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Premier Wynne Breaks Important Promise to 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities to Never Weaken Any Protections We’d Won under Ontario’s Disabilities Act

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

A Sad Game-Changer for 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities – Premier Kathleen Wynne Breaks a Solemn Written Promise She Gave to People with Disabilities While Running for Ontario Liberal Leadership, to Never Weaken Any Protections We’d Won In or Under Ontario’s Disabilities Act June 7, 2016

SUMMARY

We have reached a deeply troubling turning point along the long and arduous road to a fully accessible Ontario. Yesterday Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne broke a fundamentally important promise she made to Ontarians with disabilities three and a half years ago, when she was running for leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party. She then pledged that if she became Ontario’s premier, she would fully maintain and would never weaken any protections or provisions that we had won in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act or in any regulations or policies under it.

In direct violation of that solemn promise, which she sent to the AODA Alliance in writing on the International Day for People with Disabilities, December 3, 2012, the Wynne Government yesterday amended the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, enacted under the AODA, significantly weakening one of its core provisions. In a news release which the AODA Alliance issued earlier today, set out below, this breach of the Premier’s promise was explained as follows:

“The 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard’s central requirement is that public and private sector organizations that provide customer service to the public must establish a policy on ensuring accessibility of their Customer Service to people with disabilities, and must train their staff on this policy. Until now, any private sector organization with at least 20 employees had to make sure it had that accessible Customer Service policy in writing, had to make it available to the public on request and had to keep a record of its employee training.

But as of yesterday, the Wynne Government gutted that requirement for the huge number of private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. They no longer need to have the policy in writing, no longer need to provide it in writing to the public on request and no longer need to keep records of its employee training on it.

“This will make the core part of this accessibility regulation very hard if not impossible for the Wynne Government to effectively enforce for the great number of private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. The Wynne Government’s main way of enforcing, in the paltry fraction of cases where it has done any enforcement at all, has been by the Government auditing an organization’s paper records. Yet if a private sector organization with 20-49 employees no longer needs to keep any paper records, there’s nothing for the Government to audit,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which leads Ontario’s grassroots campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. “If a Government auditor asks if a private sector organization with 20-49 employees has the required policy on accessible Customer Service, the owner can just point to their head and say: ‘It’s in here!'”

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 accessibility standards that tell public and private sector organizations what disability barriers they must tear down, and by when.”

Here is what Premier Wynne promised on point in her December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance, outlining what she promised to do if she becomes Ontario’s premier:

“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 Premier’s breaking her word to us on this score is a sad game changer for 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities. Until this event, we were able to count on the fact that gains we have fought for and won in our 21.5 year non-partisan campaign for accessibility in Ontario would be maintained under the current Ontario Government. Whether or not we moved forward fast enough, we did not have to fear that we might lose ground. Premier McGuinty promised this in the 2011 election. Kathleen Wynne promised this when she ran for Ontario Liberal leadership just a year later. We did not have to fear having to fight a rear-guard action, just to save gains we had made.

The Wynne Government’s breach of this promise is truly harmful to the cause of disability accessibility. Over at least the past three years, the Wynne Government has done a poor job of enforcing the AODA, despite promising its effective enforcement. As our news release demonstrates, yesterday’s amendment to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard will make it harder to enforce this accessibility standard in the case of the great number of private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. This flies in the face of the recommendations of the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review, which called for AODA enforcement to be beefed up, not further weakened.

The Wynne Government took almost three years to conduct a mandatory review of the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard. Yet all that review yielded for people with disabilities, beyond this broken promise and further-weakened enforcement, were a few minor improvements. Those, on their own, won’t ensure that Customer Service becomes accessible for people with disabilities by 2025, or ever. The Wynne Government flatly refused to add to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard each and every recommended improvement that we, together with the ARCH Disability Law Centre, proposed in our joint March 15, 2016 brief that was prepared based on input from people with disabilities. We proposed low-cost high-impact measures that obligated organizations could undertake, that would improve the profitability of businesses and better serve people with disabilities, such as:

* putting Braille and large print signs on public bathroom doors; * Where an obligated organization has a written accessible Customer Service policy and has a public website, posting that policy on the organization’s website;
* Where the obligated organization has a point-of-sale device, like a credit/debit card reader, ensuring it is on a cable that is long enough to reach a person in a wheelchair;
* Designating an existing employee within the organization to serve as the point-person for accessible Customer Service needs.

The Wynne Government has given no public reason for rejecting all of our proposals. Under the AODA, the Ontario Government does not need to start another review of the Customer Service Accessibility Standard until 2021, a mere four years before the Government is required to have led Ontario to become fully disability-accessible by 2025.

Below we set out:

* The AODA Alliance’s June 7, 2016 news release;
* The ARCH Disability Law Centre’s June 7, 2016 news release, and * A June 6, 2016 Canadian Press news report on this issue. The Wynne Government must have initially given that story to the media. In that article AODA Alliance chair is quoted. He is commenting on the January 29, 2016 draft regulation which the Wynne Government posted for public comment. We cannot now provide you with any Government news release or announcement, or even the text of the new Customer Service Accessibility Standard, because the Wynne Government has not made any of that public as of now. The Wynne Government has publicly informed the AODA Alliance that the Customer Service Accessibility Standard was in fact amended in terms which are substantively the same as the draft regulation which the Government posted for public comment on January 29, 2016. That means that the Wynne Government ignored any feedback from the public on the draft regulation that suggested any changes to that draft regulation.

We encourage you to:

* Send these news releases to your local media. Urge your local media to report on this issue. Let your local media know how you feel about the Wynne Government breaking Premier Wynne’s promise to never weaken gains we have made under the AODA.
* Circulate this information to your friends and family. Share it on social media like Twitter and Facebook.
* Contact your member of the Ontario Legislature. Let your MPP know how you feel about this broken promise, and this setback on accessibility.

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

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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

1. Text of the AODA Alliance’s June 7, 2016 News Release

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Premier Wynne Breaks Important Promise to 1.8 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Made When She Was Running for Ontario Liberal Leadership – She Pledged She’d Never Weaken Any Protections Won Under Ontario’s Disabilities Act, But She Just Weakened an Accessibility Regulation, Making It Much Harder to Enforce

June 7, 2016 Toronto:
Premier Kathleen Wynne has just violated her written pledge to never reduce any protections or provisions that 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities had won in or under Ontario’s accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). When running for Ontario Liberal Leadership, she chose December 3, 2012, the International Day for People with Disabilities, to pledge in writing that if she became Liberal Leader and Ontario Premier, she would fully maintain 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.” A link to her December 3, 2012 letter is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp

In breach of that pledge, the Wynne Government yesterday significantly weakened a core provision of the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, the first accessibility regulation ever enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. Ontario’s disability community tenaciously fought for a decade to get the AODA passed. The 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard’ central requirement is that public and private sector organizations that provide customer service to the public must establish a policy on ensuring accessibility of their Customer Service to people with disabilities, and must train their staff on this policy. Until now, any private sector organization with at least 20 employees had to make sure it had that accessible Customer Service policy in writing, had to make it available to the public on request and had to keep a record of its employee training.
But as of yesterday, the Wynne Government gutted that requirement for the huge number of private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. They no longer need to have the policy in writing, no longer need to provide it in writing to the public on request and no longer need to keep records of its employee training on it
“This will make the core part of this accessibility regulation very hard if not impossible for the Wynne Government to effectively enforce for the great number of private sector organizations with 20-49 employees. The Wynne Government’s main way of enforcing, in the paltry fraction of cases where it has done any enforcement at all, has been by the Government auditing an organization’s paper records. Yet if a private sector organization with 20-49 employees no longer needs to keep any paper records, there’s nothing for the Government to audit,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which leads Ontario’s grassroots campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. “If a Government auditor asks if a private sector organization with 20-49 employees has the required policy on accessible Customer Service, the owner can just point to their head and say: ‘It’s in here!'”
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 accessibility standards that tell public and private sector organizations what disability barriers they must tear down, and by when.
Making this situation worse for Ontarians with disabilities, yesterday’s further weakening of the possibility for enforcing Ontario’s accessibility law comes after the Wynne Government has a sorry history of poor enforcement, despite having promised that this law would be effectively enforced. The Wynne Government has known for three years of rampant private sector violations of the Disabilities Act, and of the Government’s paltry efforts at enforcement, which it cut back even further last year. Now it rewards private sector organizations with 20-49 employees that have violated the law for the past three years, by making meaningful Government enforcement even more unlikely.
Back on November 18, 2013, the AODA Alliance revealed through a Freedom of Information application that the Wynne Government knew that fully 70% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees were violating the Disabilities Act. Two years later, on December 3, 2015, the AODA Alliance revealed that the Government knew that fully 65% of private sector organizations with at least 20 employees still had not e-filed mandatory accessibility reports that were due in 2012. Fifty-eight percent of those organizations had still not filed compliance reports that were due at the end of 2014.
“Despite Wynne Government promises one year ago to increase Disabilities Act audits this year, we have seen no indication that this has happened. The Government won’t answer our Freedom of Information inquiries about its enforcement plans unless we pay $4,250. As of last December Ontario still had a paltry three Disabilities Act directors and one inspector appointed to deploy the AODA’s inspection and auditing powers for the entire province. In yesterday’s amendments, the Wynne Government made a few minor improvements to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. For those modest measures, the Government deserves some credit. Yet those changes won’t offset this breach of the Premier’s word to people with disabilities or significantly improve the accessibility of customer service to people with disabilities.
Making yesterday’s amendments worse still, the Wynne Government has to date refused to make any of the low-cost high-impact changes to the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard that the AODA Alliance and the ARCH Disability Law Centre have requested, after consulting the disability community. For example, the Wynne Government refused to revise the Customer Service Accessibility Standard to require any organizations, even large, well-resourced and highly profitable ones, to merely put Braille and large print signs on their public bathroom doors, or to require that a retail store simply put its “point of sale” device on a cable long enough to reach down to a customer in a wheelchair. They have refused to require any organizations, even huge ones, to let customers with disabilities know on request where the nearest accessible parking spot or bathroom might be. In 2014, a major Government-appointed Independent Review of the AODA by former Law Dean Mayo Moran found that the Government, including Premier Wynne, must now breathe new life into the AODA, and show strong new leadership on accessibility. It found that after a decade, the AODA hasn’t lived up to its great potential. It has not yet made a significant difference in the lives of Ontarians with disabilities. Ontario was not then on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the deadline the AODA requires. The Moran 2014 Independent Review of the AODA called on Premier Wynne to show new leadership on accessibility. “Ontarians with disabilities need Premier Wynne to keep and not break her promise to us. We call on her to suspend the changes she made yesterday that weaken protections in the Customer Service Accessibility Standard, and that broke her pledge to people with disabilities. We need her to instead enact changes to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that will make a real difference, like ones we put on the table to discuss with her Government,” said Lepofsky “We need her to bring together representatives of the disability community, the private sector and other stakeholders, to seek a consensus on ways to meaningfully improve the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, as we have been asking and asking the Government to do, without success.” Contact: David Lepofsky aodafeedback@gmail.comTwitter: @davidlepofsky and @aodaalliance www.aodaalliance.org
Links to Key Background Information
Kathleen Wynne’s December 3, 2012 letter to the AODA Alliance is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12032012.asp To read the list of low-cost high-impact changes to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard that the AODA Alliance and the ARCH Disability Law Centre proposed to the Wynne Government, and which the Wynne Government has entirely rejected visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/03182016.asp To read the AODA Alliance’s December 3, 2015 brief to the Wynne Government showing the serious problems with the Government’s proposed revisions to the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12042015.asp To read the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran 2nd AODA Independent Review, visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/Final-Report-Second-Legisl ative-Review-of-the-AODA.docx
To read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review, visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04292015.asp and http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/05012015.asp To read the AODA Alliance’s December 2, 2015 analysis of the Government’s November 25, 2015 FOI disclosures, and to read the documents that the Government disclosed, visit

http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/dec-3-2015-analysis-of-1st -batch-of-FOI-aoda-enforcement-disclosures.docx
To learn about the AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s attempts to get the Wynne Government to waive its $4,250 fee for answering all of his June 4, 2015 Freedom of Information application, visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11052015.asp To read Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid’s February 19, 2015 letter to the AODA Alliance, revealing 2015 cuts to AODA enforcement, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/02252015.asp To read the AODA Alliance’s November 18, 2013 revelation of rampant AODA violations known to the Wynne Government, visit
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11182013.asp The September 12, 2007 AODA Alliance analysis of the original 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard is available at
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09122007.asp The AODA Alliance’s April 4, 2015 brief to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council on its initial proposal for revisions to the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard is available at
http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/04082014.asp The Accessibility Standards Advisory Councils final proposal for amendments to the 2007 Customer Service Accessibility Standard, and the AODA Alliance’s November 12, 2014 response to those proposals, is available at http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11122014.asp To learn about the campaign from 2005 to the present to get the AODA effectively implemented and enforced, visit www.aodaalliance.org
2. Text of the June 7, 2016 ARCH Disability Law Centre News Release arch_logo_blue PRESS RELEASE – June 7 2016
AMENDMENTS TO THE CUSTOMER SERVICE
STANDARD UNDER THE AODA A STEP BACKWARD
Yesterday, the Liberal Government announced their amendments to the Customer Service Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These amendments did not improve accessibility for persons with disabilities – it weakened them.
The new Standard does not provide critical guidance from consumers on what they would find beneficial at low or no cost to the organization. ARCH Disability Law Centre worked in collaboration with the AODA Alliance to produce a report informed by our members about what kind of low or no expense changes that the government could make to the Customer Services Standard that would improve accessibility for persons with disabilities. These reports can be found on our websites:
www.archdisabilitylaw.ca and www.aodaalliance.org
Underscored throughout our consultations was the need for low or no cost changes that make a significant difference such as providing washroom signs in braille so persons who are blind know which gender specific washroom to use. Other examples include: designating an employee within an organization’s existing staff to ensure accessible customer service and ensure that complaints appropriately resolved; posting signage about scent-free policies as an important step to public education about the effect of fragrances or scents on persons with multiple chemical and environmental sensitivities; requiring accessible “point-of-sale” and movable debit/credit information transaction machines (ITMs); and implementing visual fire alarms as a key component of accessibility and health and safety for persons who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing. These are but a few of the essential components of what a meaningful accessibility standard for persons with disabilities should include. Not one of these factors was included in the amended Customer Service Standard.
The amendments are an extremely frustrating and inadequate response to making accessibility a reality for Ontarians with disabilities. For more information please contact Dianne Wintermute, ARCH staff lawyer, at :
wintermd@lao.on.ca OR
ARCH Disability Law Centre Tel.: 1-866-482-2724 TTY.: 1-866-482-2728 3. Text of the June 6, 2016 Canadian Press News Article
CITY-TV June 6, 2016
Originally posted at:
http://www.citynews.ca/2016/06/06/broader-accessibility-training-coming-for- staff-at-ontario-companies/
New Ontario customer service accessibility rules inadequate, advocacy group says
by Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press
Posted Jun 6, 2016 8:46 am EDT
TORONTO – Coming changes to the rules governing accessible customer service in Ontario are being decried as inadequate by at least one group representing the clientele the regulations are meant to help. They argue that changes increasing the number of workers requiring accessibility training, and expanding the number of professionals authorized to vouch for the need for a service animal, do little to directly impact the lives of people with disabilities.
The province’s Liberal government announced the amendments to the customer service section of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) on Monday, three years after undertaking a review of the rules that originally went into effect in 2008.
The Ministry of Economic Development, Employment and Infrastructure, which oversees the act, made the changes after reviewing recommendations from an advisory council that sought public input on how best to reduce accessibility barriers for the estimated 1.8 million Ontario residents currently living with a disability.
The new rules, which go into effect on July 1 and apply to all organizations providing goods, services or facilities, now specify that all employees must undergo accessibility training. Previously only staff who dealt directly with the public had to be trained on accessibility issues.
The government has also expanded the list of professionals authorized to provide documents indicating the need for a service animal. Doctors and nurses were originally the only ones allowed to provide such authorization, but the list now includes psychologists, psychotherapists, audiologists, chiropractors and optometrists.
David Lepofsky, chair of advocacy group the AODA Alliance, described the changes as “minor tinkering.”
He lamented that the new rules would have very little practical impact on the day-to-day challenges the people with disabilities continue to face. “Changing the documentation for service animals, that’s helpful, but we certainly don’t hear the number of people using service animals who get refused admission to a taxi or restaurant are refused because someone looked at the documentation and said, ‘oh, if only it was signed by this professional instead of that one, we’d let you in,'” he said in a telephone interview.
“What we hear is the taxi that won’t even stop or the person at the restaurant who simply says, ‘no dogs allowed.'”
A member of the advisory council tasked with recommending changes to the rules said the service animal requirements will have a more widespread, if less visible, impact.
Former CNIB President Jim Sanders said the ranks of service animal users have swollen to include far more than simply blind people relying on a guide dog for travel assistance.
Expanding the list of professionals, he said, makes it easier for those with less visible disabilities such as epilepsy, diabetes or post-traumatic stress disorder to move through society with the supports they need. “When you need a service animal in order to carry out your day-to-day activities, the last thing you need is a level of bureaucracy that places the individual using a service animal in the awkward position of constantly verifying that this is, in fact, legitimate,” he said.
Sanders said the council at one point toyed with changing the rules to specify only dogs as valid service animals, but opted to keep the regulations broad for maximum flexibility.
He described the changes to employee training requirements as “ideal,” but did acknowledge one area that caused the council some trepidation. The current rules distinguish between large and small corporations, defining small ones as those with fewer than 20 employees.
The latest amendments will see the definition of small organizations shift to those with fewer than 50 staff members, greatly increasing the number of companies that would now fall under this classification.
Current rules have less stringent documentation requirements for small organizations, which do not have to have written accessibility policies in place and are not subject to government compliance audits.
“For organizations with 20 to 49 employees, which is a huge part of the private sector, they don’t have to have documentation of any of this anymore, which essentially means all the policy has to be is in someone’s head,” Lepofsky said.
The new rules will effectively leave a large swath of the province’s businesses free from audit requirements and efforts to see that accessibility laws are being enforced, he added.
Sanders said council members did “struggle” with the issue, but said it made sense to change the classifications to bring them in line with similar government policies.
“The perception by moving it up is that some organizations will be let off the hook. That’s a perception only,” he said, adding the AODA applies to companies whether they have written policies or not.
“The value in having the basic administrative rules harmonized outweighed the perception and the value of having to sit down and fill out a form every year.”
Sanders said public education will be critical to making sure accessibility rules are enforced throughout Ontario, adding the council got very little feedback during the public consultation phase of its review. Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid acknowledged the AODA remains a work in progress as Ontario tries to make the entire province fully accessible by 2025.
“There’s more work to be done, but steps like these (new rules) are the foundation to developing a culture of inclusion, where economic and social opportunities exist for people of all abilities,” Duguid said in a statement.
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