individual to file a human rights complaint against the Tribunal itself. The Tribunal cannot be the judge of its own conduct.

16. It is recommended that the Tribunal include in the Accessibility Policy a commitment to widely circulate this policy to those who will appear before the Tribunal, including the legal profession, and community groups that are regularly involved in human rights issues. This should include a clear invitation for feedback to the Tribunal on how effective it has been at addressing accommodation requests. It is also hoped that the Tribunal will report annually or at some other appropriate interval on the extent to which it has been able to fulfil accessibility/accommodation requests.

 

*****

HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL OF ONTARIO

Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation

Disponible en français.

Public Consultation: May 23, 2008 to June 23, 2008

 

Consultation Contact Information:

Interested parties are invited to provide written comments to the Tribunal on the following Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation.   Please provide your feedback by June 23, 2008 via regular mail, facsimile or electronic mail to:

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Public Consultation – Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation

Attn: Reema Khawja, Counsel

400 University Avenue, 7th Floor

Toronto ON    M7A 1T7

Or

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

Public Consultation – Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation

Attn: Reema Khawja, Counsel

Facsimile: (416) 212-5638

Or

Reema.Khawja@Ontario.ca

Subject Line: Public Consultation – Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation

HUMAN RIGHTS TRIBUNAL OF ONTARIO

Draft Policy on Accessibility and Accommodation

Disponible en français.

This policy is available on the Internet at http://www.hrto.ca and in various accessible formats including Braille, audio tape and large print.  For an alternative format or a paper copy, please contact the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario at Local: 416-314-0004, Toll Free: 1-800-668-3946, TTY: 416-314-2379, TTY Toll Free: 1-800-424-1168.

            Please note the Tribunal has also issued a Practice Direction on Language Interpretation Services which is available on the Tribunal website at http://www.hrto.ca or by phone.

            Introduction

            The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the Tribunal) is committed to providing an inclusive and accessible environment in which all members of the public have equal access to its services and are treated with dignity and respect.  The Tribunal aims to provide its services in accordance with the Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) and the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

            The Tribunal is committed to providing accommodation for needs related to race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex (including pregnancy and gender identity), sexual orientation, age, marital status, family status and disability (Code-related needs), unless to do so would cause undue hardship. 

            Principles

            The following principles will guide the Tribunal in making its processes accessible:

           Services should be provided in a manner that respects the dignity and independence of members of the public.

           Services should be provided in a manner that fosters physical and functional access to the Tribunal’s processes and promotes the inclusion, and full participation of members of the public.

           All persons should be given equal opportunity to obtain, use and benefit from the Tribunal’s services.  Where required, individualized accommodation will be provided, short of undue hardship.

            The Tribunal will be sensitive to the privacy concerns of those who seek accommodation. 

            Objectives of the Policy

            The purpose of this policy is to ensure that all members of the public are aware of their rights and responsibilities under the Code with respect to accommodation and to set out in writing the Tribunal’s procedures for accommodation.

            Application of the Policy

            This policy applies to all of the Tribunal’s services. The Tribunal will promote equal access for all individuals including parties, witnesses and representatives, to fully participate in its processes, short of undue hardship.  This policy applies to all the Tribunal’s public offices and all Tribunal staff and members.   The term member is used to designate all adjudicative positions at the Tribunal and includes the Chair, vice chairs and part-time members. 

This policy will be applied in accordance with the Code, and relevant case law.  People who are involved in Tribunal proceedings are entitled to accommodation from the Tribunal as provided under the Code.  Requests for accommodation will be considered on an individualized basis.   Please see the section Requests for Accommodation for information on how to make a request.

            The Tribunal’s Commitment to Accessibility

            The Tribunal has identified a number of measures to promote a barrier-free built environment, to incorporate principles of universal design and to meet recurring accessibility needs.  These are in addition to specific accommodations that may be requested on a case-by-case basis.

The Tribunal is located at 655 Bay Street, Toronto between Elm Street and Gerrard Street. Taxis and specialized transit vehicles can temporarily stop at the front door of the building.  Public parking is nearby, as are the College and Dundas subway stops.  The Dundas stop is wheelchair accessible. The building’s front doors and elevators are accessible to wheelchairs, scooters and other mobility devices as are the Tribunal’s common spaces, such as hearing rooms, mediation rooms, private meeting rooms, and washrooms.

Additional accessibility features of the Tribunal’s premises include, but are not limited to, adjustable lighting, low extrinsic sound levels, hearing rooms which are equipped with sound amplification systems and accessible signage.  In some circumstances accommodation of Code-related needs may include arranging hearings and mediations in locations other than the Tribunal’s hearing centres. 

All of the Tribunal’s informational materials, forms and notices to the public are available in print and on the Tribunal’s website which follows the W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. All documents created by the Tribunal are also available, upon request, in alternate formats to accommodate disability-related needs.

The Tribunal may be contacted by mail, email, facsimile, telephone and TTY line.  Both phone lines have a toll free number.  The use of message relay services, such as video and Bell Relay services, may be requested. 

The Tribunal’s Rules of Procedure state that the provisions of the Rules will be interpreted in a manner that is consistent with the Code. Parties may request flexibility to accommodate Code-related needs. 

When requested to accommodate Code-related needs, the Tribunal will provide visual interpretation services, such as American Sign Language (ASL) and langue des signes québécoise (LSQ), real time captioning, intervenors to interpret in-person communication, and audio recordings of its hearings. 

The Tribunal recognizes that individuals with disabilities may wish to provide their own interpreter or intervenor or may require support services during a proceeding.  Support services can include help with communication, mobility, personal care or medical needs. 

The Tribunal further recognizes that some individuals may require the use of a service animal or assistive device to participate in the Tribunal’s proceedings.  The Registrar should be contacted in advance of the proceedings if any special arrangements are required for the animal or device.

Where an accessibility or accommodation measure provided by the Tribunal becomes unavailable, the Tribunal will provide notice as soon as practicable and make reasonable arrangements to make alternate arrangements or reschedule a proceeding to ensure that it is accessible.

Requests for Accommodation

The Tribunal’s Registrar is fully informed of this policy, and the requirements of the Code and will, in most cases, receive and respond to inquiries and requests for accommodation.  If you require accommodation from the Tribunal, contact the Tribunal’s Registrar:

Ms Patricia M. Grenier

Registrar

Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario

400 University Ave., 7th Floor Toronto, ON

M7A 1T7

Tel:      (416) 314-8419

Toll Free:         1-800-668-3946

TTY:    (416) 314-2379

TTY Toll Free:            1-800-424-1168

Fax:     (416) 314-8743

E-mail: hrto.registrar@ontario.ca

Website:          www.hrto.ca

The Registrar will work with you to make the Tribunal accessible in relation to your needs. Information necessary to understand the basis for an accommodation request and to allow the Tribunal to respond appropriately should be provided.

            The Tribunal recognizes that accommodation needs may arise during any aspect of the process.  If an accommodation issue comes to the attention of Tribunal staff, it will be directed to the Registrar.  During Tribunal proceedings, a mediator or adjudicator may directly address a request, as appropriate, or refer the request to the Registrar.

            Training

The Tribunal will provide training for the Registrar and for other Tribunal employees and members as appropriate.  Training will ensure that Tribunal employees and members understand this policy, and understand how to undertake accessibility and accommodation measures in accordance with this policy, and the Code and the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service.

 The Tribunal will maintain and update a document describing the Tribunal’s accommodation/accessibility training, including the content of the training and details of when the training was provided and to whom.

 The Tribunal will maintain and update a list of community contacts and resources that can assist the Tribunal in providing accommodation.

 The Registrar will keep a record of all accommodation requests and action taken.  Copies will be placed in specific case files as appropriate.

 The Tribunal will monitor its progress towards accessibility on an ongoing basis.

 Feedback

Comments or complaints about the accessibility of the Tribunal or about accommodation provided by the Tribunal may be provided in accordance with the Tribunal’s Policy on Public Comments and Complaints [under development].