Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance submits A Brief to Accessibility Standards Canada Listing the Federal Accessibility Standards We Need the Federal Government to Now Develop and Enact
September 29, 2020
Last year, Canada’s Parliament passed the Accessible Canada Act ACA. It requires Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2040. It lets the Federal Government enact a series of enforceable federal accessibility standards. Those regulations would spell out what organizations within reach of the Federal Government must do to remove and prevent disability barriers.
Under the ACA, a new federal organization was created to make recommendations on what federal accessibility standards should be enacted, and what they should contain. The ACA calls this organization the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). Peculiarly, CASDO quickly changed its name under which it would operate to Accessibility Standards Canada. This name change may confuse some.
Accessibility Standards Canada has been holding an online consultation on which federal accessibility standards should be developed over the next two years. Today, the AODA Alliance submitted a seven-page brief in response to this survey. We set that brief out below.
We invite you as an individual and any community organization to which you belong to send Accessibility Standards Canada an email to endorse the AODA Alliance’s brief. You can send your email to them at: Info.Accessibility.Standards-Normes.Accessibilite.Info@canada.gc.ca
If you wish, you might say something like this:
I endorse the September 29, 2020 brief to Accessibility Standards Canada submitted by the AODA Alliance.
It is good that Accessibility Standards Canada is engaging in consultation. However, we are very concerned that 15 months after the ACA was passed, such preliminary questions are still being consulted upon, when action is needed now. When the ACA was being debated before Parliament in 2018-2019, many from the disability community were concerned that progress under that bill would be too slow because it did not set needed time lines for the Federal Government to take important actions to implement it. The Federal Government opposed such amendments to the bill. We are already seeing signs that we and others were correct to be concerned about this foreseeable problem.
At the same time, other news for people with disabilities on the federal front includes important signs of potential progress. In the Federal Government’s September 23, 2020 Throne Speech, the following commitments were made pertaining to people with disabilities:
“COVID-19 has disproportionately affected Canadians with disabilities, and highlighted long-standing challenges. The Government will bring forward a Disability Inclusion Plan, which will have:
- A new Canadian Disability Benefit modelled after the Guaranteed Income Supplement for seniors;
- A robust employment strategy for Canadians with disabilities;
- And a better process to determine eligibility for Government disability programs and benefits.”
We look forward to learning more specifics to see what these commitments will deliver in practice to people with disabilities.
For more background on the AODA Alliances advocacy efforts on the federal front, check out the AODA Alliance website’s Canada page.
Do let us know what you think. Send your feedback to us at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Brief To: Accessibility Standards Canada Listing the Federal Accessibility Standards That Should Now Be Developed and Enacted Under the Accessible Canada Act
September 29, 2020
This brief is the AODA Alliance’s response to the consultation survey that Accessibility Standards Canada announced on its web site, to be concluded by September 30, 2020. Accessibility Standards Canada is the new federally-appointed organization mandated under the Accessible Canada Act (ACA) to make recommendations to the Federal Government on which ACA federal accessibility standards should be enacted and what they should include. Enacted in June 2019, The ACA created a new federal organization for this purpose, called the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization (CASDO). In its first year of operation, CASDO decided to instead call itself “Accessibility Standards Canada’.
In its current online survey, Accessibility Standards Canada seeks public input on which federal accessibility standards and related activity it should focus upon from 2020 to 2022. In this brief, the AODA Alliance solely addresses which federal accessibility standards should now be developed.
2. Who Are We?
The AODA Alliance has extensive experience with the design, implementation and enforcement of accessibility legislation in Canada. Founded in 2005, we are a voluntary, non-partisan, grassroots coalition of individuals and community 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.”
To learn about us, visit our website.
Our coalition is the successor to the non-partisan grassroots Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. The ODA Committee advocated for more than ten years, from 1994 to 2005, for the enactment of strong, effective disability accessibility legislation. Our coalition builds on the ODA Committee’s work. We draw our membership from the ODA Committee’s broad, grassroots base. To learn about the ODA Committee’s history, visit its legacy website.
We continue to play a leadership role in advocating in Ontario on which accessibility standards should be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and on what those accessibility standards should include. Beyond our work at the provincial level in Ontario, over the past five years, the AODA Alliance has also been active, advocating for strong and effective national accessibility legislation for Canada. We have been formally and informally consulted by the Federal Government and some federal opposition parties on this issue. In 2016, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky made public a Discussion Paper on what the ACA should include. That widely-read Discussion Paper is now published in the National Journal of Constitutional Law at (2018) NJCL 169-207.
In 2018-2019, the AODA Alliance appeared before both the House of Commons and the Senate as Bill C-81 was being debated. Our advocacy efforts, combined with other disability advocates with whom we collaborated, contributed to important ingredients being included in the bill, and important amendments being made in the House of Commons and Senate. Our efforts regarding the development and implementation of the ACA are set out on our website’s Canada page.
The AODA Alliance has spoken to or been consulted by disability organizations, individuals, and governments from various parts of Canada on the topic of designing and implementing provincial accessibility legislation. For example, we have been consulted by the Government of Manitoba and by Barrier-Free Manitoba (a leading grassroots accessibility advocacy coalition in Manitoba) in the design and implementation of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act 2013. We twice made deputations to a Committee of the Manitoba Legislature on the design of that legislation. We have been consulted by the BC Government on whether to create a BC Disabilities Act and on what it should include, and by Barrier-Free BC in its grassroots advocacy for that legislation.
We have also been consulted outside Canada on this topic, most particularly, in Israel and New Zealand. In addition, in June 2016, we presented on this topic at the UN annual international conference of state parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
3. Which Federal Accessibility Standards Should Now Be Developed under the Accessible Canada Act?
We propose that the first accessibility standards should be developed in each of these areas (not listed in order of priority):
- Accessible information and communication
- Accessible built environment, including any built environment to which any federal public money is contributed (including infrastructure and residential housing to which any federal public money is contributed)
- The provision of accessible goods, services and facilities (sometimes called accessible customer service)
- Accessible employment
- Accessible transportation
- Ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities are fully and effectively included in emergency planning and responses to emergencies, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic.
- Ensuring procurement of goods, services and facilities by any organization using public money that are accessible to and fully usable by people with disabilities.
- Accessible health care, including any health care services to which federal public money is contributed
- Accessible education, including any education services or facilities to which federal public money is contributed
- Accessibility for people with disabilities in the administration of justice, including any legal proceedings to which federal legislation can apply, or any courts or tribunals over which the Federal Government has regulatory authority.
4. Additional Reflections and Recommendations
a) Do Not Create a Hierarchy Among Disabilities
The survey questions from accessibility Standards Canada appear to ask the public to rate or rank priorities among the possible areas of federal accessibility standards or to rank priorities within them about which it is asking. It is wrong to engage in that kind of priority ranking, for these reasons:
First, it is essential for the Federal Government to now get right to work developing federal accessibility standards in each of the areas listed above. It will be essential for comprehensive federal accessibility standards to be enacted and implemented in each of those areas, if the Federal Government is to fulfil its statutory duty under the ACA to lead Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities by the ACA’s mandatory deadline of 2040.
The implementation and enforcement of federal accessibility standards lies at the ACA’s very core. Those standards are the fundamental means by which the ACA must lead Canada to become accessible to people with disabilities.
Obligated organizations need those federal accessibility standards to be enacted as soon as possible. Those standards are required to direct them what to do to comply with the ACA. Until they are enacted, real changes in action towards Canada becoming accessible will not be required of obligated organizations on the front lines, given the way that the ACA was written.
During debates in Parliament over the ACA in 2018-2019, we alerted the House of Commons and Senate to this deficiency with the bill. We wanted the ACA to require that accessibility standards must be enacted within five years of the bill’s enactment in all the areas that the legislation covers. While we did not secure an amendment to the bill to that effect, that time line remains critically important to meeting the needs of people with disabilities in Canada.
From extensive, frustrating experience in Ontario and elsewhere, we know only too well that it takes years to get an accessibility standards developed and enacted. Then, timelines for implementation of that standard can stretch on and on after that. There is thus no time now to waste, or to start with developing just some of the needed standards, while deferring any start on the other needed standards to the unspecified future.
The ACA has been in force for over one year. Accessibility standards in the areas we identify should already be well under development, if Canada is to meet the 2040 deadline for full accessibility.
Second, it is inherently inappropriate to undertake the specific kind of priority-setting to which the Accessibility Standards Canada survey appears to point. There must be no hierarchy among different disabilities, especially when implementing the ACA, with some getting high priority and others being left behind as lower priorities. For example, to set priorities between the built environment on the one hand and information and communication on the other inevitably becomes an exercise in choosing priorities between different disabilities. Those who will press for the built environment to be a top priority are likely to be most concerned about persons with physical disabilities. Those concerned with accessible information and communication will be focusing more on the needs of people with sensory disabilities, certain learning disabilities, or intellectual disabilities.
b) Important for Accessibility Standards Canada to Get Out Front on Achieving an Accessible Built Environment Because of Worrisome Federal-Provincial Effort to Now “Harmonize” Federal and Provincial Building codes
We are deeply concerned about an effort apparently underway to “harmonize” the federal and provincial building codes. Building codes in Canada have chronically and systemically been deficient when it comes to achieving an accessible built environment for people with disabilities. They have led to the creation of many new barriers in the built environment against people with disabilities.
People with disabilities have good reason to be very troubled about this effort. We have not been effectively included in the process. Building Code bureaucracies too often lack expertise in and demonstrated commitment to disability accessibility. Any effort at “harmonizing” building codes across Canada runs the serious risk of pressure to sink to a lower common denominator. That would weaken the accessibility protections (albeit inadequate ones) that now exist in different Building Codes.
Instead, a strong and effective national Built Environment Accessibility Standard should be swiftly developed and enacted under the ACA that takes precedence. This needs to be done as quickly as practicable, in order to head off the danger that the worrisome Building Code “harmonization” now threatens for people with disabilities.
c) Where Accessibility Standards Canada Should Start Looking for Ideas?
Of course, Accessibility Standards Canada will want to look at existing accessibility standards as it gets to work developing recommendations on what to include in new federal accessibility standards. However, at least in so far as Ontario’s accessibility standards are concerned, Accessibility Standards Canada should not simply cut and paste from them, or seek to simply fill in gaps in them.
While helpful at times, there are very significant deficiencies and problems with Ontario’s existing accessibility standards. The Federal Government should not replicate those deficiencies, or have them serve as a drag on the process. A good source of detailed information on this can be found in the 2014 final report of the second Independent Review of the AODA conducted by Mayo Moran, and the 2019 final report of the third AODA Independent Review conducted by David Onley. Similarly helpful for Accessibility Standards Canada will be the numerous detailed briefs which the AODA Alliance has submitted to the Ontario Government over the past dozen years on the accessibility standards then under development. These are all available on the AODA Alliance website’s briefs page.
d) Opportunities the Federal Government Already Missed During the COVID-19 Crisis
The importance of Accessibility Standards Canada acting as soon as possible on all these fronts has been highlighted during the COVID-19 crisis. For example, it is commendable that the Federal Government recently allocated an amount in the billions to the provinces to assist with school re-opening during the pandemic. However, as far as we have seen, the Federal Government did not attach strings to this funding to ensure that the recipient provinces developed effective plans to ensure that students with disabilities are fully and safely included in school re-opening. Ontario has not developed such a plan, despite repeated advice that such a plan is absolutely needed. For details, see the AODA Alliance website’s COVID-19 page.
Had a federal Education Accessibility Standard and/or a federal Emergencies Accessibility Standard already been in place setting such requirements, these strings could have been attached to the federal transfer to the provinces.
The AODA Alliance would welcome the opportunity to share with Accessibility Standards Canada our ideas and expertise in what accessibility standards should include and in the process for developing them.