ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

AODA ALLIANCE LAUNCHES CAMPAIGN TO GET MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT TO DEVELOP THREE NEW ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS TO ADDRESS BARRIERS IMPEDING PERSONS WITH DISABILITIES IN ACCESS TO EDUCATION, TO HEALTH CARE AND TO RESIDENTIAL HOUSING – MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT HASN'T ANNOUNCED ITS PROMISED CONSULTATION ON WHICH NEW ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS TO DEVELOP NEXT

 

July 10, 2012

SUMMARY

It is essential for the Ontario Government to now start the process of developing three new accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Today we kick off a campaign to get the Government to act. A priority over the next weeks will be to focus our attention and efforts on this goal. This Update gives background on this issue, explains what three accessibility standards we want the Government to develop and offers specific tips on how you can help with this campaign.

Send us your feedback. We welcome your thoughts on everything discussed in this update, including our proposals for new accessibility standards that the Government should develop. Write us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

MORE DETAILS

1. THE THREE NEW ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS WE WANT THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT TO DEVELOP UNDER THE AODA

For many months we have been urging the Ontario Government to embark on creating three new accessibility standards. We want these new accessibility standards to address barriers facing persons with disabilities in the areas of:

1. Access to education at all levels including pre-school, schools, colleges and universities, and other training settings;

2. Access to health care across our health care system; and

3. Access to residential housing, or put simply, a place to live.

We proposed these three new accessibility standards for very good reasons. We drew upon our experience advocating for strong measures in the accessibility standards that have been under development to date. We drew upon feedback we received from our supporters over the years. We assessed barriers the existing accessibility standards don't effectively cover. We considered recurring accessibility issues that keep cropping up in Ontario.

These three areas focus on some of the most important basics for one to enjoy a full life. Education is vital to grow and to get a good job. Everyone needs good health. Both health and education have been ongoing priority areas for Premier McGuinty, as well as both opposition parties. Residential housing—having a place to live in the community—is basic for everyone.

These three areas are especially well-suited for new accessibility standards because the Government has degrees of involvement in each. As well, persons with disabilities should not have to fight long human rights cases, one barrier at a time, to correct recurring systemic barriers in each. For example, a school child and his or her family would not want to wage years of litigation to fight barriers in school. By the time a child wins a case against barriers in elementary school, he or she may already be in high school, where the elementary school barrier won't matter any more. The same goes for a patient with a disability facing recurring barriers in a hospital or long term care facility.

Setting detailed accessibility Standards in these areas would help our society plan to ensure that they will become fully accessible in the future. By not setting accessibility Standards in these areas, Ontario would be running the risk that barriers will be left in place in these important areas of life, while new ones will be created.

Years ago the Ontario Human Rights Commission reviewed and documented significant systemic barriers in the education system that impede students with disabilities. This helps show that there is a pressing need for the Government to develop and enforce a strong and effective education accessibility Standard. Check out:

a) "The Opportunity to Succeed," a consultation report on barriers facing students with disabilities that the Ontario Human Rights Commission published in 2003, available at: http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/opportunity-succeed-achieving-barrier-free-education-students-disabilities

b)  "Guidelines on Accessible Education," the Ontario Human Rights Commission's policy statement in the area of disability and education, available at http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/guidelines-accessible-education

2. THE NEED FOR MORE ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS – MORE BACKGROUND

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become fully accessible for persons with disabilities by 2025. That is just twelve-and-a-half years from now.

To get Ontario to that goal, the AODA requires the Ontario Government to develop, enact and strictly enforce accessibility standards in a range of different sectors of our economy and society. The aim is to reach the goal of a fully accessible province without persons with disabilities having to file an endless number of human rights complaints, one barrier at a time.

In the seven years since the AODA was passed, the Ontario Government has enacted accessibility standards to address barriers facing persons with disabilities in the areas of customer service, transportation, information and communication, and employment. The Customer Service Accessibility Standard was enacted in 2007. The areas of transportation, information and communication, and employment were addressed together in one standard, the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. That standard was enacted a year ago, in early June 2011.

The Ontario Government has one more standard now under development, to address barriers in the built environment. On August 19, 2011, Premier Dalton McGuinty made a written election pledge to us that the Built Environment Accessibility Standard would be enacted "promptly." Fully 11 months later, it has not been enacted, nor has a date for its enactment been announced.  For more on the overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06042012.asp

The Government has known for several years about the need to develop additional accessibility standards under the AODA, beyond the first five that it set out to create after the AODA was enacted in 2005. As far back as three years ago, on June 12, 2009 the McGuinty Government announced the appointment of Charles Beer, to conduct an Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and effectiveness. One of the tasks that the Government assigned to Mr. Beer was to advise the Government on which additional accessibility standards need to be established, apart from the five already under development.

The Beer Independent Review's final report, made public on May 31, 2010, did not make any firm and specific recommendations in this area. It stated:

"What the Review Heard: Additional Standards

Though included in the review’s terms of reference, the need to develop additional accessibility standards was not a top-of-mind issue for most people consulted. When prompted, some did mention the possibility of considering accessibility standards for education or health care.

On the other hand, a number of stakeholders remarked that not all issues can be addressed in a standard and some may need to be dealt with through policy or legislation. Overall, the view was that the government should finalize the first five standards before considering new ones."

3. THE GOVERNMENT'S PROMISE TO CONSULT ON THE NEXT ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS TO DEVELOP

In the lead-up to last year's last provincial election, we wrote all three major Ontario Party leaders to ask them to make a series of election commitments on disability accessibility. In our July 15, 2011 letter to the three parties, we asked each party to commit, among other things, to "Develop AODA accessibility standards in the next term of the Government, in the areas of health care and education/training (including schools, universities, colleges and other educational institutions), and of access to housing/residential accommodation, with work on these standards to begin by April, 2012."

Eleven months ago, on August 19, 2011, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote us to set out the Liberal Party's election commitments in this area. On this topic he wrote: Having the first five accessibility standards under the AODA enacted will set a firm foundation for further progress on accessibility, and 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."

 You can read Premier McGuinty's August 19, 2011 written election pledges to the AODA Alliance by visiting: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220111.asp

4. THE GOVERNMENT'S UNJUSTIFIED DELAY IN KEEPING ITS ELECTION PROMISE ON DEVELOPING NEW STANDARDS

We followed up on this election pledge after the October 2011 Ontario election. Eight months ago, on November 1, 2011, we wrote the newest Ontario Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy, to identify priority areas on the disability accessibility agenda within his ministry's responsibility. He is the minister responsible for developing accessibility standards under the AODA. Among the priorities we identified for him, we listed:

"3. Selecting and undertaking the development of the next accessibility standards that need to be developed under the AODA. We have asked the Government to next develop accessibility standards in the areas of access to education at all levels, to health care, and to residential housing. In his August 19, 2011 letter to us, 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." Because it takes years to develop an accessibility standard, it is important to get to work on developing the next round of standards right away."

 You can read the AODA Alliance's November 1, 2011 letter to Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11012011.asp

Since then, we have alerted the McGuinty Government that this is a priority issue for us. Despite this, to date, the Government has announced no steps to implement its promise to consult with us and other stakeholders on the areas that the next round of new accessibility standards will address.

We have let the Government know that it is very important that work on these new standards be commenced as soon as possible. Ontario is now well behind schedule on achieving full accessibility by 2025. Even if all the existing accessibility standards are fully implemented and complied with, Ontario will not achieve full accessibility by 2025.

The Government's delay in getting to work on new accessibility standards is entirely unjustified. Back in 2003-2004, over the same number of months since the 2003 election, a new minister took over this file, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni. She learned the ropes, launched a province-wide extensive public consultation on what the new AODA needed to include, held a series of public forums and sector roundtable meetings to gather input, and published the details results of all those consultations. That focus on the enormous uncharted terrain of what the entire new Disabilities Act would include. Four months after that, she had designed an entire new law, the proposed AODA, and tabled it in the Legislature for public debates.

In sharp contrast to that prompt and impressive record of action in 2003-2004, over the same number of months in 2011-2012, the same Government now comes to this issue equipped with ample experience with running a government and with this accessibility issue. This Government already has the AODA on the books, and experience consulting the public and developing accessibility standards. Yet over the same number of months in 2011-2012, the promise consultations on which new accessibility standards to enact has not even been announced, much less conducted. Ontarians with disabilities deserve far more prompt attention. We deserve the same prompt action as this Government showed it could achieve back in 2003-04.

The fact that we now have a minority government does not excuse this delay. The Government does not need the Legislature's approval to take the steps needed to keep its 2011 election promises to us. Moreover, we are not aware of the opposition parties using their combined majority in the Legislature to slow progress on the accessibility issue. 

Ontario cannot afford any more delay. It has taken a long period, at least two years, for a Standards Development Committee to come up with final proposals for a new accessibility standard. After a Standards Development Committee makes a final recommendation to Government, it has taken another long period, always more than a year, for the Government to review the Standards Development Committee's proposals, to finalize the standard and to enact it as a law. Each standard to date has then too often set out excessively long time lines for organizations to comply with them. We have now gone through more than one third of the 20 year period that the AODA gave Ontario to become fully accessible.

5. A PROMISE THAT CAN BE QUICKLY KEPT

The Government does not need to take much time to conduct consultations on which new accessibility standards it should embark on developing. As we have shown here, the Government has had that issue on its plate for at least as far back as the 2009 summer, three years ago, when it sought Charles Beer's advice on this. We have pressed and refined our recommendations since as far back as the Beer Review. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, part of the Ministry of Community and Social Services, is well-positioned to advise the Government, on choosing which sectors of our economy should be addressed by new accessibility standards. The ADO has worked closely with all Standards Development Committees and generally, on the Government's implementation of the AODA, since 2005.

From the disability perspective, we have been publicly calling for the Government to develop new accessibility standards in the areas of education at all levels, health care, and residential housing, for quite some time. We have received absolutely no negative or contrary negative feedback on these proposals from the disability community or from any other sectors of the public.

If the Government were now to issue a news release to announce a quick consultation on options for areas that new accessibility standards could address, it could give the public four weeks for sending in input. The Government could then make its choice promptly and announce it. As soon as the Government publicly announces the sectors that will be the focus of the next accessibility standards to be developed, the disability community and those sectors can get right to work developing ideas. If, for example, the Government accepts our proposal that a new Education Accessibility Standard be developed, we could begin a dialogue with school boards, colleges, universities and other education-providers on key barriers to address. Those organizations could get to work exploring different options for addressing those barriers. All this could be started even before the Government formally appoints anyone to actually develop proposals for that new accessibility standard. The same goes for the health sector, and the residential housing sector, if the Government were to announce that it will develop new accessibility standards in those areas.

The longer the Government delays getting this going, the further behind schedule of full accessibility by 2025 Ontario will continue to slip.

We know that the Government is planning to announce a new process for developing accessibility standards. That doesn't justify any delay here. The Government can now consult the public, including the disability community, on which new accessibility standards to develop. It can promptly announce its final decision on that issue, while it is finalizing its plans for its new process for developing accessibility standards. The Government can do more than one thing at the same time.  To see the Government's announcement of plans to implement a new process for developing accessibility standards, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06292012.asp 

6. HOW YOU CAN HELP

Please help us press the Government to get on with keeping its election promise in this area, and to develop new accessibility standards in the areas of education, health care and access to residential housing.

We encourage you to:

* Phone, email, write or visit your member of the Ontario Legislature. Urge them to call on the McGuinty Government to now launch its promise and long-overdue consultation on which next accessibility standards to enact under the AODA. Urge them to support our call for new accessibility standards to be developed, enacted and enforced in the areas of education at all levels, health care, and residential housing.

* Press Premier McGuinty and Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy with the same message.

* Think of barriers you or people with disabilities you know face when trying to fully benefit from Ontario's education system, health care system, or residential housing. Think of measures we could ask to be included in accessibility standards to address these barriers. Think about ways that all Ontarians suffer due to those barriers. Ask your friends and family about these issues.

* If you are on the board or are a staff member, volunteer or client of a disability community organization let them know about this issue. Urge them to publicly support our call for Premier McGuinty to keep his election promises to us, and further, that we need strong and effective new accessibility standards developed in the areas of education, health care and residential housing.

* Contact your local school, university, college, hospital or other health care provider, as well as any real estate agents or developers, builders or architects you might know. Urge them to start thinking about new and better ways to make our education and health care systems fully accessible.

* Let your local media know about our need for the Government to keep its as-yet unkept promises in this area. Let them know about the need to get new accessibility standards under development as soon as possible. Share the information set out in this Update. Raise this issue on call-in programs. Write a guest column for your local newspaper.

* If you use FaceBook, Twitter or other social media, spread the word on this issue through those social networks.

* Think of other creative and positive ways of bringing this issue to the public's attention.

* Here's a new resource you may wish to share with the media or others whom you are trying to reach out to on this topic. On June 15, 2012, AODA chair David Lepofsky gave a speech to a conference on inclusive education hosted in New Brunswick. He addressed the gains we have made to date in the area of accessible education for students with disabilities, and the pressing need for Ontario to develop, enact and enforce a strong and effective Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. To listen to the June 15, 2012 speech by AODA Chair David Lepofsky on the need for an Ontario Education Accessibility Standard, visit http://db.tt/6seSjlBz

We understand that the video stream from this entire conference may eventually be available on line. We will provide that link if we learn more.