Looking Back at the Stressful 2020 and Forward to the Hopeful 2021 – a Year-End Report to Our Many Grassroots Accessibility Supporters from the AODA Alliance

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/

Looking Back at the Stressful 2020 and Forward to the Hopeful 2021 – a Year-End Report to Our Many Grassroots Accessibility Supporters from the AODA Alliance

December 24, 2020

SUMMARY

This overwhelming year is almost over! Here are reflections on what we’ve done this year in our non-partisan campaign for accessibility and full inclusion for people with disabilities, and on what we will face in 2021. The battle for accessibility was more uphill this year, with previously-unimaginable barriers being created for people with disabilities. Yet we battled on, with the same determination, and honoured to be part of some successes amidst the many new challenges. And we are ready for whatever awaits us next year!

The AODA Alliance will today go off-line for the next while. We thank everyone who has supported our cause and who had time, amidst all this year’s ordeals, to help with our cause. We thank both the many individuals and organizations with whom we’ve had the privilege of sharing ideas, teaming up and working together.

For our cause’s many wonderful supporters, every time you retweet, every one of your social media posts, every one of your letters to the editor, every email you send to a politician, every bit of feedback you share with us, or every time you forward to others our AODA Alliance Updates, all really helps the cause. You put the indispensable wind in the sails of our shared volunteer efforts. Those efforts are the ripples that combine to create the tidal wave of our unstoppable movement!

And a special thanks to all the politicians and public servants out there who have tried to break the irrational log jams we keep facing, and who tried to make real progress on accessibility for people with disabilities. Your efforts are often not seen by the public, but are nevertheless important and very much appreciated. We need you to re-double your efforts next year, just as we will re-double ours.

If any of you, reading this, have time to do just one more little thing to help us over this holiday period, please share with parents of students with disabilities, teachers, and school board officials our successful new online video that gives practical tips to parents of students with disabilities on how to effectively advocate for their child’s needs at school. In the two months since we’ve posted it online, it has been viewed over 1,000 times! Very positive feedback from parents, teachers and school board officials make it clear that this video would benefit all parents of the one third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools. Here is the link for you to share:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtadvCvcGC0

As detailed below, next year there will be a great deal for us to do. There have been 693 days, or almost 22 months, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking and 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 even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, that we have been trying to address over the past nine months.

We wish everyone a happy, accessible and safe holiday season, replete with mask-wearing and social distancing whenever these are needed. We hope everyone has a happy and healthy new year.

MORE DETAILS

1)     A Look Back at 2020

What a year! For the past ten months, almost all our efforts have focused on battling against the unexpected serious new barriers and hardships imposed on people with disabilities by and during the COVID-19 pandemic. These many efforts are detailed on the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page.

Our two top priorities during the pandemic have been exposing and confronting the new barriers facing students with disabilities during distance learning and while attending re-opened schools, and the barriers facing patients with disabilities in our health care system. Among other things, a great deal of our effort has gone into working with other disability advocates and experts on the uphill battle to protect patients with disabilities against the frightening risk of disability discrimination in access to life-saving critical medical care, if rationing or “triage” of that care becomes necessary due to skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates.

The media has focused far too little attention on this frightening triage issue. The media has not yet reported on the fact that culminating on October 29, 2020, we and our disability community allies successfully pressured the Ford Government to eventually withdraw its discriminatory March 28, 2020 critical care triage protocol that the Government had earlier sent to all Ontario hospitals. The media has not yet reported on the fact that we and our allies successfully pressured the Ford Government to finally make public the secret September 11, 2020 recommendations on critical care triage which the Government received from its external Bioethics Table. Likewise, the media has so far told no one that we and our allies successfully convinced that Bioethics Table this past summer to make important improvements that we sought to its recommendations on this triage, though not all the improvements we sought.

Even more disturbing, the media has not yet reported on the fact that we made public that the triage recommendations that the Ford Government is now considering still threaten disability discrimination, aren’t shown to have a proper legal mandate, and could lead some patients to have life-saving critical care removed from them over their objection, if rationing becomes necessary. As one illustration of the kinds of triage we fear, a very disturbing report was published on National Public Radio in the US on December 21, 2020 about disability discrimination in hospital triage during COVID-19. The public has not been told the fact that the Ford Government has refused to even answer any of our six successive letters to the Minister of Health on this life-and-death issue.

Amidst our many strategies on the COVID-19 front, the AODA Alliance teamed up with the Ontario Autism Coalition this year to hold three successful online virtual town hall meetings on the Government measures needed to meet the urgent needs of people with disabilities during this pandemic. Taken together, the online video recordings of these town halls have been viewed several thousand times.

Before and apart from the pandemic, we had our volunteer plates already full, if not overflowing, with important work on multiple fronts. We have been battling to protect against the introduction of electric scooters (e-scooters) into Ontario cities. E-scooters endanger people with disabilities, seniors and others. We have been campaigning to rein in the arbitrary power of school principals to refuse to admit a student to school – a power that has been used in ways that discriminate against students with disabilities.

On behalf of the AODA Alliance, Chair David Lepofsky has been an active member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. It has been developing detailed recommendations on what the promised K-12 Education Accessibility Standard should include. In July, that Standards Development Committee submitted to the Ford Government detailed recommendations on what it should do now to address the serious new barriers facing students with disabilities during COVID-19. These incorporate recommendations that the AODA Alliance made public earlier in the summer.

Both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have managed to consult on, prepare and submit briefs and submissions on a wide range of subjects, including briefs on what the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard should include, what the promised Post-Secondary Education Accessibility Standard should include, the dangers posed by electric scooters, the dangers to people with disabilities threatened by possible triage or rationing of critical medical care, the measures needed to protect students with disabilities during COVID-19, a brief on the unfair power of school principals to refuse to admit a student to school, and a brief to the Canadian Accessibility Standards Development Organization on the federal accessibility standards that we need it to create. All the AODA Alliance’s briefs and submissions can be perused by visiting our website’s briefs page.

We worked especially hard to get media coverage of our issues. It has been harder to succeed in this effort during COVID-19 than before the pandemic. Nevertheless, we managed to secure some coverage and will continue to try.

With all this, there are still issues that we have not been able to address. This is because these are all volunteer efforts.

2)     A Look Forward to 2021

As we gaze into our accessibility crystal ball, we know the following to be certain for next year:

  1. As of the start of 2021, there will only be four years left for the Ontario Government to fulfil its duty under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to lead Ontario to full accessibility for 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities. In its two and a half years in power, the Ford Government has announced no comprehensive plan to achieve this goal. As of January 31, 2021, it will have been two years since the Government received the final report of the AODA conducted by David Onley.

Over that two and a half years in power, the Ford Government has not made any significant progress in speeding up our trip down the road to full accessibility. As was the case this year once again, on the few occasions when it announced anything on accessibility, little if anything was announced that was new.

That means the onus will be on the Ford Government in 2021 to speed things up even more. This needs to start with the Government unveiling a comprehensive plan for the next four years to get us to full accessibility by 2025. This plan must be much more than efforts at educating the public on the importance of accessibility for people with disabilities.

The Government has ample basis for devising such a plan. It has the Onley Report. It has recommendations from various Standards Development Committees. It has the comprehensive AODA Alliance brief to the Onley AODA Independent Review we submitted and made public on January 15, 2019, almost two years ago. That brief offers perhaps the most comprehensive roadmap for the Government to lead us to full accessibility by 2025.

  1. Our campaign against the disproportionate barriers and burdens that COVID-19 imposes on people with disabilities will, sadly, have to continue in the new year. This will include the priority areas we have addressed to date, as well as possible new areas we have not yet anticipated.
  1. We will all be called on some time early in the new year to give feedback on forthcoming reports and draft recommendations from several Standards Development Committees. Three Standards Development Committees have been working for the past few years on draft recommendations in the areas of barrier-free health care for patients with disabilities, barrier-free education for Kindergarten to Grade 12 students with disabilities and barrier-free education for college and university students with disabilities.

We understand that the Health Care Standards Development Committee has already submitted its draft recommendations to the Ford Government. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee are very close to finishing up their draft recommendations and submitting them to the Government. When a Standards Development Committee submits draft recommendations to the Government, the Government is required to publicly post them for at least 45 days, so that the public can submit feedback.

Public feedback is then given to the Standards Development Committee. The Standards Development Committee will then meet again to go over that public feedback and take it into account as it finalizes its final report to the Government. When the Government makes any draft recommendations from a Standards Development Committee public next year, these draft recommendations will take a good chunk of time for individuals and community organizations to review and to provide feedback to the Standards Development Committee. For example, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee report is expected to be around 120 pages long, according to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of that Standards Development Committee.

We therefore call on the Government to immediately make each report and its draft recommendations public as quickly as possible. As soon as it is translated to French, it should be posted online and publicized, and not held back. The Government should also extend the 45 days minimum for the public to give feedback, because these reports will require some time to review.

The Government should now make public the draft recommendations from the Health Care Standards Development Committee. Finally, the Government should give the public forewarning that it will soon be releasing a Standards Development Committee report, rather than simply posting it one day with no forewarning. That would allow individuals and organizations to be ready to review it when it is made public.

Once a Standards Development Committee‘s draft recommendations are made public, the Government should convene accessible public virtual town halls or forums for the public to give feedback on those draft recommendations. It should not just invite written feedback from the public.

  1. We expect that the Employment Standards Development Committee will soon deliver its final report to the Government on needed revisions to the Employment Accessibility Standard, if that report has not already been submitted. The Government will be required to make it public. The Government should do so as quickly as possible, without months of delay (as was the case for the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee).
  1. We will need to press the Government to strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards in the areas of transportation, employment, and information and communication. It has authority to do so having received final reports from the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee and the Transportation Standards Development Committee, and based on the final report from the Employment Standards Development Committee (that the Government has either already received, or will soon be forthcoming). In 2021, the Government should immediately consult the public on those recommendations and on anything else needed to strengthen existing accessibility standards in these areas.
  1. We will need to continue to press the Ford Government to appoint an AODA Standards Development Committee to review the 2012 Public Spaces Accessibility Standard (already three years overdue) and to recommend a comprehensive and long overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard. So far, from what we have seen, the Government’s only announced effort in the area of accessibility of the built environment, its diversion of $1.3 million to the Rick Hansen Foundation’s ‘private accessibility certification program,’ has been a waste of public money. We have seen no proof that it has led to a single barrier being removed.
  1. Our battle will have to continue in 2021 to protect people with disabilities from the serious dangers posed by e-scooters, as Toronto and other municipalities unjustifiably continue to consider the possibility of allowing them, despite their proven serious dangers. The corporate lobbyists for the e-scooter rental companies will no doubt keep pouring more money into their feeding frenzy of backroom lobbying at Toronto City Hall and elsewhere.
  1. We will need to redouble efforts to get the mainstream media to cover disability accessibility issues. As noted above, despite some successes, during COVID-19, we have found this harder and harder to achieve, for reasons that remain elusive to us.
  1. 2021 is the year before the next provincial general election. We will need to get to work well in advance of 2022, planning our non-partisan accessibility campaign for the election. That means that in 2021, we will need to work on coming up with the list of election commitments that we will ask the major political parties and their candidates to make in 2022.

Happy Holidays to all. This is the AODA Alliance, signing off for now.