Our Campaign for Strong, Effective Implementation of the AODA

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

WHY HAS THE ONTARIO GOVERNMENT’S DEVELOPMENT OF ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS UNDER THE AODA BEEN SO INEFFECTIVE SO FAR?

October 22, 2007

SUMMARY

Here is an insight into why the Ontario Government’s work to date on developing accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act has been so ineffective until now at developing strong, effective accessibility standards.

Back on August 30, 2007, an AODA Alliance delegation met with the two Ontario public servants with lead responsibility for spearheading the Government’s development of accessibility standards, Ms. Ellen Waxman and Mr. Scot Weeres. Below you can read the September 10, 2007 letter which the AODA Alliance sent to these public officials to follow up on that meeting. This letter gives a good picture into our perspective on what’s gone wrong so far.

In the period of over two years since the AODA was enacted, the Government has enacted only one accessibility standard, the weak and short Customer Service accessibility standard. You can see our concerns about that standard at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09122007.asp

In addition, last spring the Ontario Government circulated a longer but even more troubling proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard. You can see our concerns about that standard at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08132007- Support-BriefOnProposedTransportationAccessibilityStandard.asp

It was dramatically ironic that just as we were settling in for our August 30, 2007 meeting with these public officials, the Ontario Human Rights Commission was releasing a news release, declaring that the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard fell well short of the Human Rights Code’s requirements. You can read this at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective- aoda/09052007-ACCESSIBILITYFORONTARIANS WITHDISABILITIESACTALLIANCEUPDATE.asp

This all makes the AODA fall far short of what we were promised by Premier McGuinty in the 2003 election. We can now turn our efforts on how to substantially improve the AODA’s implementation. The McGuinty Government promised to strengthen the standards development process. To see what we were promised in the 2007 election, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10102007.asp

To see what we were promised in the 2003 election, visit: http://www.odacommittee.net/news80.html

Send us your feedback at: aodafeedback@rogers.com

*****

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

September 10, 2007

via facsimile (416) 326-9725

Ms. Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, and
Mr. Scot Weeres, Director, Standards Development and Compliance Branch
777 Bay Street,
6th Floor
Suite 601A
Toronto, Ontario M7A 2J4

Dear Ms. Waxman and Mr. Weeres,

Re: Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Thank you very much for meeting with an AODA Alliance delegation on August 30, 2007. We welcomed this opportunity to give you feedback on the AODA’s implementation. This is especially appreciated since the two of you are the lead public officials responsible for the development of accessibility standards under that legislation.

At our meeting, we expressed our serious concern with the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that has been enacted under the AODA, and the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard that the Government now has out for public comment. These are both very weak and ineffective. Both fall far short of meeting the AODA’s requirement of achieving a fully-accessible Ontario by January 1, 2025.

We indicated that we see the problems with these standards as stemming in substantial part with the flawed way in which your Ministry has managed and led the process for developing these accessibility standards. We reviewed with you the constructive proposals for improving that process that we set out in our August 24, 2007 letters to Premier Dalton McGuinty, Opposition Leader John Tory and NDP Leader Howard Hampton. We urged your Ministry to develop plans for implementing those proposals now.

One of our serious concerns was that neither the final Customer Service Standard nor the proposed Transportation Standard appears to live up to the baseline requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code. We were advised that in the standards development process, you viewed the Human Rights Code as separate from and not a part of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We were also told that in that process, you viewed that the Human Rights Code’s requirements set a standard that is not possible for AODA accessibility standards to reach, and which is ever-rising over time.

We expressed our serious concern that your approach to the development of accessibility standards under the AODA appears to be fundamentally flawed, and out of touch with the core aims of the AODA, a law for which we fought for ten years. The AODA was intended to set standards that meet or exceed the Human Rights Code’s requirements. Far from being separate from the AODA, the Human Rights Code is the bedrock foundation on which the AODA was built. The AODA was intended to provide more effective implementation of the rights which the Human Rights Code guarantees, without the need to litigate barriers one at a time.

For example, blind and vision-impaired Ontarians shouldn’t have to file and fight separate human rights complaints against each municipal public transit service across Ontario, to get them to meet the Human Rights Code’s requirement that all bus route stops be audibly announced. Yet under the weak proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard, persons with disabilities will have to do just that. This is because the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard falls so far short of the Human Rights Code’s requirements.

Our concern is powerfully echoed by a submission of the Human Rights Commission to your Ministry on the proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard, which the Commission publicly released at the same time as our meeting. In very strong language, the Commission advised you:

“The Commission has grave concerns with significant aspects of the Transportation Standard. In a number of areas, the standard falls far short of human rights standards, not only failing to make progress towards equality for persons with disabilities, but regressing on gains previously made. The Commission urges the Committee to significantly revise the Transportation Standard in order to bring it into alignment with human rights standards and the purposes of the AODA.”

The AODA was passed to put flesh on the bones of the Human Rights Code. It appears to us that these standards were drafted as if there were no need for them to live up to the Human Rights Code. We urged that the standards development process be significantly reformed to ensure that that does not happen.

Your approach to the standards development process, to the effect that there was no need to aim to have them meet or exceed the Human Rights Code, flies in the face of the extensive discussions and negotiations we had with the Government from 2003 to 2005 over the crafting of the AODA. Our concern is directly echoed by the Human Rights Commission’s submission to you, which states:

“The Commission believes that it is essential that the AODA be interpreted, and standards under it developed, in a manner harmonious with the Code.”

We reported to you that at an August 21, 2007 Toronto focus group on the proposed transportation standard that your Ministry held (which an AODA Alliance represented attended) a member of the Transportation Standards Development Committee from the transit sector explained that the reason the proposed transportation standard was the way it was all because of cost. He said that at the Transportation Standards Development Committee meetings, they had asked where the money man was. In effect the message we got was that this proposed standard was drafted as it was because it was expected that more wouldn’t be done to achieve accessibility unless the Ontario Government provided new funding for it.

We expressed to you at our meeting, as we expressed at that focus group, that such an attitude is seriously problematic. It proceeds on the assumption that no transit provider, public or private, need spend a dime on achieving accessibility unless the Ontario Government foots the bill. Put simply, transit providers can’t keep contravening the Human Rights Code until and unless the Ontario Government pays them not to. The Supreme Court’s Via Rail decision made this clear. Moreover, there are important measures to improve accessibility that cost little or nothing.

We recognize that the availability of funds can affect the timing of progress, but it can’t be an excuse for undue delay or total failure to make required progress. Transit providers ( many of whom have been the beneficiaries of widely-publicized new government funding announcements in recent years) can’t off-load onto the Province their duty to not discriminate against persons with disabilities. If this proposed transportation Standard was based on such a wrong understanding, it further shows how seriously deficient it is.

It is because of this that both the Customer Service Standard recently enacted, and the proposed Transportation Standard, must be re-designed from scratch.

You told us that the proposed transportation standard is just a first cut, and that the disability community now has an opportunity for input into it. We shared our concern that during our decade-long campaign for the AODA, we had hoped that proposed standards that a Standards Development Committee crafts would be a good product that could be tweaked during public consultations, not a fatally flawed one. The disability community shouldn’t have to expend its scarce time and energy fighting a rear-guard action against a weak and ineffective proposed accessibility standard, a standard that, in the Human Rights Commission’s view, could set the cause of accessibility back. That would be a tragic and counter-productive result of our decade-long campaign for this legislation.

We proposed that the actions for reforming the standards development process could and should be instituted right now, both with the Transportation Committee and with the committees that have been appointed to develop standards for employment, the built environment and for communication and information. Even if their work is already partway underway, the prompt implementation of our proposals can only serve to make their work easier and more effective. They need not await the election.

We expressed our concern that the Ministry’s process for gathering input on the proposed Transportation accessibility standard is not sufficiently open and accessible. We commend the Ministry for extending to September 28, 2007 the deadline for gathering input on the proposed Standard. We encouraged you to hold open, accessible public focus groups in September. To date, your Ministry has only held closed, invitation-only focus groups. The two that our delegation’s members have attended in Toronto were very lop-sided in favour of the transit sector, and against the disability community. Your August closed, invitation-only in-person focus groups were sadly reminiscent of the one which the previous Harris Government held in the 1998 summer. The then-Opposition Liberals roundly condemned that practice. The option of giving written feedback over the internet is insufficient for the many who lack access to that technology.

Finally, we appreciated your agreeing to get back to us on our request to obtain a copy of the full report of the consultant whom the Government engaged to review the work and effectiveness of the Standards Development Committee process. To date, you have only given us a shortened PowerPoint summary that was shown to the Transportation Standards Development Committee. It was agreed that it would be undesirable for us to have to resort to an application under the Freedom of Information Act to get access to the full report, prepared at taxpayers’ expense.

We appreciate your invitation to meet, and look forward to further opportunities for such full and frank exchanges. We are eager to do what we can to help substantially improve the process for developing strong, effective accessibility standards under the AODA.

Sincerely,

Dr. Doreen Winkler, Acting Chair, AODA Alliance

cc: Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community & Social Services
via facsimile (416) 325-3347