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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
March 4, 2013
An important part of the AODA Alliance’s work as a non-partisan advocate for accessibility for people with disabilities, is bringing forward constructive proposals for action. Here is our latest effort.
On March 4, 2013, the AODA Alliance wrote Ontario’s new Premier, Kathleen Wynne. This letter is set out below.
Our letter congratulates her on becoming Ontario’s new premier. It expresses our appreciation for the commitments she made to us on disability accessibility during the recent race for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. We offer to work with Premier Wynne to assist her in keeping her commitments.
Our letter shows that Ontario is not on schedule for becoming fully accessible for over 1.7 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario to become fully accessible on or before that date.
Our letter identifies nine priorities for action by Premier Wynne, to get Ontario back on schedule. We ask Premier Wynne to:
- Direct the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to make disability accessibility a top priority. This should be the case when his Ministry is implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and in all his Ministry’s work in the areas of economic development, trade and employment.
- Assign to one cabinet minister the lead responsibility for all accessibility activities within the Ontario Government.
- Direct each cabinet minister to identify all steps needed for their ministries and programs to be fully accessible on or before 2025, and to report to the Premier on when they get themselves on schedule.
- Direct the cabinet to develop, implement, enforce and publicize effective across-the-board policies and practices to ensure that the public’s money is never used to finance barriers against persons with disabilities.
- Direct the Secretary of Cabinet to institute effective new initiatives to more effectively ensure that accessibility for persons with disabilities is imbedded and integrated in all the work of the Ontario Public Service.
- Direct that the Government’s promised review of all Ontario legislation and regulations for accessibility barriers be sped up, with a view to introducing an omnibus bill to rectify as many legislative barriers as possible by later this year.
- Direct the cabinet to initiate a government-wide strategy for effectively educating the public on what to do to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
- Direct the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to ensure that a strong, effective, mandatory and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard is enacted very promptly, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- Designate a minister with lead responsibility to bring forward legislation and an action plan for ensuring that Ontario and municipal elections are fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.
On February 27, 2013, we wrote the new minister with lead responsibility for implementing and enforcing the AODA, Dr. Eric Hoskins, Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. We offered him more specific action priorities to effectively implement and enforce the AODA, within his direct mandate. Taken together, our February 27, 2013 letter to Minister Hoskins and our March 4, 2013 letter to Premier Wynne provide a constructive and readily achievable agenda for action that the Government can now take to move forward on disability accessibility. The AODA Alliance’s February 27, 2013 letter to Dr. Hoskins, the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
Our new letter to Premier Wynne includes links to key documents that support the conclusions and recommendations that we present.
We encourage you to:
* Send this letter to your MPP. Phone, email, write or visit them. Encourage them to publicly support our agenda for action on disability accessibility.
* Send this letter to your local media. Encourage them to report on this.
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TEXT OF THE AODA ALLIANCE’S MARCH 4, 2013 LETTER TO PREMIER KATHLEEN WYNNE
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @aodaalliance www.www.aodaalliance.org
March 4, 2013
Via email: email@example.com
The Hon. Premier Kathleen Wynne
Room 281, Legislative Building
Dear Premier Wynne,
RE: Ensuring Ontario Becomes Fully Accessible to All People with Disabilities by or Before 2025
On behalf of the province-wide non-partisan Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, may I offer our congratulations on your becoming Ontario’s new Premier. We look forward to working with you and your Government on achieving the goal of making Ontario fully-accessible to all Ontarians with disabilities on or before 2025. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), which your Government enacted in 2005, legally requires Ontario to become fully accessible to persons with disabilities on or before that date.
We commend your Government for passing the promised AODA in 2005. We appreciate your committing to us in your December 3, 2012 letter, that if you become Ontario’s Premier, you will honour all of the McGuinty Government’s disability accessibility commitments, will ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, will not cut back on any accessibility gains to date, will meet with us, and will make written election commitments on disability accessibility.
The Ontario Liberal Government’s 2011 disability accessibility election pledges are set out in former Premier McGuinty’s August 19, 2011 letter to us.
The Ontario Liberal Government’s 2007 election promises to Ontarians with disabilities are set out in former Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance.
We also applaud your promising announcement in the February 19, 2013 Throne Speech, the first Throne Speech under your leadership, that you are moving the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario oversees and leads Ontario’s development, implementation and enforcement of accessibility standards under the AODA. It is far more appropriately situated at the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Achieving accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities is not a social service. It is a pressing economic necessity. It must be a bedrock and integral part of any economic development strategy for Ontario.
In this letter, we update you on progress to date towards the mandatory destination of full accessibility in Ontario by 2025. We also offer practical action proposals to fulfill your commitments to us.
Despite Helpful Progress to Date, Ontario Is Not on Schedule for Full Accessibility by 2025
Your Government has proven itself capable of prompt, decisive and effective action on promoting accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. After first taking office in October 2003, your government promptly undertook an extensive province-wide consultation on what to include in the promised disabilities Act. It dialogued thoroughly with a wide array of stakeholders. It introduced a promising bill into the Legislature for First Reading. It achieved this in under one year. After that, your Government held unprecedented televised public hearings on the AODA bill around Ontario, in which you took part. It made a series of helpful amendments to that bill based on feedback from the public, before it was passed in May 2005.
Over the eight years since then, there has also been some helpful progress. Your Government enacted accessibility standards to address some barriers facing people with disabilities in customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation, and in public spaces. The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario has developed helpful guides to assist obligated organizations to comply with those accessibility standards.
Some helpful policies on accessibility have been adopted within the Ontario Public Service. Your Government’s 2011 Ten Year Infrastructure Plan includes some accessibility provisions for the built environment. In response to requests from our coalition, your Government commendably made detailed commitments in the 2007 and 2011 Ontario elections to strengthen its implementation of the AODA.
Despite those steps forward, progress towards full accessibility by 2025 is far too slow. In the past 18 months, it largely ground down to a crawl. Ontario is well behind schedule for full accessibility by 2025. Several reasons show this.
First, the accessibility standards enacted to date, while helpful, will not ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by 2025, even if all obligated organizations fully comply with them. For the most part, those accessibility standards don’t effectively address any existing barriers. They focus primarily if not totally on preventing new barriers. Even where they address the prevention of new barriers, those standards have excessively long time lines and exemptions that are far too broad. These allow unjustified new barriers to be created for years, and leave existing barriers in place, even where the Human Rights Code requires their removal and prevention.
Second, the landmark 2010 Report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation, made troubling findings about the AODA’s implementation from 2005 to 2009. It concluded that the Government needs to take decisive action, to show new leadership, and to revitalize and breathe new life into the implementation of the AODA. Those findings remain as true today as they were when they were released to the public almost three years ago. If anything, progress since the 2011 election has been even slower than over the period Mr. Beer studied. Action on his recommendations has been sluggish.
Third, too many of your Government’s 2011 election promises on accessibility remain unkept, with too little done to act on them. To see our Report Card on progress on the Governments 2011 election commitments after one yea
For example, your Government is long overdue in enacting the promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard. In the 2011 election, former Premier McGuinty promised to enact it “promptly.” It has been buried for years within the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
Your Government is similarly long overdue in announcing the next accessibility standards that it will develop.
Ontario’s budget crunch doesn’t justify any delay in keeping those promises. Keeping them requires no major new funding. The Government is not impeded from keeping those pledges by the fact that it only has a minority government. None require any votes in the Legislature. Neither opposition party has voiced any opposition to the Government keeping those promises.
How to Get Ontario on Schedule for Full Accessibility by 2025
You can quickly turn things around, by showing strong leadership. We are pleased to offer some priorities on how to do this. These don’t require any new major funding. With one exception, addressed below, these don’t require any votes in the Legislature. On the one issue where a vote in the Legislature is needed, both opposition parties have supported our agenda in the recent past.
We urge the Government to again show the impressive energy, prompt action, enthusiasm and results on the accessibility agenda that it sustained between 2003 and 2005 on this issue. We ask you to inject strong leadership on this issue, and to re-vitalize and breathe new life into the accessibility agenda, as the 2010 report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA recommended. To achieve this, we need specific action by you as Ontario’s Premier.
Your forward-looking decision to transfer lead responsibility for the AODA to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment provides a good starting point for renewed action. Our proposals all reinforce priorities in your January 26, 2013 Liberal Convention leadership speech, and in your recent Throne Speech. In your January 26, 2013 speech, you called for a core focus on social justice and on inclusiveness for all. You emphasized that Ontarians support equal treatment of all based on their abilities, free from unfair treatment.
We agree. The existing unfair barriers that persons with disabilities face, and the new barriers that are now being created, fly in the face of social justice and inclusiveness. They benefit no one. They ultimately hurt us all.
Your January 26, 2013 Convention speech and your Government’s February 19, 2013 throne Speech emphasized the importance of fiscal responsibility. A failure to act on our proposals will only worsen Ontario’s fiscal challenges. For example, it is the peak of fiscal irresponsibility to create or perpetuate any barriers against persons with disabilities, especially using public money.
Here are nine major priorities for prompt action that we urge:
1. Please direct the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to make disability accessibility a top priority. This should be the case when his Ministry is implementing and enforcing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and in all his Ministry’s work in the areas of economic development, trade and employment.
On February 27, 2013, we wrote Minister Hoskins to suggest priorities for action as the new Minister responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA. Please urge Minister Hoskins to act on those recommendations, and to make effective implementation and enforcement of the AODA a top priority for him. The AODA Alliance’s February 27, 2013 letter to Dr. Hoskins, the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
2. Please assign to one cabinet minister the lead responsibility for all accessibility activities within the Ontario Government.
As Premier, you should be able to turn to one cabinet minister, who is ultimately responsible to ensure that all your Government’s commitments on disability accessibility are kept. That minister could in turn work with each cabinet minister who has direct line responsibility for the various pieces of this puzzle. Until now, there has been no single minister in charge.
Disability accessibility has been disjointedly addressed across the huge Ontario Public Service in isolated, disconnected silos. As a result, we have endured several frustrating years, having to separately advocate to several different ministries and ministers, endlessly chasing our tails. Because of this persistent problem, several of your Government’s low-cost 2007 and 2011 promises to us have gone unkept.
For example, on December 2, 2011, we wrote seven cabinet ministers with lead responsibility for former Premier McGuinty’s 2011 election disability accessibility commitments. Most of those ministers’ written responses gave very little in the way of specifics on the Government’s plans for action to keep those election promises. A number of our key inquiries, anchored to former Premier McGuinty’s election commitments to us, went unanswered.
You can read our December 2, 2011 letters to the seven Ontario cabinet ministers, seeking their plans regarding disability accessibility.
Ontario has a minister responsible for women’s issues. It has a minister responsible for aboriginal issues. It has a minister responsible for seniors. This shows the importance of having one minister at the cabinet table with comprehensive responsibility, to whom you can turn for answers, and who can make sure that all your cabinet colleagues are always attentive to this issue. Why not do the same for Ontarians with disabilities? This requires no new legislation, no new staff, nor shifting any operations, from any other ministry to the minister you choose for this lead role.
It is time to implement the commendable recommendation to this effect in the 2010 report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. To date, nothing has been done to implement that recommendation.
The Minister responsible for the AODA, now Minister Hoskins, does not have this comprehensive role. He is only responsible for implementing and enforcing the AODA itself. Whether you choose to designate him, or some other minister with this overarching role is, of course, your responsibility.
3. Please direct each cabinet minister to identify all steps needed for their ministries and programs to be fully accessible on or before 2025, and to report to you on when they get themselves on schedule.
We commend you for committing in your December 3, 2012 letter to us to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. To help fulfil that commitment, we recommend that you now find out how each ministry is doing to get on schedule for that goal. You should also direct that each ministry put in place an effective multi-year plan in place to ensure that they will be on schedule to meet that goal. For example, some years ago, the Ministry of the Attorney General devised a multi-year plan aimed at ensuring that the Ontario courts become fully accessible by or before 2025.
It is helpful that Government Services Minister Takhar wrote us on January 18, 2012, committing that the Government aims to exceed the accessibility requirements enacted under the AODA. However, this is not something that can just be addressed ad hoc, year by year, with the hope that when 2025 arrives, we will have reached full accessibility.
If you designate a single minister with lead responsibility for all accessibility efforts, as we have recommended, you could assign oversight of this government-wide task to that minister. That minister could report to you. You can then satisfy yourself that Ontario will be getting itself on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, or direct that corrective action be taken if things continue to move too slowly.
4. Please direct your cabinet to develop, implement, enforce and publicize effective across-the-board policies and practices to ensure that the public’s money is never used to finance barriers against persons with disabilities.
We were delighted that in his final Economic Update, delivered at the prestigious Canadian Club on January 22, 2013, former Finance Minister Dwight Duncan made a landmark declaration on disability accessibility. Governments at all levels across Canada should follow that declaration. He declared: “Public money used for capital infrastructure or procurement of goods and services should never be used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities.” To read about Dwight Duncan’s January 22, 2013 declaration on disability accessibility.
It is important to put those words into action right across the Ontario Public Service. Please direct your Cabinet to develop, implement, enforce and widely publicize strong and effective measures to ensure that no public money is used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities, including, for example, through capital infrastructure or procurement spending.
In the 2011 summer, your Government announced a Ten-Year Infrastructure Plan that commendably included accessibility commitments for new buildings constructed using Ontario funds. However, we have obtained no information that this has been effectively implemented and enforced. As well, in the 2011 election, former Premier McGuinty promised to extend that accessibility commitment to information technology infrastructure and electronic kiosks. We have similarly been able to obtain no information that any steps have been taken to implement that commitment.
The Government must act quickly, decisively and effectively to ensure that it does not finance barriers against people with disabilities. With so much concern about the Ontario budget crunch, scarce Ontario taxpayer dollars should never be used to create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones. To create new barriers now would make it necessary to spend even more money later to remove those barriers.
5. Please direct the Secretary of Cabinet to institute effective new initiatives to more effectively ensure that accessibility for persons with disabilities is imbedded and integrated in all the work of the Ontario Public Service.
In the 2011 election, former Premier McGuinty made the important pledge to integrate accessibility as a fundamental principle when the Government is making vital decisions that affect the daily lives of Ontarians. The Ontario Public Service is a huge organization. It has too often been difficult to get accessibility integrated into its activities across the board, despite constructive laws and policies on point. We ask you to direct the Secretary of Cabinet to implement effective strategies to put this pledge into action.
For example, right now each ministry has an official designated as an Accessibility Lead for that ministry. This is a good idea. However, too often, these Accessibility Leads are buried too far down in the hierarchy of their organizations to have a full and effective impact. Moreover, these individuals have a range of expertise on accessibility, from a great deal to far less.
We recommend that you direct the Secretary of Cabinet to require each Ministry’s Accessibility Lead be elevated to directly report to the deputy minister. They might also have a dual report to the ministry’s Chief Administrative Officer.
This should not entail any significant new costs. It would help ensure that these individuals are positioned to have far more impact on the ministry where they work. The Secretary of Cabinet should also be directed to ensure that the person designated as an Accessibility Lead has sufficient expertise on identifying, removing and preventing barriers against people with disabilities.
It would also help for the Government to at long last keep former Premier McGuinty’s 2011 election pledge to create a full-time Assistant Deputy Minister position in the Ministry of Government Services, to be responsible for accessibility of the Ontario Public Service and the Ontario Government. The Ministry of Government Services acted against your Government’s accessibility agenda when it unwisely abolished that stand-alone position in the 2010 fall. Ironically, it did so just months after the 2010 report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA declared that position to be “vital.”
6. Please direct that your Government’s promised review of all Ontario legislation and regulations for accessibility barriers be sped up, with a view to introducing an omnibus bill to rectify as many legislative barriers as possible by later this year.
In 2007, former Premier McGuinty promised to review all Ontario legislation and regulations for accessibility barriers. Yet that review didn’t even start until late 2010 or early 2011, over three years after the commitment was made.
Making things worse, in early 2011, the Government set excessive time lines for completing this work. At its April 4, 2011 training session for public servants who will conduct this review, a senior Ministry of Government Services official announced that each ministry was requested to complete a review of its own legislation by 2015, and a review of all regulations by 2020. Those excessive deadlines were 8 and 13 years respectively from the 2007 promise. In contrast, in 1982 the Charter of Rights only gave governments three years to review all legislation for all equality issues.
Last year there was a sign of new progress. However, even at the current rate of progress, it seems doubtful that the Government will even complete its review of all statutes by its excessively long 2015 deadline.
It is important for you to direct that this legislative review be substantially sped up. As part of this effort, your Government should bring forward an omnibus bill to address barriers in as many laws as can be addressed this year, with a view to enacting that bill by year’s end. While that omnibus bill might not address all barriers in all Ontario laws, it could at least help get action sped up. Once it is passed, the rest of the legislative and regulatory review should be completed no later than mid-2014.
We have actively tried to assist your Government with this effort. The recurring delays in getting this review started and, once started, in getting it completed, are unwarranted. This is especially so since former Premier McGuinty wrote six years ago, in his September 14, 2007 letter to us that: “The Ontario Liberal government believes this (i.e. the promised review of all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers) is the next step toward our goal of a fully accessible Ontario.”
7. Please direct your cabinet to initiate a government-wide strategy for effectively educating the public on what to do to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.
The 2010 report of the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA found a pressing need for a strong public education campaign to explain why it is important to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities, and to explain what organizations need to do to become fully accessible. When Mr. Beer was conducting his study, over four years after the AODA was enacted, he found that many obligated organizations still didn’t know enough about this.
Both before and after Mr. Beer’s report, we have pressed the Government time and again for effective action on this. Up to now, its efforts through the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, including through its Enabling Change program, while helpful, have been far too limited and too low-profile.
For example, your Government is to be commended for enacting the Integrated Accessibility Regulation in June 2011 to address barriers facing persons with disabilities in employment, transportation, and information and communication. Yet it took your Government over a full year to simply post on its website a guide to assist obligated organizations to know what they need to do to comply with that regulation. Even after that resource was posted on the internet, there was a paltry effort by the Government over the next weeks and months to let obligated organizations across Ontario know that this free resource is available to them. We do not attribute this delay and inaction to the public servants at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. We attribute it instead to the lack of direction from above.
We ask you to ensure that the Government now substantially ramps up this effort. The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment should be given a green light to hit the ground running on this. You should task Ministers across the Government to include this message in their speeches and public events around the province, whenever possible. They should ensure that their deputy ministers and other officials do the same when they are working directly with the public. The Ontario Government has a huge capacity to get the word out, creatively using existing resources. Accessibility cuts across the work of all ministers and ministries.
To help in this area, we also ask you to direct the Minister of Education to fulfil former Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election promise to include disability accessibility in character education curriculums for publicly-funded schools across Ontario. You should also direct the relevant ministers to fulfil former Premier McGuinty’s 2007 election pledge that the Government would urge self-governing professions, like architects, social workers, doctors, nurses, lawyers and land use planners, to require that accessibility be included in their professional training and licensure requirements.
8. Please direct the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment to ensure that a strong, effective, mandatory and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard is enacted very promptly, under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The promised Built Environment Accessibility Standard has been under development for over five years. It continues to languish in the depths of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. A public consultation now underway was long overdue.
We are deeply concerned with the delay, the lack of sufficient substance and enforceability and the failure to commit that this new regulation will also be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and not merely as amendments to the Ontario Building code. Our February 27, 2013 letter to Minister Hoskins addresses this issue in further detail. Minister Hoskins cannot himself fix the entire problem. He needs you to convey the appropriate directions to the new Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing.
9. Please designate a minister with lead responsibility to bring forward legislation and an action plan for ensuring that Ontario and municipal elections are fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.
In Ontario, provincial and municipal voters and candidates with disabilities continue to face too many barriers when they seek to take part in provincial and municipal elections. In the 2007 election, former Premier McGuinty promised to establish an accessible elections action plan. In the 2011 election, he promised to continue to build on progress on making municipal and provincial elections more accessible to voters with disabilities. These promises remain unkept.
Amendments to the Ontario Elections Act and municipal elections legislation in 2010 were insufficient. For example, the accessible option of telephone and internet voting remains out of our reach, and the reach of voters without disabilities, except in some Ontario municipalities that have shown real vision by deploying these voting options in their municipal elections. As for their deployment in provincial elections, this has been left to the discretion of the unelected and unaccountable choice of Elections Ontario, which has been too slow in investigating it.
A single minister in your cabinet should be assigned to comprehensively address the entire issue of elections accessibility, and to promptly bring forward results in the form of amendments to Ontario and municipal elections legislation, and an accessible elections action plan . Ontario needs these election barriers removed well enough in advance of the next round of Ontario municipal elections, and the next Ontario general election.
Among other things, Ontario needs new, strong and effective legislation to cover both provincial and municipal elections. We hope that a consensus could be reached among the three parties, to enable disability accessibility election reforms to be passed in the Legislature during this period of minority Government. We are eager and willing to work with all political parties to achieve that goal.
We would welcome the opportunity to help you and your Government act on all of our recommendations. We believe that our proposals rise above political divisions in Ontario. All of the political parties voted for the AODA in 2005, and gave its passage a standing ovation.
David Lepofsky, CM, O.Ont.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
cc: The Hon. Dr. Eric Hoskins, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Wallace, Secretary to Cabinet email@example.com
Wendy Tilford, Deputy Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hon. Harinder Takhar, Minister of Government Services email@example.com
Kevin Costante, Deputy Minister of Government Services firstname.lastname@example.org
Shamira Madhany, Chief Diversity Officer, Ontario Public Service email@example.com