Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

IS THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT ON SCHEDULE TO MAKING ONTARIO FULLY ACCESSIBLE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES BY 2025?

October 1, 2008

SUMMARY

On September 4, 2008, a delegation from the AODA Alliance met with senior Ontario Government officials at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. They are responsible for implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. (AODA) We sought an update on what steps the Ontario Government is taking to implement the AODA, and to implement Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election promises to Ontarians with disabilities. The results of this meeting were summarized in a September 8, 2008 letter to the Ontario Government set out below.

In summary, the Government has taken a number of important steps on the implementation of the AODA. What these measures will mean for the daily lives of Ontarians with disabilities remains to be seen. We appreciate these public officials updating us, and offering to consult with us on a range of items, spelled out in the letter below.

However, it is also regrettably clear at this point that Ontario is now not on target to fulfil the fundamentally important legal requirement that this province must become fully accessible for persons with disabilities on or before January 1, 2025. The AODA sets this deadline for full accessibility-a deadline which the Ontario Government selected and enshrined in the law. It is necessary for the Ontario Government to now come up with strong new plans for how to get itself on schedule for meeting this deadline. We have made it clear to the Ontario Government that we welcome the opportunity to work on this with them.

To see what progress we learned about at a similar meeting in September 2007, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10222007.asp

To read Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election promises concerning disability accessibility issues, visit:
http://www.odacommittee.net/news80.html

Send us your feedback at:
aodafeedback@rogers.com

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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014

September 8, 2008

via facsimile (416) 325-9620

Ms. Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
777 Bay Street
Suite 601A
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2J4

Dear Ms. Waxman,

Re: Implementation of the Ontario Government’s 2007 Election Commitments on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

We want to thank you for your officials’ meeting a delegation from the AODA Alliance on September 4, 2008. We appreciated your updating us on the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and your inviting us to meet again for more updates and opportunities for our input.

1. Progress on Developing Accessibility Standards

We were told at this meeting that your current projection is that the Transportation Standards Development Committee is expected to submit its final recommendation for a transportation standard by November 2008. The Information and Communication Standards Development Committee is expected to submit is initial recommendation for an information and communication accessibility standard by mid- to end-October 2008. The Employment Standards Development Committee is expected to submit its initial proposal for an employment accessibility standard by February 2009. The Build Environment Standards Development Committee is expected to submit its initial proposal for a built environment accessibility standard by spring 2009.

We asked what plans there were for establishing further standards development committees. We were told that there has been some preliminary general thought on this, but nothing has yet been decided. You told us that you don’t expect to turn your minds to this until these remaining standards have been finished, and the audit of the standards development committee process has been conducted.

We indicated that the process should be sped up for selecting the next areas for standards development, and for getting new standards development committees selected and up and running. This is important, given that we are now under 17 years away from the AODA’s deadline for full accessibility across Ontario, and given the time it takes for a standards development committee to undertake its work.

2. Need to Strengthen the Customer Service Accessibility Standard

We asked whether there are any plans to re-convene the Customer Service Standards Development Committee to review the customer service standard, and to consider measures to strengthen it. While the AODA requires this to be done within five years, it doesn’t prevent the Government from doing it sooner. We were told that there are no plans for this, particularly before the customer service standard goes into effect and compliance feedback becomes available, starting in 2010.

We emphasized that there is a real need for this to happen much sooner. The Customer Service Standard is widely recognized in the disability community as being substantially insufficient. There is still quite a stretch of time before organizations will be accountable for doing anything at all under it. It is better to enhance that standard now, while organizations are planning for their compliance with it, than waiting til they’ve already finished their compliance preparation. Moreover, the Customer Service Standard was designed and finalized by a Customer Service Standards Development Committee that didn’t have the benefit of any of the Government’s 2007 election commitments’ improvements. The disability sector was out-numbered, not 50% of the voting committee (as later promised in the 2007 election). The disability sector wasn’t then promised added support to help with its work (as LATER promised in the 2007 election). There was no assurance that the Customer Service Standards Development Committee could vote on the standard clause-by-clause (as later promised in the 2007 election). That standard wasn’t developed with an aim to make sure it at least meets the requirements of the Human Rights Code. This all helps explain at least in part why the Customer Service Standard was so woefully inadequate.

3. Strengthening the Voice of Disability Representatives on Standards Development Committees

We were told that the Government has fulfilled its commitments to raise the representation of the disability community at each Standards Development Committee to 50%, and that a staff member has been hired to help bring the disability community’s voice to the table at the Standards Development Committees. We will want to speak with you further on how to better enable the disability community to present their views and recommendations at the table.

We understand that the background of the staff hired to assist the disability sector representatives doesn’t include legal training on human rights accessibility issues and on framing actual proposals for strong effective accessibility standards. We know that those representing the private sector and broader public sector at these standards development tables have resources for obtaining such advice. We were told there is budget for retaining such advice for the disability sector. We would like to follow-up on how to get this actual advice to the disability sector representatives, so they can effectively table proposals and respond to proposals that government and private sector spokespeople table. Given your timetable for finishing the work of the existing Standards Development Committees, it is important to act on this as soon as possible.

You indicated lawyer Mary Cornish and Human Rights Commission representatives spoke to all members of some or all of the Standards Development Committees. While helpful, this is no substitute for helping disability sector representatives with the drafting of proposals, and for the analyzing of the proposals of others.

4. Opportunities for Public Presentations to Standards Development Committees

Among the Government’s 2007 election pledges was a commitment “allowing the standard development committees to have presenters come to their meetings.” We were told that the Standards Development Committees were all told of this commitment. You also told us that since then, the only instance of a Standards Development Committee receiving a presentation from an outside group was a presentation that the Ontario Human Rights Commission made to some or all of the Standards Development Committees with work in progress.

We asked what steps were taken to tell the public that they can ask to make presentations to the Standards Development Committees. We were told that no steps were taken to communicate this to the public. Respectfully, we would add on reflection that this was unacceptable. This is especially troubling, since a year has now passed since that election commitment was made, and the remaining four Standards Development Committees are reportedly so far along in their work. We ask that steps be taken to rectify this immediately, if it is not too late.

5. Government’s Accessibility Standards Advisory Council Disapproved Customer Service Standard and Proposed Transportation Standard

It was confirmed at this meeting that the Government’s own Accessibility Standards Advisory Council disapproved of both the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard circulated in 2007 for public comment, and the Customer Service Standard, and that this was known to the Accessibility Directorate of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, as well as the Minister’s office. It is, of course, understandable that ASAC would disapprove these. They were both palpably inadequate.

It is not understandable why the Minister and Government would approve the Customer Service Standard, and make repeated government announcements proudly heralding its proclamation as a landmark achievement, knowing it falls so obviously short of the needs of the disability community, and knowing its own Accessibility Standards Advisory Council disapproved of these. This also contradicts what Premier McGuinty wrote us in his September 14, 2007 election pledge letter, which suggested the Government is relying on ASAC’s advice, whereas in fact it rejected it, on the two most important measures to that date under the AODA. He wrote us:

“Our process for developing standards is one that is open and consultative. The standards have been, and will continue to be, created by the public, including persons with disabilities and affected individuals and organizations. We will continue to have public consultation on the standards before they are finalized. The minister will also continue to rely on advice from the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC), until recently chaired by David Onley, who has been an active advocate for people with disabilities in the province.”

6. Clause by Clause Voting on Accessibility Standards

We were advised that in compliance with the Premier’s 2007 election commitments, each Standards Development Committee would vote on each proposed standard, clause-by-clause. We were told that the public would be made aware of how this voting went, i.e. what was voted up and what was voted down, and where there were split votes, either via the Minutes of these meetings, or otherwise. We recommended that it should be made public in a manner that best makes it clear and easy to follow what proposals were approved or disapproved, and by what votes.

7. Ensuring Accessibility Standards Meet Ontario Human Rights Code Requirements

We have been asking for some time for the Government to make a specific commitment that any accessibility standard, enacted under the AODA at least meet the standard for accommodation and accessibility required by the Ontario Human Rights Code. We asked what steps are being taken to make sure that each standard meets or exceeds the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code for providing accessibility for persons with disabilities. We were told that when any proposed standards are sent to the Minister, they will be accompanied, on a provision by provision basis, with advice on whether the provision fulfils the requirements of the Human Rights Code. We would welcome a chance to discuss with you further ways to make this as effective as possible. For example, having had the chance to reflect on this since our meeting, we would ask you to consider having the Human Rights Commission give that clause-by-clause feedback before the Government decides whether to proceed with a standard as proposed by a Standards Development Committee, so the Government can take their advice into account in advance of any final decisions. We would also ask that the Human Rights Commission afford us and others from the disability community a chance for input to them, on the basis of which the Commission can provide the Government with informed advice.

8. Enforcement of AODA

We asked what plans are in place for enforcing compliance with the AODA. You advised us that the Ministry has a compliance framework proposal in the works, which has been discussed with some groups. We appreciate your agreeing to forward a copy of the proposed enforcement framework to us for feedback, and permitting us to circulate it widely. We look forward to receiving it.

9. Independent Review of AODA’s Effectiveness

We address the requirement in s. 40 of the AODA that there be an independent review of the effectiveness of this law and its implementation, four years after the AODA went into effect. This must be started by June 2009.

We want to have input into the choice of the independent person who will conduct the review. We want to make sure that they are independent of government, well-informed on the subject of disability accessibility, and able to provide a good fair critical assessment of the situation. We want to be sure there is a well-publicized, open, accessible public consultation on the review, not just one that is invitation-only, or merely conducted by email or the internet. It should be completed by the end of 2008, and its recommendations quickly made public, so that its recommendations can be publicly debated, and any legislative reforms passed, well before the next provincial election. We appreciate your agreeing to consult with us on this.

10. Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections

In the 2007 election, Premier McGuinty promised in addition: “to developing an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.” You advised us that an inter-ministerial committee has been set up to address this. We offered to speak to that group. We appreciate your agreeing to make this happen.

We are concerned that a lead needs to be established within government to have carriage of this issue, and that is should cover both municipal and provincial elections. We also need to have it include not only matters covered by election legislation, but also matters within the arena of the three major parties (i.e. all-candidates’ debate, and campaign literature). We have since learned that a Select Committee of the Legislature is doing some sort of work on elections. This needs to be coordinated so that reform can be in place before the next provincial election, and hopefully the next municipal election as well.

11. Other Government Commitments

We will need to separately address the Government’s 2007 election commitments regarding inclusion of disability accessibility curriculum to school and professional training curricula, and reviewing all provincial legislation for possible barriers to disability accessibility.

12. Will Ontario be Fully Accessible by 2025?

Beyond all this detail, the most fundamental question we raised is whether the Government is now on track and on schedule for achieving the AODA’s 2025 legal deadline for full accessibility in Ontario. Section 1 of the AODA sets this legal deadline. It provides:

1. Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario, the purpose of this Act is to benefit all Ontarians by,

(a) developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and

(b) providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standards. 2005, c. 11, s. 1.

It is well-known that the AODA Alliance, echoing the views of many in the disability community, is very concerned that Ontario is now lagging well behind and isn’t on track to meet that deadline. That deadline is one which the Government, and not we, set. We asked you whether you felt we were on schedule to meet it. You agreed it was a tricky question, but not a trick question. Your answer was commensurately equivocal. We didn’t get a clear statement from you that Ontario is on schedule to achieving the full accessibility that the legislation and the Government promise.

We have asked that if we are not on schedule, it is important for your ministry to come forward with proposals on any changes that need to be made to get Ontario on schedule. We are under 17 years away from this deadline.

We look forward to following up with you on the matters discussed at this meeting.

Sincerely,

Catherine Dunphy, Chair AODA Alliance.

cc: Madeleine Meilleur, Minister, Community & Social Services
via facsimile (416) 325-1498
Ms Lucille Roch, Deputy Minister of Community & Social Services
via facsimile (416) 325-5240
Mr. Scot Weeres, Director, Standards Development & Compliance Branch
via facsimile (416) 325-9620