ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
WHAT WE ACCOMPLISHED IN OUR SUCCESSFUL 2011 ELECTION CAMPAIGN FOR ACCESSIBILITY – AND – REFORMING ONTARIO ELECTION LEGISLATION TO ENSURE ACCESSIBILITY FOR VOTERS WITH DISABILITIES MUST BE A PRIORITY FOR THE NEXT ONTARIO LEGISLATURE

October 7, 2011

SUMMARY

Ontario woke up this morning to a new minority Liberal Government. We look forward to working together with the re-elected McGuinty Government in its third term in office. We also look forward to working with both of the strengthened opposition parties, on our non-partisan agenda of making Ontario barrier-free for persons with disabilities. In this update, we:

* reflect on what we together achieved in this election campaign.

* summarize what Premier McGuinty promised us in this election, and

* identify an immediate legislative priority on our accessibility agenda in the next Ontario Legislature.

MORE DETAILS

1.         Reflecting on What We Achieved During the 2011 Ontario Election Campaign

We can all be very proud of our non-partisan campaign in the 2011 Ontario election. This is the fifth Ontario election in which we or our predecessor coalition, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, took part - using provincial elections to promote our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario. Together, we accomplished a great deal:

* Well in advance of the election campaign, we presented the parties with a reasonable and affordable plan for action over the next four years to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We asked each party to commit to this agenda. See our July 15, 2011 letter to the major parties at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07192011.asp

* Before the election campaign began, we successfully secured detailed written election commitments from three of the four major parties, the Liberals, NDP and Green Party. Each promised not to cut laws we've won to date. Each promised specific actions to move forward towards a fully accessible Ontario, from among the list of proposals we circulated to them. A comparison of these commitments can be reviewed at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220115.asp

* On September, 2011, the eve of the election campaign, we held a Queen's Park News Conference to unveil the parties' written commitments, and our election campaign strategy. For the first time, we made this news conference permanently available on Youtube. Visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09192011.asp

* We then focused our non-partisan efforts over the next four weeks on getting specific election commitments from the one major party that had declined our request for specific commitments –the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party. We campaigned to get the PCs to promise not to cut our accessibility gains to date, and to instead promise specific actions towards making Ontario fully accessible. As in the past, we didn't and don't tell people who to vote for or against. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09132011.asp

* We gave our supporters an easy-to-use action kit, chock full of tips on how to raise our issues in this election. From feedback we received, this Action Kit got widely circulated. Its tips were helpful. You can see this Action Kit at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09162011.asp

* We know from lots of past experience that it is extremely difficult to get any media attention on an issue like ours during an actual election campaign period. To many it seems peculiar that the media is least receptive to covering a provincial political issue during the very period when public attention and media resources are most focused on provincial political issues.

Despite this, we got good coverage, for example, in the Toronto Star (four articles including our own guest column), CH TV, TVOntario's flagship public affairs program "The Agenda" with Steve Paikin, CP24's "LeDrew Live" program and Newstalk 1010's "Live Drive with John Tory" program. We commend those news organizations that covered this issue, and will focus efforts in the future on getting other news organizations to cover this issue more frequently.

* We expanded our campaign to the social media, launching ourselves on Twitter and amplifying our presence on Facebook. We already have followers on Twitter from across Ontario and elsewhere around the world. We aim to expand our use of social media even more, over the next months.

* As a result of all our collective efforts, we got some commitments from PC leader Tim Hudak. On TVOntario's "The Agenda," on September 28, 2011 in response to a question from Steve Paikin, Mr. Hudak committed his ongoing support for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Two days later, on CP24's "LeDrew Live" program, in response to a question from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, Mr. Hudak committed that the only changes to regulations concerning persons with disabilities that he would make would be to improve accessibility. During the election campaign, we did not succeed in getting commitments from Tim Hudak and the Conservative Party to any of the specific actions we requested to improve accessibility.

2.         Building on the McGuinty Government's Accessibility Commitments in this Election

Once the post-election dust has settled, we will approach the McGuinty Government with the commitments it made to us in this election, and with the entire accessibility agenda that we presented to all parties in our July 15, 2011 letter, with a view to working on that entire agenda. We will also approach both of the opposition parties to work together with them on accessibility issues in the Legislature.

What did the re-elected McGuinty Government specifically commit to us?

In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, which we again set out below, Premier McGuinty recognized:

"Ontario Liberals believe that improving accessibility and ensuring people with disabilities can achieve their full potential, participate in the labour force and lead productive and meaningful lives is not just a moral imperative, but also an economic one. Over the next decade our seniors population will grow by 40 per cent. And, in the next 20 years, the number of Ontarians with a disability will grow from one in seven to one in five. These demographic shifts will have a material impact on issues like accessibility and mobility."

In the area of accessibility of provincial and municipal elections, he committed: "We recognize that there is more to do, and we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible."

He also committed on accessibility that: "We have come a long way, but there is more to do. If re-elected, Ontario Liberals will continue to work with your organization, other groups and the business community to keep making progress under the AODA:

           We will ensure that we maintain and/or strengthen the current provisions and protections in the AODA or any regulations enacted under the legislation.

           It is a priority for us to enact the Accessible Built Environment standard promptly and responsibly. Having the first five accessibility standards under the AODA enacted will set a firm foundation for further progress on accessibility, and we look forward to working with Ontario’s accessibility communities and partners to identify the next standards that will move accessibility forward in our province.

 

           Consistent with the recommendations made in the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review, we are committed to repealing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) once the current five accessibility standards under the AODA are enacted and we will ensure that all needed provisions in the ODA are incorporated into the AODA.

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

           We are integrating accessibility as a fundamental principle when it comes to making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians. For instance, as part of our 10-year infrastructure plan, we are requiring all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings or major expansions or renovations to demonstrate how the funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility where feasible. We will also extend this to include information technology infrastructure and electronic kiosks.

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

           We remain committed to ensuring effective enforcement of the AODA.

           We will also continue to make progress on all previous commitments."

Later in this letter, Premier McGuinty committed: "We look forward to continuing to build and strengthen our relationship with the AODA Alliance. Mr. Lepofsky, your work on behalf of Ontarians with disabilities has been powerful and profound. And, as we have always done, we will continue to welcome opportunities to maintain an open dialogue and meet with you to continue to move accessibility issues forward."

3.         Elections Accessibility Reform -An Important Legislative Priority for Us in the Next Ontario Legislature

For us, an important legislative priority in the next Ontario Legislature will be to address the ongoing problems that voters with disabilities face when trying to exercise their fundamental democratic right to vote in an election. In 2010, the McGuinty government brought forward Bill 231 to modernize Ontario elections. As initially proposed, it did little to make elections accessible for voters and candidates with disabilities.

We mounted a major campaign to get Bill 231 strengthened. We only got partial victories. We will look forward to receiving Elections Ontario's feedback on its accessibility efforts in this election, as well as feedback from voters with disabilities. However, we already know there are important accessibility issues that the Legislature needs to address. . .

It is absurd that as a result of Bill 231, the Ontario Government bought 144 accessible voting machines for all of Ontario, but couldn't use them on Election Day itself. Elections Ontario advised us that under the Election Act, these machines could only be used by voters with disabilities during voting over the days up to Election Day, but not on Election Day. Fully $875,000 of taxpayers' money was spent on these machines-machines that intentionally sat idle on the very day when most Ontarians actually vote.

Voters who needed these accessible voting machines to vote privately and independently were denied the right to wait until the election campaign was over before committing themselves to vote for one party or another. They had to either vote earlier than Election Day or give up the right to privately and secretly mark their own ballot. Moreover, Ontario only bought 144 accessible voting machines for all of this large province. In sharp contrast, the city of Chicago has fully 2,500 accessible voting machines, for a population of 3 million people in one urban centre.

This is further proof that we need to accelerate the move towards the option of voting over the internet or by telephone. That option would appeal to many voters without disabilities as well as those with disabilities. The media today is full of reflections on the troubling low voter turnout yesterday. Internet and telephone voting can be a good response to that problem.

We brought the issue of telephone and internet voting before the Legislature in the spring of 2010, during debates over Bill 231. We only secured partial victories. Progress was left to be slow and uncertain.

Bill 231 gave Elections Ontario a leisurely three years to study alternative voting options like internet and telephone voting. It lets Elections Ontario test alternative voting options like internet and telephone voting in a by-election, but we don't know when the next by-election will be. After that, it lets Elections Ontario propose that a committee of the Legislature lift the current unjustified legal ban on internet and telephone voting. However, if the unelected and unaccountable Chief Electoral Officer doesn't want to propose this, we are stuck with a legal ban on using these accessibility technologies in provincial elections.

In sharp contrast, municipalities are free to use telephone and internet voting in municipal elections in Ontario. Some, like Cobourg, have done so in the past.

After Bill 231 was passed, we asked the Chief Electoral Officer to adopt internet and telephone voting in this 2011 election. We said he had the power to override restrictions in the Elections Act – a general power he himself requested. Regrettably, the chief Electoral Officer, Mr. Greg Essensa, refused our request, incorrectly claiming that he had no authority to do what we asked. For more details, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04082011.asp  

The results of the October 6, 2011 Ontario election give us a real opportunity to address this problem in the Legislature. In 2010, both the New Democratic Party and the Conservative Party each proposed amendments to Bill 231 that would have provided better accessibility in Ontario elections for voters with disabilities, including in areas like telephone and internet voting. The Liberals used their majority in the Legislature to defeat those amendments.

In her August 24, 2011 letter to us, NDP leader Andrea Horwath promised that the NDP would support the substance of the amendments they introduced in 2010 at our request. She wrote:

"-         The Ontario NDP worked closely with the AODA Alliance to bring forward numerous amendments to Bill 231 that would have strengthened its accessibility provisions. We remain committed to these issues and ensuring full accessibility in elections for both voters and candidates. The NDP would be supportive of introducing legislation that implements the substantive issues addressed in our amendments to Bill 231. "

During this election campaign, PC leader Tim Hudak did not pledge to do the same. However, he made no statements that said he was opposed to doing the same.

In Dalton McGuinty's August 19, 2011 letter to us, he recognized that there is more to do to make municipal and provincial elections accessible. He promised to "continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible."

If both the PCs and NDP support amendments to Ontario's Elections Act to make truly accessible to persons with disabilities, they have the combined seats in the Legislature to pass these, since Premier McGuinty only won a minority government.

To see the NDP's proposed amendments to Bill 231, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04132010-1.asp

To see the Conservative Party's proposed amendments to Bill 231, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04132010-2.asp

To see a great editorial in the April 12, 2010 Toronto Star on the need for accessible voting for voters with disabilities, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04122010.asp

Send your feedback on all of this to us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

*****

August 19, 2011

Mr. David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.

Chair

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

1929 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario

M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you very much for your recent letter and for providing me with an opportunity to speak to our current record and future plans to ensure accessibility in Ontario.

Over the past few years, we have taken some significant steps toward our goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. We could not have done it without our accessibility partners across our province.

I am immensely proud of the milestones we have reached together. But Ontario Liberals recognize that the task of building a more prosperous and equitable province is far from finished. We look forward to continuing to work together toward achieving our goals.

The PCs neglected accessibility issues. They failed to develop the dialogue and the relationship needed to advance the needs of Ontario’s disability communities.

With your help, we crafted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The AODA represents a real cultural change in the way accessibility issues are addressed in Ontario. We worked in collaboration with advocates, government, businesses and disability communities to find the right balance. And in order to give Ontarians living with a disability a strong voice at the table, we have ensured that 50 per cent of all standards development committees are made up of members from the disability community.

Four of the five accessibility standards are now in place. These lay the foundation to achieve greater accessibility in Ontario — for instance, more accessible transportation systems for Ontarians to get to school or work, a more inclusive employment hiring process, tolerant workplaces, more accessible restaurants and tourist venues, more inviting public spaces, and government and business websites that are comprehensive and within reach for people with varying disabilities.

Ontario Liberals believe that improving accessibility and ensuring people with disabilities can achieve their full potential, participate in the labour force and lead productive and meaningful lives is not just a moral imperative, but also an economic one. Over the next decade our seniors population will grow by 40 per cent. And, in the next 20 years, the number of Ontarians with a disability will grow from one in seven to one in five. These demographic shifts will have a material impact on issues like accessibility and mobility.

With the passing of the AODA in 2005, Ontario became a world leader in accessibility. Jurisdictions worldwide are now looking to Ontario for guidance and assistance on their own policies. Together, we are showing the world that bringing equity to people living with disabilities can be done in a progressive and responsible manner.

We are starting to see encouraging results from many of the policy initiatives Ontario Liberals have undertaken since 2003. Since we came into office in 2003:

           

           We have seen a 35 per cent increase in the number of students with disabilities pursuing postsecondary education and a 70 per cent increase in the number of people on ODSP participating in the workforce.

           We amended the Election Act to require provincial elections to include:

o          accessible voting equipment and polling locations

o          accessible formats of Elections Ontario publications

o          accessibility training for election officers.

           We also amended the Municipal Elections Act to require that all municipal polling stations be accessible to voters with disabilities and that staff be trained on accessibility issues. We recognize that there is more to do, and we will continue to build on our progress when it comes to making municipal and provincial elections more accessible.

           We reformed our human rights system to ensure that people have access to justice without waiting years to have a complaint resolved.

We have come a long way, but there is more to do. If re-elected, Ontario Liberals will continue to work with your organization, other groups and the business community to keep making progress under the AODA:

           We will ensure that we maintain and/or strengthen the current provisions and protections in the AODA or any regulations enacted under the legislation.

           It is a priority for us to enact the Accessible Built Environment standard promptly and responsibly. Having the first five accessibility standards under the AODA enacted will set a firm foundation for further progress on accessibility, and we look forward to working with Ontario’s accessibility communities and partners to identify the next standards that will move accessibility forward in our province.

 

           Consistent with the recommendations made in the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review, we are committed to repealing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) once the current five accessibility standards under the AODA are enacted and we will ensure that all needed provisions in the ODA are incorporated into the AODA.

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

           We are integrating accessibility as a fundamental principle when it comes to making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians. For instance, as part of our 10-year infrastructure plan, we are requiring all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings or major expansions or renovations to demonstrate how the funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility where feasible. We will also extend this to include information technology infrastructure and electronic kiosks.

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

           We remain committed to ensuring effective enforcement of the AODA.

           We will also continue to make progress on all previous commitments.

We appreciate the issues you raised with regard to Ontario’s human rights system. We recently appointed Andrew Pinto to conduct a review of the implementation and effectiveness of changes to the Human Rights Code, which came into effect in 2008, and I look forward to your contribution to this process. In contrast to our efforts to strengthen human rights in Ontario, the Hudak PCs committed to dissolving the Human Rights Tribunal altogether. When Hudak became leader of the PC Party, he referred to it as a “kangaroo court.” Fundamental issues of fairness and human rights are far too important to be treated in such a cavalier manner.

The $14-billion hole in their platform will certainly lead to devastating cuts to the social programs and services that matter to Ontarians. We recognize the important role the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario plays in supporting compliance and enforcement measures of the AODA. We do not want to see these programs at risk.

Leading change is not always easy. We remain committed to building a more accessible Ontario as it is not only the smart thing to do — it is the right thing to do.

 

We need to keep moving forward together, and Ontario Liberals are the only ones who will make that happen. We look forward to continuing to build and strengthen our relationship with the AODA Alliance. Mr. Lepofsky, your work on behalf of Ontarians with disabilities has been powerful and profound. And, as we have always done, we will continue to welcome opportunities to maintain an open dialogue and meet with you to continue to move accessibility issues forward.

Mr. Lepofsky, I want to once again thank you for your work and advocacy. Your ongoing advice has made a tremendous contribution to helping us make Ontario more accessible.

I look forward to sharing many more successes with you in the near future.

Yours truly,

Dalton McGuinty

Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party

Premier