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Even More Media Coverage of Problems with Accessible Customer Service in Ontario

and the Wynne Government’s Failure to Take the Action that 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities Need What the Media Reported and What You Can Do to Help This Cause

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
www.aodaalliance.org, aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

April 23, 2016

SUMMARY

1. More Media Coverage on Recurring Denials of Accessible Customer Service in Ontario

Recent media coverage, set out below, once again shows the harm Ontarians with disabilities must suffer, because of the Wynne Government’s ongoing failure to keep its promise to effectively enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

This week, both Global TV and CITY-TV news separately shone the spotlight on Customer Service barriers that still face Ontarians with disabilities, nine years after the Wynne Government passed the Customer Service Accessibility Standard under the AODA. We applaud Global’s and CITY-TV’s “watchdog” coverage.

Over one year ago, Global TV’s hard-hitting reporter Christina Stevens prepared a record-breaking seven installment series of TV news reports on the unfair obstacles facing too many people with disabilities in Ontario when they try to get accessible Customer Service in places like restaurants. Those earlier reports focused on the Wynne Government’s failure to effectively enforce the AODA. Read the text of the 2015 Global News coverage of Customer Service barriers.

You can also watch the 2015 series of Global News series of reports on Customer Service barriers facing people with disabilities, with captioning, Part 1 and Part 2.

Global News’ Christina Stevens has just updated her 2015 coverage, one year later, in three reports that ran on the evening news in Toronto on April 18, 19 and 20, 2016. Below we set out the text of those reports.

These reports show that:

* One restaurant chain which had been covered in last year’s reports, gave the Global News reporter quite a run-around when trying to ask about the chain’s accessible Customer Service practices. Yet under the AODA’s Customer Service Accessibility Standard, such organizations are supposed to have a Customer Service feedback process. A feedback process is hardly effective if it is so difficult to reach a human being to converse.

* One year after Toronto Police were caught out, unaware of their duty to investigate certain guide dog-related service refusals, Global News found that Toronto Police seemed still oblivious to this duty, despite claiming to have cleaned up its act. Again, the reporter described an official run-around when trying to get to the bottom of this with Toronto Police.

* Global News then focused on the Wynne Government’s inadequate implementation and enforcement of the AODA. Its April 20, 2016 report described the AODA Alliance’s concern that the Wynne Government has posted online a proposal to cut back on the already-weak Customer Service Accessibility Standard. Right now, any private sector organization with at least 20 employees must have an accessible Customer Service policy, and must have it available in writing. The Wynne Government has proposed that only private sector organizations with at least 50 employees be required to keep a written copy of its accessible Customer Service policy.

If the Wynne Government passed this, private sector organizations with 20 to 49 employees would have to have an accessible Customer Service policy, but would not have to have it in writing. Of course, if it doesn’t have to be in writing, there is no way for an AODA inspector to prove that the organization did not have a policy on Customer Service accessibility.

In the Global News report, the Wynne Government’s lead AODA enforcer-in-chief, Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid, is quoted as being dismissive about this. The report quotes AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky and then Minister Duguid:

“”So if you go into one of those places and say ‘Do you have a policy?’ all the person has to do is point to their heads and say, ‘Yes, it’s in here’, well, how do you enforce that?” asked David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

“Making them do more paperwork is not the route to go,” added Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

“The key for us is to make sure the businesses are aware of the opportunities of becoming more accessible.”

“The government’s solution when there’s large lawbreaking when there’s ineffective enforcement is promise more and pass regulations which means there’s actually going to be less effective enforcement,” said Lepofsky.

Duguid explained if someone does encounter a problem, there is a provincial line they can call.

“And we will send out enforcement where we can,” said Duguid.

But when Global News called the toll free line and asked if it is linked to enforcement, the operator said they did not have one in place.

She wasn’t even sure where to report the denial of access due to a service dog.”

In an separate April 20, 2016 CITY TV news story on an entirely different Customer Service accessibility problem, the Economic Development Ministry conceded that Ontario still has a long way to go to reach full accessibility. In the story, set out below, is this important admission, with which we fully agree:

“Although we have made progress, there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province,” a Ministry Spokesperson tells CityNews.”

2. Reflecting on these News Stories

It is deeply troubling that the cabinet minister responsible for leading the AODA’s enforcement dismisses this as “more paperwork.” Having a documented policy on accessible Customer Service is far more than mere “paperwork.” If a private sector organization with 20 to 49 employees does not have to have a written policy on accessible Customer Service, for all practical purposes it does not have to have a policy at all. Enforcement will be very difficult if not impossible.

The Government’s proposed cut back to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard would directly violate Premier Wynne’s written promise that she would not reduce any AODA protections. When she was running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party, Kathleen Wynne wrote this in her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance:

“1. Under your leadership, will the Liberal Party fully maintain the implementation of the AODA 2005 and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, and not weaken or reduce any provisions or protections in that legislation or regulations enacted under them, or any policies, practices, strategies or initiatives of or within the Ontario Government that exist to implement them or achieve their objectives?

Yes. I’m committed to building a more accessible Ontario as it is not only the smart thing to do, it’s the right thing to do. I will maintain the implementation of the AODA, 2005 and the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, and not weaken or reduce the progress we’ve made.”
The Wynne Government has a very troubling track record on AODA enforcement. In November 2013, we revealed that the Government knew of rampant AODA violations in the private sector. The Wynne Government was not then issuing any compliance orders or monetary penalties to any private sector organizations, even though its agency with enforcement powers had ample unused budget on hand for this.

In the 2013 fall, the Wynne Government promised to strengthen AODA enforcement, in light of our revelation. Yet after a modest increase in AODA enforcement, Economic Development Minister told us on February 19, 2015 that he was cutting AODA audits by more than one third. He later denied that this amounted to a cutback in AODA enforcement.

After yet more bad press, the Wynne Government announced last summer, on June 3, 2015, that it was going to boost AODA enforcement, starting in 2016, leading to doubling the number of organizations to be audited each year. We have seen no proof that this has happened.

Last fall, Economic Development Minister Duguid announced that the Economic Development Ministry would crack down on employment accessibility barriers at large retail establishments. We have seen no results from this.

Last year, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had to resort to a Freedom of Information application to try to get up-to-date information on the Wynne Government’s AODA enforcement actions and policies. The Government only gave part of what he sought. What the Government released shows that the rampant violations of the AODA in the private sector continued for three years. The Government is still taking paltry action in response, even though it continued to have unused funds available for beefed-up AODA enforcement.

Yet, the Wynne Government still refuses to give over the rest of the information that David Lepofsky requested on the AODA Alliance’s behalf, unless he pays $4,250. The Government’s current AODA enforcement plans must be buried deep down in the Economic Development Ministry if it would take the Government such a great deal of effort to find them, as well as the other information that the Wynne Government continues to hold back. David Lepofsky has appealed this fee to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

In the 2014 Ontario election, Premier Wynne promised to establish and publicize a toll-free number to report AODA violations, as part of AODA enforcement. This was the AODA Alliance’s idea.

After the election, the Wynne Government dragged its feet on keeping this promise. It initially avoided using the word “enforcement” in connection with that toll-free number. We called the Wynne Government out on this, too.

In the April 20, 2016 Global TV story, the Wynne Government has clearly said for the first time that it will send out AODA enforcement in response to a call on that toll-free number, when they can. The report includes:

“Duguid explained if someone does encounter a problem, there is a provincial line they can call.

“And we will send out enforcement where we can,” said Duguid.”

We have not seen any concerted Government effort to publicize the existence of this toll-free line. It is good that the Economic Development Minister linked the line to AODA enforcement, and said they would send out enforcement when they can. We look forward to monitoring to see how the Government acts on this commitment.

Would you like to learn more about the AODA Alliance’s efforts to get the Wynne Government to effectively enforce the AODA, as it promised? Just visit our website’s “What’s New Page” to see the whole story as it has unfolded since 2013.

3. You Can Do Something About this!

We are not giving up! Our campaign to get the Wynne Government to effectively enforce the AODA continues!

Please contact your member of the Ontario Legislature. Tell them we need the Wynne Government to beef up the implementation and enforcement of the AODA. How do you do this? What might you say? We give you all the answers in our latest “Picture Our Barriers” Action Kit. Download it. Read it. Use its great ideas and action tips.

Are you on Twitter? Take pictures of accessibility barriers and then tweet them to your MPP. Use the hashtag #AODAfail. All the tips you need on how to do this, and the email addresses and Twitter handles for all Ontario MPPs, are available on the AODA Alliance’s “Picture Our Barriers” web page.

If you are on Twitter, and don’t have time to write your own tweets about accessibility barriers, there is a quick and easy way you can still help. Sign on to Twitter. Search on the hashtag term #AODAfail. Then re-tweet the tweets that are there. Many are already addressed to members of the Ontario Legislature. When you re-tweet an #AODAfail tweet, it is just like saying “I agree!” The more retweets we get, the better!

You can always send your feedback to us on any AODA and accessibility issue at aodafeedback@gmail.com

Have you taken part in our “Picture Our Barriers campaign? If not, please join in! You can get all the information you need about our “Picture Our Barriers” campaign by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org/2016

To sign up for, or unsubscribe from AODA Alliance e-mail updates, write to: aodafeedback@gmail.com

We encourage you to use the Government’s toll-free number for reporting AODA violations. We fought long and hard to get the Government to promise this, and later to deliver on that promise. If you encounter any accessibility problems at any large retail establishments, it will be especially important to report them to the Government via that toll-free number. Call 1-866-515-2025.

Please pass on our email Updates to your family and friends.

Why not subscribe to the AODA Alliance’s YouTube channel, so you can get immediate alerts when we post new videos on our accessibility campaign. https://www.youtube.com/user/aodaalliance

Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates: https://www.facebook.com/Accessibility-for-Ontarians-with-Disabilities-Act-Alliance-106232039438820/
Follow us on Twitter. Get others to follow us. And please re-tweet our tweets!! @AODAAlliance

Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org

Please also join the campaign for a strong and effective Canadians with Disabilities Act, spearheaded by Barrier-Free Canada. The AODA Alliance is proud to be the Ontario affiliate of Barrier-Free Canada. Sign up for Barrier-Free Canada updates by emailing info@BarrierFreeCanada.org

MORE DETAILS

Global News Toronto April 18, 2016

Originally posted at http://globalnews.ca/news/2648278/woman-challenged-by-tim-hortons-over-guide-dog-last-year-not-happy-with-response/ Woman challenged by Tim Hortons over guide dog last year not happy with response

By Christina Stevens
Senior Reporter
Global News

A year after a Global News series on guide dogs, problems with access and enforcement remain. Christina Stevens reports.

Victoria Nolan’s guide dog Alan is her lifeline.

“Before I had a guide dog I was literally afraid to leave my house,” said Nolan.

But not everyone understands that guide dogs must be permitted in all public places and businesses.

It has been one year since staff at a Lawrence Heights Tim Hortons told Nolan that Alan was not allowed inside.

Tim Hortons later claimed the staff member didn’t realize Alan is a guide dog.

Nolan said the chain apologized and agreed to replace outdated signs, which said “no pets” with new ones saying service animals welcome.

A year later signs were found at nearly all Tim Hortons locations checked by Global News.

You have to look closely though, they are about four centimetres by 11 centimetres. That’s smaller than most smartphones.

Nolan also asked Tim Hortons to update employee training, but says she was told they couldn’t because training is not dealt with nationally.

“I’m a little frustrated by that because obviously they have policies that are nationwide of their merchandising,” said Nolan.

When Global News requested an an interview three weeks ago, Tim Hortons responded with an email which said, in part: “Team Members complete mandatory training on accommodating guests and signage has been updated.”

Since then, Global News has sent more than a dozen emails with follow-up questions.

Tim Hortons has not replied to a single one.

Additionally, when Global News called the chain’s head office, the receptionist refused to forward the call to media relations staff.

We also tried calling and asking for the media relations person.

“This is our procedure going forward. It all goes to an email address,” said the woman who answered the phone.

The owner of a sushi restaurant where another woman, Karoline Bourdeau, had an issue last year invited Global News back to talk. He’s apologized and is volunteering with guide dog training.

Also last year, both women had trouble getting Toronto to enforce its guide dog bylaw.

As a result the city promised to expand the bylaw to include all service dogs, which it has done.

It also promised to better train 311 operators, so they would know that the city should respond.

Global News called 311 three different times and spoke with three different operators.

All three were flawless and knew a bylaw enforcement officer could investigate.

Knowing she’ll get that kind of a response is a huge relief for Nolan.

“It’s scary to put your trust in a dog when you can’t see.”

Global News Toronto April 19, 2016

Originally posted at http://globalnews.ca/news/2649509/some-toronto-police-staff-still-unaware-of-guide-dog-enforcement-one-year-after-global-news-series/ Some Toronto police still unaware of guide dog enforcement despite promise

By Christina Stevens
Senior Reporter
Global News

One year ago Toronto Police promised to ensure all staff are aware of their role in investigating guide dog complaints, Global News went back and put them to the test. Christina Stevens has the results.

A guide dog has opened up whole new worlds to Karoline Bourdeau, but it has challenges of its own.

A year ago when Bourdeau was denied service at a restaurant due to her guide dog, Toronto police refused to investigate, telling her it’s not their job.

To convince police it is their job, Global News had to send them the Blind Person’s Rights Act and show them a statement from the Ministry of the Attorney General.

“We were wrong in this,” admitted police spokesman Const. Victor Kwong.

In March 2015, Toronto police promised to make sure all staff were made aware of their legal obligation to investigate.

One year later Global News called three divisions at random, and asked whether it is a police responsibility to look into denial of service due to a guide dog.

“It’s not, it’s not,” said the person who answered at 23 Division.

It was the same at 42 Division.

“It’s not a police matter as such but it can be brought to the attention of the owner of the restaurant,” was the response at 11 Division.

That came after the officer checked with someone else at the station.

“That’s atrocious. It’s horrible. How could they not know?” was Bourdeau’s reaction to the lack of knowledge.

After Global News’ intervention last year, Bourdeau made a formal complaint at 41 Division.

A call to them revealed even staff at that division didn’t seem to know they could investigate guide dog complaints.

“You have to call 311,” said the officer on the phone.

She is correct, the city can also investigate through bylaw enforcement, but police have a role to play as well.

“It has nothing to do with the police, whatsoever?” the woman was asked.

“No,” she answered.

“I’m sorry, I just find that absolutely unbelievable,” said Bourdeau, recalling how she went personally to 41 Division a year ago, with a Global News camera crew.

Despite multiple requests over several days, Toronto police refused to allow Global News to interview anyone from the police service who is involved with, or responsible for, the training they promised.

Instead a spokesperson was provided to explain how officers were informed.

“This message was conveyed by training day over to all the unit commanders,” said Kwong.

He did not have more specific details.

“I don’t know the exact messaging that was given across,” said Kwong.

Emailing all members the information is not an option.

“If we sent an email for every single message, that would be a lot,” said Kwong.

But police have renewed the training message this year.

That renewal happened after Global News called requesting an interview on the topic.

All of it has left Bourdeau disheartened.

“I don’t know what it’s going to take to get them to understand and properly train their officers.” Global News Toronto April 20, 2016

Originally posted at http://globalnews.ca/news/2652032/despite-ongoing-issues-ontario-plans-to-reduce-small-business-accessibility-requirements/ Despite ongoing issues, Ontario plans to reduce small business accessibility requirements

By Christina Stevens
Senior Reporter
Global News

One year ago, Global News reported on hurdles people with services dogs face. So, we went back to see what the provincial government has done since then. Advocates say Ontario is backtracking on requirements for small businesses. Christina Stevens explains.

For most people, hailing a cab is no big deal, but Diane Bergeron has a guide dog and she says that makes all the difference.

After a hotel doorman hailed a taxi for Bergeron, she said the driver refused to allow her guide dog Lucy on board.

“He just said, ‘No I’m not taking a dog,’ even though I was in full view,” said Bergeron, who works with CNIB, an non-profit rehabilitation agency for the visually impaired.

Bergeron said her dog wears a harness identifying it as a guide dog, but a second cab also refused.

The third one finally took her.

“I am always on edge getting a taxi,” she said.

Bergeron has added her voice to others who said they have been denied various services due to their guide dog.

Provincial legislation, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, protects the rights of people with disabilities.

But critics said the government plans to backtrack on requirements for small businesses.

Currently, companies with more than 20 employees must have a written policy on accessibility.

But that is soon expected to apply only to businesses with more than 50 employees.

“So if you go into one of those places and say ‘Do you have a policy?’ all the person has to do is point to their heads and say, ‘Yes, it’s in here’, well, how do you enforce that?” asked David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

“Making them do more paperwork is not the route to go,” added Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure.

“The key for us is to make sure the businesses are aware of the opportunities of becoming more accessible.”

“The government’s solution when there’s large lawbreaking when there’s ineffective enforcement is promise more and pass regulations which means there’s actually going to be less effective enforcement,” said Lepofsky.

Duguid explained if someone does encounter a problem, there is a provincial line they can call.

“And we will send out enforcement where we can,” said Duguid.

But when Global News called the toll free line and asked if it is linked to enforcement, the operator said they did not have one in place.

She wasn’t even sure where to report the denial of access due to a service dog.

The government is, however, working on a new initiative in a website similar to the popular travel review site TripAdvisor, but for issues of accessibility.

Bergeron also said creating change isn’t all on the government, as everyone can play a role, including the public.

“If they see somebody being refused with a guide dog, help them by making sure that they can come forward as a witness,” she said.

CITY-TV News April 20, 2016

Originally posted at http://www.citynews.ca/2016/04/20/major-gaps-in-ontario-disability-act-when-it-comes-to-service-dogs/ Major gaps in Ontario disability act when it comes to service dogs by Faiza Amin
Every day when Wesley Taylor and his service dog leave the house, he prepares to go to battle with Mississauga transit employees.

He alleges MiWay bus drivers often deny him boarding, due to his four-legged friend, a Boxer who’s accompanied him everywhere for the last two years.

“If I’m riding the buses and I gotta take three buses, at least one of those buses will harass me about the dog,” he said.

The Mississauga man explains that Rocko is recognized by both the city’s animal services, and his physician, who wrote a letter explaining how the dog eases PTSD symptoms which stem from childhood abuse.

In a statement to CityNews, Director of Transit Geoff Marinoff said, “Service Animals are permitted on all MiWay buses as are pets. A Service Animal must be clearly identified; for example, a guide dog wearing a harness and/or vest.”

Taylor says he’s followed all the rules, and even has the paperwork to prove it.

“They say I’m not blind,” he said. “It’s just an argument most of the time to get on the bus.”

It’s cases like these that are raising concerns.

“I think it’s time our province has a good look and modernize the way we look at service dogs,” said Mike Harris, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga.

“Whenever the government is aware of this and sits on their hands, they’re just signaling to organizations that they don’t have to take this law seriously, and that slows progress on accessibility,” adds David Lepofsky, Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

CityNews has learned the Ministry of Economic Development, Employment & Infrastructure has few guidelines in place for service animals.

According to them, The Customer Standard does not require service animals to be certified, there are no training requirements for them, and the animals don’t require registration or ID cards.

The Ministry admits that any species or animal could technically be a service animal. That means a snake, a parrot or a cat could be considered a service pet.

Some critics say this leaves room for imposters to claim fake service animals.

“We’re now stooping to the lowest common denominator, when people stoop to that level,” said Harris.

The province does admit that more work needs to be done.

“Although we have made progress, there’s still a long way to go to reach our goal of becoming an accessible province,” a Ministry Spokesperson tells CityNews. “Making Ontario accessible will require all Ontarians to work together towards our shared goal.”

Taylor says he hopes both the city of Mississauga and the Ministry do more to educate people about service dogs.