Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA
PLEASE ENDORSE THE AODA ALLIANCE'S BRIEF ON THE INITIAL PROPOSED INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD
January 22, 2009
After soliciting input from the broad disability community, the AODA Alliance has finalised its brief to the Ontario government on the initial proposed information and communication accessibility standard. This brief has been submitted to the Ontario government. See a copy of this brief below. This brief is substantially the same as the draft which we circulated in December, 2008 for public comment.
All members of the public have until February 6, 2009 to give their own feedback to the Ontario government on the proposed information and communication standard. We encourage you to:
* Email, write to or phone the Ontario government today, to give your feedback on the proposed information and communication accessibility standard.
* Tell the Ontario government whether you endorse the AODA Alliance's brief on the initial proposed information and communication standard. We are eager for as many as possible to endorse our brief.
* Encourage others to endorse our brief, and let the government know of this endorsement.
* Circulate this update widely to others.
Download an electronic copy (MS Word format) of the AODA Alliance's Brief on the Initial Proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard
Please let us know what steps you take. You can contact us at: email@example.com.
To send your feedback to the Ontario government, please use the following contact information:
Accessibility Directorate of Ontario
Outreach and Compliance Branch
Ministry of Community and Social Services
777 Bay Street, Suite 601
Toronto ON Canada
TTY: 416-326-0148 or 1-888-335-6611 (toll-free in Ontario)
* * * * *
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
BRIEF OF THE ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE TO THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT REGARDING THE INITIAL PROPOSED INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION ACCESSIBILITY STANDARD
Download an electronic copy (MS Word format) of the brief
JANUARY 22, 2009
The need for a strong, effective Information and Communication Accessibility Standard is immediate and pressing. Two examples illustrate this.
On December 4, 2008, the day after the International Day for Persons with Disabilities, the Ontario Government proudly unveiled its long-awaited Anti-Poverty Strategy, to much fanfare. Yet on that day, it was posted on the Government’s website only in PDF. This is a computer file format that is well-known and widely-documented to present accessibility problems for the adaptive technology used by many computer users with vision and learning disabilities.
Just days before, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Ontario’s flagship public agency for promoting equal rights for minorities like persons with disabilities, widely circulated via email its announcement/invitation to attend a John Humphrey Freedom Award, also in the problematic PDF format. Around the same time, it also circulated an invitation in GIF format, which is even more inaccessible, to a celebration of December 10, the International Day for Human Rights.
The cost to these government organizations of also providing these documents in a fully accessible HTML and/or txt or MS Word format would have been microscopic. Both organizations ought to have known for years that what they did was create an easily-avoided, entirely unnecessary barrier to equal access to information and communication for persons with various print disabilities.
These are powerful examples of things that happen all too frequently in the public and private sectors. Persons with disabilities in Ontario face too many barriers to access to information and communication when they try to fully enjoy the goods, services, facilities and employment opportunities that are offered to the public in Ontario. One point five million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.
On November 17, 2008, the Ontario Government made public an initial draft of a proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. This proposal was prepared under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 (AODA) by the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee that the Ontario Government appointed for that purpose. The Government has circulated this initial proposed accessibility standard for public input and comment. This brief presents the AODA Alliance’s feedback on that proposed accessibility standard.
2. WHO ARE WE?
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance welcomes this opportunity to give input into the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (ICAS). The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan coalition of individuals and organizations. Its mission is:
"To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act."
To learn about us, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org.
Our coalition is the successor to the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated for over ten years for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committee’s work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee's broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committee's history, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net
3. THE PROPOSED ICAS - AN IMPORTANT STEP FORWARD
We commend the Ministry of Community and Social Services for choosing Information and Communications as a topic for an accessibility standard. This is a pervasive and important issue in the lives of persons with mental, physical and sensory disabilities.
We commend the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for its hard work on this initial, proposed ICAS. This proposal is a more serious effort at addressing the accessibility barriers facing persons with disabilities than is the current Customer Service Accessibility Standard, or the initial proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard.
We also commend this Standards Development Committee for including in its proposed Standard a series of comments on what was intended, on areas of divided opinion among members of the Standards Development Committee, and on areas where public feedback is sought. We recommend that other Standards Development Committees do the same.
This is a new area for legislation in Canada. It is a rapidly changing area. It covers a wide range of activity. It addresses a range of accessibility needs. For these reasons, we want to recognize the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee’s effort.
We offer several suggested improvements to build on that effort. The proposed ICAS helps all at arriving at a good end-product. This work to date by this Standards Development Committee shows the potential for the Standards Development Committee process.
4. SUMMARY OF OUR POSITION
In this brief, we offer important recommendations about the design and content of the ICAS as a whole. We do not exhaustively address all the specific accessibility needs of the diverse range of physical, sensory or mental disabilities. We encourage the information and communication Standards Development Committee to consult directly with the community disability organizations that are specialists in each disability, to find out more about each of their specific needs. We use examples in this brief not to emphasize any specific disability, nor to cover them all, but as helpful illustrations. Just because we don’t mention a specific need of a specific disability, or propose an amendment to address it, it should not be thought that we oppose the disability-specific suggestions that the Government will receive from various individuals and organizations within the disability community.
We set out important principles that the standard should incorporate and fulfil. It is not possible for us to provide specific wording for amending the ICAS before these principles are agreed upon and adopted by the Standards Development Committee. In identifying these principles, we note that parts of them are commendably reflected in the initial proposed ICAS.
The creation of a strong and effective ICAS should not be exceptionally difficult. Most accommodations in this area cost little. Those costs keep dropping. Providing accessible information and communication also creates tremendous economic opportunities in Ontario, and benefits everyone.
We propose that a strong, effective ICAS would incorporate these principles:
1. ICAS MUST AT LEAST CLEARLY MEET HUMAN RIGHTS CODE AND CHARTER OF RIGHTS REQUIREMENTS.
2. ICAS MUST ENSURE FULLY ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION FOR GOODS, SERVICES AND FACILITIES BY 2025.
3. PRIME FOCUS MUST BE ON PREVENTING THE CREATION OF NEW BARRIERS IN THE FUTURE.
4. ICAS SHOULD INDICATE WHAT INFORMATION/COMMUNICATION MUST BE IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE IN ACCESSIBLE FORMAT, AND WHICH DOCUMENTS NEED ONLY BE ACCESSIBLE ON REQUEST.
5. ORGANIZATIONS NOW HAVE A LEGAL DUTY TO SPEND MONEY ON ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION.
6. ICAS SHOULD ACCOMMODATE RAPIDLY-CHANGING TECHNOLOGY.
7. COST OF PROVIDING ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION TO PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IS CONTINUALLY DROPPING.
8. ICAS MUST INCLUDE STRONG ADDED REQUIREMENTS FOR UNIVERSAL DESIGN IN INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION FOR THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT AND OTHER VERY LARGE PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS.
9. PRIORITY EMPHASIS MUST BE PLACED ON PROVIDING EARLIER READILY-ACHIEVABLE ACCESS TO INFORMATION/COMMUNICATION THAT IS MOST CRITICAL FOR FULL PARTICIPATION IN EMPLOYMENT, GOODS, SERVICES, OR FACILITIES.
10. IT’S ALL ABOUT TIME.
11. ICAS MUST BE WRITTEN TO BE EFFECTIVELY ENFORCEABLE.
Drawing on these principles, our specific feedback on the proposed ICAS includes:
1. THE NEED FOR MORE CLARITY.
2. THE NEED TO RE-DEFINE CLASSES OF ORGANIZATIONS INCLUDING “SMALL BUSINESS.”
3. THE NEED TO SET MORE SPECIFIC TIME LINES FOR BARRIER REMOVAL AND PREVENTION.
4. THE NEED TO CLARIFY SCOPE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION COVERED BY THE ICAS.
5. ICAS MUST ADDRESS MANUFACTURE FOR SALE OF CONSUMER ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY.
6. FEDERAL JURISDICTION IS NOT A BARRIER TO REGULATING SOME TV AND ATM’S.
7. REFINEMENT TO ICAS IS NEEDED REGARDING PROVISION OF INDIVIDUAL ACCOMMODATION UNDER THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS CODE.
8. REFINEMENTS ARE NEEDED REGARDING POLICIES ON ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION.
9. REFINEMENTS ARE NEEDED REGARDING ACCESSIBILITY OF CONTENT AND USER INTERFACES OF ORGANIZATION’S IT INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS.
10. DOUBTFUL WHETHER THE ICAS NEEDS TO ADDRESS BUSINESS ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS SEPARATELY.
11. REFINEMENTS ARE NEEDED REGARDING ACCESSIBLE FORMATS AND METHODS.
12. REINFORCING IMPORTANCE OF ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION IN THE EDUCATION CONTEXT.
13. THERE IS A PRESSING NEED TO ADDRESS EQUAL ACCESS TO THE SERVICES OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES.
14. ACKNOWLEDGING IMPORTANCE OF INCREASED ACTION BY PROFESSIONAL, REGULATORY AND LICENSING BODIES.
15. THERE IS A PRESSING NEED FOR NEW ACTION TO ENSURE ACCESSIBLE PROVINCIAL AND MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS.
16. REFINEMENTS ARE NEEDED REGARDING THE ICAS’S "APPENDIX 1 - TECHNICAL STANDARDS."
17. STRONG NEW REQUIREMENTS ARE NEEDED FOR THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT AND LARGE PUBLIC SECTOR ORGANIZATIONS.
We also point out serious concerns with the study which the Ontario Government hired KPMG to undertake, on the costs that the ICAS will cause. We believe that study overstates these costs. We also have serious concerns about the viability of such cost studies, as this one demonstrates.
B. GENERAL PRINCIPLES
These fundamental principles should form the foundation of a strong, effective ICAS:
1. ICAS MUST AT LEAST CLEARLY MEET HUMAN RIGHTS CODE AND CHARTER OF RIGHTS REQUIREMENTS.
This accessibility standard should at a minimum fulfil the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights. To that end, it should be designed to ensure that organizations provide equal access to information and communication that are necessary for people with disabilities, to fully and equally enjoy and benefit from the services, facilities, goods and employment that the organization offers.
The Supreme Court of Canada recognized in Eldridge v. B.C. ( S.C.J. No. 86) that the equal enjoyment of a service (such as health care) requires effective accommodation of the communication needs of people with disabilities (e.g. patients who are deaf) by providing publicly-funded Sign Language interpreters, so that they can effectively communicate in situations where effective communication is necessary, to receiving the service on a footing of equality. This doesn’t mean that every last piece of information within an organization must be translated into an accessible format or medium, such as Braille. This duty applies to access to the specific information and communication that is needed for effective delivery of the service, facility, goods or employment to a person with a disability. It would be wonderful if all information and communication in Ontario were always fully and instantly accessible to people with disabilities. That broad undertaking is more than the AODA requires. Eldridge applies where effective communication is needed to provide the service on a footing of equality, and where accommodation is needed to allow the person with a disability to take part in this effective communication.
2. ICAS MUST ENSURE FULLY ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION FOR GOODS, SERVICES AND FACILITIES BY 2025.
By 2025, the ICAS must achieve the result of full access to information and communication needed to fully and equally enjoy goods, services, facilities and employment in Ontario. It is not sufficient for the proposed ICAS to merely “improve accessibility.” This highly diluted goal is what the Ministry’s ICAS feedback form asks of those giving input on the proposed ICAS. That wrongly tries to lower the public’s expectations well below what the AODA requires. The AODA requires that goods, services, facilities and employment in Ontario become fully accessible for persons with disabilities by 2025.
3. PRIME FOCUS ON PREVENTING THE CREATION OF NEW BARRIERS IN THE FUTURE
While the ICAS must assist in the elimination of existing barriers, it should focus on preventing new barriers to access to information and communication in the future. The prime focus is on making sure that in the future, persons with disabilities will have effective, equal access to the information and communication they need, to fully benefit from services, facilities and employment offered in Ontario.
It is widely recognized that preventing new barriers costs little or nothing. It is substantially easier to prevent future barriers than to remove many existing barriers. It is thus fair to expect much quicker progress in the area of barrier prevention of information and communication. Barrier prevention has the enormous benefit of saving future costs. If an organization now puts in place effective measures to ensure accessible future information and communication, it can avoid the greater added costs of having to retrofit later.
Moreover, measures that make information and communication accessible for persons with disabilities often also benefit persons without disabilities. Announcing each bus stop on a city bus is essential for blind passengers. It also helps sighted passengers who cannot see outside the bus due to crowding, poor weather or foggy windows. Large print is essential for persons with low vision. It is a welcome aid for those with better eyesight, but who don’t want to strain their eyes.
4. ICAS SHOULD INDICATE WHAT INFORMATION/COMMUNICATION MUST BE IMMEDIATELY AVAILABLE IN ACCESSIBLE FORMAT, AND WHICH DOCUMENTS NEED ONLY BE ACCESSIBLE ON REQUEST.
Where people with disabilities are entitled to access to certain information in a form they can use, this need not always be instantaneous. In some cases, it should be. In others, access needs to be provided reasonably promptly.
For example, people who cannot read printed material due to a visual or learning disability are entitled to access to public government documents in a format they can read, such as in Braille, in large print, or in an accessible electronic format. To implement this, the government need not transcribe into Braille and keep in stock every one of the thousands of forms, brochures, information packages, statutes, regulations, manuals, news releases, and other like public documents. Some, perhaps many, may never be requested in an accessible format.
The Government should have a limited subset of these on hand and ready for instant provision, such as:
a) those with immediate importance to the individual (like an application for social assistance);
b) those most commonly distributed to the public;
c) those important documents, needed immediately for which there is no time for government to generate an accessible copy, such as a voter’s request for an accessible ballot on Election Day at their polling station.
(This list is not meant to be exhaustive.)
For much other public information that must be available in an accessible form to enjoy goods, services, facilities and employment in Ontario, it would often be sufficient for that information to be capable of ready production and provision in an accessible format on request. That in turn requires several simple, practical steps, e.g.:
a) The organization needs to make it known to customers or employees with disabilities that they can request this information/communication in an accessible format. The organization should have a straightforward way to make this request (preferably one-stop shopping).
b) Most documents are now prepared on a computer, even if they end up in hard copy. The organization should try, wherever feasible, to keep electronic versions of such information in an electronic format that is accessible to persons with disabilities (e.g. txt, MS Word or HTML, not PDF). This can then easily be provided via email, or translated into Braille on request. Hard drive storage space is extremely inexpensive. It rapidly grows even more inexpensive. Enormous hard drives keep coming on the market at low, plummeting prices.
c) Many, if not most offices and stores have computers with printers. Any organization, large or small, with a computer and a printer, now has the capacity to easily and quickly produce large-print materials if needed, without having to acquire any specialized skill or new software. Typically, this requires no specialized disability expertise, and little if any additional training. The ICAS could readily identify the recommended font size, or at least a hierarchy of recommended font sizes.
d) Very large organizations such as the Ontario Government or large municipalities can easily, and should promptly develop their own in-house centralized capacity to produce such alternative formats as Braille. This is now quite inexpensive. Braille printers and supporting software have been on the market for decades. They are much cheaper, easier to use and faster than ever. One need not know any Braille to be able to convert a print document that includes standard text layout into a Braille document in minutes, at minimal cost.
e) Smaller organizations which may have less frequent call for Braille transcription should learn where the firms are, to send a document to get it transcribed into Braille. This takes mere moments. If this information is not now on the Ontario Government’s websites, it should post that information for easy access. The ICAS will generate an increase in the demand for this service. The already-low cost of getting Braille transcription from these existing sources, or from new transcription businesses that may open up should drop even more. Its availability should be even quicker.
f) Another alternative format that can be very easy to produce is recorded, spoken-word audio recording. Anyone can buy a digital voice recorder at a nominal price, record text information by reading it aloud, and burn it onto a CD as needed, using the software and hardware that is standard on any current desktop or laptop computer. In fact, computers now come equipped with the software for this without even needing to buy a digital voice recorder. Similarly, inexpensive software can generate a spoken word audio recording of any text in a computer document, using a text-to-speech program that generates a near-human computer voice.
g) Certain categories of requests should be addressable via a formal request system that a larger organization puts in place and publicizes. For example a large business or government agency that invoices individuals on a regular or periodic basis should make these bills available in alternative format on request. Some banks and credit card companies make this service available now. Municipal property tax bills, major store bills, all credit cards, and the like should be similarly addressed.
Low-cost methods of publicizing these services to customers with disabilities could include periodic announcements on a store’s public address system, and periodic announcements on a store's or credit card company’s telephone audio track that plays when callers are waiting interminably on Hold.
The duty to provide these alternate formats need not be determined solely on the basis of the organization’s size. There are compelling examples of what one could reasonably expect from a smaller organization, for immediate access to a simple but important document in an accessible format. For example, in the twenty-first century it is reasonable to expect that a restaurant (including a sole proprietorship) should have a Braille menu available on request, where that restaurant is located in a major urban or suburban area, or a major tourist zone. A Braille menu is very inexpensive to obtain. It only costs a few dollars, especially if the original print menu is available in electronic format that can be sent via email to a Braille transcription service. A restaurant only needs to have one or two Braille copies on hand. They needn’t cover the place’s constantly-changing unique daily specials. A number of restaurants in Canada and the US, albeit a minority, have made Braille menus available for years, and in some cases, for decades. It is even easier to produce large-print menus many customers will undoubtedly appreciate, whether or not they have vision loss.
We understand that in at least some stores in a prominent U.S. drug store chain, announcements are periodically made on their public address system that customers can request a large print copy of the directions that come with their prescription drugs. This is a simple accommodation with minuscule cost. It is especially sensible, given the disproportionate number of seniors who use prescription drugs, and the common advent of reduced vision with advancing age.
In contrast, we don’t see it as appropriate at this point to require all retail stores to retrofit their cash registers to produce Braille cash receipts. It would be wise, however, to provide that as new cash registers are acquired after a suitable deadline in the future, they be equipped to produce large print receipts on request, and possibly have an option for spoken-word audio output on request. With sufficient advance notice to the industry, cash register manufacturers can design such features into their products, if they are not already doing so. Again, this is reasonable in light of the fact that technology is continually evolving, as any consumer can attest from visiting major stores. As well, the incorporation of speech output technology is increasingly commonplace, in GPS systems, cars, and other consumer products. Its incorporation into cash registers over the long run shouldn’t impose any major cost. All customers will likely appreciate this option.
The time lines for requiring the updating of cash registers and like technology can be determined with:
a) input from the retail industry on how often they turn over new cash register equipment. If this normally is done every five years, then this would be a reasonable time line, with some extra time added if needed; and
b) the time it would take the manufacturers of cash registers to incorporate this into new products. It is not reasonable to demand of retailers that they use technology that isn’t available for them to install.
It could simply be stated in the ICAS that as new cash registers are acquired, and in any event, within "x" years, this new technology should be in place.
The standard could also provide that where an accessible cash register receipt cannot be produced, the organization shall make an employee available to read aloud the cash receipt. This is a basic courtesy which would impose at most only a microscopic cost burden on the organization.
5. ORGANIZATIONS NOW HAVE A LEGAL DUTY TO SPEND MONEY ON ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION.
It should not be assumed that any expense associated with complying with the ICAS, is a “new cost burden” on business or government. It should not be assumed that the disability community or Government must justify imposing this as a “new” cost burden and/or a new regulatory imposition on organizations. As explained earlier, the ICAS will deal predominantly with preventing new barriers, which most often is a low-cost activity. Beyond this, it is important that the ICAS recognize and be designed on the fundamental foundation that organizations that provide goods, services, facilities and/or employment in Ontario now already have a quasi-constitutional legal duty under human rights legislation (and in the case of public sector organizations, under the Charter of Rights) to spend money on providing accessible information and communication, up to the point of undue hardship, where access to this information and communication is necessary to let persons with disabilities fully enjoy these goods, services, facilities and/or employment. They have had this duty for over twenty-five years.
Unfortunately, during the Government’s 2007 public consultations on the proposed transportation accessibility standard we learned that too many public transportation providers seemed to act on the incorrect belief that any costs required for removing and preventing disability barriers under a Transportation Accessibility Standard are “new costs.” In truth, these are costs that the industry has been obliged to incur since 1982 under the Ontario Human Rights Code.
6. ICAS SHOULD ACCOMMODATE RAPIDLY-CHANGING TECHNOLOGY
Technology will play an important role in implementing the ICAS. Information technology is very rapidly changing and improving, including both mainstream technology and adaptive technology for persons with disabilities. The information technology that will be used five years from now has not yet been purchased. It has not even been invented or designed.
As we have stated, it is vitally important that the ICAS be strong, effective and enforceable. At the same time, it should not lock organizations into technology that may be out of date within the next five years.
To this end, it is best if the ICAS focuses on and specifies in clear terms the end results that persons with disabilities should be able to get from an organization vis-à-vis information and communication, and not on the measures by which the organization will decide to use to meet these needs. For example, a person with a print disability should be able to get a document to which he or she is entitled in Braille, large print, audio, or accessible e-text format. The standard should prescribe this, and should prescribe the time within which the person should be entitled to get this. However, it should not prescribe the means by which the organization will produce and deliver this. That is for the organization to work out.
Similarly, an organization that chooses to make its services accessible to the public via an electronic kiosk system should be required to ensure that the kiosk is usable by people with print, hearing, motor, learning and other relevant disabilities, to the extent technically feasible. The user's ability to use it should be prescribed. However, the kiosk’s internal technology for delivering this need not be prescribed, since this is going to change over time.
That is not to say the ICAS should offer no technical standards. Rather, where the ICAS provides for this kind of internal technical standards, it should allow an organization to deliver the end result that the ICAS demands for persons with disabilities, either using those technical means or their functional equivalent.
We emphasize that the “end result” that the standard should mandate must be expressed in specific, not vague terms. It is of little or no help for a standard to just say that persons with disabilities must be assured equal access.
7. COST OF PROVIDING ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION TO PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES CONTINUALLY DROPPING.
It is similarly important to design the ICAS on the basis that the cost of delivering these accommodations has been constantly and substantially dropping. For example, the earliest computerized “reading machines” that can read printed materials aloud to a person with a print disability cost $US50,000 in 1981 (which would have been even higher if translated into 2008 dollars). Now, the same technology is available for one fiftieth of that, if not less. Voice dictation software for a person who cannot operate a computer keyboard cost some $20,000 in the early 1990’s. Now, it comes incorporated for free in Windows Vista and on many cell phones.
Moreover, even where there is a cost to providing accessible information, in many cases this cost should reduce even further as the ICAS leads more organizations to provide these accommodations.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(4) The Government of Ontario shall inform its employees of the rights and obligations of the Government and its employees under this section….
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.
9. PRIORITY ON PROVIDING EARLIER READILY-ACHIEVABLE ACCESS TO INFORMATION/COMMUNICATION THAT IS MOST CRITICAL FOR FULL PARTICIPATION IN EMPLOYMENT, GOODS, SERVICES, OR FACILITIES.
Where any cost or effort is to be required in this area, it is desirable for it to be first targeted at activities that will yield the quickest and best increase in accessibility for the most persons with disabilities. However, there will also be times where the needs of the few outweigh the needs of the many, e.g. when the information needed may focus on a very small number of persons, but where it is critically important information. A deaf person who must appear in court may be just one single person, but his or her ability to effectively communicate with the Court is fundamentally important, and must be a priority.
The ICAS should use a “first things first” principle. For any organization, initial priority should focus on immediate steps that can maximize readily-achievable access to key information and communication that is indispensable or pivotal for the enjoyment by persons with disabilities of the organization’s goods, services, facilities or employment opportunities. For example:
a) for a doctor, the information and communication that is most essential concerns finding out what the presenting health problem is, collecting symptoms, conducting tests, advising of the diagnosis, and instructing on steps to follow-up or for treatment.
b) For a university student, the most critical information and communication to which access is most quickly needed includes such things as the course requirements to get a degree, the courses available and their contents, and once in a course, access to the reading materials and spoken word in the classroom used for that specific course.
10. IT’S ALL ABOUT TIME.
The issue of providing accessible information and communication for persons with disabilities is, at bottom, all about time. If an organization has enough lead time, or prepares well enough in advance, there is virtually no piece of important information that cannot be communicated to a person with a disability (who has information and communication needs) in a format he or she can understand.
11. ICAS MUST BE WRITTEN TO BE EFFECTIVELY ENFORCEABLE.
The ICAS should be written in terms that are effectively enforceable. One of the McGuinty Government’s key promises regarding the AODA, dating back to the resolution that the Legislature passed unanimously on October 29, 1998 regarding the contents of the promised disability accessibility legislation, is that it be effectively enforceable. In Premier McGuinty’s April 7, 2003 election pledge to Ontarians with disabilities regarding the AODA, set out in a letter to David Lepofsky, then Chair of the AODA Alliance’s predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, Premier McGuinty promised:
“The legislation and regulations will include timelines, standards and a mechanism for effective enforcement, and, at a minimum, will reflect the substance of amendments to the Conservative bill offered by the Liberal party in the fall of 2001.”
Enforcement officials, the organizations that must comply and customers and employees with disabilities should all be able to reasonably assess if the organization is in compliance with or in breach of the standard. Among other things, this requires the ICAS to be written in clear language, that doesn’t require an organization to hire a lawyer and/or IT consultant to understand.
A clear example of a badly-written standard that presents serious enforcement difficulties is the customer Service Accessibility Standard, enacted under the AODA. The standard should not just speak about taking “reasonable steps” or “take into consideration.”
C. SPECIFIC FEEDBACK ON PROPOSED ICAS
We propose that the ICAS should be refined so that it clearly implements all the foregoing principles. In addition, we comment on some of the ICAS’s features, measuring them against the fundamental principles described above.
1. NEED FOR MORE CLARITY
We are very concerned about the proposed ICAS’s wording. It is too often complex, confusing and at times, impenetrable. If we have difficulty understanding its contents, we fear that many others less familiar with disability accessibility issues will have the same problem. We realize that any kind of law must use some technical language. However, there is no need for an accessibility standard under the AODA to be so complex in its wording that an individual or organization will need to hire a lawyer to figure out what it means. The ICAS needs itself, as much as possible, to use the plain language that it calls on public and private sector organizations to use. Within days of the initial proposed ICAS’s public release, we alerted the Minister of Community and Social Services about this concern. We asked for a detailed, plain-language guide to the proposed ICAS to be made available to the public, as soon as possible. We and others are limited in how much input we can give before that clarification is provided. Organizations are far likelier to obey this standard if they can read it and understand it without needing a lawyer or information technology expert to explain it to them. Of course, we recognize that the Ministry will produce guides to assist, once the standard is finalized. However, the standard itself should be much clearer.
We know that parts of the ICAS, such as the appendix, will speak mainly to IT experts. That will need to use some technical language. However, the parts of the ICAS which an organization can fulfil without needing an IT expert, should speak in language that non-IT experts can readily understand.
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 which 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 if 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.
3. NEED TO SET MORE SPECIFIC TIME LINES FOR BARRIER REMOVAL AND PREVENTION
It is important that the proposed ICAS sets time lines for removal and prevention of certain barriers in the area of access to information and communication. However, we are concerned that some of the time lines are too lengthy.
For the most part, the proposed ICAS doesn’t set barrier-by-barrier or even category-by-category time lines. Instead, for the most part, it sets a separate single deadline for all action to be completed, by each of the three categories of organizations that this proposed standard addresses.
We recommend that a more refined series of time lines be set. The ICAS should require readily-achievable measures to be completed by a more immediate deadline. Measures requiring more intensive or extensive activities should have longer time lines. For example, there is no reason why large organizations such as the Ontario Government, municipal governments, universities and schools, within one year of the ICAS’s enactment (if not sooner), cannot cease distributing mass announcements to their employees or the public using PDF format, unless also accompanied by a fully accessible format (e.g. MS Word, TXT or HTML). Doing this requires no new hardware or software, and requires no retrofit of existing documents.
Even if longer time lines are given to small business (which we entirely support), there are a limited number of measures that small businesses can be asked to implement more promptly. Even if their full compliance were to be four years from now, a restaurant should be able to procure a Braille or large-type menu within two years, if not much, much sooner.
We recognize that there should not be an unduly complicated system of deadlines. Organizations need to be able to tell readily what they must do, and by when. On the other hand, persons with disabilities shouldn’t have to wait until 2013, fully eight years after the AODA’s enactment and only twelve years before Ontario must be fully accessible, before anything needs to be demonstrably completed by an entire category of organizations, referred to generically as small business. That time line is so far out, that it will not enable the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee to review its effectiveness in operation when that Standards Development Committee undertakes its mandatory five-year review of the ICAS.
We do not here offer our own chart of proposed time lines. We believe that it is best if those who have to comply with this standard first suggest reasonable estimates to the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee, for various major activities that the ICAS will cover. After that, the Standards Development Committee can develop more detailed proposals to recommend to the minister, on which the public can be consulted before the ICAS is finalized.
Some time lines may be tied to an event, rather than a specific date, e.g. when an organization acquires a new major system such as a new series of cash registers, or a new major information technology system for their office. That event could trigger the start of a time line, keyed to that transition, e.g. within three years of acquiring a new major IT system, "x" must occur. There should also be an outside time line in such cases, e.g. and in any event, no longer than eight years after the enactment of this standard.
In some cases, changes can be gradual. For example, for a major trust company, the ICAS could say that any new ATM must have certain accessibility features (e.g. sufficiently low height for wheelchair users, and an option for audio output for those who cannot read the screen). This ATM design is already available. It is in use in some locations. There need be no lag time before new ones can be ordered. The standard could require that whenever a new ATM is installed, or an old one is replaced or substantially updated, this new design will be incorporated. The standard could also state that by a designated end date (on which the industry might be consulted in advance by the Standards Development Committee), all ATMs must be compliant. That time line should take into account the amount of time it would take the trust company sector to achieve this, allowing some margin for unforeseen eventualities.
4. NEED TO CLARIFY SCOPE OF INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION COVERED BY THE ICAS.
The ICAS needs a clearer, easy-to-understand delineation of the information and communication that it covers. We don’t want an organization wrongly thinking it must transcribe into Braille, or reproduce in large print every last document it has in its files. Whether or not such fears on what the ICAS requires are well-founded, it is our experience, advocating for the AODA, that such fears can at times arise. They need to be alleviated.
5. ICAS MUST ADDRESS MANUFACTURE FOR SALE OF CONSUMER ELECTRONICS AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY.
A troubling area in which new barriers keep arising is in the design of consumer electronics and information technology, e.g. computer software. Even though it has become easier and cheaper than ever to incorporate accessibility features into these products by employing principles of universal design, this too infrequently occurs.
Universal design improves the usefulness of products for everyone, not just for persons with disabilities. A telephone with “call display” on a tiny screen presents an information barrier to people with print disabilities (e.g. those with vision loss or dyslexia). A talking feature that electronically reads out the number of an incoming call via a synthetic voice overcomes this barrier for them. It also provides a major convenience for sighted customers who don’t want to have to drop what they are doing, run across the room, and squint at a tiny screen to see who is calling. One forward-thinking manufacturer, Panasonic, has incorporated this universal design feature in some of its phones. No doubt this only adds pennies to their cost.
The manufacture of technology that ensures that information is accessible to consumers with disabilities falls within the mandate of the ICAS. In its commentaries to the proposed ICAS, the Standards Development Committee stated:
“Committee members noted their intent not to develop any obligations for any Ontario-based manufacturers or developers of hardware or software that would create a competitive disadvantage.”
We are not seeking to create some competitive disadvantage for Ontario manufactures. This “competitive disadvantage” concern does not justify the ICAS failing to effectively address this important area. This is because:
a) Section 1 of the Ontario Human Rights Code guarantees the right to equal treatment with respect to the enjoyment of goods, not just facilities and services. The AODA reaffirms this by committing to fully accessible “goods” by 2025. To eliminate a class of important goods from a standard such as ICAS is to abdicate a key obligation, under both the Human Rights Code and the AODA. This is especially so where readily-achievable improvements can be incorporated into future generations of products, now being re-vamped.
b) If Ontario produces more disability-accessible products, it gives itself a huge competitive advantage. This will give Ontario manufacturers preferred access to purchasers in the United States which must comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other legislation mandating accessible products. Accessibility legislation is spreading to an increasing number of countries around the globe.
c) If this speculative “competitive disadvantage” concern were taken to its logical extreme, Ontario would never enact any accessibility standards under the AODA, for fear that this would scare business off.
d) This involves no major burden in the area of IT hardware, software and consumer electronics made in Ontario. The products in these classes that will be sold in Ontario in 2015 haven’t been constructed or even designed yet. Legislation in the U.S. increases the pressure for such to be put on the market. That increases the market for such products. Moreover, unlike other product areas, IT products, including hardware and software, are rapidly changing. Existing products have a market lifespan in months, not years or decades. The producers of IT hardware and software are amply able to incorporate disability accessibility into their new products, to be sold in Ontario in the next couple of years, just as they have massively expanded the capability of their products in other context.
We recommend that the ICAS give enough lead time to ensure that the information and communication features of these products include some basic, readily achievable accessibility features.
6. FEDERAL JURISDICTION NOT A BARRIER TO REGULATING SOME TVs AND ATMs.
The commentary accompanying the ICAS states:
“Some key areas of information and communications are not within Ontario’s jurisdiction to regulate (e.g. telecommunications including broadcasting and federally-regulated bank Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs)).”
While this is true, it does not justify the total omission from the ICAS of any measures addressing information and communication barriers that may nevertheless be within Ontario jurisdiction. For example, broadcasting is an exclusive federal jurisdiction. However, the Ontario Government owns and operates TV Ontario and its French counterpart, TFO. The information communication standard could establish minimum accessibility requirements for its programming.
Banks are under federal jurisdiction. However many if not most (if not all) trust companies are under provincial jurisdiction. Accessible bank machines for trust companies in Ontario could and should be mandated under the ICAS.
7. REFINEMENT TO ICAS NEEDED RE PROVISION OF INDIVIDUAL ACCOMMODATION UNDER THE ONTARIO HUMAN RIGHTS CODE.
Section 2.0 of the ICAS addresses what organizations should do when a person seeks an individual accommodation, to get access to information or communication. This is helpful. We recommend that where section 2.1(c) refers to giving persons with disabilities “same availability in terms of time and place,” this should say “equal,” or “at least the same.” Merely providing identical treatment, in some cases, can create unintended barriers to access. For example, for a person with slow mobility or speech, just giving them the same time might impede equal access.
8. REFINEMENTS NEEDED RE POLICIES ON ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION.
Section 2.2 of the ICAS provides for organizations making a policy on providing accessible information and communication. This can be very helpful. It should not be a bureaucratic or burdensome process. We recommend:
a) It is good that the ICAS proposes that a policy on “plain language” be included. It would be sufficient if it addresses the use of plain language where feasible. We recognize that some areas of business activity are very technical and complex. Plain language policies needn’t prevent this.
b) The policy should include reasonable, cost-effective steps to let employees or customers with disabilities know about the availability of this policy. For example, as referred to earlier, if a store has a public address system and/or phone-in voice mail or phone-answering system, and if it could use this to make periodic announcements to customers, it is not excessively burdensome to include a provision for periodic public announcements on how to get accessible information and communication. Similarly, posting such a policy for those who can read print, and on websites, would assist. This, in any event, is good business practice.
c) Where section 2.3 speaks about training employees in accessible information and communications, this should be clarified to focus especially on those specific employees who will require this knowledge, e.g. in a large organization, human resources staff, those who regularly deal directly with the broad public, and those who acquire and manage major information technology and communication systems for the organization.
It is not necessary to train every last employee on all these issues. The most effective use of training resources is to concentrate them on the employees who are most likely to deal extensively with the public, and those who make major decisions in the organization on the organization’s information and communication policies and technology. A discrete range of training could easily be provided to a larger pool of employees. Again, ample anecdotal experience with the Ontario Public Service shows that many, if not most are oblivious to the barriers created by pervasive use of PDF formats.
This need not be a burdensome training obligation. If the Ministry were to develop easy-to-use training materials that would be available free to the public, organizations could choose to use those materials. That would reduce the time and cost needed to get this training up and running, and avoid re-inventing the wheel. We urge the Ministry to commit to do so.
d) Where a complaints/feedback process is to be established, there should be the option for this to be a single system for all disability access issues, rather than an organization having to set up separate ones for accessible information/communications, for customer service complaints or other issues.
e) For very large organizations, the policy should include the designation of one senior manager in the organization as having lead responsibility for implementing this standard. This can be an existing employee. We are not suggesting that the ICAS require an organization to hire an additional, new person for this function.
f) It is especially commendable that these proposed policies would include emergency management strategies for persons with disabilities. As part of this consultation, the Ministry should be able to provide the public with templates of those which the Ontario Government is supposed to have developed. We understand that some years ago, a number of Ontario Government ministries committed in their annual accessibility plans, published under the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001, to develop such emergency measures protocols. Assuming that the government kept these public commitments to do this, their public provision now would enable the Standards Development Committee and the public to flesh out any specifics that might be added to the ICAS.
g) The Standards Development Committee’s commentary states:
“Throughout this section, several organizations suggested that requirements include a “reasonable efforts” threshold, but this is not consistent with Ontario’s human rights regulatory framework which requires the accommodation of persons with disabilities to the point of undue hardship.”
We agree that a mere “reasonable efforts” standard is insufficient. It falls far below what the Human Rights Code requires. As noted earlier, it makes the provision difficult to enforce.
9. REFINEMENTS NEEDED REGARDING ACCESSIBILITY OF CONTENT AND USER INTERFACES OF ORGANIZATION’S IT INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION SYSTEMS.
Section 3 broadly seeks to ensure that IT (Information Technology) information and communication systems used by organizations that provide goods, services, facilities or employment in Ontario eventually have two important features: first, they must have an interface that can also be used by persons with disabilities. Second, the content that they make available should be capable of being readily provided in formats that are accessible to persons with disabilities.
We fully endorse those principles. The technology, expertise, and strategies broadly exist to readily achieve this in hardware and software right now. Despite this, there are three major problems that lead to ongoing accessibility problems:
a) Too many organizations, including too many of the IT experts they consult, don’t know enough about the need for this or how to do it.
b) Too many hardware and software products, including new ones on the market, contravene these principles, even though it would be easy to build accessibility features into those products and even though those accessibility features are often widely appealing to a wide spectrum of users, including those with no disability; and
c) even where organizations have hardware and software that could allow this to happen right now, at virtually no additional cost, too often they still opt to create accessibility barriers.
A prime example of this latter concern is the almost pervasive use of PDF documents on websites and within organizations, when other, more accessible formats are available (e.g. MS Word and/or HTML and/or .txt formats). This brief began with two inexcusable illustrations of this.
There is no pervasive justification in 2008 for organizations not getting proper IT advice on procurement of accessible products. Disability accessibility requirements in this context are not new, difficult to learn about or hard to integrate into work practices. Similarly, there is no good reason why organizations that have the hardware and software needed to provide a barrier-free information technology environment for employees and customers with disabilities, nevertheless don’t do so. There is no good reason why IT experts cannot be expected to have basic competence on disability IT accessibility needs. IT experts are always acclimating to new hardware and software and operating systems. They don’t work in a static world, limited to last decade’s computer technology.
We agree that organizations that provide goods, services, facilities or employment in Ontario should have a duty to acquire accessible IT systems, when they replace existing hardware and software. They should not have to throw out existing IT systems in which they have invested, and which they are now using. It should be up to the organization to decide when to replace their existing system, or to undertake a major overhaul of it. It is when that replacement or major overhaul occurs that the duty to acquire new accessible IT should be triggered.
We also believe that pending organizations’ acquisition of new IT systems, the ICAS should set out specific standards on what needs to be done, to fulfil the duty to provide accessible information and communication in the interim. We recommend that the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee identify some key areas where such interim action needs to take place.
Some of these will properly apply only to the Ontario Government and larger organizations. Others could properly apply to smaller organizations. These should operate on the principle that changes that can reasonably be made within the constraints of an existing IT system, and that require no new major system overhaul, should be implemented where possible.
For example, it is reasonable to expect on a “go forward” basis that any organization, large or small, that posts a new document on the internet in PDF format should also post it in HTML, txt or MS Word format. This requires neither new technology nor any major cost. This duty could go into effect within months of the new ICAS’s enactment.
The proposed ICAS reflects the spirit of this where it states:
“... accessible digital file formats must be used whenever an organization develops or delivers new content across or through existing IT-based systems...”
This language should be refined to make it clear that this pertains to situations where the information is either being made public (e.g. on a website) or communicated to a broad sweep of employees. If an employee without a disability is sharing a document exclusively with another employee without a disability, then it need not be in an accessible format. However, if all employees were equipped and acclimated to work in an accessible format generally, such refinements wouldn’t be needed.
The ICAS’s commentary asks “... whether organizations that are subject to the requirements in this section of the standard have the capacity to comply within the specified timelines.” If any organizations suggest that they cannot meet these time lines, it would be very important during this consultation process to find out from those organizations why not, what time lines they would require, and what they could accomplish within the time lines that the proposed ICAS sets out.
Where any such “retrofit” of existing systems is involved, we recommend that priority be given to those systems that reach the broadest population. Any organization that offers the public extensive opportunities to transact business over the internet should make a high priority the retrofitting of those parts of their websites needed to transact that business.
It is perhaps wisest to consider these IT systems broadly in terms of three categories of persons who are affected by any disability barriers:
a) the broad public as potential customers, if the IT system is available in person (via a kiosk or via a website);
b) all or a broad populace of the organizations’ employees (e.g. a network of computers using common software that all or many employees will all use, or communication via electronic files or email aimed at all or a broad cross-section of employees in the organization; and
c) the narrow group of employees at the organization that might make intensive use of aspects of the IT system that the two proceeding classes don’t, e.g. the organization’s IT specialists.
When finite resources are directed to expanding information and communication accessibility in the IT context, it is desirable for the standard to direct as much of those resources and that effort as possible towards the first two classes, and not the third, since that would benefit the largest cross-section of people.
As noted earlier, we recognize that the retrofit of every last pre-existing web-page on the internet can be unnecessarily burdensome, especially for web content that will be irrelevant to most after a short while. However, the prompt retrofit of parts of websites that are needed to enable persons with disabilities to transact business with the organization should get high priority. This is so, just as retrofit of a building’s front door and main space is far more important than making accessible the building’s remote, far-off corners that few, if any will ever use.
10. DOUBTFUL ICAS NEEDS TO SEPARATELY ADDRESS BUSINESS ENTERPRISE SYSTEMS
The proposed ICAS defines business enterprise systems as:
“Business enterprise systems refer to large and complex information technology applications capable of supporting fundamental (internal and/or external) business processes which are critical to the continued operation and growth of the organization.”
We do not fully understand this definition, or how it is different from the other IT systems discussed. This is one of the ICAS’s provisions that are difficult to read. We also don’t see why there is a need to set out different standards for these systems, as contrasted with other IT systems.
We fear that others will be similarly unable to fathom this part of the ICAS. We are concerned that it may present enforcement problems if organizations can be side-tracked into arguments whether a particular IT system is a business enterprise system, or is some other kind of system.
As stated earlier, the ICAS should require that persons with disabilities can receive information from an IT system, and can use the interface that enables them to communicate with the system when necessary, for equal enjoyment of, and participation in the goods, services, facilities and/or employment. What system the organization uses to achieve this is for the organization to decide.
It is desirable for new business enterprise systems to have accessible data formats and user interfaces on a “go forward” basis, when those new systems are acquired in the future. However, we don’t believe that an organization should have to invest substantial amounts in retrofitting an existing business enterprise system, if that system is used by very few employees, doesn’t interact with the public or most of the organization’s employees, and is slated for likely substantial overhaul or replacement in the next three to five years. We are flexible on the precise time lines applicable to this principle.
11. REFINEMENTS NEEDED REGARDING ACCESSIBLE FORMATS AND METHODS
Unless we are mistaken, section 5.3.1 of the ICAS appears to suggest that all printed information that is prepared for sighted persons must also be prepared for blind persons in Braille. In accordance with the principles set out above, if that is what is meant to be the case in this standard, we suggest that it need not go that far.
We share the core ideas set out in this section. However, this section may need some refinement to be sure that an organization has realistic expectations, and that it devotes its limited resources most efficiently to help maximize access to accessible information and communication that is needed to enable persons with disabilities to fully participate in the organization’s goods, services, facilities or employment. If a restaurant has a Braille menu but its prices go out of date due to modification to the print menu, then it may be sufficient for the waiter to verbally provide the customer with pricing information they may need on request.
In terms of accessible software, the ICAS states:
5.3.7 Software Application
Organizations shall, in accordance with Clause 5.2, provide an accessible software application when prepared information and communication is provided through a software application.
The goal here is commendable. It will require some meaningful specifics to enable organizations, enforcement officials and persons with disabilities to know what this requires.
Regarding alternatives to personal signatures, the proposed ICAS states:
"Organizations shall, in accordance with Clause 5.2, provide an opportunity to use a legal alternative to a personal signature when a personal signature is required."
The ICAS would be more helpful if it specified examples of acceptable alternatives to a personal signature, even if the list is not exhaustive.
The many technical requirements in section 5 will likely mean very little to most organizations. In accordance with the principles we outlined earlier, it may well be more effective to list the number of things that a customer or employee needs to be able to do, rather than specifying how it must be done. There may be situations where it is necessary to specify the “how” e.g. where there is only one feasible way to do it.
12. REINFORCING IMPORTANCE OF ACCESSIBLE INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION IN THE EDUCATION CONTEXT.
We heartily endorse the ICAS’s effort to provide for accessibility of curriculum materials in the context of schools and post-secondary education. It is inexcusable that in 2008, too often students with disabilities continue to report ongoing problems in acquiring their course materials in an accessible format. It is far easier and cheaper to quickly produce accessible format materials than it was three decades ago. Yet these problems persist. This, we believe, is not due to inadequate resources. It is due to a failure on the part of the government and of educational institutions to take this issue sufficiently seriously and to properly manage and oversee the delivery of accessible curriculum materials in a timely way.
13. PRESSING NEED TO ADDRESS EQUAL ACCESS TO THE SERVICES OF PUBLIC LIBRARIES.
The proposed ICAS’s commentary seeks input on whether public libraries should be specifically designated as bound by this standard. We strongly encourage the specifying of accessibility obligations on public libraries. Public libraries are a major way that the public gains access to published information, principally books. They are a publicly-funded government service. For decades, they have provided these services in a manner that substantially discriminates against persons with print disabilities, by providing far less material in an accessible format.
Among the wealthier western democracies, Canada is the only one which leaves it to non-profit private sector charities such as CNIB to provide alternative format books to persons with print disabilities. This is unacceptable. In sharp contrast, for example, for decades the U.S. Library of Congress has had a Special Services Division which has been a major resource for producing and providing alternative-accessible format books to persons with print disabilities.
Public libraries increasingly supply some audio books. Their quantity of this material is grossly insufficient. It pales in comparison to the range of print material they make available to the public. It is not reasonable to expect each local library to produce its own alternative format books. A publicly-funded centralized service could do this, akin to the U.S. Library of Congress service. The Ontario Government is an obligated organization under the ICAS, is bound along with public libraries to ensure that this need is met. The ICAS could stipulate this, and set a date by which publicly-funded production of alternate-format library books could be initiated.
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
15. PRESSING NEED FOR NEW ACTION TO ENSURE ACCESSIBLE PROVINCIAL AND MUNICIPAL ELECTIONS.
We heartily commend the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for including provisions on making municipal and provincial elections fully accessible. There is no good reason why voters with disabilities should still encounter barriers to fully participating in municipal and provincial elections.
In the last provincial election the McGuinty Government promised an action plan on accessible elections for persons with disabilities. The incorporation of measures to help achieve this would be a good piece of that action plan. Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 election promises to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance included:
“Develop an action plan to make provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters.
We have just released guides on how to make election communications materials accessible and how to make all candidates meetings accessible. A third guide will be released in October on how to make constituency offices and campaign offices accessible. In addition, we will commit to developing an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.”
In designing expanded ICAS provisions to address this issue, we start from the premise that a fully accessible provincial or municipal election is one in which these would occur:
1. Persons with disabilities are able to independently and privately mark their ballot, and verify their selection.
2. Persons with disabilities have full and equal access to all information on where and when to vote, and on choices of candidates.
3. Persons with disabilities have full access to polling stations, or accessible alternative means to vote when access to a polling station isn’t possible.
4. Persons with disabilities have full access to election platforms and other public information from candidates.
5. Persons with disabilities can fully participate in all-candidates’ debates.
6. Persons with disabilities can fully participate in elections as candidates, on a footing of equality.
The ICAS can address most but not all of these. To the extent that it can address these in specific terms, we recommend that it do so. We also endorse the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee’s call for amendments to elections legislation, where necessary, to remove legal barriers to a fully accessible election, and to help ensure that all future Ontario and municipal elections are barrier-free. We repeat our recommendation already presented to the Ontario Government, that it hold an open, accessible consultation on making provincial and municipal elections fully accessible, with a view to implementing the needed changes to legislation, and to government policies and practices. We recommend that the Ontario Government bring forward an omnibus bill to cover both provincial and municipal election accessibility requirements. Reforms should be implemented before the 2010 municipal elections and the 2011 provincial elections. The Government’s consultation on the ICAS, while helpful, is no substitute for a much-needed fuller focused consultation on elections.
16. REFINEMENTS NEEDED RE THE ICAS’S APPENDIX 1 TECHNICAL STANDARDS
We recognize the importance of clear technical standards, and commend the effort at preparing them in Appendix 1 to the proposed ICAS. We want to ensure that any technical standards don’t lock the standard and organizations into requirements that new technology might supersede. Consistent with the principles we set out earlier, this is best achieved by ensuring that certain functional results be prescribed, with technical specifications offered as means to achieve them, unless an equal or superior means for doing so is crafted.
It should be made clear that these technical requirements concern information and communication involved in the provision of goods, services, facilities or employment in Ontario. For example, a private website, unconnected with the provision of employment, goods, services or facilities, with a video clip on it, need not have descriptive video, as nice as that would be.
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.
POSTSCRIPT - FEEDBACK ON THE MINISTRY’S COST IMPACT STUDY
We want to provide feedback on the ICAS Cost Impact Study BY KPMG, which the Ministry commissioned. We are very concerned that this cost study not be used as a justification for cutting back on ICAS requirements, or that it lead anyone to think that a strong, effective ICAS is a costly, burdensome new imposition on business and government. We know that some within the public transit sector misused the Government’s flawed cost study regarding the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard in that way.
We earlier raised with the Ontario Government our serious concerns about the methodology used for the cost impact study which the Ministry earlier commissioned for the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard. We do not know if the Ministry related these concerns to KPMG, or whether efforts were made to avert similar serious errors here. Our critique of the Transportation cost impact study is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02022008.asp
The KPMG cost study of the proposed ICAS gives several strong, stern cautions that its data based on examining a handful of organizations is not representative of the broader experience in the economy. For example, the study indicates that the organizations studied should not be considered representative. The study warns:
“KPMG advises that caution should be adopted in applying the cost impact assessment broadly to other entities.”
The Report further cautions:
“KPMG advises that caution should be adopted in applying the cost impact assessment broadly to other organizations within each Class as the impact of the Committee's proposed Standard could be significantly different even within a single Class.”
This ICAS cost study seems largely to be an exercise in unwarranted assumption-drawing. Moreover, the data it used admittedly wasn’t audited. This report is thus sheer, unverified speculation. The report itself cautions:
“No one should act on such information without appropriate professional advice after a thorough examination of the particular situation.”
In this context, the real question that should be asked, among others, is whether this proposed ICAS would impose any additional costs on an organization, beyond those which the Human Rights Code and Charter of Rights already require that organization to spend in any event. This report doesn’t try to discover this. Rather, it seems to talk about studying “incremental” costs of this activity, without sorting out whether the organization was already bound to spend that money to obey the law. The report states:
“There are other legislations that impact accessibility of information and communication, such as human rights legislation. Organizations already have obligations under this legislation relating to accommodation. The cost impact assessment concerns itself only with the incremental impact of accessibility as it relates to compliance with the Committee's proposed Standard.”
At the same time, the study does not appear to assess what the costs would be either to the organizations studied, or to Ontario as a whole, of not taking the steps that the proposed ICAS requires. Thus, the study creates a very distorted picture on the issue of costs. This distortion works directly against the interests of persons with disabilities, the very people the AODA is meant to benefit.
Serious costs are caused by not accommodating the needs of persons with disabilities in areas such as this. It leads to less productivity in the workplace. It reduces the pool of employees that an employer can effectively employ, thereby reducing the organization’s profitability. This in turn increases the already excessive unemployment rate facing persons with disabilities. It thereby imposes on the taxpayer higher social assistance costs. It reduces the sales, and thus the revenues, of those who sell goods, services and facilities to the public. By creating new barriers, organizations create higher cost obligations on themselves in future, i.e. the higher cost to themselves of later removing the barriers they create now, when these could have been prevented in the first place at little or no cost. Of course, failure to take these steps now creates potential legal liability for organizations in the future, since they expose themselves to legal action for Human Rights Code violations. A Freedom of Information request revealed, for example, that the Toronto Transit Commission spent fully $450,000 on lawyers in their unsuccessful bid to defend themselves, when David Lepofsky brought successful human rights complaints against TTC for its failure to provide the obvious, simple accommodation of reliable verbal announcement of each bus, subway and streetcar stop for the benefit of passengers with vision loss.
Despite these concerns regarding the KPMG ICAS cost study, we do note that the study found:
“The impact of compliance for a Class 1 organization that does not provide critical services, such as a small restaurant, will be minimal and KPMG has concluded that is unlikely that any small restaurant would consider the estimated costs as material.”
Overall, the study seems to find that the cost of compliance it assessed was generally modest, and will reduce over time. We agree. If anything, we suggest that the report may have overstated the cost of compliance. Once many Ontario organizations must comply with this standard, the accumulation of expertise plus the increased demand for accessible hardware, software and other systems will drive down their costs. Moreover, as is commonly known, the cost of IT products is generally dramatically dropping over time.
The cost report made the stunning assessment, showing the need for this ICAS when it found:
”Canadian subsidiaries of larger international organizations are more aware of and doing more about accessibility than some of their Canadian counterparts. The influence of international best-practices on accessibility, such as Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act in the United States, has positively influenced these organizations.”
We conclude that the KPMG cost study does not support any policy conclusion that the proposed ICAS would be an unduly costly regulatory burden on the public or private sectors. If anything, that study should be viewed as overstating the net costs to business and government of enacting the ICAS. We reiterate our earlier advice to the Ontario Government that it should show far more care and caution in commissioning these sorts of cost studies, because of the serious risk of repeating such grave errors, to the detriment of the disability community whom the AODA was enacted to help.
We also caution that the fact that Ontario and Canada now face an economic downturn should not lead to any reduction in the ICAS’s content. The ICAS and the AODA were not drafted on the assumption that Canada’s economy would remain in an unrelenting boom from 2005 to 2025. To the contrary, the twenty-year deadline for achieving full accessibility was reached, in consultation with the business community and the disability community, with wide recognition of the ups and downs of the business cycle. Moreover, the ICAS will operate over a long period, not limited to the period of the current economic downturn. Finally, as indicated earlier in this brief, some of the proposed ICAS’s time lines are already too long in any event.