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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO
June 28, 2013
Last week, after an unexplained and unjustified seven-month delay, the Ontario Government under Premier Kathleen Wynne finally announced the appointment of all members of the revised Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC). ASAC was recently revised to develop proposals for new accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and to review existing accessibility standards five years after each was enacted. At the end of this Update we set out the Ontario Government’s June 17, 2013 web posting on these appointments.
The big question now is this: What will the new ASAC do? So far the Government has only announced that ASAC will review the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that was enacted in 2007. The AODA requires that review. A forthcoming AODA Alliance Update will have more to say on the review of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
The Government said months ago that the revised ASAC will develop new accessibility standards. Despite our repeated advocacy efforts over the past years, despite innumerable discussions with the Government, despite this being the subject of a Liberal Government 2011 election pledge to us, and despite the Government now having had this question on its agenda for some four years, the Government has still not announced what new accessibility standards it will direct ASAC to develop.
For more than two years, we have pressed the Government to commit to develop the next three new accessibility standards to address barriers facing people with disabilities in three areas – the areas of education, of health care services and of residential housing. Background on our July 10, 2012 proposal for new accessibility standards.
In this Update, we:
* explain in greater detail our call for the Government to develop and enact an Education Accessibility Standard.
* announce the great news that we have one a very important endorsement for this proposal. It comes from the Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations. OCUFA speaks for the thousands of university professors who teach in universities around Ontario. OCUFA’s very helpful June 18, 2013 letter to the Ontario Government is set out below.
* offer you an easy-to-use tip on how you can help us get the Government to take up our proposals for the next three accessibility standards to create.
Let us know what you can do, and what reception you receive. It would be great if you share your endorsements of our proposals for new accessibility standards with us, with Premier Kathleen Wynne, with economic Development Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins, and with any other members of the Ontario Legislature. You can contact us at our email address: email@example.com
In other accessibility news, fully 28 days have passed since the legal deadline for the Ontario Government to appoint an Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government is still violating that law. It is thereby setting a terrible example for other organizations that have to obey that law. Read our May 31, 2013 guest column in the on-line edition of the Toronto Star on the Government’s failure to appoint an Independent Review of the Disabilities Act by the May 31, 2013 deadline.
As well, a troubling 157 days have passed since we wrote the Ontario Government to ask for its plans to keep its pledge to effectively enforce the AODA. We have received no substantive public response to that inquiry. Learn more about our request for the Ontario Government’s plans to enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
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1. Why Ontario Needs the Government to Develop More Accessibility Standards
The AODA requires Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. The Ontario Government is obliged to get Ontario to this goal on time. An Ontario minister has lead responsibility for this. At present, this is Dr. Eric Hoskins, the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment.
To bring Ontario to full accessibility by 2025, the Government must develop, enact and enforce all the accessibility standards necessary to reach that goal on time. Section 7 of the AODA directs: “The Minister is responsible for establishing and overseeing a process to develop and implement all accessibility standards necessary to achieving the purposes of this Act.”
Ontario has already enacted accessibility standards to address barriers in customer service, employment, transportation, information and communications, and in public spaces of the built environment. Another accessibility standard is still under development. It is long overdue. It is intended to address barriers in the built environment inside buildings. Learn more about the sad saga of unkept promises regarding the proposed Built Environment Accessibility Standard.
All these existing accessibility standards, while helpful, will NOT get Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. This is so for three reasons:
1. The existing accessibility standards do not specifically address all the barriers that Ontarians with disabilities now face.
2. The existing standards don’t even effectively and comprehensively fix all the barriers people with disabilities now face in the areas they address, such as transportation. For example, they largely deal with preventing new barriers, but not with removing existing barriers.
3. Apart from the accessibility standard dealing with barriers in transportation, the other existing standards are all very broad and general and don’t comprehensively focus on barriers in a specific sector of our economy or society. For example, their general provisions do address some of the barriers in the education system. However, they don’t comprehensively cover the full range of specific recurring barriers in the education system. The same is true, for example, for barriers in the health care system, and in residential housing.
This is why under the AODA, the Government was expected to develop a series of accessibility standards, each to separately address different sectors of the economy. That is what the disability community proposed when it waged its ten-year campaign between 1994 and 2005 to get the AODA enacted. That is what the AODA is designed for.
2. Why Ontario Needs an Education Accessibility Standard
The AODA requires Ontario’s education system to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by or before 2025. That includes pre-schools, schools, and post-secondary education (like colleges, universities, and any job training programs).
Ontario’s education system at all levels still includes too many disability barriers. These hurt students with disabilities, as well as teachers and other staff with disabilities, and parents with disabilities who want to see their children in action in the learning environment. Even if all Ontario educational organizations fully complied with all existing accessibility standards enacted under the AODA, Ontario’s education system would not become fully accessible by 2025. A new Education Accessibility Standard is needed to get Ontario to this mandatory deadline on time.
Years ago the Ontario Human Rights Commission reviewed and documented significant systemic barriers in the education system that impede students with disabilities. This helps show that there is a pressing need for the Government to develop and enforce an effective education accessibility Standard. Check out “The Opportunity to Succeed,” a consultation report on barriers facing students with disabilities that the Ontario Human Rights Commission published in 2003.
It is vital that our education system at all levels become fully disability-accessible. Education has been a high priority for political parties of all stripes, in election and after election.
It is commendable that the Ontario Government recently made employment for all, including for people with disabilities, a priority. To achieve this goal, it is essential that existing disability barriers in educational organizations like schools, colleges and universities be removed and that new ones never again be created.
Ontario’s employers would no doubt be delighted for Ontario to take the action needed to allow more people with disabilities to get the competitive skills they need in the workforce.
For Ontario to improve its position in the global competitive economy, it needs to have as strong and skilled a workforce as possible. It therefore needs as many people with disabilities to get as good an education and job training as our education system can provide.
There has been some progress over the years toward making Ontario’s education system more accessible. However, there has been no comprehensive effort to look at the education system from top to bottom, from pre-school through schools to colleges, universities, and job training programs, to identify and systematically tackle the recurring disability barriers impeding people with disabilities.
The Ontario public finances our public education system. It is entitled to demand of its government that the education budget at all levels be spent smartly, so that public money is never used to create, exacerbate or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
Who would benefit from an Education Accessibility Standard?
* Students born with a disability.
* Students born with no disability, but who acquire a disability during their education or work life through accident, injury or illness.
* Parents of students with disabilities, who want their child to get as good an education as students with no disabilities.
* Parents who have disabilities, even if their child has none. Those parents, like all other parents, want to visit their child’s school, e.g. to take part in family education programs, volunteer for extracurricular activities.
* Teachers, professors and other educational staff with disabilities who want to work in Ontario’s education system.
* Teachers, professors and other educational staff who have no disability now, but who may get a disability later in their work life. They may not suffer from existing disability barriers while they have no disability, but those barriers will hurt them later as they acquire a disability.
* All others working in the education system who want to see students with disabilities thrive and succeed.
* Members of the public with disabilities who wish to take part in community activities in schools, colleges or university buildings, even if they just go to those properties for a community event (like an all-candidates’ debate or public lecture).
Now, students with disabilities and their parents and families far too often feel isolated and alone when trying to overcome barriers in the education system. Too often, they can face the cruel choice of either spending years in costly litigation against their educational organization under the Human Rights Code or Charter of Rights, or suffering from persistent barriers, or just giving up, dropping out or accepting an incomplete education.
The Ontario Government has repeatedly said that it is, or wants to be, a world leader in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities. Right now, Ontario isn’t! For example, in the area of our education system, Ontario lags behind in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities, despite recent progress.
What specifically will an Education Accessibility Standard include? We don’t have a comprehensive draft Education Accessibility Standard in our back pocket, ready for the Government to enact. Rather, under the AODA the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC) would develop a proposed Education Accessibility Standard for the Government to consider. That accessibility standard could address any kind of barrier that people with disabilities face in pre-school, school, college, university or job training programs. As we have done so many times in the past, we will again work with the disability community to bring forward workable and constructive proposals.
Who gets input into an Education Accessibility Standard? Under the AODA, 50% of ASAC must be people with disabilities. More than that, ASAC is expected to bring to the table and work toward a consensus from voices from the disability community, from the leadership of school boards, colleges, universities, other educational organizations, as well as organizations that represent those who teach or otherwise work on the front lines of our education system. This will be the first time in Ontario that such a table has been set to tackle comprehensively the disability barriers that persist to this day in our education system.
ASAC can and should bring together and draw on those schools, colleges, universities and other educational organizations that have made real strides toward accessibility. It can embed in an Education Accessibility Standard measures that leaders in this area have shown to succeed.
Once ASAC makes a final proposal of what an Education Accessibility Standard should include the Government will then have the final say, reviewing ASAC’s proposal, hearing from the public, and then enacting a finished product. This is an involved process. It needs to get started now.
If the Government were now to announce that an Education Accessibility Standard is to be developed, people with disabilities can benefit almost immediately. This is because such an announcement will lead educational organizations to immediately roll up their sleeves and find ways to make more progress on accessibility, well ahead of any final Education Accessibility Standard being enacted.
Will an Education Accessibility Standard require the Government to appropriate new funds to accessibility in our education system? It would be great if the Government dedicated new funds to this important area. However, it is not necessary for the Government to commit any new funds in order to create and implement an Education Accessibility Standard. We know that the Ontario Government faces fiscal difficulties. These don’t and shouldn’t stop or delay work toward developing an Education Accessibility Standard.
An Education Accessibility Standard would not be some new mandate imposed on educational organizations. Rather, educational organizations already have a duty to remove and prevent barriers against people with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and, in the case of public sector organizations, under the Charter of Rights. An Education Accessibility Standard would help education organizations by setting out in more detail the specific actions that these organizations need to take and the time lines for taking them, to live up to those existing legal obligations.
An Education Accessibility Standard of course should not impose a one-size-fits-all solution on all education organizations. Rather, as with all accessibility standards under the AODA, an Education Accessibility Standard can tailor the specific actions to remove and prevent barriers, and the time lines for doing so, depending on the size and capacity of the educational organization.
Put another way, an Education Accessibility Standard would aim to get educational organizations to do those things they are already required by law to do, without people with disabilities having to sue them one barrier at a time, and one educational institution at a time, to separately address these barriers.
An effective Education Accessibility Standard will save Ontario money. By getting more people with disabilities into the workforce, it will expand Ontario’s tax revenues. By making more skilled employees available to Ontario employers, it will strengthen Ontario businesses. By ensuring that no new barriers are created against people with disabilities in the education system, it will avoid the future cost of having to remove those new barriers. Rather than each educational organization having to spend time and money reinvent the accessibility wheel over and over, it will help all education organizations learn from and benefit from each other’s successes.
Right now, a student with a disability who faces unfair disability barriers in their school or college or university must individually sue that educational organization under the Human Rights Code. They can suffer the stress, costs, delays and hardships of fighting one barrier at a time before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. An effective Education Accessibility Standard would help solve barriers so that individual with disabilities and their families don’t have to litigate against them, one at a time. That too saves money and hardships all around.
Right now, each Ontario university has a provincially-funded Disability Student Centre to help university students with disabilities overcome barriers. Yet these overloaded centres have to keep working around barriers throughout the university. An Education Accessibility Standard could get rid of those barriers, reducing the burdens on students with disabilities and Disability Student Centres.
Why have we identified education to be the focus of one of the three new accessibility standards that we are calling on the Ontario Government to create? Each of the three new accessibility standards that we seek deal with very important parts of one’s life. Everyone needs a good education to make a good life and future for themselves. Everyone needs good health care to survive. Everyone needs a place to live. None of these are luxuries or frills.
By identifying our education system, we are not condemning those in charge of Ontario’s education system of doing nothing about accessibility. We are recognizing that despite their efforts to date, more needs to happen to secure an accessible education system by 2025.
For the Government to agree to select any of these three areas for a new accessibility standards is not for the Government to point fingers or criticize any sector or organization. It is merely to recognize that the Government sets priorities of which sectors to address via accessibility standards and in which order. That is a core job of the Ontario Government under AODA.
Here is a sign of the kind of positive energy that the development of an Education Accessibility Standard can generate. We were delighted to recently receive a resounding public endorsement of the organization that speaks for all the university professors across Ontario, the Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations. OCUFA. We set out below OCUFA’s June 18, 2013 letter to Economic Development Minister Dr. Eric Hoskins.
3. Please Help Us – Here’s How
Please get as many people and organizations as possible to press the Ontario Government to agree to develop and enact an effective Education Accessibility Standard, as well as new accessibility standards to address barriers in health care and residential housing. It would especially help if you could get any teachers, school trustees, school boards, universities, colleges or other educational officials or organizations to publicly endorse our call for an Education Accessibility Standard. Get them to do what OCUFA has done!
Here’s a resource you may wish to share with the media or others. On June 15, 2012, AODA chair David Lepofsky gave a speech to a conference on inclusive education hosted in New Brunswick. He addressed the gains we have made to date in the area of accessible education for students with disabilities, and the pressing need for Ontario to develop, enact and enforce an effective Education Accessibility Standard. Listen to the June 15, 2012 speech by AODA Chair David Lepofsky on the need for an Ontario Education Accessibility Standard.
4. Text of the June 18, 2013 letter to Economic Development Minister Hoskins from the Ontario Council of University Faculty Associations
Hon. Eric Hoskins
Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Employment
Hearst Block, 8th Floor
900 Bay St
Toronto, ON M7A 2E1
June 18, 2013
Dear Minister Hoskins,
On behalf of the 17,000 university professors and academic librarians that the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) represents, I would like to express support for the establishment of an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, as advocated by the AODA Alliance.
As you will know, the AODA Alliance has called for the establishment of additional accessibility standards in the areas of education, health care and housing. OCUFA supports their call for the Government to develop, enact and enforce an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, to address barriers facing students, faculty and other employees with disabilities at all levels of Ontario’s education system including, in colleges and universities. OCUFA is also eager to take active part in the process of developing this accessibility standard.
We urge the Government to begin work on the establishment of a strong Education Accessibility Standard as soon as possible. Without it, we are concerned that Ontario’s education system, including its colleges and universities, will not become fully accessible and barrier free by 2025.
Cc: Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario
Hon. Brad Duguid, Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities
David Lepofsky, Chair of the AODA Alliance
5. Ontario Government’s Website Posting of New Members of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council
Available at http://www.pas.gov.on.ca/scripts/en/newAppt.asp
(Note: In January, 2013, the Ontario Government announced that Mr. James Sanders would be renewed as ASAC Chair)
The following appointments have been made to classified agencies and non-classified entities in the past 30 days:
ACCESSIBILITY STANDARDS ADVISORY COUNCIL
KIRWIN, DEBBIE – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
POIRIER, MANON – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
WALKER, DEAN – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
ARKELL, JANE – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
HALPERT, DON – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
HENDRY, JOHN PATRICK – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
MELLWAY, DEAN – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
MURPHY, STEPHEN – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
ALLINSON, SCOTT – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
BEST, DAVID – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
BRONFMAN, NURIA – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
RYGUS, GARY – MEMBER (PART-TIME)
SAUNDERS, MICHELLE – MEMBER (PART-TIME)