Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
Ontario’s Accessibility Minister Convenes a Forum on Addressing Disability Barriers in Ontario’s Built Environment – We Await Follow-up Action
April 8, 2018
On March 19, 2018, Ontario’s Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles, convened a forum to discuss the disability barriers that face people with disabilities in Ontario’s built environment, and the measures needed to make Ontario’s built environment fully accessible. We commend the Government for holding this event (which we had proposed).
Below we set out the AODA Alliance’s April 3, 2018 letter to the Accessibility Minister. In it, we summarize key points that we and other participants made at the forum. We also provide a list of practical and constructive actions that we urge the Government to take. We are eager for the Government to act on this now, by announcing a plan of follow-up action.
You will also see that we present the substance of these recommendations to the leaders of Ontario’s major political parties in the AODA Alliance’s earlier April 3, 2018 letter to them. In that letter to the parties, we set out a full range of disability accessibility commitments that we ask each party to make in the lead-up to the June 7, 2018 Ontario general election. The built environment is one of 14 areas that we address to the major political parties in that letter.
Learn more about the AODA Alliance’s multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to enact a strong and effective Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
This weekend marks another important anniversary in our ongoing campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario. Fifteen years ago, on April 7, 2003, Dalton McGuinty, who was then the leader of the Opposition, promised in the lead-up to the 2003 Ontario election, that he’d enact strong accessibility legislation. He won that election. Two years later, in 2005, his Government enacted the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
Fifteen years and five Ontario elections later, we are now pressing Ontario’s political parties in the lead-up to the June 7, 2018 Ontario election, to promise to effectively implement the AODA. Please follow us on Twitter @aodaalliance. Retweet our daily tweets to candidates in the 2018 election! We are asking candidates to urge their respective parties to make strong election pledges on accessibility for people with disabilities. Your retweets can really help.
Text of the AODA Alliance’s April 3, 2018 Letter to the Ontario Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email email@example.com Twitter: @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org
April 3, 2018
Via Email Tracy.MacCharles@ontario.ca
The Honourable Tracy MacCharles,
Minister of Accessibility and Minister of Government and Consumer Services
Office of the Minister Responsible for Accessibility
6th Floor, Mowat Block
900 Bay St,
Toronto, ON M7A 1L2
Re Need for a Comprehensive New Ontario Government Action Plan to Address Accessibility Problems in Ontario’s Built Environment
We wish to congratulate you and your Ministry for holding a successful March 19, 2018 day-long forum on how to address the many disability barriers in Ontario’s built environment. We appreciate your taking up the idea of holding this forum, which we shared with you some months ago.
Your Ministry did a good job, bringing together many key players and experts in this area. It was important to everyone there that you were able to attend part of this forum, and that you invited input from the attendees. It is unfortunate that the Ontario Association of Architects was not in attendance, as its membership should play an important part in long-term solutions.
The AODA Alliance has tried to play a helpful role for several years, by urging the Ontario Government to take more action to address the many recurring disability barriers that impede people with disabilities in the built environment. We were delighted that the open discussion at the March 19, 2018 built environment forum saw strong support from participants on a number of key points including these:
* Ontario specific laws regulating the accessibility of the built environment, including the Ontario Building Code and the Design of Public Spaces (DOPS) Accessibility Standard enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, do not ensure that a new building or major renovation will be accessible for people with disabilities. Recent construction that complies with these laws continues to include disability barriers.
* Many among design professionals (like architects) and even those in the Building code field do not know that beyond the Ontario Building Code and AODA, organizations must also meet the higher accessibility requirements for people with disabilities in the Ontario Human Rights Code, and that it is no defence under the Ontario Human Rights Code to an accessibility barrier in the built environment that a building or other developed built environment complies with the Ontario Building Code and the AODA’s DOPS Accessibility Standard. Indeed, introducing this forum, your Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario referred to there being two laws on point, the Ontario Building Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. No mention was then made of the Ontario Human Rights Code.
* Your Ministry heard that many design professionals, including many architects, do not have a good working knowledge of the full spectrum of disability accessibility needs when designing the built environment. These needs go far beyond the important needs of people with mobility disabilities. They include the Needs that often go unaddressed or insufficiently addressed, of people with low vision or who are blind, people who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, people with learning, intellectual or cognitive impairments, people with fatiguing conditions or balance problems, and people with autism spectrum disorder, just to name a few.
* There is nothing now in place under the AODA or the Ontario Building Code to address retrofits of any disability accessibility barriers in existing buildings where there is no major renovation underway. The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review pointed this out as a serious problem that the Government needs to treat as a priority. No action has been taken on this since then.
* Even the Ontario Government has problems when it comes to ensuring that its own built environment is properly accessible. The example was given of a consultation session, held the week before this built environment forum, on the Ontario Government’s plans for the new Toronto courthouse, planned for the heart of downtown Toronto. No people with disabilities were consulted on its design before its design was approved by the Ontario Government in a competitive bid process. The resulting design, chosen through a competitive bid process, turns out to have serious accessibility problems. These were pointed out at the disability consultation that the Ministry of the Attorney General held just the week before your built environment public forum.
* Design professionals such as architects regularly present proposed designs to accessibility consultants which have real accessibility problems in the design. It then becomes the task of the accessibility consultant to recommend design changes. There is no assurance that these will be adopted.
* In recent years, since 2012 for example, accessibility in newer buildings has too often been getting worse, not better.
* Commendably, a number of municipalities in Ontario have been taking positive steps to fill the gaps that are left by Ontario’s inadequate Building Code and AODA accessibility standards. Many Ontario municipalities have commendably enacted their own stronger local standards for the accessibility of new built environment in their municipality, that exceed the Ontario Building Code and AODA DOPS standard. These are of course helpful. However, they leave Ontario as an inconsistent patchwork, with different accessibility requirements for the built environment in different parts of the province. Obligated organizations, people with disabilities and design professionals would benefit from Ontario enacting a single, strong, consistent built environment accessibility standard for the entire province.
* Where the DOPS accessibility standard addresses some barriers, it is often too vague. For example, it requires a public service counter to be at an accessible height with sufficient knee space. However it does not specify what those dimensions should be. That unfairly burdens each obligated organization and design team to try to figure those out for themselves, and hope they get it right.
* Even the limited accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code and the AODA DOPS Standard are not effectively enforced. For example, an organization can get a building permit or site plan approval for a project without having to show that it fulfils the accessibility requirements in either law. It is not clear that a building, once built, is inspected for compliance with all existing accessibility requirements. If an organization gets a building permit, it is permitted to build to the approved design, even if new stronger accessibility requirements go into effect before a single shovel goes into the ground to start the actual construction.
* There has been a good deal of discussion among design professionals about the examples of disability barriers that are depicted in the AODA Alliance’s online videos about the accessibility problems at the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre, and the new Centennial College Culinary Arts Centre.
* After the AODA was enacted in 2005, the Ontario Government promised to enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. The Build Environment Standards Development Committee recommended major reforms in 2009-2010. However under the AODA, the Government only passed the DOPS Accessibility Standard, which left out most of the barriers that the Standards Development Committee had identified. 2013 amendments to the Ontario Building Code did not adequately address what the Built Environment Standards Development Committee had recommended.
* In 2009, the Government promised to address retrofits and barriers in residential housing through the AODA standards development process, once the Government passed an accessibility standard to address new construction and major renovations. Yet nothing has been done about this.
* The exemption of residential homes from the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions has contributed to the shortage of accessible housing for people with disabilities in Ontario.
* Professional training to qualify as a design professional such as an architect does not require sufficient training on disability accessibility in the built environment.
* A key area not now covered by the Ontario Building Code or AODA accessibility standards concerns the location and operation of elevators. Ontario needs clear and strong accessibility standards regarding elevators.
* Infrastructure Ontario, which is responsible for much of the Ontario Government’s new construction, does not sufficiently address disability accessibility in its standards and practices.
* The Ontario Government’s Alternative Finance and Procurement (AFP) approach to building new Government buildings and conducting major renovations, involving private sector organizations that bid for the project, is quite problematic from an accessibility perspective. The job goes to the lowest private sector bidder. There is an incentive created to cut important corners on accessibility to save money on the project.
Arising from the forum’s discussion were several good recommendations. We offer this list which we supplement beyond those recommendations specifically mentioned during that forum:
- The Government should begin by now publicly recognizing that there is a problem with the inaccessibility of the built environment in Ontario. It should undertake to launch a concerted and comprehensive strategy that will address new construction, major renovations, and the retrofit of existing buildings that are undergoing no major renovations, using feedback from the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal complaints and findings, and the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s policies and advice.
- The Government should develop and enact a comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, ensuring that it effectively addresses accessibility retrofits in existing buildings, as well as accessibility in new construction and major renovations (not limited to those covered in the DOPS accessibility standard). Among other things, the new and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard should include additional accessibility requirements for elevators that are not currently addressed by the requirements in the Ontario Building Code and other provincial laws.
- The Government should direct each AODA Standards Development Committee now in operation to make recommendations on standards for the built environment as it relates to the area that that Standards Development Committee is studying. For example, the Transportation Standards Development Committee should be directed to make recommendations for accessibility in public transit stations and stops.
- The Government should create a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard under the AODA, and should promptly appoint a Standards Development Committee to make recommendations on what it should include.
- The Government should announce a comprehensive strategy on accessible housing to address the current and growing crisis in accessible housing in Ontario, in addition to creating an AODA accessibility standard on point).
- The Government should strengthen enforcement of accessibility in the built environment. For example, it should require that before a building permit or site plan approval can be obtained for a project, the approving authority, municipal or provincial, must be satisfied that the project, on completion, will meet all accessibility requirements under the Ontario Building Code and in all AODA accessibility standards.
- The Government should require professional bodies that regulate or licence key professionals such as architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and other design professionals, to require detailed training on accessible design, to qualify for a license, and continuing professional development for existing professionals. The Government should also require, as a condition of funding any college or university that trains these key professions, that their program curriculum must include sufficient training on accessibility and universal design. This should be designed to ensure that no new graduates in these fields will make the same mistakes as too often is the case for those now in practice.
- The Government should substantially reform the way public sector infrastructure projects are managed and overseen in Ontario, including a major reform of Infrastructure Ontario.
- a) Accessibility needs to be addressed far earlier, and more effectively in every project. This should include a requirement that accessibility advice be obtained on all major projects starting at the very beginning, during master planning, feasibility studies, and functional programming, with any accessibility advice that is received being made public. This input should also be obtained through consultations with people with disabilities.
- b) Any decisions to reject any accessibility advice should be tracked, identifying who made that decision and the reasons why. That information should promptly be publicly reported.
- c) The accessibility requirements under consideration as a requirement for a contract for any infrastructure should be made public as soon as possible, with enough time before the start of the bidding competition to allow for feedback and adjustments. It is too late to make this public only after the bidding competition.
- d) The Government should require post-project accessibility commissioning inspections which would include compliance with the project specific output specification accessibility requirements as well as the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards.
- e) Any accessibility deficiencies found should be required by contract to be the financial responsibility of the Project Company who built the project to fix them.
- The Government should require that when public money is used to create new public housing, 100% of that housing should include universal design and visit-ability as mandatory design features.
- The Government should create a fund for accessibility retrofits to increase the number of public buildings that agree to make their property available to the public as an emergency shelter, during a crisis or natural disaster.
We always welcome opportunities to assist the Government with issues like this.
With less than 7 years until 2025, it is important for your Government to make it clear before or during the upcoming Ontario election what it will do in this area. Nothing that came up at the March 19, 2018 built environment forum was a new revelation. This has all been well-known for years.
This subject requires action now. It should not be left to the next AODA Independent Review to recommend action on this issue. As noted earlier, the last AODA Independent Review, conducted by Mayo Moran, called for action on this almost three and a half years ago.
David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
cc: Premier Kathleen Wynne, firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs email@example.com
Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, email@example.com
Steve Orsini, Secretary to Cabinet firstname.lastname@example.org
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