December 3, 2013
The AODA Alliance has chosen today, December 3, 2013, the International Day for People with Disabilities, to kick off a new blitz in its non-partisan grassroots campaign to make Ontario fully accessible to over 1.7 million people with disabilities by 2025. We unveil a list of nine priorities for immediate action to speed up efforts on removing and preventing barriers against people with disabilities. These will be our main focus over the next months.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. These priorities can all be implemented without increasing the Ontario budget or deficit. Our nine accessibility priorities are:
- Announce and implement a comprehensive ongoing plan to effectively enforce the AODA.
- Create three new accessibility standards under the AODA to address barriers impeding Ontarians with disabilities in education, health care and residential housing.
- Ensure that the Ontario Government does not let public money be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
- Establish and implement a comprehensive public plan to ensure that the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games leave behind a strong legacy of disability accessibility in the community.
- Implement a new comprehensive strategy to effectively remove and prevent barriers within the Ontario Government and Ontario public service, and to ensure that the Ontario public service works together on accessibility, not in isolated silos.
- Mandate a permanent province-wide program to ensure that students in school and people training in key professions, such as architecture, are educated on disability accessibility.
- Include the accessibility message in public speeches by as many Cabinet ministers as possible.
- Implement a comprehensive plan, including new legislation, to ensure that municipal and provincial elections are fully accessible to people with disabilities (including secure internet and telephone voting).
- Generally strengthen the implementation of the AODA to ensure its objectives will be achieved, and to not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation or regulations enacted under it, or any Ontario Government policies or practices that aim to achieve its objectives.
December 3, the International Day for People with Disabilities, should not be yet another day for platitudes and lofty rhetoric. It should be a day for launching decisive, concrete action that will improve the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. We call on all Ontario political parties to now endorse and act on our nine priorities. Below we give further information about these priorities, and offer key links to find even more background. These nine priorities for new action are not meant to take away from other efforts that the Ontario Government now has underway to advance the accessibility agenda.
* We call on the Wynne Government to commit to implement our nine immediate accessibility priorities, and to publicly report on their efforts and results.
* We call on the opposition Progressive Conservative Party and the New Democratic Party to endorse our nine priorities, to commit to implement these priorities , if they are elected, and to now use whatever opportunities they have in Ontario’s minority government Legislature to publicly press the Wynne Government to implement these nine priorities.
We encourage all Ontarians, those who have a disability now and those who may get one later in life, to speak with your member of the Ontario Legislature (MPP). Urge your MPP to personally endorse our nine accessibility priorities and to press their party leader to do the same. Everything you and your MPP need to know is set out in this Update.
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Ontarians may face a provincial election at any time. Some media reports suggest it could come as early as next spring. The Wynne Government is a minority Government.
We want the current Government and Legislature to achieve as much as possible on our nine accessibility priorities. We need to rally the support of each MPP in Ontario, one at a time. We also want to be ready with a non-partisan platform if an election is suddenly triggered.
More Details on Our Nine Immediate Priorities for Action on Disability Accessibility
1. Announce and implement a comprehensive ongoing plan to effectively enforce the AODA.
The Ontario Government has not kept its promise to effectively enforce the AODA. On November 18, 2013, we revealed 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 ten months. Private sector organizations had a leisurely five years to prepare before the deadline for e-filing an accessibility self-report. They were required to be filed by last December 31.
We also revealed that the Government has not conducted 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 of the AODA. Government records also show 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.
We have asked the Government to now announce a comprehensive and effective enforcement plan to reach full compliance with the AODA. The Government needs to promptly implement such a plan. It should regularly report to the public on what it is doing, and what results have been reached. We should not have to again resort to a Freedom of Information application and opposition questions in the Legislature’s Question Period to find out how many organizations are not complying with the AODA, and what the Government is doing to enforce the law.
2. Create three new accessibility standards under the AODA to address barriers impeding Ontarians with disabilities in education, health care and residential housing.
The AODA requires the Ontario Government to develop and enact all the accessibility standards needed to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025.
Ontario now has no new accessibility standards under development. On January 21, 2013, the Ontario Government made an announcement indicating that new accessibility standards would be developed. Since then, it has not said which ones it would develop.
Almost one year ago, the Government mandated an advisory body it created, the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC) to develop proposals, once the Government tells it which accessibility standards to work on. Yet the Government has not assigned ASAC any new accessibility standards to develop.
We have been urging the Government for at least two and a half years that the next accessibility standards to be developed should address:
a) barriers to education at all levels. Our call for an Education Accessibility Standard has been endorsed by ETFO, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (representing public elementary school teachers); OSSTF, the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation (representing public high school teachers); and OCUFA, the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (speaking for university professors).
b) barriers to health care services; and
c) barriers in residential housing. We do not propose that individual home owners be required to retrofit their own houses. A Residential Housing Standard could, for example, go a long way to ensure that new home construction meets accessibility needs, and that red tape be cut that makes it harder for a person to retrofit their own home for accessibility.
These proposed new accessibility standards can be achieved within the existing Ontario provincial budget. In by-election campaigns last summer, the New Democratic Party committed to the three new accessibility standards that we want next on the agenda.
3. Ensure that the Ontario Government does not let public money be used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
Ontario now has no comprehensive, effective public commitment and strategy to ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers. The Ontario Government spends billions each year on buying goods and services (procurement) and investing in Ontario’s infrastructure (buildings, roads, bridges, and electronic infrastructure). The Ontario Government itself builds a great deal of this infrastructure. The Government also gives billions to municipalities, colleges, universities, hospitals and others to build infrastructure. It also offers many grants and loans to public and private sector organizations for various purposes.
Imagine how much more accessibility could be generated if the Ontario Government used this as an incentive to create more accessibility? A condition of any of this spending should be that the recipient will not use the money to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities. Recipients should also be required to make accessibility commitments about their goods, services, infrastructure or businesses, beyond simply complying with the AODA. The Government should make this a clear selection priority when deciding to whom it will give a grant or loan, or from whom it will buy goods or services.
This would cost Ontario taxpayers nothing. It would save the cost of avoidable future retrofitting. To date, any Ontario Government efforts on this issue are scattered, insufficiently publicized, not comprehensive, and not enforced or audited.
4. Establish and implement a comprehensive and public plan to ensure that the Toronto 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games leave behind a strong legacy of disability accessibility in the community.
Toronto will host the 2015 Pan/ParaPan American Games. The Ontario Government predicts that 250,000 tourists will be coming. The Government is spending massive sums on the Games and related activities.
To justify this public investment, on August 28, 2013, the Government held a major news conference to announce the comprehensive legacy for the Games. The “legacy” includes those benefits for Ontarians that will be left behind after the Games end. Yet as of now, this includes no announced comprehensive legacy of improved accessibility for people with disabilities in the community.
On October 1, 2013, to fill this gap, the AODA Alliance released a constructive, affordable and workable proposal for a disability accessibility legacy for the 2015 Games. When so many tourists, including those with disabilities, come to Toronto in 2015, we want them to enjoy a wide array of accessible restaurants, stores, taxis, public transit and other services that tourists seek. We don’t want this event to be an international embarrassment for Toronto and Ontario with so much international attention on the Games. In contrast to the 2015 Toronto Games, the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and 2012 London Olympics each involved pre-planned disability accessibility legacies.
5. Implement a new comprehensive strategy to effectively remove and prevent barriers within the Ontario Government and Ontario Public Service, and to ensure that the Ontario public service works together on accessibility, not in isolated silos.
The Ontario Government and Ontario Public Service together is the province’s largest employer and service-provider. It says it wants to lead by example on accessibility, and to exceed the AODA’s accessibility requirements. Despite some progress, it has a long way to go. It still too often deals with accessibility in isolated silos. Grand policies too often don’t turn into real accessibility at the front lines.
The Government needs to re-engineer how it delivers accessibility within its own organization, and to make public servants accountable for their accomplishments or failures on this important issue. The silos within the Ontario Public Service must be torn down.
For example, each Ministry now commendably has an Accessibility Lead, a public servant to lead accessibility efforts in that ministry. Yet too often they are buried rungs down the bureaucratic hierarchy. They should report directly to their deputy minister.
6. Mandate a permanent province-wide program to ensure that students in school and people training in key professions, such as architecture, are educated on disability accessibility.
Ontario needs to know that the next generation of children will grow up with a better understanding of the accessibility needs of people with disabilities than the current generation of adults. We also need to ensure that the next generation of professionals who can make a difference, like architects and planners, receive sufficient accessibility training before they graduate.
There is no comprehensive program to achieve this in Ontario. In 2007, the three parties made a range of commitments on this. The Liberal Party has been in power since then, and has not shown that it kept its commitments on this issue.
7. Include the accessibility message in public speeches by as many Cabinet ministers as possible.
Ontario Government Cabinet ministers are in a unique position to effectively bring the message of accessibility for people with disabilities to the public, including to businesses, municipalities, universities, hospitals, the media, and others. Ministers make numerous public appearances each week. They use this special “bully pulpit” far too infrequently now for this purpose.
The Ontario Government needs to use this bully pulpit far more effectively. It is easy to include few paragraphs on accessibility, wherever possible, in ministers’ speeches at public events. They could emphasize why achieving accessibility is good for the Ontario economy and the growing high number of people with disabilities, how easy it is to achieve, and the law enforcement consequences of not doing so. They could offer easy-to-use tips on steps that can be taken on accessibility.
8. Implement a comprehensive plan, including new legislation, to ensure that municipal and provincial elections are fully accessible to people with disabilities (including secure internet and telephone voting).
In provincial and municipal elections, Ontario voters with disabilities are not universally able to get into a polling station with accessible parking or public transit nearby, to independently mark their ballots in private, and to verify that their ballot was marked as they wish. Interim provincial and municipal efforts on this have not solved the problem across Ontario. After studying this for over three years, Elections Ontario has offered no new ideas. It has no announced plan to solve this.
In the 2007 election, all three parties committed, if elected, to implement an accessible elections action plan. The Ontario Government has not done so. Since the 2011 election, it has announced no new measures on this front. In 2010, it passed inadequate legislation on provincial elections that left out many of our key proposals.
One key solution would be to implement secure telephone and/or internet voting in all provincial and municipal elections. Fully 44 Ontario municipalities have already adopted some form of this. Many voters with disabilities need this for full accessibility. We are of course open to this being available to all voters. After Elections Ontario took a leisurely three years to study these options, all it has offered was to study it some more, with no end in sight. Elections Ontario provided a report on these accessible voting options in June 2010 that was seriously flawed. Voters with disabilities deserve better.
We want the Legislature to intervene, to mandate measures to ensure full voting accessibility for voters with disabilities, including telephone and internet voting, at the provincial and municipal levels.
9. Generally, strengthen the implementation of the AODA to ensure its objectives will be achieved, and to not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation or regulations enacted under it, or any Ontario Government policies or practices that aim to achieve its objectives.
It is beyond dispute or debate. The implementation of the AODA must be strengthened, and not weakened.