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Please Circulate the AODA Alliance’s News Release Responding to the Wynne Government’s Announcement on School Supports for Students with Disabilities

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

August 9, 2016

SUMMARY

Even though Ontario is required by law to become fully accessible to all people with disabilities by 2025, less than eight and a half years from now, Ontario’s publicly-funded education system is still full of barriers that can impede 334,000 students with special education needs. The Wynne Government still has no plan in place to ensure that Ontario’s education system becomes fully disability-accessible.

What is the Government doing about this? On August 8, 2016, the Wynne Government announced that it would not close any of Ontario’s provincial or demonstration schools for students with learning disabilities, students who are blind, low vision or deaf-blind, or students who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. This came after the Government held a consultation on the future of the schools for children with learning disabilities or who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. The Government had made it clear from the outset that it was not going to consider closing the W. Ross Macdonald School for children with vision loss.

The AODA Alliance swung right into action. We immediately issued a news release, set out below. It emphasizes that students with disabilities need much more. We need the Government to at long last agree to develop and enact an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

We are delighted that in its news report on the Government’s announcement, the Toronto Star’s August 9, 2016 online edition included an extract from our news release. In that article, set out below, the Star reported:

“Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said Monday the governments goal is to better help children with special needs across the province closer to home.

But critics like David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance charged the latest step falls miles short of what is needed by 334,000 students with special education needs.”

As the AODA Alliances news release shows, the Government’s August 8, 2016 announcement helps illustrate the need for much more comprehensive reforms to Ontario’s education system, which is full of barriers impeding hundreds of thousands of students with special education needs. the Government’s announcement commendably commits to a new Government initiative to explore better supports for students in local schools who have learning disabilities, or who are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing.

Yet even though the Government’s announcement claims that the Government is announcing news for students who are blind or deaf-blind, it actually includes nothing whatsoever for them. The Government did not announce any new effort to develop better supports in local schools for students with vision loss, or indeed for students with any disability, other than learning disabilities or hearing loss. This is so despite the fact that the Wynne Government’s August 8, 2016 announcement quoted the new Education Minister as saying the Government needs to provide better services to, among others, blind students. The Government’s announcement includes this statement by Education Minister Mitzie Hunter:

“We need to ensure equity and better serve our students who are Deaf, blind or have severe learning disabilities by providing them with robust services and effective programs in their home communities. ”

As noted above, the Government’s review of the future of provincial and demonstration schools had not put Ontario’s School for the Blind on the potential chopping block. As such, the Government’s August 8, 2016 announcement, that that school would remain open, was not news, and was nothing new, in so far as students with vision loss are concerned.

We encourage you to:

* circulate our news release to your local media. Urge them to cover this story;

* contact your member of the Ontario Legislature and urge them to support our call for the Government to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Send them our news release. It explains why Ontario needs an Education Accessibility Standard and gives links to great background information on this issue.

* spread the word on this issue on social media like Twitter and Facebook. We have already been actively doing so.

Below you will find:

* The AODA Alliance’s August 8, 2016 news release.

* The Ontario Education Ministry’s August 8, 2016 announcement on education for students with disabilities and

* The April 6, 2016 letter from the Ontario Human Rights Code’s Chief Commissioner, Renu Mandhane, to the then-Minister of Education Liz Sandals.

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 Governments 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 Alliances 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

The AODA Alliance’s August 8, 2016 News Release

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Today’s Wynne Government Announcement on Education for Students with Disabilities Falls Miles Short the Wynne Government Needs to Enact an Education Accessibility Standard to Tear Down the Many Barriers Facing 334,000 Students with Disabilities Throughout Ontario’s Publicly-Funded School System

August 8, 2016 Toronto: The Wynne Government’s announcement today on education for students with disabilities in Ontario, while welcomed by families who fought to keep open all Ontario provincial and demonstration schools, falls miles short of what is needed by 334,000 students with special education needs, says the Ontario Disability coalition that campaigned for reforms in this area for years. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, which spearheads the grassroots campaign to make Ontario fully accessible to over 1.8 million people with disabilities, has pressed the Ontario Government for over half a decade to agree to far more extensive action.

“Ontario’s publicly-funded school system was designed and built for students without disabilities, even though fully one of every six students has special education needs. Ontario’s school system is still full of far too many barriers that impede 334,000 students with special education needs who seek a publicly-funded education in this province,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance. “We’ve pressed the Ontario Government for over half a decade to develop an Education Accessibility Standard under Ontario’s 2005 accessibility law, but the Wynne Government still hasn’t said “yes.” We’re stuck laboring under outdated special education laws, enacted over a third of a century ago, that don’t serve our kids or families well.”

The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to full accessibility for 1.8 million people with a physical, mental, sensory, intellectual, or learning disability by 2025. It aims to ensure that people with disabilities can fully take part in schools, universities, jobs, housing, goods, services, restaurants and stores. Under the AODA, the Government must enact and effectively enforce all the accessibility standards needed to public and private sector organizations what disability barriers they must tear down, and by when.

Back in 2003, the Ontario Human Rights Commission released a ground-breaking report that reveals a school system full of too many barriers impeding students with a physical, mental, sensory, intellectual or other disability. See The opportunity to succeed: Achieving barrier-free education for students with disabilities. Yet 13 long years later, Ontario still has no comprehensive regulations and plan in place to ensure that these barriers are removed, and that no new ones are created. That is what an Education Accessibility Standard could do.

Key front-line educators in our schools endorse the AODA Alliance’s call for the Government to enact an Education Accessibility Standard, including the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario, and the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association.

In 2014, a government-appointed Independent Review of Ontario’s Disabilities Act supported the need for an Education Accessibility Standard. Premier Wynne promised in the 2014 election to consider our proposal that one be created. Yet to date, the Government has still not agreed.

Recurring barriers in Ontario’s publicly-funded schools include such things as:

* Far too many physically inaccessible school buildings (Of the Toronto District School Board’s 550 schools, only a meager 85 are physically accessible),

* Insufficient efforts to ensure that educational technology in the classroom is accessible to and usable by all students regardless of their disabilities.

* Not ensuring that curriculum taught in the classroom facilitates the full inclusion of students of all abilities.

* Inconsistent practices from school board to school board on whether a child with autism can bring a service animal to school.

* The lack of a modernized, fair, expeditious process for parents to ensure that their child’s disability-related needs in the classroom will be effectively accommodated, without having to resort to suing a school board under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Parents are left to have to fight these barriers one at a time, school board by school board. Each publicly-funded school board’s Special Education Advisory Committee must also try to convince each school board to re-invent the same accessibility wheel, in the absence of provincial leadership on this issue. See for example reform proposals that the Toronto District School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee has had to craft for Toronto public schools, in the absence of the needed Education Accessibility Standard.

Today’s Ontario Government announcement commits to keep open Ontario provincial and demonstration schools for children with learning disabilities, or who are deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. The Government did not have the future of Ontario’s school for blind children under review. Today’s Government’s announcement also commendably commits to:

“Pilot intensive reading intervention projects in school boards to increase the availability and responsiveness of supports for students with severe learning disabilities in their local communities”

And

“Establish a reference group to provide guidance and input on strengthening supports for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing.”

The Government makes no commitment to comparable action for improving supports for students who are blind or low vision in publicly-funded schools across Ontario. This is so even though the Government announcement began with these promising words:

“Today Ontario is announcing next steps to strengthen supports for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or have low vision, deafblind, or have severe learning disabilities.” (Emphasis added)

This shows how piecemeal efforts are not enough to fix a system that needs a major review. School boards need and would benefit from clear, comprehensive provincial standards on how to effectively serve Ontario’s 334,000 students with special education needs.

“We call on the Wynne Government to stop deliberating and to now commit to develop an Education Accessibility Standard, to build on today’s Government announcement and to give 334,000 kids with special education needs a fighting chance to get a good job in Ontario when they get older,” said Lepofsky. “Ontario’s education system and its laws for these students need to be brought into the 21st century.”

Contact: David Lepofsky aodafeedback@gmail.comTwitter: @davidlepofsky and @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org

Toronto Star Online August 9, 2016

Originally posted at: https://www.thestar.com/news/queenspark/2016/08/08/ontario-wont-close-schools-for-deaf-and-blind-children.html Ontario wont close schools for deaf and blind children

Province will keep schools in Ottawa, Milton, Belleville and London open .

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter, shown earlier this year, says the decision to keep schools for deaf and blind children open was made after several months of consultation. (Nakita Krucker / Toronto Star file photo)

By Rob Ferguson
Queen’s Park Bureau

Mon., Aug. 8, 2016

Ontario will keep open four schools for 160 children who are deaf, blind or have severe learning disabilities while it develops pilot projects to help kids with similar challenges in traditional schools.

The move follows protests by worried parents last winter and spring and an outcry from opposition parties at Queens Park after the government stopped admissions at the schools in Milton, London, Belleville and Ottawa for the fall.

Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said Monday the governments goal is to better help children with special needs across the province closer to home.

But critics like David Lepofsky of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance charged the latest step falls miles short of what is needed by 334,000 students with special education needs.

Hunter said the government spent months consulting with parents and experts on how to best meet students needs so they can reach their full potential in school, and in life.

We need to ensure equity and better serve our students who are deaf, blind or have severe learning disabilities by providing them with robust services and effective programs in their home communities, she added in a statement.

The government did not give a permanent commitment to keep the schools open, with a spokeswoman in Hunters office saying only that there are no plans to close.

Bob Ryan, a residential counsellor at the Trillium school in Milton, said the pilot projects sound like smoke and mirrors.

The hometown schools have been saying for decades that we cant do this, added Ryan, president of an Ontario Public Service Employees Union local representing staff at Trillium.

I dont even see how they can get a pilot project off the ground by September.

Children in the schools can be in Grade 7 or 8 but reading at a Grade 1 level, Ryan said, making remedial work a tall order in the regular school system.

Hunters office said three-year pilot projects will begin in public and Catholic school boards in Cambridge, London, Sudbury and Windsor, involving Trillium and the Amethyst and Sagonaska Demonstration Schools in London and Belleville, respectively.

Those boards were chosen because some they have experience in serving students with severe learning disabilities in reading, said Hunter spokeswoman Nicole McInerney.

The purpose is to build capacity in school boards, she added. We anticipate that these three-year pilots will inform possible expansion of the programs further across the province.

Parents were shocked when the government halted admissions to the schools for this fall, saying their children desperately need the individualized attention they during and after classes in the schools.

NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said the governments climbdown on the special needs schools echoes backtracking on efforts to charge some seniors more for prescription drugs and a revamping of a controversial new autism policy.

She said it will be a challenge for the government to provide the robust services children enjoy in special needs schools in the regular school system.

Its certainly not happening now.

Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown applauded Hunters announcement but said he will take it with a grain of salt.

We await further details and confirmation that these schools will remain open past the 2016-2017 school year, he added in a statement.

Ontario Government Education Announcement on August 8, 2016 re Demonstration Schools

Originally posted at https://news.ontario.ca/edu/en/2016/08/ontario-helping-students-with-special-needs-reach-their-full-potential.html?utm_source=ondemand&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=p Ontario Newsroom

Ontario Helping Students with Special Needs Reach Their Full Potential

News Release

Province Responding to Consultation on Provincial and Demonstration Schools

August 8, 2016 10:00 A.M.
Ministry of Education

Today Ontario is announcing next steps to strengthen supports for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or have low vision, deafblind, or have severe learning disabilities.

Based on consultations held in spring 2016 with students, families and education and community partners about how Ontario’s provincial and demonstration schools can best support students’ needs, over the coming year the province will:

Keep all provincial and demonstration schools open

Pilot intensive reading intervention projects in school boards to increase the availability and responsiveness of supports for students with severe learning disabilities in their local communities

Establish a reference group to provide guidance and input on strengthening supports for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Pursue legislative changes to transfer the governance structure of Centre Jules-Léger to the 12 French-language school boards to better support French-language students.

These changes support the province’s commitment to ensure the success and well-being of every student no matter where they live.

Working with its education and community partners, Ontario is transforming its education system to deliver responsive, high-quality and accessible services and programs that are integrated from early learning and child care, through to adult education. Ontario will continue to find innovative ways to deliver better outcomes for our students and learners so they have the skills they need to succeed.

Quick Facts

Summaries of the consultations are posted on the Ministry of Educations website.

Provincial and demonstration schools provide programs and services for students who are Deaf or hard of hearing, blind or have low vision, deafblind, or have learning disabilities.

Background Information

Strengthening Supports for Students with Special Needs

Additional Resources

Provincial and Demonstration Schools Consultation Summaries: Consultation Summary by The Strategic Counsel (Robarts School for the Deaf and English-Language Demonstration Schools) and Consultation Summary by PDF Consultants (Centre Jules-Léger)

Provincial and Demonstration Schools in Ontario

Ontario French Language Services Commissioners Report (July 2015)

Quotes

We need to ensure equity and better serve our students who are Deaf, blind or have severe learning disabilities by providing them with robust services and effective programs in their home communities. The consultation gave us valuable insight and feedback about how to best meet students needs so they can reach their full potential in school, and in life. It is important for us to listen to parents and to respond to their advice and insights. I want to thank them for their passion and perspective.

Mitzie Hunter
Minister of Education

Media Contacts
May Nazar
Communications Branch
may.nazar@ontario.ca
416-325-2454
Nicole McInerney
Minister’s Office
nicole.mcInerney@ontario.ca
416-314-6020

April 6, 2016 Letter from Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Code to the Then-Minister of Education Liz Sandals

Ontario Human
Rights Commission
Office of the Chief Commissioner
180 Dundas Street West, 8th Floor
Toronto ON M7A 2R9
Tel.: (416) 314-4537
Fax.: (416) 314-7752

April 6, 2016

Hon. Liz Sandals
Minister of Education
Mowat Block, 22nd Flr
900 Bay St
Toronto ON M7A 1L2

Dear Minister,

Re: Ministry of Education provincial and demonstration schools consultation

I write in regard to your Ministrys current consultation involving certain provincial and demonstration schools for students with disabilities.i

Under Ontarios Human Rights Code, students with disabilities have a right to be free from discrimination. This includes the duty to accommodate students disability related needs. That duty also covers the accommodation process and everyone involved.

As you may be aware, more than ten years ago the OHRC undertook a review of barriers that students with disabilities face in accessing education. The OHRC produced a reportii with recommendations and a guidelineiii interpreting the Code on various issues including integrated and segregated accommodations.

The OHRC also intervenediv before the Supreme Court of Canada in Moore v. British Columbia (Education),v a case involving a similar matter. The Court upheld a finding of discrimination after a school districtfailed to consider theconsequences of closing a centre that provided services to students with severe learning disabilities, orto plan for alternate accommodations.

Today we are still hearing concerns about the lack of supports and specialized programming in community schools especially if provincial schools were to close.vi In the second independent legislative review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, Mayo Moran reportedvii that students with disabilities continue to face barriers throughout the system and groups like the AODA Alliance are calling for new standards.viii Recognizing education as a vital priority area, Ms. Moran recommended that the Ministry of Education undertake a process, with oversight by the AODAs Accessibility Standards Advisory Committee, to identify barriers and solutions as quickly as possible.

The OHRC agrees that addressing barriers across the education system is a priority. As we found, the dispute resolution mechanisms that exist to deal with accommodation issues are often ineffective, causing students to lose time in school, and cases continue to end up at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario.ix The ARCH Disability Law Centre has also reported on the limitations of the current legislative framework.x

I understand that the Office of the Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth is looking into some of the concerns raised under their power to “informally advocate” for the students at Ontario’s provincial schools.

The OHRC would be pleased to offer assistance for interpreting obligations under the Code in regard to provincial and demonstration schools and other issues students with disabilities face in Ontarios education system.

Sincerely,

ORIGINAL SIGNED BY

Renu Mandhane, B.A., J.D., LL.M.
Chief Commissioner

Copy: Irwin Elman, Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth
Hon. Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure (with responsibility for the AODA) Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Attorney General of Ontario
David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Roberto Lattanzio, Executive Director, ARCH Disability Law Centre

i http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/parents/consult_pds.html
ii http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/opportunity-succeed-achieving-barrier-free-education-students-disabilities iii http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/guidelines-accessible-education
iv http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/frederick-moore-behalf-jeffrey-p-moore-v-her-majesty-queen-right-province-british-columbia v Moore v. British Columbia (Education), 2012 SCC 61
vi http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/liz-sandals-won-t-rule-out-closing-provincial-schools-for-disabled-and-deaf-1.3474541
vii https://www.ontario.ca/document/legislative-review-accessibility-ontarians-disabilities-act viii http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03032016.asp
ix http://www.ohrc.on.ca/en/main-barriers-education-students-disabilities-fact-sheet x http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/node/806