ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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GOVERNMENT CANCELS FUND TO ACCOMMODATE ONTARIO PUBLIC SERVANTS WITH DISABILITIES IN THE WORKPLACE - BUT RESTORES IT WHEN AODA ALLIANCE CHALLENGES ITS CANCELLATION

June 28, 2011

SUMMARY

Here is a very troubling recent incident. It shows the need for all of us to keep on our toes, lest we lose ground in the ongoing campaign for a fully accessible Ontario.

For over two decades the Ontario Government has commendably maintained a central fund to pay for the cost of accommodating the workplace needs of Ontario Public Service employees with disabilities. This Employment Accommodation Fund has made a real and positive difference for persons with disabilities seeking jobs in the Ontario Public Service.

We were shocked when we received informal word late last week that the Ontario Government had recently cancelled this Fund. It had not widely publicized the Fund's cancellation.

The Government's cancellation of this Fund flies in the face of s. 8 of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. That legislation requires the Government to maintain that Fund.

On learning of this development, the AODA Alliance wrote to the Deputy Minister of Government Services on Friday, June 24, 2011. We objected to the decision, asked for the reasons for cancelling the Fund, and called for the Fund to be restored.

The Deputy Minister contacted the AODA Alliance promptly, and asked to speak this week. In a telephone conversation on the morning of June 28, 2011, the Deputy Minister advised AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky that the Government would be restoring the Fund. The AODA Alliance wrote to the Deputy Minister, offering to use this troubling incident for the positive purpose of improving the Fund, better informing Ontario Public Service employees about it, and finding out how such a wrong-headed decision ever came about in the first place.  These letters are set out below.

This incident shows that we need the position of Assistant Deputy Minister of Government Services for Accessibility immediately restored to its earlier fulltime status. It was downgraded last fall to a part-time function, combined with other duties.

This incident also shows that there needs to be more accountability within the Ontario Public Service for decisions that are taken that work against the accessibility and accommodation needs of persons with disabilities. This incident reinforces the recommendations of the 2010 Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA, which the McGuinty Government has yet to implement. That Report found that the Ontario Government needs to breathe new life into the implementation of the AODA, to institute transformative change in its approach to accessibility, and to show new leadership in this area. For more on that Report, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08112010.asp

                                     

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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com

Visit our website at http://www.aodaalliance.org

Fax (416) 480-7014

June 24, 2011

via email:  ron.mckerlie@ontario.ca  

Mr. Ron McKerlie, Deputy Minister

Ministry of Government Services

Room 5320, Whitney Block

99 Wellesley Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M7A 1A1

Dear Sir,

Re: Ontario Public Service Employment Accommodation Fund

I write on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, to raise a matter of very serious and immediate concern.

I have just learned that the Ontario Government has cancelled the Employment Accommodation Fund that your Ministry has administered. It has existed to reimburse Ontario Government ministries and offices for expenses incurred to accommodate the needs of Ontario Public Service employees with disabilities.

We are very deeply troubled about this. We wish to know:

* why this Fund was eliminated;

* to whom this cancellation has been announced either inside or outside the Ontario Public Service;

* who was consulted in advance of this decision to learn of its impact on persons with disabilities;

* who proposed and who approved this decision, and

* to what extent the history and benefits of this Fund had been investigated in advance of this decision.

We request that this decision be immediately reversed and the Employment Accommodation Fund be immediately reinstated.

I request an opportunity to discuss this with you as soon as your schedule might permit a phone call.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky

Chair

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Visit our website at http://www.aodaalliance.org

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com

Visit our website at http://www.aodaalliance.org

Fax (416) 480-7014

June 24, 2011

Via email: ron.mckerlie@ontario.ca

Mr. Ron McKerlie, Deputy Minister

Ministry of Government Services

Room 5320, Whitney Block

99 Wellesley Street West

Toronto, Ontario

M7A 1A1

Dear Sir,

Re: Ontario Public Service Employment Accommodation Fund

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me this morning about the recent elimination of the Employment Accommodation Fund.

We appreciate that as a result of our June 24, 2011 letter to you about this issue, you very promptly intervened to set in motion the actions needed to promptly restore the Employment Accommodation Fund. It has existed for over two decades to reimburse Ontario Government ministries and offices for expenses incurred to accommodate the needs of Ontario Public Service employees with disabilities.

This Fund is required to be maintained under the terms of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. That legislation provides in Section 8(5) and (6):

"8. Reimbursement of eligible expenses

(5) The Management Board Secretariat shall, out of the money appropriated annually to it for this purpose, authorize reimbursement to a ministry for eligible expenses that the ministry has incurred in fulfilling the ministry's obligations under subsections (1) and (2).

Amount of reimbursement

(6) The reimbursement shall be in the amount that the Management Board Secretariat determines and be made in accordance with the guidelines established by the Management Board Secretariat."

It was a very serious error for your Ministry to have eliminated this Fund. It was also a very serious error not to have properly consulted with persons with disabilities before deciding to take such an action.

To the extent that your Ministry's officials may have thought that there is no longer any need for this Fund, they would be quite misinformed. Ontario Government offices, branches and divisions are given annual operating budges that do not include allocations to meet workplace accommodation needs of employees with disabilities. A manager in the Ontario Public Service who needs to accommodate an employee with a disability, and who wants to do so, may not have the needed funds allocated in his or her budget. The duty to accommodate rests with the Ontario Government as a whole, not individual offices or branches. The central Accommodation Fund enables individual managers to more effectively meet their accommodation obligations. It also enables the Government as a whole to overcome the barriers to effective workplace accommodation that arise from the way individual offices' budgets are designed.

If your officials did not know this, and made a decision to eliminate the Fund, this raises serious concerns for us. If they did know this, and decided to eliminate the Fund despite it, that too would be very troubling. If they did not know this Fund is required by law, that would make things worse.

If this decision had been motivated by any reduction in utilization of the Fund by Ontario Government employees with disabilities, this could well be due to a failure to adequately apprise those employees and their managers of the availability of the Fund. When this Fund has been operating in the most robust fashion, it has served as an important means to reduce impediments to employment of persons with disabilities within the Ontario Public Service.

May we suggest that we together convert the very wrong-headed elimination of the Fund into a positive opportunity. Now that you are moving to restore the Fund, we would welcome the chance to work with you and your Ministry to see how to strengthen it. Let us work together so the Fund, once restored, is streamlined and operates as it did in the most robust days of the early 1990s. Let us also collaborate on strategies to better inform employees with disabilities and their managers about the availability of the Fund.

We ask you to also take positive actions to make sure your officials don't do this again. It is important for your Ministry to investigate how such a wrong-headed action was decided upon when it was contrary to Ontario legislation, contrary to the Government's direction under the new Integrated Accessibility Regulation enacted under the AODA, and contrary to good policy. Whoever proposed this and carried it forward would benefit from learning about the needs of Ontario Government employees with disabilities.

We believe this recent improper elimination of the Employment Accommodation Fund further shows the pressing need for your Ministry to have a fulltime Assistant Deputy Minister for Accessibility. Last year, the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA described that position as vital. Despite that, last fall that position was down-graded from a fulltime position to a part time position shared with other duties. You indicated that a decision on whether to restore the position of Assistant Deputy Minister of Government Services for Accessibility to a fulltime position will not be made until later in the fall, after your Ministry completes a review of its overall management structure.

We would be pleased to assist you in following up on strategies to ensure that such erroneous decisions are not made in the future, once you have done a post mortem on these recent events. We also appreciated your invitation to let you know directly if any further problems arise on the accessibility front.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O.Ont.

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance