It’s Time for the Ford Government to Agree to Create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under Ontario’s Disabilities Act

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/

It’s Time for the Ford Government to Agree to Create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under Ontario’s Disabilities Act

November 30, 2020

            SUMMARY

Today is the first day of our non-partisan grassroots disability accessibility movement’s 27th year in action!!

We call on the Ford Government to immediately take effective action to tackle the many barriers that Ontarians with disabilities continue to face in the built environment. More specifically, we call on the Ford Government to announce that it will develop and enact a comprehensive, strong and effective Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government should now post an announcement recruiting people to serve on a Built Environment Standards Development Committee under the AODA. That Committee is needed to consult the public and to make recommendations on what the Built Environment Accessibility Standard should include.

That AODA Standards Development Committee should be free to make whatever recommendations it deems helpful to address any aspect of the built environment. Part of its mandate should be to conduct the long-overdue mandatory review of Ontario’s weak and limited “Design of Public Spaces AODA Accessibility Standard”. The AODA required that review to begin three years ago. A review of the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard is only a small part of what is now needed.

The Ontario Government typically and wrongly treats the Ontario Building Code and existing AODA accessibility standards as the only legally required benchmark that it must meet in new or significantly renovated buildings. Yet those legal requirements fall far short of what people with disabilities need. A building that is built in full compliance with the Ontario Building Code and with existing AODA accessibility standards need not be fully accessible, and likely will not be fully accessible to people with disabilities. It will not meet the higher accessibility requirements guaranteed to people with disabilities by the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Below we give more background on this issue. To learn even more about the AODA Alliance’s multi-year campaign to get a strong and effective Built Environment Accessibility Standard enacted in Ontario under the AODA, check out the AODA Alliance website’s built environment page.

There have now been 669 days, or 22 months, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking 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 still announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that blistering report, including its strong recommendations regarding disability barriers in the built environment. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, addressed in the new online video we unveiled last week.

            MORE DETAILS

 1. A Province Still Full of Disability Barriers in the Built Environment

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by January 1, 2025. This includes ensuring the accessibility of “buildings”, as well as employment, goods, services and facilities in Ontario. The AODA requires the Ontario Government to enact all the regulations (called accessibility standards) that are needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025.

Only a little over four years is left for Ontario to achieve this legally mandatory goal. Ontario remains far behind schedule for reaching it. One of the areas where Ontario remains far behind is in making the built environment accessible to people with disabilities. Although this AODA Alliance Update focuses on barriers in the built environment, we emphasize that Ontario remains full of many other kinds of disability barriers as well that need to be removed, beyond those in the built environment.

No one could credibly deny that the built environment in Ontario remains replete with too many accessibility barriers. Under the AODA, the Ontario Government must appoint an Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation every three years or so. The two most recent AODA Independent Reviews each found that barriers in the built environment remain a serious problem. This includes the 2014 report of Mayo Moran’s second AODA Independent Review and David Onley’s 2019 third Independent Review of the AODA.

Both Independent Reviews called for new Government action under the AODA to address the many persisting disability barriers in the built environment. The Onley Report described Ontario as full of “soul-crushing barriers”, with progress on accessibility taking place at a “glacial” pace.

 2. Ontario Has No Comprehensive Accessibility Standard Ensuring that the Built Environment Becomes Accessible

Many are shocked to learn that even though it is now over 15 years since the AODA was passed, there is still no Built Environment Accessibility Standard enacted under the AODA to ensure that the built environment in Ontario becomes accessible by 2025.

Over 14 years ago, the Liberal Ontario Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty commendably committed to enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Back then, the Government appointed a Built Environment Standards Development Committee under the AODA to make recommendations on what the promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard should include. That Standards Development Committee submitted its final recommendations to the Government by 2010.

In the 2011 Ontario election, Premier McGuinty promised to enact the Built Environment Accessibility Standard “promptly.” However, to this day, Ontario still does not have an AODA Built Environment Accessibility Standard.

In December 2012, the previous McGuinty Government passed a very weak and limited “Design of Public Spaces” Accessibility Standard under the AODA. That regulation only addresses a very limited range of disability barriers in the built environment, mainly some that are outside buildings. As for the vital area of disability barriers inside buildings, that Accessibility Standard only addresses some in public service areas, such as counter heights. Further limiting its effectiveness, the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard only deals with preventing the creation of some new barriers. It does not require removal of any existing barriers anywhere in the built environment inside or outside buildings.

As for the many other disability barriers inside buildings, in December 2013, the McGuinty Government passed very limited changes to the weak accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code. Even after those changes, the Ontario Building Code still fails to effectively ensure that a building, even a new building, will be barrier-free for people with disabilities. It requires no retrofits of existing buildings that are not undergoing a major renovation, even if accessibility would be readily achievable.

As a result, even if a new building fully complies with the Ontario Building Code and the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard, it can and usually does end up having accessibility barriers designed into it. The AODA Alliance has documented this cruel reality in three widely-viewed captioned online videos. Serious accessibility problems are revealed in the AODA Alliance‘s 2018 vid HYPERLINK “https://youtu.be/za1UptZq82o”eo about new and recently-renovated Toronto area transit stations, its 2017 video about the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre and its 2016 video about Centennial College’s new Culinary Arts Centre. Each of those videos secured great media coverage.

Yet such barriers in the built environment can expose providers of goods, services, facilities or employment to human rights complaints, alleging disability discrimination. Those organizations that must comply with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms are also exposed to the possibility of claims that such barriers violate the guarantee of equality without discrimination because of disability in section 15 of the Charter of Rights.

 3. The Ontario Government is in Breach of Its AODA Obligations

Within five years after an AODA accessibility standard is enacted, section 9(9) of the AODA requires the Government to appoint a new Standards Development Committee to review that standard. This review is done to see if that accessibility standard is strong enough to ensure accessibility is achieved by 2025.

As explained earlier, the Government enacted the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard in December 2012. The Government was therefore required to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review it by December 2017. Yet no Standards Development Committee has ever been appointed to conduct that mandatory review.

That mandatory deadline was reached and missed three years ago. The previous Liberal Government of Premier Kathleen Wynne is responsible for the first six months of that 3-year violation of the AODA. The Conservative Government is responsible for the other two and a half years of that AODA violation.

We have diligently and repeatedly alerted each successive Government and each accessibility minister well in advance of this obligation. They should not need a volunteer community coalition like the AODA Alliance to tell them of such basic obligations under the AODA. This is especially so since each successive Ontario Government has claimed to be leading the rest of Ontario by its example on accessibility. Such an overt breach of the law is hardly the example by which Ontarians should be led.

 4. Meanwhile, The Ford Government Uses Public Money to Create New Disability Barriers

It is bad enough that the Government leaves existing disability barriers in place. It makes this problem worse when the Government allows public money to be used to build new buildings and infrastructure without ensuring that these will be barrier-free for people with disabilities. It will cost much more to later remove those barriers. To use public money to create new disability barriers is a serious misuse of public money.

The Ford Government has not committed to never use public money to create new disability barriers. For example, last summer, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ford Government announced that it is spending half a billion dollars to build new schools and do major renovations to existing schools. The Government has no measures in place to ensure that those publicly-funded building projects will be barrier-free.

As well, the Government is in the process of building a new major court building in downtown Toronto. The AODA Alliance has raised serious accessibility concerns about that building’s design. The Government has also announced plans to move ahead with a range of other public infrastructure projects, with no assurance that those projects will be fully accessible. The Ontario Government has a disturbing track-record in this context.

 5. Promises Made – Promises Not Kept

The Government’s failure to effectively address this issue flies in the face of Premier Doug Ford’s written commitments to the AODA Alliance during the 2018 Ontario general election. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance setting out his party’s election pledges on disability accessibility, Doug Ford wrote, among other things:

“Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus and Candidates, which is why they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party to assist Ontarians in need.

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.

Whether addressing standards for public housing, health care, employment or education, our goal when passing the AODA in 2005 was to help remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating more fully in their communities.

For the Ontario PCs, this remains our goal. 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…

…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.”

We have written Premier Ford more than once to raise serious concerns about his Government’s failure to act effectively on accessibility issues such as this. He has never agreed to meet with us or to speak on the phone. He deflects all our issues and requests to the Government’s Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho. Minister Cho has never agreed to create a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA.

 6. Ford Government’s Only New Initiative on Accessibility of the Built Environment is a Wasteful Failure

Since taking office in June 2018, the only new initiative to which the Ford Government repeatedly points for disability barriers in the built environment was its controversial spring 2019 announcement that it is diverting 1.3 million dollars over two years to the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) to have its so called “private accessibility certification program” to look at some buildings in Ontario to decide if it would “certify” them as accessible. The AODA Alliance was never consulted on that decision.

We have strongly opposed this as a very poor use of public money. It will not help the accessibility cause.

The AODA Alliance has made public numerous concerns with the RHF “certification” process. Neither the Ford Government nor the RHF have publicly disputed the accuracy of our concerns.

For example, an RHF “certification” does not in fact certify anything. If the RHF gives a building a rating of “accessible”, it does not mean that that building is in fact accessible.

Those whom the RHF authorizes to conduct these inspections need not have the required expertise to assess a building’s accessibility. The RHF only requires an assessor to take an 8-day course. That course is far too short. Its training contents are quite deficient and problematic.

One and a half years after this Ford Government strategy was launched, there is no evidence that a single building has been thereby made accessible, or that a single barrier in the built environment was rectified. All that the Government may have accomplished is to give an inappropriate public subsidy to the RHF in its effort to break into the Ontario market, in competition with local Ontario-based accessibility consultants having far more expertise in this field.

For example, earlier this year, one could hear RHF advertisements on Toronto radio stations, promoting the RHF “certification” program. We asked the Ontario Government if these advertisements were directly or indirectly subsidized by the Ontario Government. The Government did not answer this inquiry.

It is not clear to us that the Government and RHF have found enough organizations to take up the offer of a Government-subsidized RHF appraisal. That would make sense, since the RHF assessment of their building’s accessibility is not reliable.

It would have been much more appropriate for the Government to have invested those public funds into the development and enactment of a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, and on effectively enforcing the inadequate accessibility requirements that are already on the books.

 7. What Have the Opposition Parties Said On Point?

The Ontario NDP committed as follows on November 9, 2020 as part of its housing plan:

“We’ll mandate Universal Design building codes, which are standards that reflect the needs of people of all ages, sizes, abilities and disabilities.”

The Ontario Liberal Party has not announced a platform on this issue since the 2018 election. In her May 14, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance setting out the Liberal Party’s disability accessibility commitments in the 2018 election, Kathleen Wynne committed to the following:

  1. “exploring and determining next steps for preventing and removing accessibility barriers in the built environment”
  1. “New and Existing Accessibility Standards

The creation of new standards is a critical element of the Ontario Liberal commitment to an accessible Ontario by 2025. We intend to continue the reviews already underway and continue the work of developing standards in the areas of health care and education. We would welcome advice from these committees on built environment issues and look forward to making the process more open and transparent to ensure all voices are heard without compromising necessary privacy and accountability measures.

Beyond ongoing work, we know that there are barriers in the province that need to be addressed through standards. Earlier this year, former Minister Tracy Machala publicly stated that the standards governing the built environment need to be strengthened to achieve our goal. That’s why she convened a summit on the subject attended by many impacted stakeholders, including the AODA Alliance. We will use the feedback gleaned from this summit and further consultation with stakeholders to determine the best path forward as we track toward the mandated review of the standard. Given the complexity of housing construction, building modification, and renovation, we will also work with builders, developers, architects, and other experts before committing to a path forward on residential housing and retrofits.

Getting to an accessible Ontario requires that we also ensure that the professionals most connected to design and construction know about accessibility. To this end, we will work with regulatory bodies, colleges, universities, and professional organizations to ensure that accessibility is included throughout the process.

Standards for AFPs differ project to project, but all Project Companies are required to comply with all legislation on AFP projects, including the AODA and accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code. This is the de facto minimum standard. Issues related to accessibility in AFP projects are therefore related to the content of the standards. On built environment issues specifically, that’s why we have committed to working with stakeholders toward the next review of the standard.”

“Accessibility in Education”

In its May 4, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance setting out its election pledges on disability accessibility in the 2018 election, the Green Party of Ontario committed:

“e) Take Overdue Steps to Ensure the Accessibility of the Built Environment, Including Residential Housing

We support accessibility as an essential component of any new building project or retrofit. Training in accessible design should be a requirement across all licensing and educational institutions in Ontario, and all new building projects should meet standard accessibility requirements before approval. A strategy must be developed both to increase the supply of accessible housing within Ontario and to undertake the retrofitting of existing buildings in order for them to meet accessibility standards.”