By Helen Henderson
Time to get the lead out.
We’ve had enough committees, more than enough promises. If Ontario is serious about being an inclusive province, the time is now.
Time to get beyond the cumbersome committee process and establish an arms-length Ontario Accessibility Standards Board to lead the way.
Time to strengthen the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario by elevating its chief to deputy minister from assistant deputy minister.
Time to mount a solid public awareness and education campaign to support the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Time to give the minister of Community and Social Services formal responsibility for accessibility.
The thoughts belong to Charles Beer, appointed a year ago to conduct an independent review of the Accessibility Act. His words were delivered with much more finesse than mine but that’s the gist of the report (www.aoda.ca/?page_id=468) submitted to Queen’s Park in February.
Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur released it at the end of last month But its profile has remained low, to put it mildly —much like that of the
legislation it reviews.
The Accessibility Act, purported to be a blueprint for an accessible Ontario by 2025, is five years old, but the province has yet to move beyond studying
As Beer puts it: “Notwithstanding the good will, sincere intentions and hard work on the part of all involved, a certain sense of frustration and disappointment has been building among (those) working to support implementation.”
Among reasons, he cites the economic climate, disenchantment with the committee process put in place to develop accessibility standards in everything from services to employment, uncertainty about time frames and compliance requirements — and, most telling of all, “diminished focus.”
It’s time to bring things to the tipping point. In the same way that we no longer tolerate intransigence on environmental or gender issues, lack of action
on accessibility is no longer an option.
“Achieving transformational change on this scale requires more focused attention at the highest levels of government,” says Beer, who himself had a brief run as provincial social services minister before his party was defeated by the Conservatives under Mike Harris.
“The emerging disability population we are speaking about when combined with their immediate family members — will soon represent close to 60 per cent of Ontario’s population,” he notes. “From my own observations during this review, the older members of this group will be especially assertive in demanding improved services from all sectors to make their lives accessible.”
Count on it.
Among groups endorsing the report is the AODA Alliance, a consumer advocacy association. It is urging the province to adopt all Beer’s recommendations except one – a suggestion that the next independent review of the AODA be undertaken four years down the road instead of three.
Specifically, Beer advises Ontario, to:
- Renew its commitment and strengthen its leadership on accessibility;
- Implement a public awareness and education campaign;
- Harmonize accessibility standards and introduce a streamlined development process;
- Formally designate the Minister of Community and Social Services as responsible for accessibility;
- Strengthen the accessibility directorate by elevating the role of the assistant deputy minister to deputy minister;
- Establish an arm’s-length Ontario Accessibility Standards Board to replace the committee process.
The board should include government and industry representatives as well as people with disabilities, Beer says. It should be able to call on technical specialists to develop credible standards. Over time, it should develop the expertise to “place Ontario in the front ranks of accessibility standards development worldwide.”
Let’s do it. Visit www.aodaalliance.org and show your support. Actions speak louder than words.
It’s also urging everyone to get on the bandwagon.
Helen Henderson is a freelance writer and disability studies student at Ryerson University. Her column appears Saturdays.