Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
For 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Today is a Frustrating Anniversary of Inaction by the Ford Government – We Are Still Waiting for the Government to Announce an Effective Plan of Action to Implement the David Onley Report Received One Year Ago Today
January 31, 2020
Fully one year after the Ford Government received a compelling report that shows a need to substantially strengthen the implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s 2005 disability accessibility law, the Government continues its foot-dragging, with no end in sight. For example, it continues its failure to take important action required under that legislation.
At the same time, the Ford Government instead pushes forward with an unhelpful distraction, its plan to divert 1.3 million public dollars to the problem-ridden Rick Hansen Foundation private accessibility certification program. That public money would be far better spend funding such things as the development and enactment of long-overdue new regulations that would ensure that Ontario’s built environment becomes accessible to Ontarians with disabilities .
While this anniversary of inaction is very frustrating, we remain unstoppably tenacious. We will continue and redouble our efforts in our non-partisan campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities.
1. A Deeply Troubling One Year Anniversary of Government Foot-Dragging
One year ago today, the Ford Government received the blistering final report of the Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, conducted by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. That ground-breaking report called on the Ontario Government to show strong new leadership on accessibility for over 2 million Ontarians with disabilities. It found that Ontario remains a province full of “soul-crushing barriers” that daily impede Ontarians with disabilities. It recommended specific, long-overdue actions to speed up and strengthen the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. We and the Ford Government agreed that Mr. Onley did a marvelous job.
For an entire year, we have pressed the Ford Government to release a strong and comprehensive plan of action to implement the Onley Report. It still has not done so.
Earlier this week, on January 28, 2020, the Ford Government staged a media event to unveil its response to the Onley Report that has been a year in the making. Our news release that day showed that the Ford Government’s announcement offered thin gruel for 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. It largely re-announced existing programs. Progress on accessibility will continue at the glacial rate that the Onley Report documented to have been the case in Ontario for years.
For example, the Onley Report said that the recurring barriers that people with disabilities face in the built environment must become a major priority. The Onley Report called for new accessibility regulations to be enacted to fix this. Doug Ford recognize the importance of this in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance where he set out his party’s 2018 election promises on disability accessibility.
No one can credibly deny that the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions are inadequate. A new building can be built that fully complies with the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards, and still be replete with serious accessibility barriers. For example, thousands of people know this to be the case from viewing three captioned online videos produced by the AODA Alliance. They show serious accessibility barriers in the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre, the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre, and the new subway stations recently opened on Toronto’s subway line – all public buildings.
At its media event earlier this week, the Ford Government said that action on barriers facing people with disabilities in the built environment was one of its four priorities. Yet, the Ford Government still has not announced any plans to create a long-overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Last May, during National Accessibility Week, Doug Ford’s Government hurtfully derided such an idea as “red tape,” as if the rights to accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities were red tape.
Under the AODA, a very limited and weak accessibility standard was enacted by the previous Ontario Government in 2012 to address some barriers in public spaces, mainly outside buildings. The AODA required the Ontario Government to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review that weak accessibility over two years ago. That committee is needed and required to advise the Government on any revisions to it that are needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025, the AODA’s mandatory deadline. The Government continues to be in open, flagrant and ongoing breach of that obligation. No such Standards Development Committee has been appointed. The previous Wynne Government was in breach of that duty for its last six months in power. The Ford Government has been in breach of it for its entire 19 months in power.
In its weak January 28, 2020 announcement, the Ford Government did not say that it would create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. Instead, it only re-announced that it would harmonize the weak Ontario Building Code with the weak national building code. That could make things worse for people with disabilities.
So far, the Ford Government’s thin gruel for Ontarians with disabilities has not been well received by people with disabilities. The feedback we have received from people with disabilities has been quite critical of the Government’s announcement. Similar sentiments were expressed in the January 29, 2020 Thunder Bay Chronicle Herald (article set out below) and in a Radio 610 CKTB interview on January 28, 2020 with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. Ontario NDP Disability Critic Joel Harden issued a news release on January 28, 2020, set out below, that was to the same effect.
2. Instead of Embarking on Developing Long-Overdue New Regulations for the Accessibility of Ontario’s Built Environment, the Ford Government is Going Ahead with Its Wasteful Investment in the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Program
Making this situation even worse, instead of investing public money into developing new, modernized and effective accessibility regulations for the built environment, whether under the Ontario Building Code, the AODA or both, the Ford Government is going ahead with its seriously flawed plan to divert 1.3 million public dollars into the problematic Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) private accessibility certification program. Last year, we exhaustively documented that the RHF program has major deficiencies. Public money should not be spent on it:
* The RHF purports to “certify” a building as accessible. In reality, it certifies nothing. The fact that the RHF proclaims that a building is accessible does not mean that it is accessible.
* The RHF has an unfair, selective approach to accessibility which, per its own news release, looks at barriers facing people with disabilities relating to mobility, vision and hearing. Yet to properly assess a building’s accessibility, it is important to look at the needs of people with all disabilities, not just those that the RHF has unfairly chosen to prioritize.
* The Standard and process that the RHF uses to assess a building are deficient and unreliable.
* The RHF’s meager 8-day training program for its assessors is entirely inadequate to qualify a person to conduct such assessments.
Neither the RHF nor the Ford Government have disproven our serious and fully documented concerns. Nevertheless, the Ford Government is forging ahead with this improper use of public money. On January 30, 2020, the RHF issued a news release. We set it out below. It obviously was coordinated with the Ford Government.
That news release invites organizations in ten Ontario cities to apply for a free RHF assessment of their building, entirely at the Ontario taxpayer’s expense. That news release adds new concerns to the many that we have already documented.
Months ago, we asked the Ford Government a number of important questions about this scheme. Many remain unanswered. For example, we have asked who is going to decide which organizations and which buildings will get this free RHF assessment at public expense. From the news release, set out below, we learned that applications for this public benefit go to the RHF, a private foundation, and not to the Ontario Government which will be paying for it. The news release states:
“RHF will be engaging municipalities and their Accessibility Advisory Committees to select finalists in their local communities.”
This strongly implies that the RHF may be the final decision-maker. That would be entirely inappropriate. The RHF is not publicly accountable for such decisions. There is a real risk of conflicts of interest, since the RHF is a charitable foundation that also solicits donations from the public, including those who apply for this publicly-funded offering.
To the extent that the Government is partially downloading the burden to select finalists to municipalities and their accessibility advisory committees, there is no indication that the Ford Government will cover their added costs. Members of the public who serve on municipal accessibility advisory committees are volunteers. They have far more important things to do to serve the needs of their communities.
Neither the Ford Government nor the RHF have announced any criteria for deciding which organizations will get this taxpayer-funded benefit. It is critically important to know how these decisions will be made, with full public accountability for this use of public money.
Because the Ontario Building Codes accessibility provisions are so inadequate, several of these ten Ontario municipalities have their own stronger accessibility standards. Nothing in the RHF program ensures that RHF assessors have the required knowledge and expertise about the technical requirements in the municipal accessibility standards in the relevant municipality. The RHF’s 8-day training course does not ensure that they have that knowledge and expertise. If the RHF certifies a building in London, Ontario that does not comply with London’s accessibility standards, it would be seriously misleading for the RHF to declare it as an accessible building.
We strongly recommend that organizations not apply to the RHF for its assessment of their buildings in this program. There are far better options for taking action to address accessibility issues in their buildings.
If, despite our serious concerns, a municipality and its accessibility advisory committee are still going to get involved in this, they should insist that buildings be assessed for compliance with their own local accessibility standard. They should also insist that the RHF ensure that any RHF assessor that assesses a building in their community proves that they have been properly trained in and have expertise in that municipality’s accessibility standard, well beyond the inadequate 8-day RHF training course.
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Thunder Bay Chronicle Herald January 29, 2020
Accessibility in Ontario will take time: minister
BY CARL CLUTCHEY, NORTH SHORE BUREAU Jan 29, 2020
Advocates for Ontario’s 2.6 million disabled people chided the government Tuesday for continuing to move at a “glacial pace” towards a goal of making the province fully accessible by 2025.
The Toronto-based Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Alliance said an announcement by Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho was more like a “re-announcement” of earlier pledges that have yet to be fulfilled.
“This is the best they can do?” Alliance chairman David Lepofsky scoffed in a news release.
See the full story in the print and digital editions of The Chronicle-Journal.
January 28, 2020 News Release by the Ontario New Democratic Party
Ford government announcement offers no real commitment to enforcing accessibility: NDP critic for Accessibility
Published on January 28, 2020
QUEEN’S PARK — The NDP’s critic for Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities, Joel Harden, made the following statement in response to this morning’s Ford government announcement on accessibility:
“Ontarians with disabilities have waited nearly a year for the Ford government to respond to David Onley’s report on the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) with a concrete plan of action for improving Ontario’s accessibility. After years of being let down by the Liberals, who failed to make Ontario more accessible, they were again disappointed today, this time by the Ford government.
Not only has the Ford government failed to release a comprehensive plan for ensuring that Ontario achieves full accessibility by 2025 — as the AODA requires — but today’s government announcement falls woefully short of addressing the many barriers that prevent Ontarians with disabilities from living their fullest lives.
The framework that Ford’s Minister of Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho mentioned today offers no actual commitment to enforcing accessibility standards in Ontario, creates no new standards to ensure that buildings in Ontario are accessible, and makes no pledge to ensure that public money isn’t used to create new barriers to accessibility.
People with disabilities have waited long enough to access the same opportunities as able-bodied Ontarians. The NDP calls on this government to act with urgency to make our province fully accessible, and to release a real plan of action that incorporates the key recommendations from Onley’s report.”
January 30, 2020 News Release by the Rick Hansen Foundation
Rick Hansen Foundation calls on people of Ontario to improve accessibility
Complimentary accessibility ratings through the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ program available to 250 sites in Ontario
(Toronto) Thursday, January 30, 2020 – Thanks to funding of $1.3 million from the Government of Ontario’s Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) is accepting applications from organizations across 10 municipalities in Ontario to obtain a snapshot of their buildings’ accessibility through the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification™ (RHFAC) program.
RHF is calling on non-profit, public and private organizations to apply to receive complimentary RHFAC ratings. This includes spaces such as community centres, libraries, schools, retailers and office buildings. Two hundred and fifty sites will have the opportunity to be rated through the RHFAC program. The 10 eligible municipalities are:
- Greater Sudbury
RHFAC rates the level of meaningful access of the built environment, keeping in mind user experience of people with varying disabilities affecting their mobility, vision and hearing. This means attracting more consumers and potential employees for organizations across the province. According to the Conference Board of Canada, improvements to workplace access would allow more than half a million Canadians with disabilities to work more hours, increasing GDP by $16.8 billion by 2030. To date, more than 1,200 buildings across Canada have been rated through the program.
“People with disabilities and our seniors deserve to be independent and fully participate in their communities as consumers and employees,” said Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. “This certification pilot project will help businesses and communities understand how to be more accessible and inclusive for everyone – so that we all benefit. By helping to build awareness of accessible built environments, we are fostering a culture of accessibility and inclusion.”
Speaking about the complimentary ratings, Brad McCannell, VP of Access and Inclusion at RHF, said, “This generous funding from the Ontario government will enable many organizations to
understand and showcase their building’s accessibility, and help inform their future accessibility plans with respect to the built environment. This is a great opportunity for organizations to help make Ontario more inclusive for our aging population and the growing number of people with disabilities.”
Applications from building owners and tenants can be submitted online until March 27, 2020. RHF will be engaging municipalities and their Accessibility Advisory Committees to select finalists in their local communities.
To learn more and apply for a complimentary rating, visit RickHansen.com/FreeRating
About the Rick Hansen Foundation
The Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) was established in 1988, following the completion of Rick Hansen’s Man In Motion World Tour. For nearly 30 years, RHF has worked to raise awareness, change attitudes, and remove barriers for people with disabilities. Visit www.rickhansen.com to learn more.
RHF Media Contact:
Yulu Public Relations
Nora Eastwood / Monica McCluskey
Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility Media Contact: