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AODA Alliance Makes Public the Disability Accessibility Commitments of Ontario By-election Candidates: NDP Makes All Commitments We Seek – Liberals Make None of them – Conservatives Don’t Answer

July 29, 2013

SUMMARY

As it has for several previous Ontario elections, the AODA Alliance makes public the commitments it received from by-election candidates of the major Ontario political parties on disability accessibility. We asked all the major parties’ candidates in the five Ontario ridings holding August 1, 2013 by-elections a series of disability accessibility questions.

We asked candidates if they support our call for the Ontario Government to develop new accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 (AODA), to address barriers in education, health care, and residential housing. We asked candidates if they support our call for the Government to act now to effectively enforce the AODA, and to reveal its plans for doing so. We asked candidates if they agree that the Government should act now to ensure that public money isn’t used to finance the creation of new barriers against people with disabilities or to perpetuate existing barriers.

NDP candidate, Percy Hatfield, made all the disability accessibility commitments we seek. Liberal candidate, Peter Milczen, responded to all our questions but made none of the specific disability commitments we seek. No Conservative candidate answered our questions. If a response is received from any other candidates from the major parties before August 1, 2013, we will do our best to make it public.

We urge all Ontarians with disabilities to widely circulate this information and to urge voters in the five ridings holding Ontario by-elections to take this information into account. As a non-partisan community coalition, we do not endorse or oppose any party or candidate. We also urge everyone to try to gget the Liberal and Conservative Parties to make the disability accessibility commitments we seek in the remaining days of this campaign period. Full background on our non-partisan strategy during the five Ontario August 1, 2013 by-elections, including our “Action Kit” for people with disabilities and their supporters around Ontario to use, is available at http://is.gd/85L6LC

As a novel strategy, the AODA Alliance is using Twitter as a key tool to lead its blitz during these by-elections. All the major parties’ candidates are on Twitter.

In 2005, the Ontario Legislature passed the AODA. It requires the Ontario Government to act effectively to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible to over 1.7 million people with disabilities by 2025.

In other accessibility news, an unexplained 59 days have passed since the legal deadline for the Ontario Government to appoint an Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The Government is still violating that law. It is thereby continuing to set a terrible example for other organizations that have to obey that law. You can read our May 31, 2013, guest column in the on-line edition of the Toronto Star on the Government’s failure to appoint an Independent Review of the Disabilities Act by the May 31, 2013, deadline by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05312013.asp

Below we provide:

* a list of the questions on disability accessibility that we tweeted to all candidates for the major parties in the five August 1, 2013 Ontario by-elections.

* background on the five questions we asked the candidates;

* an analysis of the responses we have received so far.

* the text of responses received.

Contact: David Lepofsky, Chair AODA Alliance aodafeedback@gmail.com

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Learn more about our non-partisan campaign for a fully accessible Ontario at: www.aodaalliance.org

MORE DETAILS
1. Quick Summary of Disability Accessibility Issues in the August 1, 2013 Ontario By-elections

For a decade, Ontarians with disabilities campaigned tenaciously and tirelessly to win the enactment in 2005 of the AODA. All parties unanimously voted for that law.

The AODA requires Ontario to become fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, 20 years after it was passed. The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to that mandatory goal on time.

Right now, Ontario is behind schedule. We need the Ontario Government to take immediate and strong action to get us on schedule. For example:

* The Ontario Government is required to enact all the accessibility standards we need in order to reach the goal of full accessibility by 2025. Some have been enacted. However, they aren’t sufficient to get Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.

We have been trying for over two years to get the Ontario Government to start developing the next three accessibility standards we need, namely ones to address barriers in education, in the health care system, and in access to residential housing. The Government has appointed a new Access Council to develop all new accessibility standards. However the Government hasn’t announced any new accessibility standards for that body to develop.

* The Government has promised over and over that it would effectively enforce the AODA. Yet it hasn’t kept that promise. It still hasn’t answered our request back on January 22, 2013 to reveal its plans for effectively enforcing the AODA. To read the AODA Alliance’s January 22, 2013 letter to the Ontario Government, requesting its plans for effectively enforcing the AODA, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01242013.asp

* Public money has been spent creating new barriers against people with disabilities. For example, the Ontario Government created the new Presto Smart Card, replete with barriers, for paying public transit fares. To learn more about the disability barriers in the Presto Smart Card system that the Ontario Government spearheaded, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08272010.asp

We need the Government to take immediate and effective action to ensure that no public money is ever used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers. To date, the Government has announced only limited actions. It hasn’t shown that it is effectively acting on those announcements.

* Kathleen Wynne promised in writing on December 3, 2012 that if she became Ontario’s Premier, she would honour all her Government’s disability accessibility commitments and would get Ontario on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. We want commitments from all by-election candidates for all parties that if elected, they will personally:

a) support and advocate for the Government to develop accessibility standards for education, for health care, and for residential housing;

b) support and advocate for immediate action to effectively enforce the AODA; and

c) support and advocate for immediate and effective Government action to ensure that no public money is used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers.

Kathleen Wynne’s written pledges to Ontarians with disabilities were she to become Ontario’s Premier are set out in Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, which is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp

The Ontario Liberal Government’s 2011 disability accessibility election pledges are set out in former Premier McGuinty’s August 19, 2011 letter to the AODA Alliance, available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220111.asp

The Ontario Liberal Government’s 2007 election promises to Ontarians with disabilities are set out in former Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 letter to the AODA Alliance, available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09142007.asp
2. Our Specific Questions to the By-election Candidates of the Major Parties

The questions we tweeted to all candidates of the major parties in the August 1, 2013 Ontario by-elections, emailed far and wide, and posted on our website, are:

1. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the Disabilities Act to make Ontario’s education system fully accessible to students, parents, and education staff with disabilities?

2. Will you support our call for the Government to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard to make our health care system’s services fully accessible to patients and health care providers with disabilities?

3. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard to address our crisis of accessible housing in Ontario?

4. Will you support our call for the Government to act now to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act, and to reveal its plans for enforcing this important law?

5. Will you support our call for the Government to now implement effective action to ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers?
3. Analysis of The Parties’ Responses
a) The New Democratic Party

On behalf of the NDP, Percy Hatfield, NDP candidate in the Windsor-Tecumseh riding, said he supports the Government developing accessibility standards under the AODA to address disability barriers in education, health care, and residential housing. He agrees that the Government should now effectively enforce the AODA and should reveal plans for doing so. He agrees that the Ontario Government should act effectively to ensure that public money isn’t used to finance the creation or perpetuation of barriers against people with disabilities.
b) The Liberal Party

The response we received from the Ontario Liberal Party came from Peter Milczen, candidate in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore riding. He did not give any of the specific commitments we sought.

We asked him to support our call that the Ontario Government develop new accessibility standards in education, health care, and residential housing. He responded that the Government has appointed a new Accessibility Standards Advisory Council. It can advise the Government on “new accessibility initiatives.”

This is not the commitment we seek. The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC) has existed since shortly after the AODA was enacted in 2005. The Government has had years to ask that Council for advice on whether new standards are needed in these three areas. We are advised that the previous minister responsible for the AODA didn’t even personally meet with that Council during the entire time he held that responsibility, from November 2011 to February 2013. We raised our request for these three new standards with that previous minister, as well as with the current minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins. Dr. Hoskins has had this responsibility since mid-February 2013.

Moreover, contrary to the requirements of the AODA, the Government failed to appoint all the new members to that Council until some six months after it dissolved the previous Council. It cannot fail to appoint that Council for over six months and then claim it now needs time to consult that Council.

Even ignoring that hole in the Government’s position, if the Government wanted to run our three proposals for new accessibility standards by the new members of ASAC, they have had sufficient time to do so since the new members of ASAC were belatedly appointed.

After all the Government’s unexplained and unjustified delays, Mr. Milczen offers only more unwarranted delays. He himself offers no position on our request. It is the Government’s responsibility, and not ASAC’s, to decide what new accessibility standards to develop next. Even if the individuals that the Government appointed to ASAC personally preferred to address other sectors of the economy, they don’t have a veto in this area.

Mr. Milczen’s position flies in the face of the Government’s January 21, 2013 commitment that the decision of what accessibility standards ASAC would next make would be based on advice and feedback that the Government had already received from stakeholders as of January 21, 2013. Our January 21, 2013 AODA Alliance Update explained the Government’s news release in that way. The Government has never suggested that we incorrectly explained its announcement. Our January 21, 2013 AODA Alliance Update stated:

“What is new today, and a positive step (though an overdue one), is this news release’s commitment in unequivocal terms that new standards will be developed under the AODA. The news release states that the new ASAC’s mandate will include, among other things, responsibility to ‘Develop new accessibility standards based on the advice and feedback we have received to date from stakeholders.’ By stating that the new standards will be created ‘based on the advice and feedback we have received to date,’ the Government is committing that there does not need to be any more consultations before it decides what the topic of the new accessibility standards will be.”

You can read the AODA Alliance’s January 21, 2013 Update by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01212013.asp

Mr. Milczen’s email to us also recites measures that education organizations must now take under existing accessibility standards. Neither he nor the Government responds to our uncontradicted position that existing accessibility standards, while helpful, don’t address all barriers in Ontario’s education system and won’t ensure that our education system is fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, as the AODA requires. We anticipate that this is why both the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) and the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) have supported our call for a new Education Accessibility Standard. ETFO’s support for an Education Accessibility Standard is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07162013.asp OCUFA’s support for an Education Accessibility Standard is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06282013.asp

Mr. Milczen does not say he supports our call for the Government to now act to effectively enforce the AODA, and to make public its plans for doing so. He evasively stated: “Our goal is to support organizations in meeting their accessibility requirements across the province. Our government works directly with organizations by providing free tools and resources to help organizations understand and meet their accessibility requirements. Organizations are responsible for submitting online self-certified reports indicating their compliance with the accessibility standards. Failing to do so may result in monetary penalties and/or prosecution through the courts.”

We wrote the Government fully 187 days ago, to ask for its plans for enforcing the AODA. We have received no answer in over half a year since then. Mr. Milczen refers to the Government’s enforcement powers, but not to any specific plans to use them. This flies in the face of Kathleen Wynne’s commitment to us in writing on December 3, 2012 that she would keep all the Liberal Government’s commitments on disability accessibility. That, of course, includes the commitments for effective enforcement of the AODA.

In response to our request for a specific commitment to support our call for the Government to implement action to ensure that public money is not used to create new disability barriers, or to perpetuate existing barriers, Mr. Milczen evasively stated:

“Ontario is one of the first regions in the world to take a proactive approach to accessibility and it was our government is committed to making accessibility a priority. Our goal is not only to help organizations meet their accessibility requirements; but to integrate and celebrate what an accessible spaces can do for business, for economic prosperity and for anyone living in Ontario with a disability. We are committed to a fair and transparent government and we recognize that inclusion and equality have a broad and sustaining social and economic impact for Ontario as a whole.”

We remain eager to receive a better response from Ontario’s governing Liberal party.

3. The Progressive Conservative Party

No candidate from the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party answered our questions. We tweeted the questions to them. We later sent further tweets to each of them alerting them that no Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate had answered our disability accessibility questions.

On July 14, 2013, Matt Young, the PC candidate in the Ottawa South riding, sent us a tweet that said: “@aodaalliance can you please forward your request via email with a little more background please so we can answer effectively?” However, no email address was provided for us to write. We responded with a tweet to Matt Young giving our email address to try to facilitate follow-up, but received no further response. We remain eager to receive a response on behalf of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party.

For a comparison of the commitments on disability accessibility of the major parties in the 2011 Ontario general election, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220115.asp
4. Text of the July 23, 2013 Email from New Democratic Party Candidate Percy Hatfield to the AODA Alliance

(NOTE: Percy Hatfield is the New Democratic Party candidate in the Windsor—Tecumseh by-election.)

Dear David Lepofsky, and the AODA Alliance,

Ontario’s New Democrats are proud of the work we have done to improve accessibility in Ontario through our work at Queen’s Park and in the communities across our province. We have worked closely with AODAA in the past and look forward to a continued relationship with your organization.

New Democrats can unequivocally answer YES to all of the questions that you have posed. Building a truly accessible province that effectively enforces and strengthens – where possible – the AODA, is of utmost important to the Ontario NDP.

Sincerely,

Percy Hatfield,
NDP Candidate, Windsor-Tecumseh
percyhatfield.com

1. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the Disabilities Act to make Ontario’s education system fully accessible to students, parents, and education staff with disabilities?

YES

2. Will you support our call for the Government to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard to make our health care system’s services fully accessible to patients and health care providers with disabilities?

YES

2. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard to address our crisis of accessible housing in Ontario?

YES

3. will you support our call for the Government to act now to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act, and to reveal its plans for enforcing this important law?

YES

4. Will you support our call for the Government to now implement effective action to ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers?

YES
5. Text of the July 23, 2013 Email from Liberal Candidate Peter Milczyn to the AODA Alliance

NOTE: Peter Milczyn is the Liberal candidate in the Etobicoke-Lakeshore by-election)

Hi there,

Your by-election survey was brought to my attention by a volunteer, and since accessibility is an important issue to me, I wanted to make sure that your organization received a response from myself and the Ontario Liberals of Etobicoke-Lakeshore. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to be in touch.

-Peter Milczyn

1. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the Disabilities Act to make Ontario’s education system fully accessible to students, parents, and education staff with disabilities?

Our government announced the creation of a new Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee which we formally announced on July 5th 2013. This new body will have the power to advise government on new accessibility initiatives. This new structure will allow us to streamline and strengthen the way we review and develop standards and we look forward to their recommendations on new accessibility initiatives for ways we can advance accessibility standards in Ontario.

Five accessibility standards are now law under the AODA: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation, and the design of public spaces, but we know we can do more.

Regarding our education system specifically, school boards are required to develop multiyear accessibility plans outlining their strategy to prevent and remove barriers, and to meet the requirements of the AODA. School boards and educational institutions are also required to provide educators with accessibility awareness training related to accessible program or course delivery and instruction. Finally, realizing that transportation can often be a difficulty for Ontarians with accessibility issues, each school board is required to develop individual school transportation plans for each student with a disability.

2. Will you support our call for the Government to develop a Health Care Accessibility Standard to make our health care system’s services fully accessible to patients and health care providers with disabilities?

As mentioned above, our government announced the creation of a new Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee which we formally announced on July 5th 2013. This new body will have the power to advise government on new accessibility initiatives.

Five accessibility standards are now law under the AODA: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation, and the design of public spaces, but we know we can do more. Our government is committed to enhancing accessibility standards across Ontario and we will continue working with our stakeholders to ensure that accessibility is integrated into all we do in Ontario.

3. Will you support our call for the Ontario Government to develop a Residential Housing Accessibility Standard to address our crisis of accessible housing in Ontario?

As mentioned above, our government announced the creation of a new Accessibility Standards Advisory Council/Standards Development Committee which we formally announced on July 5th 2013. This new body will have the power to advise government on new accessibility initiatives. This new structure will allow us to streamline and strengthen the way we review and develop standards and we look forward to their recommendations on new accessibility initiatives for ways we can advance accessibility standards in Ontario.

Five accessibility standards are now law under the AODA: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation, and the design of public spaces, but we know we can do more.

Residential Housing is obviously a critical area of concern for all Ontarians. Our government will soon be introducing a suite of changes to the Building Code that will increase accessibility in new buildings in Ontario. These changes are part of our commitment under the AODA to achieve the goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.

4. Will you support our call for the Government to act now to effectively enforce the Disabilities Act, and to reveal its plans for enforcing this important law?

Our goal is to support organizations in meeting their accessibility requirements across the province. Our government works directly with organizations by providing free tools and resources to help organizations understand and meet their accessibility requirements. Organizations are responsible for submitting online self-certified reports indicating their compliance with the accessibility standards. Failing to do so may result in monetary penalties and/or prosecution through the courts.

5. Will you support our call for the Government to now implement effective action to ensure that public money is never used to create new barriers against people with disabilities, or to perpetuate existing barriers?

Ontario is one of the first regions in the world to take a proactive approach to accessibility and it was our government is committed to making accessibility a priority. Our goal is not only to help organizations meet their accessibility requirements; but to integrate and celebrate what an accessible spaces can do for business, for economic prosperity and for anyone living in Ontario with a disability. We are committed to a fair and transparent government and we recognize that inclusion and equality have a broad and sustaining social and economic impact for Ontario as a whole.