Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
AODA Alliance Writes Premier Doug Ford to Urge Actions to Protect the Urgent Needs of Ontarians with disabilities During the Covid Crisis
March 25, 2020
The current COVID crisis is especially threatening for people with disabilities. As a result, we today wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford to call for strong action to protect the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during this critical time. Our letter is set out below.
In our letter, we:
* Ask Premier Ford to direct his senior officials to act on the recommendations for action in the March 20, 2020 AODA Alliance Update, which lists vital action that Ontarians with disabilities need our governments at all levels to take.
* Ask Premier Ford not to totally freeze during this COVID crisis the work of Standards Development Committees appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, even if some of their work must briefly be delayed, and
* Urge Premier Ford to convene via virtual meetings the available members of the Standards Development Committees now in place to brainstorm options for The Government could take to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during The Government’s emergency planning to deal with the COVID crisis.
We again offer The Government our assistance with any efforts to ensure that the needs of Ontarians with disabilities are safeguarded during this crisis.
We also set out below the March 23, 2020 letter to Ontario Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho from NDP MPP Joel Harden. Mr. Harden offers good ideas for Government action during this crisis.
A total of 419 days have passed since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley conducted. We are still waiting for The Government to announce a serious plan of action to implement its recommendations regarding the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.
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March 25, 2020 letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Premier Doug Ford
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
March 25, 2020
Via Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Hon. Doug Ford, Premier
Room 281, Legislative Building
Dear Premier Ford,
Re: Ensuring that the Urgent Needs of 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities Are Fully Addressed in The Government’s emergency Planning for the COVID Crisis
We appreciate all the hard work that the Government has been shouldering in the face of the horrible COVID virus crisis that is engulfing our province and the entire world. We know that at all levels, The Government is working under very difficult circumstances to head off unprecedented health and economic crises that we all now face.
It is vital that The Government’s emergency planning include strong and effective measures to ensure that the emergency needs of 2.6 million people with disabilities are effectively met. Ontarians with disabilities are already a vulnerable and disadvantaged part of our society. They will disproportionately suffer this crisis’s hardships.
On March 20, 2020, the AODA Alliance made public a comprehensive call for strong government action on this front. We ask you to share it with your Government’s senior officials. Please direct them to take the emergency actions listed there to address this part of the crisis.
It is also essential that The Government not over-react to this crisis by taking action that works against the important needs of Ontarians with disabilities. For example, yesterday, in the wake of this crisis, the Accessibility Ministry announced that it has put on hold the ongoing work on developing new accessibility standards for the time being. Its March 24, 2020 email to members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee (of which AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member) included the following:
Note: SDC stands for Standards Development Committee.
“Please be advised that due to the current circumstances, the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility will be suspending all planned SDC meetings, whether in person or teleconference, as well as any technical sub-committee/small team meetings until further notice….
At the request of the Chair, please release your April dates but continue to hold the May and June dates until further notice. We will keep you updated over the coming weeks.
The Ministry will continue to work on developing a revised workplan, in conversation with yourself on the restart of the SDC meetings when it becomes possible to do so….”
It is understandable that The Government cancelled the April 1, 2020 meeting of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, even as a virtual meeting, given the immediacy of the crisis. However, there was no need for The Government to have made an announcement that suspends all work of Standards Development Committees, even the informal work of sub-committees. Those sub-committees use email and conference calls to informally brainstorm ideas to bring forward when the full Standards Development Committee next meets. They have important work now in progress. No Government staff take part in those meetings.
Of course, some Standards Development Committee members may have limited time on hand due to the crisis, as well as work or family obligations. However, for any who are isolated at home, with time on their hands, The Government should encourage them to feel free to carry on with their work. The Government should not send out a message that will sound to some like everything is to be entirely frozen until further notice.
Far from now shutting down the work of Standards Development Committees for the time being, The Government should now hurry to draw on these expert committees for help with emergency planning for the COVID crisis. Their membership was hand-picked based on their expertise in important areas concerning accessibility for people with disabilities.
We call on The Government to quickly convene virtual meetings of these Standards Development Committees to brainstorm ideas for measures that The Government should implement as part of its emergency planning, to help reduce this crisis’s disproportionate hardships for Ontarians with disabilities. For example:
- The Health Care Standards Development Committee should be asked to identify hardships facing people with disabilities in the health care system during this crisis, and to identify urgent measures that The Government could include in its current emergency health care planning to prevent the creation of new barriers against patients with disabilities. A good source of ideas for that discussion is the AODA Alliance’s recent Framework for ensuring that the health care system is accessible to patients with disabilities.
- The Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee should be asked to identify important emergency steps that colleges and universities can now take to ensure that post-secondary students with disabilities can fully take part in their programs, especially as they rapidly shift to remote online learning and testing.
- The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee should be asked for ideas on what the Ministry of Education and school boards should be offering for home learning and remote learning opportunities and supports for students with disabilities during school closures.
- The Employment Standards Development Committee should be asked for recommendations for urgent measures to help ensure that employees with disabilities can continue to work remotely, free from accessibility barriers.
- The Information and Communications Standards Development Committee should be asked for recommendations for urgent measures that employers, school boards, colleges, universities, health care providers (like hospitals) and governments can take, as so much is moving to the online realm during this crisis, to ensure that digital accessibility is ensured. As well, recommendations for urgent measures could be sought for ensuring that people with communication disabilities can effectively communicate with such critical services as first responders during this crisis.
Some Standards Development Committee members may be unavailable to take part in this brainstorming. Let’s just get whomever is available around the virtual table as soon as possible to put their heads together in the public interest.
There is no need to comply with the full procedural strictures that the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act spells out for formal Standards Development Committee proceedings. This is because the aim would not be for these committees to formulate and vote on formal collective recommendations for new accessibility standards to be enacted under the AODA. Rather, The Government should call on their members to simply brainstorm ideas which individual members could offer and which The Government could collect, share with the public, and infuse into its emergency planning where appropriate.
We don’t suggest for a moment that only Standards Development Committee members should be consulted on these important issues. However, with the crisis now upon us all, these Committees are an easily-reached and readily available source of expertise that is right at hand.
In conclusion, we repeat what our March 20, 2020 call for action had emphasized. In this crisis, we are all experiencing more than ever the harms caused by past Government failures to effectively act on accessibility for people with disabilities. As but one example, there are real harms now flowing from the Government’s having left the work of Standards Development Committees frozen from the day it took office in June 2018 up until months later. Had the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee not been frozen for over a year after June 2018, The Government would now have the benefit of its final recommendations as it rushes to put in place emergency health care services to combat the COVID virus.
Let’s learn the lessons of the past, and not stop the work of Standards Development Committees any longer than necessary and any more than necessary. Let’s accelerate their work where it will help us combat the societal effects of the COVID virus.
We remain at your service to help in any way we can. We wish you and all those working for the Government, as well as all Ontarians, health and safety in the wake of this crisis.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
The Hon. Raymond Cho Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond.email@example.com
Christine Elliott, Minister of Health and Deputy Premier Christine.firstname.lastname@example.org
March 23, 2020 Letter to Ontario Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho from NDP MPP Joel Harden
Hon. Raymond Cho
Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility
777 Bay St.
Toronto, ON, M5G 2C8
March 23, 2020
Dear Minister Cho,
At this extraordinary time, we must do everything we can to support those who need it most. That is why I am writing to share with you two ideas for your Ministry that will ease the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic for seniors and people with disabilities.
In our constituency of Ottawa Centre, the Good Companions Seniors’ Centre runs an innovative program called the “Seniors Centre Without Walls”. The initiative allows seniors and people with disabilities to call a toll-free number and connect with each other remotely, allowing them to participate in educational seminars, music, interactive games and more.
During this public health emergency where seniors and people with disabilities are asked to stay home for their own safety, there is a heightened risk of social isolation. As I write to you, thousands of seniors and people with disabilities are living alone, cut off the from the activities that previously provided them with human to human connection.
That is why I am asking the Ministry of Seniors & Accessibility to work with Seniors Active Living Centres to expand the “Seniors Centre Without Walls” so that every senior or adult with a disability in Ontario can access this service. In doing so, special consideration should be paid to ensuring that Francophone and minority language speaking seniors are able to participate.
On a related note, we must ensure that Ontarians who are deaf or hard of hearing are able to receive crucial information on the availability of government services, business closures, and public health updates in the midst of this crisis.
That’s why I am requesting ASL interpretation for all government press conferences related to COVID-19, and the publication of official announcements in accessible formats. We need to make sure that all 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities have the information they need to protect themselves and their families.
Minister, thank you for your consideration of this letter and its requests. I look forward to working with you to support our vulnerable seniors and people with disabilities in the days ahead.
My very best,
Official Opposition Critic for Seniors, Accessibility and People with Disabilities
MPP for Ottawa Centre
CC: Monique Doolittle-Romas