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Council Angry Over AODA Proposals

Hefty fines, extra costs possible for municipality

By Rita Marshall
Posted October 6, 2010

Not even an adorable puppy could distract West Perth council from the “stick” behind the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Shelby Wilson, accessibility coordinator for Perth County, combined training a service dog with seeking input from council on proposed AODA regulations
at council’s Sept. 27 meeting.

And while the puppy may have warmed hearts, the proposed rules, including hefty fines for individuals and organizations, extra costs and extra requirements, raised tempers.

Under the Act’s proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation, West Perth would be required to develop and maintain policies for accessibility standards
on information and communications, employment and transportation.

West Perth would also have to create training material and train all employees, something Wilson advised could be costly, especially if the municipality
has to pay overtime to train.

Wilson added that as part of the AODA information and communications requirements, the municipality would have to provide all information in an accessible format.

The requirements include websites conforming to Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. Deputy Mayor Gerry Kehl asked if West Perth’s recently rebuilt website would have to be re-done again.

“I’m not saying that,” said Wilson.

Wilson did advise council that if someone wanted to attend a council meeting and needed a sign language interpreter, West Perth would have to pay. Similarly, if someone needed a sign language interpreter or specialized equipment or training material during an interview process, that would also be at West Perth’s cost under the proposed employment requirements. Wilson told council that the costs “could be huge”.

Under the transportation requirements, a passage dealing with private taxis caused the most uproar.

Wilson explained that West Perth would be responsible for ensuring accessible taxis are available in the municipality.

Deputy mayor Kehl asked if that meant West Perth couldn’t allow any taxi companies without accessible vehicles to operate in town.

“I think they’re saying the municipality and taxi companies have to decide how many [accessible] taxis are necessary for the area,” said Wilson.

Coun. Walter McKenzie reminded Wilson that the Mitchell and Area Mobility Bus provides transportation for people with disabilities.

“Why are we dictating to private enterprise?” he asked.

In return, Wilson asked if the Mobility Bus runs 24 hours a day the way a private taxi service does. Vicky Wolfe-Hinz, the Mobility Bus coordinator, told
the Advocate that the service has regular service hours from Monday to Friday, with the potential to run 24 hours, especially when the service works with
Stratford’s EasyRide. Booking during charter hours requires a bit of advance planning, said Wolfe-Hinz.

The fines for disobeying the regulations are $2,000 a day for an individual and $15,000 a day for a corporation if the offense is a major impact of violation and part of a major compliance history.

A major impact of violation is any violation of requirements that the government considers a priority, such as a possible threat to safety. A major compliance history is more than six previous contraventions or a person or organization who is a “known offender.”

Wilson advised council that the AODA would not diminish any other legal obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code or other laws, and that there was still “a perfect chance for someone to come along and sue you.”

“So what’s the value then?” asked Coun. Bert Vorstenbosch Jr.

“That’s why I’m here to get your feedback. The value is to try and help people with disabilities not to help municipalities, I guess,” said Wilson, adding
that there is currently such a lawsuit in progress in Cambridge.

Coun. Don Jones told Wilson to tell the Ministry of Community and Social Services that West Perth wanted the AODA regulations to absolve them of other legal obligations.

Coun. Jeff Marshall questioned why no one from the Ministry of Community and Social Services was explaining the Integrated Accessibility Regulation and seeking input, instead of having the county do the work for them.

The proposed regulations were released for public review on Sept. 2 and input can be given until Oct. 16. The provincial government has not yet decided
when the standards will become law.

“This is a big enough change that they should actually be out listening to people,” he said.

Wilson said the ministry sends out emails and posts information on government websites.

Deputy mayor Kehl, who said he was left “scratching his head” after hearing a ministry representative speak about the proposals at a conference, agreed
with Coun. Marshall.

“They’re throwing it on your shoulders,” he told Wilson. “You take the flack. They sit in their offices sipping a Starbucks and you go home with ulcers.”

Coun. Bert Vorstenbosch Jr. told Wilson that accessibility is a good thing, but the proposals weren’t the right way to go about it, comparing the impact
on municipalities and businesses to “hitting them with a stick.”

Article ID# 2788392

Reproduced from http://www.mitchelladvocate.com/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=2788392