ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

AODA ALLIANCE WRITES DR. ERIC HOSKINS, ONTARIO’S NEW MINISTER RESPONSIBLE FOR IMPLEMENTING AND ENFORCING THE DISABILITIES ACT, TO URGE PROMPT AND DECISIVE ACTION

February 27, 2013

SUMMARY

On February 27, 2013, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario’s new cabinet minister responsible for implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Dr. Eric Hoskins. He is the new Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

Our letter, set out below, congratulates Minister Hoskins on this new post, offers to work with him, and identifies 8 priorities for prompt action, including:

  1. Starting Now on Developing and Promptly Enacting the Next Accessibility Standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
  2. Promptly announcing and implementing measures to effectively enforce Accessibility Standards enacted under the AODA.
  3. Incorporating disability accessibility in all his Ministry’s economic development, trade and employment strategies, programs and initiatives.
  4. Promptly finalizing enacting a comprehensive, strong and effective Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA
  5. Conducting a full and open review of the existing Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
  6. Launching an effective public education campaign on disability accessibility and the AODA’s requirements.
  7. Appointing the next Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation.
  8. More effectively ensuring that the Ontario Government is itself promptly and effectively preventing and removing barriers.

We encourage you to:

* Send this letter to your local MPP. Urge them to support our action proposals.

* Send this letter to your local media. Post it on Facebook or via Twitter. Send it to friends and family. Do what you can to inform others about our accessibility agenda.
* Send us your feedback. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

We will soon be sending a letter to Premier Wynne reinforcing our messages with actions that we urge Ontario’s new premier to take.

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


TEXT OF THE AODA ALLIANCE’S FEBRUARY 27, 2013 LETTER TO ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT, TRADE AND EMPLOYMENT MINISTER ERIC HOSKINS

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

February 27, 2013

Via Email: eric.hoskins@ontario.ca

Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins
Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment
Hearst Block, 8th Floor
900 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2E1

Dear Minister Hoskins,

Re: Achieving a Fully Accessible Ontario by 2025

I write on behalf of the non-partisan AODA Alliance. We congratulate you on your appointment as Ontario's Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. We want to especially congratulate you on assuming this role when it includes the lead responsibility for effectively implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

In this position, you can make a huge difference for over 1.7 million Ontarians who now have a disability, and for the millions of other Ontarians who will get a disability later on in their lives. Our non-partisan coalition looks forward to working together with you on ensuring the prompt and effective implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

We applaud Premier Wynne’s decision to transfer lead responsibility from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. The AODA requires Ontario to become fully accessible to all persons with disabilities by 2025. This is not a social service. It is a vital necessity for Ontario’s economic development. Full accessibility for persons with disabilities, weather consumers, employees, entrepreneurs or in any other capacity, is pivotally important to restoring and strengthening our economy. It is also fundamental to the fairness and inclusiveness that are themes in the recent Ontario Throne Speech.

We are encouraged by the fact that during last fall’s Liberal Party leadership campaign, Kathleen Wynne made important written commitments to us. In her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, Ms. Wynne made all five commitments that we sought from candidates for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. In her letter she committed to:

* fully maintain the implementation of the AODA 2005 and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, and not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation or regulations enacted under them, or any policies, practices, strategies or initiatives of or within the Ontario Government that exist to implement them or achieve their objectives.

* stand by and fully honour the past commitments that the Ontario Liberal Party has made to Ontarians with disabilities regarding disability accessibility.

* ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility for persons with disabilities no later than 2025, the deadline that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act AODA requires.

* continue the practice of making specific election commitments on the issue of achieving a fully accessible province for persons with disabilities, in letters to the AODA Alliance.

* personally meet with AODA Alliance representatives to discuss accessibility issues, in addition to meetings with appropriate cabinet ministers.

We were also heartened by the fact that during that leadership race, you made the same commitments to us in writing. Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance.

Your December 19, 2013 letter to the AODA Alliance the Ontario Liberal Government's 2011 disability accessibility election pledges are set out in former Premier McGuinty's August 19, 2011 letter to us.

Ontario now confronts both a real challenge and an important opportunity. We are now behind schedule for achieving full accessibility by 2025. Only 12 years remain to reach that mandatory destination. We need decisive new action now. In this letter, we offer practical ways to get Ontario on schedule:

1. Starting Now on Developing and Promptly Enacting the Next Accessibility Standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

The time has come for the Government to identify the next accessibility standards to be developed and enacted under the AODA. We have urged the Government to next develop three new accessibility standards, to address barriers impeding persons with disabilities in the important areas of education at all levels, of health care, and of residential housing. In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, former Premier McGuinty promised: "…we look forward to working with Ontario’s accessibility communities and partners to identify the next standards that will move accessibility forward in our province." It can take years to develop and enact a new accessibility standard. It is vital to get to work right away on developing the next round of standards.

Your Government’s January 21, 2013 news release committed that new accessibility standards would be developed under the restructured Accessibility Standards Advisory Council. ASAC now reports to you. The news release states that the new ASAC's mandate will include, among other things, responsibility to "Develop new accessibility standards based on the advice and feedback we have received to date from stakeholders." The Government has thus committed that there need be no further delay for more consultations before it decides what the topics of the new accessibility standards will be. The Government’s January 21, 2013 news release.

We would welcome a chance to discuss this with you. We have been urging the Government for several years to get to work developing additional accessibility standards. The standards that have been enacted to date, while helpful, do not address anywhere near the full range of barriers that need to be removed or prevented to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025. We have gotten consistently positive feedback on our three proposals for new accessibility standards. We have heard no objections, nor any other suggestions for the next standards to create.

You should quickly announce the next standards to develop, and direct ASAC to get right to work on developing them.

2. Promptly Announcing and Implementing Measures to Effectively Enforce Accessibility Standards enacted under the AODA.

There are already two enforceable accessibility standards on the books under the AODA, the Integrated Accessibility Standard (which addresses barriers in transportation, employment and information and communication) and the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. In the 2003 and 2011 elections, former Premier McGuinty promised that your Government’s Disabilities Act would be effectively enforced. However, the Government has not yet effectively deployed the enforcement powers it enshrined in the AODA. Obligated organizations cannot be expected to take this law seriously if it is not effectively enforced.

We wrote your predecessor, Minister John Milloy, on January 22, 2013, to ask for specific information about your Government’s past actions and future plans for enforcing this important legislation, and to urge prompt action. We have received no response to that inquiry. Responsibility for that inquiry now rests with you and your Ministry. We would appreciate a response to, and effective action on our letter to Minister Milloy. The AODA Alliance’s January 22, 2013 letter to Minister Milloy about enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

In addition to having appropriate staff in your Ministry tasked with enforcement, we urge you to designate Ontario Government inspectors under other legislation to include enforcement of the AODA in their activities, where feasible. We also urge you to make it clear to the public that this legislation will be effectively enforced.

3. Incorporating Disability Accessibility in All your Ministry’s Economic Development, Trade and Employment Strategies, Programs and Initiatives

We encourage you to capitalize on and build upon the Premier’s decision to move lead responsibility for the AODA to you and your Ministry. It is important for your ministry to incorporate disability accessibility as a prominent part of all of your Ministry’s strategies, programs and initiatives for promoting Ontario’s economic development, trade and employment. Your Ministry and its programs should promote Ontario’s public and private sectors to produce world-leading goods, services and facilities that incorporate principles of universal design so that everyone can use and benefit from them, including persons with disabilities. This would substantially expand Ontario’s market for its goods around the world. The demand for accessible goods, services and facilities continues to grow. The U.S.A., the European Union and other global markets are ramping up their commitments to accessibility.

As well, while your Ministry fosters the expansion of employment in Ontario, it must ensure that this includes substantially expanding employment opportunities for persons with disabilities. They have historically faced unemployment rates that are cruel multiples of the national average. The Ontario workplace of five years from now will be fully accessible to employees with disabilities only if effective efforts are deployed now to plan to achieve that goal. The employment accessibility provisions of the 2011 Integrated Accessibility Regulation, while helpful, are not sufficient to meet this goal.

The efforts we recommend to you are all good for Ontario’s economy. Your Government commissioned a major study some years ago into the costs and benefits of making Ontario fully accessible too persons with disabilities. The Martin Prosperity Institute’s 2010 report concluded that making Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities is economically beneficial for Ontario, and that leaving barriers against persons with disabilities in place hurts Ontario's economy. Learn more about the Martin Prosperity Institute’s 2010 report on the costs and benefits of making Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

We therefore ask your ministry to promptly develop and implement a concerted and comprehensive strategy for incorporating accessibility of goods, services, facilities and employment as an integral part of all your economic development, trade and employment activities. It should be a clear, vocal and visible part of your outreach to and collaboration with business in Ontario. It should be incorporated as a condition of grants and subsidies for economic development, trade or employment that your ministry provides to the broader public and the private sectors. As part of your international trade missions, you should incorporate as a key component, the marketing of goods, services and facilities that are made in Ontario and that incorporate universal design principles. Persons with disabilities are a huge market, numbering at least one billion people around the world. In preparation or such trade missions, you should alert business leaders of this new agenda, so they in turn can do their best to be ready to meet this new and growing global demand for accessible goods, services and facilities.

We strongly urge you, your deputy minister and other leading Ministry officials to mainstream the message of disability accessibility in speeches and presentations to business and other audiences. This should not be limited to events that are focused on accessibility. It should be embedded throughout the public messaging that your Ministry delivers face-to-face here and abroad.

Our proposals here would help fulfill one of your Government’s important 2011 election commitments to Ontarians with disabilities. In the 2011 election, former Premier McGuinty committed that your government is incorporating disability accessibility considerations in all major government decisions. In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, he wrote: "We are integrating accessibility as a fundamental principle when it comes to making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians."

Back on December 2, 2011, we wrote the previous Economic Development and Trade Minister, Brad Duguid, to recommend that your Ministry incorporate disability accessibility into its economic development, trade and innovation strategies and efforts. Minister Duguid's January 16, 2012 response to us did not answer this specific request. Rather, it talked in very general terms about the Government's commitment to comply with accessibility standards enacted under the AODA. Since then, we received no indication from Minister Duguid or from your Ministry of any actions taken to date on our recommendation. The AODA Alliance’s December 2, 2011 letter to then-Economic Development and Trade Minister Brad Duguid. Minister Duguid’s January 16, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance.

4. Promptly Finalizing Enacting a Comprehensive, Strong and Effective Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA

In 2008, your Government appointed the Built Environment Standards Development Committee to develop recommendations for an accessibility standard to make Ontario’s built environment fully accessible to persons with disabilities. That Committee submitted its final recommendations to the Government two and a half years ago, in the 2010 summer.

Since then, in December 2012, your Government enacted the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard under the AODA. It addresses barriers in a small slice of the built environment, i.e. in major public spaces.

As for the rest of the built environment, your Government decided to address this by accessibility amendments to the Ontario Building Code. These have been under study for an inordinate amount of time at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. That Ministry has been involved in the work on this standard since 2008. Before that, it has always had a mandate to address accessibility in the Building Code. Its excessive lethargy on this front is unwarranted and deeply troubling.

Former Premier McGuinty promised in his August 19, 2011 letter to us that the Built Environment Accessibility Standard would be enacted "promptly." We urge you to take several steps to get that overdue commitment fulfilled:

a) Please help us press the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing to finalize its work promptly and to include comprehensive, strong, effective and mandatory accessibility requirements in the Building Code.
 
b) We ask that any Building Code accessibility requirements also be enacted as an accessibility standard under the AODA. We need this to give us full accessibility to the AODA’s enforcement regime, and its regime for oversight and periodic review of accessibility standards. We don’t want the important area of the built environment largely sliced out of the AODA regime.

On June 1, 2012, we wrote your predecessor on this file, then-Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy as well as then-Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne, to repeat this request. To date, your Government has not substantively answered our request. The AODA Alliance’s June 1, 2012 letter to Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy and then-Municipal Affairs Minister Kathleen Wynne.

c) It is our understanding that neither the new Public Spaces Accessibility Standard, nor the proposals for Building Code amendments now under review, attempt to comprehensively address “way-finding” needs of persons with disabilities in public buildings and spaces. We ask that you initiate a process for developing and enacting strong, effective and enforceable way-finding requirements for major public spaces, as an accessibility standard under the AODA. This is an essential part of any meaningful built Environment Accessibility Standard. Way-finding includes such things as tactile markers to help a person with vision loss navigate through a large open public space, such as a public transit station.

d) The Public Spaces Accessibility Standard enacted in December 2012, and the proposals for Building Code accessibility reforms under study, only address new buildings, and major renovations or redevelopment of existing buildings or properties. That leaves in place and unregulated, the vast majority of Ontario’s built environment.

We need your Government to direct ASAC to now launch a standards development process to develop and enact accessibility standards under the AODA to address barriers in the existing built environment, where there is no major renovation or redevelopment underway.

Your Government publicly committed to do this, once the accessibility requirements for new buildings and major renovations, were finalized. The Government made this commitment public in a web posting, after discussions with us. That posting read, in material part:

"A subsequent step the government plans to take to achieve an accessible built environment in the province is to take a more focused look at how to deal with retrofitting existing buildings and making houses accessible. These two issues are expected to be addressed through a standard development committee process."

The Government has since apparently taken that web posting down. However the commitment itself remains a commitment. As noted earlier, Premier Wynne has pledged to honour all of the McGuinty Government’s disability accessibility commitments. The Government’s 2009 web posting on the Built Environment Accessibility Standard is preserved in material part on the AODA Alliance’s website.

5. Conducting a Full and Open Review of the Existing Customer Service Accessibility Standard

The AODA requires your Government to now launch a full review of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that was enacted back in 2007. ASAC would conduct this review. We will wish to take active part in this review. This should get underway now.

6. Launching An Effective Public Education Campaign On Disability Accessibility And The AODA’s Requirements

We urge you to launch a major public education blitz on disability accessibility, the AODA’s requirements, and the tools available to help obligated organizations comply. This should include, for example, supporting speeches by Cabinet Ministers and other members of the Legislature, to the public, on the benefits and importance of removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities and the tools which the Government has developed to assist organizations. The 2010 Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA found a pressing need for substantially more public education on the AODA and on removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities. You and your caucus colleagues are well-positioned to spearhead this.

To date, your Government has been excessively low-key on this. Its message has been far too low-profile. We anticipate that too many obligated organizations likely don’t even know about your Government’s free AODA guides and tools posted on the internet, or even about the very existence of some or all of the accessibility standards enacted to date. There has been far too little publicity of some if not most of these.

7. Appointing the Next Independent Review of the AODA’s Implementation

Under section 41 of the AODA, your Government must appoint an Independent Review to conduct an arms-length consultation on how effectively the AODA has been implemented. This Review must be appointed and commenced no later than May 31, 2013, if not sooner. We would welcome the opportunity to consult with you on the criteria that the Government should use in selecting the person who will conduct this Independent Review. We have a great deal of experience to offer. We worked closely with Charles Beer, who conducted the last Independent Review in 2009-2010.

8. More Effectively Ensuring That the Ontario Government is Itself Promptly and Effectively Preventing and Removing Barriers against People with Disabilities

There are other important areas on the accessibility agenda that need the Government's prompt attention, beyond those listed here. Those will involve several other ministries, as well as the Premier's office. We will be making specific recommendations to Premier Wynne, in a forthcoming letter to her which we will copy to you.

For example, we want the Government to stop dealing in isolated silos with itself becoming a barrier-free workplace and a provider of barrier-free services to the public. It is important that the Government designate a minister with lead responsibility for ensuring that all the Premier's disability accessibility election commitments are kept. Ontario also needs a comprehensive strategy to ensure that public money is never used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities. As then-Finance Minister Dwight Duncan stated in his final public speech in that role at the Canadian Club on January 22, 2013:

"Public money used for capital infrastructure or procurement of goods and services should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities."

You can read Dwight Duncan’s January 22, 2013 declaration on never using public money to finance disability barriers.
 
When we bring those ideas to the Premier’s attention we would appreciate and welcome your support. No doubt the Premier will want your advice and input on them.

We look forward to rolling up our sleeves and working with you and your Cabinet colleagues on getting Ontario on schedule for full accessibility by 2025.

Sincerely,

 

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
 
cc: Premier Kathleen Wynne, email kwynne.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org
Wendy Tilford, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment Email: wendy.tilford@ontario.ca
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, Ministry of Community and Social Services, email ellen.waxman@ontario.ca