AODA Alliance Presses Two Cabinet Ministers on Plans to Finalize the Overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard That the McGuinty Government Last August Promised to Enact “Promptly”
June 4, 2012
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires Ontario’s buildings to become accessible to persons with disabilities by or before 2025. To achieve this, for several years the McGuinty Government has been developing a Built Environment Accessibility Standard to enact under the AODA.
On August 19, 2011, during last year’s Ontario election campaign, Premier Dalton McGuinty wrote us to promise that the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that his Government had under development would be enacted “promptly.” To see Premier McGuinty’s 2011 disability accessibility election pledges, which were set out in his August 19, 2011 letter to us, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220111.asp
We continue in our efforts to get the McGuinty Government to keep this election pledge. On Friday, June 1, 2012, the AODA Alliance wrote the two Ontario Government cabinet Ministers responsible to finalize the overdue Built Environment Accessibility Standard, to press for its enactment. This letter to Community and Social Services Minister John Milloy and Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister Kathleen Wynne, set out below, raises five key issues:
1. We asked when the Government will be publicly posting a draft of the proposed Built Environment Accessibility Standard for public comment.
2. We asked the Government as soon as possible to release a summary of the intended contents of the proposed Built Environment Accessibility Standard, in advance of finalizing its precise legal language.
3. The Government plans to enact part of the new Built Environment Accessibility Standard in the form of amendments to the Ontario Building code. We asked the Government to commit that any new accessibility requirements to be added to the Ontario Building Code also be enacted as part of the enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard enacted under the AODA.
4. We asked the Government to include in the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, a requirement that when public sector organizations engage in downsizing of their buildings holdings, they give priority to closing inaccessible properties in favour of retaining more accessible properties.
5. The forthcoming Built Environment Accessibility Standard will not require retrofitting of any existing buildings that are not undergoing major renovations. We asked for a clear commitment now that as soon as the part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that addresses the sphere of the Ontario Building Code is enacted, the Government will immediately launch a prompt standards development process to develop a part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard to deal with retrofitting of existing buildings that are not slated for major renovations.
We last wrote the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing for her plans for finalizing the Built Environment Accessibility Standard back on December 2, 2011. To see the AODA Alliance’s December 2, 2011 letter to the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12052011.asp
The minister’s response to that letter gave little detail. To read the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister’s January 17, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05042012.asp
For a chronology and summary of key events in the Government’s efforts at developing the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, and its earlier commitments on completing that project, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082011.asp
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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @aodaalliance
June 1, 2012
via email: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
Hon. John Milloy, Minister
Community and Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1E9
Hon. Kathleen Wynne, Minister
Municipal Affairs & Housing
17th Floor, College Park
777 Bay Street
Toronto, Ontario M5G 2E5
Re: Built Environment Accessibility Standard
We write to ask important questions concerning your Government’s work on developing the promised Build Environment Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Both of you as ministers, and both of your ministries, are involved in the development of this important accessibility standard.
Minister Wynne’s January 17, 2012 letter to us gave very little in the way of specifics on the Government’s plans. Each of the issues we raise here appears to require policy directions from you as ministers.
We have been told that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing has responsibility for developing the part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that falls within the scope of the Ontario Building Code. We were also told that the Ministry of Community and Social Services has responsibility for developing the part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that deals with areas that the Building Code doesn’t cover, such as outdoor spaces. We understand that your Government is considering bringing forward two separate standards, one to address each of these parts, rather than one single standard.
We would welcome answers to the following issues:
1. We want to know when the Government will be publicly posting a draft of either or both of these two parts of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, for public comment. The AODA requires that the Government post a proposed accessibility standard for public comment before it can enact it.
The Built Environment Accessibility Standard is long overdue. On June 1, 2010, the previous Community and Social Services Minister committed that the Built Environment Accessibility Standard and the other accessibility standards then under development would be enacted by the end of 2010. The Built Environment Accessibility Standard still remains to be enacted.
In the 2011 Ontario general election campaign, Premier McGuinty promised that this standard would be enacted “promptly.” That election took place nine months ago. We believe that “promptly” has already come and gone.
2. We ask the Government as soon as possible to release a summary of the intended contents of the two parts of the proposed Built Environment Accessibility Standard, in advance of finalizing its precise legal language. The Government commendably took a similar step in 2010 as it was finalizing the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. In making this request, we don’t want this to delay in any way the finalization of this standard. We are concerned that the Built Environment Accessibility Standard will be highly technical. It would therefore be very helpful for the Government to let the public know as soon as possible in non-technical language about the policy direction that the Government is considering heading.
3. We understand that the Government is planning to enact the part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that falls within the scope of the Ontario Building Code, by amending the Building Code itself. We have no objection to this, so long as the Government also enacts the very same requirements as an accessibility standard, passed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We urge this for four reasons:
First, we want to have access to the full enforcement/compliance regime that we won in the AODA. Unless these accessibility requirements for buildings are set out in an accessibility standard enacted under the AODA, we will have no access to those enforcement/compliance provisions.
Second, we want to have all the AODA’s protections of a review of these accessibility requirements every five years by a Standards Development Committee whose membership includes 50% representation of persons with disabilities. Third, we want the effectiveness of the entire Built Environment Accessibility Standard to be subject to the periodic Independent Review process that section 41 of the AODA requires. Fourth, we want the AODA’s protection that the accessibility standard cannot be altered without the rights of participation by the disability community that the AODA enshrines.
If these key building accessibility requirements are only enacted in the Building Code, but not in a parallel AODA accessibility standard, we will be unfairly denied all these entitlements and safeguards. We fought long and hard for those safeguards in the AODA. We do not want the Government through this process to, in effect, exempt from that future review the vital area of building accessibility that falls within the Building Code’s scope.
We see no downside to our proposal. Builders will not face conflicting requirements. This is because the same accessibility requirements will be enshrined both in the Building Code and the Built Environment Accessibility Standard.
The fact that the Building Code has its own compliance/enforcement regime doesn’t take away from the benefit of also having access to the AODA accessibility standard enforcement/compliance regime.
During the 2004-2005 debates in the Legislature over Bill 118, the proposed AODA, many Government statements about what would be achieved under that legislation focused on making buildings physically accessible. It is vital that the Government not now carve a large part of that field right out of the AODA.
The Building Code has historically lagged behind in the area of disability accessibility. Those responsible for keeping the Building Code up to date chronically did not do so in the disability context. That is what produced the pressing need for a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA. We don’t want to revert back to sole reliance on the failed regulatory regime that produced that longstanding and systemic deficiency in this area.
We therefore ask your Government to commit that any new accessibility requirements to be added to the Ontario Building Code also be enacted in an enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard enacted under the AODA.
4. We ask your Government to include in the Built Environment Accessibility Standard, a requirement that when public sector organizations engage in downsizing of their buildings holdings, they give priority to closing inaccessible properties in favour of retaining more accessible properties. For example, some school boards are closing some of their school buildings due to declining numbers of students. If a school board is considering closing some of its school buildings, the Built Environment Accessibility Standard should require wherever possible that the school board close schools that are more inaccessible, and keep open more accessible schools. It would be wrong, and a huge waste of public money, to close a school that has an elevator, and leave open a school that is only accessible via flights of stairs. The public sector should show this kind of leadership by not managing public infrastructure in a way that makes Ontario more inaccessible.
5. We seek a clear commitment now that as soon as the part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that addresses the sphere of the Ontario Building Code is enacted, the Government will immediately launch a prompt standards development process to develop a part of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard to deal with retrofitting of existing buildings that are not slated for major renovations.
When the Government first established the Built Environment Standards Development Committee, we understand that it only gave that Committee a mandate to develop accessibility proposals for new buildings or for major renovations of existing buildings. This raised serious concerns for persons with disabilities. Many if not most barriers in the built environment are in existing buildings which are not undergoing major renovations. The Built Environment Accessibility Standard provisions that are now under development will leave those barriers entirely intact. It will not require the removal of such barriers even if this can be readily achieved at little cost. That impedes the achievement of accessibility for many Ontarians with disabilities.
The AODA requires the Government to enact accessibility standards that will achieve a fully accessible Ontario by 2025. This includes achieving full accessibility of the built environment. The provisions of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard that are now under development will not be able to come close to achieving this, no matter how strong and effective they are, because they won’t require retrofit of any existing buildings that are not undergoing major renovations.
During 2004-2005 debates in the Legislature over the proposed AODA, the Government justified setting a long twenty-year deadline for achieving full accessibility in no small part because it would take that long to address the many current barriers in existing buildings. Yet, fully seven years into that twenty-year period, we have no requirements for retrofitting those buildings, if not undergoing a major renovation, and no such requirements under development.
It was clear during Second Reading debates in the Legislature on Bill 118, the proposed AODA, that your Government intended to address retrofitting of existing buildings to achieve accessibility. For example, on November 18, 2004, during Second Reading debates on bill 118, Khalil Ramal, Parliamentary Assistant to Citizenship Minister Marie Bountrogianni (the minister who was sponsoring that bill), described tangible results that we should expect:
“If passed, this legislation would make a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities….a parent who uses a wheelchair and attends a school play could sit in the main seating area to watch his or her children perform; a teenager who uses an ambulatory device could take a regular bus with a friend to go to a movie at the local mall; or an elderly patient who has diminished vision and uses a scooter could make his way into a medical building through a ramp and an automatic door that are clearly marked with large print signs and then take an elevator with voice commands and a lowered button panel as he goes to have an X ray.”
Similarly, on that same day, Ms. Wynne, you said: “So we need to make sure that there’s access for children in every part of this province to the schools that they need to go to, to the colleges, to the universities. That’s a critical piece of this because we have got to educate the whole province, and in order to do that, we’ve got to make sure that students can get to those institutions of learning.”
Your Government committed in July 2009 to address barriers in existing buildings through the standards development process after it completes the first round of development of the Built Environment Accessibility Standard. The McGuinty Government commitment on the future development of accessibility standards to address retrofits of existing buildings is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07242009.asp
We want the Government to let us know what specific concrete steps it will undertake to that end, and when they will be taken.
As always, we are eager to do whatever we can to assist. We are pleased to discuss them at any time. These steps are important if Ontario is to get back on schedule for achieving full accessibility by 2025.
David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
cc: Premier Dalton McGuinty, fax (416) 325-3745, email@example.com
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5240, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, Ministry of Community and Social Services, fax (416) 325-9620, email@example.com
William Forward, Deputy Minister, Municipal Affairs & Housing, firstname.lastname@example.org
Elizabeth Harding, Assistant Deputy Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Municipal Services Division, email@example.com
Brenda Lewis, Director, Building and Development Branch, Municipal Services Division, Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, Brenda.Lewis@ontario.ca
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