Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
With One Year Left Until The Disability Act’s Deadline for an Accessible Province, CBC Stations Across Ontario and a Toronto Star Editorial All Focus on the Inaccessibility Crisis Facing Ontarians with Disabilities
January 3, 2023
Happy New Year to one and all. Our non-partisan grass roots disability accessibility advocacy campaign has started off in 2024 with quite an amazing media bang!
When the new year began two days ago, only one year remained until the 2025 deadline for the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to 2.9 million Ontarians with disabilities. That is what the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. Yet the Ford Government still has no comprehensive plan to make lead Ontario to become disability-accessible, either by 2025, or ever.
Yesterday morning, as Ontarians across the province returned to their routines, six CBC Radio morning programs included their own individual interviews with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. That included Toronto, Windsor, Kitchener-Waterloo, Sudbury, Thunder Bay, and the Ontario Morning program that covers much of the rest of the province. We have only found the Kitchener-Waterloo interview posted online.
CBC Ottawa taped an interview yesterday, and says that it will air it today.
These interviews focused on the crisis of inaccessibility facing Ontarians with disabilities that the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review’s Final Report declared last month. They each also explored what the Ford Government needs to do to effectively deal with this crisis.
In several interviews, David Lepofsky noted how Premier Ford had reversed himself on some other high-profile issues. He called on Premier Ford to do the same when it comes to the accessibility file. He urged Premier Ford to make a New Year’s resolution to show strong leadership on this issue. A good start would be for Premier Ford to at long last agree to meet. He is the only Ontario premier in two decades to refuse to do so.
Amplifying this issue even more, CBC News yesterday published the first in a four-part report on the inaccessibility crisis facing Ontarians with disabilities. We set out that excellent first part, below.
But there’s even more! Today we woke up to a powerful new Toronto Star editorial, blasting the Ford Government for failing to effectively respond to this inaccessibility crisis. You can read that editorial below. This is the 20th major media outlet’s editorial in support of our grass roots accessibility campaign over the past 3 decades. You can read all of those editorials on the AODA Alliance website’s editorials page. An editorial is especially powerful. It calls for reform for which we have advocated.
Get ready for an exciting year. How can you help?
You can start by emailing CBC to commend them for this coverage, and encouraging more of it.
Write a letter to the editor at the Toronto Star, praising their editorial and telling them about disability barriers you face. Email the Star at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can also share this AODA Alliance Update with other news organizations. Invite them to also run with this important story. Give them examples of barriers you face.
For background, read:
- The June 6, 2023 Final Report of the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review, which the Ford Government kept secret for over six months, before it finally fulfilled its duty under the AODA to make it public.
- The March 1, 2023 Interim Report of the Rich Donovan 4th AODA Independent Review.
- The January 31, 2019 Final Report of the David Onley 3rd AODA Independent Review.
- The AODA Alliance’s May 31, 2023 brief to the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review on the recommendations for reform that he should make.
- The AODA Alliance’s February 6, 2023 brief to the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review on the findings that he should make.
What do you think of this media coverage? Write us at email@example.com
CBC News January 2, 2024
Originally posted at https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/aoda-ontario-accessibility-2025-1.7053136
An accessible Ontario by 2025? Here’s where the province stands on its goal
Advocates worry province will likely miss deadline and there won’t be any way to make government answer
Vanessa Balintec CBC News
A person pushes another person on a wheelchair, walking close to a body of water.
Advocates say despite an 18-year lead up, Ontario is nowhere near its own goal of achieving accessibility by 2025. (Showwei Chu/CBC)
CBC Toronto is breaking down accessibility in Ontario in four stories: the progress made so far, how legislation is enforced, if the province can reach its 2025 goal and what accessibility looks like in cities, zooming in on Toronto.
On a spring day in 2005, Ontario’s Legislative Assembly was filled with applause.
In a rare moment of unanimity in politics, legislators celebrated their vote to make the province accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.
The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) was created to help people with disabilities fully participate in society, bring them to the table in crafting regulations and build mechanisms to enforce standards. Advocates and experts hailed the legislation as groundbreaking and progressive.
That’s how David Lepofsky remembers it. Lepofsky, who is blind, worked for years with other advocates to make the legislation a reality.
But 18 years later, he says the province is nowhere near its goal.
“We’ve been warning about it for years,” said Lepofsky, the chair of the AODA Alliance, the main consumer advocacy group monitoring the legislation’s implementation. He says his group has been actively trying to meet with the Progressive Conservative government on the file to no avail.
“Government after government, minister after minister makes nice speeches and then does nothing.”
Advocates and people with disabilities say the slow pace of current and previous Ontario governments in implementing the AODA has hindered the bill from reaching its full potential, leaving roughly 2.9 million Ontarians wanting. Their disabilities range anywhere from physical and developmental to mental health and mobility, and are often invisible to others.
They’re concerned not only that the province will miss its deadline, but there won’t be any way to make government answer for the potential failure. And, they worry, there will be no renewed push to keep accessibility issues at the forefront after 2025.
Anthony Frisina, the spokesperson for advocacy group Ontario Disability Coalition, says the lack of prioritization of the file is putting people with disabilities at risk.
“We’re more vigorously keeping track of it … we want to hold people accountable,” he said. Frisina has spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the spine and spinal cord don’t form properly, and uses a wheelchair.
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“I find that people with disabilities, the perception is like we’re asking for so much and then we’re coming off as complainers … And that’s an attitude barrier that needs to change.”
What does the AODA aim to do?
According to the legislation, the AODA aims to develop, implement and enforce standards related to goods, services, accommodation, employment and buildings before Jan. 1, 2025. The legislation applies to every person in both the public and private sector.
They’ve enacted some accessibility standards, but the ones they’ve enacted are far too narrow, far too weak and don’t address the vast majority of barriers we face.
– David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance
The Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility told CBC Toronto Minister Raymond Cho was unavailable for the interview on this series.
Asked if it’s confident it will achieve accessibility by 2025, the ministry’s director of communications Wallace Pidgeon said in an email the province is “making investments across the province and working to achieve, meet and exceed the standards set out in the AODA.”
“It’s the law,” he added.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act aims to make the province fully accessible by 2025. Ahead of the deadline, CBC’s Vanessa Balintec speaks to one disability advocate about existing barriers on Toronto transit for people who are hard of hearing.
Where are we now?
Every three years, the government must appoint someone to review its progress on the law’s implementation and recommend any improvements.
There have been four reviews since the AODA was enacted. Charles Beer, the first reviewer whose report was released in 2010, said his review aimed to smooth out the legislation.
“With subsequent reviews … there was a constant around how can the government better lead on this and bring it into [the] greater public?” said Beer, also a former Liberal MPP and minister.
The two more recent reviews, released in 2014 and 2019, have concluded the status quo isn’t working. Both said that while organizations by and large support the legislation and its goals, the province has failed not only to prioritize the file, but provide meaningful guidance on its implementation and enforcement.
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Advocates note there has been progress but say it’s failed to transform the everyday experiences of people with disabilities.
Lepofsky says there have been improvements in some public spaces, but not all, pointing for example to newly built bike lanes in Toronto that pose problems for blind people. Besides, he says, the legislation is only so strong — it only applies to public spaces and not buildings, leaving many older ones almost entirely unnavigable.
He points to inconsistent reliability and accessibility features and services of the province’s transit systems; and vague customer service standards that make equitable customer service available only on a case-by-case basis.
He also points to the employment standard being too reliant on accommodations rather than removing barriers, and to an information and communication standard that, while mandating a minimum level of accessibility when sharing info on web-based apps, falls short on regulating mobile-based apps.
Two men in separate photos smile at the camera.
David Lepofsky, left, is the chair of the advocacy and consumer group AODA Alliance. Anthony Frisina, right, is the spokesperson for advocacy group Ontario Disability Coalition. Both are prominent disability rights activists in Ontario advocating for better implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. (Submitted by David Lepofsky and Anthony Frisina)
The poor implementation of accessibility standards are made worse by “paltry” enforcement of the law, he added.
“They’ve enacted some accessibility standards, but the ones they’ve enacted are far too narrow, far too weak and don’t address the vast majority of barriers we face,” said Lepofsky.
Where do we go from here?
A fourth review, containing advice on how to get Ontario back on track toward achieving accessibility, was handed to the province by appointee Rich Donovan in June and was publicly released last month.
Donovan called its quiet and delayed release by the province “disappointing, but not surprising” and the latest example of its sluggish pace on the file.
“That to me tells you everything you need to know,” said Donovan.
The government has responded to the report, saying it’s started work on at least three of its 23 recommendations.
But absent was any mention of Donovan’s most pressing one: the creation of a new crisis committee, chaired by the Ontario Premier Doug Ford, to initiate and streamline a slew of recommendations on things like public safety, a broader AODA action plan and a new agency dedicated to accessibility.
All of those aims, he said, are within government reach and could bring it closer to closing the accessibility gap if it wants to.
“I do believe most of this can be done by 2025 if the right levers and buttons were pushed, if senior bureaucrats were told to get this done,” said Donovan.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Vanessa Balintec is a reporter for CBC Toronto who likes writing stories about labour, equity and community. She previously worked for stations in New Brunswick and Kitchener-Waterloo. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @vanessabalintec.
Toronto Star January 3, 2024
Ontario’s crisis in accessibility
If you need to solve a problem, but want to create a crisis instead, follow these three easy steps:
First, avoid gathering any data that might indicate the scope of the problem, as well as how to solve it. Second, don’t put anyone in charge of remedying the problem. Finally, avoid employing any enforcement mechanism, so no one’s ever held responsible for failing to do anything.
That, according to a recent review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), is precisely what the province has been doing for the past 17 years. The review, which is mandated by the act, found that more than three quarters of the province’s 2.9 million people with disabilities reported negative experiences.
Those experiences, which include problems with everything from services to technology to infrastructure to emergency procedures, are a direct result of a critical lack of data, leadership and enforcement. And they have led to a situation that can only be described as a crisis.
But a crisis isn’t just an emergency situation. It’s also a turning point, a time when an imminent decision must be made, a decision that could put us on a route to recovery – or keep us on the road to ruin.
In the interest of the former, Rich Donovan, who conducted the review, declared the situation a crisis, and recommended the province take urgent steps to pull us back from the brink.
To that end, Donovan urged the province to form a crisis committee, chaired by the premier, within 30 days of tabling the report. The committee would be responsible for acting on all of the following crisis recommendations within 180 days of its formation.
To fill the void in leadership, Donovan recommended that deputy ministers identify and publish barriers to accessibility within their respective ministries, and develop plans to remove them. Should deputy ministers fail to achieve their objectives, Donovan advised docking their pay by at least five per cent.
To ensure accountability, Donovan urged the creation of a new Accessibility Agency, which would be responsible for “enforcing accessibility standards and regulation on to the provincial government itself.” And to fill the information gap, it would also be tasked with conducting research and gathering and analyzing data.
Among other crisis recommendations, Donovan advised establishing and publishing clear emergency procedures for the evacuation of all individuals with disabilities from government buildings, and ensuring that the province procures only products and services accessible to people with disabilities.
Unfortunately, the province’s response to the review has been underwhelming, to say the least. Donovan submitted his report in early June, which means it took Ontario six months – more than 180 days – to release it.
That number ought to sound familiar, since it’s precisely the amount of time Donovan gave the province to resolve the crisis. The province instead chose to squander those 180 days, virtually guaranteeing that it will fail to meet the AODA’s requirement of an accessible Ontario by Jan. 1, 2025.
Since the law was passed nearly two decades ago, there’s really no excuse for this latest delay. But the province offered one anyway, with the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility telling The Trillium that it needed the time to prepare a “thoughtful analysis and response to [the] recommendations.”
It also highlighted plans to address a few concerns in the report, including modernizing evacuation procedures in government buildings and mandating that the procurement of accessible products and services.
That’s better than nothing, though it’s certainly not the response one would expect in a crisis, which is probably why the province carefully avoided declaring one. There’s also no mention of a crisis committee, which isn’t surprising since the province hasn’t even acknowledged that a crisis exists.
Yet a crisis by any other name – or by no name at all – remains a crisis. And with just one year to go until Ontario is expected to be fully accessible, the province better start treating it as one.