ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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United for a Barrier-Free Ontario

AODA Alliance Calls On the Wynne Government to Take Action to Ensure Ontario's Built Environment Becomes Disability-Accessible by 2025

October 23, 2017

Summary

On October 23, 2017, the AODA Alliance wrote the Wynne Government's Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles. It called for the Government to take immediate and decisive action to ensure that the built environment in Ontario becomes fully accessible by the 2025 deadline that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act imposes.

Our letter, set out below, recites the Government's unkept promises in this area. It lists specific actions we need the Government to take. The Government would have no good reasons not to take these steps.

For example, Ontario needs a strong and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard to be created under the AODA, and a substantially strengthened Ontario Building Code. Design professionals, like architects, interior designers and landscape architects, should receive mandatory training on accessible and universal design.

Last November, the AODA Alliance made public a video showing serious accessibility problems at a brand new building, Centennial College's Culinary Arts Centre. It is a good example that shows why reform is needed in Ontario. We will soon be releasing a new video, that similarly shows significant accessibility barriers in another new building in Ontario. Stay tuned!

To see the 6-minute version of the AODA Alliance's video on accessibility problems at the Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre.

To see the 18-minute version of the AODA Alliance's video on accessibility problems at the Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre.

We emphasize that the built environment is just one of the many important areas where the Ontario Government needs to take much more action, if it is to fulfil its duty under the AODA to lead Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. Where we here focus on the built environment, we certainly don't mean to suggest that it is the only area needing priority action. Our Updates over the next weeks and months will focus on a range of different accessibility issues.

In other accessibility news, there have now been a stunning 321 days since Premier Wynne committed in the Ontario Legislature that the Government would create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Yet the Government has still not appointed the promised Education Standards Development Committee to start preparing recommendations on what that long-overdue accessibility standard needs to include. One third of a million students with special education needs are the victims of this ongoing delay.

At the end of this Update, we offer you helpful links to background information, and tell you how to subscribe for or unsubscribe from these Updates.

MORE DETAILS

Text of the October 23, 2017 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Ontario's Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org

October 23, 2017

Via Email Tracy.MacCharles@ontario.ca
The Honourable Tracy MacCharles,
Minister of Accessibility and Minister of Government and Consumer Services
Office of the Minister Responsible for Accessibility
6th Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay St,
Toronto, ON M7A 1L2
 
Dear Minister,

Re: Need for An Ontario Strategy to Address Recurring Disability Accessibility Barriers in the Built Environment in Ontario

We ask your Government to now launch an effective strategy to address the recurring disability accessibility barriers that people with disabilities too often face in the built environment in Ontario. As you know, among the many disability accessibility barriers that people with disabilities continue to face in Ontario are the many barriers that remain in the built environment. As well, new disability barriers continue to be created in new buildings in both the public and private sector, and during renovations in existing buildings.

This problem persists for two reasons. First, Ontario's laws that govern the design of the built environment are woefully inadequate, where they attempt to address accessibility in the built environment. Ontario's Building Code falls far short in this regard. Accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act do not comprehensively address disability accessibility barriers in the built environment. They only address a very limited number of barriers in a small part of public spaces, largely in areas outside buildings. Their requirements are too often too weak. Both the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards now only address new construction and major renovations. They require no corrective action to be taken in existing buildings or their environs, unless a major renovation is underway. This is so, no matter how low-cost and easy the needed retrofits may be.

Second, design professionals in Ontario, such as architects, interior designers and landscape architects, are not required to be fully and properly trained in the need to ensure proper accessibility and universal design in the built environment. It is because of the chronic accessibility deficiencies in the training and work of the design professions, that organizations need to retain the accessibility expertise of accessibility consultants when a construction project is underway. However, organizations are neither required to retain an accessibility consultant, nor to listen to their advice, if retained. There is also no professional certification process to ensure that a person, claiming to be an accessibility consultant, has the required expertise.

Some three years ago, the Government received a strong warning on this issue from the last Independent Review that the Ontario Government appointed, as required under the AODA. The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review included, among other things, these important findings:

 "On the content of other possible new standards, it may be helpful to summarize the gap analysis that emerged from the Review.  The gap that stood out most clearly from the perspective of this Review concerned the built environment and the issue of retrofits.   As mentioned earlier, of all the barriers facing people with disabilities, those involving the built environment attracted the most comment during the Review.  Yet, as noted above, barriers in existing facilities – as opposed to those in new construction or renovations – are not covered by the current accessibility standards, leading to much frustration in the disability community.  The Review repeatedly heard that in the absence of an obligation to ensure that the built environment eventually incorporates at least some accessibility features, it will be very difficult to celebrate the Ontario of 2025 as a leader in accessibility.  At the same time, it is also very clear that retrofit obligations (which many assume are already part of the AODA standards) can be costly undertakings and imposing any new obligations in this regard requires sensitivity.

Ontario could begin to address this issue by considering standards resembling the U.S. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations which require private facilities that provide goods or services to remove existing architectural barriers where this is "readily achievable, i.e., easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense."  (ADA Title III Regulations, section 36.304).  This approach would lend itself to setting some priorities for accessibility enhancements, such as entry ways and washrooms (the two areas most frequently referred to in the consultations).  Although by no means a full solution, beginning to address the built environment through a relatively modest option would significantly improve access for people with disabilities without generating major worries about cost. 

As is the case with all AODA standards, compliance with such a requirement would not relieve organizations of their obligation under the Human Rights Code to accommodate people with disabilities to the point of undue hardship.  Individuals who believed their needs were not adequately met by "readily achievable" measures would still have the option of seeking recourse through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario."

The 2004-2005 debates in the Ontario Legislature, leading to the passage of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, showed that it was clearly expected that making Ontario's built environment accessible for people with disabilities was one of the important aims of this legislation. The Ontario Government has just a little over seven years left to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. Yet the Ontario Government has no comprehensive plan or accessibility standards in place that will ensure that Ontario's built environment will become fully accessible by 2025.

Several of your Government's important promises to 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities in this area remain unkept:

a) Premier McGuinty promised in his August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance (setting out his 2011 election pledges on accessibility) that the Government would enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA "promptly and responsibly." Premier McGuinty called this a "priority." Yet no Built Environment Accessibility Standard has ever been enacted under the AODA. Extremely limited "public spaces' accessibility provisions were enacted in 2012, which leave out the vast majority of the built environment. 2013 Ontario Building Code amendments (not under the AODA) were enacted which don't adequately address disability accessibility barriers in buildings, and are only limited to some new buildings or those undergoing major renovations, a minority of Ontario's built environment.

b) In July 2009, the Ontario Government promised that it would deal with disability accessibility barriers in residential housing and in the area of retrofits, through the AODA standards development process. Yet the Government has not launched any effort in the ensuing eight years to address these through the standards development process.

c) A decade ago, in his september 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance  (setting out your Government's 2007 election pledges on disability accessibility), Premier Dalton McGuinty promised Ontarians with disabilities that the Government would reach out to self-governing professions (like architects) to urge that they include training on accessibility in their professional training. Since then, we have seen no effort to keep this promise.

d) On December 3, 2012, when she was running for Ontario Liberal Party leadership, Kathleen Wynne promised that she would keep all your Government's earlier promises on disability accessibility. She also pledged that she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for reaching accessibility by 2025. Yet Ontario is not now on schedule for becoming accessible by 2025. This is especially so in the case of the built environment.

e) On May 14, 2014, Premier Wynne wrote the AODA Alliance setting out your Government's 2014 election promises on accessibility. She pledged that public money would never be used to create or perpetuate disability accessibility barriers. Yet as but one example, we have recently raised with the Attorney General for Ontario serious concerns about the inadequate accessibility planning that has gone into the Government's plans to build a huge new courthouse in downtown Toronto.

Those designing and building buildings now face a patchwork of accessibility requirements in Ontario. The Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards, insofar as they deal with built environment accessibility, fall well short of the higher accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Several Ontario municipalities commendably have adopted local building accessibility guidelines that are higher than those which the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards require. These too are not shown to fulfil the full accessibility that the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the Ontario Human Rights Code require. We are given to understand that if an organization or person applies for a building permit or site plan approval in Ontario, they need not comply with the insufficient accessible built environment requirements that the AODA imposes. This is an unjustifiable formula for confusion, for ineffective enforcement, and for creating new and otherwise-preventable disability accessibility barriers.

We have raised this serious issue with your Government time and again. In here addressing the built environment, we do not, of course, suggest that physical barriers in the built environment are the only disability barriers that need to be addressed in Ontario.

For example, within a month of your becoming Ontario's first Accessibility Minister, on July 10, 2016 we wrote you to identify a series of priority areas for your action, including asking you to:

"5. Get a Standards Development Committee appointed to develop recommendations on accessibility standards needed to address barriers in the built environment in residential housing, and in existing buildings that are not undergoing major renovations, as the Government promised back in 2009."

Over half a year ago, we again wrote you on March 16, 2017, to ask what your Government is doing, and plans to do, in major priority areas for accessibility that we had earlier outlined. That letter included:

"Addressing Ongoing Barriers in the Built Environment

The AODA requires Ontario's built environment to become fully accessible by 2025. Yet 2015 amendments to the Ontario Building Code were insufficient to ensure that new buildings and major renovations are fully accessible. The AODA Alliance's video of accessibility problems at the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre exemplifies this, available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uRmVBmOy6xg&t=28s

Moreover, the Ontario Government has enacted no measures to require retrofit of any accessibility barriers in the built environment, even if readily achievable, and even if needed to fulfil the duty under the Ontario Human Rights Code to ensure accessibility of employment, goods, services or facilities. The final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review emphasized that these retrofits need action. Many tweets on Twitter using the hashtag #AODAfail show the pressing need for action, by illustrating the many accessibility barriers Ontarians with disabilities face around Ontario.

In the 2009 summer, the Ontario Government commendably promised to create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, and to then address retrofits and accessibility barriers in residential housing through the standards development process. In the 2011 election, Premier McGuinty commendably promised that the Ontario Government would enact the promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard promptly. Yet no comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard has been enacted under the AODA. No effort has been announced to use the standards development process to address retrofits and barriers in residential housing.

7. What actions will your Government take under the AODA to ensure that Ontario's built environment becomes fully accessible by 2025, and by when? When will you appoint a Standards Development Committee to recommend measures for retrofits and for accessibility in residential housing?"

Your June 8, 2017 letter, written in response, did not say anything about disability accessibility barriers in the built environment. It did not identify any current Government action in this area. it did not commit to any new Government action in this area, or acknowledge that we had asked about this issue in our March 16, 2017 letter which your letter was answering.

We have also raised concerns in this area with several successive Ministers of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and with your Government's leading officials responsible for its massive infrastructure spending in Ontario. This too has yielded insufficient action.

You can easily find so many examples of the disability accessibility barriers people with disabilities continue to face in Ontario, including in Ontario's built environment. Just go to Twitter and search on the hashtag #AODAfail for examples that people with disabilities across Ontario have shared with the public.

As well, and as you know, last November, the AODA Alliance released a video on Youtube that identified significant disability accessibility barriers in a brand-new public building, Centennial College's Culinary Arts Centre. Our 18 minute version and our 6 minute version of that video have been viewed over 2,300 times. They secured impressive media attention. They show that our deficient Ontario laws on accessibility in the built environment can result in significant accessibility problems, even when an organization wants to include good accessibility features. This cries out for Government action now.

Minister, Ontarians with disabilities cannot afford any more delays on this issue. Every week of delay leads more designers to design more of our built environment with accessibility problems. Every year that Ontario colleges and universities train more generations of design professionals without sufficient training on accessible and universal design, we graduate more generations of professional barrier-creators. This is done with public money. That violates Premier Wynne's promise that public money would never be used to create new disability accessibility barriers.

We urge your Government to now take these steps:

1. Please publicly acknowledge that recurring disability accessibility barriers in the built environment continues to be a significant problem facing people with disabilities in Ontario and that this requires new Government action.

2. Please commit that within a designated time line not to exceed 2 months, the Government will announce and launch a new comprehensive strategy to ensure that Ontario's built environment will become disability-accessible by or before 2025. This will include new buildings, major renovations, and buildings that are not undergoing major renovations. This plan should keep all your Government's promises and fulfil all its duties under the law in this context. It should include creating a comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, that will ensure that the Ontario Building Code effectively implements universal design principles and live up to the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. It will ensure that Ontario's colleges and universities will train design professionals (such as architects, interior designers and landscape architects) who are properly equipped to design a fully accessible built environment.

3. Please announce that you will immediately convene a disability accessibility built environment summit, to include stakeholders from the disability community, design professional, accessibility consultants, builders and other key stakeholders in the public and private sectors, to give input into the new Government built environment accessibility strategy.

4. Please ensure that the team within the Government that will lead this project has a strong commitment to and expertise in accessibility in the built environment. The Building Code officials within the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing do not have an acceptable track record in this regard. Moreover, please ensure that this will be an open and transparent process, not one shrouded in secrecy and non-disclosure agreements.

As always, we would welcome the opportunity to work with you on this issue.

Sincerely,

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

cc: Premier Kathleen Wynne, premier@ontario.ca   
Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, marie-lison.fougere@ontario.ca
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, ann.hoy@ontario.ca
Steve Orsini, Secretary to Cabinet steve.orsini@ontario.ca

Helpful Background Resources

For more background on our campaign to win the enactment of a strong Education Accessibility Standard to tear down the many disability accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system.

To read the AODA Alliances Discussion Paper that explains what we would like the promised Education Accessibility Standard to include.
 
To read tips we offer school boards and other educational organizations on how to hold a public forum on disability accessibility barriers in Ontario's education system.

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at aodafeedback@gmail.com

Have you taken part in our "Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our "Picture Our Barriers" campaign by visiting www.aodaalliance.org/2016

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to: aodafeedback@gmail.com

We encourage you to use the Government's toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

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Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org