and Awaiting the Wynne Government’s Appointment of the next AODA Independent Review, and Other News on Accessibility to Start the New Year
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities
January 19, 2018
Happy new year. In our first Update for 2018, we bring you up to speed on some recent developments regarding:
* A recent glitch with our AODA Alliance Update email service.
* Our call for new Government action on accessibility in the built environment.
* The Wynne Government’s duty to appoint the next Independent Review of the AODA, and
* The Government’s failure to keep its promise to effectively enforce the AODA.
1. The AODA Alliance is Recovering from a Total Crash of Our Email List
We are delighted that so many people in Ontario, across Canada and around the world have signed up to receive our AODA Alliance Updates by email and that they share our Updates with so many others. Unfortunately, during the holidays our email list crashed. We have recovered most of the email addresses that signed up for it.
However, we anticipate two problems. First, some people who previously signed up may not have been restored to the list. Second, some who wanted us to remove them from the list, and whom we previously removed, may now start to again receive our Updates.
We ask for your help and for your indulgence. If you had asked to be removed, and now start receiving Updates again, contrary to your wishes, please accept our apology. Just email us again at firstname.lastname@example.org and ask to unsubscribe. We will move as quickly as we can to get you removed from the list. Be sure you identify the correct email address that you want removed. Oddly sometimes people ask us to unsubscribe them, but they write from an email address that is not on our list and that has never been on our list!
Second, we want to restore everyone to the list who wants to be on it. Of course, if you received this Update, you are on the list and do not need to ask us to add you again. You can help in another important way. Please mention to your friends, family members and anyone else you can think of that if they want to get our AODA Alliance Updates but are not now receiving them, please have them email us at email@example.com and say “Sign me up!”
2. Accessibility Minister’s New Letter to the AODA Alliance Offers No New Action to Address the Many Disability Barriers in the Built Environment
There are fewer than seven years left for the Ontario Government to fulfil its duty to lead Ontario to becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. There are fewer than five months until the next Ontario general election (where we will again make disability accessibility an election issue).
Yet, despite these fast-approaching time lines, the Ontario Government still has no plan in place to ensure that Ontario’s built environment becomes fully accessible to people with disabilities.
Three months ago, on October 23, 2017, the AODA Alliance wrote the Wynne Government’s Accessibility Minister, Tracy MacCharles. In that letter, we once again urged her Government to launch a new strategy to ensure that Ontario’s built environment becomes fully accessible by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act sets.
Three months later, on January 11, 2018, the Minister responded by a short email, which we set out below. Her email offers nothing new. It candidly concedes:
“While the AODA’s accessibility standards are providing a foundation of accessibility, we also recognize there is still a long way to go to reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.”
In this email, Ontario’s Accessibility Minister (who has lead responsibility for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement) largely passed the buck on Ontario’s built environment in buildings to the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing (who has responsibility for the chronically inadequate Ontario Building Code). We have heard nothing from the Municipal Affairs and Housing Minister.
In her email to us, the Accessibility Minister also points to the fact that the Government is required this year to appoint a five-year review of the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard. There are several problems with the Government’s response:
* Almost a decade ago, over our objection, and without consulting us before it decided to do so, the Ontario Government had excluded from that accessibility standard almost all the accessibility barriers in buildings that the Ontario Building Code might be used to address. They carved out of the AODA accessibility standards. For practical purposes, virtually all the built environment inside buildings, despite the wording of the AODA itself.
* The Minister’s January 11, 2018 email then points us to an upcoming Government review of the Public Spaces accessibility standard it enacted in 2012. Yet that accessibility standard includes almost nothing about disability accessibility barriers inside buildings.
* The Minister’s January 11, 2018 email to us, also gives an incorrect description of the mandate of reviews of existing accessibility standards. She wrote that these reviews are to see if the accessibility standard under review is working “as intended”. That is a substantial and harmful dilution of these reviews. When a Standards Development Committee reviews an accessibility standard, it must consider whether the standard is achieving the AODA’s goal of full accessibility by 2025. So far, no AODA accessibility standard has been designed to do that. It is not good enough for a weak accessibility standard to work “as intended”. If the original accessibility standard was not designed to ensure that it achieves full accessibility by 2025, any review of it must beef it up, and not simply repeat that inadequate initial intent.
Since we wrote the Accessibility Minister on October 23, 2017, calling for new action on accessibility barriers in the built environment, new developments have further shown the need for the Wynne Government to take bold new action in this area.
* On October 29, 2017, we released the AODA Alliance’s newest online video. It reveals recurring accessibility problems at the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre. That video has gone viral on the internet.
* On December 2, 2017, we issued a news release, showing that a massive $250 million new building planned for York University (that is to receive huge public funding) includes serious accessibility problems.
This all flies in the face of Premier Wynne’s 2014 election promise to ensure that public money is not used to create barriers against people with disabilities. On May 14, 2014 Premier Wynne promised the AODA Alliance in writing as follows:
“We will continue to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not used to create or perpetuate barriers against Ontarians with disabilities.”
This also flies in the face of Kathleen Wynne’s written promise to us on December 3, 2012 that if she became Ontario’s Premier, she would ensure that Ontario is on schedule for accessibility by 2025.
3. Deadline Fast Approaching for the Ontario Government to Appoint the Next Independent Review of the AODA
The February 13, 2018 deadline for the Ontario Government to appoint the next Independent Review of the AODA is just 25 days away, if not sooner. Under section 41 of the AODA, the Ontario Government is required to again appoint a person to conduct an Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, to see if it is ensuring that Ontario will become fully accessible by 2025. The AODA’s deadline for making this appointment is February 13, 2018, if not before.
We have urged the Wynne Government to ensure that it points this next AODA Independent Review on time. The last time the Government had to appoint an AODA Independent Review was in the 2013 spring. At that time, the Wynne Government violated the AODA, by failing to appoint that Independent Review by the AODA’s May 31, 2013 deadline. Without offering any public explanation or justification for its disregard of its own legislation, the Wynne Government waited some 102 days after that deadline, before it finally got around to appointing that Independent Review.
We had to mount a campaign over the 2013 spring and summer to get the Wynne Government to obey its own law. It eventually appointed University of Toronto’s Law Dean Mayo Moran to conduct that AODA Independent Review, who was an excellent choice. Hers was the second AODA Independent Review. The first was conduct in 2009-2010 by Charles Beer. Mr. Beer was appointed on time.
Below we set out the guest column by AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky that appeared in the online edition of the May 31, 2013 Toronto Star. It gave more background on this issue at that time.
4. How Useful is the Wynne Government’s Promised Toll-Free Phone Number for Reporting AODA Violations?
In the 2014 election, Premier Wynne promised that the Government would establish and publicize a toll-free line for the public to report AODA violations, as part of its commitment to effectively enforce the AODA. We had to fight for months to get this established.
Here’s a recent incident that calls into question how effective that toll-free number is. Long-time tireless AODA supporter Marcia Yale recently wanted to report an AODA violation. She decided to try to call Service Ontario, to see if they would refer her to the right number. The response she got was troubling. Below we set out Marcia Yale’s description of what happened.
January 11, 2018 Letter to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from Ontario Accessibility Minister Tracy MacCharles
Received via email
Dear Mr. Lepofsky:
Thank you for your letter. I appreciate that you have taken the time to share your views. I consider the feedback that I receive from Ontarians like you essential in the process of collecting the data and evidence required to inform future reviews of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and its Standards.
As you are aware, all Standards are required to be reviewed periodically by a Standards Development Committee (SDC) to determine whether they are working as intended?As part of the review process, the committee provides recommendations on how we can continue to strengthen the standards to advance accessibility. The Design of Public Spaces Standard is scheduled to be reviewed in 2018 and I look forward to receiving recommendations from a diverse group of Committee members.
As you reference in your email, accessibility barriers within the built environment can create a range of issues for persons with disabilities. As Ontario’s Building Code falls under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, I have copied my colleague, Minister Bill Mauro.
Ontario is well on its way to removing barriers so that people with disabilities can participate in all aspects of daily life in their communities. While the AODA’s accessibility standards are providing a foundation of accessibility, we also recognize there is still a long way to go to reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.
To achieve this, we will need to keep working together to make this goal a reality so that people of all abilities can participate and contribute to their full potential.
Original signed by,
c: The Honourable Bill Mauro, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing
THE TORONTO STAR ON-LINE MAY 31, 2013
Ontario honours National Access Awareness Week by breaching province’s disability accessibility law
Government fails to fulfil its duty to appoint independent review of the Disabilities Act by May 31
We expect our government to strictly obey the law. That’s why, today, many Ontarians with disabilities will feel the Kathleen Wynne Government let them down.
Premier Wynne’s government recently said that making Ontario accessible for people with disabilities is a top priority. Yet today her government is in breach of its own Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
The government didn’t fulfil its duty to appoint a much-needed independent review of the Disabilities Act by May 31, 2013. That review is required to assess whether the Disabilities Act is working effectively to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025.
If you are one of the 1.7 million Ontarians with a physical, sensory or mental disability, or if you get a disability later in life (as most do), you face too many barriers when trying to use public transit or other public services, get an education or a job, or buy goods in a store. As an example that leaves many dumbfounded, I had to fight TTC for years in two human rights tribunal cases to force them to audibly announce all bus and subway stops, so blind people like me can know what stop we’re at. TTC spent $450,000 on lawyers opposing me.
To overcome these barriers, Ontarians with disabilities waged an exhausting, tenacious 10-year campaign to get the 2005 Disabilities Act passed. It imposes detailed requirements on the Ontario government to lead all Ontario to full accessibility by 2025.
To help ensure that Ontario doesn’t fall behind schedule for full accessibility, the Disabilities Act requires the government to appoint periodic independent reviews to investigate how well progress is proceeding, and to recommend changes if we’re behind schedule. It’s inexcusable that the government hasn’t appointed the latest review by May 31. It’s known of this deadline for years. We reminded the government in writing three months ago. We’ve run a daily countdown on Twitter.
We want this independent review appointed so it can hear that Ontario is behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025 and that, in the past two years, government action has ground down to a snail’s pace. It is a cruel irony that the government’s tardiness in appointing this independent review delays our efforts to rectify the government’s tardiness in getting Ontario to the goal of full accessibility. It’s another cruel irony that the government fails to meet this deadline that falls during National Access Awareness Week a week the government celebrated in the Legislature.
The government’s disregard of its accessibility law’s deadline sends the wrong message to all organizations around Ontario that must obey accessibility deadlines set under this law. It flies in the face of the government’s pledge to lead by example in making Ontario disability-accessible. When running for the Liberal leadership, Kathleen Wynne promised in writing to ensure Ontario is on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, to keep Dalton McGuinty’s earlier commitments to us, and not to weaken anything the Accessibility Act gives us.
In the legislature this week, the NDP asked the government if it will appoint this review by the May 31 deadline. The responsible minister, Eric Hoskins, said he’d have an announcement very soon. Since then, the deadline passed.
The government might argue that it matters not if it appoints this independent review days or weeks late. Yet it matters! The Disabilities Act requires the government to set and strictly enforce mandatory time lines for all organizations in Ontario to take effective action to remove and prevent disability barriers. If the government ignores its own legal deadlines, it signals to others that they can do the same.
Having missed the deadline, we don’t want the government to appoint just anyone with a pulse to conduct this review. It must be a respected person, arms-length from the government, who will impartially listen to all with an open mind, and offer credible findings and workable solutions.
This is even more frustrating since the government promised to effectively enforce this law. Yet the media reports about some restaurants and stores that deny customer service to people with disabilities, despite government boasting about its Customer Service Accessibility Standard.
Early on, this government commendably showed it can act promptly and boldly on accessibility. When it took office in 2003, it developed a comprehensive Disabilities Act within months, that won significant community support and all-party approval. It then promptly got to work on implementing the law. While we weren’t fully satisfied with the initial results, we saw real potential.
Yet in the past two years, the government has largely slowed to a crawl on this issue. It’s not because it only has a minority government. To speed up progress toward accessibility, the government needs to win no votes in the Legislature.
Three years ago, the last independent review of the Disabilities Act was appointed on time. It urged the government to show strengthened leadership and revitalize this law’s implementation. Sadly, the government didn’t.
We agree with Hoskins that what we need is action on this “top priority” of theirs, not just talk. The government needs to kick-start an ambitious agenda of concrete action to get Ontario back on schedule for full accessibility. We sent Premier Wynne and Minister Hoskins an affordable, constructive list of accessibility priorities almost three months ago.
No matter how frustrated, we soldier on, undeterred. Premier Wynne called me two months ago, warmly offering to work together on making Ontario fully accessible to people with disabilities. Today’s failure to obey the law should be a wake-up call to the government to take the entire accessibility issue off its back burner where it has languished for two years. Let today’s bad news spur our new premier to act decisively, boldly and broadly on accessibility. Let it cause her to restore the swiftness, determination and vigour on this issue that the government commendably demonstrated a decade ago, and to keep all her commitments on accessibility.
David Lepofsky is chair of the voluntary, non-partisan Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
Report by AODA Alliance Member Marcia Yale on Attempting to Lodge a Report of an AODA Violation with the Wynne Government’s Promised Toll-Free Phone Line
My name is Marcia Yale and I live in Huntsville, Ontario. This morning, January 12, 2018, I received a print letter from my ODSP office. They know I am blind. I decided to try to lodge a complaint under the AODA because my communication needs were not being met. I could have written a friend to ask for the phone number that I knew had been set up for this purpose, but decided not to take the easy way out, and therefore called 416-326-1234, Service Ontario. The first person who answered told me he’d transfer me to a senior support person when I asked for the phone number to report AODA complaints.
The second person listened to the same request and told me she was transferring me to the AODA office and if I wanted to reach them again I should ask for extension 6305. The woman at AODA Information offered to give me the phone numbers for Arch Disability Law Centre and the Ontario Human Rights Commission, and also told me that the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario did not act on individual complaints. She also said I could fill out a feedback process, but could not tell me if this was accessible when I asked.
She offered to take down my complaint (with no promise it would make any difference), and I said thank you but no. at some point she did ask for the subject of my complaint, and I said it was a government service, but I could have sworn that the phone number set up was supposed to handle all complaints.