AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s Accessibility Minister to Urge Swift Action to Implement the Onley Report – and Media Coverage of the Onley Report and of Ongoing Public Transit Barriers

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org  aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s Accessibility Minister to Urge Swift Action to Implement the Onley Report – and Media Coverage of the Onley Report and of Ongoing Public Transit Barriers

March 11, 2019

          SUMMARY

On March 11, 2019, the AODA Alliance sent Ontario’s Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho a letter that calls for swift action to implement David Onley’s withering report on the many years of deficient implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We set out that letter below. In our letter, we identify a short list of immediate actions that the Ford Government should now take to begin its implementation of the Onley report. We will have more to say later on other measures needed to implement this report. While listing these immediate actions, we recognize that beyond them, much more than these priority items will need to be done to implement this report, and to get Ontario back on schedule to become accessible to 1.9 Ontarians with disabilities by 2025.

Below we also set out two recent news articles that cover the Onley report:

* The excellent March 8, 2019 Canadian Press article by Michelle McQuigge, posted by CBC news. this article was also run by a number of other news outlets. The Saturday, March 9, 2018 print editions of the Toronto star and the Globe and Mail each ran it but did not include the quote of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, seen in the full article below.

* The great March 10, 2019 Toronto Star article on ongoing accessibility problems at the Toronto Transit Commission. It also refers to the Onley report, and also quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.

We are tweeting up a storm in the wake of the Onley report. We invite you to follow @davidlepofsky and @aodaalliance on Twitter, to retweet our tweets, and add your own comments on the Onley report in your tweets as well. If you are a Facebook user but not a Twitter user, please like the AODA Alliance’s Facebook page, and share our posts. Our tweets on Twitter all come out as well as Facebook posts.

^       MORE DETAILS

^Text of the March 11, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

March 11, 2019

To: The Hon. Raymond Cho, Minister of Accessibility and Seniors

Via Email: Raymond.cho@ontario.ca

Frost Building South

6th Floor

7 Queen’s Park Cres

Toronto, ON M7A 1Y7

Dear Minister,

Re: Implementing the Final Report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review

Thank you for making public the final report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We write to ask your Government to now take important steps to effectively implement this ground-breaking report.

The Onley report demonstrates in strong, clear and convincing language that the Ontario Government must now take strong new action to substantially improve the many years of flagging implementation and enforcement of the AODA. As our March 8, 2019 news release makes clear, the AODA Alliance applauds the Onley report and agrees with most of its recommendations. Those few recommendations with which we don’t agree (which we will address at a later date) are secondary, and do not take away from the core of the report.

We are gratified that the Onley report largely echoes and incorporates input that we provided to the Onley AODA Independent Review in the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief. It also echoes and reflects input we have given to your Government. Finally, it closely parallels and builds on the findings and recommendations in the two earlier mandatory AODA Independent Reviews, the 2010 AODA Independent Review conducted by Charles Beer and the 2015 AODA Independent Review conducted by Mayo Moran.

Your Government now has the benefit of powerful and substantial unanimity among these multiple sources of expert input. The time is now for your Government to take strong action on that advice.

To begin, we ask your Government to now clearly and publicly accept the findings in the Onley report regarding the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. These findings should be the basis of the Government’s actions in the area of accessibility for over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities who continue to face many serious disability barriers in this province.

We also ask you to act now to implement five of the Onley report’s key recommendations. These include actions that we have earlier identified for the Government as priorities, such as  when we wrote you on July 17, 2018 and/or when we wrote Premier Ford on July 19, 2018. Premier Ford referred our letter to him back to you, so we look to you to act on all of these priorities:

  1. Please appoint a new Standards Development Committee under the AODA to address the removal and prevention of all kinds of disability barriers in the built environment. The Onley report identified this as a top priority. That Standards Development Committee should be free to address, among other things, requirements in the deficient Ontario Building Code. It should be able to address built environment in residential housing. It should also conduct the mandatory 5-year review of the 2012 Public Spaces Accessibility Standard. The Ontario Government remains in violation of the AODA, because it has not yet appointed a Standards Development Committee to conduct that mandatory review. It was obligatory to appoint that review by the end of 2017, when the former Ontario Government was still in power.
  1. Please now launch a short, focused public consultation leading to your Government’s identifying the other accessibility standards that need to be developed to ensure that the AODA leads Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.
  1. Please act now to substantially strengthen the Government’s enforcement of the AODA, which the Onley report showed to be substantially deficient and ineffective.
  1. Please launch a major reform to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers, whether as a result of public spending on infrastructure, procurement, business grants or loans, or research grants. As part of this, a major reform is desperately needed regarding how Infrastructure Ontario deals with disability accessibility needs in the projects in which it is involved. We would add to the Onley report the fact that a similar reform is desperately needed at Metrolinx when it spends billions of public dollars on public transit infrastructure.
  1. Please now implement a program to ensure that students in Ontario schools receive curriculum on accessibility for and inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and to ensure that key professional, like architects, get much-needed training on accessibility for people with disabilities.

We will later have much more to say on the Onley report’s implementation. However, whatever else might come from the Onley report, these five top priorities cry out for immediate action.

We appreciate your Government announcing last week, in the wake of its release of the Onley report, that it has just lifted the nine-month freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been in the lead in campaigning to get that freeze lifted. We were earlier in the lead in getting the former Ontario Government to agree to create accessibility standards in the important areas of health care and education.

We urge you to get these existing advisory committees back to work as quickly as possible. The Onley report shows that Ontario is well behind schedule for reaching accessibility by 2025. The loss of these many months in the work of those Standards Development Committees made a bad situation worse.

Fortunately, you are well-positioned to quickly get these committees back to work. They and you are not starting from scratch. The members of those Standards Development Committees were all appointed under the AODA well before your Government took power. They were properly constituted under the AODA. Speaking for myself, as a duly-appointed member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and get right back to the work in which we were immersed when last spring’s election halted our work.

We would welcome a chance to meet with you to discuss action on the balance of the Onley report, but don’t want anything to hold up progress on the items listed in this letter.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O.Ont

Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

cc: Premier Doug Ford, doug@ontariopc.com

Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, marie-lison.fougere@ontario.ca

Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, ann.hoy@ontario.ca

CBC News Online March 8, 2019

Originally posted at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-nowhere-near-goal-of-full-accessibility-by-2025-review-finds-1.5049380

Ontario nowhere near goal of full accessibility by 2025, review finds

Report offers 15 recommendations to province’s Progressive Conservative government

Michelle McQuigge The Canadian Press Posted: Mar 08, 2019 4:08 PM ET | Last Updated:

Former lieutenant governor of Ontario, David Onley, says the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act continues to leave residents with disabilities facing daily, “soul-crushing” barriers.  (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

The accessibility law that took effect in Ontario 14 years ago and has served as a blueprint for similar legislation in other parts of Canada has fallen well short of its goals and continues to leave disabled residents facing daily, “soul-crushing” barriers, a former lieutenant governor has found.

David Onley, a wheelchair user tasked with reviewing the implementation of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, delivered a withering indictment of nearly all aspects of the law in a report quietly tabled in the provincial legislature this week.

The scathing report said disabled residents are barred from full inclusion in the province at nearly every turn, likening some of the barriers they face to long-abolished Jim Crow laws that perpetuated racial discrimination in the United States.

He said Ontario is nowhere near realizing the goal at the heart of the act, which promises to make the province fully accessible by 2025. He said only urgent, wide-ranging action from the provincial government can put a stop to the ongoing cycle of human rights violations.

“This is a matter of civil rights, and people with disabilities are being discriminated against on a daily basis in multiple ways,” Onley said in a telephone interview. “We don’t like to use the word discrimination because it gets tossed around, but what other word describes the situation? It is discrimination.”

Onley said the most obvious manifestations of that discrimination can be found throughout Ontario’s public and private buildings, many of which have physical features that actively shut people out.

‘You don’t belong here’

Onley — Ontario’s first disabled lieutenant governor — said some personal examples include restaurants featuring automatic doors atop a flight of stairs or hotels with accessible washrooms but beds too high for him to climb into from his motorized scooter.

“For a person using a wheelchair, stairs are like a sign that says you can’t enter here. The same goes for a deaf student in a classroom without captioning or a blind woman trying to find her way in a building without accurate Braille signage,” he said in the opening chapter of his report. “The message is: you don’t belong here.”

Onley said design barriers are no different than “the signs of a bygone era in foreign countries, telling people which water fountains they could or could not use and which restaurants or buses they could or could not use.”

This is a matter of civil rights, and people with disabilities are being discriminated against on a daily basis in multiple ways.

While Onley identified built environment barriers as one of the most pressing concerns, he listed a host of other problems with the law he said the government has failed to properly address since it took effect in 2005.

Other issues included lack of enforcement, accessibility rules that are slow to be developed and even slower to be implemented, and information-technology standards that are already out of date although they haven’t been fully applied.

Some of the issues are even more fundamental, he said, citing the fact that the law does not currently define “accessibility” and leaves people across the province to come up with their own interpretations. Even the definition of “disability” is problematic, he said, saying AODA’s current language positions disability as a medical issue rather than one of social exclusion.

Clarifying those key terms is among the 15 broad recommendations Onley provided to the current Progressive Conservative government, who had frozen work by committees tasked with developing accessibility standards since taking power last June.

Others involve the government radically changing its approach. Onley urged Premier Doug Ford to lead the way in making accessibility a priority across all ministries, not just the one ostensibly handling the file.

He also urged the government to redesign the provincial education curriculum to make accessibility a focus starting as early as kindergarten and extending through the post-secondary years. He likened the efforts he wants to see with past campaigns that brought public smoking and environmental protection to greater public prominence.

Onley singled out architects as a particular target of educational efforts, noting trainees in the field learn next to nothing about inclusive design.

Other recommendations included offering tax breaks and other financial incentives to those improving accessibility in public buildings and private homes, significantly bolstering enforcement efforts, and lifting the freeze on developing new accessibility standards in areas like health care and education.

The government said it acted on the last recommendation already and will be meeting with committee heads to get work back underway.

No response to recommendations

Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho did not respond to Onley’s other recommendations, but thanked him for the report.

“We aim to modernize our approach to accessibility to make things easier for families, workers and businesses in today’s Ontario,” Cho said in a statement.

Accessibility advocates lauded Onley’s report, saying his “blistering” findings should be of particular concern to other Canadian jurisdictions.

David Lepofsky, chair of advocacy group AODA Alliance, said Manitoba and Nova Scotia both put legislation in place that’s weaker than Ontario’s in many respects. The federal government, he said, is poised to follow suit unless the senate makes amendments to strengthen the proposed Accessible Canada Act, the first national accessibility law in Canada’s history.

“The thing that we’ve learned, that the Onley report shows, is that just doing what Ontario did has helped, but nowhere near as much as what we need,” Lepofsky said. “(Other governments) need to learn from that and be better.”

^

Toronto Star March 10, 2019

News

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2019/03/10/a-look-at-ttc-accessibility-through-the-eyes-of-a-rider-who-uses-two-canes.html

UNEASY ACCESS

Navigating the TTC is a constant challenge for Jessica Geboers. Although provincial law requires transit stations to be fully accessible by 2025, currently only 45 of 75 TTC stations are. That is sparking worries that the deadline won’t be met

Francine Kopun Toronto Star

Jessica Geboers steps off a busy subway car at College station, a cane in each hand, and confronts her first obstacle: two flights of stairs, 10 stairs each.

The stairwell is narrow and passengers headed down the stairs stop to give her the room she needs to make her way up. On this day, at rush hour, a bottleneck forms in seconds.

Sometimes people stop to tell her that there’s an escalator – but Geboers can’t use it, because she can’t hang on to the moving handrails. She has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, affecting muscle control and coordination.

“They’re trying to be helpful and they mean well, but I’m pretty smart. I can see there is an escalator there, and I’m concentrating on not dying on these stairs,” says Geboers, 29.

Past the turnstiles she is confronted by two more flights of stairs: 14 steps and 21 steps respectively. This time the crowd bunches up behind her, infuriating a young man who bursts away from the pack and dashes around her to the top, muttering his complaint.

Making the TTC more accessible – which the transit service is legally bound to do by 2025 – can’t come soon enough for Geboers, who has a busy life that requires her to spend a lot of time on public transit. She works three days a week and attends physiotherapy appointments twice a week. She volunteers.

She rates the TTC’s accessibility as a six out of 10. “I see that they’re really trying and a good number of stations are accessible, but not as many as should be or could be,” she says.

Last week Mayor John Tory unveiled a newly installed elevator at St. Patrick station, calling it a milestone, but despite making significant progress, there are signs the TTC may be falling behind on its plan to ensure that all stations are accessible by 2025.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the province be fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, including transportation systems like the TTC.

The Act was passed in 2005, but, to date, only 45 of Toronto’s 75 subway stations are accessible.

In fact, the AODA has fallen well short of its goals and people with disabilities continue to face “soul-crushing” barriers, according to a report on the act tabled in the provincial legislature this week by former lieutenant-governor David Onley.

While advances have been made in the area of transportation, it remains the most important issue among people with disabilities, according to the report.

“The reason is perhaps obvious,” wrote Onley, who is disabled.

“If you can’t leave your home, there will be no job, recreation, shopping or other opportunities. Better transportation requires money and leadership.”

Among other challenges, the report points out that priority seating in some places is not working out as intended.

Seats intended for wheelchair access are being taken up by able-bodied people, baby strollers and people with grocery carts. Municipalities are urged in the report to bring in and enforce stronger rules around priority seating.

A total of 11 TTC subway stations will be under construction for accessibility by the end of 2019, but only Royal York station will be completed this year.

Only 26 of 41 objectives set out for the five-year period from 2014-18 were completed when the last status update was filed, in April. By the end of this year, 32 of 41 will be completed, according to the TTC.

The new five-year accessibility plan, covering 2019-2023, has not yet been filed.

“It’s clear that TTC needs to accelerate their work to improve accessibility of their infrastructure and service,” says Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre), while acknowledging that the TTC has been working hard to meet the 2025 deadline.

“The year 2025 for AODA compliance is literally around the corner when it comes to major infrastructure upgrades,” she says, adding that if it does fall behind, city council and other government partners need to provide additional funding to make up for lost time.

Mayor Tory, at the launch of the elevator at St. Patrick station, seemed to agree, saying: “If by any chance we fall off track, we’re going to get back on track.”

The TTC says it has made significant progress. All TTC buses are now accessible, with low floors, ramps and seats that flip up to accommodate wheelchairs. It says all subway trains are accessible, with level boarding. Over half of 204 new low-floor accessible streetcars are in service and the rest are expected to arrive by the end of 2019. All of the older inaccessible streetcars will be decommissioned. The plan is to have elevators at all stations by 2025.

After fighting against it in court and losing, the TTC now has a system that audibly announces upcoming stops on subway trains, streetcars and buses, to assist the vision impaired. There are visual signs for the hearing impaired.

Mazin Aribi, chair of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT), which advises the TTC, says meeting the 2025 target is a delicate balance – too much construction, too fast, triggers complaints from riders.

He thinks that if the TTC continues on its accelerated plan to finish all the subway stations, the 2025 deadline will be met. But he is concerned that planned takeover of the TTC by the province could lead to delays, because the province seems to be focused on saving money and making subways accessible costs money.

“The bottom line is, we do need inclusion,” Aribi says. “It’s public transit. Every person in Toronto is entitled to use and have access.”

The cost for making a station accessible varies, according to the TTC. Sometimes as many as three elevators are required to make a station accessible. The amount of excavation work required varies. Construction costs for St. Patrick were approximately $7.5 million for one elevator. Construction began in December 2016 and the elevator went into service in September.

A second elevator was built by Amexon Development Corp. as part of a Section 37 community benefit, providing access to street level, within the footprint of a property it owns at 480 University Ave., at a cost of $3.9 million to the company. (Section 37 of Ontario’s Planning Act allows developers to exceed height and density zoning regulations in exchange for contributions to neighbourhood projects.)

Several major projects, worth $615.3 million, have been budgeted in the 2018-2027 TTC capital budget, representing more than 9 per cent of the TTC’s overall capital requirements in the next 10 years.

The TTC says it is committed to finishing on time. “Not only is that deadline our commitment, it’s our obligation,” according to a statement from TTC chair Jaye Robinson’s office. Access advocate David Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind and who fought the TTC in court to force the transit system to announce upcoming stops in streetcars and buses and subway trains, said that without dramatic reforms, the TTC will not meet the 2025 deadline.

While the focus seems to be on elevators, he says the TTC still makes design mistakes at new stations that hinder accessibility.

And the TTC already missed an earlier deadline of 2020, says Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

“Do I have concrete, specific evidence that they aren’t going to meet the plan? No I do not, and I’m not suggesting I do,” Lepofsky says. “Am I worried because of the fact that they’ve been a moving target in the past and could be again? Yes. I am basing the concern on their past conduct.”

The issue should be of concern to everyone, Lepofsky says. As people age, they are likely to suffer from impaired mobility of one form or another.

Since suffering a mild stroke two years ago, Sidonio Ferreira has become well acquainted with a flight of stairs that used to have no impact on his life, at Keele subway station.

“They took my licence away. I have to take the subway,” says Ferreira, 83, who has lived in the same neighbourhood for decades.

He and his wife, 74, struggle with the subway stairs and he says they’re not alone – many of their friends and neighbours do, too.

“So far, I can do it. But it’s very hard.”

Construction of an elevator at Keele is scheduled to begin this year, according to the TTC.