September 14, 2007
Doreen Winkler, Ph.D., R.S.W.
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
1828 Bayview Avenue
Dear Ms. Winkler:
Thank you for writing to me and for giving me the opportunity to outline our government’s record and the Ontario Liberals’ future plans for ensuring accessibility in Ontario. And thank you and your colleagues for working with us over the past four years to help make sure that all Ontarians have the ability to fully participate in our society – and reach their full potential. We have accomplished much together, but I know there is more to do.
Our government believes in an inclusive society where people who have disabilities are actively and integrally involved in our schools, our workforce and our neighbourhoods. Since 2003, the Ontario Liberal government has been continuously working toward this goal. With the inception of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) in 2005, our government made Ontario a leader in Canada on accessibility issues. The AODA is a clear indicator of our commitment to a fully accessible Ontario. We have started removing walls that prevent complete inclusion in society for those who have disabilities. The AODA has also allowed us to start changing attitudinal, physical, technological and social barriers.
We have also gone further than the AODA to help us build an inclusive society. We have increased social assistance rates by seven per cent, and have simplified rules around earnings exemptions so that people on ODSP are provided with incentives and flexibility to work the hours they are able.
We have also extended drug, dental and vision care benefits for people leaving ODSP for employment. People with disabilities no longer have to worry that they will lose their benefits if they leave ODSP. And, we have created an Employer Outreach Secretariat to engage employers in expanding sustainable job opportunities for people with disabilities. In addition, we launched the Employment Innovations Fund in 2006 to work with employers to expand job opportunities for people on social assistance, including people with disabilities.
In response to your suggestions:
Strengthening the accessibility standards development process:
The AODA is a historic piece of legislation not only because of the accessibility standards it will set, but also because of the process by which those standards are being created. Our government has proven its commitment to openness and discussion, and has worked hard with the disability community to create a fair and effective process. We will commit to a number of steps to ensure that we continue to build an accessible and inclusive society. These include:
- Ensuring that the membership of the standards development committees is comprised of a 50 per cent representation by the disabled or those representing the disability community. We will also waive the ministries’ official roles as committee members.
- Hiring a full-time staff member to help bring the disability community’s voice to the table.
- Allowing the standard development committees to have presenters come to their meetings.
- Allowing the standard development committees to vote on individual clauses, to be put forward for the proposed standards.
An independent review of the implementation of the AODA to ensure substantial progress is being made for Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025.
We continue to be open to feedback on how the legislation is working and to be committed to ensuring the AODA fulfills its potential.
Our process for developing standards is one that is open and consultative. The standards have been, and will continue to be, created by the public, including persons with disabilities and affected individuals and organizations. We will continue to have public consultation on the standards before they are finalized. The minister will also continue to rely on advice from the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC), until recently chaired by David Onley, who has been an active advocate for people with disabilities in the province.
The role and responsibilities of ASAC include advising on the process for the development of accessibility standards and the progress made by the committees. The majority of ASAC members must be persons with disabilities.
We will also commit to two sets of audits: one following the creation of each of the five standards – and another following their completion. The audits will continue to apply to all future standards.
Review all Ontario laws to find any disability accessibility barriers that need to be removed.
The Ontario Liberal government believes this is the next step toward our goal of a fully accessible Ontario. Building on our work of the past four years, we will continue to be a leader in Canada on accessibility issues. For Ontario to be fully accessible, we must ensure no law directly or indirectly discriminates against those with disabilities. To make that happen, we commit to reviewing all Ontario laws to find any disability barriers that need to be removed.
Institute a new program to ensure that students in schools and professional organizations are trained on accessibility issues.
We already include awareness of and respect for students with special needs: in every curriculum document there is a front piece on planning programs for students with special education needs. Disability awareness is an expectation in the Grade 12 Social Sciences and Humanities course. Our government also introduced character education.
Character education is about schools reinforcing values shared by the school community – values such as respect, honesty, responsibility and fairness. It is about nurturing universal values, upon which schools and communities can agree. We will ensure that this curriculum includes issues relating to persons with disabilities.
The Government of Ontario does not set the training curriculum for professional bodies such as architects, but we commit to raising this issue with the different professional bodies.
Develop an action plan to make provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters.
We have just released guides on how to make election communications materials accessible and how to make all candidates meetings accessible. A third guide will be released in October on how to make constituency offices and campaign offices accessible. In addition, we will commit to developing an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.
Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006
Not to proclaim the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006 in force:
When the Ontario Liberal government took office in the fall of 2003, Ontario’s human rights system, once the envy of the world, was outdated and in need of an overhaul. A 1992 report had recommended sweeping changes, but was ignored by successive NDP and Conservative governments.
The Ontario Liberal government drafted Bill 107 in response to the 1992 report and the loud calls we heard for change. The human rights system was often criticized for taking too long to resolve a complaint and for giving individuals too little control over their own cases. An individual would file a discrimination complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Commission, which would take carriage of the case, investigate the complaint and determine whether the complaint should continue on to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario for a hearing. Very few claims made it to the tribunal. If the case was referred to the tribunal, however, many steps in the process might be repeated.
There was too much duplication in the system and, with an average of 2,500 discrimination claims filed per year, the backlog of cases had become overwhelming, with some claims taking years to resolve. That was not acceptable to the Ontario Liberal government – and it was not acceptable to the people of Ontario.
In December 2006, the Ontario legislature passed Bill 107, the Human Rights Code Amendment Act, 2006, to modernize and strengthen Ontario’s human rights system. The transformed system is designed to resolve discrimination claims faster and with greater transparency. The system also helps prevent discrimination and proactively promotes human rights in Ontario.
The reforms to the system shorten the timeline from complaint to resolution, giving people direct access to the tribunal. The tribunal receives applications directly and is responsible for accepting, dismissing, mediating, resolving and adjudicating complaints of discrimination. A new human rights legal support centre ensures that those filing an application have the information, support, advice, assistance and legal representation they need to move through the system.
Under the act, the commission becomes an even stronger champion of human rights, as noted by Barbara Hall, Chief Commissioner, in a letter she wrote to the Toronto Star on Sept 7, 2007. She described how the newly enhanced commission is a proactive body focused on public education, research and analysis to protect and promote human rights. In addition, the commission has the ability to intervene in or initiate complaints on systemic issues affecting the public interest before the tribunal.
The Ontario Liberal government is proud of the new act. This modernized human rights system will better serve Ontarians, and better promote and advance human rights in this province.
Hold public consultations on how to amend the process for enforcing human rights in Ontario:
The act is the culmination of extensive study, consultation and debate. The former NDP government commissioned an excellent task force to review the human rights system. They released a report in 1992, a report that sat untouched by the successive NDP and Conservative governments. The United Nations Human Rights Committee expressed that these recommendations should to be acted upon. The Ontario Liberal government, unlike the previous governments, listened to the report – and acted.
The legislation was under consideration for 200 days. We heard from 80 different presenters at hearings across the province in Thunder Bay, Ottawa, London and Toronto. Additionally, the Attorney General met with 40 groups over a six-month period. As a result of these consultations, over 60 amendments were made to the bill.
Increase the annual budget of Ontario’s human rights enforcement system by $6 million:
In March 2007, the Ontario Budget announced an additional $8-million investment for our new human rights system. For 2007/08, this represents a 22 per cent increase – the largest budget allocation in the history of Ontario’s human rights system. The Ontario Liberal government believes in properly funding the system and has taken more steps than either the previous NDP or Conservative governments to ensure it gets the funding it needs to protect the human rights of Ontarians.
Our government has demonstrated a firm commitment to transforming Ontario so that all of our citizens are fully able to participate. We understand that we cannot achieve our full potential as a province until all of our citizens achieve theirs. We have made substantial progress, but there is still more to do. If I am fortunate enough to obtain a second mandate as Premier, I will continue to work closely with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and all our partners in the disability community as we move forward together.
Please accept my best wishes.
Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party