ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

AODA Alliance Writes New Ontario Government Services Minister to Urge Action to Make the Ontario Public Service a Fully Accessible Workplace and Provider of Public Services

September 12, 2014

Summary

On September 12, 2014, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario's new Minister of Government and Consumer Services, David Orazietti. (Letter set out below.) He is the minister responsible for the Ontario Public Service as an employer and as a provider of public services.

Our letter offers important recommendations on how to tear down the workplace and service barriers in the Ontario Public Service that Ontarians with disabilities continue to face, even a after over nine years have passed since the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was enacted. In summary, we explain that the Ontario Public Service is clearly behind schedule for becoming fully accessible for persons with disabilities as a service-provider and employer by 2025. We need bold new leadership and action.

We urge the minister to:

* establish a new effective strategy for ensuring that the Ontario public service becomes a barrier-free, accessible employer and service provider, including

  1. implement a system for monitoring implementation of accessibility across the Ontario public service 
  2. strengthen the position of the accessibility lead in each ministry

* establish a full time deputy minister or associate deputy minister responsible for the accessibility of the Ontario public service

* ensure the Ontario government only procures goods, services and facilities that are accessible or that will be made accessible

* promptly complete the government's review of all Ontario legislation and regulations for disability barriers.

The ever-dependable Accessibility Clock keeps on ticking. A troubling 298 days have now passed since we revealed that the Ontario Government was not enforcing the AODA, and that there have been rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Government still has not made public its promised plan for the AODA's effective enforcement. Two hundred and four days have passed since the Toronto Star reported on February 20, 2014 that the Government would be publicly posting that new enforcement plan "in short order."

To read our November 18, 2013 revelation that the Government was failing to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act despite knowing of rampant private sector violations, and funds on hand for enforcement.

To read the Government's February 20, 2014 pledge to publish in "short order" its plan for enforcing the Disabilities Act.

As well, 380 days have passed since the Government unveiled its plans for the legacy of the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games. Yet it has still not released details and specifics of a comprehensive disability accessibility legacy for the Games. Only 301 days remain until the 2015 Games begin. Time is running out!

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MORE DETAILS

Text of the AODA Alliance's September 12, 2014 Letter to Minister of Government and Consumer Services David Orazietti

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com <mailto:aodafeedback@gmail.com>
Visit: www.aodalliance.org <http://www.aodalliance.org

September 12, 2014

david.orazietti@ontario.ca

Hon. David Orazietti, Minister
Government and Consumer Services
6th Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1L2

Dear Minister:

Re:  Important Measures for which your Ministry is Responsible for Ensuring Ontario Becomes Fully Accessible to People with Disabilities

I write on behalf of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.  We are a non-partisan, volunteer coalition which united to advocate for a fully-accessible Ontario for all people with disabilities. Your Government set out election commitments on disability accessibility in letters to our coalition, including in the most recent Ontario election.

Please accept our congratulations on your appointment as Minister of Government Services.  In this capacity, you have lead responsibility for several important areas needed to support your government's agenda of achieving a fully-accessible Ontario by 2025.  We wish to outline these, and offer to work closely with you, to assist in their achievement.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which your Government was proud to enact in 2005, requires the Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible for all persons with disabilities no later than 2025. Ontario is now clearly behind schedule. It needs renewed Government leadership to speed up action on accessibility. To assist, in this letter we outline several key priority areas requiring your immediate leadership and action. 

1. The Pressing Need for Your Immediate Leadership and Action Accessibility

Premier Dalton McGuinty's August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance set out the Government's 2011 election commitments on disability accessibility. In it, Premier McGuinty promised:

"• We are integrating accessibility as a fundamental principle when it comes to making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians."

This promise remains alive. When she was running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne pledged to us in writing on December 3, 2012 that she would keep all of your Party's prior commitments on disability accessibility. Kathleen Wynne's December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp  

Your Government has also promised that the Ontario Public Service would "lead by example" on accessibility. It is to serve as a great example to the broader public sector and the private sector on how to become fully accessible. It would meet and exceed legal accessibility requirements. It would do so on or ahead of schedule.

Finally, in the most recent 2014 Ontario election, Premier Wynne made an additional commitment on the need to substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service acts to ensure that its services and workplace are accessible. In her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out your Government's 2014 election commitments on accessibility, Premier Wynne wrote:

"F. Substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service ensures the accessibility of its services, facilities and workplaces

14. As stated earlier, we are dedicated to pursuing compliance and enforcement actions which includes ensuring accessibility of the Ontario Public Service including its services, facilities and workplaces."

Premier Wynne's May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out your Government's 2014 accessibility election pledges, is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06132014.asp 
 
We commend the Government for those commitments. You are the lead minister for ensuring that they are kept. We regret that in practice, to date, the Government has too often not led by example on accessibility. Even worse, it has at times led by a very poor example, which we don't want other obligated organizations to follow.

We thoroughly document this in our June 30, 2014 detailed brief to the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act now being conducted by Dean Mayo Moran of the University of Toronto. It offers specific recommendations to fix this.

Please direct your Ministry officials to brief you on Parts I, VII and X that part of our brief and its recommendations, so that you can consider implementing them. We urge your Ministry to implement those recommendations now.  You can find our June 30, 2014 brief to the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review  at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06302014-Final-Brief-Mayo-Moran-AODA.doc 

Please do not simply passively wait for Dean Moran to render her final report. We cannot afford any further delays.

As our brief shows, there is a pressing need to substantially improve how the Ontario Public Service and the Ontario Government ensures that its services, facilities and workplaces are fully accessible to people with disabilities. Despite some progress, barriers still too often remain in the Ontario Public Service, even after over nine and a half years under the AODA. Time is running out. There are just a little over ten years left until Ontario, including the Ontario Public Service, must be fully accessible.

Accessibility issues are still too often inadequately dealt with in isolated silos within the Ontario Public Service. There is no systematic monitoring or accountability. No one is ultimately and effectively in charge of ensuring that the Government's accessibility obligations and commitments are kept and met.

Your Ministry has commendably created some written accessibility policies for the Ontario Public Service, such as its good "Accessibility at Source" strategy. However, binders or websites brimming with written accessibility policies don't consistently translate into effective front-line action on accessibility across the Ontario Public Service. It has not translated into any effective monitoring or enforcement to ensure that these policies are actually followed across the Ontario Public Service. This cannot be left to hope and trust.

There are a good number within the Ontario Public Service who want to act effectively on accessibility. However, they too often run into bureaucratic roadblocks or a lack of effective support and leadership.  

2. Establish a New, Effective Strategy for Ensuring that the Ontario Public Service Becomes a Barrier-Free, Accessible Employer and Service Provider 

It is necessary for your Ministry to now implement an effective new plan to re-engineer how the Ontario Public Service ensures that its own services, facilities and workplaces are fully accessible. We here offer some key ways to do this.

a)  Implement a System for Monitoring Implementation of Accessibility across the Ontario Public Service

We recommend that your Ministry should now ensure that the accessibility of the Ontario Public Service's services, facilities and workplaces is regularly and comprehensively audited and that public servants are made accountable for ensuring their accessibility.

Right now, you have simply no way of knowing if any of your Ministry's accessibility policies are being implemented effectively on the front lines, and whether this is making any difference for people with disabilities. A new accessibility monitoring initiative would give you that information.

It would enable your officials to figure out where there are gaps. It would equip them to quickly devise cost-effective solutions. It would enable you to account to the public on progress on accessibility, not by counting the number of policies your Ministry writes, but by reporting on the numbers of accessibility barriers that have been discovered and eliminated. It would also constructively signal to the Ontario Public Service at all levels that there will be real accountability on accessibility, and that your Government means business.  

b) Strengthen the Position of the Accessibility Lead in Each Ministry

Each Ministry now has a position called "accessibility lead." They are to be the Ministry's lead point person on ensuring that the Ministry's workplace and services become fully accessible to persons with disabilities. In our experience, these positions are now not fully effective. At times, they are only a part-time position. Those who fill them have varying knowledge about accessibility. Some know a great deal. Some are not as knowledgeable.

Too often, these positions are buried in their Ministry's hierarchy at too low a level. As such, they have far too little clout, and hence too little effectiveness.

In every case, each Ministry's "accessibility lead" should be made a full time position. They should be elevated to a position in the hierarchy where they report directly to the deputy minister. This will make them far more influential and effective. Finally, the people in those positions should in all cases have effective knowledge and expertise on accessibility.

Though helpful, it is not enough to charge each Ministry's Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) with lead responsibility for accessibility. Those CAOs have dozens and dozens of other duties. They cannot be expected to garner the expertise on accessibility that is needed, and to devote all the time that is required. 

c) Establish a Full time Deputy Minister or Associate Deputy Minister responsible for the Accessibility of the Ontario Public Service

In his August 19, 2011 letter to our coalition, setting out your government's 2011 election disability accessibility promises, Premier McGuinty pledged to restore the full-time position of Assistant Deputy Minister of Government Services responsible for accessibility of the Ontario public service.  He wrote:

"We will create a full-time Assistant Deputy Minister position in the Ministry of Government Services responsible for accessibility, and we will continue to consider options and advice on how to modernize our government structure to promote accessibility. The ADM will pay particular attention to breaking down the barriers and silos experienced across government when implementing accessibility initiatives."  

Over three years have passed since that solemn pledge. Yet this position has still not been restored as a full time position. It is only a part time position, part of the duties of the Government's Chief Diversity Officer. It is important that this immediately be restored as a full time position. 

The 2010 Report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act declared that this full time position was "vital". At present, your Ministry is running a competition for the position of Chief Diversity Officer. We urge you to intervene now to ensure that the promised fulltime disability accessibility position is restored.

The Ontario Public Service is now behind schedule for ensuring that it becomes a fully-accessible service provider and employer on or before 2025. Getting the Ontario Public Service back on schedule is a full time job, not a part time job. Leaving this as a part time job loudly sends the wrong message to the public and the Ontario Public Service at all levels.

We regret that we had to take the unusual step in 2011 of approaching the Premier for an election commitment, to get this full time position restored. It is extremely frustrating that the Minister and Ministry of Government Services have so openly ignored an explicit, clear election commitment of the premier of Ontario, for over three years. You are the minister responsible for ensuring that this unkept promise is at last finally kept. 

This position would be considerably more effective if it were not only full time, but if, as well, it was designated as a full deputy minister or at least, as an associate deputy minister. We need this official to be at the table as an equal with all other deputy ministers across Ontario, to help ensure that the Premier's 2011 pledge is kept, to ensure that accessibility is taken into account as a fundamental principle in all vital decisions taken with the Government that affect the daily lives of Ontarians.

3. Ensure the Ontario Government Only Procures Goods, Services and Facilities that are Accessible or that Will Be Made Accessible

Your ministry needs to now spearhead and widely publicize a comprehensive Ontario Government strategy to ensure that no public money is ever used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.  Your ministry has lead responsibility for the hundreds of millions of dollars that the government annually spends on procurement of goods, services and facilities for use by the Ontario public service and by the public. 

It is important for your ministry to have a strong, effective, monitored and enforced policy that ensures that all the goods, services and facilities that the government procures are, to the extent possible, fully accessible to and fully useable by people with disabilities.  We have provided advice to officials in your ministry on this topic numerous times over several years. We would welcome the opportunity to see this strategy entrenched, expanded, expedited, effectively enforced and widely publicized.

This is required by Premier Wynne's May 14, 2014 letter to us, setting out your Government's 2014 election commitments on disability accessibility. She wrote:

"We will continue to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities."

It also dovetails with your government's 2010 10-year infrastructure plan. That Plan commits that buildings and built environment infrastructure that the Government funds, will be accessible. It is also needed to effectively implement your government's unkept 2011 election commitment to us, to expand the ten-year infrastructure plan's accessibility requirement, so that it will include electronic kiosks and information technology.  Your ministry has substantial responsibility for the electronic kiosks and information technology that the government procures, funds and/or develops. In his August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out your Government's 2011 election pledges on accessibility, Premier McGuinty wrote:

"For instance, as part of our 10-year infrastructure plan, we are requiring all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings or major expansions or renovations to demonstrate how the funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility where feasible. We will also extend this to include information technology infrastructure and electronic kiosks."

We know that your Ministry has beefed up procurement procedures to ensure that competitive procedures are followed. It is important for the same enhanced vigilance to be extended to accessibility considerations in the procurement process. We have been told that increased steps have been taken in terms of procurement and accessibility. However we have not been shown that this is implemented comprehensively across all Ministries, that it is effectively monitored and enforced, or that it has been widely publicized to the public, including venders. To be effective, it must be widely and repeatedly publicized.

4. Promptly Complete the Government's Review of All Ontario Legislation and Regulations for Disability Barriers

Your ministry, working together with the Ministry of the Attorney General, has lead responsibility for spearheading the government's promised and long-overdue review of all provincial legislation and regulations, to identify and remove barriers against people with disabilities. 

In his September 14, 2007 letter to us, setting out your Government's 2007 disability accessibility election pledges, Premier McGuinty wrote:

"Review all Ontario laws to find any disability accessibility barriers that need to be removed.
 
The Ontario Liberal government believes this is the next step toward our goal of a fully accessible Ontario. Building on our work of the past four years, we will continue to be a leader in Canada on accessibility issues. For Ontario to be fully accessible, we must ensure no law directly or indirectly discriminates against those with disabilities. To make that happen, we commit to reviewing all Ontario laws to find any disability barriers that need to be removed."

Premier McGuinty's September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09142007.asp 

Four years later, in his August 19, 2011 letter to us, setting out your Government's 2011 election promises on accessibility, Premier McGuinty pledged: 

"We are committed to completing our review of all legislation for accessibility barriers and, through the work of a central team, we will ask ministries to report on their progress as part of their annual performance plans. We will also pursue strategies to address defined barriers in an efficient and suitable manner."

After another three years, in her May 14, 2014 letter to us, setting out your Government's 2014 election pledges on accessibility, Premier Wynne wrote:

"In addition to the review of the AODA, the government is currently conducting a legislative review with the goal of identifying and considering steps to remove any potential barriers in Ontario statutes.  In the current phase of the review, 13 ministries are reviewing 51 high impact statutes. The list of high impact statutes includes statutes that affect persons with disabilities directly, provide for the delivery of services to a large group, provide benefits or protections or affect democratic or civil rights.  This phase of the review will be complete by the end of 2014.  We commit to addressing the findings of the review and continuing to review additional Ontario statutes to remove any potential barriers.

18. We commit to making amendments to regulations to remove accessibility barriers as required based on the findings of the current review and the review of additional Ontario statutes going forward."

It has been over seven years since Premier McGuinty promised this review. The Government needs to substantially speed up its efforts on this. At the present rate, the Government will not have even reviewed all its statues and regulations for accessibility by 2025, much less will it have fixed accessibility problems in them. we need the Government  to bring forward an omnibus bill in early 2015, to address any barriers that have been identified to date, that need legislative fixes.

5. And Finally

We would be delighted to work with you and your ministry in any way we can, to assist you in promoting this agenda. We look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience.

We have often written Ontario cabinet ministers, to make constructive proposals for specific actions on accessibility. To often our letters have simply been routed to a communications branch official for a "public relations" response. We too often end up receiving a letter, authored by communications officials, that thanks us for writing, praises our advocacy on accessibility, and voices support for making Ontario accessible Such letters then  simply repeat lists of things the Government has already done or promised. Too often these responses do not actually answer our inquiries or proposals.

Please don't let that happen here. We are eager to know what you are open to doing from among the proposals we here set out. We would be happy to discuss our ideas with you. Your Ministry officials have been brief over and over on these issues, so they should be able to bring you and your office up to speed in very short order.

We would welcome the chance to work together with you on taking bold new action on accessibility.  

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont,
Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

c:          Premier Kathleen Wynne
Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure email brad.duguid@ontario.ca
Wendy Tilford, Deputy Minister of Government and Consumer Services
Yvonne Defoe, Chief Diversity Officer of Ontario email Yvonne.Defoe@ontario.ca
Giles Gerson, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure email giles.gerson@ontario.ca
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario