Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

AODA ALLIANCE SEEKS THREE ONTARIO PARTIES’ ELECTION COMMITMENTS ON DISABILITY ACCESSIBILITY ISSUES

August 26, 2007

SUMMARY

The Ontario election campaign is just around the corner. In the past three Ontario elections, Ontario’s disability community did a great job of raising disability issues, in a non-partisan way. We’re now swinging into action to do it again.

The AODA Alliance has now written the three Ontario political party leaders. We asked them to make specific election commitments on disability accessibility. Below see the text of letters dated August 24, 2007, and which was separately addressed to the Liberals’ Premier Dalton McGuinty, the Conservatives’ Leader of the Opposition John Tory, and the NDP Leader, Howard Hampton.

In these letters, we seek commitments on two important disability accessibility topics:

1. to take much-needed specific steps to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We were delighted in 2005 when the McGuinty Liberals passed the AODA. We were also delighted when the opposition Conservatives and NDP voted for the AODA, and proposed amendments to make it stronger.

Yet to date, the AODA’s implementation has been too disappointing, too slow, too weak and too ineffective. Only one weak Customer Service Accessibility Standard has been created. A weak proposed Public Transportation Accessibility Standard is now out for public comment. The AODA Alliance and other voices in the disability community have strongly criticized it. .

We ask each leader to commit to:

2. As a key tool in our campaign to root out barriers against Ontarians with disabilities, to restore the important rights of discrimination victims, like persons with disabilities, to a public investigation of their discrimination complaints, and to a public prosecution of them where there’s enough evidence. Last year, over the objections of many, including many from the disability community, the McGuinty passed the widely-criticized Bill 107. It stripped from discrimination victims their right to have the Ontario Human Rights Commission publicly investigate discrimination complaints, and to publicly prosecute them where there’s enough evidence. Bill 107 forces discrimination victims to investigate and prosecute their own discrimination cases. Bill 107 doesn’t keep the McGuinty Government’s promise of free independent legal counsel for all discrimination victims. It offers a new Human Rights legal clinic to provide legal presentation. However, that clinic doesn’t have to represent all discrimination victims. It hasn’t been given enough money to represent all discrimination victims. Its budget is a mere one quarter of the budget that the Human Rights Commission recently got. Bill 107 also reneges on the Ontario Government’s commitment to Ontarians with disabilities that we won’t need a new public agency to enforce the AODA because we’ll have continued access to file discrimination complaints with the Human Rights Commission.

We therefore ask each political party to commit to:

We need your help! Please circulate this email widely. Urge the three party leaders to make these election commitments. Let your local media know that disability issues like these are going to be very important to you in the upcoming Ontario election. Let the parties and the public know of any other disability election issues that you think are important. Send us your feedback at:

aodafeedback@rogers.com

We will have more information for you as the election approaches.

*****

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto Ontario M4G 3E8
(Fax) 416-480-7014

August 24, 2007



RE: 2007 Election Commitments on Disability Accessibility Issues

I write on the AODA Alliance’s behalf, we seek your party’s commitment on election issues important to over 1.5 million Ontarians who have a disability, and to all other Ontarians who as they age, will likely face a disability in the future. The AODA Alliance is a voluntary non-partisan coalition of individuals and organizations. Our mission is: "To contribute to the achievement of a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, by promoting and supporting the timely, effective, and comprehensive implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We’re the successor to the coalition that led the decade-long campaign for the AODA’s passage.

Under the AODA, Ontario must become fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025, less than 18 years from now. The Ontario Government must enact strong, effective, enforceable accessibility standards to remove and prevent barriers that impede persons with disabilities from full participation in Ontario life. These standards must make Ontario fully accessible by the Legislature’s deadline.

We were delighted in 2005 when the Government brought in the AODA and when all political parties voted for it. We seek your party’s election commitment to nine reasonable, much-needed steps to get the AODA effectively implemented.

The AODA promised so much. In the past two years its implementation has been very disappointing. Steps taken so far won’t achieve the AODA’s legal requirement that Ontario become fully accessible by 2025.

Only one very weak, limited accessibility standard has been enacted. It addresses access to customer service. A second draft weak and ineffective accessibility standard is now out for public comment. It deals with access to the important service of public transportation. It has been strongly criticized by voices from Ontario’s disability community. For example, for the simple, obvious accommodation of having bus drivers announce all route stops to assist blind and vision impaired passengers, a widely-publicized Human Rights Tribunal decision ordered the Toronto Transit Commission to start doing this within 30 days. The Government’s weak proposed transportation standard would give Ontario’s transit authorities fully 18 years to start announcing all route stops. Ontarians with disabilities deserve much better.

We therefore ask you to commit to:

1. Make the AODA’s process for developing accessibility standards stronger, more effective, and fairer, so that accessibility standards live up to the 11 principles for disability accessibility the Legislature unanimously passed on October 29, 1998, e.g. by:

a) Ensuring the disability community has equal representation on each Standards Development Committee, and isn’t out-numbered by other sectors’ representatives, by making sure that at least half of each committee’s members are persons self-identified with a disability and who are active in the disabilities community. Now the disability community isn’t ensured this equal representation.

b) Holding Standards Development Committee meetings in the open, not in closed sessions as in the past.

c) Requiring Standards Development Committees to directly consult with the public, including the disability community, e.g. at Standards Development Committee meetings. The Transportation Standards Development Committee refused a request to make a presentation to it on an issue on which the Standards Development Committee was divided, the announcing of all bus route stops.

D) Making Standards Development Committee voting fairer by letting the Committee vote on each proposed standard one section at a time, by having majority and minority reports if there are disagreements, and by letting each Standards Development Committee report out a series of proposed standards, not one all-or-nothing proposal.

e) Provide new financial support to encourage the effective participation of interested parties (especially from the disabilities community) in the work of Standards Development Committees, so they can participate on an equal footing with industry and Government .

2. Promptly review how the Government is implementing the AODA, to ensure that Ontario is making substantial progress towards the AODA’s requirement of full accessibility, e.g. by

a) Within two months of the election, the Premier would meet with an AODA Alliance delegation.

b) Within 6 months of the election Ontario’s Ombudsman reviewing and making public a report on the effectiveness of the AODA’s implementation, including the Standards Development Committees’ process and work.

3. Direct an internal Government review of all provincial legislation and regulations to screen for any existing barriers against persons with disabilities, and put in place a permanent internal system to screen all new proposed provincial legislation, regulations or programs to ensure that they don’t create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.

4. 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.

5. Develop an action plan to make all facets of provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.

Last year, over the objection of many people, including many from the disability community, the Government passed Bill 107. It privatizes human rights enforcement. It takes away discrimination victims’ right to a free public investigation of discrimination complaints, and to a public prosecution of their case if there’s enough evidence. It seriously weakens the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Ontario’s agency for publicly investigating and prosecuting discrimination, including discrimination due to a disability. It reneges on the Ontario Government’s commitment to Ontarians with disabilities that we won’t need a new public agency to enforce the AODA because we’ll have continued access to file discrimination complaints with the Human Rights Commission.

Under Bill 107, discrimination victims will have to investigate and prosecute their own discrimination cases. Bill 107 doesn’t keep the Ontario Government’s promise that every discrimination victim will get a free publicly-funded independent legal counsel throughout their discrimination case. Last spring’s Ontario Budget only gave 3 million dollars per year to providing lawyers for the over 2,300 discrimination victims annually right across Ontario. This is only one quarter of what the Government gave the Human Rights Commission for its now-repealed role of investigating and prosecuting discrimination cases.

The Government promised, advertised and scheduled public hearings before the Legislature on Bill 107. Last fall, after public criticism of Bill 107 kept mounting, the Government shut down the promised public hearings on that bill, before many could be heard. This prevented many, including the AODA Alliance, from voicing their concerns about that bill at legislative hearings.

We therefore ask your party to commit:

6. Not to proclaim Bill 107 in force, and to repeal that bill. If the current Government proclaims it in force, to overturn that proclamation.

7. Within six months of taking office, to begin to undertake an open, accessible public consultation on how to effectively reform the Human Rights process in Ontario.

8. Within 18 months of taking office, to introduce a bill to reform the human rights code process for enforcing human rights in Ontario, to enable discrimination victims to have more expeditious access to effective remedies for the discrimination they have suffered. That reform would be based on the core principle that Ontario should have a public enforcement process. This bill will, at a minimum, not take away from discrimination victims any rights they had been given under the human rights code prior to Bill 107.

9. To increase annual funding to the human rights enforcement process by a minimum of $6,000,000 above the funding level for that system in 2006-2007.

We don’t say these are the only important issues for Ontarians with disabilities. We ask you to consider any other disability issues that individuals and groups raise with you.

We look forward to your reply.

Sincerely,


Doreen Winkler, Ph. D., R.S.W.
Acting Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance