ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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ONTARIO GOVERNMENT INADEQUATELY RESPONDS TO AODA ALLIANCE PROPOSALS TO ENSURE PUBLIC FUNDS NOT USED TO CREATE OR PERPETUATE BARRIERS AGAINST ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES

December 16, 2009

SUMMARY

The Ontario Government spends billions of public dollars on capital projects, including new infrastructure, and on goods and services it buys for use by the Ontario Public Service and the public. The Government could substantially help make Ontario barrier free for persons with disabilities if it took proper steps to make sure that that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. A government rarely has so good a chance to improve accessibility without any budget increase.

The AODA Alliance raised this priority with the Ontario Government several times. In June 2009, an AODA Alliance delegation met a group of senior Ontario Government officials to address this. The key points covered in this meeting are set out in a June 25, 2009 letter from AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky to the Ontario Government. That letter is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082009.asp

That letter summarized our proposal:

“We propose that when an organization from the broader public sector or the private sector applies to the Government for a capital grant or loan, such as for an infrastructure project, the applicant should have to show in their application how the funds will be used to improve accessibility for persons with disabilities. Their application should also show what steps they will take to ensure that no public funds are used to create any new barriers against persons with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing ones. Similarly, when suppliers bid to provide goods and services to the Ontario Government, the suppliers should have to show that these goods and services will be fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. In deciding between competing applications or bids, a preference should be given to those applications which best promote accessibility and least perpetuate inaccessibility.

This would create an additional incentive for applicants for these funds to do better on the accessibility front. For example, if a university applies for funding to renovate or expand the upper floors of a building, and if there is no accessible entrance to that building or no accessible means to reach the floors to be renovated, that should substantially weigh against that application. In that case, the Government should give preference to giving that capital grant instead to a university that proposes to use the funds on a facility that is accessible, or that will become accessible through the grant.

We recognize that there must be flexibility in how this works. Some infrastructure projects are very important, and well-deserving of public funding, but may not significantly contribute to accessibility. If a major highway or bridge is in substantial disrepair and needs significant work, we recognize that this can be a priority for the Ontario Government even though, apart from sidewalk width and curb-cuts, there is little that can be done to advance disability accessibility through such projects.

To promote accountability on the part of recipients of Ontario Government capital funding, we proposed that applicants for such grants (and loans, where feasible) should be required to post on their public website their intended steps on accessibility, and their planned use for the infrastructure funds. This would enable members of the public, including Ontarians with disabilities, to monitor these expenditures and offer the Government feedback on whether the goal of accessibility is being effectively advanced.

Under our proposal, it would not be sufficient for an applicant for capital funding, or for an organization bidding on a procurement opportunity, to merely note in their application that they will comply with existing legislation on accessibility, such as the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 or the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005. Those laws do not impose comprehensive accessibility standards at this point that would ensure that public funds are not used to create new barriers against persons with disabilities. We don’t just want applicants for Government funding to put boilerplate language into their bids or applications. We want to change how public funds are actually used. We want public funding to be used as an incentive to spur more activity toward the goal of accessibility in the private sector and broader public sector. …

It would be very beneficial for the Government to make it widely known to the public, including prospective applicants for these grants or bidders for procurement contracts, that the Government will gauge the accessibility impact of competing applications for these public funding opportunities. This can include public statements by cabinet ministers or the Premier. This necessitates no public spending on commercial advertising. Giving this message good profile would advance the Government’s public commitment to the goals of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It would show that the Government is backing this commitment with concrete action. We believe this initiative is especially important during these tough economic times. This is when the Ontario Government is most likely to expand its infrastructure stimulus spending.”

Our June 25, 2009 letter confirmed that the Ontario Government now has no such comprehensive program. The Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure mainly leaves it to ministries that give out infrastructure capital grants to address disability accessibility.

Our June 25, 2009 letter proposed specific action to improve this unacceptable situation. We asked for prompt action so that opportunities for barrier-removal and prevention are not lost.

It took fully five months for the Government to answer that letter. The November 18, 2009 letter to the AODA Alliance from the Assistant Deputy Ministers responsible for Infrastructure and of the Accessibility Directorate, set out below, largely does not answer our specific requests. It does not act on our proposed steps for follow-up.

That letter refers to some future Government action on this issue. However it does not commit to implement our proposals. It doesn’t propose any follow-up with us. The vague and limited actions it describes would not, if adopted, ensure that public funds, spent on infrastructure and procurement are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

The AODA Alliance has decided to escalate this issue, by raising it at higher levels within the Ontario Government. On December 15, 2009, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky wrote the Deputy Minister and the Associate Deputy Minister responsible for Ontario Government infrastructure initiatives, to get more action on this issue. This letter, set out below, explains why the Government’s response to date is unacceptable.

Our final brief to the Charles Beer Independent Review on the AODA’s implementation identifies this as a serious deficiency on the Ontario Government’s part. You can download that brief by clicking on: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/1209-Charles-Beer-Review-AODAA-Brief.doc

We are pleased to report that within hours of sending our December 15, 2009 letter, we received an email from the Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Susanna Zagar. She indicated that she and her Deputy Minister would like to meet, and will be in touch to arrange a meeting.

Please let others know about this important issue by widely circulating this update. Send us your feedback by writing to us at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

*****

Date: November 18, 2009

MEMORANDUM TO: David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont., Chair, AODA Alliance

FROM: Bill Hughes, Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, Ministry of Community and Social Services

SUBJECT: Ensuring Ontario Infrastructure funding Promotes Accessibility

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your letter proposing the additional steps that the Ontario government can take to ensure that infrastructure and procurement spending is used in ways that promote and increase accessibility for persons with disabilities and is not used to create new barriers. We are committed to making any necessary changes that will promote equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities.

Since we last spoke, the initial proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard was released for public review. The initial proposed standard incorporates some of the lessons learned from our research of other jurisdictions across Canada and around the world. Comments received from public review will be used to further refine the draft standard prior to finalizing it for submission to the government for consideration.

We will be raising the profile of accessibility in our communications with infrastructure ministries as part of our upcoming planning process and providing guidelines to ministries as they plan new infrastructure projects. These planning guidelines will also guide their collaboration with stakeholders and transfer payment partners.

With respect to procurement, Supply Chain Management (SCM) has made specific commitments in the OPS Multi-Year Accessibility Plan to embed accessibility requirements into its procurement policies and practices and is working in partnership with the OPS Diversity Office on a number of initiatives. For example, SCM is consulting with the Diversity Office on an ongoing basis to inform its procurement modernization initiative, and is participating in a six-month pilot of the application of the OPS Diversity and Accessibility Lens to its policies and processes. The OPS Diversity Office is also working with SCM, and a working group of ministry representatives, to support ministries to efficiently, and inclusively, procure diversity and accessibility-related knowledge, tools and services.

In addition, through the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, the Ontario Realty Corporation, the government’s real estate service provider, is developing a new Pilot Accessibility Design Standard for Ontario Government Facilities. This pilot standard will proactively override and inform new builds and will include application criteria for retrofits, as well as an audit checklist. It is complemented by an Accessibility Management Framework and the interim universal signage and wayfinding technical backgrounder, which are used to implement the objectives of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). This Framework will support government commitments on the implementation of the AODA by taking a centre-of-excellence perspective to accessibility. The Framework will help ensure all new construction and significant renovations consider the best of contemporary accessibility practices.

The lessons learned through implementation of the above initiatives will inform and refine our approach to ensuring that infrastructure and procurement spending is used in ways that promote and increase accessibility for persons with disabilities and is not used to create new barriers.

Sincerely,

Original Signed

Bill Hughes
Assistant Deputy Minister
Infrastructure Policy and Planning Division
Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure

Ellen Waxman
Assistant Deputy Minister
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
Ministry of Community and Social Services

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

December 15, 2009

Saäd Rafi, Deputy Minister
Energy and Infrastructure
4th Floor, Hearst Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2E1
Email: saäd.rafi@ontario.ca
Facsimile: (416) 327-6755

And

Susanna Zagar, Associate Deputy Minister, Infrastructure
Energy and Infrastructure
4th Floor
777 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 2E5
Email: susanna.zagar@ontario.ca
Facsimile: (416) 212-3786

Dear Mr. Rafi and Ms. Zagar,

Re: Ensuring Ontario Infrastructure Funding Promotes Disability Accessibility

We write to ask you to take prompt, concerted, new action to ensure that from now on, no Ontario taxpayer’s public funds, spent on capital projects such as stimulus infrastructure initiatives, or on Ontario Government procurement of goods or services, are used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities.

Since 2005, our coalition has led the campaign to ensure the effective implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Before that, from 1994 to 2005, our predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, led the decade-long campaign that culminated with the enactment of that important legislation. Under it, Ontario is required to become fully accessible for Ontarians with physical, mental or sensory disabilities by 2025.

There has been some progress towards the goal of full accessibility since the AODA was passed four and a half years ago. Nevertheless, as of now, Ontario is unfortunately behind schedule for full accessibility by 2025. Ontario needs bold new initiatives to get back on schedule.

The Ontario Government has undertaken to play a leadership role in bringing Ontario to the mandatory goal of full accessibility. To assist in achieving the goal of full accessibility on or before 2025, we have been urging the Ontario Government for several years to adopt a comprehensive strategy to effectively ensure that Ontario taxpayers’ dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. This is not limited to removing and preventing physical barriers to full access of buildings for people with mobility limitations. It includes all barriers that persons with physical, mental or sensory disabilities can encounter.

Before last spring’s budget, we approached the Assistant Deputy Minister of Infrastructure, Mr. Bill Hughes, to meet to discuss the need for a comprehensive Ontario strategy to ensure that Ontario taxpayers’ dollars are never used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. Unfortunately, we were unable to obtain a meeting with him until early June, 2009.

At our June meeting with him and with other officials from across the Ontario Government with responsibilities in this area, we confirmed that Ontario now has in place no comprehensive, monitored program to ensure that when the Ontario Government spends taxpayers’ funds on capital projects such as infrastructure initiatives, or on procurement of goods or services for use by the Ontario Public Service or the public, these funds are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities. At that meeting, we presented a constructive proposal on this. We asked for a prompt follow-up on this proposal. We understood at that meeting that Mr. Hughes and his colleagues would take our proposal back for consideration.

I enclose our June 25, 2009 letter to Mr. Hughes and to the Assistant Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services for the Accessibility Directorate, Ms. Ellen Waxman that confirms the substance of this meeting, including our proposals and requests for prompt follow-up. I request that you review that letter to get a good picture of our proposal and the discussion surrounding it that occurred last June.

We heard nothing back on this proposal until we received a November 18, 2009 letter from Mr. Hughes and Ms. Waxman fully five months later (copy enclosed). We regret that this letter is as inadequate in its response to our proposals as it was tardy in coming. The vague and limited actions it describes would not, if adopted, ensure that public funds, spent on infrastructure and procurement are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

Their November 18, 2009 letter commendably began with the constructive statement that: “We are committed to making any necessary changes that will promote equality of opportunity for persons with disabilities.” However, that letter did not specifically adopt or even address the detailed proposal that we presented to Mr. Hughes and his colleagues in June of this year. It does not respond to our request in our June 25, 2009 letter to meet to follow up on our proposal.

Their November 18, 2009 letter states regarding capital planning: "We will be raising the profile of accessibility in our communications with infrastructure ministries as part of our upcoming planning process and providing guidelines to ministries as they plan new infrastructure projects.” As we had discussed at our June meeting with Mr. Hughes and his colleagues, it is quite insufficient to simply leave it to individual ministries to address this issue, without a comprehensive, publicized Government policy and proper monitoring. As was evident from our discussions with Mr. Hughes and his colleagues last June, we seek much more than raising the profile of accessibility within the Ontario Public Service.

On the topic of ensuring that Ontario Government procurement spending is not used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities, the November 18, 2009 letter in substance states: “With respect to procurement, Supply Chain Management (SCM) has made specific commitments in the OPS Multi-Year Accessibility Plan to embed accessibility requirements into its procurement policies and practices and is working in partnership with the OPS Diversity Office on a number of initiatives. For example, SCM is consulting with the Diversity Office on an ongoing basis to inform its procurement modernization initiative, and is participating in a six-month pilot of the application of the OPS Diversity and Accessibility Lens to its policies and processes. The OPS Diversity Office is also working with SCM, and a working group of ministry representatives, to support ministries to efficiently, and inclusively, procure diversity and accessibility-related knowledge, tools and services.”

As we had discussed with Mr. Hughes and his colleagues at our June meeting and confirmed in our June 25, 2009 letter, it has been a legal requirement under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act since 2002 that measures be implemented to this end. That the Government is only now planning to pilot some vague initiatives is also quite insufficient.

The November 18, 2009 letter from Mr. Hughes and Ms. Waxman continues: “In addition, through the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, the Ontario Realty Corporation, the government’s real estate service provider, is developing a new Pilot Accessibility Design Standard for Ontario Government Facilities. This pilot standard will proactively override and inform new builds and will include application criteria for retrofits, as well as an audit checklist. It is complemented by an Accessibility Management Framework and the interim universal signage and wayfinding technical backgrounder, which are used to implement the objectives of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA). This Framework will support government commitments on the implementation of the AODA by taking a centre-of-excellence perspective to accessibility. The Framework will help ensure all new construction and significant renovations consider the best of contemporary accessibility practices.”

The Ontario Realty Corporation has been planning and re-planning accessibility standards for Ontario Government buildings for years. This does not address the wide range of capital and infrastructure projects across Ontario, which are not limited to Ontario Government buildings.

In sum, after a five month delay, the response we have received is substantially ineffective at addressing the serious concerns we have raised. Ontario has now evidently lost the tremendous opportunity to use the recent, massive public stimulus spending to stimulate more accessibility activity, and to prevent its being used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. That new accessibility initiative could have been achieved at no added cost to the taxpayer. Every month that Ontario continues to delay deploying our proposed strategy means more irretrievably lost opportunities to prevent the creation and perpetuation of barriers against persons with disabilities. That is not leadership by example.

We ask to meet with you to discuss this as soon as possible. We ask that you intervene to kick-start meaningful action on the proposal that we tabled with the Government five months ago. We would welcome the opportunity to do what we can to assist with this.

We look forward to hearing back from you at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O.Ont, Chair AODA Alliance

cc: Kerry Pond, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessible Public Service, Ministry of Government Services, via fax: (416) 326-8461, via email: kerry.pond@ontario.ca

Mary Shenstone, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Real Estate Asset Management, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, via fax: (416) 325-4920, via email: mary.shenstone@ontario.ca

Doug DeRabbie, Director, Office Of The President And Chief Executive Officer, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, via fax: (416) 325-4646, via email: doug.derabbie@infrastructureontario.ca

Bill Ralph, Senior Vice-President & Chief Financial Officer, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, via fax: (416) 325-4646, via email: bill.ralph@infrastructureontario.ca

Heather Elston, Accessibility Planner, Ontario Realty Corporation, via fax (416) 212-1121, via email heather.elston@ontariorealty.ca

Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister, Community & Social Services, via fax (416) 325-3347, via email madeleine.meilleur@ontario.ca

Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, via fax (416) 325-5240, via email marg.rappolt@ontario.ca

Hon. Dwight Duncan, Minister, Finance, via fax (416) 325-0374, via email dduncan.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Shelly Jamieson, Secretary of Cabinet, via fax (416) 314-8980, via email shelly.jamieson@ontario.ca

Hon. Dalton McGuinty, Premier, via fax 416-325-9895, via email dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Hon. Gerry Phillips, Minister, Energy & Infrastructure, via fax (416) 327-6754, email gphillips.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Saäd Rafi, Deputy Minister, Energy & Infrastructure, fax (416) 327-6755, email saäd.rafi@ontario.ca

Hon. Harinder Takhar, Minister, Government Services, via fax (416) 327-3790, via email htakhar.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Ron McKerlie, Deputy Minister, Government Services, via fax (416) 325-1612, via email ron.mckerlie@ontario.ca

Bill Hughes, Assistant Deputy Minister, Infrastructure Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure, via fax (416) 325-8851, via email Bill.Hughes@ontario.ca

Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate, via fax (416) 325-9620, via email Ellen.Waxman@ontario.ca