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McGuinty Government Makes Public New Draft Regulation to Address Barriers in Transportation, Information, Communications and Employment – We have 45 Days to Give the Government Feedback

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE UPDATE

February 1, 2011

SUMMARY

Today the McGuinty Government posted for public comment a draft “Integrated Accessibility Regulation” (IAR”). It aims to address barriers facing persons with disabilities in transportation, employment, information and communication.

We have 45 days to give the Government feedback on this draft regulation. After that, the Government will decide what its final regulation will include. This is the last phase in the process of making an accessibility standard that is an enforceable law.

We here:

* explain the stage we have now reached;

* give you introductory highlights about the proposed IAR from our initial review of it; and

* invite your feedback.

We welcome your feedback as quickly as you can, so we can write a brief on this draft IAR. Send your feedback to us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

If you want to see the Government’s announcement, including the text of the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation, visit the Government’s website. The Government unfortunately leaves these documents on its website only temporarily. We will post them on our website on a permanent basis.

You can see the draft IAR in English: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/OntarioAccessibilityLaws/DevelopingStandards/IAR/introduction.aspx

and in French at: http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/fr/mcss/programs/accessibility/OntarioAccessibilityLaws/DevelopingStandards/IAR/introduction.aspx

If you want us to email you the draft IAR in MS Word format, send a request to us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

MORE DETAILS

1. Where Are We Now and What’s Next?

Today Ontario came an important step closer to enacting an enforceable regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to remove and prevent barriers that persons with disabilities face in the areas of transportation, information, communication and employment.

The Government has been working for over five years on developing an accessibility standard to cover this. The AODA requires the Government to make these standards and then to enforce them. If you want to see what we have said along the way over those five years, visit:
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/default.asp

As the final stage in the process of making an accessibility standard, the Government must publicly post a draft of the proposed standard it plans to enact. It must then give the public 45 days to give feedback on the draft. After that, the Government can enact the standard, either as posted, or with final changes based on the public’s feedback. We hope the Government will take seriously the feedback the public gives on this draft IAR.

The AODA Alliance has tried to play a constructive role throughout these long years of consultations by getting feedback from the disability community and developing a platform to assist the Government. To do that again here, we need your feedback on this draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation. We also encourage you to directly tell the Government what you think about the proposed IAR.

Here is how we will evaluate this latest Government proposal: Back on September 2, 2010, the Government posted for public comment a plain language summary of what it intended to include in this standard. You can see that at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09152010.asp

Last fall, based on feedback from people like you, we prepared and submitted to the Government a very detailed brief on that proposal. We concluded that even though the Government’s September 2, 2010 proposal contained some helpful ingredients, it was very weak and inadequate. We offered 79 constructive recommendations on how to fix it. You can see our brief at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10082010.asp

Ours was certainly not the only voice calling for the Government’s September 2, 2010 proposal to be substantially strengthened. We were delighted last fall at how many individuals and community organizations endorsed our October 8, 2010 brief. Moreover, the McGuinty Government’s own human rights watchdog, the Ontario Human Rights Commission, slammed the Government’s September 2, 2010 proposal as substantially too weak. You can see the Human Rights Commission’s critique at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/10192010.asp

We measure today’s new Government proposal against our October 8, 2010 brief and its 79 recommendations.

2. Highlights Of the Government’s February 1, 2011 Draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation

Here is our very preliminary review. After a more thorough review, and after getting your feedback, this initial take on the draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation may well be modified.

(a) General Observations

This draft IAR has been strengthened in a number of ways, compared to the very weak proposals the Government circulated for public comment on September 2, 2010. On the other hand, in many other important ways, it has not been improved, despite the feedback we and so many others gave the government last fall. Many of our 79 recommendations in our October 8, 2010 brief have not been implemented. However there are clearly instances where our advocacy efforts have paid off, at least to some extent.

(b) IAR’s General Provisions

There have been some distinct improvements in the draft IAR’s general provisions:

* It expands the standard from earlier proposals so that it covers organizations that provide facilities to the public, in addition to those that provide goods, services and employment. Previously the Government only planned to apply the standard to organizations that provide goods, services or employment.

* It has strengthened accessibility requirements for the Government and public sector organizations when procuring goods and services.

* It has strengthened accessibility requirements for public sector organizations when setting up and operating electronic self-serve kiosks.

* It has somewhat strengthened the requirements on organizations’ making accessibility plans, but not as much as we requested.

* Some time lines for action were reduced, though further reductions are still clearly needed.

However, among the draft IAR’s general provisions have been some important areas where needed improvements were not made:

* It has not expanded the proposed division of private sector organizations into only two classes, those with fewer than 50 employees and those with 50 or more. It thus continues to treat huge organizations the same way as an organization with merely 50 employees. It should instead create a third class of very large private organizations and expect more action sooner from them.

* It still exempts a large majority of Ontario businesses from significant parts of these accessibility requirements. While small businesses should not be held to the same requirements as larger organizations, they should not be given so broad an exemption from important accessibility requirements.

* It has not expanded the accessibility training requirements of an organization’s employees to include training on the Human Rights Code, and where appropriate, the Charter of Rights. Thus employees of an organization could be trained on lower accessibility requirements in the IAR, without knowing that they may well be running afoul of the higher accessibility requirements of the Human Rights Code.

(c) IAR’s Provisions Regarding Accessible Information and Communication

There have been some improvements in the IAR’s provisions on accessible information and communication:

* The requirements for website accessibility have been somewhat strengthened for the Ontario Government and Legislature. However there are still significant loopholes that need to be closed. As well, comparable requirements for other organizations have not been comparably strengthened.

* It requires organizations that produce texts books for schools and other educational institutions to provide them in an accessible or conversion-ready format on request, though the time lines for this to begin are too lengthy.

There are also important areas where needed improvements were not made in the draft IAR. For example:

* It still exempts products and product labels from any information and communication accessibility requirements, no matter how readily achievable.

* It sets exemptions from information and communication accessibility requirements that are far too broad.

(d) IAR’s Provisions on Accessible Employment

If the general accessibility plan provisions are clarified and strengthened, these could provide a significant improvement that would help in the employment context, as well as the transportation and information and communication areas. Otherwise, our initial review identified no significant improvements to the IAR’s employment accessibility requirements.

(e) IAR’s Provisions on Accessible Transportation

There are a few improvements in the IAR’s accessible transportation provisions:

* The IAR requires that a public transit authority repair defective accessibility equipment as soon as practicable, at least where equivalent service isn’t available.

* The IAR has been expanded to require public transit authorities to hold an annual public forum for persons with disabilities to give feedback on the transit authority’s accessibility plan. This addition parallels a remedy which David Lepofsky won at the Human Rights Tribunal against the Toronto Transit Commission in 2007.

* The transportation provisions no longer openly adopt the counterproductive “family of services” approach to accessibility that the public transit sector demanded, and that the Government’s earlier September 2, 2010 proposals adopted. That approach lets public transit authorities have complete discretion over how persons with disabilities will receive transportation services. We will need a more careful review of s. 68(3) of the IAR to ensure that it does not bring that counterproductive approach into the IAR through the back door.

* The IAR has been expanded to require municipalities to consult with its municipal accessibility advisory committee, the public and persons with disabilities in the development of accessible design criteria to be considered in the construction or replacement of bus stops and shelters. It also requires municipalities to identify planning for accessible bus stops and shelters in its accessibility plan. Despite these improvements, which resulted from our advocacy efforts, the IAR does not require any actual retrofit of any existing transit route stop or station, nor does it require a transit authority to ensure that any new route stop or station is accessible now or at any time in the future.

However, the transportation provisions are otherwise very much the same as the substantially inadequate ones which the Government proposed on September 2, 2010. For example:

* The IAR would let a public transit authority keep using public money to buy inaccessible vehicles during the first half of this year, and be completely exempt from the IAR, as long as they rush to sign their purchase contracts by June 30, 2011, fully five months from now.

* It flatly provides that a public transit authority need never retrofit an inaccessible vehicle in its fleet as of July 1, 2011, even if that vehicle will remain in service for many years, and even if the retrofit is readily achievable. (See IAR section 40)

* As a serious problem whose correction is a priority, s. 71(1) of the IAR does not ever guarantee persons with disabilities a right to a para-transit ride if they call the same day. As in earlier Government proposals, it merely says that persons with disabilities can expect a same-day ride “where available.” That is no guarantee at all.

* As another serious problem, it still does not require any actual progress in the area of getting more accessible taxis on the road. It only requires municipalities to consider how many they need, and track progress. It does not require them to do anything to actually bring about progress.

* As an addition that we never sought and should not support, s. 41 of the IAR requires public transit authorities, in their accessibility plans, to “a) identify initiatives to encourage persons with disabilities who are, or were, eligible for specialized transportation services, to use conventional transportation services.” It doesn’t require those transit authorities to retrofit inaccessible vehicles in their conventional transit system, but requires them to urge persons with disabilities to use those conventional services.

(f) Enforcement Provisions

The IAR’s provisions on enforcement of the AODA do not appear to adopt any of the recommendations we presented to the Government in our October 8, 2010 brief.

Let us know what you think! Write us at: aodafeedback@gmail.com

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UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

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