December 6, 2013
2013 has been a fast-paced year full of surprises in our ongoing campaign for a fully accessible Ontario for all people with disabilities. It began in January, with our continued and successful efforts to get accessibility commitments from the candidates to replace Dalton McGuinty as leader of the Ontario Liberal Party. It ended late in the fall with a flurry of media coverage, as we finally extracted from the Ontario Government important information we had sought all year on enforcement of the AODA.
Below we give you the latest developments over the last few days. With this Update, the AODA Alliance will be going off-line for the rest of the year. We thank everyone for their advocacy efforts this year.
We look forward to leaping right back into action in 2014. In the meantime, we encourage you to reach out to your member of the Ontario Legislature, whatever their political party. Urge them to personally endorse our nine priorities for immediate action on accessibility. Press them to get their party to do the same. You can read everything you need on our nine priorities for immediate accessibility action.
We wish one and all a very happy and accessible holiday season and a barrier-free 2014!
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1. Economic Development Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins’s Statement in the Ontario Legislature to Mark December 3, 2013
On Tuesday, December 3, 2013, Economic Development, Trade and Employment Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins made a statement in the Legislature to mark the International Day for People with Disabilities. He invited representatives from the disability community to be present in the Legislature for this speech. This implies that there would be something new and important to be announced.
In his statement, set out below, Dr. Hoskins made a few helpful remarks.
* The Minister stated regarding the enforcement of the AODA: “We will continue to work hard—including through audits and inspections and, if required, fines and the court system—to improve our private sector compliance. We have an enforcement plan and we will implement it.”
We would challenge as inaccurate any claim that the Government has been “working hard” to enforce the AODA. To date, there have been no inspections, compliance orders or fines.
However it is helpful that the Minister has at last announced that he has a plan to enforce this legislation, which he will implement. It is also helpful that he stated that there will be inspections and, where needed, fines.
We call on the Government to immediately make that enforcement plan public. We have been trying to get the Government’s plans for enforcing the AODA throughout 2013. We also call on the Government to publicly report on its implementation of that plan.
* The Minister announced: “Recognizing that we still have a long way to go in making our workplaces more accessible, together with the business community and accessibility advocates, I’ve directed my ministry to develop and publish an employment strategy to remove barriers for persons with disabilities in the workforce and create an inclusive environment in the workforce for employment of persons with disabilities.”
This follows, all be it belatedly, on the Government’s commitments in the February 19, 2013 Throne Speech to focus on increasing employment of people with disabilities in the private sector. To read about Government’s the February 19, 2013’s Throne Speech disability commitments.
* He acknowledged the Government’s results to date on accessibility “aren’t good enough.” He professed a resolve “to work even harder with our colleagues in the accessibility and business communities to meet our goals and create a province that is inclusive for all.”
* The Minister made the first public commitment to an accessibility legacy for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games, though without any of the specifics that we have been urging. He stated:
“Ontario will also have an opportunity to demonstrate how much we’ve accomplished in building an accessible province when we welcome the world to the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in 2015. That year, we will also be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We will have a real opportunity for the games—in fact, the first fully accessible games—to leave a lasting legacy when it comes to a more accessible province. We will seize that opportunity.”
* The Minister made an unequivocal commitment to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025:
“Mr. Speaker, I thought it was important to invite members of the accessibility community and their colleagues to this statement so that I could commit to them, to this House and to all Ontarians with disabilities that we will make this province fully accessible by 2025. We will deliver on our shared goal of a fully accessible and inclusive society.”
The AODA requires this. Premier Wynne promised us in writing one year earlier, on December 3, 2012, that if she was chosen to lead the Ontario Liberal Party, she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. At present, it is not on schedule. To read Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 disability accessibility commitments to the AODA Alliance.
The Minister made some other remarks whose accuracy we would question:
* He stated: “In fact, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the world to move to a modern regulatory regime that mandates accessibility.”
In fact, the U.S. did just that, by enacting the Americans with Disabilities Act, fully 15 years before the Ontario Legislature passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005.
* He stated: “This year, our government’s speech from the throne transferred the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to my ministry, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. With this transfer, our resolve to make our province accessible and inclusive continues with determination.”
Our recent revelation that the Government is not enforcing the Disabilities Act despite knowing of massive non-compliance would call into question any description of the Government’s recent activity on accessibility as reflecting “determination.”
* He stated: “And we are enforcing the AODA.”
Our recent revelations demonstrate unequivocally that this statement is not accurate.
Parts of this statement are unquestionably helpful. Yet they are still very vague. We are troubled by the lack of specifics once again.
In advance, we released our nine priorities for immediate accessibility action. We hoped the political parties would use the importance of December 3 to make substantive announcements, and not just repeat the usual rhetoric.
The Minister did not endorse the nine priorities for immediate accessibility action that we have made public. For example, the Minister said nothing about the next accessibility standards to be developed. There have been 319 days since the Government announced on January 21, 2013 that the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council would develop new accessibility standards. Yet the Government has still not announced what new standards it would develop. For over two and a half years, we have been urging that new accessibility standards be developed in the important areas of education, health care, and residential housing.
2. New Democratic Party’s December 3, 2013 Statement in the Ontario Legislature
In her December 3, 2013 statement in the Ontario Legislature (set out below), NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo slammed the Wynne Government for its failure to enforce the AODA. She quoted and drew upon our December 3, 2013 AODA Alliance Update.
The NDP has not endorsed our 9 priorities for immediate accessibility action, though Ms. DiNovo’s statement clearly tracks our first listed priority, the need for concrete action to effectively enforce the AODA.
3. Progressive Conservative Party’s December 3, 2013 Statement in the Legislature
To mark the International Day for People with Disabilities, Conservative MPP Sylvia Jones also made a statement in the Legislature, set out below. She focused on the abuse case AT the Huronia Regional Centre. She did not refer to disability accessibility.
The Conservative Party has not endorsed our 9 priorities for immediate accessibility action.
4. The Government Asked Itself a Question in December 3, 2013 Question Period on What It is Doing to Promote Employment for People with Disabilities
During Question Period in the Legislature on December 3, 2013, Liberal MPP Shafiq Qaadri asked both the Community and Social Services Minister and the Training, Colleges and Universities Minister what the Government is now doing to promote employment for people with disabilities. We set the question and answers out below.
5. The Manitoba Legislature Makes History –Unanimous Passage of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act
This week, the Manitoba Legislature made history. It unanimously passed Bill 26, the Accessibility for Manitobans Act.
This makes Manitoba the second Canadian province to enact comprehensive disability accessibility legislation. We extend a huge congratulations to the grassroots Barrier-Free Manitoba for their tireless work, advocating for five years for this legislation. No matter what the obstacles were, they held their heads high, and stayed focused on their goal. They enjoy our admiration and respect.
We congratulate the Manitoba NDP Government, and especially Finance Minister Jennifer Howard for spearheading this legislation from start to finish. She started on this issue while a back-bencher. She was trusted by her Government to stick with it as she ascended the ranks in Cabinet.
We also congratulate the two opposition parties in the Manitoba Legislature, the Conservatives and Liberals, for helping ensure the important milestone of passing this law unanimously.
We are deeply moved by the kind words that Barrier-Free Manitoba addressed to the AODA Alliance, in the wonderful certificate Barrier-Free Manitoba recently sent us. It states:
“Recognition of Exceptional Contribution
Your leadership has been pivotal in securing landmark legislation that promises to make Manitoba a leader in promoting and protecting the human rights of persons with disabilities. Thank you!
Now Canada has two provincial accessibility laws, Ontario’s and Manitoba’s. Both were passed unanimously. The Government of Nova Scotia has promised to bring forward a disability accessibility law, which would make it the third.
No other provinces have yet made a public commitment on this, to our knowledge. The federal government under Prime Minister Steven Harper promised a Canadians with Disabilities Act at least six years ago. We have seen no indication that anything is now being done to keep that commitment.
6. Conservative Party Raises Lack of A Disability Accessibility Legacy Announced for the 2015 Toronto Pan/ParaPan American Games
On November 28, 2013 Conservative MPP Rod Jackson made a statement in the Ontario Legislature about the upcoming 2015 Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games (set out below). He addressed, among other things, the lack of any Government-announced disability accessibility legacy for the Games.
7. Great Media Coverage Continues on Our Revelation that the Ontario Government Hasn’t Enforced the AODA Despite Knowing of Rampant Violations, and Funds Available for Enforcement
Even though news reports are jammed with major stories that have preoccupied the media, we have continued to win excellent news coverage. It focuses on our recent revelation that the Ontario Government is not enforcing the AODA despite knowing of rampant violations, and despite having funds available for enforcement.
* CBC Radio aired separate interviews with AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky on its Ottawa Morning program (November 30, 2013), on Toronto’s Metro Morning program (December 3), around Ontario on the Ontario Morning program (December 3) and later that day, on Toronto’s Here and Now program (December 3).
* The November 28, 2013 Ottawa Citizen included an excellent article set out below.
* The December 5, 2013 Winnipeg Sun also included a very good article, set out below.
ONTARIO HANSARD DECEMBER 3, 2013
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED
Hon. Eric Hoskins: Mr. Speaker, the United Nations has designated December 3 as the International Day of Persons with Disabilities. On this day, nations around the world pause to reflect on the physical, social, economic and attitudinal barriers that exclude persons with disabilities from participating as equal members of society.
Ontario has made a commitment to make the province fully accessible by 2025, the first province in the country to do so. In fact, Ontario was the first jurisdiction in the world to move to a modern regulatory regime that mandates accessibility. In 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or the AODA, came into force with unanimous support from all parties in this Legislature.
This year, our government’s speech from the throne transferred the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to my ministry, the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. With this transfer, our resolve to make our province accessible and inclusive continues with determination. As the minister responsible for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, one of my top priorities is to ensure that all Ontarians living with a disability have barriers to employment opportunities removed and that all workplaces become inclusive.
By moving the accessibility directorate to my ministry, we have an unprecedented opportunity and responsibility to engage with business, not only to ensure that they’re complying with the AODA—which, in fact, by law they are required to—but also to make the business case for greater accessibility and broader inclusion.
Mr. Speaker, one in seven Ontarians has a disability, and that number is growing both here and around the world. Businesses will benefit by opening themselves up to a new and growing base of consumers. Complying with the AODA makes good business sense, but from my interactions with business, I can tell you that it’s about more than just that; it’s about the values we all share, namely, a more inclusive society.
We’re helping our businesses across the province know what they must do to ensure that they are complying with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We’re investing in a much more robust awareness and marketing campaign so that more businesses are aware of what their obligations are under the AODA and how they can get there.
And we are enforcing the AODA. Currently, the Ontario public service and 100% of the broader public sector are complying with their requirements under the AODA. But unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the private sector, where only approximately 30% have met their reporting requirements.
My ministry continues to pursue enforcement to bring more private sector organizations in compliance with this important piece of legislation. Last month, we sent out 2,500 enforcement letters to non-compliant businesses. We will continue to work hard—including through audits and inspections and, if required, fines and the court system—to improve our private sector compliance. We have an enforcement plan and we will implement it.
To encourage more businesses to take the lead, we are creating opportunities to spotlight the good work that businesses are doing to become more accessible. Earlier last month, I had the privilege to present a new award that we created this year for excellence in accessible employment through the Ontario Business Achievement Awards. That award this year, the very first award, went to Cohen Highley Lawyers, a law firm with locations in London, Kitchener, Sarnia and Chatham, who are leaders in the province in creating an accessible workplace.
Recognizing that we still have a long way to go in making our workplaces more accessible, together with the business community and accessibility advocates, I’ve directed my ministry to develop and publish an employment strategy to remove barriers for persons with disabilities in the workforce and create an inclusive environment in the workforce for employment of persons with disabilities.
We are taking action, Mr. Speaker, because we know that there is much more work to be done to achieve our common goal of an accessible province by 2025. We know that our results—I know that our results—to date aren’t good enough, but those results only motivate us to do better, to work even harder with our colleagues in the accessibility and business communities to meet our goals and create a province that is inclusive for all.
To advise and support our plan to become an accessible province by 2025, we’ve established a combined Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee. It draws on a diverse membership from across our province’s disability community, from business, the broader public sector, and not-for-profit organizations. The committee’s first order of business is to review Ontario’s customer service standard.
To keep the province on target and to accomplish our ambitious goals, I have appointed Mayo Moran, Dean, and James Marshall Tory, professor of law, at the University of Toronto, to lead the second review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Dean Moran has joined us today here in the Legislature.
Dean Moran will consult with the public as well as with important stakeholders in our disability and advocacy communities, businesses and the broader public sector, to ensure that we’re taking advantage of all opportunities to make our province more inclusive.
Ontario will also have an opportunity to demonstrate how much we’ve accomplished in building an accessible province when we welcome the world to the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games in 2015. That year, we will also be celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We will have a real opportunity for the games—in fact, the first fully accessible games—to leave a lasting legacy when it comes to a more accessible province. We will seize that opportunity.
Today, on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities, I ask all members of the House to consider just how much Ontario has achieved on accessibility over the past several years, but also on the things we still must accomplish together.
I’m proud to recognize the strong advocates that we have here in the House today to hear this statement. Our AODA reviewer, as I mentioned, Dean Mayo Moran; Dean Walker, from our Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, the ASAC; Abidah Lalani from the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada; and Janet McMaster from the Ontario March of Dimes are joining us today.
I also want to thank today’s interpreter, Sharon Hepner.
I also want to particularly acknowledge my colleague to my right, Tracy MacCharles, for her tremendous and ongoing contribution to helping to create an inclusive Ontario and advocating so strongly on behalf of persons with disabilities.
Mr. Speaker, I thought it was important to invite members of the accessibility community and their colleagues to this statement so that I could commit to them, to this House and to all Ontarians with disabilities that we will make this province fully accessible by 2025. We will deliver on our shared goal of a fully accessible and inclusive society.
I look forward to continuing to work with them and with all members of this House to achieve
that important goal.
ONTARIO HANSARD DECEMBER 3, 2013
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED
Ms. Sylvia Jones: It’s an honour to rise today on behalf of the PC caucus and respond to the minister’s statement on the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
But what would have made this day memorable, what would have made this day special, is if the Premier could have stood up and finally issued that apology to the survivors of the Huronia Regional Centre.
After many, many months of legal delays, on September 17 the Ontario government reached a $35-million settlement with the survivors of the Huronia Regional Centre. The settlement was the result of a large lawsuit centred around abuse suffered at the facility.
As part of that settlement in September, the Ontario government was supposed to also issue a formal apology to all former residents, but, to date, that has not happened. Today would have been a perfect day to do that.
I want to share with the members of the House an excerpt from a letter written by one of the Huronia survivors:
“We want Kathleen Wynne to give the apology to all of us in person because she is responsible.… Once the government apologizes to us, then we can move on with our lives because the whole apology will help. We will be satisfied for getting the apology from her.”
Speaker, I think the best way for this government to mark the International Day of Persons with Disabilities would be to finally apologize to all of those individuals with disabilities who suffered so terribly for so many years in the Huronia Regional Centre.
ONTARIO HANSARD DECEMBER 3, 2013-12-06
ACCESSIBILITY FOR THE DISABLED
Ms. Cheri DiNovo: I ring with my friend from Dufferin–Caledon, absolutely. I asked in this House for that apology, and we still have not received it, for the victims at Huronia.
I also want to talk about the report card that this government received from those who know best, and that’s the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, those who live with disabilities. They said very pointedly, “The Ontario government has not kept its promise to effectively enforce the AODA. On November 18, 2013, we revealed”—that’s them—“that the government has known that fully 70% of Ontario private sector organizations with at least 20 employees have been violating the AODA’s accessibility reporting requirement for over 10 months.”
They also revealed that “the government has not conducted”—listen to this—“a single inspection of any organization, nor issued a single compliance order, nor imposed any monetary penalties under the AODA, even though it has ample power to do so, and has known about these rampant violations” for quite a while.
It has also shown that the government has had ample unused funds appropriated for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Unused appropriated funds from 2005 to 2013 total $24 million that they could have been using. Not only that, but when the AODA Alliance actually asked for information about this, they were denied it unless they paid over $2,000 through a freedom-of-information act request, which I also raised in this House.
I conclude with their words, not mine. They say, “December 3, the international day for people with disabilities, should not be yet another day for platitudes and lofty rhetoric.” It shouldn’t be a day—I’m paraphrasing here—for more reviews, panels and letters. “It should be a day for launching decisive, concrete action that will improve the lives of Ontarians with disabilities.” Their words, not mine.
ONTARIO HANSARD DECEMBER 3, 2013
ASSISTANCE TO THE DISABLED
Mr. Shafiq Qaadri: Ma question est pour le ministre des Services sociaux et communautaires, l’honourable Ted McMeekin. All of us in our constituency work are inspired by individuals who are looking out for their families, striving to put bread on the table and enter Ontario’s labour market. This struggle to integrate or to reintegrate into the workforce is especially telling and poignant in persons with disabilities. Though Ontario has led the country in job creation since the recession, with numbers cited during this question period, persons with disabilities can, of course, find this quite challenging.
Can the minister please inform this chamber what our government is doing en route to creating a more just and prosperous society to help people with a disability enter or re-enter the job market?
Hon. Ted McMeekin: I want to thank the member for his question and his commitment. As a government, we are focused more on people’s abilities than the alleged disability, and that is in large part why the budget spoke about the partnership table that we’re creating to work with employers to employ folks with developmental challenges.
We’re interested in creating jobs for everyone, regardless of their age, their ability, their sexual orientation or ethnicity. We’re doing a pretty good job of that, to be frank. The employment supports component of the ODSP provides employment assistance for people with disabilities who are interested in preparing for employment. In fact, this program has had 4,537 clients enter the program and receive supports, and some 2,264 have actually found employment.
Now, I want to compliment the federal government here. They’ve been helpful in terms of providing funding. The contract is winding up. We hope it can be renegotiated.
The Speaker (Hon. Dave Levac): Supplementary?
Mr. Shafiq Qaadri: Thank you, Minister, for the update on the ODSP and labour issues. I know, of course, first-hand that folks with disabilities in my own riding are having some measure of success through these funding opportunities. I think they would also be encouraged to learn that negotiations between the governments of Canada and Ontario are proceeding, I understand, in a positive, collaborative and salutary direction.
This, of course, will affect many, many residents in my own riding of Etobicoke North, and I think it’s important that we build on the past successes. I believe it’s part of the mandate and responsibility of all governments to stand up for these people, to ensure that they get the supports that they need and deserve.
Speaker, would the minister please share with this House what might be the impacts of a reconfigured labour market agreement?
Hon. Ted McMeekin: To the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities.
Hon. Brad Duguid: The labour market agreement for persons with disabilities serves a very important role in providing support for persons with disabilities, trying to break down the barriers to employment.
The federal government has announced its intentions to introduce a new generation of this agreement but has not yet put a proposal on the table. Speaker, it is so critical that these changes build on the success of the existing agreement and the programs currently supported.
It’s my hope that the federal government will consider the successes of this agreement when they make these changes. Unfortunately, their approach to the labour market agreement, which funds our most vulnerable workers, would suggest otherwise. That approach, right now, has the federal government cutting 60% of funding for these very important programs that serve our most vulnerable population. We hope they take a different approach with this new agreement that serves our people with disabilities in this province.
ONTARIO HANSARD NOVEMBER 28, 2013-12-06
Mr. Rod Jackson: Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen the Liberal government vehemently defend its $1.4-billion budget for the Pan/Parapan Am Games. Only under pressure to come clean, they recently boosted the budget to almost $2.56 billion. Despite their ballooning revisionist budget, which doesn’t even include the final transportation or security numbers, top executive salaries will still be padded by 100% just for showing up for work, and-get this-another 100% reward for just being on budget.
Logic would follow that these bonuses will be cut in half for the announcement of the new Pan Am spending. We need to defend public money and not have these executives receiving any bonus at all for doing the bare minimum, never mind the already-noted failure to perform.
Another issue I’d like to flag today is the apparent lip service given to the Parapan Am Games. This government has happily touted all sorts of legacies resulting from the games, yet what was missing was a clear commitment to the legacy of accessibility of the games for the Parapan athletes and the fans. I’m not sure if that is because there isn’t a plan for the legacy of accessibility or if this is just another hidden cost somewhere on another set of books.
What’s amply clear is that this government has no control of this file. No amount of money will mitigate this lack of management, no matter how hard they try. It’s time for real leadership for the sake of all the hard-working Ontario families that are financing these games.
The Ottawa Citizen On-Line November 28 2013
A better Internet for the visually impaired
By Geoff Flood, Ottawa Citizen
Beginning Jan. 1, new rules in Ontario come into effect aiming to improve online access to information for people with vision and mobility impairments. Other governments in Canada should follow suit.
But there are two significant challenges. Public awareness of the new rules coming to Ontario is relatively low beyond those affected. And the rules will be difficult to enforce, especially since the government has already taken heat recently for its lack of enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) at physical locations of businesses.
Both of these challenges can be better overcome in the digital world, especially when it is a question of fairness and accessibility. Why should it take a visually impaired person up to an hour to do her online banking when it takes me five minutes? You think CAPTCHAs (those scrambled letters and numbers for authentication) are annoying? Imagine if your vision were reduced 90 per cent?
The Internet is an incredible resource but it was built to be viewed, not heard. Only recently have designers and lawmakers around the world put effort into making the Internet more accessible for those with vision and mobility impairments.
There are new technologies that convert text into written narration, assistive technologies (such as screen readers in braille) and simple things like easy-to-use tabs to increase font sizes for users.
Ontario’s new law, first in Canada and one of the first in the world, is a fantastic step forward if we make it a standard that all people have the same ability to access information, regardless of how well they can see. There are more than 500,000 visually impaired Canadians and almost 300 million worldwide.
Effective Jan. 1, 2014, all new websites in Ontario belonging to organizations with at least 50 employees must be accessibility compliant, which requires that all HTML elements be properly tagged so that they can be understood by assistive technologies. The new law has two phases. The first phase is that all new websites (or existing websites that are redesigned with at least 50 per cent new content) must be compliant. The second phase, to be completed by 2021, is that all existing websites and content must be updated to meet the same standards.
Ontario’s accessibility act (AODA) was introduced in 2005 and since then, businesses and organizations in Ontario have been required to change certain practices at their physical locations to assist people with disabilities, such as allowing service dogs on the premises for employees and customers.
But for almost a year, the government has stone-walled a volunteer lobby group called the AODA Alliance on reporting whether the act is working and whether fines have been levied against businesses for not complying.
“They made a fundamental commitment to us and we want to know what they’re doing about it,” David Lepofsky, who is blind and chair of the AODA Alliance, told Canadian Press.
But compliance and enforcement in the digital world will be easier. Making websites accessible to everyone is relatively easy and inexpensive so there’s no reason to make visitors to corporate websites (or any website) feel marginalized in any way.
Though the government threatens fines of up to $100,000 per day for non-compliance, we all know the wheels of justice grind slowly; not so much with social media, where corporate brands can take a pounding in no time.
I do not believe anyone tries to make things inaccessible. And as groups like the AODA Alliance point out, it is just that organizations don’t think about making things more accessible. With this new law and with social media, I bet more businesses and organizations will think about it — or be quickly reminded on Twitter, Facebook and other social media channels to make their website compliant.
Ontario should be lauded for its new cyberspace accessibility rules and other parts of Canada would do well to follow suit. Fair and equal access to information and online services is a right, not a privilege, for all Canadians.
Geoff Flood is co-chair of the New Brunswick Research & Innovation Council and president of T4G Limited, a technology services company specializing in creating accessible websites.
Winnipeg Sun On Line December 6, 2013
Rules only work if enforced | Letters Opinion
Passing laws removing barriers great in policy, but needs to be put into practice too
By Harry Wolbert, For the Winnipeg Sun
First posted: Thursday, December 05, 2013 12
What good is a law or government policy if it’s not enforced? In my opinion, it’s worthless and doesn’t benefit anyone. This brings to mind Ontario.
Ontario, which passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, is often held up as a model for others to follow. Eight years later, we are learning that Ontario isn’t paradise for people with disabilities. It’s not even close to being barrier-free.
A recent Globe and Mail editorial said Ontario’s legislation has “accomplished very little” within the business community. It referred to the Act as nothing more than “whimsical window dressing” because the vast majority of businesses aren’t complying with its basic rules. It also took dead aim at the Ontario’s Liberal government when it said “To make matters worse, the government has done nothing to enforce those rules. It’s a sham!”
I hope that Manitoba’s disability community will learn from Ontario’s experience and not repeat the same mistakes. We would all like to live in a “barrier-free” society. While I’m a strong supporter of accessibility legislation, the disability community needs to be realistic about what a piece of legislation can, or will, accomplish. An educational component must accompany legislation.
The Accessibility for Manitobans Act received Third Reading and Royal Assent on Dec. 5. It’s one piece of legislation which is supported by all political parties. Advocates, like myself, have always maintained that disability issues are not a political issue. I want to thank all three political parties for working together to pass this important piece of legislation.
So, what’s the next step? In a press release, Jennifer Howard, minister responsible for persons with disabilities, said that the legislation “will lay out a framework to guide the development and implementation of accessibility standards to improve the independence and social inclusion of Manitobans “¦” It is the implementation or “enforcement” of these standards which will ultimately determine the success or failure of this legislation. Will our government provide all of the resources necessary to enforce these standards or will we follow in Ontario’s footsteps?
An inclusive and accessible Manitoba isn’t just good social policy. It’s the right thing to do. Approximately one in six Manitobans has a disability and this number is expected to grow. This is due in part to an aging population. The concepts of inclusion and accessibility can no longer be seen as just “disability issues.” They affect all Manitobans.
Some businesses in our province aren’t waiting for new legislation or standards to be enacted. For example, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights (CMHR) is setting new Canadian and world standards for universal accessibility. It has taken great pains to make its facility accessible to everyone.
I also want to applaud the CMHR’s attitude towards disability. In a letter to my wife dated February 26, 2013 the CMHR’s CEO Stewart Murray indicated that “disability will not be treated as a special condition, but as an ordinary part of life that affects us all.” It’s my fervent hope, and that of the disability community, that one day all Canadians will treat disability as a normal part of life.
— Harry Wolbert is a disability/anti-poverty advocate