ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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THE MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT HAS DONE LITTLE TO KEEP 2007 ELECTION PROMISE ON EDUCATING STUDENTS AND PROFESSIONAL TRAINEES ON DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY

November 10, 2009

SUMMARY

On July 20, 2009, the AODA Alliance wrote to three Ontario Government Ministers to ask what the McGuinty Government has done so far, and what else they plan to do to keep Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 election promises to the AODA Alliance, on expanding school and professional trainees’ curricula to include education on ensuring accessibility for persons with disabilities. Today we make public the answers we received from the Minister of Community and Social Services Madeleine Meilleur (responsible for implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act), the Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne (responsible for schools) and the Minister of Training Colleges and Universities John Milloy (responsible for post-secondary education).

In the 2007 election we asked all three political parties to commit (among other things) to implement a permanent program to ensure that school students and professional trainees (such as architects) learn about meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. In that election Premier McGuinty responded by promising that if elected, his Government would ensure that the Government’s “Character Education” program, taught in Ontario schools, includes issues relating to persons with disabilities. His Government also committed to raise with professional bodies responsible for the various professions such as architects, the need for training on meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities.

To see all Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election pledges to the AODA Alliance, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09142007.asp

To see our letter to the three ministers asking what they have done to keep this promise, with what results, and what further they plan to do, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07212009.asp

All three ministers have responded. Their letters are set out below.

Their answers to our simple, clear questions are troubling. None indicates that the Government has incorporated a disability accessibility component in its Character Education curriculum. None indicates that they have approached any self-governing professional bodies to attempt to establish training of professionals or student professionals on meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities. None indicates any specific future plans to take these promised actions.

Here is a summary of what they told us:

* Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur wrote to us on September 3, 2009. Reinforcing the need for the Government to keep its 2007 election commitments on disability accessibility education, she noted:

“The Accessible Information and Communication Standard Development Committee (SDC) made specific reference to the training of regulated professionals in its final proposed standard. The SDC recommended that mandatory professional development include training on the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities and the prevention, identification and removal of barriers to accessible information and communications.”

She did not report any specific actions taken by the Government to keep this election promise. She noted:

“The government is considering the recommendations made by the SDC (i.e. the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee) along with the Premier's commitments on accessibility in curriculum and for regulated professionals. My ministry will engage both the disability community and obligated organizations, including regulated bodies, to determine how to proceed.”

She left it to the two other ministers to explain what they are doing to keep this election promise.

* On September 15, 2009, Education Minister Wynne wrote to us. Her letter does not address the specific election commitment about which we wrote to her. Her opening line shows she may have misunderstood what we asked. She stated:

“Thank you for your letter to my colleagues and me inquiring about actions taken, results achieved and future plans with regard to ensuring an awareness of, and respect for, students with special education needs in Ontario schools.”

Our July 20, 2009 letter had asked about a clear election commitment to educate school students on the accessibility needs of people with disabilities. It was not limited to the needs of students with special needs.

She described on-line tools being developed to help school boards comply with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that “will help staff and teachers in schools learn how to interact with people who have a variety of disabilities…” She described initiatives to review school curricula with materials to address the needs of students with special needs. She stated that:

“The revised curriculum documents will provide strengthened expectations around the awareness of, and respect for, students with special education needs (for example, students in wheelchairs and students who have visual impairments).”

The closest she came to addressing the Premier’s commitment, was as follows:

“Please note that this ministry has proceeded with creating a suite of draft courses relating to Equity Studies, Gender Studies, and World Cultures in the revised Social Sciences and Humanities, Grades 9 to 12 curriculum. These courses will provide additional opportunities for students to learn about equity and social justice issues in relation to persons with special education needs, particularly in the courses related to Equity Studies.”

She also discussed Ontario’s new legislation aimed at addressing bullying in schools – a commendable initiative that is irrelevant to the Premier’s election commitment about which we inquired.

Her letter said nothing about any steps taken, or planned, to include in Ontario school curricula, a teaching component on meeting the accessibility needs of persons with disabilities in society generally.

* On October 6, 2009, Training, Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy wrote us. He described his Ministry’s involvement in development of accessibility standards under the AODA, and his Ministry’s efforts at supporting implementation of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. This activity is commendable, but does not pertain to the election commitment about which we inquired.

The closest he came to responding to our inquiry was as follows:

“It is important that students starting new careers are able to ensure compliance with the legislation in their chosen profession. While the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities does not set the curriculum for postsecondary institutions, I have written to college presidents and university executive heads urging them to consider accessibility when conducting curriculum reviews.

The Ministry committed to removing the barriers faced by people with disabilities so that all Ontarians have access to the service they need. To this end, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will continue to address the issue with the postsecondary education community.”

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Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur's Letter

Via Email September 3, 2009

Mr. David Lepofsky
Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your email regarding the need to work with educational organizations and self-governing professions on the provision of accessibility information, curriculum and training.

As you know, with the enactment of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) in June 2005, Ontario became the first Canadian jurisdiction to regulate accessibility standards. The purpose of the AODA is to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with in the following areas: goods; services; facilities; accommodation; employment; buildings; structures; and premises on or before January 1, 2025. We will do this by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards that apply to both the public and private sectors. These standards will address a full range of disabilities, including physical, sensory, mental health, developmental and learning.

Our government will ensure the standards are cohesive by translating them into feasible and realistic regulations. We will also explore opportunities aligning requirements to streamline implementation.

The Accessible Information and Communication Standard Development Committee (SDC) made specific reference to the training of regulated professionals in its final proposed standard. The SDC recommended that mandatory professional development include training on the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities and the prevention, identification and removal of barriers to accessible information and communications.

The SDC submitted its final proposed Accessible Information and Communication standard to me earlier this summer for review. The government is considering the recommendations made by the SDC along with the Premier's commitments on accessibility in curriculum and for regulated professionals. My ministry will engage both the disability community and obligated organizations, including regulated bodies, to determine how to proceed.

With regard to the measures the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will do to ensure accessibility, I trust that Minister Wynne and Minister Milloy, or members of their staff, will respond to your inquiry directly.

Once again, I thank you and the AODA Alliance for your commitment to accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

Sincerely,

[ORIGINAL SIGNED BY]

Madeleine Meilleur
Minister

c: The Honourable Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Education
The Honourable John Milloy, Minster of Training, Colleges and Universities

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Education Minister Wynne's Letter

Ministry of Education
Minister
Mowat Block
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1L2
Telephone (416) 325-2600
Facsimile (416) 325-2608

September 15, 2009

Mr. David Lepofsky
Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto ON M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky,

Thank you for your letter to my colleagues and me inquiring about actions taken, results achieved and future plans with regard to ensuring an awareness of, and respect for, students with special education needs in Ontario schools. I am pleased to respond.

Ontario is improving services for people with disabilities in publicly funded schools. The province is partnering with the Ontario Education Services Corporation to create online training, policies, procedures and tip sheets. These tools will help staff and teachers in schools learn how to interact with people who have a variety of disabilities, including those who:

These tools are being developed under the EnAbling Change Partnership Program to help school boards and schools comply with Ontario's customer service standard.

As you may know, the Ministry of Education is in the process of a curriculum review to ensure that the curriculum remains current and relevant, and to identify areas that need revision from Kindergarten to Grade 12. As revised curricula are released, the introduction includes an enhanced section on Planning Programs for Students with Special Education Needs, and specific curriculum expectations in the documents include examples to address the teaching and learning needs of all students. The ministry will continue to ensure that the needs of all students are addressed in the updated curricula. Implementation training is provided to school board teams as each revised document is released.

In fall 2008, training was provided for implementation of the revised Grades 1 to 8 Arts curriculum. A session was presented on "Building Low-tech Equipment and Making Creative Learning Aids for your Classroom Programme or Student with Special Needs", where practical, hands-on activities and creative strategies were shared.

The revised curriculum documents will provide strengthened expectations around the awareness of, and respect for, students with special education needs (for example, students in wheelchairs and students who have visual impairments). Due to the ongoing nature of the revision process, we are not able to share the drafts at this time. When released, revised curriculum documents are posted on the ministry website at www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/teachers/curriculum.html.

Please note that this ministry has proceeded with creating a suite of draft courses relating to Equity Studies, Gender Studies, and World Cultures in the revised Social Sciences and Humanities, Grades 9 to 12 curriculum. These courses will provide additional opportunities for students to learn about equity and social justice issues in relation to persons with special education needs, particularly in the courses related to Equity Studies.

In addition, within the broad context of identifying any barriers/issues and opportunities that could impact people with disabilities, the Ministry of Education will be exploring and, where appropriate, enhancing the accessibility potential related to the delivery of its e-learning policies and programs, including design, procurement, development/modification and implementation. All e-learning courses in support of the French-language curriculum will continue to be developed using technology that can be used by persons with visual disabilities using a text reader. Decisions about procurement requirements in support of future needs are pending approval.

Be assured that this government is fully committed to the principles of equity and inclusiveness throughout Ontario's education system. Our schools must be places where everyone — staff, students, parents and the community — feels welcome, safe and respected. Accordingly, on June 1, 2009 our government passed legislation that:

On April 6, 2009, the Ministry of Education released Realizing the Promise of Diversity, Ontario's Equity and Inclusive Education Strategy. This document sets out a vision for an inclusive education system in Ontario where all students, parents and members of the school community feel welcomed and respected, and where every student is supported and inspired to succeed in a culture of high expectations for learning.

Thank you again for writing. I commend the work that is being done by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance in advocating for a barrier-free Ontario for all people with disabilities. Please accept my best wishes for continued success.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Wynne
Minister of Education

c: The Honourable John Milloy
Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities
The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Community and Social Services

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Training, Colleges and Universities Minister John Milloy's Letter

Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
Mowat Block
Queen's Park
Toronto ON M7A 1L2
Telephone (416) 326-1600
Facsimile (416) 326-1656
Minister

OCT 6 2009

Mr. David Lepofsky, Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M4G 3E8

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your e-mail to Ministers Wynne, Meilleur and myself regarding the need to work with educational organizations and self-governing professions on the provision of accessibility training.

For your information, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities has been actively participating in the ongoing accessibility standards development process. Representatives from postsecondary institutions have contributed their expertise and advice to the drafting of proposed standards that will impact both students and employees at Ontario's community colleges, universities and private career colleges.

With assistance from the Accessibility Directorate's EnAbling Change Partnership Program, both the college and university sectors have developed new online training tools for their faculty and staff that provide mandatory training to facilitate compliance with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

It is important that students starting new careers are able to ensure compliance with the legislation in their chosen profession. While the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities does not set the curriculum for postsecondary institutions, I have written to college presidents and university executive heads urging them to consider accessibility when conducting curriculum reviews.

The Ministry committed to removing the barriers faced by people with disabilities so that all Ontarians have access to the service they need. To this end, the Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities will continue to address the issue with the postsecondary education community.

Sincerely,

John Milloy
Minister

c: The Honourable Kathleen Wynne
Minister of Education
The Honourable Madeleine Meilleur
Minister of Community and Social Services