Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
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Despite No Announced Plans to Implement the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report, the Ford Government Gives 1.3 Million Dollars to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Program — A Use of Public Money We Don’t Support
May 17, 2019
Why has the Ford Government dragged its feet for months on taking new action to effectively implement and enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)? Why instead, amidst a flurry of its controversial budget cuts across the Ontario Government, has the Government decided to invest 1.3 million new public dollars over two years in the private accessibility certification process now operated by the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF)?
This is not an appropriate use of public money. Instead, the Ford Government needs to now announce a bold and comprehensive plan of action to implement the key recommendations of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Any new public money in this area should be allocated to that effort.
The Ford Government has in effect done nothing new to strengthen the AODA’s implementation in its first 11 months in office, apart from this new announcement. It has been 106 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and Enforcement. The Government has announced no plans to implement that Report’s spectrum of recommendations. This is so even though Ontario’s Accessibility minister Raymond Cho said in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job” in that report and that Ontario has only progressed 30% towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities.
The Onley Report found that Ontario is well behind schedule for reaching full accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025 as the AODA requires. It concluded that progress on accessibility in Ontario has proceeded at a glacial pace, and that Ontario remains a province full of disability barriers.
Instead of announcing any new measures that the Onley Report recommended, in this spring’s Ontario Budget, the Ford Government announced that it is giving the RHF some 1.3 million dollars over two years for its private accessibility certification process. We have serious concerns with this.
We have been on the public record for over four years expressing our strong opposition to any public money going into any private accessibility certification process, no matter who runs it. This Update tells you why. In summary
- A private accessibility certification in reality certifies nothing. It provides no defence to enforcement proceedings under the AODA, the Ontario Building Code, a municipal bylaw, the Ontario Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
- A private accessibility certification process lacks an assurance of public accountability.
- A private certification of accessibility can be misleading to the public, including to people with disabilities.
- The Government should not be subsidizing one accessibility consultant over another.
- Spending public money on a private accessibility certification process is not a priority for efforts on accessibility in Ontario or a responsible use of public money.
- The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford Government has not yet agreed to take, but it did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.
1. Why We Oppose Public Money Being Spent to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Process, No Matter Who Operates It – A Closer Look
The RHF has for some time been offering a private accessibility certification process for buildings. From what we understand, an organization can choose to pay the RHF to have someone visit that building and give it an accessibility rating based on whatever standard of accessibility that the RHF has decided to use. They call this an accessibility “certification.” You can learn more about the RHF program by visiting its website at: https://www.rickhansen.com/become-accessible
We have several serious concerns about investing any public money in this. It is not a responsible use of public money. We voice these concerns no matter what organization were to be publicly funded to conduct this private accessibility certification process. We voiced these concerns before the RHF began offering its certification services. We recognize the RHF’s good work in other areas.
Whether a private organization wants to offer its accessibility certification services, and whether any organizations wish to pay for those services, is up to those organizations. The issue we address here is whether the taxpayer’s money should be used to help subsidize this.
We have publicly stated over the past four years that the Ontario Government should not invest any public money in a private accessibility certification process. The former Ontario Government flirted with the idea of investing public money in a private accessibility certification process four years ago. It evidently invested a great deal of public money in a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to create a public report exploring this idea. We took part in that consultation and voiced our strong and principled opposition to this whole idea as a place to put any public money.
Fortunately, the former Government eventually saw the light, and dropped the idea. It is deeply troubling that the new Ford Government is going further down the wrong road that the former Government had explored.
To read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief to Deloitt on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process, visit https://www.aoda.ca/aoda-alliance-sends-the-deloitte-company-its-submission-on-the-first-phase-of-the-deloitte-companys-public-consultation-on-the-wynne-governments-problem-ridden-proposal-to-fund-a-new-private-ac/
2. A Private Accessibility Certification in Reality Certifies Nothing
The very idea of a private organization certifying another organization or its building as accessible is fraught with problems. Organizations that seek this certification of their building will eventually realize that a so-called accessibility certification through a private accessibility certification process is not what it may appear to be.
Such a certification does not mean that the organization is in fact accessible. All that is certified is a building. The services delivered inside the building may have serious accessibility barriers.
Moreover, the certification does not even mean that the built environment in the building is in fact accessible and free of disability barriers.
Such a certification cannot give that organization a defence if there is an objection that the building does not comply with accessibility requirements in the AODA, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaws. An accessibility certification similarly does not provide a defence if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, or in the case of a public-sector organization, a disability equality rights claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaw, or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law and was accessible.
In addition, a private accessibility certification can have a very limited shelf-life. If anything changes in that building, such as a garbage can blocking an accessibility ramp, the assertion of certified accessibility becomes disconnected with the actual experience of people with disabilities.
When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as is under development in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.
An accessibility certification from a private accessibility certification process ultimately means nothing authoritative. At most, it is an expression of opinion by a private self-appointed certifying organization that it thinks the building in question meets whatever standard for accessibility that the private certifying organization chooses to use. That standard may itself be deficient. Its inspection may be faulty or incomplete.
It is therefore an over-statement to call this an accessibility certification. What it boils down to in real terms is something along the lines of the advice an organization might seek from one of many accessibility consultants.
Several such consultants now operate in Ontario, on a fee-for-service basis. They are available to audit an organization’s building or its plans for a new building. They can give advice on barriers in the building. They can recommend accessibility improvements to an existing building or plans for a new building. What they give is advice, not certification.
As well, there is no assurance that the people who do the actual certifying have as much expertise on accessibility as do other accessibility consultants.
3. A Private Accessibility Certification Process Lacks an Assurance of Public Accountability
There is no assurance of public accountability in a private accessibility certification process. For example, the public has no way to know or assure itself that the private certifier is making accurate assessments.
4. A Private Certification of Accessibility Can Be Misleading to the Public, Including to People with Disabilities
If an organization receives a top-level accessibility certification, that organization may be led to think they have done all they need to do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be led to think that this is a model of accessibility to be emulated, and that it is a place that will be easy to fully access. This may turn out not to be the case if the certifier uses an insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if things change in the building after the certification is granted.
5. The Government Should Not Be Subsidizing One Accessibility Consultant over Another
In a field where there are a number of accessibility consultants providing advisory services, there is no good reason why the Ontario Government should choose to subsidize one of them. If it were to do so, it should presumably first hold an open competitive bid process. It should not be limited to an organization that calls its accessibility advice a “certification” for the reasons set out above.
Moreover, we see no reason why there should be any public subsidy here. Such an accessibility certification should simply operate on a fee-for-service basis, as do all other accessibility consultants and advisors, whether or not they call their advice “accessibility certification.”
6. Spending Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process Is Not a Priority for Efforts on Accessibility in Ontario or a Responsible use of Public Money
Due to its concern over the public debt and deficit, the Ford Government is now implementing major and controversial budget cuts in a large number of areas across the Government. At least some of those cuts have real and troubling implications for people with disabilities.
If the Ontario Government was looking for somewhere to inject a new spending of 1.3 million public dollars to serve the needs of people with disabilities, including in the accessibility context, public spending on a private accessibility certification process would certainly not be a priority. It is not an appropriate public expenditure.
For example, as we covered in our May 13, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Ford Government appears to be cutting its expenditures on existing Standards Development Committees that are doing work in the health care and education areas. This new 1.3 million dollars could better be spent in part to ensure that there is no cut to the number of days that those Standards Development Committees can work.
As well, there is a pressing need for the Government to now appoint a Built Environment Standards Development Committee to recommend an appropriate accessibility standard to deal with barriers in the built environment. These public funds could also be far better used to beef up the flagging and weak enforcement of the AODA.
7. The Onley Report Recommended Important Measures to Address Disability Barriers in the Built Environment that the Ford Government has not yet Agreed to take, But it did not Recommend Spending Scarce Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process
It is striking that the final report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review, which Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho called “marvelous,” did not recommend that public money be spent on a private accessibility certification process. This takes on special importance since the AODA Alliance had urged the Onley Report not to recommend any public investment in a private accessibility certification process. Below we set out an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley AODA Independent Review.
It makes no sense for the Ford Government to announce only one new action on the accessibility front, and for it not to be any of the priority actions that that the Onley Report recommended. The Ford Government indicated last fall that it was awaiting the Onley Report before deciding on what to do in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities. In his December 20, 2018 letter to the chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Accessibility Minister Cho wrote:
“In this regard, we will be waiting to review Mr. Onley’s report before considering the best path forward to further improving accessibility in Ontario.”
We commend the Onley Report for not recommending that public money be spent in that area. Mr. Onley clearly knew about this issue from our brief and from his prior activities in the accessibility field. He declared that the built environment should be a priority area for new action. Moreover, he offered other specific recommendations to address barriers in the built environment – recommendations that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take.
More broadly, the Onley Report also made a number of important recommendations for new Government action on accessibility beyond the built environment. With one exception addressed below (that is not relevant here), the Government has not yet announced any action on any of them, even though it has had the Onley Report for some 106 days.
Moreover, last July, long before the Onley Report was submitted, we called on the Ford Government to take a number of the priority actions that the Onley Report was later to recommend. See the AODA Alliance’s July 17, 2018 letter to Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho and our July 19, 2018 letter to premier Doug Ford. Publicly funding a private accessibility certification process is not a substitute for, or better than, Government action on any of those important priorities.
Over the past eleven months, the only new action which the Ford Government has announced on accessibility and that is recommended in the Onley Report has been to belatedly lift the Government’s unwarranted and harmful 9-month freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees that were previously developing recommendations for what to include in new accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education. Yet it was the Ford Government that let that freeze run for nine months.
Investing public funds in implementing key recommendations in the Onley Report is far more important to progress on accessibility for people with disabilities than publicly subsidizing a private accessibility certification process.
2. Excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 Brief to the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s Implementation and Enforcement, Entitled “The Need for New Accessibility Standards, Including a Strong and Comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard”
The Ontario Government Should Not Invest Public Funds in or Support any Private Accessibility Certification Process in Ontario
Several years ago, the former Ontario Government toyed with the idea of supporting the establishment of a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. It evidently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to explore this. Eventually, after Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid was shuffled out of the AODA portfolio in June 2016, this idea was in effect dropped. We opposed the idea of a private accessibility certification process and opposed the Government investing any public money in it. We urge this AODA Independent Review not to re-open that topic, and not to recommend a private accessibility certification process.
The February 1, 2016 AODA Alliance Update set out this backgrounder on this issue, including a summary of the AODA Alliance’s submission to the Deloitt consulting firm. It said:
“Back on November 16, 2015, the Wynne Government launched a public consultation on its proposal that the Government create a private process for an as-yet-unnamed private organization to provide a private, voluntary accessibility certification of the obligated organization. The Government’s November 16, 2015 email, news release and web posting on this were thin on details.
The Government did not have its own Accessibility Directorate conduct this consultation. Instead, at public expense, the Wynne Government hired the private Deloitte firm to consult the public.
Last fall, we moved as fast as possible to prepare and circulate a draft submission to Deloitte. It was emailed and posted on the web for public comment on November 25, 2015. We have repeatedly sent out invitations for input on it via Twitter and Facebook.
Last fall, we promptly shared our draft submission with Deloitte and with senior Government officials. On December 5, 2015, we wrote Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid to ask for important specifics on the Deloitte consultation. The Government has not answered that letter.
Summary of the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 Submission to the Deloitte Company
This submission’s feedback on the idea of the Ontario Government financing the creation of a private accessibility certification process is summarized as follows:
- It is important to probe beyond any superficial attractiveness that some might think a private accessibility certification process has.
- It is important for the Government to first decide whether it will adopt a private accessibility certification process, before public money and the public’s effort are invested in deciding on the details of how such a process would work. Several serious concerns set out in this submission are fatal to any such proposal, however its details are designed.
- Instead of diverting limited public and private resources, effort and time into a problematic private accessibility certification process, the Government should instead increase efforts at creating all the AODA accessibility standards needed to ensure full accessibility by 2025 and keeping its unkept promise to effectively enforce the AODA. A private accessibility certification process is no substitute for needed accessibility standards that show obligated organizations what they need to do, and a full and comprehensive AODA audit or inspection, conducted by a director or inspector duly authorized under the AODA.
- The Government cannot claim that it has deployed the AODA’s compliance/enforcement powers to the fullest and gotten from the AODA all it can in terms of increasing accessibility among obligated organizations. The Government has invested far too little in AODA enforcement.
- The entire idea of a private organization certifying an obligated organization as “accessible” is fraught with inescapable problems. Obligated organizations will ultimately realize that a so-called “accessibility certification” through a private accessibility certification process is practically useless. It does not mean that their organization is in fact accessible. It cannot give that obligated organization any defence if an AODA inspection or audit reveals that the organization is not in compliance with an AODA accessibility standard, or if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. An obligated organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law.
- A private accessibility certification could mislead people with disabilities into thinking an organization is fully accessible in a situation where that organization is not in fact fully accessible.
- Obligated organizations that have spent their money on a private accessibility certification will understandably become angry or frustrated when they find that this certification does not excuse unlawful conduct. They will understandably share these feelings with their business associates. Ontarians with disabilities don’t need the Government launching a new process that will risk generating such backlash.
- A private accessibility certification could have a very limited shelf-life. When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as it has promised to do in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.
- The Government’s idea that a private accessibility certification process would be self-financing creates additional serious problems.
- Any private certification process raises serious concerns about public accountability. As such, the public will not be able to find out how it is operating, beyond any selective information that the Government or the private certifier decides to make public. Without full access to the activities and records of a private certifier, the public cannot effectively assess how this private accessibility certification process is working, and whether it is helping or hurting the accessibility cause…”