ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE
One Year Ago Today We Revealed that the Wynne Government Knew Staggering 70% of Private Sector Organizations with 20 or More Employees Were Violating Disabilities Act – But No Effective Enforcement, Despite Election Promises – One Year Later, the Government Quietly Posts a Paltry Plan for AODA Enforcement that Falls Short of Its 2014 Election Pledge
November 18, 2014
One year ago today, on November 18, 2013, we revealed and the Toronto Star reported that the Ontario Government had known for months that fully 70% of Ontario private sector organizations with at least 20 employees had for months not complied with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act’s reporting requirements. The reporting deadline was December 31, 2012. We also revealed that the Ontario Government was not keeping its promise to effectively enforce this law. Yet it had ample unspent funds to implement and enforce this law.
Just under one full year later, on Friday, November 14, 2014, the Government posted on line a seven-page document supposedly describing its enforcement plans for the AODA. We set this out below, along with an analysis of it, and the text of Premier Wynne’s 2014 election promises on the AODA’s enforcement. As far as we can tell, the Government has not issued a news release to publicize this new low-profile posting.
In summary, this new Government posting includes scarcely anything new. It largely re-announces things the Government earlier said it has been doing for months or years.
This is not the “detailed plan” we were promised. It does not ensure the effective enforcement of the AODA. The Government has promised time and again that the AODA would be effectively enforced.
It does not include a key enforcement ingredient that Premier Wynne promised us in writing during the spring 2014 election. In her May 14, 2014 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out the Government’s 2014 election pledges on disability accessibility, Kathleen Wynne promised to establish and publicize a toll-free line for people with disabilities to report AODA violations. Yet this posting says nothing about this as-yet unestablished toll-free line. On Twitter, we have daily tweeted a count of the number of days since this unkept promise was made.
We have been waiting a very long time for the Government to deliver on its promises to make public a comprehensive plan for the AODA’s enforcement. We are still waiting for a real plan that is detailed and comprehensive, and that clearly mandates accountable new action. It could not have taken the Government a full year to develop this thin gruel.
* On December 3, 2013, Eric Hoskins, then the cabinet minister with lead responsibility for enforcing the AODA, announced that he already had a plan for enforcing the AODA. In the Legislature he stated regarding the enforcement of the AODA: “We will continue to work hard -- including through audits and inspections and, if required, fines and the court system -- to improve our private sector compliance. We have an enforcement plan and we will implement it.”
* Two months later, on February 20, 2014, a spokesperson for Eric Hoskins told the Toronto Star that the Government would make public a plan for the AODA’s enforcement “in short order.”
* On February 20, 2014 we made public and the Toronto Star reported that the Government had been sitting on an enforcement plan since 2012, which the Ontario Public Service had prepared. Evidently the Government had never implemented it.
* Three months after that, on May 14, 2014, Premier Wynne wrote the AODA Alliance to promise, as part of her election platform on disability accessibility, that a plan for the AODA’s enforcement would be made public “promptly” after the election. She said that she couldn’t announce it sooner due to the election campaign. That campaign ended fully five months ago.
We call on Premier Wynne’s Government to now keep its overdue promises on enforcement of the AODA. Make public a real, detailed and comprehensive plan for the effective enforcement of this law. Establish and publicize a toll-free line for reporting AODA violations.
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1. Analysis of the Government’s November 14, 2014 Posting on Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
On May 14, 2014, during the recent Ontario election, Premier Kathleen Wynne promised to make available "a detailed plan on all enforcement activities." The Government’s November 14, 2014 posting set out below is certainly not a "detailed plan." It largely speaks in vague generalities. It tells us almost nothing new.
This posting does not commit to later make public any more detail about the Government’s enforcement plans. As for the future, it merely states: “We will publicly report on our results by February 2015.” That is a pledge to report on results, but not a promise to provide the detailed plan that is, as of now, still missing.
On May 14, 2014, Premier Wynne promised to create and publicize “an accessible toll-free phone number to report violations of AODA requirements.” The Government’s November 14, 2014 posting does no such thing. We have been pressing for such a toll-free line for over two years.
On May 14, 2014, Premier Wynne promised: “We will ensure that organizations that fail to comply with AODA requirements are met with monetary penalties and be subjected to prosecution, where necessary.” This posting does not ensure this. It refers to enforcement actions, in terms that are far weaker and more nebulous.
To date, the Government has only announced that it took any enforcement steps regarding a mere 2,500 of the 36,000 private sector organizations with at least twenty employees that had failed to file required accessibility standards reports under the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It has earlier announced no steps to enforce any other requirements under that standard. As well, it has earlier announced no steps to enforce requirements regarding accessible transportation, employment, information and communication, or public spaces, are imposed under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
Much if not most of this posting talks about Government activities aimed at raising awareness on accessibility and the Government’s giving obligated organizations tools to help them comply. That is not enforcement. In any event, the Government has been claiming to be taking such steps since shortly after the AODA was enacted almost ten years ago.
This Government posting looks largely like a re-announcement of such measures as if they were something new. If that part of this posting were removed from this short document, the remaining document would be even shorter.
It is good that the Government says it will be “Offering a help desk to provide assistance to organizations and the public about the Act and its regulations.” To be meaningful, this must be widely and repeatedly publicized to overcome the widespread lack of knowledge about the AODA. It must be well-staffed to ensure that calls are taken and answered without long periods on hold.
As for actual enforcement activities, the posting largely lists a range of enforcement activities, liked inspections, audits, issuing compliance notices, imposing monetary penalties and conducting prosecutions, without saying how many organizations will be subject to any or all of them. The only exception is its indication that in 2014 it will have audited 2,000 organizations. We don’t know how many of these are in the private sector and how many are in the public sector.
The posting appears to be misleading where it says: “Starting in November 2013, Notices of Proposed Order were sent to private/non-profit sector organizations that did not submit a 2012 accessibility compliance report.” This makes it sound like the Government was doing this for all organizations that did not comply with the AODA, rather than a small percentage of them. Any such intimation would be quite incorrect.
Last fall, the Government announced that it was only taking such steps in relation to 2,500 of the 36,000 private sector organizations with at least twenty employees that had failed to file the mandatory Customer Service accessibility report. The Government has never announced that it expanded the numbers of private sector organizations in this regard. Thus, as far as we know, the vast majority of organizations whom the Government knows to have been violating the AODA seem to have been able to continue doing so with impunity.
The posting only tepidly commits to “Improve compliance reporting from the private/non-profit sectors.” If a mere one or two of the 36,000 non-complying organizations improve in any way, that tepid goal is fully met. Yet the Government promised an AODA to achieve accessibility in the private sector, not just the public sector.
The posting commits to “For the Broader Public Sector, achieve 100% compliance with 2013 reporting requirements.” This sounds great. Yet it is a similarly tepid goal. In the past, the Government has previously said that there was 99% or 100% compliance by public sector organizations in meeting their 2010 Customer Service Accessibility Standard reporting obligations.
The posting does not commit to ensuring through enforcement that the broader public sector actually provides accessibility to people with disabilities. It aims only at ensuring that they file their self-reports. Of course a self-report does not ensure that the organization actually is ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities. Moreover, the Government has exempted many private sector organizations from the AODA’s reporting requirements.
It is positive that after over three long years of advocacy on our part, the Government is finally announcing efforts to use enforcement officials under certain other laws in three ministries to enforce the AODA as part of their other enforcement work. This should be spread right across the Government. The Government has had over three years to study and test out this idea.
To read the Toronto Star’s February 20, 2014 report, quoting the Government’s commitment to release a plan for the AODA’s enforcement “in short order”, and the revelation of the Government’s sitting on an AODA enforcement plan for two years.
2. What Premier Kathleen Wynne Promised About the AODA’s Enforcement in Her May 14, 2014 Letter to the AODA Alliance
“B. Ensure that all enforceable requirements under the AODA are effectively enforced
4. The Ontario Liberal Party is dedicated to pursuing compliance and enforcement action to bring more private sector organizations into compliance with AODA. To speak to our track record, 99 per cent of Designated Broader Public Sector Organizations have submitted their reports by the deadline to date. If I am elected, I will see to it that this becomes 100 per cent.
We will ensure that organizations that fail to comply with AODA requirements are met with monetary penalties and be subjected to prosecution, where necessary. Under my government, we issued the first monetary penalties. I am committed to using all enforcement provisions under the AODA to ensure that organizations that do not comply with the law are penalized and to encourage compliance. To date, my government has issued over 500 Notices of Director’s Orders and we will continue to send more out monthly. Paired with enforcement activities, we are actively reaching out to businesses and not-for-profit organizations to help them understand and follow their obligations under the AODA.
5. With respect to additional enforcement activities, we commit to investigating the possibility of having government inspectors and investigators enforce the AODA within the context of existing resources and as training capacity exists.
6. We will make a detailed plan on all enforcement activities available, along with establishing and publicizing an accessible toll-free phone number to report violations of AODA requirements. Unfortunately, communication of the enforcement plan is on hold during the writ period. I look forward to releasing it promptly should we win the honour of re-election.
7. To ensure increased transparency going forward, we will make an annual report publicly available on levels of compliance including the effectiveness of our enforcement measures.”
3. The Government’s November 14, 2014 Posting on the AODA’s Enforcement
Toward an Accessible Ontario
Complying with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (the Act) came into force in 2005 and sets out a clear goal and timeframe to make Ontario accessible by 2025.
One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise as our population ages.
Ontario is the first jurisdiction in the world to enact specific legislation establishing a goal and time-frame for accessibility. Ontario is also the first jurisdiction to make accessibility reporting the law and has established standards so people living with disabilities can enjoy increased participation in their communities. To date, these include:
- Accessible customer service to ensure organizations provide goods, services or facilities in ways that take the needs of people with disabilities into account.
- Accessible transportation to make it easier for people with disabilities to travel to work and enjoy recreational, shopping and entertainment venues.
- Accessible information and communications to allow people with disabilities to access information that many of us rely on every day, including web sites, textbooks and business information.
- Accessible public spaces to remove barriers for people with disabilities when accessing recreational trails, service counters, parking lots and outdoor play spaces.
- Accessible employment to help organizations make accessibility a regular part of recruiting and supporting employees with disabilities.
Every organization with one or more employees is required to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and all of its applicable standards, including customer service, transportation, information and communications, the design of public spaces and employment. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (the Directorate) is committed to the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and helping organizations comply with the standards by providing free tools and resources and offering support through a dedicated help desk.
2014 is a reporting year for the private and non-profit sectors. Organizations with 20 or more employees must self-report on all applicable standards by the end of 2014 by submitting an online report advising the government that they have met all of their accessibility requirements.
Organizations that do not comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act are in contravention of the law and the Directorate will use all available enforcement measures if organizations are not in compliance. These measures include financial penalties, court enforcement and prosecution.
Getting to compliance:
- Launching a province-wide campaign to drive awareness, and to help organizations learn about their compliance requirements.
- Engaging in outreach to businesses, associations, the broader public sector and other key groups so that organizations know their obligations under the act.
- Letting organizations know when they need to file an accessibility report.
Helping Organizations Comply
- Supporting organizations by providing them with free web-based tools and resources, including guides, toolkits and checklists to help organizations understand and meet their requirements.
- Offering a help desk to provide assistance to organizations and the public about the Act and its regulations.
- Auditing organizations to confirm they are in compliance with the act.
- Working directly with organizations that are non-compliant, to help them comply.
- Following up when organizations do not file reports or comply with the act, which includes:
- Engaging in outreach to businesses, associations, the broader public sector and other key groups so that organizations know their obligations under the act.
- Letting organizations know when they need to file an accessibility report
- Conducting inspections.
- Issuing Notices of Proposed Order (NOPOs) advising why the organization is not in compliance with the law, and what it must do to comply and to avoid a penalty.
- Issuing Director’s Orders stating the organization must comply, including possible financial penalties.
- Court enforcement.
- Prosecution, which could include fines.
Enforcement to date:
- The Directorate uses all of the provisions available to enforce the act.
Starting in November 2013, Notices of Proposed Order were sent to private/non-profit sector organizations that did not submit a 2012 accessibility compliance report.
In January 2014, where warranted, the Directorate began sending out Director’s Orders, including financial penalties.
- By October 2014, approximately 95% of such cases had been resolved.
To reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025 we will set and meet annual milestones. For 2014, we will:
- Improve compliance reporting from the private/non-profit sectors.
- By year end, conduct up to 2,000 audits on organizations in the private/non-profit and broader public sectors to verify compliance with applicable accessibility standards.
- For the Broader Public Sector, achieve 100% compliance with 2013 reporting requirements.
We will publicly report on our results by February 2015.
Planned 2014 compliance activities:
Launch province-wide campaign focused on compliance awareness.
- Targeted strategy to increase awareness of accessibility and promote compliance using multiple channels, including email, direct mail, radio and online.
Result: Increased compliance reporting awareness.(email, direct mail, radio and online).
- Public education and outreach strategies.
- Driving compliance with the Act by reaching out to businesses, associations, the broader public sector and other key groups to ensure organizations know their obligations and when they need to file an accessibility report. Outreach activities include webcasts, workshops, conferences, presentations and trade shows.
Result: Contribute towards improvement in compliance reporting from the private/non-profit sectors by year-end.
- Pursue outstanding broader public sector organizations to ensure they are meeting the 2013 reporting requirements under the Act. Maintain the high-level of reporting from BPS organizations on all applicable standards.
- Compliance support and enforcement of BPS organizations.
Result: Maintain the high-level of reporting from BPS organizations on all applicable standards.
- Audit up to 2,000 organizations.
- Organizations will be selected for audits to ensure that they are in compliance with the Act.
- Continue to follow up when necessary with NOPOs, Director’s Orders, fines and prosecution.
Result: Maintain confidence in the assurance framework.
- Partner with other ministries to conduct compliance activities on our behalf
- Extend the Directorate’s compliance reach by engaging partner ministries:
- Ministry of Transportation
- Pilot project (with up to 50 organizations) to help improve compliance for private transportation organizations.
- Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities
- Pilot project (with up to 500 organizations to help improve compliance reporting.
- Ministry of Labour
- Pilot Project (with up to 50 organizations) to help improve compliance.
Result: Increased compliance and reporting rates in the private/non-profit sectors.
For more detailed information visit