Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 Virtual Media Event, Heralded to Unveil an Announcement on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities, Announces Nothing New

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 Virtual Media Event, Heralded to Unveil an Announcement on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities, Announces Nothing New

November 3, 2020

          SUMMARY

On Thursday October 29, 2020, the Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister held a virtual conference which the Minister heralded as an event to unveil an announcement on advancing accessibility for 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. We cannot find anything new in the Minister’s announcement. Below, we offer some reflections on this announcement, and then set out the Minister’s news release and backgrounder.

This was the event for which the Ford Government last week sent out an inaccessible invitation. After we made that painfully symbolic irony public, the Government apologized and re-issued its invitation, this time in an accessible email.

There have now been 642 days, or 21 months, since the Ford Government received the blistering final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes worse the serious problems still facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Send us your feedback by writing us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

          MORE DETAILS

 Reflections on the Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 Accessibility Announcement

On October 29, 2020, the Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho held a virtual news conference, which AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was invited to virtually watch. At this event, the Minister simply announced that the Government was launching a public education campaign on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the importance of accessibility for people with disabilities.

We scoured the announcement, set out below, and the speeches during the news event, but could find nothing new in this announcement. The Government has earlier announced that it is conducting public education on that very topic. Earlier Government news releases have pointed to such activities. Moreover, the Government’s official Twitter feed has been tweeting on this subject for quite some time.

Indeed, this is just more of what the previous Liberal Government was doing in the realm of educating the public on this topic. On October 29, 2020, the Government announced no new plan of action for this 15-year-old campaign, nor any new budget allocation for this campaign. We have written the Government to ask if any new budget is being allocated to this campaign. The Government has not answered.

Let’s look at this in context. Over 15 years after the AODA was passed, and just over four years before Ontario must become accessible to 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities, the Ford Government’s announcement is to “raise awareness” about accessibility? And this when the final report of David Onley’s most recent Independent Review of the AODA told the Government over 21 months ago that Ontario remains full of “soul-crushing barriers” facing people with disabilities, with progress on accessibility proceeding at a “glacial pace”?

Ontarians with disabilities deserve much better. “Raising awareness” about the AODA at this point is about the least effective tool in the Government’s toolkit. On the more important issue of effectively enforcing the AODA, the Ford Government said nothing at this media event.

Moreover, it has been over a month since the AODA Alliance wrote the Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister in our September 21, 2020 letter to ask for important information on what the Government is doing to enforce the AODA. While we understand that an answer will eventually be forthcoming, we have not received one to date. You can learn more about our multi-year campaign to get the AODA effectively enforced by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s enforcement page.

A closer look at the Government’s October 29, 2020 announcement triggers even more cause for concern. The Ford Government’s announcement tries to substantially dilute and lower the bar it and Ontario must meet to obey the AODA. In wording carefully crafted for its news release, set out below, the Government’s lead minister stated:

“Our government is committed to working together with our partners inside and outside of government to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive by 2025…”

It is helpful for the Ford Government to acknowledge the AODA’s 2025 deadline. However, the AODA does not merely require Ontario to become “more accessible” by that year. It requires Ontario to become “accessible” by that year, pure and simple.

The difference is enormous. Ontario would meet the Ford Government’s paltry stated goal of “more accessible” if only one ramp were installed somewhere in Ontario between now and 2025, or if only one inaccessible website were retrofitted to make it accessible.

For the Government to so profoundly misunderstand or water down the AODA hurts all Ontarians with disabilities. For the Government to publicly signal this wrongful dilution of the legislation sends the wrong signal to obligated organizations at a time when we need efforts on accessibility ramped up, not diluted.

Beyond this, the Government’s announcement includes re-announcements of initiatives that are already underway. This includes re-announcing, believe it or not, a program started by the Bob Rae NDP Ontario Government dating back to the first half of the 1990s.

Among the initiatives that the Government re-announced was its diverting 1.3 million public dollars to the problematic Rick Hansen Foundation private accessibility certification program. We have publicly shown that no public money should be spent on that program. The Government has not disputed the serious problems with that program which the AODA Alliance publicly documented over a year ago.

The Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 media event is the first major accessibility announcement that its Accessibility Minister has made since its February 28, 2020 media event. At that event, the Government proclaimed that it would “lead by example” on accessibility. In response, the March 2, 2020 AODA Alliance Update documented that there too, the Government announced nothing new. The Ford Government has not disputed this. That AODA Alliance Update also documented that the Government was leading by a poor example on accessibility.

Since then, as the AODA Alliance website’s COVID-19 page demonstrates, the Ford Government seriously bungled its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, in so far as the urgent needs of 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities are concerned. It thereby continued to lead by a poor example, contrary to its February 28, 2020 commitment.

Finally, it is a further cruel irony that this most recent empty event (which appears to have attracted no reporters and garnered no media coverage) was held on October 29, an important anniversary in our decades-long non-partisan campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. It is frankly difficult to see what the Government was trying to achieve by holding an event which so obviously announced nothing new.

Despite all this, we continue to offer the Government our constructive recommendations on how to kick-start stalled progress on accessibility. Had the Government wished to announce something meaningful for accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities, any or all of the following, which we have urged, would be welcomed:

  1. Committing to develop a long-overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, and appointing a Standards Development Committee to develop recommendations for it, as the Onley Report urged;
  1. Appointing an Associate Deputy Minister of Education for Students with Disabilities, to develop an action plan to ensure that one third of a million students with disabilities are fully and safely included in in-class and distance learning;
  1. Committing that all the new schools and school renovations will be fully disability-accessible, for which the Government announced a half a billion dollars this summer, and announcing an effective plan to achieve this;
  1. Immediately making public the report and recommendations of the Government’s Bioethics Table on how critical medical care triage should be done, if the COVID-19 surge overloads Ontario hospitals, and withdrawing the controversial and seriously flawed March 28, 2020 triage protocol that the Government sent to all hospitals last spring.
  1. Announcing a new plan to effectively and meaningfully enforce the AODA.

Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 News Release on Accessibility

Advancing Accessibility in Ontario: Improving Understanding and Awareness about Accessibility

BACKGROUNDER October 29, 2020

Advancing Accessibility in Ontario is a framework designed to help focus the government’s work in four key areas:

  • breaking down barriers in the built environment
  • government leading by example in its role as a policy maker, service provider and employer
  • increasing participation in the economy for people with disabilities and
  • improving understanding and awareness about accessibility

To make progress on the area of improving understanding and awareness about accessibility, the government is working with its stakeholders, including partner ministries, broader public sector organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations to help raise awareness and change attitudes. Many organizations are not fully aware of their accessibility responsibilities or do not realize the benefits of being more receptive to the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities.

We are working with key industry stakeholders through the government’s EnAbling Change Program that provides resources and training materials to educate associations and employers in multiple sectors about accessibility by:

  • Developing ReadAble Fest, a specialized reading program with disability themes for elementary students that engaged more than 1,300 students in 17 Simcoe County District School Board schools with OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation.
  • Developing an enhanced curriculum and training materials on accessibility for building officials through the Ontario Building Officials Association. This ensures that new and existing buildings can be planned and built to be more accessible.
  • Supporting the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival, increasing awareness about Deaf and disability cultures highlighted in films and documentaries by filmmakers and actors with disabilities and/or who are Deaf. We also support the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, which runs the ReelEducation program on equity and inclusion for educators.

We are taking action to make accessibility enhancements so that everyone can fully participate in everyday life by:

  • Collaborating with Destination Ontario to improve the user experience for travellers with accessibility needs by providing practical information about accessible options at Ontario’s tourism businesses. These accessibility options are available through the desktop and mobile versions of Ontario’s official travel website.
  • Enabling Ontarians to engage with and learn about attractions, tourism operators and artists across the province, while keeping themselves safe during COVID-19, through Ontario Live, a virtual hub for the arts, attractions and film and television.
  • Using a collaborative review of Ontario’s supportive housing programs to find ways to streamline and improve coordination so people can get the services they need. The government is gathering feedback through multiple virtual public engagement activities, including an online survey, regional engagement sessions with stakeholders and partners, and population-specific discussions that include seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Improving the government’s digital platforms to put more services online, making them easier and faster to use. The Ontario Public Service (OPS) digital plan is starting by enhancing ServiceOntario transactions, including renewals of health cards and driver’s licences. The Digital Strategy endeavours to develop a robust online channel that provides convenience and ease of access for all Ontarians, including customers and OPS employees with disabilities, and will create a consistent experience across multiple platforms.
  • Embedding accessibility into national and international sport events by providing funding to non-profit organizations that deliver such events. Applicants to the Sport Hosting Program must submit an accessibility plan to show how barriers for people with disabilities will be removed so that everyone can take part in the event. Program materials include a link to the Guide to Accessible Festivals & Outdoor Events and volunteers are asked to complete an online accessibility training resource.
  • Investing $1.07 million in 2019-20 to support the Abilities Centre in Whitby to advance accessibility and inclusion by expanding its services and training.
  • Partnering with SPARK Ontario to help seniors and the most vulnerable stay connected and healthy as they self isolate during COVID-19. This volunteer hub connects volunteers to community organizations supporting people with disabilities and older adults during COVID-19 by delivering food or medicines, running errands or checking up on Ontarians as they self-isolate.
  • Launching the Ontario Community Support Program, which provides home deliveries of food and essentials into 2021 for people with disabilities as well as other vulnerable communities who need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. This meaningful support was launched in partnership with the Ontario Community Support Association in April with an $11 million investment from the government. More than 230,000 meals and essential supply deliveries have been made across Ontario between the program’s launch and September.

We are also providing enhanced support for implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its accessibility standards by:

  • Ensuring the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks continues to incorporate up-to-date accessibility specifications in Ontario Parks capital and renovation projects by receiving training on and incorporating Building Code accessibility changes and Design of Public Spaces Standards.
  • Creating a web page that provides free accessibility resources and guides to make it easier for businesses and communities to get the information they need to help them be more accessible and inclusive. The “Accessibility in Ontario: Information for Businesses” resource is a one-stop-shop web page that includes valuable information on topics such as inclusive hiring, how to make workplaces more accessible and the economic benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

The government is strengthening its cross-government leadership in implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by:

  • Increasing awareness about accessibility within the Ontario Public Service (OPS). An annual Inclusion Week has featured discussions on topics such as accessibility, mental health and inclusive leadership. Dedicated internal committees also provide resources to help advance awareness about inclusion and diversity. A multi-ministry speaker series has also built accessibility awareness to support the design and implementation of inclusive policies, programs and public services for Ontarians.
  • Harmonizing Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). The program requires that the province ensures all federally funded, public-facing infrastructure meets the highest published, applicable accessibility standard in a respective jurisdiction. The Ontario government applied an accessibility lens while developing the provincial criteria for ICIP. Nearly 400 ICIP projects across Ontario have been approved by the provincial and federal governments to date. They will bring critical infrastructure improvements to their communities, including accessibility components that will enhance the safety and comfort of transit users. For example, roughly 249 bus stops in Oakville will be upgraded with landing pads, walkways, ramps and curbs. In Barrie, 30 new low-floor, accessible buses will replace a retiring bus fleet and 21 new accessible paratransit city buses will replace the existing fleet over the next seven years.
  • Ensuring that ministries work to design and provide accessible internal and public communications, websites and digital services that work for everyone. Our government offers best practice guidance and expertise to support these efforts, which are especially important during COVID-19 to help distribute information to Ontarians with disabilities.

The government is supporting the safety, needs and accessibility awareness of students and educators by:

  • Providing support for research and assessment services for postsecondary students with learning disabilities by funding Assessment and Resource Centres. The support is provided through three centres across the province: the Northern Ontario Assessment and Resource Centre at Cambrian College, the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre at Queen’s University, and the Centre francophone d’évaluation et des ressources de L’Ontario at Collège Boréal.
  • Making ongoing efforts during COVID to review and improve digital learning tools being considered for the Ministry of Education’s Learn at Home website to support students and families when learning from home.
  • Investing in the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) program to help make buildings in Ontario more accessible. The program provides organizations with a snapshot of their building’s accessibility to help businesses and communities understand how to be more accessible and inclusive. As part of its own efforts to further its commitment to accessibility on campus, Carleton University became the first postsecondary institution to incorporate RHFAC into policy.
   
MEDIA CONTACTS

Elric Pereira

Minister’s Office

Elric.Pereira@ontario.ca

Media Desk

Communications Branch

MSAA.Media@ontario.ca

Disponible en français

 Ford Government’s October 29, 2020 Backgrounder

Advancing Accessibility in Ontario: Improving Understanding and Awareness about Accessibility

BACKGROUNDER October 29, 2020

Advancing Accessibility in Ontario is a framework designed to help focus the government’s work in four key areas:

  • breaking down barriers in the built environment
  • government leading by example in its role as a policy maker, service provider and employer
  • increasing participation in the economy for people with disabilities and
  • improving understanding and awareness about accessibility

To make progress on the area of improving understanding and awareness about accessibility, the government is working with its stakeholders, including partner ministries, broader public sector organizations, businesses and non-profit organizations to help raise awareness and change attitudes. Many organizations are not fully aware of their accessibility responsibilities or do not realize the benefits of being more receptive to the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities.

We are working with key industry stakeholders through the government’s EnAbling Change Program that provides resources and training materials to educate associations and employers in multiple sectors about accessibility by:

  • Developing ReadAble Fest, a specialized reading program with disability themes for elementary students that engaged more than 1,300 students in 17 Simcoe County District School Board schools with OneWorld Schoolhouse Foundation.
  • Developing an enhanced curriculum and training materials on accessibility for building officials through the Ontario Building Officials Association. This ensures that new and existing buildings can be planned and built to be more accessible.
  • Supporting the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival, increasing awareness about Deaf and disability cultures highlighted in films and documentaries by filmmakers and actors with disabilities and/or who are Deaf. We also support the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre, which runs the ReelEducation program on equity and inclusion for educators.

We are taking action to make accessibility enhancements so that everyone can fully participate in everyday life by:

  • Collaborating with Destination Ontario to improve the user experience for travellers with accessibility needs by providing practical information about accessible options at Ontario’s tourism businesses. These accessibility options are available through the desktop and mobile versions of Ontario’s official travel website.
  • Enabling Ontarians to engage with and learn about attractions, tourism operators and artists across the province, while keeping themselves safe during COVID-19, through Ontario Live, a virtual hub for the arts, attractions and film and television.
  • Using a collaborative review of Ontario’s supportive housing programs to find ways to streamline and improve coordination so people can get the services they need. The government is gathering feedback through multiple virtual public engagement activities, including an online survey, regional engagement sessions with stakeholders and partners, and population-specific discussions that include seniors and people with disabilities.
  • Improving the government’s digital platforms to put more services online, making them easier and faster to use. The Ontario Public Service (OPS) digital plan is starting by enhancing ServiceOntario transactions, including renewals of health cards and driver’s licences. The Digital Strategy endeavours to develop a robust online channel that provides convenience and ease of access for all Ontarians, including customers and OPS employees with disabilities, and will create a consistent experience across multiple platforms.
  • Embedding accessibility into national and international sport events by providing funding to non-profit organizations that deliver such events. Applicants to the Sport Hosting Program must submit an accessibility plan to show how barriers for people with disabilities will be removed so that everyone can take part in the event. Program materials include a link to the Guide to Accessible Festivals & Outdoor Events and volunteers are asked to complete an online accessibility training resource.
  • Investing $1.07 million in 2019-20 to support the Abilities Centre in Whitby to advance accessibility and inclusion by expanding its services and training.
  • Partnering with SPARK Ontario to help seniors and the most vulnerable stay connected and healthy as they self isolate during COVID-19. This volunteer hub connects volunteers to community organizations supporting people with disabilities and older adults during COVID-19 by delivering food or medicines, running errands or checking up on Ontarians as they self-isolate.
  • Launching the Ontario Community Support Program, which provides home deliveries of food and essentials into 2021 for people with disabilities as well as other vulnerable communities who need to self-isolate due to COVID-19. This meaningful support was launched in partnership with the Ontario Community Support Association in April with an $11 million investment from the government. More than 230,000 meals and essential supply deliveries have been made across Ontario between the program’s launch and September.

We are also providing enhanced support for implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and its accessibility standards by:

  • Ensuring the Ministry of the Environment, Conservation and Parks continues to incorporate up-to-date accessibility specifications in Ontario Parks capital and renovation projects by receiving training on and incorporating Building Code accessibility changes and Design of Public Spaces Standards.
  • Creating a web page that provides free accessibility resources and guides to make it easier for businesses and communities to get the information they need to help them be more accessible and inclusive. The “Accessibility in Ontario: Information for Businesses” resource is a one-stop-shop web page that includes valuable information on topics such as inclusive hiring, how to make workplaces more accessible and the economic benefits of hiring people with disabilities.

The government is strengthening its cross-government leadership in implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by:

  • Increasing awareness about accessibility within the Ontario Public Service (OPS). An annual Inclusion Week has featured discussions on topics such as accessibility, mental health and inclusive leadership. Dedicated internal committees also provide resources to help advance awareness about inclusion and diversity. A multi-ministry speaker series has also built accessibility awareness to support the design and implementation of inclusive policies, programs and public services for Ontarians.
  • Harmonizing Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government for the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program (ICIP). The program requires that the province ensures all federally funded, public-facing infrastructure meets the highest published, applicable accessibility standard in a respective jurisdiction. The Ontario government applied an accessibility lens while developing the provincial criteria for ICIP. Nearly 400 ICIP projects across Ontario have been approved by the provincial and federal governments to date. They will bring critical infrastructure improvements to their communities, including accessibility components that will enhance the safety and comfort of transit users. For example, roughly 249 bus stops in Oakville will be upgraded with landing pads, walkways, ramps and curbs. In Barrie, 30 new low-floor, accessible buses will replace a retiring bus fleet and 21 new accessible paratransit city buses will replace the existing fleet over the next seven years.
  • Ensuring that ministries work to design and provide accessible internal and public communications, websites and digital services that work for everyone. Our government offers best practice guidance and expertise to support these efforts, which are especially important during COVID-19 to help distribute information to Ontarians with disabilities.

The government is supporting the safety, needs and accessibility awareness of students and educators by:

  • Providing support for research and assessment services for postsecondary students with learning disabilities by funding Assessment and Resource Centres. The support is provided through three centres across the province: the Northern Ontario Assessment and Resource Centre at Cambrian College, the Regional Assessment and Resource Centre at Queen’s University, and the Centre francophone d’évaluation et des ressources de L’Ontario at Collège Boréal.
  • Making ongoing efforts during COVID to review and improve digital learning tools being considered for the Ministry of Education’s Learn at Home website to support students and families when learning from home.
  • Investing in the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification (RHFAC) program to help make buildings in Ontario more accessible. The program provides organizations with a snapshot of their building’s accessibility to help businesses and communities understand how to be more accessible and inclusive. As part of its own efforts to further its commitment to accessibility on campus, Carleton University became the first postsecondary institution to incorporate RHFAC into policy.
   
MEDIA CONTACTS

Elric Pereira

Minister’s Office

Elric.Pereira@ontario.ca

Media Desk

Communications Branch

MSAA.Media@ontario.ca

Disponible en français