November 24, 2010
On November 12, 2010 we wrote to Community and Social Services Minister Madeleine Meilleur, the McGuinty Government’s cabinet minister with lead responsibility for implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We asked what the Government has done up to now, and what it plans to do in the final year of this term in office, on three important 2007 election promises to Ontarians with disabilities, namely:
1. The Government’s commitment to address barriers in provincial laws;
2. The Government’s commitment on educating school students and self-governing professions about disability accessibility;
3. The Government’s commitment to create an accessible elections action plan.
Our letter is set out below. It describes the election promises about which we inquired, and our efforts to date to find out what has been done about them.
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ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue,
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
November 12, 2010
Hon. Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Toronto, Ontario M7A 1E9
Fax: (416) 325-1498
Re: Your Government’s 2007 Election Promises to Ontarians with Disabilities
There is less than one year before the next Ontario election. We write to ask what specific plans your Government has to fulfil all of its promises made to us and all Ontarians with disabilities in the 2007 Ontario general election, regarding the agenda of making Ontario fully accessible to all persons with disabilities by or before 2025. Those promises were set out in Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 letter to our coalition. Premier McGuinty made these election promises in response to our request. The Premier’s letter is publicly available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/09142007.asp
We address ourselves in this letter to three specific election commitments. We are eager to learn from you what steps your Government has taken to date to keep these promises, and what plans your Government has to completely fulfil these pledges over the final year of this term.
1. Your Government’s Commitment to Address Barriers in Provincial Laws
Premier McGuinty made an important commitment to address barriers facing persons with disabilities that are rooted in Ontario laws. His September 14, 2007 letter to us states:
“Review all Ontario laws to find any disability accessibility barriers that need to be removed.
The Ontario Liberal government believes this is the next step toward our goal of a fully accessible Ontario. Building on our work of the past four years, we will continue to be a leader in Canada on accessibility issues. For Ontario to be fully accessible, we must ensure no law directly or indirectly discriminates against those with disabilities. To make that happen, we commit to reviewing all Ontario laws to find any disability barriers that need to be removed.”
We are eager to know what steps your Government has taken on this to date, and how it plans to fulfil this promise over the next year. Have all Ontario laws, including all statues and regulations, been reviewed for direct or indirect barriers against persons with disabilities? If not, when will this be done? If so, who did the review? What were the results? What plans do you have to introduce legislation to amend any Ontario legislation or regulations to remove those barriers? Who has lead responsibility within your Government for keeping this promise? Since this is a major undertaking, it is important that there be an authoritative official identified as being in charge of this project.
We have tried without success to find out many times over the past two years who is in charge of this project, what steps are being taken, and with what progress. Some two years ago, we gave your Government constructive ideas on how to carry out this project, and a tool to assist when reviewing Ontario statutes and regulations for accessibility barriers. We have also offered to provide training on this to those tasked with reviewing all Ontario statutes and regulations.
We commend your Government for committing that “For Ontario to be fully accessible, we must ensure no law directly or indirectly discriminates against those with disabilities.” We would expect, as a result of a comprehensive review of Ontario enactments, that a package of legislative amendments would need to be brought forward to the Legislature, to correct any barriers found. We are not aware of any such package or omnibus bill being tabled with the Legislature for debate.
In contrast, over two decades ago, in the mid-1980s, the previous Liberal Government, under Premier David Peterson, brought forward and passed an omnibus bill to bring Ontario legislation in line with the Charter of Rights, and especially the equality rights guarantee in section 15 of the Charter. We know of no comparable omnibus bill being brought forward by any Ontario Government since then to address disability barriers, in response to Supreme Court rulings on the Charter’s equality rights guarantee for persons with disabilities.
It is clear to us that the Government has not firmly embedded an effective practice of screening any new proposed legislation, for disability barriers. This spring your Government passed Bill 231, an amendment to Ontario election laws. That legislation bans the use of telephone and internet voting in the 2011 Ontario election, even though that access technology is permitted and has been successfully used in municipal elections. If new Ontario legislation were being effectively screened to prevent barriers against persons with disabilities, that legislative ban on access technology in the next Ontario election would never have been brought forward. We state this, noting that only as a result of our advocacy efforts, your Government amended Bill 231 after it was introduced into the Legislature, to create a process that might allow that ban on this access technology to be lifted after the 2011 election.
2. Your Government’s Commitment on Educating School Students and Self-Governing Professions about Disability Accessibility
Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 letter states:
“Institute a new program to ensure that students in schools and professional organizations are trained on accessibility issues.
We already include awareness of and respect for students with special needs: in every curriculum document there is a front piece on planning programs for students with special education needs. Disability awareness is an expectation in the Grade 12 Social Sciences and Humanities course. Our government also introduced character education.
Character education is about schools reinforcing values shared by the school community – values such as respect, honesty, responsibility and fairness. It is about nurturing universal values, upon which schools and communities can agree. We will ensure that this curriculum includes issues relating to persons with disabilities.
The Government of Ontario does not set the training curriculum for professional bodies such as architects, but we commit to raising this issue with the different professional bodies.”
To date, we have no information that your Government has kept these promises. Over a year ago, on July 20, 2009, we wrote to you, as well as the Minister of Education and the Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities to find out what steps your Government had taken to keep this commitment, and what plans it has for future action on that pledge. That letter is publicly available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07212009.asp
You wrote back on September 3, 2009, largely leaving it to the two other ministers to respond. The replies we received from then Minister of Education Kathleen Wynne dated September 15, 2009 and Minister of Training, Colleges and Universities John Milloy, on October 6, 2009 were very vague. They did not indicate either that this election commitment has been kept, or any detailed plans for ensuring that it is kept, before the next Ontario election. Those letters and our analysis of them are available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/11102009.asp
The importance of this election commitment is amplified by the 2010 Report of Charles Beer on his Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. As you know, he found a pressing need for significantly expanded public education on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. His report includes, for example:
* “Both people with disabilities and representatives of the obligated sectors agree on the need for the government to make a substantial investment in public education and awareness as part of the rollout of standards, to create a culture and environment to support change.”
* “One initiative mentioned was the government’s 2008 advertising campaign on transit vehicles and bus shelters across Ontario, supported by print ads in commuter papers. Stakeholders however felt that the campaign had little impact on public awareness.”
* “It is critical that the government build a broader public awareness and understanding about the AODA and that the necessary tools and supports be available for the obligated sectors.”
Moreover, your September 3, 2009 letter to us, responding to our earlier inquiry of you on this issue, reinforced the importance of keeping this pledge. You wrote: “The Accessible Information and Communication Standard Development Committee (SDC) made specific reference to the training of regulated professionals in its final proposed standard. The SDC recommended that mandatory professional development include training on the information and communication needs of persons with disabilities and the prevention, identification and removal of barriers to accessible information and communications.”
We are thus eager to know what has been done on this commitment, and what specific plans exist for completing your Government’s fulfillment of this pledge before the next Ontario election.
3. Your Government’s Commitment to Create an Accessible Elections Action Plan
Premier McGuinty’s September 14, 2007 letter states:
“Develop an action plan to make provincial and municipal elections fully accessible to voters.
We have just released guides on how to make election communications materials accessible and how to make all candidates meetings accessible. A third guide will be released in October on how to make constituency offices and campaign offices accessible. In addition, we will commit to developing an action plan to make elections fully accessible to voters with disabilities.”
We have been told that your Government has been working on an accessible election action plan that is separate from and additional to Bill 231, the recently passed election reform law. We are eager to learn what steps have been taken to date to develop this promised plan, who has lead responsibility for it, when it will be finished, and what opportunities we will have for input into it.
We look forward to hearing back from you on these commitments, and would welcome the opportunity to work with you and your Government to ensure that they are all kept. In this letter we do not address those of your Government’s 2007 election promises to us which we know have been kept, or where the opportunity to keep them has unfortunately lapsed.
David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont. Chair AODA Alliance
cc: Premier Dalton McGuinty, fax (416) 325-3745, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Marguerite Rappolt, Deputy Minister, Community & Social Services, fax (416) 325-5240, email email@example.com
Ellen Waxman, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, Ministry of Community and Social Services, fax (416) 325-9620, email firstname.lastname@example.org nono