Read the May 14, 2018 Letter from the Liberal Party to the AODA Alliance, Setting Out Its 2018 Election Commitments on Accessibility

May 14, 2018

Mr. David Lepofsky
Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians for Disabilities Act Alliance
1929 Bayview Ave
Toronto, ON
M4G 3E8
aodafeedback@gmail.com

Dear David,

Thank you very much for providing us with the opportunity to respond to the AODA Alliance Questionnaire. Please find attached our completed response.

In 2014, the people of Ontario elected a Liberal government that promised to build Ontario up. We promised to create jobs and growth, improve retirement security for workers and build the next generation of infrastructure.

And we delivered. We made historic investments in hospitals, schools, transit, roads and bridges. We strengthened the economy, leading to the lowest unemployment rate in 17 years and economic growth that outpaces the United States and Europe. We made university and college tuition more affordable for the middle class and completely free for 235,000 students.

But we have more to do. I believe government should be there for people who need help. It’s the reason why I entered public life. I believe the way we care for one another is our greatest strength — and government’s greatest responsibility.

So we’ve made a deliberate choice to invest in more care and opportunity. We’re investing in more health care, more child care and more support for people where they tell us they are falling behind. And we’re making sure people can take advantage of every opportunity to get a good job and get ahead in life.

Thank you again for your strong advocacy and I look forward to speaking soon.

Sincerely,

Kathleen Wynne

Leader, Ontario Liberal Party

 

 

Ontario Liberal Party Response to the

AODA Alliance Election Questionnaire

May 13, 2018

The Ontario Liberal Party is proud of the progress we’ve made to date to improve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. We remain committed to achieving an accessible Ontario by 2025.

We believe that creating and maintaining constructive dialogues are essential in order to deliver meaningful change. That’s why we have worked closely with the AODA Alliance and many other passionate and knowledgeable stakeholders and individuals in the accessibility field and will continue to do so if re-elected.

Since 2014, Premier Wynne and the Liberal government have:

  • appointed Ontario’s first ever Minister Responsible for Accessibility
  • begun the process to create new accessibility standards under the AODA in Health Care and in Education
  • launched Access Talent, Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities
  • appointed the Honourable David C. Onley to review the AODA and its standards
  • convened a forum to discuss accessibility challenges and opportunities in the built environment

A re-elected Liberal government will build on this progress by:

  • completing the development of new accessibility standards in Health Care and Education
  • building on the early successes of Access Talent and maintaining our commitment to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities
  • exploring and determining next steps for preventing and removing accessibility barriers in the built environment

Foster and Strengthen Our Ongoing Relationship with the Ontario Liberal Party

Since becoming Leader of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne and her Cabinet and caucus colleagues have met regularly with the AODA Alliance and other disability and accessibility advocacy groups. We commit to continuing these meetings if returned to government.
Implementation and Enforcement of the AODA

Ontario Liberals are fully committed to the AODA and enforcing the provisions therein. To this end, we have improved enforcement activities by requiring compliance reports and conducting audits throughout the economy. Despite our progress, we know there is more work to do. We will work with obligated organizations and stakeholders to determine what is needed to improve both reporting and compliance rates. We will also increase the number of inspectors empowered to enforce the AODA and certify other government inspectors to conduct necessary accessibility enforcement audits while on site. We will report on the results of these activities as frequently as practicable, including through aggregate numbers in the AODA Annual Report. In addition, we will also publicize new and existing reporting mechanisms, such as our phone line and social media channels.

Compliance and enforcement are only half the story and will not achieve our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025 without proper public and obligated organisation education. That’s why, if re-elected, Ontario Liberals will mount a public education campaign later this year on obligations under the AODA.

We stand by our earlier commitments to never use public money to perpetuate barriers. Though there is work to be done to ensure universal application, our success at working together with the AODA Alliance on provincially-funded transit projects and other infrastructure builds shows a path forward.

New and Existing Accessibility Standards

The creation of new standards is a critical element of the Ontario Liberal commitment to an accessible Ontario by 2025. We intend to continue the reviews already underway and continue the work of developing standards in the areas of health care and education. We would welcome advice from these committees on built environment issues and look forward to making the process more open and transparent to ensure all voices are heard without compromising necessary privacy and accountability measures.

Beyond ongoing work, we know that there are barriers in the province that need to be addressed through standards. Earlier this year, former Minister Tracy MacCharles publicly stated that the standards governing the built environment need to be strengthened to achieve our goal. That’s why she convened a summit on the subject attended by many impacted stakeholders, including the AODA Alliance. We will use the feedback gleaned from this summit and further consultation with stakeholders to determine the best path forward as we track toward the mandated review of the standard. Given the complexity of housing construction, building modification, and renovation, we will also work with builders, developers, architects, and other experts before committing to a path forward on residential housing and retrofits.

Getting to an accessible Ontario requires that we also ensure that the professionals most connected to design and construction know about accessibility. To this end, we will work with regulatory bodies, colleges, universities, and professional organisations to ensure that accessibility is included throughout the process.

Standards for AFPs differ project to project, but all Project Companies are required to comply with all legislation on AFP projects, including the AODA and accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code. This is the de facto minimum standard. Issues related to accessibility in AFP projects are therefore related to the content of the standards. On built environment issues specifically, that’s why we have committed to working with stakeholders toward the next review of the standard.

 

Accessibility in Education

The Ontario Liberal Party believes that every student must have access to the support they need to reach their full potential. We will ensure that we have the appropriate structures in place to continue to make progress in removing barriers and supporting full inclusion for students with disabilities. This includes working with all of the divisions of the Ministry of Education in developing a new Education Accessibility standard to remove accessibility barriers for students. The advice of the Education Standards Development Committees will be key in charting our next steps on improving accessibility in schools and post-secondary institutions, and we look forward to receiving that advice before committing to significant reforms in the sector.

The Ministry of Education recently undertook an organizational realignment that placed an increased focus on supporting student success. The Student Support and Field Services Division is responsible for supporting the achievement of students with disabilities and working across divisions and ministries to support children and youth with special needs, while the Education Equity Secretariat supports all of the ministry in building capacity for equity and human rights. This happened in 2017, and we expect improved results as a result of this realignment.

We care deeply about student mental health and well-being, because we know how many of our young people are facing mental health challenges and needs support both in their schools and broader communities. Up to 70 per cent of mental health and addictions challenges begin in childhood or adolescence. That’s why we recently announced we are supporting quicker access to better care for mental health and addiction services for people of all ages through a historic $2.1 billion investment over the next four years. This is the largest provincial investment in Canadian history in mental health and addictions care.  On top of the Mental Health Leads that we created in every school board, this investment means an additional 400 mental health workers to support every high school across the province dedicated to supporting continued and expanded mental health awareness and education, earlier identification and assessment, and improved timely referrals to community mental health services. This investment will also support enhanced mental health literacy for our educators and school staff, and social emotional learning skills embedded in the curriculum.

This is all in addition to our government’s investment of $49 million over the next three years to promote and support the well-being of Ontario’s students, which includes doubling funding to school boards for locally-determined priorities including mental health.

All students with disabilities must be supported by our public education system based on individual assessments of strengths and needs. Specific needs are addressed through students’ Individual Education Plans. The categories of exceptionalities in the Education Act were designed to address the range of conditions that may affect a student’s ability to learn, rather than by condition or diagnosis. Our government will continue to work with our partners to address barriers to helping students reach their full potential.

After inheriting an education system that was severely underfunded and in complete disrepair, Liberal governments have made historic investments in our public education system. This has enabled hiring more than 40,000 additional teachers and education workers into the system to support student success during a period of declining enrolment. It has also contributed to caps on K-3 class size, reduced average class size for grades 4 to 8 from 26 to 24 and the complete roll-out of full-day kindergarten for every four and five-year-old in Ontario.

These investments are contributing to the high school graduation rate reaching an all-time high of 86.5 per cent, up more than 18 percentage points compared to the rate when we took office. Today, Ontario’s students consistently rank at or near the top in national and international student achievement results in reading, math and science, and we are the only jurisdiction in the world to achieve this feat in a diverse context. Gaps in achievement for students with special needs are closing, and we are confident that our new investments will further this success.

We also know that there is more to do. Our 2018 Budget announced another $300 million over the next three years to support students with disabilities, bringing total funding for special education to $3 billion next year. This funding will eliminate the waitlists for professional assessments of student needs and means 600 additional staff forming multidisciplinary teams of social workers, psychologists, behavioural specialists and speech-language pathologists to build board capacity and help teachers, education assistants and other staff better understand and adapt to the unique needs of their students. Our Budget also includes an additional $30 million per year for 500 more Education Assistants who will support our highest needs students. All of these investments are critical to our plan and are at risk in this election.

We have changed about 90% of the education funding formula since 2013 and are committed to continuing to review the formula to advance student achievement, well-being and equity. We made changes several years ago to the way that special education funding is allocated to be more responsive to the needs of students. The prior model that the PCs developed was inequitable and rewarded school boards that could fill out paperwork rather than meeting students’ needs. We are committed to engaging with our education partners to continue reviewing the funding model for special education to ensure it is responsive to the needs of students, families, school boards, and educators. The formula is just one part of the story – and the Ontario Liberal Party is the only party proposing to increase investment to support students with disabilities.

 

Free Independent Technical Accessibility Advice for Obligated Organizations

The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario already provides significant advice and guidance to obligated organisations seeking guidance on how to properly implement requirements under the AODA. Moving this function outside government would incur further expense, and pull resources away from other key functions, such as enforcement and compliance audits. If re-elected, Ontario Liberals would strengthen this internal function to include technical expertise and work with stakeholders to develop better technical expertise networks to support implementation.

 

Accessibility in Provincial and Municipal Elections

Ensuring accessibility of elections is essential to participation in our democracy and maintaining the universal franchise. We are committed to safeguarding the interests of Ontarians with disabilities through ease of access to their right to cast a ballot.  Since 2014, we made significant strides toward accessible elections by testing new technology in by-elections and the forthcoming increased use of voting machines in June. The Ministry of the Attorney General, Ministry of Municipal Affairs, and Elections Ontario are committed to providing the best possible experience to make sure every Ontarian is able to vote.

Similarly, the Ontario Liberal Party is committed to accessibility in the conduct of our election campaign. Every effort will be made to help hosts of All Candidates’ Meetings understand the need to choose accessible venues.

Ontario Public Service

The Ontario Public Service is a world leader in accessible employment practices and was recognized this year as one of Canada’s top Diversity Employers due to part to smart accessibility practices. The Secretary of Cabinet has developed a detailed plan to improve accessibility in the OPS and we look forward to continuing to support him in this work.

Continuing with her commitment to transparency and open government, Premier Wynne will include accessibility in the mandate letters to her Ministers and make those letters public.

Review of All Ontario Laws for Accessibility Barriers

Earlier this year, the government appointed the Honourable David C. Onley to lead the next review of the AODA. As part of this review, we are asking Mr. Onley to include in his advice the best way forward to both complete the review and provide solutions to accessibility barriers in legislation in a practical and responsible way.

Accessibility Directorate of Ontario and Legislated Review

The third-party review of the Directorate helped shape the recent re-organisation and restructuring of the operation. We look forwarding to continuing to improve Directorate as we work toward our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.

We are proud of the Ontario Liberal government decision to appoint Mr. Onley to lead to the review of AODA implementation and enforcement. He is a well-respected leader in the disability community with invaluable experience on the file. His review will be independent of government, and will be informed by public and stakeholder input, including from the AODA Alliance. We will release Mr. Onley’s report to the public within a month of receipt.