ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

The Latest in Our Campaign to Get the Wynne Government to at Last Keep Its Promise to Effectively Enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

September 27, 2013

SUMMARY

The Kathleen Wynne Government has still not kept its 2003 election pledge, reaffirmed to us again in the 2011 election, to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We give an update on two important items in our campaign to get the Government to keep its word.

1. On the day the AODA was passed by the Ontario Legislature, the Government gave clear commitments on the effective enforcement of this law. At a May 10, 2005 Queen’s Park news conference, Citizenship Minister Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, speaking for the Government, answered a reporter’s question about the legislation as follows:

“Well, once a standard is a regulation, it will be immediately enforceable.  Which means if it's not complied with, there will be fines.  Having said that, we do believe in an education campaign, so that there are no surprises, that people are educated with respect to what's expected of them.  That there will be spot audits very, much like the environment in the United States uses these spot audits.  We're talking about over three hundred thousand organizations, private and public, that will be affected.  So can't have an inspector going in every one every day. So there'll be spot audits.  Special technology will be used to track these audits, and where there will be inconsistencies, that is where the inspectors will go in.  They will be given of course chances to remedy their situation.  It's not about punishment. It's about doing the right thing.  However if they do not comply, there is a fine -- fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a hundred thousand dollars for corporations.  So we're serious.  That was missing in the previous act. That was one of the things that was missing in the previous act.  And without that enforcement compliance, when you just leave it to the good will of the people, it doesn't always get done.  And so we know that we know that from the psychology of human nature.  We know that from past research in other areas, like the environment, like seatbelts, like smoking. And so we acted on the research in those areas.”

2. We still have no answer to the Freedom of Information application that AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky filed back on August 15, 2013, to find out the Government’s plans and current actions to enforce the AODA. The Government has sought clarification of his request, and has not yet said when it will comply. It may require a search fee to be paid to locate some of the requested information.   

MORE DETAILS

1. More Details on the Liberal Government’s Promise to Effectively Enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

We today make public a transcript that gives important detail on what the Government promised, insofar as the effective enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is concerned. Below we set out a transcript of the Government’s May 10, 2005 queen’s Park news conference. It convened this news conference to launch the AODA just minutes after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed this new legislation.

At that news conference, Minister Bountrogianni, speaking for the Government, made important commitments about the AODA’s enforcement. She committed that:

* The AODA has strong enforcement measures;

* An accessibility standard would be immediately enforceable once it is enacted under the AODA;

* If an accessibility standard is not complied with “there will be fines”;

*  “There will be spot audits”;

* “Special technology will be used to track these audits”;

* If there are inconsistencies, “inspectors will go in” i.e. to an obligated organization.

* “There is a fine --  fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a hundred thousand dollars for corporations.  So we're serious.”

So far, we have seen no indication that the Government has levied any fines, or conducted any spot audits, or sent any inspectors into any private sector organizations, since the private sector was required to comply with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard and, in the case of private organizations with 20 or more employees, to file a compliance report with the government by December 31, 2012.  

It is important to put the Liberal Government’s commitments to effectively enforce the AODA in context. In 1995, the previous Conservative Ontario Government under Premier Mike Harris had promised a Disabilities Act. However, after it took office in 1995, it took the position that any Disabilities Act would be voluntary, not mandatory. It therefore would not have effective enforcement.

Ontarians with disabilities strongly objected, saying that unless a law is mandatory and effectively enforced, it will not meet our needs. While in opposition, the Ontario Liberal Party raised the same objections as did the disability community.

It was for that reason that the Liberals promised in writing in the 2003 election that they would deliver an effectively enforced Disabilities Act. At the May 10, 2005 news conference, Minister Bountrogianni reiterated why it is important for a law like the AODA to be effectively enforced, not voluntary. She said the following, referring to the previous Conservative Government’s weak and unenforceable Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001:

“They will be given of course chances to remedy their situation.  It's not about punishment. It's about doing the right thing.  However if they do not comply, there is a fine -- fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a hundred thousand dollars for corporations.  So we're serious.  That was missing in the previous act. That was one of the things that was missing in the previous act.  And without that enforcement compliance, when you just leave it to the good will of the people, it doesn't always get done.  And so we know that we know that from the psychology of human nature.  We know that from past research in other areas, like the environment, like seatbelts, like smoking. And so we acted on the research in those areas.”

2. Our Unsuccessful Efforts to Date to Unearth the Government’s Plans for Enforcing the AODA

We still cannot get answers from the Ontario Government on what it is doing or plans to do, to keep its promises to effectively enforce the AODA. A remarkable 246 days have passed since we wrote to the Ontario Government back on January 22, 2013 to ask for its plans to keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. We have received no substantive public response to that inquiry. To learn more about our request for the Ontario Government’s plans to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, visit http://is.gd/XdwlVG    

On August 15, 2013, after much frustration, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky has resorted to filing a Freedom of Information application, to get access to information about the Government’s commitment to effectively enforce the AODA. Learn more about David Lepofsky’s Freedom of Information application by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08152013.asp

The Government initially said it had 30 days to answer that request for information. It advised that the deadline was September 16, 2013.

Before that deadline, the Government asked for some clarification of the specifics regarding this request for information. Once David Lepofsky provided that clarification, and after a series of phone calls and emails, the Government said in a September 20, 2013 email to David Lepofsky:

"…the Ministry is now proceeding to determine if a fee estimate is required, and if such, we will provide the fee estimate within the legislated 30 day time period.  Subsequent to the fee estimate letter being sent, if an extension of time is required (e.g. to search for records, or to undertake third party consultations), a letter identifying the extended due date will be provided to you upon receipt of the fee estimate. 
 
As previously noted, we are currently working attentively on addressing the points of your request that do not require extensive search time and can be answered fairly quickly.  This portion of the request will be available to you once this information is finalized."   

David Lepofsky has advised the Government during these exchanges that he is the chair of a volunteer community coalition. He will ask the Government to waive any search fees, should the Government ask for any such fees. There is a process for asking for search fees to be waived, once the Government advises whether it proposes to charge any search fees for the requested information.
David Lepofsky has taken steps, in answer to the Government’s requests for clarification, to make it easier for the Government to find the requested information. In fact, all the information that he has requested should also have been requested by the minister responsible for enforcing this legislation. As such, it should be readily available. 

When she ran for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party last fall, Kathleen Wynne promised the AODA Alliance by her in writing that she would keep all the commitments on disability accessibility that were made to us by the Dalton McGuinty Government, of which she was part. Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp

The Ontario Liberal Government's 2011 disability accessibility election pledges, including the reaffirmed commitment to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act, are set out in former Premier McGuinty's August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance. Former Premier McGuinty’s August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220111.asp   

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TRANSCRIPT OF THE MAY 10, 2005 NEWS CONFERENCE AT THE QUEEN’S PARK MEDIA STUDIO OF THE ONTARIO LEGISLATURE

Note: This news conference was held immediately after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed Bill 118, the proposed Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, at Third Reading and gave it a standing ovation. Speaking at the news conference were:

* Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, the Minister of Citizenship who led the development of the AODA, and shepherded it through the Legislature from 2004 to 2005.

* David Lepofsky, then the chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, the predecessor to the AODA Alliance. The ODA Committee spearheaded the province wide grassroots campaign from 1994 to 2005 to get the AODA enacted.

* Doug Derabbie, then the Director of Government Relations for the Retail Council of Canada.

Nicole Curling:  Good afternoon and welcome everyone my name is Nicole Curling I am communication advisor to Doctor Marie Bountrogianni Minister of Citizenship and Immigration. In this conference we're going to begin with remarks by Minister Bountrogianni followed by David Lepofsky who's the chair of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee and then Doug Derabbie who is the director of government relations for the Retail Council of Canada.  After that we'll open it up for a few questions and we'll begin with the minister's comments.  Minister?

Bountrogianni:  Good afternoon.  Today is a very important day for the people with disabilities who have worked relentlessly for a decade to make this legislation a reality.  This bill is their bill.  It is strong legislation that will allow every Ontarian to live work and play without facing barriers.  To have a better life for themselves and for their kids.  I'm proud of the role our government has played in crafting this legislation.  We want to make a difference to the lives of people with disabilities.  With this legislation we are making a difference.

This legislation is about empowerment and inclusion.  It is about allowing all Ontarians to reach for their dreams. And thanks to the collaboration among all our partners it will be a success.  They worked together to develop the legislation and will keep on working together to implement it.

I was very pleased with the willingness and active participation of business leaders.  They wanted to figure out the best ways to build a more inclusive society.  Business people in Ontario understand that they are helping to build a province where people want to live and invest --   A province that will be the leader in Canada on accessibility.

I also appreciated the help and advice of leaders from municipalities, hospitals, schools, colleges, universities and transportation organizations.  These broader public-sector organizations have already been involved in accessibility planning.  Some of them have made great strides in making their services and facilities accessible. 

This bill has a long term vision.   It has an action plan.  It has clear rules.  It has a precise process for developing standards that are both mandatory and fair.  It has strong measures for enforcement.  And it will benefit our province enormously.  It will mean more participation in the workforce by people with disabilities.  A higher quality of life for more than a million citizens.  And the whole act will come into effect upon Royal Assent.

This legislation is fundamental to reaching the full economic, social, cultural and human potential of our province.  It is fundamental to embracing and celebrating our common humanity.

About thirty years ago, hard to believe, I was a first-year engineering student at the University of Waterloo.  I switched to psychology a year later.  Some co-op placements were not available to me and my colleagues -- other female engineering students -- because the industries didn't think it was worth it to have washrooms for females.  They said it's just not worth the expense for having washrooms for the number of females that go through our industries.  Can you imagine that happening today?

I want this in the future for people to think back before 2005 and say: “What were they thinking before 2005?”  You imagine people complaining about the price of a wrap?  You imagine people complaining about having to have their menus in Braille?  You imagine complaining about people with Tourette Syndrome eating loudly in a restaurant?  What were they thinking before 2005? 

Attitude change is important.  We will need the continued help of our partners, of business, of people with disabilities, of government, of other stakeholders, to make this work.  So far it's been near flawless, the co-operation, the work, and we have an excellent bill to move forward.  I want to thank them all for working with us and for the continued work with us.  Thank you.

Nicole Curling: David?

Lepofsky:  Without doubt, today is the single most historic day in the campaign for equality for Ontarians with Disabilities since way back in 1981 when we first amended the Canadian Charter of Rights and the Ontario Human Rights Code to first prohibit discrimination because of disability.  Over the past ten years we have campaigned for this legislation.  We've seen three governments, three provincial elections.  We've seen four premiers, seven Citizenship ministers.  We've participated in dozens and dozens of public forums, public consultations, public hearings, press conferences and other public events.  We've given hundreds of interviews, and we've sent thousands and thousands of emails and faxes.  All that to bring us to this day.

I want on behalf of Ontarians with disabilities to first thank Premier McGuinty and the government for the leadership and the commitment that led to the introduction and delivery of the bill that the premier promised us in the 2003 election.  I want to thank Doctor Bountrogianni for effectively skilfully and co-operatively bringing together us from the disability community, people from the business community, people from the broader public sector, at the same table for the first time, to develop a consensus that is reflected in a very very good new piece of legislation.

I want as well to thank the others within the Liberal Party who have fought on this cause over the past years both while in government and while in opposition.  Most particularly those who've spearheaded this issue, Dwight Duncan, Ernie Parsons, Steve Peters, and the late Dominic Agostino. 

Similarly, today is historically important because this bill not only passed, but passed unanimously.

I want to express very very passionate appreciation to both the opposition Conservatives led by John Tory, and the opposition New Democrats led by Howard Hampton, for their support of this legislation.  I want to thank all critics who have pressed this issue in the Legislature over the past decade, and particularly Rosario Marchese and Cam Jackson who put forward so many amendments and debated them so vigorously to ensure that as many improvements to the bill as possible were considered, as this bill made its way through a very fair and open legislative process.

This legislation is critical for making Ontario truly open and accessible for people with disabilities.  It will improve the lives of Ontarians with disabilities, once effectively implemented.  And we know its effective implementation is promised to start, frankly, tomorrow. 

I also want to emphasize that this would never have happened, this would never have happened, had it not been for the tireless efforts of men and women and children across Ontario, people with disabilities, people with friends and families with disabilities, people who think and probably know they're going to get a disability, who have been fighting for this cause across Ontario, city by city, campaign by campaign, leaflet by leaflet, email by email, for a decade.  This is a unique piece of legislation, because it stems from the work not of a few, but of so very many.

So I want to express our incredible excitement at this important historic event our deep gratitude to the government and to all those who have worked with the government to support its passage.

Derabbie:  Thank you.  It's a pleasure to be here as we celebrate the passage of Bill 118.  This is indeed an historic occasion, one that sees government people with disabilities and businesses all coming together to achieve a common objective, to ensure that people of all abilities have equal access.  Today on behalf of Retail Council of Canada and its members operating in Ontario, I would like to once again congratulate Minister Bountrogianni for putting together legislation that provides for flexibility, opens the lines of communication between the retail community and the disability community, and offers opportunities for both.

As retailers, we are very appreciative of the flexibility that is provided for in Bill 118.  The flexibility to develop standards that takes into account the differing circumstances of large retailers and small retailers is extremely important, as well as the flexibility to determine an appropriate time frame for the implementation of measures, policies and practices.  We are also supportive of the twenty-year time period, which is vital to ensuring that retailers will be able to efficiently and effectively implement all of the required changes.

We are also appreciative of the standards development committees, which will provide an important forum for the dialogue that must take place between the business community and the disability community, in order to develop meaningful standards.  Since last fall, RCC has been working with its members to look at how we can enhance accessibility in retail stores.  Discussions so far have provided a strong framework for moving forward, and we have met with representatives from the disability community to help identify where the gaps are and what are the priorities.

We are further appreciative of the opportunities that enhancing accessibility will provide.  Retailers will be able to share in the considerable spending power of the disability community, and more importantly, retailers will be looking to fill job vacancies with qualified people with disabilities.

It has been said that representatives of the disability community were determined that any legislation be as fair as possible to business.  They were also looking for the opportunities to sit down with various business sectors to negotiate standards that are both world-leading and fair to everybody.  We are here today to echo that spirit of co-operation and consultation.

RCC and the retail sector look forward to working with the disability community, to learn to understand and to make the changes required to enhance accessibility. 

In closing, the minister has indicated that this legislation is about fairness, opportunity, and inclusion.  It is also about building a better Ontario and reaching the full economic, social, cultural and human potential of our province.  We couldn't agree more.  For retailers, they take great pride in the communities in which they live.  By helping to enhance accessibility, retailers will be building upon their efforts to deliver to Ontarians a quality of life that is second to none.  Indeed for retailers, it is not just about being a good corporate citizen.  It's about doing the right thing.

Congratulations again, Minister, and we look forward to working with the disability community to enhance accessibility in Ontario.

Nicole Curling:  Thank you we're going to open it up now for any questions.  Are there any questions? Yes?

Unidentified Journalist:  I've got a question about compliance and how difficult it's going to be and how big a job is it going to be in the next years to come?

Bountrogianni:  Well, once a standard is a regulation, it will be immediately enforceable.  Which means if it's not complied with, there will be fines.  Having said that, we do believe in an education campaign, so that there are no surprises, that people are educated with respect to what's expected of them.  That there will be spot audits very, much like the environment in the United States uses these spot audits.  We're talking about over three hundred thousand organizations, private and public, that will be affected.  So can't have an inspector going in every one every day. So there'll be spot audits.  Special technology will be used to track these audits, and where there will be inconsistencies, that is where the inspectors will go in.  They will be given of course chances to remedy their situation.  It's not about punishment. It's about doing the right thing.  However if they do not comply, there is a fine --  fifty thousand dollars for individuals and a hundred thousand dollars for corporations.  So we're serious.  That was missing in the previous act. That was one of the things that was missing in the previous act.  And without that enforcement compliance, when you just leave it to the good will of the people, it doesn't always get done.  And so we know that we know that from the psychology of human nature.  We know that from past research in other areas, like the environment, like seatbelts, like smoking. And so we acted on the research in those areas.

Nicole Curling :  Any other questions?  Thank-you very much.

Bountrogianni:  Thank-you.

David, you want to read your Chinese cookie or do you want me to read it?  Chinese fortune cookie?

Lepofsky:  I went for lunch today.  Went for Chinese food.  I took out the fortune, which you can't fit Braille into a cookie, just doesn't work.

Bountrogianni:   It will someday. 

(Reading the text of the fortune in the fortune cookie) “Every truly great accomplishment is at first impossible.”

Congratulations Mister Lepofsky.

Lepofsky:  I'm going to frame it.