ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

Toronto Restaurant Incident with Hearing Ear Dog Shows Need for the Ontario Government to Keep Its Promise to Effectively Enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

April 23, 2013

SUMMARY

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become fully accessible to over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. The Ontario Government has pledged for years to effectively enforce this law. Recent reports in the Toronto Star highlight the need for the Ontario Government to keep its word.

According to an article in the April 20, 2013 on-line edition of the Toronto Star, set out below, a Toronto restaurant, part of a chain, allegedly restricted a customer from bringing his Hearing Ear dog with him wherever he wished to sit into the restaurant. The Star’s April 21, 2013 on-line edition included a second article, set out below. It reported that the restaurant had apologized and planned to provide its disability service staff with disability training.

The AODA Alliance quickly swung into action. As a result, in a third article, published in the Toronto Star’s April 22, 2013 on-line edition, set out below, we highlighted that such incidents show that the Government must at long last keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA.

The AODA includes helpful enforcement provisions. However they are useless if they are not effectively deployed.

The intent underlying the AODA, for which our community campaigned tirelessly for a decade, was to put in place a law that didn’t require individuals with disabilities to have to go to the Human Rights Tribunal to fight barriers one at a time, and one organization at a time.

Back in 2007, the Ontario Government enacted the Customer Service Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The Government gave the private sector an excessively leisurely five years to prepare to comply. That standard requires organizations, like restaurants, that provide goods or services to the public, to adopt a customer service disability accessibility policy, to train their employees on that policy, and to institute a customer feedback process. Read the customer Service Accessibility Standard and explanatory information.

If the report in the Toronto Star is accurate (on which we of course cannot comment), then the restaurant in question appears only now to be looking at providing training on accessible customer service for people with disabilities. If so, that would be well past the five-year deadline that the Customer Service Accessibility Standard set.   

With a long five years to bring themselves into compliance with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, there is no reason why such incidents should be reported in the media as occurring in 2013. This is even more obvious when we realize that since as far back as 1982, the Ontario Human Rights Code has banned such discrimination in access to goods, services and facilities, based on a disability such as the use of a service dog. Despite that, for years, the media has reported incidents like this.

We have been pressing the Ontario Government for years to live up to its pledge to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act, including the accessibility standards it enacted under that law. Our last letter to the Ontario Government on this, dated  January 22, 2013, explains our concerns quite clearly. In that letter we ask for specifics on the Government’s plans for enforcing the AODA. The AODA Alliance’s January 22, 2013 letter to former Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy (then responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA).


As the Toronto Star reports, the Ontario Government has not answered our January 22, 2013 letter in the three months since we sent it. All we have received is a March 12, 2013 letter from the Community and Social Services Ministry set out below. That letter merely says that responsibility to answer our inquiry about enforcement of the AODA has now shifted to the new Economic Development Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins.

On February 27, 2013, we wrote Dr. Hoskins to identify priorities for him on the Disabilities Act for which he was assuming lead responsibility within the Ontario Cabinet. Read the AODA Alliance’s February 27, 2013 letter to Economic Development Minister Dr. Hoskins.

Our letter to Dr. Hoskins listed effective enforcement of the AODA as our second priority. It stated:

“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.”

Back in the 2011 Ontario general election, Premier Dalton McGuinty again promised Ontarians with disabilities that the AODA would be effectively enforced. Dalton McGuinty’s August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance.

On December 3, 2012, as she campaigned for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne promised us in writing that she would honour all Dalton McGuinty’s promises on disability and accessibility. That includes the pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. She is now Ontario’s premier. We need her to show strong leadership on this issue. Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance.  

It is especially troubling that as of now, according to the Toronto Star’s April 22, 2013 article, the Ontario Government claims that it does not know how many private sector organizations have filed the mandatory Accessibility reports with the Government that are required under the customer Service Accessibility Standard enacted under the AODA. Any private sector organization that had to file such a report was obliged to do so by the end of 2012. That article states: A spokesman for Economic Development and Trade Minister Eric Hoskins, who oversees disability issues, was unable to say how many businesses have filed their customer accessibility reports.

“We still have work to do to improve the number,” said Gabe DeRoche.

In sharp contrast, the Ontario Government was readily able to proudly report to the public on how many public sector organizations had filed the required accessibility reports under that accessibility standard.  Here is what Community and Social Services Minister Meilleur said in the Legislature on May 31, 2010 re compliance with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard by the broader public sector as of that time:

“Accessible customer service is now a requirement for our broader public sector, and 96% of Ontario's broader public sector has either reported full compliance with the standard or is in the process of reporting.” Minister Meilleur’s May 31, 2011 statement in the Ontario Legislature.

One year later, on May 24, 2012 then Assistant Deputy Minister of Community and Social Services Ellen Waxman (who was responsible for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario) reported the following according to her PowerPoint slides presented at an international conference on information technology accessibility, held at Toronto’s Ontario College of Art and Design University:

"Designated public sector organizations were required to comply by January 1, 2010.

•           These include the Ontario Government, municipalities in Ontario, schools, hospitals, colleges and universities

•           We are pleased to report that a 100% of BPS Organizations have reported their compliance with the customer service standard."

View Ellen Waxman’s May 24, 2012 speech PowerPoint slides.

It is hard to believe that the Government cannot quickly figure out how many private sector organizations have filed the required accessibility reports, and how many have not. We asked the Government for this information three months ago, in our January 22, 2013 letter to then Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy. If the Government can announce the percentage of public sector organizations that have filed required accessibility reports, then the Government can surely do the same for private sector organizations.

It is entirely inexcusable that people with disabilities using service dogs continue to report such barriers to access to services and facilities in 2013. It is equally inexcusable that, as reported in these Toronto Star articles, a person with a disability might feel it necessary to have to themselves investigate and prosecute these cases at the Human Rights tribunal, despite the fact that the Ontario Government has promised for years to effectively enforce the AODA.

Let the Ontario Government know you want it to now keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.

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*****

TORONTO STAR ON-LINE APRIL 20, 2013

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/20/oakville_man_says_restaurant_told_him_to_leave_hearing_ear_dog_outside.html

Oakville man says restaurant told him to leave Hearing Ear dog outside

Hearing-impaired man says he was given choice of sitting in back or leaving Hearing Ear dog outside when he tried to have lunch at downtown restaurant.

By: San Grewal, Urban Affairs Reporter

Peter Stelmacovich has grown accustomed to being the victim of discrimination.

“If I go into six restaurants, two or three would refuse me service,” says the hearing-impaired Oakville resident who uses a Hearing Ear dog — a flat-coated retriever named Flora.

On Thursday, the 48-year-old Stelmacovich says it happened again, this time at a downtown Toronto restaurant, where he says the restaurateur told him and two friends at lunch they would have to sit upstairs or outside because of Flora.

“Or, he said, I could tie my dog outside.”

At the Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W., Rupinder Bahl told the Star the reason Stelmacovich and his friends were offered seats upstairs or outside was because the tables at the front were either occupied or reserved. Stelmacovich, however, says many of the tables up front were empty.

When the restaurateur was asked if he understood that under Ontario’s Human Rights Code Stelmacovich cannot be refused proper service, Bahl said the dog didn’t need to be inside because he had friends who could help. Asked if he refused proper service he said, “Of course not.”

Stelmacovich says he plans to make a formal complaint to the Ontario Human Rights tribunal over the incident. He feels it’s time to take a stand for others who rely on guide dogs for help and are routinely refused service because of it.

Stelmacovich says he fears the GTA might be slipping behind other places where there’s been more progress about the rights of service dog owners.

“If I call ahead for a cab it’s okay, but if I try to hail a cab they won’t stop,” says Stelmacovich, who works in Toronto for a company that makes hearing aids and wireless devices for people with hearing problems.

Along with his active blog about issues that the hearing impaired face, he’s trying to engage the broader community about the problem. He says many service providers aren’t aware of their legal obligations.

“The Ontario Human Rights Code is pretty clear, but, for example, on Thursday we told the man at the restaurant about my rights under the code and it didn’t make a difference.”

The Human Rights Code states that to deny access to a service animal amounts to discrimination on the basis of disability.

“I hear a lot of excuses,” Stelmacovich says. “We have staff with allergies, is a common one.”

He carries photo ID of both of them that makes it clear Flora is a service dog and what their rights are, but says it seldom helps when service providers already have their minds made up.

In Ottawa, where he used to live, there was more awareness, a better understanding that discrimination against service animals was the same as discrimination based on race, gender or any disabilities, he says. But he’s not sure why.

“I don’t want to get anyone in trouble or fired. I just want to make life easier for people, do something around Toronto to create some awareness.”

As for what he, his friends and Flora did for lunch on Thursday he says, “We went around the corner to Jack Astor’s, they had no problem.”

*****

TORONTO STAR ON-LINE APRIL 21, 2013

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/21/spring_rolls_apologizes_for_treatment_of_hearingimpaired_man_with_service_dog.html

Spring Rolls apologizes for treatment of hearing-impaired man with service dog
The restaurant chain says their franchisees won’t restrict where the man and his Hearing Ear dog sit.

By: Dylan C. Robertson, News reporter

The Spring Rolls restaurant chain has apologized after a franchisee asked a hearing-impaired man to leave his service dog outside. But the man involved isn’t sure how to respond after learning of a similar incident last year.

Last Thursday, Oakville resident Peter Stelmacovich went to a Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W. with two friends. Stelmacovich says the restaurateur told him they would have to sit upstairs or outside because of his Hearing Ear dog, Flora. “Or, he said, I could tie my dog outside.” Stelmacovich and his friends decided to eat elsewhere.

In a statement emailed to the Star on Sunday morning and posted on Facebook, Spring Rolls apologized for the incident, saying it should never happen again. The company added it will implement disability training for individual managers.

“Sometimes either they were not aware of, or don’t know how to respectfully and properly deal with, situations like this,” reads the statement.

But Stelmacovich isn’t the only one to have a service dog barred from a Spring Rolls restaurant. Graphic design researcher Michelle  Hopgood says she was refused service at the chain’s location at the Atrium on Bay last May.

Hopgood says she was told not to enter with her Special Skills service dog, which helps her navigate with her impaired mobility. When she proceeded to a table, the restaurant served Hopgood’s table, but closed down the surrounding section until the dog left.

Hopgood says she emailed the restaurant and was offered a VIP card, which she declined. She has since boycotted the chain.

“It was an incredibly demeaning and humiliating experience of which I have never experienced before,” Hopgood said.

After reading Spring Rolls’ apology, Stelmacovich was initially looking forward to working with the company to develop anti-discrimination policies.

But after hearing that Hopgood had a similar incident with little support from the chain, Stelmacovich said, “This is clearly not an isolated incident . . . This is a little bit concerning now; it sounds more like a systemic problem.”

A Spring Rolls spokesperson said he wasn’t familiar with Hopgood’s complaint and insisted that service dogs aren’t barred from the restaurant chain. He said the incident will be used as a lesson when training employees.

“Many people don’t know how to act in the exact scenarios, so they may not know how to deal with a service dog,” sales and marketing manager Jose Munoz said.

Stelmacovich now says he’s asking Spring Rolls to install signs stating that service dogs are welcome, and that all staff take sensitivity training. Otherwise, he’s considering a formal complaint to the Ontario Human Rights tribunal.

Ontario law states that it is illegal to deny services or accommodation to a person with a service dog.

With files from Graham Slaughter and San Grewal

*****

TORONTO STAR ON-LINE APRIL 22, 2013

http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2013/04/22/spring_rolls_restaurant_ignored_customer_accessibility_policy_in_barring_service_dog_disability_rights_lawyer_says.html

Spring Rolls restaurant ignored customer accessibility policy in barring service dog, disability rights lawyer says
Restaurant that denied service to hearing impaired man with service dog also breached disability law.

By: Laurie Monsebraaten, Social Justice Reporter

The Toronto restaurant that told a hearing impaired man to leave his service dog outside broke more than the Ontario Human Rights Act.

It appears that Spring Rolls contravened a 2008 provision of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act which requires businesses to implement customer accessibility policies, including staff training and customer complaints procedures to ensure people don’t face this kind of discrimination, said disability rights lawyer David Lepofsky.

Businesses with more than 20 employees were required to report their policies to the government by Dec. 31, 2012.

“More than five years after the Ontario government enacted the Customer Service Accessibility Standard under the disabilities act, why are we hearing about alleged incidents like this?” said Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a community coalition working to ensure the act is enforced.

“Why should a person with a disability have to resort to possibly taking a case to the Human Rights Tribunal . . . when the disabilities act is supposed to be effectively enforced to reduce the need for such individual litigation?” he added.

As reported in the Sunday Star, Oakville resident Peter Stelmacovich said staff at Spring Rolls restaurant on Queen St. W. told him last Thursday he would have to sit upstairs or outside because of his Hearing Ear dog, Flora. The other option was to tie his dog outside. Stelmacovich, who ate elsewhere, said he was considering a complaint to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.

Spring Rolls apologized on Facebook and in a statement emailed to the Star Sunday morning, saying the situation would never happen again and that the company will implement more staff training.

The restaurant will also post signs in its windows welcoming service dogs, said restaurant sales and marketing manager Jose Munoz. The chain, with 12 franchises in the GTA, Hamilton and Waterloo, filed its customer accessibility report on time, he added in an interview Monday.

Stelmacovich, who has accepted the eatery’s apology, said he is pleased with the awareness the issue has created.

“This is clearly not an isolated incident,” said the 47-year-old man who has had Hearing Ear dogs for 25 years. “This happens in other restaurants and businesses and I hope this will result in some change.”

A spokesman for Economic Development and Trade Minister Eric Hoskins, who oversees disability issues, was unable to say how many businesses have filed their customer accessibility reports.

“We still have work to do to improve the number,” said Gabe DeRoche.

Lepofsky said the Spring Rolls incident is an example of why the government, which has promised to enforce the act, must do more.

In a letter to Hoskins in February, he suggested government inspectors under other legislation include enforcement of the disabilities act in their activities. He is still waiting for a response.

*****

Text of Community and Social Services ministry’s March 12, 2013 letter to the AODA Alliance

Ontario
Ministry of Community and Social Services
Minister's Office
Hepburn Block
Queen's Park
Toronto, ON M7A 1E9
Tel: (416) 325-5225

March 12, 2013

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

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your letter regarding enforcement of accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA).

As you know, the February 19, 2013 Throne Speech announced the transfer of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.  You may direct all future correspondence and inquiries to the Honourable Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.

You may contact that ministry at:

Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment
8th Floor, Hearst Block
900 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 2E1

Telephone:  Toll-free 1-866-668-4249
Fax:  416-325-6688
E-mail:  info@edt.gov.on.ca

Once again, thank you for writing.

Sincerely,

Lina Cernaz
Acting Manager, Correspondence Unit

c:  Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment