ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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SEND US YOUR FEEDBACK ON OUR DRAFT BRIEF ON THE FINAL PROPOSED INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD

October 5, 2009

SUMMARY

The Ontario Government recently made public the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. This proposed accessibility standard was developed by the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee, which the Ontario Government appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005.

The Government is now considering this proposal. It has invited feedback from the public. To see the text of the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, and other Ontario Government documents about it, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10022009.asp

The Government has given the public up to October 16, 2009 to send in feedback on the final proposed standard. The Government will then decide what kind of Information and Communication Accessibility Standard it will enact.

Working under rather harrowing time pressure, the AODA Alliance has prepared a detailed draft brief to the Ontario Government. We here make it public for your input. It sets out our proposals on how to strengthen the final proposed standard that the Standards Development Committee developed. (See the draft brief below).

This draft brief builds on the brief that the AODA Alliance submitted to the Ontario Government back on January 22, 2009 on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. You can see that earlier brief at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01222009.asp

We are eager for your feedback on this new draft brief. We need your feedback by Friday, October 9, 2009, so we can finalize our brief and submit it to the Government by its October 16, 2009 deadline.

We know that this is only a short period for you to give us your feedback. We regret this. However, we hope and trust that you will understand that with so much going on with the AODA over the past weeks and months, it has been challenging for all of us, especially a volunteer community coalition like the AODA Alliance, to quickly address each initiative as it comes up. If you do not have time to read the whole brief, you might wish to look at the appendix at the end that lists all our recommendations.

We hope you will like our draft brief. It reflects the feedback we have received from the disability community over the past months, including during our process of developing our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposal for this standard. Please send your feedback to us at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

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DRAFT - BRIEF OF THE ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE TO THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT ON THE FINAL PROPOSED INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD

October 5, 2009

(Note: This draft has not been approved by the AODA Alliance, and does not purport to represent the views of this organization.)

BRIEF OF THE AODA ALLIANCE TO THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT ON THE FINAL PROPOSED INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD

1. INTRODUCTION

This brief of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance offers our feedback to the Ontario Government on the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. Our recommendations in this brief are all listed in Appendix 1. Background on the AODA Alliance is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org

The final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard is dated April 28, 2009. The Information and Communication Standards Development Committee submitted its final proposal for the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard to the Ontario Government on May 29, 2009.

2. SUMMARY OF OUR POSITION

Our position in this brief is summarized as follows:

  1. We commend the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard as a good effort at addressing the information and communication barriers which persons with disabilities face. If strengthened as we recommend in this brief, this would be a strong and effective accessibility standard.
  2. The standard should be strengthened in accordance with the recommendations in our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.
  3. The standard’s classification of different organizations, for purposes of setting time lines, should not use the number of an organization’s employees to decide whether the organization will have shorter or longer time lines.
  4. Time lines in the standard should be reduced, especially in the area of making website content and information technology accessible.
  5. The standard needs to be clarified to be sure that its content on barrier-removal and prevention are mandatory, and not optional.
  6. The standard for web content accessibility should be raised to the internationally-recognized level.
  7. The standard’s requirements should clearly apply to employment-related information and communication.
  8. The standard’s requirements need to be strengthened in the areas of an organization’s policy on accessible information and communication, and the training of professionals and information technology specialists on information and communication accessibility.
  9. The standard needs to be expanded to include specific requirements on information and communication accessibility for electronic kiosks, accessibility of meetings, as pertains the Ontario Government and larger broader public sector organizations, municipal and provincial elections, public signage, public libraries, court documents, and user instructions and manuals.
  10. Larger organizations should be required to designate an individual from their existing workforce to have lead responsibility for information and communication accessibility.

3. RE-SUBMITTING OUR JANUARY 22, 2009 BRIEF ON ACCESS TO INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION

We commend the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for its hard work in developing the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. We believe that this final proposal needs some significant changes to make it strong and effective. Nevertheless, this final proposal is clearly better than the only standard enacted to date, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, namely the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It is also clearly better than the final proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard.

As a general matter, we re-submit our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. We ask that the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard include all the measures and proposals that are set out in that brief. That brief is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01222009.asp

The rest of this brief includes specific recommendations that supplement the contents of our January 22, 2009 brief. Below, we highlight certain specific parts of that brief. This does not take away from the importance of all the measures we recommend in the January 22, 2009 brief.

We therefore recommend that:

1. The Information and Communication Accessibility Standard that the Government adopts should fully implement the principles and recommendations set out in the AODA Alliance’s January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.

4. THE STANDARD’S OBJECTIVES

We strongly commend the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for stating the standard’s purpose as follows:

“It is the Committee’s vision that by 2025, all information and methods of communication to and from an individual will be designed to be accessible to persons with disabilities consistent with human rights law, the French Language Services Act (1990) (where applicable) and inclusive design principles.”

We are eager for this language to be incorporated not only as a vision statement, but as an explicit purpose of the standard itself.

We therefore recommend that:

2. The standard state that its purpose is that on or before 2025, all necessary information and methods of communication to and from an individual in connection with the provision of goods, services, facilities or employment in Ontario will be designed to be fully accessible to persons with disabilities consistent with human rights law and inclusive design principles.

The standard further articulates its objectives as follows:

“In providing accessible information and communications, the goal is for organizations to:
communicate with a person with a disability in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability;
give the individual the same amount of time as given to others to review, respond or use the information and communications considering the urgency of the situation;
provide the same quality (up-to-date, complete, and accurate) as is available to others; and
provide the same availability in terms of time and place as is available to others.”

The intent here is commendable. However, it can at points conflict with important human rights requirements.

The aim of equality is not identical treatment but equal opportunity. The final proposed standard can itself create a barrier, where it states: “give the individual the same amount of time as given to others to review, respond or use the information and communications considering the urgency of the situation.” A person, because of mobility impairment, learning disability, intellectual disability or other disability-related need, may require more time to absorb and use the information. Giving them the same time as others can create a barrier to access.

We therefore recommend that:

3. The standard be amended to provide a guarantee of an equal opportunity to review, respond or use the information and communications considering the urgency of the situation.

5. DEFINITION OF CLASSES OF ORGANIZATIONS

We remain concerned that the definition of classes in the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard continues to be based on the number of an organization’s employees. We repeat what we said on this issue in our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS). We regret that the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee did not adopt our advice:

“2. NEED TO RE-DEFINE CLASSES OF ORGANIZATIONS INCLUDING “SMALL BUSINESS.”

We agree that small business should be subject to a different set of requirements, and should get more time under the ICAS. We support the view that there should not be a “one size fits all” approach to any standard under the AODA.

That said, we are very concerned about the definition of “small business” that this standard uses, namely: Private sector or non-profit organizations with 1-19 employees (except those which the ICAS defines as providing “critical services”). For purposes of this accessibility standard, the number of employees, standing alone, may not be a proper way to find out if the business is small or large. A business might have only a few employees, but may be a franchisee of a huge, well-resourced chain, with ample information and communication infrastructure and supports available. A business with only a few employees may have substantial assets, substantial revenues, and substantial profits. It may have a larger number of workers with whom it has contracted as independent contractors, rather than as employees (like many taxi companies).

It would be better to come up with a definition of small business which takes into account these variables, but which is also clear and easy to follow. For an AODA standard, a business should be able to know at a glance whether it falls within the small business category.

Some have suggested that the definitions of the classes in the ICAS should be the same as those used in the customer service accessibility standard to provide consistency for organizations that must comply with the AODA. We recognize the benefit of consistency between the different accessibility standards. However, there are nevertheless good reasons for using a different definition of small business for the ICAS.

We have shown elsewhere that the customer service accessibility standard is fundamentally defective and flawed. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09122007.asp

The Customer Service Accessibility Standard should not be used as a model for any future standards. Two wrongs don't make a right. The customer service accessibility standard was developed before the government took several corrective measures promised in the 2007 Ontario election, at the request of the AODA Alliance, to make the work of the standards development committees fairer to the disability community, and more effective. At the time the customer service accessibility standard was developed, the disability community did not have equal representation and voting on any standards development committee. Committees were not required to vote clause-by-clause on proposed standards. The government had not committed to provide staff support to the disability sector to help them fairly and effectively take part in the process. To see what the government promised subsequently in the 2007 election, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09142007.asp

We have called on the Ontario Government to revisit and improve the customer service accessibility standard. Among other things, the definition of small business in that standard merits review. It should not be perpetuated in other standards, such as in the ICAS.

Moreover, the classification of organizations, for purposes of the customer service accessibility standard, may simply not be the same as should be the case for the information communication accessibility standard. For purposes of customer service, it may be that the number of employees should be the sole or dominant criterion for deciding which is a small business. Nevertheless, it may not be the most appropriate way to make this assessment, for purposes of deciding on compliance with information and communication accessibility requirements for people with disabilities.

In fact, this initial proposed ICAS wisely recognizes that the Customer Services Accessibility Standard’s “small business” classification doesn’t fully fit the needs of the ICAS. The initial proposed ICAS prudently provides that some small businesses and organizations nevertheless should meet higher accessibility standards, along shorter timelines than other small businesses. Those that are treated as different are what the ICAS designates as providers of critical services. e.g. doctors, lawyers, and organizations providing financial and counselling services. We support the ICAS’s recognition of the different status of these critical service-providers. We recommend that the standard be made as clear as possible so that organizations will easily know whether they fall inside or outside that “critical service provider” category.

We also support a commentary accompanying the ICAS, which notes that condominium corporations may have zero employees. Yet they may have important accessible information and communication needs for residents with disabilities that they should meet, and would be well-able to meet. They shouldn’t be treated by the ICAS the same as a small “mom and pop store.”

We add that it is commendable to harmonize the various accessibility standards where possible. However, that harmonization should not be at the price of the effectiveness of a standard.

It may be preferable, for example, that for purposes of its duties under this standard when it provides goods, services or facilities to the public, an organization might be classified by the number of its clients or customers. Even if it has few employees, it may have more expectations of it under the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard if it actually serves a large number of clients or customers per year.

It is also possible to use different classification systems within the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. For example, this standard could generally use criteria for defining classes other than numbers of employees. However, where this standard speaks to duties of employers to provide accessible information and communication within the workplace, it could use an organization’s number of employees to delineate applicable time lines.

We therefore recommend that:

4. The definition of classes of organizations be amended so that it is not governed solely by the number of employees in an organization. The number of an organization’s employees could be used as a key criterion for those parts of the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard that address duties of an organization as employer towards its employees.

6. TIME LINES

Time lines mandated under the standard must be shortened, to reflect the fact that organizations have already had ample notice to make changes in the area of access to information and communication, and have been under a duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code to make such information and publications accessible since as far back as 1982. The time lines should not operate on the incorrect implicit premise that the obligation to take action on this is suddenly arising for the first time, on the date that the standard goes into effect, and that there had been no prior expectation of these requirements.

Any delay in time lines is very counter-productive. It would add to the cost burdens imposed on organizations.

For example, organizations update web content on a daily, weekly monthly, or at least quarterly basis. Apart from accessibility considerations, if an organization does not update its website at least every quarter, their web content may not continue to work on the Web because users may not be able to view the old web content on new browsers, via new search engines and other new technology.

For the most part, posting accessible web content costs nothing more than posting inaccessible web content. The only exception is captioned and described video material. In the case of this adaptation, captioning and describing the video has many other benefits, including, e.g. facilitating the indexing and searching of that web content. As well, posting accessible web content makes the information more useful to many, in addition to persons with disabilities, such as the growing number of PDA users (e.g. those using Blackberrys or iPhones.

To delay web content accessibility for five years or more is technologically comparable to saying that centuries are required for meaningful change. It reflects a misconception of what needs to be changed to make something accessible. An organization does not need to get rid of its pre-existing low level enterprise systems or services. All that needs to be modified is the user interface.

If an organization need not start posting accessible information on its website for two years after the standard goes into effect, this creates the real and material risk that over the intervening two years, that organization will post inaccessible materials on its website. That organization will then have to incur the eminently preventable costs of retrofitting that information. If, instead, the standard requires posting accessible information on websites from the date that the standard goes into effect, then that same organization would post accessible information on its website over that two year period. That would avoid the cost to retrofit. Thus delayed implementation, which is intended to save costs, would end up instead creating avoidable costs.

Delaying the implementation of web content accessibility will hurt Ontario for additional reasons. The mandatory standards we seek here are being increasingly required in other jurisdictions. As such, Ontario organizations will lag behind, and be at a competitive disadvantage, if they do not meet requirements such as web accessibility in the short term.

To accommodate shorter time lines, it would help organizations speed up their compliance, especially in the area of web content accessibility, if the Ontario Government were promptly to release handy resources for organizations. This could include a freely available authoring tool that produces accessible Web content for organizations, and especially for small organizations. This will greatly reduce costs and confusion. It will make accessible Web site design accessible to all Web authors - not just specialists. This can be done now, even before the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard is enacted and becomes enforceable.

It is also very important that the standard's timelines include interim benchmarks. People with disabilities should not have to wait for a period of many years before they are able to take steps to enforce their rights, in the case of an organization that is palpably lagging behind. If interim benchmarks are required in the standard, then compliance and enforcement initiatives can be undertaken in the case of such a lagging organization, well before any final time lines are reached.

We do not believe that small business should always be given much longer time lines for progress. As we suggest elsewhere in this brief, the longer organizations can post inaccessible information on their website, including small organizations, the greater will be the cost of fixing this manifestly-preventable barrier. There is no reason why shortly after the standard goes into effect, for example, any organization, large or small, should not be required to post an MS Word or HTML version of a document that they choose to also post on line in PDF format.

We therefore recommend that:

5. The time lines in the standard, and especially as relate to web content, should be reduced.

6. Any time lines set in this standard should:

a) Include monitorable and enforceable interim benchmark requirements, where the time line is more than 2 years after the standard goes into effect;

b) Take into account the fact that all organizations have been under a duty to provide accessible information and communication since 1982 under the Human Rights Code;

c) In the case of the Ontario Government, should take into account the fact that the Ontario Government has already been under an obligation to make available to the public accessible websites, accessible government documents on request, and the like since 2002 pursuant to the Ontarians with Disabilities act 2001.

d) in the case of any public or private sector organization, take into account the fact that where longer time-lines are imposed, this can create unnecessary and avoidable costs for that organization.

7. The standard should be amended to set a date by which the Ontario Government will make publicly available free web authoring tools and other resources to help reduce the cost to other organizations to comply with the standard, and the time they will need for compliance. In discussions over the appropriate time lines to be included in the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard as well as in other accessibility standards, some have suggested that the private sector, and possibly even the broader public sector, should not be obliged to comply with a new accessibility standard until the Ontario Government has fully complied with it. The Ontario Government, it is argued, should lead by example. If the Ontario Government is not yet in full compliance, why should others have obligations to act?

We respectfully reject such an approach. The time lines set in this or any accessibility standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act should not be designed around that approach.

Of course, it is always desirable as a practical matter for the Ontario government to lead by example. However it does not follow from this that other sectors should be able to do nothing until the Ontario Government reaches full compliance.

The Ontario Human Rights Code requires each and every organization in Ontario to remove and prevent barriers against persons with disabilities. The Human Rights Code does not suspend that duty for private sector organizations, or for municipalities, until the Ontario Government fulfils its duty to remove and prevent its own barriers. All have concurrent duties to obey the Human Rights Code. Similarly, we don’t tell private sector organizations that they need not stop polluting until the Ontario government stops polluting.

Moreover, we do not believe that the Ontario Government should now be seen as a model, showing how to achieve accessibility of information and communication. As addressed below, while there has been some commendable progress, the Ontario Government’s compliance with its duties under the Human Rights Code, and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, has been uneven, tardy and spotty, at best. As but one illustration, the problematic PDF format continues too often to be used for documents circulated within or by the Ontario Government, even as late as 2009, without also always providing the same document in a more accessible format. This illustrates the at times inadequate and hap-hazard way that the Ontario Government has approached information and communication accessibility. Indeed there appear to be some in the Ontario Government who have unfortunately spread the inaccurate claim that PDF documents can be made to meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.

The Ontario Government is in some respects an example which other organizations should not follow. It is hoped that smaller, more responsive organizations will be able to change their practices with greater speed and commitment.

We agree that time lines under the ICAS should give more time to an organization to take action where there is more work they need to do, and where the organization has fewer resources with which to do it. However, this should not be further delayed because of some arbitrary view that the Ontario Government must finish their work before others get going.

We therefore recommend that:

8. Any time lines in the standard should not delay required work by any organization on the basis that the Ontario Government must first fulfill its obligations before other organizations need work on removing and preventing their own barriers.

7. NEED FOR AS MUCH CLARITY AND SPECIFICITY OF MANDATORY REQUIREMENTS AS POSSIBLE

We found the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard at times difficult to read and unclear. This adversely impacts on our ability to comment on the proposed standard.

We want to ensure that the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard includes clear, detailed, specific readily enforceable mandatory requirements in all key areas. It is vital that the standard be very clear, so that organizations know what they have to do and when they have to do it, without needing to hire lawyers to explain it to them. This clarity is also needed to ensure that compliance can be effectively monitored, and where needed, easily enforced.

There are situations where the wording of the standard itself seems narrower than the Standards Development Committee’s commentary that explains what the standard was meant to achieve. We do not here offer a full list of these.

As one example, s. 5 of the standard addresses “Emergency and Public Safety Information." Section 5.1 sets out what information is to be provided to the public:

“Organizations shall provide the following emergency and public safety information where this information is provided under existing law or other requirements:…”

This makes it sound like the standard only requires accessible emergency information to be provided to the public where “information is provided under existing law or other requirements.” In other words, if an organization chooses to give the public more information on emergency matters than is required under law, the standard does not require that supplemental information to be accessible to persons with disabilities. This would make no sense. It would certainly not comply with the Ontario Human Rights Code.

The commentary accompanying this provision in the standard shows that the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee did not intend for the standard to say what it in fact says. Commentary 11 says:

"In clause 5.1, the phrase “under existing law or other requirements” is intended to include information that is required by law and does not exclude “smart practices” that go beyond legal requirements."

The Commentary presents a good recommendation. The standard itself, by being far narrower, is unacceptable.

Where, as in this example, the commentaries provide greater protection for access to information and communication than does the wording of the standard’s provision that the commentary accompanies, we support the enactment of the rights set out in the commentary, and not the narrower wording of the standard itself.

We therefore recommend that:

9. Wherever a commentary, accompanying a section of the standard, provides more protection for the rights of persons with disabilities than does the wording of the final proposed standard itself, the standard that is enacted should implement the commentary, and not the narrower wording of the final proposed standard.

At points it is difficult to understand which measures in the final proposed standard are requirements and which are mere recommendations or options. For example, parts of the proposed standard include helpful specificity. However, it is not made clear that these specifics are in fact mandatory, and hence, enforceable.

Much of the standard’s specificity are in Appendixes A and B. Yet it is far from clear that these appendices are designed to be mandatory. The Standard itself states:

“6 Technical Requirements
In providing accessible information and communications including websites, alternate formats and communication supports and services, organizations shall refer to Appendices A and B. Appendix A provides choices for organizations in providing accessible formats and communication supports and services. Appendix B provides a guide on technical specifications for implementing the requirements of this standard.
6.1 New Websites
Organizations shall make new websites accessible in accordance with Appendix B.
6.1.1 New stored web content
Organizations shall make new stored web content on new websites accessible in accordance with Appendix B.
6.2 Existing websites
Organizations shall make their websites (e.g., website user interface and navigation) accessible in accordance with Appendix B.”

And later

“6.4 Alternate formats, communication supports and services
For information and communications that are not provided through accessible web content on accessible websites, organizations shall have the means (either internally or externally) to deliver alternate formats and other related communication supports and services upon request.
When communicating with a person with a disability, the organization shall do so in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability.

Note: Appendix A provides organizations with a list of choices that can be used either individually or in combination when providing and receiving information and communications to and from a person with a disability.

Comment 13

This clause is designed to allow organizations the flexibility to select the most appropriate formats and communication supports and services and potentially allow for other innovative formats and methods of communication. Organizations are required “to have the means” to provide accessible information and communications. This requires organizations to be prepared to provide information and communications as outlined in Appendix A in a way that takes into account the person’s disability. For example, having the means could mean:

- Training employees for how to communicate with persons with disabilities;
- having accessible electronic files ready to convert into accessible formats; and
- knowing who to call for accessible formats.

The Committee expects organizations to make a choice from the list of options in Appendix A that best meets the specific consumer’s need. Appendix A enhances the requirements already outlined in the Customer Service Regulation by providing examples.”

Later in the standard, the appendices state at their outset:

“Appendix A – Choices For Accessible Formats And Communication Supports And Services

Appendix A provides organizations with a list of choices that can be used either individually or in combination when providing and receiving information and communications to and from a person with a disability.

Appendix B provides technical specifications for implementing accessible formats and communication supports and services.”

Further demonstrating this difficulty, Appendix A lists a range of alternate formats that can be used for accommodating the information and communication needs of people with disabilities. It is not clear from the overall design of the final proposed standard when a person with a disability is entitled to an alternate format, and if so, which format. It is not clear, for example, whether under Appendix A, which appears to provide guidance, not mandatory requirements, an organization has the unilateral choice of which alternate format to provide.

It is important to clarify that both of these appendices are not just a “guide,” and that they set out mandatory requirements. This is essential to ensure that there can be effective enforcement of the standard.

We therefore recommend that:

10. The standard be revised to make its requirements and related time lines very clear and easy to understand without needing a lawyer to explain it.

11. Appendix A and Appendix B be amended to ensure that their specifics are mandatory, and not merely a “guide.”

8. ACCESSIBLE WEB SITES

We commend the final proposed standard for containing specific measures at ensuring accessible web sites. We are, however, very concerned that the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard sets an incorrect technical standard for website accessibility. The standard states:

“6.1 New Websites
Organizations shall make new websites accessible in accordance with Appendix B.

6.1.1 New stored web content
Organizations shall make new stored web content on new websites accessible in accordance with Appendix B.

6.2 Existing websites
Organizations shall make their websites (e.g., website user interface and navigation) accessible in accordance with Appendix B.

6.3 Existing stored web content
Organizations shall provide any existing stored web content on their websites in an accessible format upon request.

Note 1: the requirements in Sections 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 related to websites include internal and external organizational websites.

Note 2: the requirements in clauses 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3 apply only to web content an organization can control either directly or through a contractual relationship.

Comment 12

The intent is for organizations to have accessible websites in the future.

The Committee withdrew the previous clauses on IT-based Information and Communication systems and on business enterprise systems based on public review feedback. Requirements for business enterprise systems were primarily for ensuring that people with disabilities have access to jobs requiring the use of these systems. The accessibility of employment related functions will be addressed by the Employment Accessibility Standards Development Committee.

Stored web content refers to the information that is stored in a database and is retrieved or displayed upon initiation by a user (e.g., documents, videos, audio files, records and archived material).

Opportunities for Guidance:

Guidance materials should:

- indicate that organizations have the flexibility to make their existing websites accessible using readily available web authoring tools;
- recommend that once organizations achieve Level A compliance of W3C WCAG 2.0 within the specified timeframes, organizations should aim to achieve W3C WCAG 2.0 level AA or higher for all web sites and any new web content; and
- assist organizations to determine if they are in compliance with the requirements.”

Appendix B states:

“B.1.0 Accessible web pages / websites (user interfaces, navigation)

Web sites and web content should be compliant with W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), level A.”

It is our understanding that the U.S. and much of the world is now aiming at W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), level AA, (i.e. double A), not the Level A (i.e. Single A) that is recommended in the standard. We have asked the Government why Level Single A Rather than Level Double A (AA) is in this standard. The answers received, combined with our own information, suggest that this may have been either inadvertent, or due to a misunderstanding. No principled reason has been provided for this.

It is important for the standard to set the current Double A (AA)Standard for website accessibility, lest Ontario inexplicably lag behind other key players around the world.

We therefore recommend that:

12. The standard be amended to require web content to meet W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), level AA.

We share the core aim of the final proposed standard that new web postings be more promptly required to be accessible, but that pre-existing web content be subject to a principled retrofit regime. We are, however, concerned that the regime designed for this in the final proposed standard may create unnecessary problems.

We want to avoid the inadvertent creation of loopholes in the standard that let an organization delay website accessibility. For example, it would be undesirable for an organization to be able to put up a single web page before the standard goes into force, as a place holder, to claim that it is an existing website, not a new one.

We therefore recommend that:

13. The standard be amended to make it clear that as of a date soon after the standard’s enactment, all new content posted on a website should be posted in an accessible way, whether the website is a new website or a pre-existing one.

It is not now clear from the final proposed standard that its web accessibility requirements will cover Mobile Web, location based services and other internet delivered services over mobile systems or smart environments (e.g., GPS wayfinding, services such as “find the nearest…”). This is a quickly emerging area. Ontario could and should mandate accessibility in this context from the start. This would also initiate innovative ways of addressing barriers in other areas such as talking signs, audio tours, delivery of captions and descriptions.

We therefore recommend that:

14. The standard’s web accessibility requirements should be expanded to include Mobile Web, location based services and other internet delivered services over mobile systems or smart environments (e.g., GPS wayfinding services.

9. WORKPLACE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY

It is important to ensure that the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard’s regime for accessible information and communication applies to access to information and communication by employees.

We therefore recommend that

15. This standard be clarified to ensure that its regime for access to information and communication applies to access by employees with disabilities to workplace information and communication needed in connection with their employment duties.

As a good illustration of this, it is very important that workplace intranet sites ensure that information posted on them, intended for employees, is provided in a format that is accessible for people with disabilities. It is not clear whether the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard will cover all workplace intranet sites, or whether it will simply cover accessibility of information on public internet sites. The same accessibility needs apply whether the site is on an intranet or on the internet. For large organizations, with many employees, there is no reason why the organization couldn’t or shouldn’t meet the same accessibility requirements for both their intranet and internet sites at or near the same time.

It is our understanding that while the Ontario Government has worked to make its internet sites accessible to fulfil the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, it has not undertaken a comparable effort to make sure its large system of intranet sites for Ontario public servants are similarly accessible. This is wasteful and entirely unjustified.

It is not desirable for the forthcoming Employment Accessibility Standard (the final proposal of which has not yet been made public) to have to duplicate the technical requirements that are here developed for internet websites.

We therefore recommend that:

16. The standard be expanded to specifically extend its website accessibility requirements to intranet sites. Time lines and detailed requirements might be scaled back for smaller organizations with fewer employees.

10. POLICY ON ACCESSIBILITY OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION

It is helpful for the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard to require each organization to develop a policy on providing accessible information and communication to persons with disabilities. However, the final proposed standard’s provision on this is very weak. It states:

“3.1 Policies

Organizations shall include in their written policies:

a) how they will deal with requests for information and communications in alternate formats;
b) how they will deal with requests for communication supports and services;
c) how their procurement policies will address accessibility; and
d) the criteria that will be used to determine what information and communications will be made available in plain language.”

This leaves it to an organization to adopt any policy it wishes, no matter how weak and ineffective. Enforcement of this requirement won’t be very useful or practical. As long as an organization can point to a piece of paper that says something about these four requirements, no matter how little, the organization will be in full compliance. The Ontario Liberal Party widely condemned as utterly inadequate, comparable provisions for weak annual accessibility plans in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001.

We therefore recommend that:

17. Section 3 of the standard be amended to set minimum enforceable requirements for an organization’s information and communication accessibility policy, to ensure that these policies are strong and effective, and not mere window-dressing.

11. NOTIFYING THE PUBLIC OF ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION/ COMMUNICATION OPPORTUNITIES

We commend the final proposed standard for including a measure to promote an organization’s informing the public about the availability of accessible information and communication. The standard states following section 3:

“Organizations shall notify members of the public about the availability of accessible information and communications using a variety of measures to reach persons with disabilities.”

Here again, it would be very helpful for the standard to include more detail on what is required. It is also fully appropriate to impose broader requirements on large organizations with extensive interactions with the public.

We therefore recommend that:

18. Section 3 be amended to set more specific and enforceable requirements for how to notify the public about avenues for accessible information and communication. These requirements can be greater for larger organizations that deal more extensively with the public.

12. SELF-GOVERNING PROFESSIONS

We endorse the standard where it states:

“The Committee also intends to create systemic change by creating early awareness through requirements for members of regulated professions such as healthcare professionals and lawyers, as well as professionals involved in the design, production or delivery of information and communication products.”

It later states:

“4.2 For Members of Regulated Professions

Organizations identified in Schedule 3 of this standard shall ensure that mandatory professional development includes training on:

a) the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities;
b) the prevention, identification and removal of barriers to accessible information and communications;
c) resources, tools, and communication supports for providing accessible information and communication supports; and
d) accessible alternate information and communications formats and communication supports and services.

Comment 10

This clause requires licensing and regulatory bodies to train their professionals on how to meet the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities.

The Committee’s intent is to ensure that regulated professionals in Ontario, many of whom provide key services, are trained on accessibility issues. This could be accomplished through cost-effective on-line methods.

The requirement was previously situated under the section on education which may have given rise to the incorrect assumption that the requirement was for a formal course for credit which would be costly and would pose a mobility barrier for out-of-province professionals who may wish to practice in Ontario.”

We endorse this recommendation. We emphasize that this should be legislated and should be mandatory. Absent this, voluntary compliance by self-governing professions cannot be assured. However, we do not support the concern about barriers to mobility of out-of-province professionals who wish to practice in Ontario. If those professionals wish to qualify to practice in Ontario they should be expected to have the same minimum knowledge and training on information and communication accessibility that is to be required of those professionals licensed in Ontario.

The Ontario Government has had ample opportunity to try voluntary measures to address this issue of training for self-governing professionals. We re-emphasize our submissions in our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, as follows:

“14. ACKNOWLEDGING IMPORTANCE OF INCREASED ACTION BY PROFESSIONAL, REGULATORY AND LICENSING BODIES.

We endorse the proposed ICAS’s requirement that professional licensing bodies provide training on information and communication accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. This direction in the ICAS is consonant with the McGuinty Government’s as-yet unfulfilled 2007 election pledge regarding disability accessibility issues, which the AODA Alliance spearheaded. In his September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance, Premier McGuinty said in part:

“Institute a new program to ensure that students in schools and professional organizations are trained on accessibility issues.

We already include awareness of and respect for students with special needs: in every curriculum document there is a front piece on planning programs for students with special education needs. Disability awareness is an expectation in the Grade 12 Social Sciences and Humanities course. Our government also introduced character education.

Character education is about schools reinforcing values shared by the school community – values such as respect, honesty, responsibility and fairness. It is about nurturing universal values, upon which schools and communities can agree. We will ensure that this curriculum includes issues relating to persons with disabilities.

The Government of Ontario does not set the training curriculum for professional bodies such as architects, but we commit to raising this issue with the different professional bodies.”

We do not know what steps the Ontario Government has taken to keep these education-related commitments.

We offer one illustration of a pressing need in this area. The initial proposed ICAS wisely identifies lawyers as a critical service for persons with disabilities. Despite some stellar examples among the legal profession of doing extraordinary work for persons with disabilities, the legal profession unfortunately has a documented history of too-often insufficiently meeting the legal needs of persons with disabilities.

As a commendable effort to help redress this, for over a decade in the 1990s and early 21st century, the licensing body for lawyers, the Law Society of Upper Canada provided a half-day of disability accessibility training to all law students taking the mandatory Bar Admissions Course. This was a precursor to being admitted to the practice of law in Ontario. This was a very well-received programme. Regrettably, in this decade, the Law Society eliminated that part of the Bar Admissions Course. That was an unwarranted step backward. A committee of the bench, bar and government recently recommended that programmes like the Bar Admissions Course include training on disability issues relating to access to courts. We commend any effort to that end. See: http://www.ontariocourts.on.ca/en/accessiblecourts.htm

We can add that since our January 22, 2009 brief, we have asked what steps the Ontario Government has taken to keep that 2007 election pledge. The answers received indicate no action on this issue whatsoever concerning training of self-governing professions. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07212009.asp

Section 32(3)(f) of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 provides that the Accessibility Directorate may “(f) consult with organizations, including schools, school boards, colleges, universities, trade or occupational associations and self-governing professions, on the provision of information and training respecting accessibility within such organizations;” we have asked the Ontario Government whether and to what extent the Accessibility Directorate has taken action since 2005 under that provision, and if so, what results have been achieved. Any responses received identify no action taken or results achieved. Our predecessor, the ODA Committee, had pressed for the AODA to be strengthened when it was before the Legislature in 2005, to impose stronger requirements than this vis à vis training of professionals.

We are also concerned that according to the Ministry’s published analysis of the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, the final proposed standard has dropped the proposal of a requirement of training in this areas as a requirement for entry into that profession. The Ministry’s comparison of the initial proposed standard and the final proposed standard states:

“training as an “entry into practice” requirement for regulated professionals dropped;”

We strongly disagree with dropping that requirement. The point of entry to a profession can be a most important point for influencing proper practices in this area.

We therefore recommend that:

19. Regarding self-governing professionals:

a) The standard should at a minimum include the mandatory accessibility requirements for self-governing professionals set out in the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.
b) That requirement should be expanded to include requirements for training in this area as a precondition to entry to a licensed self-governing profession, and
c) This issue should not be left to voluntary compliance by self-governing professions, nor to non-legislative efforts by the Ontario Government at persuading self-governing professions to take voluntary action.

13. ACCESSIBILITY TRAINING OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY SPECIALISTS

We commend the standard for attempting to address training of those in the information technology field on information and communication accessibility needs. However, it is important to ensure that the standard fully and effectively covers training for anyone studying to work in the field of information and communication technology to include disability accessibility needs. These individuals are not typically regulated as part of a self-governing profession, and may hold no licence or professional designation under law. It will be necessary to develop a broader, creative strategy for achieving this goal.

We commend the standard for attempting to address this. The final proposed standard provides:

“7.2.4 Developers of information and communication resources

Organizations that provide training or education on the design, production or delivery of information and communication products shall provide training to recipients in:

a) the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities;
b) the prevention, identification and removal of barriers to accessible information and communications;
c) inclusive design principles, resources, and tools; and
d) the testing of information and communication products against the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.

Comment 18

The intent of this clause is to have organizations that train students on the design, production or delivery of information and communications (e.g., software applications, web applications and sites, computer hardware, marketing and public relations content, etc.) educate their students on how to produce accessible information and communications. This requirement is intended for organizations where training or education is their core business function.

The Committee’s intent is to build awareness and create systemic change through this requirement.”

It appears that the final proposed standard may provide persons with disabilities with narrower protections in this important area than did the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. The initial proposed standard stated:

“6.4 Developers of information and communication resources

Organizations, public, private and not for profit, that provide training or education on the design, production, and/or delivery of information and communication products (such as software applications, web applications and sites, computer hardware, marketing and public relations content etc.) shall provide training to recipients in:

a) information and communication barriers and requirements of persons with disabilities;
b) inclusive design principles, resources, and tools, and
c) testing of information and communication products to ensure they meet the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.”

It is necessary to expand the final proposed standard to include education on the design, production and delivery of all information and communication services and processes, in addition to products. It should be clear that this applies to both secondary and post secondary institutions. For example, when learning to program, students should learn to program accessibly. When learning how to create metadata for online libraries, students should learn how to include accessible metadata.

We therefore recommend that:

20. Section 7.2.4 be expanded to

a) include the full scope of coverage in this area that would have been covered by s. 6.4 of the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, and b) include, for example, ensuring that it covers accessibility training for not just those who design information and communication products, but those who are learning about the design or creation of data or programming.

14. ACCESSIBLE MEETINGS

Some of the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard’s provisions may directly or indirectly help to ensure that meetings are accessible for persons with disabilities, be they meetings within a workplace or public meetings. The essence of any meeting is the exchange of information and communication.

It would be helpful to clarify in the standard that there are specific accessibility requirements for access to information and communication at such meetings.

We would suggest that any such requirements should take into account the principles for accessible information provision generally described in our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. As well, they should take into account the size and resources of the organization providing the meeting, the extent to which such a meeting is open to the broader public, the ability of persons with disabilities to request information accessibility supports in advance, and the importance of the meeting. An example of a public meeting with obvious and pressing public importance is an all-candidates debate during an election.

While we offer these general criteria, we repeat here our desire that the standard should make it easy for an organization to know what they need to do to comply with it. It should also make it easy for persons with disabilities to know to what they are entitled under it for any particular public meeting.

We therefore recommend that:

21. The standard be expanded to clarify organizations’ obligations for providing accessible information supports for meetings, taking into account such criteria as the importance of the meeting, the extent to which the meeting is open to the public, the organization’s capacity to provide such supports, and the ease with which persons with disabilities can request such supports in advance.

15. SPECIFIC MEASURES TARGETED AT THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT

The final proposed standard includes no specific measures targeted at the Ontario Government. Similarly it does not appear to impose effective requirements on processes for procurement of information systems by the Ontario Government or by other broader public sector organizations such as municipalities, school boards, or public transit authorities. Our January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard had recommended that this standard needs such specific provisions.

All the final proposed standard appears to require on point is that an organization have a policy that says how their procurement policies will address accessibility. That is ostensibly toothless. It states:

“3.1 Policies

Organizations shall include in their written policies:

a) how they will deal with requests for information and communications in alternate formats;
b) how they will deal with requests for communication supports and services;
c) how their procurement policies will address accessibility; and
d) the criteria that will be used to determine what information and communications will be made available in plain language.”

This is a tremendous deficiency. Our January 22, 2009 brief summarized its detailed analysis of this issue as follows:

“8. ICAS MUST INCLUDE STRONG ADDED REQUIREMENTS FOR UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION FOR ONTARIO GOVERNMENT AND OTHER VERY LARGE PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS.

For governments and very large public sector entities, it will be very important for the ICAS to include strong additional provisions for ensuring that these organizations take into account the accessible information and communication needs of people with disabilities, when they design and operate their information and communication systems, policies and practices, including the acquisition of information technology. We do not propose the same “internal procedural” requirements for the business sector at this stage. Of course, it is important for business organizations to take into account the needs of people with disabilities, when designing their information and communication systems. However, recent experience, particularly with the Ontario Government, shows a particularly pressing need for these added measures now, as here suggested for large public sector organizations. When the ICAS is reviewed by the Standards Development Committee within five years, it may consider similar measures for some private sector organizations, if insufficient progress is achieved in the private sector by then.

We so recommend because the public sector is especially in need of this added action. Since 2001, specific legislation addressing these needs has been on the books that targets the Ontario Government and the broader public sector. Yet in the ensuing seven years, there has been insufficient progress, as this brief’s two introductory examples pointedly illustrate.

Fully four years before passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 imposed clear, specific legal duties to take concrete action to provide certain government and public sector information in an accessible format to persons with disabilities, whether or not the information and communication is tied to employment and the provision of goods, services or facilities. These provisions reiterate requirements that the Charter of Rights and Ontario Human Rights Code have imposed on governments at all levels since 1982. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 includes the following:

Government goods and services

5. In deciding to purchase goods or services through the procurement process for the use of itself, its employees or the public, the Government of Ontario shall have regard to the accessibility for persons with disabilities to the goods or services.

Government internet sites

6. The Government of Ontario shall provide its internet sites in a format that is accessible to persons with disabilities, unless it is not technically feasible to do so.

Government publications

7. Within a reasonable time after receiving a request by or on behalf of a person with disabilities, the Government of Ontario shall make an Ontario Government publication available in a format that is accessible to the person, unless it is not technically feasible to do so.

Government employees

8. (1) The Government of Ontario shall accommodate the accessibility needs of its employees in accordance with the Human Rights Code to the extent that the needs relate to their employment.

Applicants for employment

(2) The Government of Ontario shall accommodate the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities who apply for a position as a government employee and whom the Government invites to participate in the selection process for employment to the extent that the needs relate to the selection process.

Training

(3) The Government of Ontario shall ensure that its employees who have managerial or supervisory functions receive training in fulfilling the Government's obligations under this section.

Information

(4) The Government of Ontario shall inform its employees of the rights and obligations of the Government and its employees under this section…"

And later:

"Municipal goods and services

13. In deciding to purchase goods or services through the procurement process for the use of itself, its employees or the public, the council of every municipality shall have regard to the accessibility for persons with disabilities to the goods or services.

As well, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 has required all broader public sector organizations, including each Ontario Government ministry, to make public an annual accessibility plan. Among other things, these could identify information and communication barriers in these organizations, and the steps these organizations planned to take to remove and prevent such barriers.

The Ontario Government and the broader public sector have thus had more than enough time, to bring themselves into compliance and to provide persons with disabilities with timely accessible information and communication. Despite these clear provisions having been on the books for some seven years the Ontario Government, as one stunning example, is still far from fully compliant with its own law. For example, the Ontario Government has purchased inaccessible communication technology. It too often circulates PDF-formatted documents (that present accessibility problems for persons with print disabilities, such as those with vision loss or dyslexia), as the two examples at the start of this brief exemplify. Too many public servants still don’t even know this presents accessibility barriers for persons with disabilities.

The Ontario Government doesn’t have a fast, centralized capacity to produce public documents in alternative formats such as Braille in a timely fashion on request, despite the requirements of s. 6 of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001. A person asking for a printed government document in Braille can experience a real run-around in trying to get this request fulfilled.

Yet for years, the Ontario Government has been in an extraordinary position to be able to make a huge difference in this area. It has unique spending power to influence the shape of new information technology infrastructure across Ontario that is disability-accessible. It could blaze a trail that others can follow in the private and public sectors, building universal design principles into the way it acquires designs and implements information technology. It can pilot new customer service technologies which, once proven successful, the private and broader public sectors could adopt. None of this requires significant added expenditure.

The Ontario Government is also the largest service-provider and employer in Ontario. As such, it is best positioned to make information and communication accessibility a reality in the lives of many persons with disabilities.

Moreover, via infrastructure funding, the Ontario Government annually spends hundreds of millions of dollars financing activities at the municipal, broader public sector and private sector levels and elsewhere. It is uniquely positioned to easily use the power of the purse to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are never used to create new barriers that impede persons with disabilities.

Finally, only the Ontario Government has been subject to a specific piece of legislation, beyond the Human Rights Code, which has imposed clear accessibility requirements regarding information and communication accessibility for three-quarters of a decade. Yet it still unjustifiably lags far behind its potential.

Accordingly, the ICAS needs to include tough, detailed new, detailed requirements that will govern how the Ontario Public Service and large public sector organizations in Ontario use public money: to acquire, design, and implement new information and communication technology and systems. These should ensure that universal design principles are implemented right from Day One and that any recipient of public funding does the same when spending taxpayers’ dollars. Measures taken to date on this score haven’t done the job. There needs to be real consequences for public servants who depart from these requirements.”

And later:

“17. STRONG NEW REQUIREMENTS NEEDED FOR THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT AND LARGE PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS.

Based on the foregoing discussion, we conclude that since 2001, the Ontario Government and the broader public sector have not made anywhere near sufficient progress towards fully-accessible information and communication. Instead of leading by example, a need for more effective, concerted effort has been shown.

This need not involve significant cost. It requires new, significant leadership and imagination. There are examples of good progress in the Ontario Public Service that should be emulated and built upon. However, there has been much more potential for progress than actual progress.

This shows that the way the Ontario Public Service has handled this issue to date has been inadequate. We have similar concerns regarding other large public sector organizations which have had obligations in this context under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001.

Accordingly, we recommend that the ICAS be amended to include added requirements, targeted at the Ontario Government and large broader public sector organizations, requiring:

a) Integration of inclusive design into their IT systems procurement, review and updating procedures. When planning new information and communication systems or services, or when planning the updating of existing information and communication systems or services, proposals should address the accessibility of the systems, and the impact of any changes on accessibility, of the system’s information or user interfaces for persons with disabilities as customers or employees. This should require them to do more than merely “taking into account” the need of persons with disabilities. For example, in the Ontario Government no new IT system should be acquired unless a deputy minister signs off: that the system has been designed to ensure that employees and customers with disabilities can make full and equal use of the system’s user interface and information output; that users with disabilities have been consulted in the project design; that no reasonable alternative exists or could be procured that provides better accessibility; and that the system’s acquisition or upgrade is consistent with the AODA’s requirement that full accessibility be achieved by or before 2025. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer, should be required to certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.

b) No Ontario Government or municipal government funding grant or transfer to any organization shall be made that pertains, directly or indirectly, to the acquisition or upgrade of information technology by any recipient organization, unless the grant specifies that the IT acquired will comply with the go-forward accessibility requirements of the ICAS, and that inclusive design principles were used in the selection of the IT to be acquired or upgraded. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer shall certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.”

We re-submit these specific recommendations. Nothing in the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard or the commentary accompanying it disproves the need for these special measures.

For example, as far as we can tell, the final proposed standard includes no requirements regarding government procurement activities as they affect accessibility of information and communication. This remains a serious concern since, as far as we have been able to ascertain, the Ontario Government has no comprehensive, systematic and enforceable policy or practices in place to ensure that newly procured systems, services or facilities are disability-accessible. There remains a real and serious risk that the Ontario Government will continue to invest substantial amounts of public funds in new information technology systems, such as new health records systems, without ensuring that they are accessible.

We are aware that procurement activities within the Ontario Government do not necessarily take into account disability accessibility needs. Our efforts to date at getting a strong, monitored and enforceable policy properly implemented across the Ontario Government have not yielded demonstrable success. The Government now has in place no comprehensive, monitored policy and process for ensuring that Ontario taxpayer dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

We have offered the Ontario Government a constructive proposal on how to comprehensively address the issue of ensuring that Ontario tax dollars are not used to create or perpetuate any barriers against persons with disabilities, through its procurement or infrastructure spending. See e.g. our as-yet unanswered June 25, 2009 letter to the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082009.asp

If this issue is not fully and properly addressed in the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, there is a very serious risk that substantial public funds will continue to be spent on procuring inaccessible information systems. We will continue to lose the great potential, achievable at no added cost to the Government, of using the leverage of the public spending power to create a major economic incentive for private sector organizations to design and market fully-accessible information systems.

The Government’s and public sector’s spending power can amplify this economic incentive if, for example, it includes in any research grants or contract conditions requiring barrier-free reports, and where information systems are to be acquired, the procurement through them of fully accessible information systems. Again, this costs the public nothing, and can yield substantial results.

We therefore recommend that:

22. The standard be amended to include added, enforceable requirements, targeted at the Ontario Government and large broader public sector organizations, to go into effect promptly, that require:

a) Integration of inclusive design into their IT systems procurement, review and updating procedures. When planning new information and communication systems or services, or when planning the updating of existing information and communication systems or services, proposals should address the accessibility of the systems, and the impact of any changes on accessibility, of the system’s information or user interfaces for persons with disabilities as customers or employees. This should require them to do more than merely “taking into account” the need of persons with disabilities. For example, in the Ontario Government no new IT system should be acquired unless a deputy minister signs off: that the system has been designed to ensure: that employees and customers with disabilities can make full and equal use of the system’s user interface and information output; that users with disabilities have been consulted in the project design; that no reasonable alternative exists or could be procured that provides better accessibility; and that the system’s acquisition or upgrade is consistent with the AODA’s requirement that full accessibility be achieved by or before 2025. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer, should be required to certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.

b) No Ontario Government or municipal government funding grant or transfer to any organization shall be made that pertains, directly or indirectly, to the acquisition or upgrade of information technology by any recipient organization, unless the grant specifies that the IT acquired will comply with the go-forward accessibility requirements of the ICAS, and that inclusive design principles were used in the selection of the IT to be acquired or upgraded. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer shall certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.

c) The inclusion in any Ontario Government or broader sector organization’s research grants or contracts a condition requiring fully-accessible formats for their reports, and where information systems are to be acquired, the acquisition by the grant or contract, where feasible, of fully accessible information systems.

d) Information-content authoring tools and applications (including content management systems and software development kits) that the Ontario Government procures be required to produce WCAG 2.0 AA content and support the authors in doing so (or be follow the W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines - ATAG).

16. ELECTIONS

We commend the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for attempting to address information and communication barriers in provincial elections. The final proposed standard states:

“7.6 Elections

7.6.1 Political parties
Political parties in provincial elections shall provide accessible election and candidate materials and hold at least one all-candidates meeting where persons with disabilities can:

a) participate in the discussion during the meeting; and
b) pose questions to candidates and receive answers to questions.

7.6.2 Voting
Elections Ontario shall implement secure voting methods to allow persons with disabilities to vote privately and independently.

Comment 20

These clauses address access to provincial elections and signal how important this issue is for persons with disabilities so they can participate in the democratic process.

Based on public review feedback, the Committee has removed the requirement for individual candidates as it may not be feasible.”

We are concerned that this does not address all the barriers to information and communication in provincial elections. As well, it does not address municipal elections at all. Municipal elections fall within provincial jurisdiction. The same barriers confront persons with disabilities in both provincial and municipal elections.

The AODA Alliance and its predecessor, the ODA Committee, have been in the forefront in campaigning for fully accessible elections in Ontario. For example, in the 2007 election we won from each of Ontario’s major political parties a pledge to develop an accessible elections action plan. Two years into this Government’s current mandate, that pledge remains unfulfilled. For our recent efforts to try to get this pledge fulfilled, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07272009.asp

We therefore recommend that:

23. The standard be amended to fully address all information and communication barriers in both provincial and municipal elections, with time lines that ensure that the next municipal and provincial elections in Ontario will be fully free of information and communication barriers. We repeat here our recommendations in our brief to the Ontario Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections, available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04272009.asp

17. ELECTRONIC KIOSKS

We are concerned that the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard does not address barriers to the use of electronic kiosks in a manner that is sufficiently specific, clear and comprehensive. Public and private sector organizations are increasingly buying electronic kiosks to enable members of the public to reserve or buy tickets or products, to learn about products or services available, and/or to validate tickets. For example, some public transit authorities provide electronic kiosks for buying tickets/paying fares. Some also use them for validating tickets on public transit vehicles. Some theatres provide kiosks for buying movie tickets.

The use of this technology is now spreading. It can be expected to spread even more in the next years. However, unless the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard requires accessibility of this technology to persons with disabilities, there is a real and predictable risk that that technology will not be designed to be accessible.

For example, too often this technology is designed with “touch screen” interfaces. These are inoperable by persons with various disabilities such as vision loss. It is critical for the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard to require full accessibility of this technology, so that those who invest in such new technology now and in the future will take the cost-saving measure in advance of ensuring that accessibility is built into that technology.

It is easy to achieve a major “win” in this context. Much of the electronic kiosk technology that we will be using in the next five to ten years has not yet been purchased, or even designed. To design accessibility into this technology in advance should be low-cost and high-yield. To require its accessibility in a standard that goes into effect now is to head off a serious future problem of inaccessibility before it is created.

There are good “success stories” available where organizations have done this. Some banks now include good accessibility features in their automatic teller machines.

We acknowledge that Appendix B to the final proposed standard includes some options for such technology. However, as noted elsewhere in this brief, Appendix B is not clearly made mandatory and hence, is substantially insufficient. Moreover, it is vital that the standard be written to clearly identify electronic kiosks as requiring specific, detailed accessibility features, so that organizations don’t need lawyers and technical advisors to ferret out that this standard imposes requirements on that technology. We fear that unless one is sifting for requirements in this area, one may not see specifics in this standard applicable to electronic kiosks.

We therefore recommend that:

24. The standard be amended to clearly and specifically set out detailed accessibility requirements for electronic kiosks, that an organization provides for the public for such activities as purchasing and/or validating tickets, exploring available goods and services, or making reservations. The standard should impose end-user accessibility requirements and set strict time lines so that it applies, at a minimum, to any new installations or modifications to such technology.

18. ELIMINATING PRICE DISCRIMINATION ARISING FROM WEBSITE AND KIOSK INACCESSIBILITY

Some organizations may charge an extra fee for customers who purchase goods or services directly with a representative of the organization, rather than via a website or electronic kiosk interface. An example of such an organization, albeit one outside the jurisdiction of the Ontario legislature, is Air Canada. If a customer books an airline ticket with Air Canada over the phone there is a surcharge which does not apply if one books a ticket with them over their website. This discriminates against those who, because of disability, cannot use their website. We have informal word that Air Canada may waive this fee if one has a disability, but we have not been able to confirm this.

It is important to remove any such barriers. Any organization which imposes such a surcharge should make an exception for customers with disabilities who are unable to use a website or kiosk interface. Such a surcharge waiver should be widely advertised, e.g. over any voicemail announcement system that the organization provides.

We therefore recommend that:

25. The standard be expanded to require that:

a) NO organization may impose a surcharge on the purchase of goods or services via the telephone or direct purchase from a representative of that organization on site, as opposed to via a website or electronic kiosk interface, on any customer who, because of disability, cannot use that website or electronic kiosk, and

b) any organization that has such a surcharge should widely advertise a waiver of the surcharge that is automatically available for customers who self identify as having a disability which prevents them from using the website or electronic kiosk.

19. ACCESSIBLE SIGNAGE

It is very important that the standard cover accessibility needs in public signage. It is our understanding that the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard does not cover this. It is not sufficient to leave this for the Built Environment Accessibility Standard. That standard may not be able to cover all situations where an organization displays signage that is available for the public.

Signage requirements can include choice of font, size of font, color contrast, and available lighting, for the benefit of persons with limited vision.

We therefore recommend that:

26. The standard be expanded to include detailed requirements for signage available to the public, whether indoor or outdoor, including sufficient standards for choice of font, font size, color contrast, and available lighting.

20. PUBLIC LIBRARIES

We commend the standard for addressing the acquisition and provision by public libraries of accessible information. This regime would be enhanced if the Ontario Government, via this standard, could facilitate the bulk purchase of books and other materials for libraries across Ontario. If publishers are approached for bulk purchases, which include a condition that alternate format materials also be provided, publishers are more likely to be responsive to meeting this aggregate demand. This would be even more effective if it also included an avenue for facilitating such bulk purchases by schools, universities and colleges, and their libraries.

We therefore recommend that:

27. The standard be amended to provide for a central means, facilitated by the Ontario Government for public libraries, schools, universities and colleges to make bulk purchase orders for books and other information resources from publishers on condition that alternate format or accessible versions also be included of all materials sold, so as to increase the economic incentive for publishers to meet this demand.

21. ACCESSIBLE COURT DOCUMENTS

We endorse the recommendation that court documents be made available in accessible formats. It states:

“7.4 Legal / Justice
Organizations producing information and communications such as, but not limited to, court proceedings and related documents including notices, subpoenas, affidavits and court orders shall make these accessible upon request.”

The need for this is highlighted in the 2007 Weiler Report, entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities.” It is available at http://www.ontariocourts.on.ca/en/accessiblecourts.htm

Ensuring that the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard covers this is reinforced by that report, whose recommendations we support.

We therefore recommend that:

28. The standard should include guarantees for access to court-related documents as proposed in the 2007 Report of the Weiler Committee, entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities.”

22. USER INSTRUCTIONS AND MANUALS FOR PRODUCTS SOLD IN ONTARIO

Many consumer products sold in Ontario come with instructions or manuals. They may be included as print documents in the box with the product. They may also be provided as an electronic file available on line. As consumer products such as consumer electronics get more and more complicated, access to these instructions becomes increasingly important for the user.

With too rare exceptions, these instructions are not available in an accessible alternate format. Too often, when the instructions are available on line, they are posted in inaccessible PDF format.

It is important for such instructions to be available in an accessible format on request. At the very least, having them posted in an accessible format on line such as HTML or MS Word, would significantly improve things, at no cost to the manufacturer.

We therefore recommend that:

29. The standard be expanded to require that instructions for consumer products, sold in Ontario be made available on request in an accessible alternate format, such as an accessible downloadable file on line.

23. DESIGNATING A PERSON IN CHARGE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY IN LARGE ORGANIZATIONS

To make the standard work, it would be very helpful in large organizations (over 100 employees) for the organization to designate one of its employees as having lead responsibility for ensuring accessibility of information and communication. This would not be a new hire. It is our experience that where there is one person in charge this makes it more likely that results will be achieved and that a person with a disability can quickly resolve access issues.

We therefore recommend that:

30. The standard be expanded to require that In large organizations, a person among existing staff be designated as having lead responsibility for ensuring accessible information and communication.

APPENDIX 1 - RECOMMENDATIONS IN THIS BRIEF

We recommend that:

1. The Information and Communication Accessibility Standard that the Government adopts should fully implement the principles and recommendations set out in the AODA Alliance’s January 22, 2009 brief on the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.

2. The standard state that its purpose is that on or before 2025, all necessary information and methods of communication to and from an individual in connection with the provision of goods, services, facilities or employment in Ontario will be designed to be fully accessible to persons with disabilities consistent with human rights law and inclusive design principles.

3. The standard be amended to provide a guarantee of an equal opportunity to review, respond or use the information and communications considering the urgency of the situation.

4. The definition of classes of organizations be amended so that it is not governed solely by the number of employees in an organization. The number of an organization’s employees could be used as a key criterion for those parts of the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard that address duties of an organization as employer towards its employees.

5. The time lines in the standard, and especially as relate to web content, should be reduced.

6. Any time lines set in this standard should:

a) Include monitorable and enforceable interim benchmark requirements, where the time line is more than 2 years after the standard goes into effect;
b) Take into account the fact that all organizations have been under a duty to provide accessible information and communication since 1982 under the Human Rights Code;
c) In the case of the Ontario Government, should take into account the fact that the Ontario Government has already been under an obligation to make available to the public accessible websites, accessible government documents on request, and the like since 2002 pursuant to the Ontarians with Disabilities act 2001.
d) in the case of any public or private sector organization, take into account the fact that where longer time-lines are imposed, this can create unnecessary and avoidable costs for that organization.

7. The standard should be amended to set a date by which the Ontario Government will make publicly available free web authoring tools and other resources to help reduce the cost to other organizations to comply with the standard, and the time they will need for compliance.

8. Any time lines in the standard should not delay required work by any organization on the basis that the Ontario Government must first fulfill its obligations before other organizations need work on removing and preventing their own barriers.

9. Wherever a commentary, accompanying a section of the standard, provides more protection for the rights of persons with disabilities than does the wording of the final proposed standard itself, the standard that is enacted should implement the commentary, and not the narrower wording of the final proposed standard.

10. The standard be revised to make its requirements and related time lines very clear and easy to understand without needing a lawyer to explain it.

11. Appendix A and Appendix B be amended to ensure that their specifics are mandatory, and not merely a “guide.”

12. The standard be amended to require web content to meet W3C Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), level AA.

13. The standard be amended to make it clear that as of a date soon after the standard’s enactment, all new content posted on a website should be posted in an accessible way, whether the website is a new website or a pre-existing one.

14. The standard’s web accessibility requirements should be expanded to include Mobile Web, location based services and other internet delivered services over mobile systems or smart environments (e.g., GPS wayfinding services.

15. This standard be clarified to ensure that its regime for access to information and communication applies to access by employees with disabilities to workplace information and communication needed in connection with their employment duties.

16. The standard be expanded to specifically extend its website accessibility requirements to intranet sites. Time lines and detailed requirements might be scaled back for smaller organizations with fewer employees.

17. Section 3 of the standard be amended to set minimum enforceable requirements for an organization’s information and communication accessibility policy, to ensure that these policies are strong and effective, and not mere window-dressing.

18. Section 3 be amended to set more specific and enforceable requirements for how to notify the public about avenues for accessible information and communication. These requirements can be greater for larger organizations that deal more extensively with the public.

19. Regarding self-governing professionals:

a) The standard should at a minimum include the mandatory accessibility requirements for self-governing professionals set out in the final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.
b) That requirement should be expanded to include requirements for training in this area as a precondition to entry to a licensed self-governing profession, and
c) This issue should not be left to voluntary compliance by self-governing professions, nor to non-legislative efforts by the Ontario Government at persuading self-governing professions to take voluntary action.

20. Section 7.2.4 be expanded to

a) include the full scope of coverage in this area that would have been covered by s. 6.4 of the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, and
b) include, for example, ensuring that it covers accessibility training for not just those who design information and communication products, but those who are learning about the design or creation of data or programming.

21. The standard be expanded to clarify organizations’ obligations for providing accessible information supports for meetings, taking into account such criteria as the importance of the meeting, the extent to which the meeting is open to the public, the organization’s capacity to provide such supports, and the ease with which persons with disabilities can request such supports in advance.

22. The standard be amended to include added, enforceable requirements, targeted at the Ontario Government and large broader public sector organizations, to go into effect promptly, that require:

a) Integration of inclusive design into their IT systems procurement, review and updating procedures. When planning new information and communication systems or services, or when planning the updating of existing information and communication systems or services, proposals should address the accessibility of the systems, and the impact of any changes on accessibility, of the system’s information or user interfaces for persons with disabilities as customers or employees. This should require them to do more than merely “taking into account” the need of persons with disabilities. For example, in the Ontario Government no new IT system should be acquired unless a deputy minister signs off: that the system has been designed to ensure: that employees and customers with disabilities can make full and equal use of the system’s user interface and information output; that users with disabilities have been consulted in the project design; that no reasonable alternative exists or could be procured that provides better accessibility; and that the system’s acquisition or upgrade is consistent with the AODA’s requirement that full accessibility be achieved by or before 2025. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer, should be required to certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.

b) No Ontario Government or municipal government funding grant or transfer to any organization shall be made that pertains, directly or indirectly, to the acquisition or upgrade of information technology by any recipient organization, unless the grant specifies that the IT acquired will comply with the go-forward accessibility requirements of the ICAS, and that inclusive design principles were used in the selection of the IT to be acquired or upgraded. The deputy minister of the ministry providing any such grant or transfer shall certify to the Secretary of Cabinet that no provincial funds will be disbursed to create any new barriers to equal access to information and communication for persons with disabilities.

c) The inclusion in any Ontario Government or broader sector organization’s research grants or contracts a condition requiring fully-accessible formats for their reports, and where information systems are to be acquired, the acquisition by the grant or contract, where feasible, of fully accessible information systems.

d) information-content authoring tools and applications (including content management systems and software development kits) that the Ontario Government procures be required to produce WCAG 2.0 AA content and support the authors in doing so (or be follow the W3C Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines - ATAG).

23. The standard be amended to fully address all information and communication barriers in both provincial and municipal elections, with time lines that ensure that the next municipal and provincial elections in Ontario will be fully free of information and communication barriers. We repeat here our recommendations in our brief to the Ontario Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections, available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04272009.asp

24. The standard be amended to clearly and specifically set out detailed accessibility requirements for electronic kiosks, that an organization provides for the public for such activities as purchasing and/or validating tickets, exploring available goods and services, or making reservations. The standard should impose end-user accessibility requirements and set strict time lines so that it applies, at a minimum, to any new installations or modifications to such technology.

25. The standard be expanded to require that:

a) NO organization may impose a surcharge on the purchase of goods or services via the telephone or direct purchase from a representative of that organization on site, as opposed to via a website or electronic kiosk interface, on any customer who, because of disability, cannot use that website or electronic kiosk, and
b) any organization that has such a surcharge should widely advertise a waiver of the surcharge that is automatically available for customers who self identify as having a disability which prevents them from using the website or electronic kiosk.

26. The standard be expanded to include detailed requirements for signage available to the public, whether indoor or outdoor, including sufficient standards for choice of font, font size, color contrast, and available lighting.

27. The standard be amended to provide for a central means, facilitated by the Ontario Government for public libraries, schools, universities and colleges to make bulk purchase orders for books and other information resources from publishers on condition that alternate format or accessible versions also be included of all materials sold, so as to increase the economic incentive for publishers to meet this demand.

28. The standard should include guarantees for access to court-related documents as proposed in the 2007 Report of the Weiler Committee, entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Fully Accessible to Persons with Disabilities.”

29. The standard be expanded to require that instructions for consumer products, sold in Ontario be made available on request in an accessible alternate format, such as an accessible downloadable file on line.

30. The standard be expanded to require that In large organizations, a person among existing staff be designated as having lead responsibility for ensuring accessible information and communication.