June 12, 2014
After publishing glowing reviews about blossoming accessibility and inclusion programs in Alberta and British Colombia, reporting on Ontario’s initiatives seems disappointing.
While government and nonprofits offer numerous support services, concern over the largest province-wide accessibility initiative is growing.
2015 will mark the middle of a 20 year plan to make Ontario more accessible. In 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed by democrat, liberal, and conservative parties. Today, however, it seems political enthusiasm over the act has waned and advocates are wondering if reaching the 2025 deadline is possible.
To review, the AODA was imposed for the purpose of “developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025.” In addition to creating a more accessible environment, the AODA promised to make government activity more inclusive of people with disabilities.
One reason why it appears political parties are not taking AODA seriously is lack of enforcement.
Earlier this year The Star reported that a January 1, 2014 deadline was in place for all businesses to submit accessibility and disability accommodation (customer service) plans. Unfortunately, when the article was published, a startling 70 per cent of liable businesses failed to supply these plans.
Disability advocate and lawyer for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, David Lepofsky, said, “Clearly the bureaucrats had a plan. What happened to it? Where is the political will to enforce this legislation?”
In late April, the CBC reported that another disability advocate was taking accountability measures into her own hands. Mayo Moran, dean of law at the University of Toronto, began an independent review to evaluate and report on progress made throughout Ontario according to AODA standards.
While the goal of AODA is noble, the likelihood of its success is being questioned. A man who has been struggling with disability for over 25 years compares it to playing a game of hockey without having a referee present. Even though rules are in place, there is little enforcement.
David Lepofsky might agree with such a sentiment. In the most recent article about AODA progress, The Star quotes him calling for “back-benchers to lead the leaders.”
Nearly two million people in Ontario live with some sort of disability. This number is likely to increase in years ahead. It is widely believed that now is the time to make changes. As advocates rally to create plans that will guide government enforcers, many people with disabilities wonder, can Ontario really become barrier-free by 2025?