ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
On Third Anniversary of Premier Wynne’s First Throne Speech, that Promised Increased Employment for Ontarians with Disabilities Is a Priority, the AODA Alliance Releases a Detailed Analysis Showing Three Years of Government Dithering and Delay, Despite Declarations by the Wynne Government’s Special Advisor on Disability, Former Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, that the Unemployment Rate Facing People with Disabilities Is a National Shame
February 19, 2016
Toronto: Three years ago today, in her first Throne Speech after becoming Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne signaled great hope to over 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities, when her Government committed to set, as a Government priority, creating more employment opportunities for unemployed people with disabilities, particularly in the private sector. Three years later, what the Wynne Government has delivered is delay and foot-dragging, leaving far too many unemployed people with disabilities to languish in poverty. This remains so even though people with disabilities face an unemployment rate of at least double the national average, according to a report submitted to the Wynne Government over nine months ago.
“The Wynne Government’s Special Accessibility Advisor, former Lieutenant-Governor David Onley, proclaimed at Queens Park on November 28, 2014 that the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities is not only a national crisis – it is a national shame,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which campaigns for accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. “We need strong and effective action now, effective enforcement of Ontario’s accessibility legislation, strengthened workplace accessibility requirements and strong new Government leadership on accessibility, including in the area of disability unemployment.”
On expanding employment for people with disabilities, the Wynne Government did nothing in its first year. It stalled in its second year, just asking a committee of volunteers to take the rest of the year to give the Government advice. The Government could have done that work itself in weeks. Ample studies are readily available. Then in its third year, the Wynne Government stalled releasing that committee’s Report for months, acted against its key advice, and left far too many unemployed people with disabilities to continue languishing in poverty.
To mark this third anniversary of the Wynne Government’s Throne Speech commitment on increased employment opportunities for people with disabilities, the AODA Alliance here releases a frank, detailed analysis that documents how little the Wynne Government has done. To read the AODA Alliance’s February 19, 2016 Analysis of the Partnership Council’s Initial Report and the Wynne Government’s Response, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02192016.asp
Highlights of the past three years include:
* Three months after the first Wynne Government Throne Speech, Premier Wynne’s new Employment Minister, Eric Hoskins, commendably announced in the Legislature on May 28, 2013:
“Talk is important, but it will only get us so far. We need action. So I have instructed my ministry to develop a strategy for accessible and inclusive employment so that we can all work together to improve the participation rate of Ontarians with disabilities in the workforce.”
That was another early hopeful signal. Yet as far as we have seen, that led to no action for the next nine months, if not much longer.
* It wasn’t until a full year after this Throne Speech commitment that the Wynne Government took any action on this commitment – a tiny step better described as a delay tactic. In February 2014, the Wynne Government appointed a Partnership Council to give it recommendations on what to do to increase employment for people with disabilities, especially in the private sector. The Government could instead have easily done a quick review of several studies on point easily found on the internet. The Government hadn’t needed a year just to appoint a committee to give it advice, and another year or more just to wait for that advice. A February 10, 2014 Toronto Star editorial slammed the Wynne Government for appointing this committee rather than taking real action on disability unemployment, concluding:
“This is one area where the Wynne government shouldn't have to strike yet another panel for discussion and debate. Some of the solutions seem obvious. What's needed are a few basic changes to help people to thrive.”
* Over the next 16 months, and leading to fully two years and three months after the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment, the Government had still announced no new targeted measures to actually assist unemployed people with disabilities get and keep jobs.
* Fifteen months after the Partnership Council was appointed, on May 11, 2015, it delivered an Initial Report to the Wynne Government. The AODA Alliance’s analysis of and response to that Report, made public today, is summarized below. The Partnership Council was initially supposed to finish all of its work by the end of 2014. We fault the Government, and not the Partnership Council’s members, themselves dedicated volunteers, for that delay.
* Two years and four months after the Wynne Government’s February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment, on June 3, 2015 the Wynne Government announced a modest incentive program aimed at helping just 1,100 people with disabilities find private sector jobs, a tiny fraction of Ontario’s unemployed people with disabilities. This flew in the face of the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Report, then already in the Government’s hands, which recommended against using such incentives to create job opportunities for unemployed people with disabilities. Because the Government then kept the Partnership Council’s Report from the public, the public couldn’t then know that the Government was contradicting the advice of the very Partnership Council of disability employment experts it had appointed, and for whom Ontario had to wait for over a year to give its initial advice to the Government.
* Two and a half years after the February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment, and over three months after receiving the Partnership Council’s Initial Report, the Wynne Government made that Report public, along with a minister’s responding statement and backgrounder, on a Friday late in the summer when many are on holiday. Even though the Government then claimed it was “moving on many” of the Report’s recommendations, it did not announce any new measures that the Council recommended. As indicated above, the one modest measure the Government has announced in the past three years, back on June 3, 2015, is one which the Partnership Council warned against as ineffective. The Government in effect re-announced measures it had already decided on, most of which took place before the Partnership Council had submitted its Initial Report.
* Now, three years after the Wynne Government made its February 19, 2013 Throne Speech commitment on disability employment, and nine months after receiving the Partnership Council’s Initial Report, the Wynne Government has still announced no new measures recommended in the Partnership Council’s May 11, 2015 Initial Report, as far as we have been told. As far as we have seen, the Government has also not made any public announcements implementing the modest disability employment measure it announced on June 3, 2015, an initiative which the Partnership Council had already warned against.
The AODA Alliance’s detailed analysis of the findings and recommendations in the Partnership Council’s Initial Report, released today, includes a careful analysis of the Wynne Government’s largely empty response to that Report. We commend the Partnership Council’s efforts, but conclude that nothing in its Report should come as news to the Wynne Government. Had the Government assigned its paid policy officials to this issue, rather than handing it over to a committee of external part-time volunteers, it could have gathered the same research and reached the same conclusions in a few weeks, rather than leaving unemployed people with disabilities to languish for yet another year.
The AODA Alliance agrees with the Partnership Council’s strong findings: People with disabilities face unfair and undeserved excessively high rates of unemployment, more than double the national average. This inflicts serious hardships on them and harms Ontario’s economy. Among the several causes of this unacceptable situation are actions of the Ontario Government itself, as well as problematic treatment of students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system.
The AODA Alliance endorses many of the Partnership Council’s recommendations for action. These point to important ways that the Wynne Government can show leadership and create real positive change in Ontario’s economy. Yet much more is needed than the actions the Partnership Council proposed.
Our analysis of the Wynne Government’s August 28, 2015 response to the Partnership Council’s Initial Report shows that the Government’s response says little if anything new, but is crafted to read as if it is offering much more. The Government’s withholding from the public the May 11, 2015 covering letter from the Partnership Council could only have been meant to avert public scrutiny of the Wynne Government’s inaction. That covering letter emphasized the need for the Government to promptly make the Report public and to act on it quickly. The Government did neither of these. The Partnership Council’s covering letter emphasized the need for new Government leadership on this disability unemployment issue. The Wynne Government has not yet shown this strong leadership.
“In our rapidly changing economy, the future workplace of five years from now has not yet been designed,” said Lepofsky. “We need the Wynne Government to act boldly now to ensure that those future workplaces are designed to be fully accessible, and not full of barriers that continue to impede competitive employment for so many talented unemployed people with disabilities."
When AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky filed a Freedom of Information application to get information about the AODA’s implementation, including the Government’s plans to address disability unemployment, he was met with a $4,250 bill to get answers to several of his questions, including about the Government’s future plans to tackle disability unemployment.
This is part of a larger problem. Just over one year ago, on February 13, 2015, the Wynne Government made public the report of the Mayo Moran Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It concluded that after ten years, the Government’s implementation of the AODA had not made a significant difference in the lives of people with disabilities. It showed that Ontario is not on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the deadline which the AODA imposed. Since then, the Wynne Government has not shown the new leadership on disability accessibility that the Moran Report said Ontario needs.