The Ford Government Gets A Failing Grade on Making Progress on Disability Accessibility After One year in Power

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

The Ford Government Gets A Failing Grade on Making Progress on Disability Accessibility After One year in Power

June 21, 2019

SUMMARY

It’s time to look back on the past year, take stock and give a report card on the Ontario Government’s performance on achieving the goal of accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario. The Ontario Government has now been in office for one year, or one quarter of its term in office. It has been blanketing social media and the web with glowing statements about its progress on various issues, exemplified in Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho’s June 14, 2019 email to disability stakeholders, set out below. It repeatedly tells the public that it is keeping its promises and protecting “what matters most” to Ontarians.

We regret that we must give the Ford Government a failing “F” grade. It has done virtually nothing helpful and new to improve the Ontario Government’s efforts on leading Ontario to become accessible to over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets. It has even exceeded the previous Wynne Government’s record for dithering and inaction on accessibility. When running for office, Doug Ford told all Ontarians that if he is elected, help is on the way. When it comes to the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities, we are still waiting.

We were delighted at the start of the new Government that it appointed the closest thing to a fulltime accessibility minister. This meant that progress on accessibility could be sped up, since more ministerial time could be devoted to that issue. Yet no such progress occurred over the year that followed.

The only new initiative on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in an entire year is unhelpful. It appears to be a major distraction rather than a real significant help. That is the Ford Government’s decision to divert 1.3 million public dollars over two years into having the Rick Hansen Foundation undertake a private “certification” of a total of 250 buildings (125 per year), using the Rick Hansen Foundation’s problematic private accessibility certification process. We have been on the record for years in opposition to investing any public money in a private accessibility certification process, no matter who runs it. In an upcoming AODA Alliance Update, we will have more to say specifically about the Rick Hansen Foundation private accessibility certification process which the Ford Government has chosen to endorse and finance in Ontario.

With yesterday’s Cabinet shuffle, the Ford Government is now broadly trying to do a re-set, since it has plummeted in the polls. This is a good time for the Government to do a re-set in its approach to accessibility for people with disabilities. We estimate that there are at least one million voters with disabilities in Ontario. We are ready and willing to help with this, in our ongoing spirit of non-partisanship.

We remain open to work with the Ford Government so that it turns the page and begins a new strategy on disability accessibility. We invite and encourage your feedback on what to do in response to the Ford Government’s failing grade on accessibility in its first year in office. Email us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

In striking contrast to this “F” grade for the Ontario Government, today the Federal Government is scheduled to give Royal Assent to Bill C-81, the Accessible Canada Act. That means that it goes into operation as a federal law. While the Accessible Canada Act lacks important features for which we and others vigorously campaigned, it underwent a series of improvements over the year since it was introduced in the House of Commons for First Reading on June 20, 2018, just one year and one day ago. It was improved in the House of Commons last fall at public hearings. It was further improved this past spring in the public hearings in the Senate. Check out the seven preliminary observations we have offered in response to the enactment of the Accessible Canada Act, in the June 3, 2019 AODA Alliance Update.

          MORE DETAILS

The Doug Ford Government’s Record on Accessibility After One Year in Office – A Closer Look

Here are the key developments over the past year which together lead to the Ford Government’s failing grade on promoting accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities during its first year in office.

1. Starting on a Positive Note

The Ford Government started its term in office on a positive note. In June 2018, on being sworn in, the Ford Government announced that it was appointing Ontario’s first ever Minister for Accessibility and Seniors. This was the closest Ontario has ever come to having a much-needed full-time accessibility minister. Combining responsibility for accessibility and for seniors was a good idea, since these mandates overlap. A large percentage of people with disabilities are seniors.

We congratulated the Government for this move. We offered to work together with Raymond Cho, the new minister, and the new Government. We have had a number of discussions with the minister and the minister’s staff.

2. We Offered the Government Good Ideas Early On But Got Vague Answers

Within a month of the Ford Government taking office, we wrote to the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors and to Premier Doug Ford. We made specific suggestions for priority actions. Check out our July 17, 2018 letter to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho and our July 19, 2018 letter to Premier Doug Ford.

Both Premier Ford and Minister Cho replied with pro forma letters. These letters said little and committed to nothing specific. Apart from our request that the Government revive the work of five Standards Development Committees (which the Government had just frozen due to the election and its outcome), addressed further below, the Ford Government has taken none of the actions in the past year that we recommended as priorities.

3. Chilling Progress on Accessibility by Freezing the Work of AODA Standards Development Committees for Many Months

When the Ford Government won the 2018 Ontario election, the work of five AODA Standards Development Committees were promptly all frozen, pending the new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors getting a briefing. Any delay in the work of those committees further slows the AODA’s sluggish implementation.

Those Standards Development Committees remained frozen for months, long after the minister needed time to be briefed. We had to campaign for months to get that freeze lifted.

Over four months later, in November 2018, the Ford Government lifted its freeze on the work of the Employment Standards Development Committee and the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. However it did not then also lift the freeze on the work of the three other Standards Development Committees, those working on proposals for accessibility standards in health care and education.

We had to keep up the pressure. The Ford Government waited until March 7, 2019 before it announced that it was lifting its freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. As of now, over three and a half months since the Ford Government announced that it was lifting that freeze, none of those three remaining Standards Development Committees has had a single meeting, as far as we can tell.

The Ford Government has announced potential reductions in the number of days that they will be able to meet. In the meantime, the many barriers in Ontario’s education system and Ontario’s health care system remain in place, while new ones continue to be created.

4. No New Government Action on Ensuring the Accessibility of Public Transportation in Ontario

Just before the 2018 Ontario election, the Ontario Government received the final recommendations for reforms to the Transportation Accessibility Standard from the AODA Transportation Standards Development committee. Since then, the Ford Government has announced no action on those recommendations. It has not publicly invited any input or consultation on those recommendations. At the same time, the Ford Government has made major announcements about the future of public transit infrastructure in Ontario. As such, barriers in public transportation remain while the risk remains that new ones will continue to be created.

5. Failure to Fulfil Its Duty to Appoint A Standards Development Committee to Review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard

The AODA required the Ontario Government to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard by the end of 2017. Neither the previous Wynne Government nor the current Ford Government have fulfilled this legal duty. This is a mandatory AODA requirement. The Ford Government has had a year in office to learn about this duty and to fulfil it. We flagged it for the Government early on.

6. No Comprehensive Government Plan of Action on Accessibility 142 Days After Receiving the Report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review, Even Though the Government Thought Onley Did a “Marvelous Job”

We have been urging the Ford Government to develop a detailed plan on accessibility since shortly after it took office. it has never done so.

In December 2018, the Ford Government stated that it was awaiting the final report of former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, before deciding what it would do regarding accessibility for people with disabilities.

On January 31, 2019, the Ford Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho publicly said on April 10, 2019 in the Ontario Legislature that David Onley did a “marvelous job.”

The Onley report found that Ontario is still full of serious barriers impeding people with disabilities, and that specific new Government actions, spelled out in the report, are needed. However, in the 142 days since receiving the Onley Report, the Ford Government has not made public any detailed plan to implement that report’s findings and recommendations. It says it is still studying the issue.

The Ford Government Voiced Very Troubling and Harmful Stereotypes About the AODA and Disability Accessibility During National Access Abilities Week

For years, Canada has held some form of National Access Week towards the end of May. During this week, provincial politicians typically make public statements in the Legislature committing to accessibility and focusing on what more needs to be done.

This year, during National Access Abilities Week, MPP Joel Harden proposed a that the Legislature pass a resolution that called for the Government to bring forward a plan in response to the Onley Report. The resolution was worded in benign and non-partisan words, which in key ways tracked Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance. In that letter, Doug Ford had set out the Conservative Party’s 2018 election promises on disability accessibility. The proposed resolution stated:

“That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should release a plan of action on accessibility in response to David Onley’s review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to implement new standards for the built environment, stronger enforcement of the Act, accessibility training for design professionals, and an assurance that public money is never again used to create new accessibility barriers.”

Premier Doug Ford had every good reason to support this proposed resolution, as we explained in the June 10, 2019 AODA Alliance Update. Yet, as described in detail in the June 11, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Doug Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat this resolution on May 30, 2019, right in the middle of National Access Abilities Week.

The speeches by Conservative MPPs in the Legislature on the Government’s behalf, in opposition to that motion, voiced false and harmful stereotypes about disability accessibility. That was hurtful to 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. Those statements in effect call into serious question the Ford Government’s commitment to the effective implementation and enforcement of the AODA. They denigrated the creation and enforcement of AODA accessibility standards as red tape that threatened to imperil businesses and hurt people with disabilities.

7. In an Inappropriate Use of Public Money, the Ford Government Diverts 1.3 Million Dollars into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Process

The only new action the Ford Government has taken on accessibility over its first year in office is its announcement in the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget that it would spend 1.3 million public dollars over two years to have the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification process “certify” some 250 buildings, belonging to business or the public sector, for accessibility. We oppose any public funding for any private accessibility certification process, no matter who provides this service.

the Ford Government entirely ignored all our serious concerns with spending public money on such a private accessibility certification process. These concerns have been public for well over three years. The Ford Government has given no public reasons for its rejecting all of these concerns.

We here summarize our major concerns with any kind of private accessibility certification process, no matter who is operating it. A future AODA Alliance update will address concerns specific to the Ford Government’s funding the private accessibility certification process offered under the name of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

  1. a) A private accessibility certification risks misleading the public, including people with disabilities. It also risks misleading the very organization that seeks this so-called certification. It “certifies” nothing. A private organization might certify a building as accessible, and yet people with disabilities may well find that the building itself, or the services offered in the building, still has serious accessibility problems.

Such a certification provides no defence to an accessibility complaint or proceeding under the AODA, under the Ontario Building Code, under a municipal bylaw, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, or under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

As well, the certification, for whatever it is worth on the day it is granted, can quickly become out-of-date. New accessibility rules might later be enacted or amended that the assessor did not even consider. The building might proudly display a gold accessibility certification, while something might have been changed inside the building that creates new barriers.

If an organization gets a top-level accessibility certification, it may think they have done all they must do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be led to think that this is a model of accessibility to be emulated, and that it is a place that will be easy to fully access. This may turn out not to be the case, especially if the assessor uses an insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if things change in the building after the certification is granted.

  1. b) All a private accessibility is some kind of accessibility advice, dressed up in the seemingly more impressive and authoritative label of “certification”. There are a number of accessibility consultants available to organizations to provide accessibility reviews and advice. The Government should not be subsidizing one accessibility consultant over another, and conferring on it the seemingly superior designation of “certification”. There is no assurance that the people who do the certifying have as much training, experience and expertise on accessibility as do other accessibility consultants.
  1. c) A private accessibility certification process lacks much-needed public accountability. The public has no way to know if the private accessibility assessor is making accurate assessments. It is not subject to Freedom of Information laws. It can operate behind closed doors. It lacks the kind of public accountability that applies to a government audit or inspection or other enforcement.
  1. d) Especially in a period of austerity and major Ontario budget cuts, spending any public money on a private accessibility certification process is not a priority for efforts on accessibility in Ontario or a responsible use of public money. It is not focusing Government funding and efforts on the things that “matter most”, to draw on the Ford Government’s slogan.

There are much more pressing areas for new public spending on accessibility. At the same time as it is diverting this new public money to the Rick Hansen Foundation, the Ford Government appears to be cutting its expenditures on existing Standards Development Committees that are doing work in the health care and education areas. There is a much more pressing need for the Government to now appoint a Built Environment Standards Development Committee to recommend an appropriate accessibility standard to deal with barriers in the built environment. These public funds could also be far better used to beef up the flagging and weak enforcement of the AODA.

  1. e) The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford Government has not yet agreed to take. The Onley Report did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.
  1. f) If a private organization wants to hire an accessibility consultant of any sort, that organization should pay for those services. The Government should not be subsidizing this.

To read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief to Deloitte on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process, visit https://www.aoda.ca/aoda-alliance-sends-the-deloitte-company-its-submission-on-the-first-phase-of-the-deloitte-companys-public-consultation-on-the-wynne-governments-problem-ridden-proposal-to-fund-a-new-private-ac/

7. Text of the June 14, 2019 Email from Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to Stakeholders on Accessibility Issues

Dear Stakeholder:

June 7th marks the one-year anniversary that our government has been in office, and together, we have much to celebrate. We were elected to be a government that works for the people, putting their interests first in everything we do. I am proud to share with you how our government has helped people with disabilities and their families across Ontario over this past year.

Premier Ford and our entire team made five core commitments to the people of Ontario: restoring trust, accountability, and transparency; putting more money in people’s pockets; cleaning up the hydro mess; ending hallway healthcare; and making Ontario open for business and open for jobs.

Today, we can proudly say: “Promises made, promises kept.” We have charted a reasonable and responsible path to a balanced budget in five years, invested in core public services like healthcare and education, and protected frontline workers.

As Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, I am committed to helping seniors and people with disabilities stay independent, safe, active and socially connected. Our government has the highest regard for people with disabilities and is committed to protecting what matters most to them and their families. I am incredibly proud of the work that our Ministry has accomplished over the past year, working alongside terrific partners like AODA Alliance.

We are committed to making Ontario more accessible for all. That is why when the Honourable David C. Onley completed and submitted his review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in January 2019, our government tabled the report faster than either previous review. After tabling the report, we immediately announced that we would be resuming the Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees so that they can continue their valuable work to improve accessibility in those sectors. We are also continuing to work with the Information and Communications Standard Development Committee. Needless to say, we are taking Mr. Onley’s input very seriously as we continue to work towards making Ontario more accessible.

People with disabilities and seniors deserve to remain engaged and participate fully in their communities. Yet many buildings in Ontario continue to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. That is why our government is investing $1.3 million over two years through a new partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation. The Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program is expected to start this fall and will roll out over the next two years in select communities across Ontario. The certification program will provide accessibility ratings of businesses and public buildings by trained professionals, and will help property managers and owners determine ways to remove identified barriers. Through this investment, the Rick Hansen Foundation will undertake ratings of 250 facilities.

We are also continuing to work closely with many partners to spread the word about the importance of accessibility. For instance, our Employers’ Partnership Table, which was brought together to support the creation of employment opportunities for people with disabilities. They are working on developing sector-specific business cases for hiring people with disabilities that will be shared with businesses in Ontario to help them see the benefits of employing people with disabilities.

Additionally, through our EnAbling Change Program, we partner with non-profit organizations to develop educational tools and resources to promote ways to make our communities and businesses more accessible.

This is just the beginning. We look forward to continuing to work together to make Ontario more accessible for all.

As our track record shows, we have accomplished a great deal, but our work is far from over. Looking ahead, our government will continue turning this province around and building for the future.

We look forward to continuing to work with you to build an Ontario where everyone shares in greater opportunity and prosperity.

Sincerely,

Raymond Cho

Minister