Wynne Government’s First Throne Speech Signals Potential Revitalized Approach to Accessibility for People With Disabilities

February 19, 2013

SUMMARY

On February 19, 2013, in its first Throne Speech, the Wynne Government made a promising announcement. It is shifting lead responsibility for implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act from the Community and Social Services Ministry (where it has resided since 2005) to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. The Throne Speech made increased employment for all and inclusiveness for all as core themes. It included this key passage:

“Your government will ensure that all individuals can find their role in this economy. And so it calls on the private sector to increase the number of people with disabilities in the Ontario workforce. As a demonstration of its commitment to this goal, your government will shift the Accessibility Directorate from the Ministry of Community and Social Services to the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Because men and women with disabilities deserve a level playing field.”

This is a refreshing, positive and promising announcement, because:

* The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, which oversees and leads Ontario’s development and implementation of accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, is far more appropriately situated at the Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment. Achieving accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities is not a social service. It is far better seen as a pressing economic necessity. It must be a bedrock part of any economic development strategy for Ontario.

To learn about an independent 2010 study by the Martin Prosperity Institute, commissioned by the Ontario Government, that documented significant economic gains to Ontario if it becomes fully accessible to persons with disabilities, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06232010.asp

* The Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment works far more extensively with Ontario’s private sector. It is in a better position to fully and positively engage the private sector in the enterprise of making Ontario fully accessible to persons with disabilities. Ontario’s economic development should draw fully on the talents of Ontarians with disabilities who want to take full part in the workforce. The products and services that Ontario creates and sells at home and abroad should incorporate universal design principles so that customers with disabilities here and around the world can use them.

* The Ministry of Community and Social Services is going to be swamped in the coming months with the important task of leading social assistance reform. Its minister would likely not have the time to devote to the accessibility agenda that the accessibility issue deserves.

* The Wynne Government has commendably expanded the mandate of the Ministry of Economic Development to include the important area of employment. That is why the Ministry has just been renamed the “Ministry of Economic Development, Trade and Employment”.

Ontarians with disabilities continue to face chronic unemployment rates that are multiples of the national average facing all Canadians. As the 2012 report on social assistance co-authored by Frances Lankin properly concluded, recent accessibility standards enacted under the AODA addressing barriers in employment are not sufficient to solve this problem. It is a promising step forward that the new Ontario cabinet minister responsible for advancing the overall goal of higher employment rates in Ontario will also have lead responsibility for accessibility of employment for persons with disabilities.

We commend the Wynne Government for taking this promising step. It can help revitalize and breathe new life into the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We also echo the Government’s call for the private sector to take concerted action to expand employment opportunities for persons with disabilities.

We look forward to working with the new Economic Development, Trade and Employment minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins, as he takes on this important mandate, and with Ontario’s new premier, Kathleen Wynne. In 2012, Premier Wynne promised us in writing to honour all previous commitments on accessibility made by the McGuinty Government. To read Premier Wynne’s December 3, 2012 disability accessibility commitments to the AODA Alliance, visit http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/01272013.asp

The promising step announced today is not itself enough to get Ontario on schedule for full accessibility by 2025, the deadline set by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We shall soon be writing Premier Wynne and Minister Hoskins with a constructive list of actions that the Government needs to take to move the accessibility agenda forward and to capitalize on today’s commendable announcement.

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Learn all about our campaign for a fully accessible Ontario by visiting http://www.aodaalliance.org