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The Wave of Action on Disability Accessibility Gradually Spreads Across Canada

But Still Lots To Do to Get All Governments to Take Needed Action

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

June 29, 2015

SUMMARY

What is happening across Canada on the accessibility front for people with disabilities? That is the focus of our last AODA Alliance Update before a summer break.

In this Update, we take a quick trip to see what is going on across Canada on the accessibility agenda.

Decades ago, each province as well as the federal government passed human rights laws that ban disability discrimination. As well, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms makes it unconstitutional for any government or any law to discriminate because of a physical or mental disability. Under these laws, people with disabilities must individually fight barriers, one at a time, by fighting their own human rights complaint or Charter constitutional case against each barrier.

It is widely recognized that while human rights legislation is helpful, it alone will not ensure that our society becomes fully accessible for people with disabilities. As for pro-active measures to remove and prevent disability barriers, heres a quick tour across Canada:

1. Ontario

Ontario was Canadas first province to enact a comprehensive disability accessibility law. A weak, unenforceable Ontarians with Disabilities Act was enacted in 2001 by the Conservative Government under Premier Mike Harris. Four years later, a stronger, enforceable Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was enacted in 2005 by Ontarios Liberal Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty.

The AODA requires the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. An Independent Review appointed by the Government confirmed last fall that Ontario is behind schedule for reaching that goal. Even the Government has acknowledged that its implementation of the AODA has flagged in recent years, and needs to be revitalized.

We continue to emphasize the importance of everyone reaching out to their local Ontario MPP, and pressing them to urge accelerated efforts at getting Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. While the Government announced some helpful measures earlier this month, these are far less than what Ontario needs to get back on schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025.

To support our effort, it is important for AODA Alliance supporters around Ontario to keep taking examples of unfair barriers they face to the local media. This helps keep the pressure on the Government of Ontario to speed up its work on disability accessibility.

The upcoming Pan/ParaPan American Games provide a great opportunity for this. The Wynne Government has made huge claims about accessibility in connection with the Games. On June 28, 2015, Michael Coteau, the Ontario minister responsible for the Games, tweeted on Twitter:40 Days until the #TO2015 Parapan Am Games! The most #accessible multi-sport Games in history… Yet we have revealed that the Government has not done anything to get local restaurants, stores and other tourism/hospitality providers to actually increase their accessibility to customers with disabilities in the lead-up to the Games.

If you encounter any accessibility barriers that tourists and para-athletes with disabilities would face when trying to enjoy what southern Ontario has to offer tourists, photograph or video-record them. Post them on social media. Send them to your local media. Urge them to cover these barriers. Encourage them to approach the AODA Alliance for background on the campaign for accessibility in Ontario.

Some of our priorities in the upcoming weeks will include:

* getting the Government to enact strong and effective amendments to the Customer Service Accessibility Standard to substantially strengthen it. The recommendations of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, delivered to the Government in the fall of 2014, are far too weak. In some cases, they would actually would make things worse and violate promises on accessibility that the Government has made to us.

* getting the Government to get to work on developing the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard. The Government announced back on February 13, 2015 that it would develop this new accessibility standard. However, weve seen no meaningful action since then. It has claimed to be doing background research on this topic for months and months.

* getting the Government to agree to develop other needed new accessibility standards, including ones to address barriers in education and in residential housing, and to address the retrofitting of existing buildings that are not being renovated.

* getting the Government to start now to strengthen its enforcement of the AODA. We cannot wait for 2016 to see its weakened enforcement restored and improved.

* getting the Government to far more effectively and accountably embed accessibility in the daily work of the Ontario Public Service, with proper leadership within that organization, so that it can begin to lead Ontario by a good example on accessibility.

* getting the Government to take far more action to remove accessibility barriers in Ontario legislation and regulations. Premier Dalton McGuinty promised this review as far back as September 2007. Progress to date has been painfully slow and paltry. We know of no legislative accessibility barriers that have been fixed during the eight years since the Government made this pledge to us.

2. The Federal Government

Canada has no national disability legislation, and no comprehensive action plan that will ensure that Canada becomes fully accessible to people with disabilities. In 2007, the Government of Canada under Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to enact a national Disabilities Act. However, no bill has been enacted or even introduced into Parliament. We are unaware of any major public consultation on what to include in a national disabilities law.

As we announced earlier this year, a national community coalition, Barrier-Free Canada, has formed to advocate for a Canadians with Disabilities Act. On January 26, 2015, it wrote the major party leaders seeking a commitment to create a Canadians with Disabilities Act. In the run-up to this Octobers hotly-contested federal election, no federal party has made an election pledge so far to enact a Canadians with Disabilities Act.

We encourage you to sign up with Barrier-Free Canada. Its free. Send an email simply stating that you support its call for a Canadians with Disabilities Act. Send your email to info@barrierfreecanada.org

For More on Barrier-Free Canada, visit its website at www.barrierfreecanada.org

Follow Barrier-Free Canada on Twitter @barrierFreeCa

3. Manitoba

In 2013, Manitoba became the second Canadian province to enact a disability accessibility law. The fantastic community advocacy coalition, Barrier-Free Manitoba, did a superb job for over five years, spearheading the campaign that led to the enactment of that legislation.

Now, Barrier-Free Manitoba continues its work, advocating for the effective implementation of that legislation. In two recent email updates from Barrier-Free Manitoba which we set out below, Barrier-Free Manitoba reported on the Manitoba Governments plans to develop a Customer Service Accessibility Standard, and its decision to have the Manitoba Public Service lead in efforts aimed at becoming accessible to people with disabilities.

For several years, we have shared ideas, strategies and feedback between the AODA Alliance in Ontario, and Barrier-Free Manitoba. You can learn more about the work of Barrier-free Manitoba, and sign up for their email updates, by visiting http://barrierfreemb.com/

4. Nova Scotia

The Government of Nova Scotia, elected in 2013, promised to develop new provincial accessibility legislation. It now intends to bring forward a bill for the Nova Scotia Legislature to consider in 2016.

The Nova Scotia Government appointed a committee to make recommendations on what its accessibility law should include. That committee has reported. It drew on Ontarios experience, among others, in formulating its recommendations. It is noteworthy that among other things, these recommendations called for action to focus on barriers in several important areas including, among others, education. We urge the Ontario Government to get that message.

Below we set out the Nova Scotia Governments most recent announcement about this. We also set out the executive summary of the final report of the committee which the Nova Scotia Government appointed to make recommendations on what the new accessibility legislation should include.

5. British Columbia

In 2014, the BC Government announced a strategy to improve accessibility in that province by 2024. Among other things, BC is considering whether to develop accessibility legislation.

Below we set out the B.C. Governments announcement on its website of its action plan leading to 2024.

6. Saskatchewan and Newfoundland

Earlier this month, the Saskatchewan and Newfoundland Governments each announced a new strategy or action plan on disability accessibility. We set out below a news article about the Newfoundland announcement and an announcement on the Newfoundland Governments website. We also set out a news article about the Saskatchewan announcement.

From what we see, these include potentially helpful limited measures on accessibility. However they appear to include no commitment to develop accessibility legislation. In our experience, these kinds of non-legislated action plans, while helpful, are neither permanent nor enforceable. They are no substitute for strong, effective, enforceable mandatory accessibility legislation.

This will be the last AODA Alliance Update for a few weeks. We hope all enjoy a great summer.

The Ontario Government only has 9 years, 6 months and 1 day left to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to 1.8 million Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires.

Send your feedback to us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

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

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. www.youtube.com

Please “like” our Facebook page and share our updates:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/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

MORE DETAILS

1. May 21, 2015 Update from Barrier-Free Manitoba

On May 19, 2015, the Honourable Kerri Irvin-Ross, Minister responsible for persons with disabilities and the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA), released the first annual implementation plan (attached) as required under the AMA.

The implementation plan sets out six strategic priorities and the actions that Government will take on these by March 31, 2016.

Development and Implementation of Standards
Government Leadership
Resource Development
Training
Public Awareness
Development of Compliance Measures

Are we pleased with the plan?

We think that is it is a pretty good start – far from perfect but definite proof that the Minister and the Government are serious about this landmark legislation.

The positive highlights for us include:

The commitment to establish the Customer Service Accessibility Standard as a legally binding regulation in 2015.
The commitment to continue work on an accessibility standard for employment with the initial discussion paper ready and released before March 31, 2016 (and the coming election).
The work being done to ensure that all major public sector organizations have accessibility plans in place by 2016.
The work being done to ensure that the Province has a comprehensive regulatory regime in place in 2016 to enforce compliance with the AMA.

These are all absolutely essential for the Government to achieve the AMA’s legislated mandate to have made significant progress toward full accessibility by 2023.

There are two limitations. One is the delay in requiring accessibility plans by small public sector organizations. The deadline for these is now 2017. This is one year later than we had originally expected. The delay might actually be necessary but only because the Government left it so long to start work on this requirement.

The second limitation, a much more serious one, is the lack of any clear commitment to more effectively resource the Disability Issues Office (DIO) and the Accessibility Advisory Council. These two bodies have critical roles to play in the implementation of the AMA and don’t seem to have the resources needed to take on the development of the promised standard in the areas of transportation, information and communication and the built environment until after March 31, 2016.

Ontario’s version of the DIO had 33 staff persons at the beginning of that province’s implementation process. In contrast, the DIO has a staff complement of only around 7 full time staff. So while Ontario was able to work on five standards concurrently, Manitoba only has the resources to manage one standard at a time. And as it is now taking more than 12 months to develop a standard from start to finish, it might be five more years before the first set of accessibility standards is in place.

We think that the standard development process needs to be sped up. This will require additional resources. Sadly, the first annual implementation plan does not speak to this issue.

So good work on your first implementation plan honourable Minister. Now the challenge will be to complete the work set out in the plan and to secure the additional resources needed to make faster progress.

As a final note, weve heard that the Customer Service Accessibility Standard might be made into regulation before the end of the summer. Thats very good news. Of course, we will be watching to see if the Minister has acted on our recommendations for needed improvements.

Thank you as always for your interest and support. Well be keeping you in the loop regarding future developments.

2. June 4, 2015 Update from Barrier-Free Manitoba

We are pleased to pass on another good news story to end the week.

Its about the requirement for public sector bodies to develop Accessibility Plans, an important but lesser known part of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act (AMA). The plans are meant to promote a focus on increasing accessibility among the public sector bodies that goes well beyond mere compliance with the standards.

All government of Manitoba departments and large public sector bodies are required to have developed Accessibility Plans by 2016. This includes government departments, Crown corporations, regional health organizations, colleges, school divisions and cities of more than 10,000.

Smaller public sector bodies and government agencies will also have to create Accessibility Plans but these won’t be required until 2017.

Each of these plans must be made in consultation with the disability community and must incorporate the following:

* A report on the measures taken to identify, prevent and remove barriers that disable people.
* Measures that will be taken in the period covered by the plan to identify, prevent and remove barriers.
* Measures that are in place to assess the effect on accessibility for persons disabled by barriers when new policies, activities or initiatives are undertaken
The plans must be made public and must also be reviewed and renewed every two years.

The Disability Issues Office has just released a guide to help public sector organizations develop Accessibility Plans. The guide, for the time being, is only available as a PDF (attached).

As they say, a goal without a plan is just a wish. While these plans won’t make full accessibility a reality by themselves, they are another important tool in reaching this goal.

This is just another reason why we all worked so hard to secure passage of the AMA. It is also one of the reasons why we continue to work to ensure that the act is implemented promptly and effectively.

3. Government of Nova Scotia News Release

Originally posted at: http://novascotia.ca/news/release/?id=20150603002

Government Releases Report on Accessibility Legislation
Department of Community Services
June 3, 2015 11:38 AM