December 23, 2009
It is my honour to provide you with my first Year-End Report since I took on the role of Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance last February. We have accomplished a great deal in 2009 in our ongoing campaign for a barrier-free Ontario.
There has been progress over the past year. Yet Ontario clearly remains behind schedule to meet the goal, required under the AODA, to become fully accessible by 2025.
The advocacy work of so many in Ontario’s disability community, both individuals and community organizations, including the AODA Alliance, has been pivotal at keeping the pressure up, with the aim of accelerating progress. The AODA Alliance has secured very positive credibility in the eyes of the Ontario Government, the Legislature, the media, the disability community and other important sectors of our society. We do this by researching our positions very carefully, and advocating them fairly, firmly and responsibly. When the Government or others do well, we commend them. When they fall short, we are not shy about fairly pointing this out and bringing it to the public’s attention.
We sought during this year to build on that hard-won credibility. We want to use it to achieve as much progress as possible towards our goal of a barrier-free Ontario. To learn more about each of the items described here, visit: http://www.www.aodaalliance.org/category/ontario-human-rights/
2. Work Toward Strong, Effective Accessibility Standards under the AODA
At the core of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is the requirement for the Government to create and enforce detailed accessibility standards. These are needed to require the removal and prevention of barriers against persons with disabilities in different sectors of the economy.
Until now, the Government has only enacted one accessibility standard, the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. It fell far short of our needs and our expectations. It becomes enforceable on January 1, 2010.
This year, the Ontario Government’s work on 4 additional accessibility standards all came to a head at the same time. This placed extraordinary pressures on the disability community, including the AODA Alliance.
In 2009, just dealing with the various proposed accessibility standards that are now under development, we have research, prepared, and consulted on briefs on:
- the initial proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard
- The final proposed Information and Communication Accessibility Standard (still in draft form)
- the final proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard
- The initial proposed Employment Accessibility Standard
We are already working on our submissions on the final proposed Employment Accessibility Standard and in 2010 will turn attention to the proposed Built Environment Accessibility Standard.
Whenever we can, we have circulated briefs in draft form to you, our supporters, to get your feedback. We use that feedback to help finalize our submissions to the Government.
In addition to preparing these written briefs, we have been extensively involved with discussions with the Ontario Government in an effort to ensure that the Transportation Accessibility Standard and the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard are strong and effective. We do not yet know what the Government will end up enacting as final standards in these areas.
3. The Independent Review of the AODA
Under the AODA, the Ontario Government was required to appoint an Independent Review of this legislation, to see how well it is working, four years after it was enacted. In the summer of 2009, the Government appointed Charles Beer to conduct this Independent Review.
We have been working hard to ensure that the Charles Beer Independent Review is successful at investigating how the AODA is working. We have submitted fully two briefs to the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. One brief gave Mr. Beer suggestions on how he should conduct his Independent Review. The second brief, which is over 100 pages, included our evaluation of how effectively the AODA has been working to date. It offered 69 recommendations on how to improve it.
We have made ourselves extensively available to the Charles Beer Independent Review to help it to reach out to the disability community and meet with as many individuals and organizations as possible across Ontario. Our network has enabled him to get his invitations for meetings and public forums distributed far and wide.
4. Ensuring Tax Dollars are Never Used to Create or perpetuate Barriers Against People with Disabilities
In our effort to advance the cause of accessibility, we have pressed the Ontario Government over and over to adopt an effective, comprehensive policy, complete with proper monitoring, to ensure that any public money that the Ontario Government spends on infrastructure capital projects or on procuring goods and services is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against persons with disabilities. We still have a long way to go to make progress on that agenda.
5. Monitoring the Impact on People with Disabilities of the Ontario Government’s Privatization of Human Rights Enforcement
That alone would have made this a very full year. But, there’s more! In February, 2009, we were invited to make a deposition before the Legislature’s Standing Committee on Government Agencies, to address the work of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. In February, we submitted a detailed brief and made an oral presentation. These are the most thorough review of the impact on persons with disabilities of the Government’s controversial Bill 107. That bill privatized the enforcement of human rights in Ontario.
6. Campaigning for Barrier-free Provincial and Municipal Elections
In April, we secured a chance to make an appearance before the Legislature’s Select Committee on Elections. Our brief and our oral presentation addressed actions needed to remove the barriers that keep impeding voters and candidates with disabilities from fully participating in elections in Ontario.
We met with the Municipal Affairs Minister in November to try to strengthen proposed legislation on accessibility of municipal elections. We were not successful on that front. However, we have written the Ontario Government to offer to work with it on Bill 231, just introduced into the Legislature, which address barriers to accessibility of provincial elections.
7. Spreading Our Message Beyond Ontario
As if there was not enough in Ontario to keep us busy, we also had excellent opportunities to spread the word outside this province. In the spring, we presented to a delegation from the Government of China and to a conference in Manitoba, which focused on efforts at enacting a Manitobans with Disabilities Act.
8. Some Reflections
The foregoing is all just the tip of a very large province-wide accessibility advocacy iceberg! Over the past year, all around Ontario, grassroots advocates for accessibility, whether connected with the AODA Alliance or not, have been mounting a tremendous campaign to move Ontario to its mandatory goal of full accessibility by 2025, as the AODA requires. This includes the dedicated work of those who represent the disability sector on Standards Development Committees, those who serve on their local municipalities’ Accessibility Advisory Committees, those who run accessibility websites, those who send emails or letters to newspapers, or call reporters or MPPS, those who attend public forums (like the Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA), and those who just take it on themselves to bring a particular barrier to the attention of a government office or local business. Add to them the accessibility professionals and others within large and small employers and other organizations who support our goals, and who wage their own campaigns (often unseen by others), to promote the goal of full accessibility within their own organizations. All of these folks have been the vital and powerful force that propels us forward. Just by your reading and circulating to others the AODA updates that we provide, helps fuel the fire that keeps this campaign for a fully accessible Ontario burning with such energy. The AODA Alliance strives to learn from your feedback, to keep you posted, and to offer ideas for effective action in our shared campaign for a barrier-free Ontario. Without you, none of this could happen.
Next year should be just as exciting and challenging for us. We hope and trust that the Government will finalize and enact the Transportation Accessibility Standard and the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. The Employment Accessibility Standard and the Built Environment Accessibility Standard should be right behind them on the road to enactment and full enforcement. We must keep up the pressure to get a strong, effective enforcement mechanism up and running for these accessibility standards .
Our work on making elections accessible will be front and center next year, since Bill 231 is now before the Legislature and speaks to this topic. We will need to also keep up the pressure to get the Government to ensure that public tax dollars never are used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities.
In 2009, the disability accessibility movement is more effective than ever. This movement won the enactment of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 after a ten-year long campaign, with many bumps along the way. We are well-positioned to keep up our campaign next year to get these laws effectively implemented.
This will be the last AODA Alliance update for 2009. You and your overworked computers deserve a rest!
May you all have a restful, peaceful and joyous holiday season and a healthy and barrier-free new year.
David Lepofsky, Chair AODA Alliance