Premier Ford and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho Write the AODA Alliance In Response to Our Recent Letters Recommending Key Accessibility Priorities for The Premier and Minister

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

Premier Ford and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho Write the AODA Alliance In Response to Our Recent Letters Recommending Key Accessibility Priorities for The Premier and Minister

August 16, 2018

          SUMMARY

We recently received letters from Ontario’s Premier Doug Ford, and Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. These are the first official statements by the Ford Government on accessibility for people with disabilities, since it took office, as far as we have seen. We make these letters public in this Update. The text of these letters is set out below.

As well, the office of Accessibility Minister Cho appears to be now reaching out to stakeholders for introductory calls with the minister. It reached out to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to arrange an introductory phone call. That is scheduled to take place on August 23, 2018.

By way of background, the non-partisan AODA Alliance reached out to Ontario’s new Doug Ford Government right after it was elected to power in June of this year. We offered constructive advice on priorities for action in the area of accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

On July 17, 2018, we wrote Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho. We sent him a detailed briefing note, to bring him up to speed on the key accessibility issues that fall within his mandate as Accessibility Minister. Our briefing note identified these challenges facing him as Accessibility Minister:

  1. a) Ontario is behind schedule for reaching for accessibility by 2025.
  1. b) Ontario needs a multi-year plan to ensure the Government leads Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.
  1. c) AODA enforcement is far too weak.
  1. d) The development of new AODA accessibility standards has been too slow.
  1. e) The Ontario Government has failed to effectively use all available levers of Government power to promote accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.
  1. f) There are recurring problems at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.
  1. g) Visible Government enthusiasm about achieving the AODA’s goals has reduced.

Our briefing note for the minister then identifies these priorities for the minister, all of which fall within his mandate:

  1. Develop an effective 6.5-year plan for Government action that will ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025, the AODA’s deadline.
  1. Immediately lift the Ontario Public Service’s current freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees, which have been working on recommendations for the Government in the areas of education, health care, employment, and information and communication.
  1. Free up the unduly narrow mandate of the Health Care Standards Development Committee that is now developing recommendations on what the Government should include in a Health Care Accessibility Standard, so it can consider any part of Ontario’s health care system. The previous Government tried to restrict that Committee to barriers in the hospital sector.
  1. Get a Standards Development Committee appointed to develop recommendations on accessibility standards needed to address barriers in the built environment, in residential housing, and in existing buildings whether or not they are undergoing major renovations.
  1. Working with the AODA Alliance and the disability community, identify any other areas of our economy where an AODA accessibility standard will be needed, to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility by 2025. After that, the Government should appoint any Standards Development Committee needed to develop recommendations in for those sectors of the economy.
  1. Effectively improve Ontario’s weak Customer Service Accessibility Standard, by bringing together representatives from the disability sector and obligated organizations to produce recommendations to strengthen the existing AODA Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
  1. Substantially strengthen the weak enforcement of the AODA.
  1. Spearhead efforts within the Ontario Government to ensure that all levers of power, open to it, are effectively used to promote accessibility for people with disabilities. For example, a comprehensive strategy is needed to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate barriers against people with disabilities.
  1. Substantially strengthen the previous Government’s limited strategy for expanding employment for people with disabilities.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to restore the robust relationship it had prior to the most recent five years with the AODA Alliance.
  1. Get the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to stop trying to directly or indirectly influence the agenda, work and recommendations of Standards Development Committees.

Two days later, we wrote Premier Doug Ford on July 19, 2018. We identified nine priority actions for him, as premier, on the topic of accessibility for people with disabilities. These are all actions that fall within the exclusive mandate of the premier, as leader of the Ontario Government. We recommended that Premier Ford:

  1. Issue written directions to the Secretary of the Cabinet, and to all cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and associate deputy ministers, to take effective action to ensure that the Ontario Government leads Ontario to full accessibility by 2025. Please include specific directions on this in Mandate Letters to each cabinet minister.
  1. Direct the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to act on the priorities which the AODA Alliance identified for him in our July 17, 2018 Briefing Note.
  1. Have the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors now lift the freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees which the Ontario Public Service recently imposed, pending briefing ministers, as this has stalled progress on developing recommendations for the Government, including in the urgent area education for students with disabilities (an area where the PC Party had commendably helped us press the previous Ontario Government for action, in the face of many Government delays).
  1. Direct cabinet ministers to develop, implement, enforce and publicize effective across-the-board policies and practices to ensure that the public’s money is never used to finance barriers against persons with disabilities, especially in spending on infrastructure, procurement, research, innovation or other business grants or loans. This effort should be led by the Minister of Economic Development, the Minister of Infrastructure, the Minister of Government Services, the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors and the Treasury Board President. The Secretary of the Cabinet should be directed to devise an action plan to ensure that this is embedded across the Ontario Public Service.
  1. Direct the Secretary of the Cabinet to implement effective new strategies to ensure the Ontario Public Service becomes a fully accessible employer and service provider, and to ensure that disability accessibility is embedded in all vital Government decisions.
  1. Direct that a full-time deputy minister or associate deputy minister position be immediately created, as a Chief Accessibility Officer, with lead responsibility and authority for ensuring that the Ontario Public Service becomes a fully accessible workplace and service provider.
  1. Direct the Secretary of the Cabinet to require each Ministry’s Accessibility Lead be made a full-time position, reporting to the deputy minister of that Ministry, with needed accessibility expertise.
  1. Direct the Attorney General and Municipal Affairs Minister to prepare and introduce an omnibus bill to address barriers impeding voters and candidates with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections, after designating one of those ministers with responsibility to lead this project.
  1. Direct the Attorney General to lead a comprehensive review of all Ontario laws for accessibility barriers, and to complete it in the next two and a half years, in consultation with the disability community, with a view to bringing an omnibus bill before the Legislature to fix any disability accessibility barriers found.

With this background, let’s turn to the Ford Government’s recent responses to our two letters. First, on July 31, 2018, Premier Ford emailed us. Premier Ford thanked us for our contact, and responded to us as follows:

“I note that you’ve sent a copy of your email to the Honourable Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. As this issue falls in his area of responsibility, I’ve asked that Minister Cho or a ministry staff member respond to you as soon as possible.”

The Premier’s letter meant that we must look to Minister Cho for the Government’s responses to both the recommendations in our July 17, 2018 letter to the Minister, as well as our July 19, 2018 letter to the Premier. On August 15, 2018, we received an email from Accessibility Minister Cho. The substance of his response is set out in these two paragraphs:

“Through the development of policies and programs across government, we are committed to meeting the needs of seniors and people with disabilities to improve their quality of life and help them lead safe, engaged, active and healthy lives.

Delivering on the province’s goal of achieving accessibility in Ontario by 2025 remains a key component of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We will continue to work towards supporting people with disabilities in obtaining meaningful employment so they can fully participate in the Ontario economy. I appreciate the insights and views you have shared. I look forward to continuing to work with all our partners, to ensure that seniors in our province receive the best care and support we can provide, and to promote and improve accessibility across Ontario.”

In the meantime, we have received no public indication of when or if the Ford Government will lift the freeze on the work of the various Standards Development Committees  that were working on recommendations for the Ontario Government before the June 2018 Ontario election. Below we set out the July 12, 2018 letter which Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, Ann Hoy, appears to have sent to all members of Standards Development Committees, and to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, also appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Among others, it was sent to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, who is a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.

This letter in effect reaffirms this freeze, and gives no indication of whether or when it will be lifted. Its key passage is as follows:

” Please note that the Minister is in the process of receiving briefings on key files related to accessibility and seniors. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division will connect as soon as possible with information on Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and Standard Development Committee meetings when it becomes available.

In the meantime, as no Standards Development Committee or Accessibility Standards Advisory Council work/research is required or has been assigned we are not in a position to reimburse members until direction has been provided. If you have any further questions, please contact Casey.Teixeira@ontario.ca.”

We understand that almost one month ago, on July 20, 2018, the chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee met with Accessibility Minister Cho to brief him on the work of the committee. However, as recently as yesterday, August 15, 2018, we have gotten no further information on whether or when the Education Standards Development Committee or any other existing Standards Development Committee will resume its work. We have tweeted several times on Twitter to several members of the Ontario Legislature about the pressing need for all Standards Development Committees  to get back to work. Ontario continues to fall behind schedule for becoming accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025.

In other accessibility news, we remind one and all in the Toronto area to try to attend tonight’s town hall meeting at 7 to 8:30 pm Toronto Time, on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act. It is organized by Member of Parliament Arif Virani. His office confirms that at this event there will be American Sign Language interpretation and real time captioning. As well, we are told that the event will be live streamed at:

http://www.Facebook.com/ArifViraniMP

          MORE DETAILS

July 31, 2018 Letter/Email from Premier Doug Ford to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thanks for your email about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. I appreciate hearing your concerns and recommendations.

I note that you’ve sent a copy of your email to the Honourable Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. As this issue falls in his area of responsibility, I’ve asked that Minister Cho or a ministry staff member respond to you as soon as possible.

Thanks again for contacting me.

Doug Ford

Premier of Ontario

c:      The Honourable Raymond Cho

Please note that this email account is not monitored. For further inquiries, kindly direct your online message through https://correspondence.premier.gov.on.ca/en/feedback/default.aspx.

August 15, 2018 Letter/Email from Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky

August 15, 2018

Mr. David Lepofsky

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

Via Email

Dear Mr. Lepofsky:

Thank you for your letter of congratulations on my appointment as Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. I appreciate your kind words of support and am honoured that the Premier has entrusted me with this important responsibility on behalf of the people of Ontario.

Through the development of policies and programs across government, we are committed to meeting the needs of seniors and people with disabilities to improve their quality of life and help them lead safe, engaged, active and healthy lives.

Delivering on the province’s goal of achieving accessibility in Ontario by 2025 remains a key component of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We will continue to work towards supporting people with disabilities in obtaining meaningful employment so they can fully participate in the Ontario economy. I appreciate the insights and views you have shared. I look forward to continuing to work with all our partners, to ensure that seniors in our province receive the best care and support we can provide, and to promote and improve accessibility across Ontario.

Yours truly,

Raymond Cho

Ontario Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

July 12, 2018 Letter/Email from Assistant Deputy  Minister for

Accessibility Ann Hoy to Members of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and Standards Development Committees

Dear Council and Committee Chairs and Members,

Premier Doug Ford announced his Cabinet on Friday June 29th, 2018. The Honourable Raymond Cho is the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. A full list of Cabinet can be found here: www.ontario.ca

Please note that the Minister is in the process of receiving briefings on key files related to accessibility and seniors. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division will connect as soon as possible with information on Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and Standard Development Committee meetings when it becomes available.

In the meantime, as no Standards Development Committee or Accessibility Standards Advisory Council work/research is required or has been assigned we are not in a position to reimburse members until direction has been provided. If you have any further questions, please contact Casey.Teixeira@ontario.ca.

Thank you for your continued commitment to making Ontario accessible.

Sincerely,

Ann Hoy

Assistant Deputy Minister

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division

Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility

416 325-5247

www.ontario.ca/accessibility