ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

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AODA ALLIANCE WRITES THREE POLITICAL PARTIES TO REQUEST 2011 ELECTION COMMITMENTS

July 19, 2011

SUMMARY

We have just launched the next phase in our campaign for a fully-accessible Ontario. We will raise accessibility issues in the upcoming October 2011 provincial election. We also want to again try to ensure that this election is fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.

To kick off this new activity, on Friday July 15, 2011, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario's three major political parties to ask for election commitments concerning disability accessibility. We set out this letter below.

Based on our past activities and experiences advocating for accessibility, we asked each party to make specific, detailed commitments in 11 areas to:

1.         Generally Strengthen Implementation of the AODA 2005 and ODA 2001

2.         Develop Needed New Accessibility Standards

3.         Implement Key Recommendations of the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review

4.         Improve How the Ontario Public Service Addresses Accessibility

5.         Fully Implement Compliance and Enforcement of the AODA

6.         Ensure Taxpayers' Money is Never Used to Create or Buttress Disability Barriers

7.         Ensure Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections

8.         Review All Ontario Laws for Accessibility Barriers

9.         Launch Better Public Education on Accessibility

10.       Effectively Enforce the Ontario Human Rights Code

11.       Foster Our Ongoing Relationship with Your Party

We will make public the responses each party gives us. We urge you to:

* write the three party leaders and your local MPP and candidates now. Urge their parties to make the detailed commitments we request. The email and snail mail addresses of the three party leaders are included at the top of our letter to them, set out below.

* Alert your local media to the disability accessibility election commitments we are seeking.

* Start now to plan how you can raise accessibility issues in this election. We will offer more ideas as the election approaches. You can now plan to organize an all-candidates debate in your community in September on disability issues. Pick a date, time and location. Invite the parties to send a candidate.

* Let friends, family members and others know about disability issues of importance to you in the upcoming election. Urge them to take these issues into account when deciding on their vote.

As in the past, our participation in this election will be entirely and strictly non-partisan. We do not seek to elect or defeat any party or candidate. We seek to win strong commitments from each party, and to urge voters to consider these issues on election day. While we focus on issues on accessibility, we urge you to raise any other disability issues in the election that you consider important.

Did you know that the AODA Alliance, preceded by its predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee, has been raising accessibility issues in every Ontario election since 1995? In 1995, 1999, 2003 and 2007, election commitments were made on disability accessibility by some or all of the three major parties. In each case, their election platforms in this area were set out in letters to us or our predecessor coalition. This included:

* In 1995, commitments by the Conservative and Liberal parties;

* In 1999, commitments by the Liberal and New Democratic parties;

* In 2003, commitments by the Liberal and New Democratic parties; and

In 2007, commitments by the Liberal, Conservative and New Democratic parties.

The AODA Alliance email update service is now going off-line until mid- or late August. Stay tuned after that for more news on the October election's accessibility issues.

*****

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

July 15, 2011

Hon. Mr. Dalton McGuinty, Premier
Room 281, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A1
Email: dmcguinty.mpp.co@liberal.ola.org

Mr. Tim Hudak, Leader - Official Opposition
Room 381, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A8
Email: tim.hudakco@pc.ola.org

Ms. Andrea Horwath, Leader - Third Party
Room 113, Legislative Building
Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1A5
Email: ahorwath-qp@ndp.on.ca

Dear Leaders,

Re:       2011 Election Commitments on Disability and Accessibility

We seek election commitments on steps to make Ontario barrier-free for over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities. Our non-partisan coalition seeks a fully-accessible Ontario by the prompt, effective implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). In each Ontario election since 1995, commitments on this issue have been made in correspondence with us, or our predecessor, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. We again write in a spirit of non-partisanship to seek commitments.

We will share your responses with the public and urge voters to consider this issue in the election. We would appreciate responses by August 19, 2011, and look forward to working with all parties on implementing these commitments.

A.        Generally Strengthen Implementation of the AODA 2005 and ODA 2001

In 2005 all parties voted for the current Government's commendable AODA. In 2007, your parties each committed to strengthen the AODA's implementation. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10012007.asp. We ask you to commit to:

1. strengthen the implementation of the AODA 2005 and the companion 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.

B.        Develop Needed New Accessibility Standards

In July 2010 the current Government received a final proposal for a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The current Government has studied it for one year and has set no date for enacting it. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082011.asp We agree with the current Government's plan to incorporate it into the Ontario Building Code, to the extent feasible. We ask you to commit to:

2. enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard as a regulation under the AODA, and to the extent feasible, include the same content as an amendment to the Ontario Building Code, no later than the end of 2012, to address built environment barriers inside and outside buildings.

The current Government made a good choice to first develop accessibility standards for customer service, transportation, information and communication, employment, and the built environment. It has taken no steps to develop any new accessibility standards. There is a clear need for more accessibility standards. We ask you to commit to:

3. 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.

4. consult with the disability community, including the AODA Alliance, on other areas for developing accessibility standards.

C.        Implement Key Recommendations of the Charles Beer AODA Independent Review

The AODA required the Government to appoint an Independent Review to report on progress after four years. In 2009, the current Government commendably chose Charles Beer for this task. His February 2010 report is at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05312010.asp

The Beer Report found progress and a genuine good faith effort to implement the AODA. It also found that the Government needs to revitalize and strengthen its implementation, to breathe new life into it, and to show new leadership on this issue. More than mere tinkering is needed. Our response to the Beer Report is at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06032010.asp

The current Government has not committed to implement most Beer Report recommendations. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08112010.asp We ask you to commit to:

5. not implement the Beer Report recommendations addressing the ODA's repeal and the timing of the next AODA Independent Review.

6. implement all other Beer Report recommendations, to the extent feasible without amending the AODA.

7. not repeal the ODA 2001 unless all of its provisions are fully replicated in legislation that includes at least the same rights and as much protection for persons with disabilities as those provisions being repealed.

D.        Improve How the Ontario Public Service Addresses Accessibility

There is a pressing need to re-engineer and strengthen how the Ontario Public Service and the Ontario Government handle accessibility issues. They are too often addressed in isolated silos, with insufficient attention. In a troubling example this spring, the Ministry of Government Services improperly abolished the Employment Accommodation Fund. For a quarter century, the Fund reimbursed Ontario Government ministries for the cost of accommodating the needs of Ontario public servants with disabilities. The ODA 2001 requires this Fund to be maintained. Only after the AODA Alliance intervened did the Deputy Minister of Government Services commit to restore this Fund. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06282011.asp

We also had difficulty getting the current Government to clarify who had lead responsibility for some of its 2007 commitments to us. The Beer Report found a pressing need for the Ontario Government to strengthen and restructure how it deals with accessibility issues. Beyond the Beer Report's recommendations, we also ask you to commit to:

8. designate a minister with lead responsibility for all disability accessibility issues, including the AODA's implementation and fulfillment of these election commitments.

9. restore the full time position of Assistant Deputy Minister of Government Services for Accessibility, established in 2009, and downgraded to a part-time position in 2010 -- a position the Beer Independent Review called "vital." See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12022010.asp

10. re-engineer how the Ontario Public Service discharges its responsibilities to achieve accessibility, so that they do not continue in isolated silos.

11. make all deputy ministers accountable for their ministries' performance on accessibility.

12. not weaken or abolish the Employment Accommodation Fund for Ontario Government employees with disabilities.

E.         Fully Implement Compliance and Enforcement of the AODA

In 2003, the current Government commendably promised effective enforcement of the AODA. It has not yet implemented all AODA enforcement provisions. We therefore ask you to commit to:

13. fully implement and provide proper funding for all AODA enforcement/compliance provisions by April 2012.

14. also mandate Ontario Government inspectors under other legislation to include enforcement of the AODA in their other activities, where feasible, to make enforcement more cost-effective.

F.         Ensure Taxpayers' Money is Never Used to Create or Buttress Disability Barriers

The Ontario Government spends billions each year on capital and infrastructure projects, and to procure goods, services and facilities for use by itself or the public. Ontario needs a comprehensive, effective strategy to ensure that no one ever uses Ontario tax dollars to create, exacerbate, or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

It is very commendable that the current Government's new Ten-Year Infrastructure Plan has accessibility requirements. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07042011.asp These must be strengthened. We ask you to commit to:

15. maintain and strengthen the Ten-Year Infrastructure Plan's accessibility requirements, by:

 a) ensuring it applies to all forms of provincially-funded infrastructure, such as information technology infrastructure and electronic kiosks, and not just the built environment e.g. buildings.
 b) extending those accessibility principles to the Government's use of public funds to procure goods, services and facilities for use by the Government or the public.
 c) establishing detailed guidelines for infrastructure accessibility, beyond those set out in the current AODA accessibility standards. These should, e.g.
            (i) ensure that to be accessible, they must meet the Human Rights Code's accessibility requirements, and not just the more limited AODA accessibility standards.
            (ii) ensure that "where feasible" in this policy will be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Human Rights Code's undue hardship standard.
            (iii) establish Ontario Public Service implementation procedures for monitoring and enforcing this requirement, so it is not simply left to each ministry to decide whether or how much it will implement this commitment, in deciding among competing applicants for Government grants and contracts.
 d) widely and prominently broadcasting as soon as possible to any organization that seeks Ontario infrastructure or procurement funds, that they must prove in their applications that they will ensure that public money isn't used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities.

G.        Ensure Accessibility of Provincial and Municipal Elections

In 2007 your parties committed that if elected, you would implement an accessible elections action plan. Last year the current Government brought forward Bill 231 to modernize provincial elections. We called for that bill to be amended to substantially strengthen provisions to ensure elections accessibility for voters and candidates with disabilities.

Both opposition parties commendably supported many, if not most of our proposals. The current Government supported clearly fewer of our proposals. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/default.asp

In 2009 the current Government brought forward Bill 212. Among other things, it required some accessibility improvements for municipal elections. See: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12172009.asp

The current Government said its election accessibility action plan would be something in addition to those bills. To date, no elections accessibility action plan has been announced. We ask you to commit to:

16. introduce in the Legislature, within two years of taking office, with a view to enacting it, a bill that effectively addresses accessibility needs of voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections.

17. ensure that the bill will, at a minimum include the substance of the amendments that the opposition parties proposed to Bill 231, with comparable provisions for municipal elections. For example, it will ensure in any provincial general election, by-election, or municipal election in or after 2013, an option for secure telephone or internet voting for voters.

18. ask the Chief Electoral Officer to complete his study of alternate voting technologies by June 30, 2012 (not June 30, 2013 as the amended Elections Act now requires), and to ensure that his report fully addresses telephone and internet voting.

19. for election barriers not effectively addressed in the amended provincial or municipal elections legislation bring forward an accessible elections action plan by the end of 2012, to make municipal and provincial elections fully accessible to persons with disabilities, after consulting persons with disabilities.

20. consult with persons with disabilities, including the AODA Alliance, on whether stronger measures are needed to ensure that polling stations are always located in accessible venues.

21. explore with municipalities and the federal government the sharing of accessible voting equipment, to spread or reduce their cost.

H.        Review All Ontario Laws for Accessibility Barriers

In 2007 your parties committed that if elected, they would review all provincial laws for accessibility barriers. We repeatedly offered the current Government assistance in implementing this promise. The current Government did not start this full review until the 2011 spring.

At its April 4, 2011 training session for public servants who will conduct this review, a senior Ministry of Government Services official announced that each ministry is requested to complete a review of its own legislation by 2015, and a review of all regulations by 2020. These excessive deadlines are 8 and 13 years respectively from the 2007 promise. In contrast, in 1982 the Charter of Rights gave governments three years to review all legislation for all equality issues. We ask you to commit to:

22. complete a review of all legislation for accessibility barriers by 2013, and all regulations by 2014.

23. introduce into the Legislature, with the intent of passing it, a first omnibus bill to amend any legislation as a result of this review, by June 30, 2013.

24. amend any regulations that the government deems necessary as a result of the review by June 30, 2014.

25. designate a minister with lead responsibility for conducting this review.

I.          Launch Better Public Education on Accessibility

The Beer Report identified a pressing need for a new public education strategy on the AODA and accessibility. We agree. We ask you to commit to:

26. promptly develop, make available and widely publicize resources, training materials and guides for organizations to comply with accessibility standards enacted under the AODA, including a free web-authoring tool for creating accessible web pages.

27. launch an effective public education campaign, including but not limited to speeches by members of the Legislature, to the public, on the benefits and importance or removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities.

28. consult with persons with disabilities, including the AODA Alliance, on the content of these public education materials.

In 2007, we asked your parties to commit to mandate a permanent program to ensure that students in the school system and people training in key professions, such as architects, are educated on disability accessibility. Your parties each made varying commitments.

In 2007 the current Government committed to ensure that its Character Education Curriculum for gives school boards includes disability issues. It committed to raise with professional self-governing bodies our proposal of including mandatory training for professions such as architects on disability accessibility. We have asked the current Government what it has done on these. It has not reported to us actions fulfilling this commitment. We ask you to commit to:

29. promptly mandate a permanent program to ensure that students in the school system and people training in key professions, such as architects, are educated in disability accessibility.

J.          Effectively Enforce the Ontario Human Rights Code

In 2006, the current Government's Bill 107 privatized enforcement of human rights in Ontario. We fundamentally opposed that legislation. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/reform/default.asp

We want persons with disabilities to retain the rights they used to enjoy before Bill 107, including the right to public enforcement of human rights. We ask you to commit to:

30. significantly increase the number of public interest cases the Ontario Human Rights Commission brings, and strengthen its mandate and activity in bringing public interest cases on recurring barriers facing discrimination victims such as persons with disabilities, including an open, fair, accountable process for the Commission to receive and consider the public's recommendations on public interest cases the Commission should bring;

31. restore the Statutory Powers Procedure Act to hearings of the Human Rights Tribunal.

32. amend the Human Rights Code to restore the right of a discrimination claimant to file a complaint with the Human Rights Commission and, where not frivolous, vexatious or brought in bad faith, to have the complaint publicly investigated, and where the evidence warrants, publicly prosecuted before the Human Rights Tribunal.

33. not take away from discrimination victims including persons with disabilities any rights they now enjoy in the human rights enforcement process.

34. not impose any power or requirement for human rights complainants/applicants to be the subject of orders at the Human Rights Tribunal to pay costs.

35. ensure that persons with disabilities, including the AODA Alliance, are consulted in an accessible and open process before changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code, including an opportunity for a face-to-face meeting with the minister responsible for this issue before any final decisions are made on the Government's direction.

36. ensure that this year's mandatory independent review of Bill 107 includes open, accessible public hearings, that are not invitation-only.

K.        Foster Our Ongoing Relationship with Your Party

Our coalition and its predecessor the ODA Committee have repeatedly been recognized in the Legislature and elsewhere for our advocacy for disability accessibility. Over the past eight years, with a few important exceptions, the current Government has been commendably open to soliciting our views, and frankly discussing issues and concerns with us, at the highest levels, before key decisions were made, whether or not we agreed on the Government's plans. Both opposition parties have also been open to frankly discuss policy issues with us. Between 1995 and 2003, the previous Government was very resistant to frankly and directly discussing accessibility issues with us. We ask you to commit to:

37. as Premier, meet with us to discuss issues concerning persons with disabilities and accessibility such as the implementation of these commitments, including once within the first four months of taking office.

38. have your minister responsible for disability issues, and any other minister with responsibility bearing on our issues, meet with us where needed.

39. whether or not you form the next Government, maintain a comparable relationship over the next term, including candidly consulting with us and working with us on issues of concern to disability accessibility.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance