ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

NDP AND CONSERVATIVES MAKE WRITTEN ELECTION PLEDGES TO STRENGTHEN AODA’S IMPLEMENTATION AND HUMAN RIGHTS ENFORCEMENT – AODA ALLIANCE UNVEILS ITS NON-PARTISAN ELECTION PLANS AT QUEEN’S PARK NEWS CONFERENCE

September 7, 2007

SUMMARY

The AODA Alliance held a news conference at Queen’s Park on Friday September 7, 2007. We made public the written election commitments we have just received from the New Democratic and Progressive Conservative parties. See below their letters to the AODA Alliance, shown in the order we received them.

Subsequent to the news conference, we received word from the Liberal Party that an answer will be coming from them as well in response to our election platform requests of the three parties. We will make it available to you as quickly as we can after we get it.

We are delighted that in these letters, both the NDP and PC parties commit to overturn Bill 107 and its privatization of the enforcement of human rights in Ontario. Even if there is a minority government, there should be enough votes in the Legislature for these commitments.

Both the PC and NDP parties also commit to strengthen the implementation of the AODA. The NDP’s written commitments closely track the specific proposals we requested in our August 24, 2007 letters to each of the parties. The PC’s commitments are more specific on some of these, and less specific on others. To see what we asked the three parties to commit to, visit:

http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08262007-OntarioParties-ElectionCommitments-DisabilityAccessibility.asp

We will shortly offer you action tips for raising this issue in the upcoming election. Send us your feedback. Also, let us know if you would like to be added to our email update list. Write to us at:

aodafeedback@rogers.com

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Doreen Winkler, Ph. D., R.S.W.

Acting Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

1929 Bayview Avenue,

Toronto Ontario M4G 3E8

Dear Doreen Winkler,

Thank you for this opportunity to write to you concerning the views of Ontario’s NDP on the important issues you and the AODA Alliance Committee advocate for.

In answer to your letter, let me respond point-by-point.

           Ontario’s NDP believes the AODA's process for developing accessibility standards should be stronger, more effective, and fairer, so that accessibility standards live up to the 11 principles for disability accessibility the Legislature passed, with NDP support, on October 29, 1998, specifically:

a) Ensuring the disability community has equal representation on each Standards Development Committee, and isn't out-numbered by other sectors' representatives, by making sure that at least half of each committee's members are persons self-identified with a disability and who are active in the disabilities community. Now the disability community isn't ensured this equal representation.

b) Holding Standards Development Committee meetings in the open, not in closed sessions as in the past.

c) Requiring Standards Development Committees to directly consult with the public, including the disability community, e.g. at Standards Development Committee meetings. The Transportation Standards Development Committee refused a request to make a presentation to it on an issue on which the Standards Development Committee was divided, the announcing of all bus route stops.

d) Making Standards Development Committee voting fairer by letting the Committee vote on each proposed standard one section at a time, by having majority and minority reports if there are disagreements, and by letting each Standards Development Committee report out a series of proposed standards, not one all-or-nothing proposal.

e) Provide new financial support to encourage the effective participation of interested parties (especially from the disabilities community) in the work of Standards Development Committees, so they can participate on an equal footing with industry and Government.

I’ll note that during the debate on the AODA, Ontario’s NDP raised many of these issues and I assure you that we will continue to offer our support for this agenda.

           The Ontario government should promptly review how the Government is implementing the AODA, to ensure that Ontario is making substantial progress towards the AODA's requirement of full accessibility. If elected Premier I will meet with the AODA alliance delegation before the end of 2007. I believe that within 6 months of the election Ontario's Ombudsman should review and make public a report on the effectiveness of the AODA's implementation, including the Standards Development Committees' process and work.

           The Ontario government should conduct an internal Government review of all provincial legislation and regulations to screen for any existing barriers against persons with disabilities, and put in place a permanent internal system to screen all new proposed provincial legislation, regulations or programs to ensure that they don't create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

           Ontario’s NDP would support a permanent program to ensure that students in the school system, and people training in key professions, such as architects, are educated in disability accessibility.

           Develop an action plan to make all facets of provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.

           Ontario’s NDP led the fight against Bill 107 and still oppose it. It should not be proclaimed. It should be repealed.

           Ontario’s NDP believes that a genuinely open, accessible public consultation on how to effectively reform the Human Rights process in Ontario must take place within six months of the next government and new legislation must be introduced to improve - not privatize - human rights enforcement as soon as possible.

           Without prejudicing the outcome of consultation Ontario’s NDP believes the Human Rights Commission should be restored to its original mandate and given the tools to ensure that human rights complaints can be properly, promptly and thoroughly investigated and remedied.

           To do this the OHRC must be made truly independent and report directly to the Legislature - not the Attorney General. Furthermore, the government should invest resources to ensure that mediations should be completed within three months, complex investigations should be completed within one year, and Tribunal decisions should be rendered within two years of the filing of the complaint.

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Yours,

Howard Hampton

Leader, Ontario’s NDP

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http://www.ontariopc.com/newlogo/PCLogo_2Colour_Small.gif

September 7, 2007

Ms Doreen Winkler, Ph.D., R.S.W.

Acting Chair

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

1929 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

M4G 3E8

Dear Ms Winkler;

Thank you for your letter dated August 24, 2007 and for taking the time to write to me to outline some of the important issues facing Ontarians with disabilities. I have the utmost regard for the thoughtful advocacy the AODA Alliance has provided on behalf of more than 1.5 million Ontarians who have a disability, and, as always, I find the analysis of the issues provided by your organization to be insightful and commendable.

I appreciate the opportunity to provide my straight-forward commitments to the specific questions that you outlined.

In regards to your requests to make the AODA standard development process stronger and more effective, I agree that more has to be done. In fact, I believe that the 2025 target to make Ontario fully accessible is a goal we should be seeking to exceed. Leadership is about setting aggressive targets and devoting resources to ensuring they are met. That was my practice as a business leader and it is the same practice I will continue in the Office of the Premier.

I agree that the Standards Development Committees should be constructed and operated in such a way that is fair, open, and transparent. You have suggested that we alter the allotment of representatives, open up the meetings and require public consultations. All of these are reasonable requests and I will commit to raising them as key ways to improve the process.

When Members of Provincial Parliament review a new bill, we go through a process called a ‘clause by clause’ review. This enables us to review each section of the bill separately and, ultimately, to register our support or our opposition to each section of the bill. I think that this would be a reasonable approach for the respective committees to take when dealing with the development of these important standards.

I will commit to review the manner by which individuals are compensated for their work with these committees. I cannot commit that new funding might be provided but I agree that it merits a review and we would be pleased to sit down with you and your members to discuss the kinds of supports that would be of help to the members of these committees.

I would welcome the opportunity to meet with your group to discuss these issues – including, specifically, your request to have the Ombudsman review the standards development process. As you may have seen, I am trying to enhance the role of MPPs and I would like to discuss with you using legislators to conduct reviews of this kind. I support your request that the government show leadership by reviewing its own legislation to remove barriers against persons with disabilities and by developing an action plan for provincial and municipal elections to be fully accessible to voters with disabilities. In addition, I will ask Elections Ontario to review its practices and regulations with a goal of achieving these positive changes. We will also engage our other stakeholders to pursue this same goal.

While I believe that disability accessibility training for students and those training in ‘key professions’ could help us to make significant strides in creating the kind of inclusive and accessible Ontario that we aspire to be, I would want the new Minister of Education, appropriate Ministries and key stakeholders, including teachers, to jointly review this policy in advance of making any changes to ensure that it best accomplishes our goal.

There is no doubt that Ontario’s human rights system needs improving and it will take strong leadership to make the required changes. It is this leadership that I believe has been lacking under Dalton McGuinty.

Like many in Ontario, I was disappointed that Dalton McGuinty broke his promise to people with disabilities when he and his Government voted for Bill 107. Ontarians in all parts of the province count on the Human Rights Commission to properly protect Ontarians with disabilities from discrimination and I believe that Bill 107, by removing public investigation and prosecution from the Commission, serves to weaken our human rights system overall. This change alone will mean that countless people with disabilities will have to hire their own lawyers to investigate and prosecute their own cases.

I was further disappointed when Mr. McGuinty abruptly canceled public hearings about Bill 107 last November and cut off 200 groups including the AODA Alliance and individuals who were eager to provide their advice. And, I was downright offended when Dalton McGuinty ran ads at a cost of $106,000 to inform people about these same hearings that he had cancelled, money which could have helped the Human Rights Commission meet some of its challenges.

In November 2006, I told Mr. McGuinty that if he were to allow hearings to continue, the Ontario PC Party would agree to vote on the legislation in March 2007. He refused, and his Government forced the legislation through. The irony that this betrayal of Ontarians with disabilities took place just after the United Nation’s International Day of Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Dec. 3, 2006 was not lost on our Party.

Mr. McGuinty’s subsequent promise that all cases would be heard within a year and that every complainant would have the right to publicly-funded independent legal counsel has since been proven to be false, and when the Ontario PC Party asked the McGuinty Liberals to write these guarantees into the legislation, they refused and voted in Bill 107 as is.

Ms Winkler, I have long said that leadership is about integrity and keeping the promises you make. Leadership also involves taking the right actions to correct problems. I commit to you, the AODA and to all people with disabilities in Ontario that as Premier, I will overturn Bill 107 that denies justice to Ontarians with disabilities, and, in fact, to all Ontarians who are victims of discrimination.

Further, while Mr. McGuinty denied Ontarians the opportunity to provide meaningful advice and insight on how our human rights system should function, I will undertake an open and accessible public consultation within six months of taking office.

The AODA Alliance’s request that new legislation be introduced within 18 months of taking office is both reasonable and practical. I am pleased to commit to that timeline, as well as to basing reform on the core principle that Ontario should have a public enforcement process.

Finally, I recognize that the funding provided by Dalton McGuinty and his Government amounts to less than 25 per cent of what the Commission received and, as such, virtually guarantees longer waits for justice for the estimated 3,000 complaints expected to come forward each year. I commit to you that we will reduce the backlog of complaint cases by providing meaningful additional annual funding to the Human Rights Commission.

To take real action to remedy the challenges faced by Ontarians with disabilities, leadership matters. You can count on a John Tory PC Government to provide that leadership if we are entrusted with government by the people of Ontario on October 10, 2007.

John Tory

Leader of the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party

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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Disability advocates challenge Party leaders to live up to new Lieutenant Governor’s inspiring call to make Ontario fully accessible to 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities.

September 7, 2007, Toronto: At Wednesday’s swearing-in ceremony, new Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley challenged everyone to make Ontario fully accessible for 1.5 million people with disabilities. What commitments will Ontario’s parties make to meet this challenge?

To press this issue, a well-known non-partisan disability coalition held a news conference at Queen’s Park’ today to unveil its grassroots election strategy.

“Two years ago, following more than a decade of our intense advocacy, all three political parties unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to make Ontario fully accessible for over 1.5 million people with disabilities,” said Dr. Doreen Winkler, acting chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, a coalition united to advocate for disability accessibility. “In this election campaign, we’ll be out across Ontario pressing the three parties on what they’ll do to make our dream of a barrier-free Ontario a reality.”

“The McGuinty Government gave us a good Disabilities Act in 2005, but then seriously back-tracked on putting it into action,” said David Lepofsky, AODA Alliance member who led the 10-year campaign for the AODA. “I recently won a major human rights case forcing TTC within 30 days to announce all bus stops, so blind people like me can effectively use public transit. In cruel contrast to the 30 day TTC had to start providing this, the government’s proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard under the Disabilities Act lets transit authorities in all other cities wait another 18 years before providing the same simple accommodation. McGuinty’s failure to effectively implement the Disabilities Act forces us to have to file separate human rights complaints across Ontario. Making things even more difficult, McGuinty’s Bill 107 strips away our right to have the Human Rights Commission publicly investigate discrimination cases, and to publicly prosecute them where there’s enough proof.”

The coalition has asked the parties to commit to revamping the Disability Act’s implementation to make it strong, effective, and not lopsided against the disability community. It also urges the parties to commit to undo Bill 107’s privatization of human rights enforcement, and to introduce new reforms to strengthen public enforcement of human rights through a fortified, not weakened, Human Rights Commission. Their letter to all party leaders is at:

www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08262007-OntarioParties-ElectionCommitments-DisabilityAccessibility.asp

“Our supporters around Ontario are poised to speak out on talk radio and at All-Candidates’ Debates, and to bring our message to voters at the grassroots,” said Winkler. “We have a solid track-record of raising disability issues, riding by riding in the past three Ontario elections and many by-elections in between.

“With the real prospect of a minority government and many close local races, every vote counts,” said Lepofsky. “No party can afford to alienate us.”

Visit www.aodaalliance.org