Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Almost 8 Months After Receiving the Blistering Onley Report, Both Premier Doug Ford and His Accessibility Minister Write the AODA Alliance But Offer Nothing New to Strengthen the Implementation and Enforcement of Ontario’s Beleaguered Disabilities Act
August 26, 2019
Two more letters have come in to the AODA Alliance from the Doug Ford Government. They were sent in response to an open letter which the Government received from us on July 10, 2019. The Government’s new letters offer Ontarians with disabilities simply more of the same foot-dragging on accessibility for people with disabilities. There is no indication of any new plan for a strengthened Government approach to accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
In substance these letters just repeat things the Government has already been doing on accessibility. These are measures that are proven to be insufficient to overcome the serious problems that the Onley Report documented in detail.
It is regrettably typical for governments in such a situation to simply regurgitate what it has been doing, instead of offering needed new actions. It is noteworthy that in listing its actions of which it is proud, the Government did not in these letters point to its deeply troubling plan to divert 1.3 million public dollars to the problem-ridden private accessibility certification program offered by the Rick Hansen Foundation. That Government plan has come under heavy criticism over the past months.
You can read both of the Government’s new letters below. You can read the July 10, 2019 open letter to the Doug Ford Government by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/in-a-compelling-open-letter-21-disability-organizations-unite-to-call-on-the-doug-ford-government-to-announce-a-plan-to-implement-the-report-on-ontarios-disabilities-act-submitted-by-former-lieuten/
Meanwhile, an inexcusable 208 days have now passed since the Doug Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Yet Doug Ford’s Government has still announced no plan for implementing its key recommendations that would strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.
The July 10, 2019 open letter was originally co-signed by an impressive 21 community organizations and groups. The expanded list of signatories, set out later in this Update, has since grown to 27 organizations. If any organizations want to sign on, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Do you find this frustrating? There’s something you can do to help us! Join in our Dial Doug campaign. Call or email Premier Doug Ford. Ask him where is his plan to get Ontario to become accessible to over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025?
Doug Ford’s office number is +1 (416) 325-1941. His email address is email@example.com
We are delighted to hear from those who have already taken part in the Dial Doug campaign. Action tips on how to take part are available for you at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/join-in-our-new-dial-doug-campaign-a-grassroots-blitz-unveiled-today-to-get-the-doug-ford-government-to-make-ontario-open-for-over-1-9-million-ontarians-with-disabilities/
We also invite and encourage you to download, print up and give out our 1-page leaflet on the Dial Doug campaign. Spread the word about it. Email it to friends. Post it on your Facebook page. Our 1-page Dial Doug leaflet is available at https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/dial-doug-leaflet.docx
A Closer Look — The Doug Ford Government’s Response to the July 10, 2019 Open Letter Just Offers Over 2 Million Ontarians with Disabilities More of the Same, Not Strong New Action
The July 10, 2019 open letter called on the Ford Government to announce a plan to implement the final report by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley, of his Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s accessibility law, the AODA. The Onley Report found that the AODA’s required goal of becoming a fully accessible province for over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities is nowhere in sight. It concluded that Ontario remains replete with “soul-crushing” barriers against people with disabilities. That report recommended a series of important new measures needed to get Ontario back on schedule for becoming accessible by 2025.
The AODA Alliance led the preparation of this July 10, 2019 open letter. We did so after the Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature on May 30, 2019 to defeat a non-partisan motion by NDP MPP Joel Harden. That motion called on the Doug Ford Government to develop a plan to implement the Onley Report. Several MPPs from the Ford Government, including Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho, disparaged taking the action recommended in that proposed motion as “red tape”.
On that day, the Ford Government gave prepared speeches that sound like they reject the Onley Report’s recommendations as “red tape.” That is an extremely inaccurate and unfair description of the Onley Report. The Doug Ford Government has not retracted those statements in the three months since it made them.
The Ford Government’s two written responses to the July 10, 2019 open letter are deeply disappointing. They embody no plan of effective action, nor any pledge to establish one.
We heard once again in the Accessibility Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter that the Government is still studying the Onley Report. That report is only 81 pages. This is a top responsibility for the Accessibility Minister. David Onley’s key recommendations are ones which we have been presenting to all parties in the Legislature for years. This is not rocket science.
The Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho had earlier studied this report sufficiently after having it for a little over two months that he publicly declared in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley had done a “marvelous job.” As we have noted in the past, the Doug Ford Government has shown itself willing to act quickly, decisively, and vigorously in areas that it considers important. In those areas, it has not taken almost eight months to keep studying a report. This delay of almost eight months is hardly consistent with the Accessibility Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter where the Government says it is taking the Onley Report “very seriously.”
In the Minister’s detailed letter, the Government did not say it would ever bring forward such a plan. We respectfully but profoundly disagree with the Ford Government’s claim in the Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter that the Government is now on the right track on accessibility. Its protracted failure to bring forward a plan to implement the Onley Report is proof positive that it is on the wrong track. The Minister wrote:
“We are on the right track to creating an Ontario where communities offer opportunities instead of barriers.
A place where everyone can be independent, work, and contribute to the economy – wherever they live.”
Both the Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter and the Premier’s July 24, 2019 letter raise a serious concern that the Doug Ford Government is not even trying to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible to over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities, the goal which the AODA requires by 2025. Those letters speak instead about merely trying to “improve accessibility” and about “making Ontario more accessible and preventing barriers for people with disabilities.”
It is not good enough for the Government to merely aim to “improve accessibility.” Just one new ramp, installed somewhere in Ontario, or just one newly-retrofitted website, would fulfil that feeble goal.
In his August 19, 2019 letter, the Minister pointed in support to his Government’s having agreed to resume the work of the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees. The Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter states:
“Right after tabling the report, we announced that we would be resuming the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees. As the Minister, I was proud to immediately begin working with the chairs to re-start work on these valuable committees.”
Yet it was the Ford Government itself that left those important Standards Development Committees frozen since the Government took power in June 2019. Moreover, even though the Ford Government announced on March 7, 2019 that it was lifting its freeze on the work of those Standards Development Committees, over five months have passed since then. Those committees have not held a meeting, as far as we can tell. As an initial step, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee is expected to hold its first re-engagement telephone conference call some time on September 10, 2019. That is a small glimmer of progress, that will take place over six months after the Ford Government lifted this freeze, and over 14 months after this freeze was first imposed.
The rest of the Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter basically rehashes what we had been hearing for years from the Wynne Government. The Onley Report adds up to a stinging indictment of that strategy as far too little and far too slow. For example, the Accessibility Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter summarizes what the Government says it is now doing on accessibility as follows:
“We’ve also taken action through a number of key initiatives, including working across government to take a whole-of-government approach to accessibility, supporting businesses to better understand accessibility and its benefits, and engaging with employers through our Employers’ Partnership Table.”
It is true that the Onley Report recommends that the Ontario Government take a “whole of Government approach” to accessibility. However, all the Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter does is to repeat this phrase without specifying any concrete changes, much less any substantial improvements. The previous Government similarly claimed to be taking a whole of Government approach to accessibility, without demonstrating concrete improvements.
The Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter refers to its strategy within the Government which is very similar to, if not identical to, the internal Government strategy of the Wynne Government (2013-2018, the McGuinty Government before that (2003-2013, and the Mike Harris Government before those two (1995-2003), as follows:
“As Mr. Onley recommended, we are working across ministries to make accessibility a responsibility of all ministries and inform a whole-of-government approach to advancing accessibility.
As part of this work, we are working with ministries to look at their policies, programs and services and identifying areas where we can work together to remove the barriers faced by Ontario’s 2.6 million people with disabilities.”
The Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter focuses predominantly if not entirely on efforts to educate organizations on accessibility, and efforts to get organizations to voluntarily do more. The letter refers to two specific initiatives which the former Wynne Government had been using for years, the Enabling Change Fund and the Government’s Partnership Council on Employment for People with disabilities. As a core Government strategy on accessibility, that is a formula for more progress at a snail’s pace. The Onley Report‘s recommendations call for the Government to do much, much more.
The only tiny glimmer of progress in these letters came where the Minister stated:
“For example, with our ministry partners, we have begun discussions with the Ontario Building Officials Association and the Retail Council of Canada and have been meeting with other stakeholders such as the Ontario Association of Architects.”
To “begin discussions” is very preliminary. We ask the Government to speed up this effort and to now bring us to the table with those organizations and with an ambitious plan for action, so we can work together throughout on progress.
We also again urge the Ford Government to now fulfil its duty under the AODA to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the 2012 Public Spaces Accessibility Standard, and to mandate that committee to make recommendations for a comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. It’s time the Ontario Government obeyed the AODA. Both the Doug Ford Government and the previous Wynne Government stand together as having violated the requirement to appoint that mandatory review of the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard by the end of 2017. To take these action we seek is consistent with the Onley Report’s recommendations.
Premier Doug ford’s July 24, 2019 letter to us is no more encouraging than is the Accessibility Minister’s August 19, 2019 letter. As he has in all his prior letters to us since taking power, Premier Ford simply punted all our issues back to Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho. There are two powerful reasons why this is insufficient for over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities:
First, the Onley Report itself called for new Government leadership on accessibility, pointing to the premier’s office. The report included the damning heading “Restoring Government Leadership.” The Onley Report found:
“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this. I am hopeful the current one will.”
Second, key areas where we need action are ones which the Premier himself must take. The Accessibility Minister, acting alone, cannot do so. We listed examples of priority actions in the AODA Alliance’s July 19, 2018 letter to Premier Ford. Premier Ford’s response to that letter was to punt it entirely to Accessibility Minister Cho.
Text of the August 19, 2019 Letter to the AODA Alliance from Ontario Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho
Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
College Park, 5th Floor
777 Bay St.
Toronto ON M7A 1S5
Ministre des Services aux aînés et de l’Accessibilitée Ministre
College Park, 5ème étage
rue 777 Bay
Toronto ON M7A 1S5
August 20, 2019
Mr. David Lepofsky
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
I would like to respond to your Open Letter to the Premier of Ontario, dated July 10, 2019.
Thank you for sharing your concerns and for continuing to raise this very important issue.
We are taking Mr. Onley’s report on the Third Legislative Review very seriously as we continue to work towards making Ontario more accessible.
In an effort to be open and transparent, we tabled Mr. Onley’s report and made it public as soon as possible, just over a month after receiving it.
Right after tabling the report, we announced that we would be resuming the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees. As the Minister, I was proud to immediately begin working with the chairs to re-start work on these valuable committees.
We’ve also taken action through a number of key initiatives, including working across government to take a whole-of-government approach to accessibility, supporting businesses to better understand accessibility and its benefits, and engaging with employers through our Employers’ Partnership Table.
As Mr. Onley recommended, we are working across ministries to make accessibility a responsibility of all ministries and inform a whole-of-government approach to advancing accessibility.
As part of this work, we are working with ministries to look at their policies, programs and services and identifying areas where we can work together to remove the barriers faced by Ontario’s 2.6 million people with disabilities.
For example, with our ministry partners, we have begun discussions with the Ontario Building Officials Association and the Retail Council of Canada and have been meeting with other stakeholders such as the Ontario Association of Architects. We will continue to work collaboratively with other ministries to promote accessibility and explore opportunities to develop resources and make it easier to understand how to build using universal design principles.
We continue our outreach with people with disabilities and disability organizations, and consult with businesses, non-profits and industry groups to get their perspectives on how to improve accessibility in Ontario.
On employment, we are working through our Employers’ Partnership Table, which was brought together to support the creation of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. The Table is comprised of 17 members representing a range of small, medium and large businesses, industry associations, non-profit and public organizations, and post-secondary education institutions from across Ontario. It is currently developing business cases to demonstrate that hiring people with disabilities improves the bottom line because productivity goes up.
The table will share their work and experiences with other businesses in Ontario to help them realize the benefits of employing people with disabilities. We will continue to consult with businesses and business associations through the Employers Partnership Table and other forums.
Government alone cannot create a barrier free Ontario.
That is why while all the work on the Onley report is ongoing, I have been hard at work every day meeting with Ontarians and engaging with disability and business stakeholders to make accessibility into a reality in this province.
We work closely with many partners to spread the word about the importance of accessibility.
We partnered with OCAD University’s Inclusive Design Research Centre to develop “Our Doors Are Open: Guide for Accessible Congregations” which was shared and highlighted at the 2018 Parliament of World’s Religions Conference. The guide offers simple, creative ideas for different faith communities in our province to increase accessibility during worship services and community events.
We also support some of these partners through a program called Enabling Change.
Some recent examples of EnAbling Change projects include:
- A resource guide produced by the Ontario Business Improvement Area Association. The guide gives helpful tips for businesses on how to become more inclusive and accessible including addressing barriers in the built environment such as entrances and exits, space layout and design.
- A partnership with the Conference Board of Canada to develop: Making Your Business Accessible for People with Disabilities which is a guide that helps small businesses employ and serve people with disabilities, attract customers and improve services.
- ca which is a free online training portal with modules and videos that businesses can use to train staff on Ontario’s accessibility laws
We will continue to work with businesses and communities to help them better understand the benefits of accessibility. To address the recommendation in the Third Legislative Review on creating a comprehensive website for accessibility resources, we have taken steps to begin re-designing our ministry website to make it a comprehensive one stop shop on accessibility for the public and businesses. In order to make it easier for businesses to access resources on accessibility, we have created a new webpage dedicated to supporting businesses with practical guides and resources to help them understand the benefits of accessibility and break down barriers for people with disabilities.
A business that commits to accessibility sends a strong message that people with disabilities are welcome. For this reason, it is much more likely to attract people with disabilities and their families. This goes for any and all businesses in Ontario that are providing goods and services to the public.
Accessibility is a journey and we are eager to continue to work with all our partners in the disability community, not-for-profit, public and private sector to make change that will have a positive impact on the daily lives of people with disabilities and seniors.
We are on the right track to creating an Ontario where communities offer opportunities instead of barriers.
A place where everyone can be independent, work, and contribute to the economy – wherever they live.
Thank you again for writing and please accept my best wishes.
(Original signed by)
c: The Honourable Doug Ford
Text of the July 24, 2019 Letter to the AODA Alliance From Premier Doug Ford
Dear Mr. Lepofsky and Colleagues:
Thanks very much for writing to me about the Honourable David C. Onley’s review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. I appreciate hearing your views and concerns.
My team is here for all the people. We are working to make our province a great place for all the people of Ontario today, and every day. Our government remains committed to making Ontario more accessible and preventing barriers for people with disabilities.
I note that you have sent a copy of your email to the Honourable Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. As the issue you raised falls in his area of responsibility, I have asked that he respond to you as soon as possible.
Thanks again for contacting me.
Premier of Ontario
C: The Honourable Raymond Cho
Please note that this email account is not monitored. For further inquiries, kindly direct your online message through https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/en/feedback/default.aspx.
Updated List of Signatories to the July 10, 2019 Open Letter to the Ontario Government As of August 26, 2019
As of August 23, 2019, the following 27 organizations and groups are signatories to the July 10, 2019 Open Letter to the Ford Government on the need to promptly implement the Onley Report:
- AODA Alliance
- March of Dimes Canada
- Older Women’s’ Network
- Ontario Autism Coalition
- Communication Disabilities Access Canada (CDAC)
- StopGap Foundation
- BALANCE for Blind Adults
- Community Living Ontario
- DeafBlind Ontario Services)
- Ontario Disability Coalition
- Guide Dog Users of Canada
- Views for the Visually Impaired
- Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy (PONDA)
- ARCH Disability Law Centre
- Easter Seals Ontario
- Inclusive Design Research Centre, Ontario College of Art and Design University
- Centre for Independent Living in Toronto CILT
- Canadian Disability Policy Alliance
- Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC)
- Citizens With Disabilities – Ontario
- Autism Ontario
- Electromagnetic Pollution Illnesses Canada Foundation (EPIC)
- Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab Centre
- Disability Justice Network of Ontario (DJNO)
- Unitarian Commons Co-Housing Corporation
- Peterborough Council for Person’s with Disabilities [CPD]