AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s New Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to Introduce Ourselves and to Provide a detailed Briefing Note on Priorities Needing Action Now for 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s New Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to Introduce Ourselves and to Provide a detailed Briefing Note on Priorities Needing Action Now for 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities

July 17, 2018

          SUMMARY

We’ve rolled up our sleeves and are fully gearing up for Ontario’s new Government, no matter how hot the weather outside!

On July 17, 2018, the AODA Alliance wrote the Ford Government’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. We congratulate him on his new portfolio. We offer him our help. We ask for a meeting with him. We also give him a detailed Briefing Note that summarizes the key priorities on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities that need action.

Below we set out our July 17, 2018 letter to the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors and the Briefing Note that we enclosed with it. Before that, we set out a short article that appeared in the July 4, 2018 online edition of the Toronto Star. It reports on our congratulating the Ford Government for creating Ontario’s first full-time Minister for Accessibility and Seniors.

We hope this letter and briefing note will be helpful across the Ontario Government. It also will help us all as we formulate our input to the third AODA Independent Review that is underway.

We encourage you to email the new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors and Premier Doug Ford. Urge them to act on the eleven priorities that our Briefing Note spells out, and that our letter to the Minister summarizes. If you don’t have time to read the Briefing Note, you can get a good summary of it from the letter to the Minister, below. You will find their email addresses in the letter itself, below.

          MORE DETAILS

Toronto Star Online July 4, 2018

Advocates welcome Ontario minister responsible for accessibility

Originally posted at:

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/07/03/advocates-welcome-ontario-minister-responsible-for-accessibility.html

By Laurie Monsebraaten Social Justice Reporter

Tues July 3, 2018

Advocates for the disabled are praising the Ford government for appointing a cabinet minister to oversee the often-intersecting areas of accessibility and seniors’ issues.

And they hope Ottawa’s recently announced federal accessibility legislation follows Ontario’s lead by setting a deadline for full accessibility.

Blind lawyer and accessibility advocate David Lepofsky says he is pleased Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has a minister responsible for accessibility and seniors’ issues.

July 17, 2018 Letter to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho from the AODA Alliance

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

July 17, 2018

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

Via Email: raymond.cho@pc.ola.org Raymond.cho@ontario.ca

Frost Building South

6th Floor

7 Queen’s Park Cres

Toronto, ON M7A 1Y7

Dear Minister,

Re: Priorities in Your New Portfolio – Getting Ontario Back On Schedule for Full Accessibility by 2025

Congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Accessibility and for Seniors. I write on behalf of the AODA Alliance. We are widely recognized as a leading non-partisan grassroots coalition advocating for accessibility for 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. We lead the campaign to get the Ontario Government to effectively implement and enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

We look forward to working together with you. In the recent election, Premier Doug Ford expressed a strong desire for your Government to work together with us on accessibility issues. In his May 15, 2018 letter to us, he said:

“Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party.”

To help you and your Minister’s Office staff get started in your historic new role as Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, we have prepared for you a detailed Briefing Note. It is enclosed with this letter. We hope it will supplement the briefings that the Public Service has provided for you. It lets you know all you need to know to roll up your sleeves and get started. It has links to key background information, if you or your staff want more details.

Our briefing note gives you a summary of key background and priority issues regarding accessibility for people with disabilities. It explains why it is important for the new Doug Ford Government to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and to breathe new life into its implementation. The previous Government is to be commended for passing the AODA in 2005. However, in recent years, it did an inadequate job of implementing that important legislation, as our recent retrospective on those years demonstrates.

We are eager for your new Government to bring real change to this issue – to revitalize the implementation of the AODA. Our Briefing Note describes the historic importance of the new role of Minister for Accessibility and Seniors. It outlines the Progressive Conservative Party’s commitments on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

Our Briefing note then outlines the major challenges facing the new Government and you, as the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, when seeking to make progress on accessibility, including:

  1. a) Ontario is behind schedule for reaching for accessibility by 2025.
  1. b) Ontario needs a multi-year plan to ensure the Government leads Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.
  1. c) AODA enforcement is far too weak.
  1. d) The development of new AODA accessibility standards has been too slow.
  1. e) The Ontario Government has failed to effectively use all available levers of Government power to promote accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
  1. f) There are recurring problems at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.
  1. g) Visible Government enthusiasm about achieving the AODA’s goals has reduced.

Finally, this Briefing Note lists for you and your Government eleven key priorities needing action. In summary, we recommend that you:

  1. Develop an effective 6.5-year plan for Government action that will ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025, the AODA’s deadline.
  1. Immediately lift the Ontario Public Service’s current freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees, which have been working on recommendations for the Government in the areas of education, health care, employment, and information and communication.
  1. Free up the unduly narrow mandate of the Health Care Standards Development Committee that is now developing recommendations on what the Government should include in a Health Care Accessibility Standard, so it can consider any part of Ontario’s health care system. The previous Government tried to restrict that Committee to barriers in the hospital sector.
  1. Get a Standards Development Committee appointed to develop recommendations on accessibility standards needed to address barriers in the built environment, in residential housing, and in existing buildings whether or not they are undergoing major renovations.
  1. Working with the AODA Alliance and the disability community, identify any other areas of our economy where an AODA accessibility standard will be needed, to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025. After that, the Government should appoint any Standards Development Committee needed to develop recommendations in for those sectors of the economy.
  1. Effectively improve Ontario’s weak Customer Service Accessibility Standard, by bringing together representatives from the disability sector and obligated organizations to produce recommendations to strengthen the existing AODA Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
  1. Substantially strengthen the weak enforcement of the AODA.
  1. Spearhead efforts within the Ontario Government to ensure that all levers of power, open to it, are effectively used to promote accessibility for people with disabilities. For example, a comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
  1. Substantially strengthen the previous Government’s limited strategy for expanding employment for people with disabilities.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to restore the robust relationship it had prior to the most recent five years with the AODA Alliance.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to stop trying to directly or indirectly influence the agenda, work and recommendations of Standards Development Committees.

We would welcome the chance to meet with you, to brief you on these issues and to provide any help we can. Please let us know who within your office will be responsible for this issue.

Your Government is in a good position to turn the page on this issue, and to substantially improve the lives of the people of Ontario, all of whom either have a disability now or are bound to get one later in their lives.

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

Steve Orsini, Secretary to Cabinet steve.orsini@ontario.ca

Enclosure: July 17, 2018 AODA Alliance Briefing Note for Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

AODA Alliance Briefing Note to the Minister of Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho

July 17, 2018

1. Summary of this Briefing Note

In this briefing note, the AODA Alliance provides a summary of key background and priority issues regarding accessibility for people with disabilities, to Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho, and his staff. In summary, this Briefing Note explains why it is important for the new Doug Ford Government to effectively implement the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It describes the historic importance of the new role of Minister for Accessibility and Seniors. It outlines the Progressive Conservative Party’s commitments on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

This Briefing note then outlines the major challenges facing the new Government and the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors when seeking to make progress on accessibility, including:

  1. a) Ontario is behind schedule for reaching for accessibility by 2025.
  1. b) Ontario needs a multi-year plan to ensure the Government leads Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.
  1. c) AODA enforcement is far too weak.
  1. d) The development of new AODA accessibility standards has been too slow.
  1. e) The Ontario Government has failed to effectively use all available levers of Government power to promote accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
  1. f) There are recurring problems at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.
  1. g) Visible Government enthusiasm about achieving the AODA’s goals has reduced.

Finally, this Briefing Note lists for the new Minister the key priorities needing action. The AODA Alliance would welcome the chance to meet with the new Minister, and to work together on these priorities.

2. Why It Is Important for Your Government to Effectively Implement and Enforce the AODA

The Minister of Accessibility has lead responsibility for the implementation and effective enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). At least 1.9 million Ontarians now have a disability, be it a physical, sensory, mental, intellectual, learning, mental health, communication or other kind of disability. Ontarians with disabilities want to enjoy all life has to offer. Yet as Premier Doug Ford wisely recognized in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance:

“Too many Ontarians with disabilities still face barriers when they try to get a job, ride public transit, get an education, use our healthcare system, buy goods or services, or eat in restaurants.”

For example, over one third of a million students with disabilities face disability accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system. Patients with disabilities face accessibility barriers throughout Ontario’s health care system. Passengers with disabilities face too many barriers when trying to use public transit, including barriers in brand new public transit stations, that were built with the public’s money.

Job-seeking Ontarians with disabilities face unemployment rates that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley called a “national shame.” Customers with disabilities run up against barriers when they try to spend their money in stores and restaurants.

Ontarians with disabilities shouldn’t have to fight these barriers, one at a time. Public and private sector organizations want to know what to do to become accessible. Each organization does not want to have to re-invent the accessibility wheel, one organization at a time.

These disability barriers hurt everyone. They hurt people with disabilities, who too often have to live in poverty, and who lose out on so much that Ontario has to offer. These barriers make Ontario businesses lose so much of the spending power of 1.9 million customers with disabilities in Ontario, over 4 million across Canada, and one billion around the world. These barriers make the public lose the great economic benefit that accessibility would bring to Ontario.

That is why the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the AODA in 2005. It requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, without each individual having to battle these recurring barriers, one at a time.

3. The Historic Importance of Your new Ministerial Role

We again congratulate you and your Government on the creation of on your new ministerial role. Your appointment as Minister for Accessibility and for Seniors is an historic one. It was a very commendable and helpful step forward when Premier Ford decided to retain the position of Minister of Accessibility, despite the fact that he was downsizing the Cabinet. It was also very positive that he combined this role with the duties of Minister for Seniors. Seniors’ issues are predominantly disability issues. Accessibility issues are in turn in significant part, seniors’ issues.

As a result, this is the closest that Ontario has ever come to having a full-time minister responsible for disability issues, and in particular, accessibility issues. Of course, not all disability accessibility issues are seniors’ issues. However the overlap of your two portfolios is very substantial and positive.

We have for years been urging the previous Ontario Government to appoint a full-time minister to be responsible for disability issues. This proposal has been supported by two successive Government-appointed Independent Reviews of the AODA, the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review.

Since the second half of 2005, responsibility for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement was successively assigned to the Community and Social Services Minister (2005-2013), then to the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment (2013-2014), and then to the Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure (2014-2016). Especially since 2011, those Ministers have had so many other issues on their plates that they did not give this issue as much attention as it needed. The same was the case for each successive deputy minister at those ministries.

In June 2016, the previous Government commendably appointed Ontario’s first minister specifically responsible for accessibility. That role was paired with the duties of the minister responsible for women’s issues.

However, in a major step backwards, just seven months later, in a Cabinet shuffle, that cabinet minister was given the roles of both Minister of Accessibility and Minister of Government and Consumer Services. That was a significant error. A minister has a hopeless conflict if he or she is both the lead AODA enforcer and the lead minister responsible for the Government’s complying with the AODA.

4. The Progressive Conservative Party’s Platform and Commitments on Disability Accessibility

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party has made written election commitments to the AODA Alliance, and before 2005, to its predecessor coalition, the ODA Committee, on the need for accessibility legislation for persons with disabilities. this happened in elections in 1995, 2007, 2014 and 2018. These letters were signed by PC leaders Mike Harris, John Tory, Tim Hudak, and most recently, Doug Ford.

Twenty years ago, on October 29, 1998, the Legislature unanimously passed an historic resolution. It adopted eleven important principles that a strong and effective Disabilities Act should fulfil. Each PC MPP who was in the Legislature that day voted for that landmark resolution.

Six years later, in May 2005, all parties, including each PC MPP, voted unanimously to pass the AODA, and rose to give it a standing ovation. Five of those PC MPPs, Norm Miller, Ted Arnott, Ernie Hardeman, Jim Wilson and John Yakabuski, are now in your caucus.

The AODA requires Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. It requires the Government to lead Ontario to that goal.

During the 2005 clause-by-clause debate on that legislation, the PC Party put forward a number of proposed amendments at the request of our predecessor coalition, to make the bill even stronger. After the AODA was enacted, the PC leader congratulated the Government for passing it. Each of the PC Party’s leaders since the AODA was enacted has met with AODA Alliance leadership to get advice and input on what is needed to strengthen the AODA’s implementation. On a number of occasions, the Ontario PC Party has put pointed questions to the Ontario Government at our request, to press for more action on the AODA’s implementation.

In Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, he continued your Party’s commitment to the AODA and its goal, reaffirming:

“Making Ontario fully accessible by 2025 is an important goal under the AODA and it’s one that would be taken seriously by an Ontario PC government.”

In Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter, he committed:

“Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus” and that “they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party.”

Premier Ford committed during the recent election to lead a Government “for the people”. Of course, 1.9 million of the people of Ontario now have a disability. The rest are bound to get a disability later in their lives, as they grow older. “The people” are, at some time in their lives, all people with disabilities.

Premier Ford promised to make Ontario “open for business.” That of course needs to ensure that it is open for people with disabilities, as employees, job-seekers, business owners and customers.

The new Government was elected on a pledge that it will be responsible in the use of taxpayers’ money. It was quite irresponsible for public money to be used in the past by previous governments or others to create or perpetuate accessibility barriers against people with disabilities.

In Premier Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter, he made a number of important points. These also show why it is so important for the AODA to be effectively implemented. He wrote:

“When it comes to people with disabilities, we have a moral and an economic responsibility to focus on their abilities and not just on what holds them back. Our family members, friends and neighbours who have a disability of some kind are a wellspring of talent and determination….

…It’s also completely unacceptable that someone should be passed over for a job because of the myth that people with disabilities can’t do the work. We have a moral and social responsibility to change this.”

The new Government can change this. The 2011 AODA Employment Accessibility Standard, is now under review by the Employment Standards Development Committee. It needs to be strengthened to help ensure that the workplaces of tomorrow are barrier-free for job-seekers and employees with disabilities.

Premier Ford also wrote:

“The Ontario PC Party believes our education system must minimize barriers for students with disabilities, providing the skills, opportunities and connections with the business community that are necessary to enter the workforce.”

We very much appreciated your Party’s efforts in Question Period over the past two years to get the previous Government to agree to create an AODA Education Accessibility Standard. Your Government now has the chance to ensure that this happens.

Premier Ford also wrote:

“This is why we’re disappointed the current government has not kept its promise with respect to accessibility standards. An Ontario PC government is committed to working with the AODA Alliance to address implementation and enforcement issues when it comes to these standards.

Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions. We need Ontario’s design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

Premier Ford’s letter to us highlighted Christine Elliot’s important role within the PC Party on disability issues. Your Party designated her to speak on behalf of the Ontario PC Party at the May 16, 2018 provincial all-candidates’ debate on disability issues, held in Toronto. She there made important commitments on your Party’s behalf, on issues such as the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, on ensuring that students with disabilities  can fully participate in education at school, colleges and university, on ODSP reform, on the need for affordable, accessible and, where needed, supportive housing, and other topics.

We appreciate Premier Ford’s expressing a strong desire to work with us on disability accessibility issues. He wrote:

“Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party. We encourage you to continue this dialogue and share your ideas and solutions for Ontarians with disabilities.”

As well, when Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho, was running in the September 1, 2016 by-election, he made commitments on behalf of the PC party on accessibility for people with disabilities. The PC Party’s August 29, 2016 email to the AODA Alliance included these passages, among other things:

“The Ontario PC Party believes that every Ontarian has the right to lead his or her life to its fullest potential – regardless of their abilities or disabilities. Whether addressing standards for public housing, health care, employment or education, we have a responsibility to remove the barriers that prevent those with disabilities from participating more fully in their communities.

As a result, we support the goal of the AODA to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025.”

“The Ontario PC Party supports the push for an Ontario that is accessible for persons with disabilities. We hope the government takes this matter seriously and leads by example by ensuring that all government buildings and institutions are accessible.”

“The Ontario PC Party believes that no new public money should be used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers.”

5. The Major Challenges Facing You as You Take on Your New Portfolio

The new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors takes on this new portfolio at a time when Ontarians need strong new Government leadership on accessibility for people with disabilities. We summarize key challenges that face the Minister and all Ontarians on this issue:

a) Ontario is Not on Schedule for Full Accessibility by 2025

Ontario is not on schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025, the deadline the AODA requires. To the contrary, the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review showed that fully four years ago, Ontario was already behind on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. It called for the Ontario Government and Ontario’s Premier to show new leadership on this issue, and to revitalize the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, in order to get Ontario on schedule for reaching that deadline. Four years later, Ontario still remains behind schedule for reaching that goal.

Back on June 3, 2015, the previous Government’s Economic Development Minister, Brad Duguid, acknowledged to the Canadian Press that efforts on this issue had been flagging in recent years.

b) Ontario Needs But has No Comprehensive Plan for the Government to Lead Us to Full Accessibility by 2025

The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review identified the need for the Government to create a multi-year plan designed to get Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. No such comprehensive plan has ever been created.

Over Three years ago,  on June 3, 2015, the previous Government announced a strategy entitled “The Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan” That title made it sound like it was a ten-year plan that was designed to get Ontario all the way to full accessibility by 2025.

However, it was not a 10-year plan. The previous Government’s Economic Development Minister Duguid, who led the creation of that plan, told the Canadian Press on June 3, 2015, that it was more like a 12 month plan. After those twelve months were up, no multi-year comprehensive plan was ever adopted to succeed it.

c) AODA Enforcement is Far Too Weak

The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review showed a pressing need for the AODA’s enforcement to be beefed up. On April 18, 2018, the AODA Alliance made public a 5 year report that shows that the problem of ineffective AODA enforcement has persisted for a half a decade, even though the Ontario Government knew throughout that period of massive violations of the AODA.

This inadequate enforcement was not due to budget restrictions. The Accessibility Directorate has had unused budget on hand in every year from 2005 to 2016, that was available to expand AODA enforcement. We have revealed time and again over the past five years that the previous Government had known throughout about rampant AODA violations among private sector organizations with at least 20 employees.

In response to public criticism of the previous Government’s February 2015 AODA enforcement cutback, the previous Government commendably announced on June 3, 2015 that it would double the number of AODA audits, with the gradual increase in their numbers to begin in 2016. Yet our subsequent Freedom of Information application revealed that this never materialized.

More public education is not the effective solution for this ongoing problem of AODA violations. It is clear from Government records that when the Government actually deploys its enforcement powers, it can get a good rate of improved compliance by the obligated organizations at which those enforcement efforts are directed. In contrast, the Government has spent over a decade to educate obligated organizations. It told us about its conducting or funding a great number of workshops, sending obligated organizations tens of thousands of letters and reminders, and funding a great number of Enabling Change projects for this purpose. Yet massive AODA non-compliance has persisted for over half a decade.

With less than six and a half years left for the Government to lead Ontario to full accessibility, there is no more time to delay ramped-up enforcement, while the Government first tries to once again effectively educate organizations on their AODA obligations and on the benefits of becoming accessible. The persisting weak AODA enforcement serves to undermine and counteract benefits of any Government efforts to inspire obligated organizations to voluntarily comply.

In other areas of the law, such as public health and safety, Government does not hold off on promised effective enforcement for years, while it first tries to get obligated organizations to understand why it is good to obey the law. Put another way, the most effective way at this point to educate obligated organizations is through effective AODA enforcement.

d) The Development of New Accessibility Standards Has Been Too Slow

The main way that the Ontario Government is to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025 under the AODA is by enacting and effectively enforcing all the accessibility standards that are needed to get Ontario to that goal. You will face the challenge that the Government has also fallen far behind on fulfilling its core duty under the AODA to develop and enact all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025. Section 7 of the AODA provides:

“7. The Minister is responsible for establishing and overseeing a process to develop and implement all accessibility standards necessary to achieving the purposes of this Act.”

In 2005, the previous Government got a good start on developing the first round of needed accessibility standards. The original accessibility standards enacted by the end of 2012 address some new disability barriers in customer service, employment, transportation, information and communication, and in a very small part of the built environment, largely that outside buildings.

These first AODA accessibility standards were a helpful start. However, they are limited in scope. The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review identifies several deficiencies with the accessibility standards that had been enacted up to then. Even if all obligated organizations fully comply with all of them on time, those accessibility standards will not ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025, or at any future time.

Since then, and over the past six years, the Government’s work on developing new accessibility standards has proceeded, at best, at a painfully slow snail’s pace. No new accessibility standards have been enacted since the end of 2012. For example, we have pressed the Government for over five years to develop the next accessibility standards in the areas of health care, education and residential housing.

The Government must review each accessibility standard within five years of its enactment, with a view to revising the standard if needed to ensure that the AODA’s goal of full accessibility is reached by 2025. Under the previous Government, only one of the existing accessibility standards, earlier enacted under Premier McGuinty, was revised. That was the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It was by far the weakest accessibility standard enacted to date. The previous Government’s revisions to it were, at best, only minor tinkering. They would not significantly strengthen it.

Making this worse, the previous Government revised the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard in a way that further weakened it, when we needed it strengthened. The previous Government took the backwards step of amending it so that private sector organizations with 20 to 49 employees no longer had to keep a written policy on customer service accessibility. They had to have a policy, but no longer had to have it in writing. They still had to train their employees on that unwritten policy, but no longer had to keep written records of the training conducted. These harmful amendments made the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard virtually impossible to effectively enforce for private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. The previous Government thereby rewarded rampant law-breaking by amending that law to make that very law harder to enforce.

In the past two years, the previous Government fulfilled its duty under the AODA to appoint Standards Development Committees to review the transportation, employment and information and communication provisions of the 2011 AODA Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. However, by the time the previous Government’s term came to an end, only one of those Standards Development Committees had delivered its final recommendations to the Government, the Transportation Standards Development committee. That committee’s final recommendations were exceedingly weak and inadequate. If implemented, they will leave Ontario’s transportation system replete with accessibility barriers. The Employment Standards Development Committee made public its draft recommendations in the 2018 spring. These too need to be substantially strengthened.

The AODA requires the new Government to continue with the work of having those 2011 accessibility standards reviewed by the existing Standards Development Committees. It requires the new Government to consider what revisions to make to those standards. This includes considering what revisions are needed to the transportation accessibility standards provisions of the 2011 Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation that were delivered to the previous minister just before this spring’s election campaign. We presented a detailed brief last summer to the Transportation Standards Development Committee. It identifies the improvements to the Transportation Accessibility Standard that the Government needs to make.

Over the past five years, the previous Government did nothing effective to address the many disability barriers in Ontario’s built environment, be they existing buildings or new buildings. Minor amendments were made in 2013 to the Ontario Building Code in 2013 on accessibility. These fell miles short of what Ontarians with disabilities need. They only deal with new buildings and major renovations to existing buildings.

No comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard has ever been enacted under the AODA. This is so despite the fact that in the 2011 election, Premier McGuinty promised that the previous Government would enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard “promptly”. In late 2014, the Moran Report of the 2nd AODA Independent Review emphasized the need to address the many continuing barriers in Ontario’s built environment, even after a decade of the AODA’s implementation. , That included the area of retrofitting existing buildings (which the previous, Government had not address.

It was only in March 2018, in its final weeks before the spring election, that the previous Government finally started to devote new attention to barriers in the built environment, including the topic of retrofitting existing buildings. In March 2018, the previous Government convened a very good experts’ discussion forum on the built environment. At that forum, the previous Government heard what people with disabilities had told the Government for years – that the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards don’t ensure an accessible built environment. A new building can fully comply with those laws, and still have serious accessibility barriers.

The previous Government appointed two additional Standards Development Committees. These too Committees are right in the middle of their work. the Health Care Standards Development Committee was appointed in 2017 to make recommendations on what to include in a Health Care Accessibility Standard.

The Education Standards Development Committee was appointed earlier this year to make recommendations on what to include in an Education Accessibility Standard. It has two branches. The K-12 Standards Development Committee was appointed to make recommendations regarding disability barriers in the school system. The Post-Secondary Standards Development Committee was appointed to make recommendations regarding disability barriers in colleges and universities.

Right now, all Standards Development Committees have been frozen by the Ontario Public Service, pending briefing the new Government. It is important for these Committees to get right back to work. the previous Government cancelled the planned next meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, set for June 21 and 22, 2018, pending the new Government taking office.

People with disabilities have for years faced an accessible housing crisis. The AODA Alliance had been asking the previous Government for over seven years to create a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard under the AODA. The previous Government never did so, nor did it ever appoint a Standards Development Committee to make recommendations for one. This was so even though in the 2009 summer, the previous Government committed that it would address accessibility in the residential housing area, as well as the area of retrofits to the built environment in existing buildings, through the standards development process, once the promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard was enacted to address accessibility in new construction and major renovations.

Once a Standards Development Committee is appointed, it takes years to develop a new accessibility standard. With less than six and a half years left before 2025, the Government must, in this term in office, ensure that all accessibility standards are developed and enacted that will bring Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. That means that the Government must promptly identify all the accessibility standards that need to be developed to ensure that Ontario reaches that goal on time. The current accessibility standards plus the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard, and, if created, an Education Accessibility Standard and a comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard, are not enough to ensure that Ontario will reach that mandatory goal.

e) The Ontario Government has Failed to Effectively Use All Available Levers of Government Power to Promote Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

The Ontario Government has several other levers of public power to promote accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. these have been too often left unused, or ineffectively used.

The most obvious of these is the power of the public purse. As you agreed when running in a by-election in 2016, public money should not be used to create or perpetuate barriers

against people with disabilities. Yet, public money keeps being used to create and perpetuate disability barriers. As examples of this, our recent, widely-watched online videos show serious accessibility problems at a new Centennial College building, a new Ryerson University building, and at new and recently-renovated Toronto area public transit stations.

Accessibility strings should be attached and enforced whenever public money is used for new infrastructure, or to procure goods, services or facilities. Such strings should also be attached to any Government loans, grants or other expenditures.

f) There Are Recurring Problems at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

A significant challenge facing you concerns the operations of the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. Created under the AODA. It has major responsibility for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.

There are good and hard-working people in the Directorate. Yet Despite this, we identify two major concerns. The previous Government did not rectify these, despite our requests.

First, the Accessibility Directorate has significantly disengaged itself from the AODA Alliance over the past five years. Before that, the Accessibility Directorate regularly, and at times frequently reached out to us for formal and informal discussions. At times, we had weekly contact with the Directorate. We commendably were given early “heads up” on upcoming initiatives. We did not need to resort to Freedom of Information applications. We were typically consulted in a full and effective way, long before major decisions were made that affect Ontarians with disabilities. This worked to our mutual benefit.

Over the last five years, this constructive relationship substantially dried up. This has been due to action or inaction by the Directorate’s leadership. We have at times not even been notified of major announcements on the AODA. Sometimes we receive blast emails from the Accessibility Directorate. On other occasions, we only indirectly learn of new Government announcements after the fact, via the grapevine or through Google searches. For the most part, and with only a few exceptions, the Accessibility Directorate has only reached out to us during this period when it is conducting formal structured consultation processes. This too often seems to have occurred after the previous Government had largely if not totally decided on its direction.

We do not know why this change occurred. It was certainly not at our request or on our initiative. As a result of this, we had too often to go to the deputy minister, minister, or Premier’s office for any real and substantive dealings.

Second, the Accessibility Directorate has been overstepping its role, in the work of Standards Development Committees appointed under the AODA. These Committees are intended to give their own independent advice to the Government on what a specific accessibility standard should include.

Your Government is best served when the Standards Development Committee is left free to give its own advice, without the Accessibility Directorate attempting directly or indirectly to steer or influence it. At most, the Accessibility Directorate should serve as a neutral administrative support to these Committees, without overstepping that role. However, we have observed and have heard from others that the Accessibility Directorate is attempting to infuse its priorities and views into the work of these Committees, at times in a nuanced an subtle way. This needs to stop now.

g) Visible Government Enthusiasm About Achieving the AODA’s Goals Has Reduced

An additional challenge as you take on this important portfolio is the fact that the previous Government’s and the Ontario Public’ Service’s enthusiasm for this issue has appeared to wane in recent years. The vast majority of the MPPs who voted for the AODA in 2005 have now left the Legislature. Only nine remain.

The 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review in effect recognized the problem of reduced Government enthusiasm for and leadership on accessibility. They called for renewed leadership on this issue, and for new life to be breathed   into a revitalized implementation and enforcement of the AODA. Yet we have seen no indication that this has happened over the years since those widely-respected Government –appointed Independent Reviews rendered their reports.

6. Priorities We Encourage for You and Your Ministry

We are eager to work with you to implement the following eleven important priorities. We do not list them in order of importance.

  1. Develop an effective 6.5-year plan for Government action that will ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025, the AODA’s deadline. This should include, among other things, a plan for fulfilling the Government’s duty to enact and effectively enforce all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that Ontario reaches that goal on time. This plan should set out time lines for the actions that the Government must take.
  1. Immediately lift the Ontario Public Service’s current freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees, which have been working on recommendations for the Government in the areas of education, health care, employment, and information and communication.
  1. Free up the unduly narrow mandate of the Health Care Standards Development Committee that is now developing recommendations on what the Government should include in a Health Care Accessibility Standard, so it can consider any part of Ontario’s health care system. The previous Government tried to restrict that Committee to barriers in the hospital sector. Yet there are disability accessibility barriers throughout Ontario’s health care system. Patients with disabilities need to have access to the entire health care system, not just hospitals. With 2025 looming closer, we cannot afford to put off any consideration of barriers outside hospitals until some future date years from now.
  1. Get a Standards Development Committee appointed to develop recommendations on accessibility standards needed to address barriers in the built environment, in residential housing, and in existing buildings whether or not they are undergoing major renovations.

One effective way to do this would be to fulfil the Government’s overdue obligation under the AODA, which the previous Government failed to fulfil, to appoint a new Standards Development Committee to make recommendations on any revisions needed to the 2012 provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation which address disability barriers in public spaces. That Committee should be mandated to make recommendations to the Ontario Government on what a comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard should include, both to deal with new construction/renovations, and to deal with barriers in existing buildings, including residential housing. The Committee should be asked for recommendations for any revisions that can address barriers in the built environment, whether or not these were addressed in the existing standard.

This should be part of a broader comprehensive strategy to ensure that Ontario’s built environment becomes fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. In March 2018, the previous Government held a helpful forum on this topic. The Accessibility Directorate already has at hand good background on what is needed. The built environment accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code and in AODA accessibility standards are far too weak to ensure that either new or old buildings will ever be accessible to people with disabilities.

  1. Working with the AODA Alliance and the disability community, identify any other areas of our economy where an AODA accessibility standard will be needed, to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025. After that, the Government should appoint any Standards Development Committee needed to develop recommendations in for those sectors of the economy.
  1. Effectively improve Ontario’s weak Customer Service Accessibility Standard, by bringing together representatives from the disability sector and obligated organizations to produce recommendations to strengthen the existing AODA Customer Service Accessibility Standard. The AODA Alliance has been calling for this for over three years. We and the ARCH disability Law Centre have offered a list of constructive, high-impact, low-cost reforms as a basis for discussion.
  1. Substantially strengthen the weak enforcement of the AODA, e.g. by:
  1. a) Now at least doubling the number of obligated organizations to be audited for AODA compliance.
  1. b) Conducting on-site audits of actual accessibility practices, rather than the current practice of off-site paper audits of an obligated organization’s records regarding AODA compliance. Ontarians need to know if obligated organizations are actually becoming accessible, not just if they produce required paper trails (which may or may not be accurate).
  1. c) Deputizing inspectors under other legislation to also be AODA inspectors, so that AODA compliance is included when they inspect obligated organizations under other legislation, such as inspectors under labour, health and safety or environmental legislation. The previous Government did a trial with this idea, based on our recommendation, but did not publicly disclose the results.
  1. d) Widely publicizing the Government’s toll-free number for the public to report AODA violations, in connection with AODA enforcement. The previous Government did not, to our knowledge, make any significant effort to publicize this toll-free number.
  1. e) Implementing the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review report’s recommendations to make public on a quarterly basis key information on the Government’s AODA enforcement.
  1. f) Engaging in much more visible AODA enforcement, so obligated organizations get the clear message that there are significant consequences for non-compliance.
  1. Spearhead efforts within the Ontario Government to ensure that all levers of power, open to it, are effectively used to promote accessibility for people with disabilities. For example, a comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
  1. Substantially strengthen the previous Government’s limited strategy for expanding employment for people with disabilities.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to restore the robust relationship it had prior to the most recent five years with the AODA Alliance.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to stop trying to directly or indirectly influence the agenda, work and recommendations of Standards Development Committees.

Concluding Thoughts

Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors takes on this role at a pivotal time. We welcome the opportunity to work with the new Minister and his Government to make your tenure in this new role a success, and to help them ensure that the new Government fulfils its duties and commitments on accessibility for people with disabilities.