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AODA Alliance’s 2011 Year-End Report – Where We’ve Been and Where We’re Headed

January 4, 2012

1. INTRODUCTION

Let us take the start of this new year to reflect back on what we accomplished in 2011. Let’s also look forward to our major priorities in 2012. To see what we thought one year ago about our priorities for 2011, and how we reflected back on 2010, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01292011.asp

2. WHAT WE ACCOMPLISHED IN 2011

2011 was yet another busy year for all of us who advocate for a fully-accessible Ontario for persons with disabilities.

a) Advocating for Enactment of Strong Accessibility Standards

Much of the first half of 2011 was taken up with advocating for the passage of a strong and effective accessibility standard to address the barriers that over 1.5 million Ontarians with disabilities face in the areas of transportation, information and communication, and employment. On February 1, 2011, the McGuinty Government released its final draft of the Integrated Accessibility Regulation (IAR) that it was considering enacting to address these areas. This regulation had been under development for four years.

Under provisions of the AODA that our community won back in 2005, the McGuinty Government had to solicit public feedback on this draft before enacting this regulation. We rapidly assembled a brief specifying the changes to the draft IAR that we wanted, drawing on several earlier briefs that we had prepared in consultation with our supporters around Ontario. As in the past, our new brief became a leading focus for others advocating for accessibility in Ontario. Our brief was even endorsed by the Ontario Human Rights Commission, the Ontario Government’s flagship public agency for advocating on reforms needed to meet the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code. You can see our brief at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03112011.asp

Last year, the only major public, vocal push-back against this regulation came from Ontario’s public transit providers and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO). Both sectors are funded by the public. It is troubling whenever public money is used in opposition to measures to promote accessibility.

At our request, our supporters urged several municipalities to distance themselves from this unfortunate backward-looking resistance to the draft IAR. If anything, the draft IAR needed to be strengthened, not weakened. Commendably, the mayor and city council of Sarnia, Ontario expressly distanced themselves from the AMO’s position. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05172011.asp

As a major step forward in our campaign for accessibility, on June 3, 2011, the McGuinty Government enacted the Integrated Accessibility Regulation. It did not include all the improvements that we wanted. However, it did include helpful changes to the February 1, 2011 draft –changes we had requested. We commend the McGuinty Government for not giving in to the unwarranted pressure from AMO and the public transit sector to weaken the draft IAR. To see the final Integrated Accessibility Regulation, which is now in effect as law in Ontario, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06032011.asp

b) Preventing Use of Public Money to Create or Maintain Barriers against People with Disabilities

In the summer of 2011, we achieved another important victory for which we have been working for years. We have been trying for some time to get the Ontario Government to adopt a comprehensive strategy to ensure that no public money is ever used to create, perpetuate, or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities. We want a comprehensive strategy for the Ontario Government in two areas: when it spends public money or gives grants to other organizations to spend money on capital infrastructure, and when it spends public money to procure goods, services and facilities for use by the Ontario Public Service or the Ontario public.

On June 24, 2011, the McGuinty Government announced its Ten Year Infrastructure Plan for Ontario. As a key term in that Plan, any built environment constructed with Ontario Government infrastructure funding, whether built by the Ontario Government or some other organization that gets capital funding from Ontario, must ensure that the construction is accessible to persons with disabilities where feasible. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07042011.asp Of course, it is always feasible!

In the 2011 Ontario election, about which we say more below, we convinced the McGuinty Government to commit to extend this accessibility requirement to information technology and electronic kiosks. This too is an important victory for us. In the past two years, the Ontario Government unwisely used public money to develop a new system of electronic kiosks for paying public transit fares, the Presto Smart Card, that includes barriers to accessibility that should have been prevented.

c) Fighting Unexpected Setbacks

While tackling these major issues, we also continued to fight for accessibility in Ontario on other unexpected fronts. Here are two examples: First, last spring, we were shocked to learn that the Ontario Government quietly cancelled the Ontario Public Service Employment Accommodation Fund. It finances workplace accommodations for Ontario public servants with disabilities. As a result of our prompt intervention, the Ontario Government backed down and restored this Fund. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 requires that this Fund be maintained.

Second, by the end of June 2011, the McGuinty Government was required to appoint an Independent Review of the way that Ontario’s Human Rights Code is enforced in Ontario. We were in the lead in advocating in 2006 for this Independent Review to be mandated by the Human Rights Code. We had been strong opponents to Bill 107 back in 2006. This is , because that McGuinty Government bill took away from persons with disabilities and other discrimination victims their right to have discrimination complaints publicly investigated, and where the evidence warrants it, publicly prosecuted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

We were very troubled to learn in the summer of 2011 that the Ontario Government chose a staunch and vigourous proponent of Bill 107,and a tenacious opponent to the AODA Alliance’s position on human rights enforcement to conduct this Independent Review, Toronto lawyer Andrew Pinto. For more on this, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/08292011.asp

Despite our serious concerns with this choice, we wrote last fall to Mr. Pinto and the three major public agencies responsible for enforcing the Human Rights Code. We offered constructive proposals and sought disclosure of information needed to enable the public, including the disability community, to take part in this Independent Review. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11172011.asp and http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11152011.asp

d) Campaigning on Accessibility in the October 2011 Ontario Election

As the October 6, 2011 Ontario general election approached, we turned our attention to our goal of securing strong commitments for accessibility from all the major political parties. As we, or our predecessor (the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee), have done in each Ontario election since 1995, we launched a non-partisan strategy. We aimed to ensure that no matter who won the election, Ontarians with disabilities could make gains on accessibility over the next four years.

We wrote to all the major parties in advance of the election, setting out a detailed list of election commitments that we were seeking. We asked each party to commit that if elected, they would move us forward towards a fully accessible Ontario, and wouldn’t cut any of the gains we had won to date. See http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07192011.asp

On the eve of the formal start of the fall election campaign, September 2, 2011, we held a news conference at Queen’s Park to unveil the commitments that we had received. You can watch that news conference at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09192011.asp

We got election commitments from all the major parties except the Progressive Conservative Party. You can read a comparison of the parties’ commitments to us at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220115.asp

We focused our efforts over the next five weeks on convincing the Conservatives to make accessibility election commitments. As in the past, our goal was not to elect or defeat any party or candidate, but to secure the best commitments from all parties for persons with disabilities.

We secured good media coverage of our efforts, including an interview on TVOntario’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin,” which you can watch at
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lB3yTuq1ErE We also got coverage in the Toronto Star, CP 2, and CFRB Radio.

We released an election action kit for our supporters to use across Ontario. It is full of ideas on how our supporters around Ontario could raise our issues in the election campaign. You can read it at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09162011.asp We also successfully launched ourselves on Twitter, set up a Youtube channel, and beefed up our presence on Facebook, with promising results. Through these social media, we have new followers around Ontario, elsewhere in Canada, and in other countries.

As a result of all these efforts by us and our supporters, the Conservative Party eventually made commitments on retaining the AODA and regulations enacted under it. However that party still made no commitments to specific action to improve accessibility. We summarized what we accomplished in the 2011 election campaign at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10072011.asp

e) Getting the 2011 election Pledges Implemented

With the election behind us, we devoted the last weeks of 2011 to getting the re-elected Liberal Government to keep its 2011 election commitments to us. You can see those pledges at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/090220111.asp We wrote the new Community and Social Services Minister, John Milloy, to list priorities for implementing the AODA. He has a big challenge ahead. He took on this new portfolio with his Government already clearly behind schedule in implementing this legislation. Our letter to him is at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11012011.asp

We also wrote several other Ontario cabinet ministers, to list for them the priority activities for which they are responsible to keep the McGuinty Government’s 2011 election promises to us. Those letters are available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12052011.asp

We turned our attention as well to ways that persons with disabilities could benefit from the fact that Ontario now has a minority government. We started work on getting the New Democratic Party to keep its election commitment to introduce amendments to Ontario’s Election Act to make Ontario elections fully accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities. We will work with all parties on any bill that is introduced into the Legislature on this issue. To support this effort, we wrote Elections Ontario for an update on their efforts in important areas like investigating accessible telephone and internet voting. Despite Elections Ontario’s repeated commitments to openness and accountability, its response to us was largely uninformative. Visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11252011.asp

3. PRIORITIES FOR 2012

In this new year, we will need to devote a great deal of effort towards getting the existing accessibility standards implemented and enforced that the Government has already passed under the AODA. We also need to focus on getting additional accessibility standards enacted, especially in the areas of the built environment, health, education and residential accommodations.

We need to advocate to each of the several Ontario ministries that are responsible for implementing Premier McGuinty’s 2011 election pledges on accessibility for persons with disabilities. We also need to focus on getting the Government to fully and effectively implement the recommendations of the 2009 Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. Our analysis of that report is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06032010.asp

To advance our 13-year-old campaign for fully accessible elections, we will work on getting Ontario’s new minority Legislature to pass amendments to the Elections Act to tear down barriers to accessible voting and election campaigns.

Finally, we will aim to take full part in the Independent Review of Ontario Human Rights enforcement process, and to get others to do the same, despite our serious concerns about that review.

No doubt, other issues will crop up that we cannot now predict. Campaigning for accessibility in Ontario is always full of surprises!

4. LOOKING FORWARD TO WORKING WITH YOU

As in the past, we, a voluntary community coalition, cannot advocate for individuals in connection with each of the many individual barriers they face. However, each of our major strategies is aimed at putting place meaningful efforts that will help tear down those barriers.

We again thank one and all for your efforts in support of our cause last year. We look forward with optimism and enthusiasm to working with you again this year. We wish one and all a happy and accessible year! We always welcome your feedback. Email us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO