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Major Victory for Ontarians with Disabilities – McGuinty Government Enshrines Accessibility Requirements in its New 10-Year Infrastructure Plan

July 4, 2011

SUMMARY

On June 24, 2011, the McGuinty Government unveiled its 10-Year Infrastructure Plan for Ontario. It lays down the policies and principles that are supposed to govern any of the billions of dollars of infrastructure spending by the provincial government over the next decade.

We have all won a major victory for Ontarians with disabilities, after several years of effort by us and our community. We are delighted that mandatory accessibility requirements are expressly enshrined in this new 10 year plan. It requires that: “all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings or major expansions/renovations to demonstrate how the funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility where feasible.”

Until now, the Ontario Government has annually spent enormous and increasing amounts of public money on infrastructure projects, without imposing this requirement. That let the Ontario Government itself, or other organizations that get infrastructure money from the provincial government, could spend public money on creating barriers against Ontarians with disabilities. For example:

* The massive spending on infrastructure stimulus, to get Ontario out of the recent economic downturn, did not include the accessibility requirements that we have been seeking to prevent this.

* The huge Ontario Government expenditure on the Presto Smart Card was not made conditional on ensuring that this new method for paying one’s public transit fare is fully accessible to persons with disabilities.

That unacceptable past practice must now stop. The key principle for which we have been campaigning is that not one dime of public money should ever be used to create, exacerbate or perpetuate any barriers against persons with disabilities. Who could argue against this principle?

It will be important for the Government to now convert this principle from the lofty language of the new 10-Year Infrastructure Plan to a concrete operational policy and practice. This must be one that is monitored and consistently practiced, and for which public servants involved in all stages of infrastructure spending will be held accountable.

We commend the McGuinty Government for weaving this accessibility requirement into its 10-Year Infrastructure Plan. Until now, the only protection beyond the Human Rights Code itself that we have had was weak, limited, and ultimately ineffectual. In the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, passed a decade ago by the previous Mike Harris Government, the following limited provision was enacted with no effective enforcement accompanying it:

“9. (1) If a project relates to an existing or proposed building, structure or premises for which the Building Code Act, 1992 and the regulations made under it establish a level of accessibility for persons with disabilities, the project shall meet or exceed that level in order to be eligible to receive funding under a government-funded capital program.

Same, other projects

(2) If a project is not a project described in subsection (1) or if the projects in a class of projects are not projects described in that subsection, the Government of Ontario may include requirements to provide accessibility for persons with disabilities as part of the eligibility criteria for the project or the class of projects, as the case may be, to receive funding under a government-funded capital program.”

Having just won a new, key measure, we need it implemented as quickly and effectively as possible. The Government needs to promptly commit to taking steps like these:

* Getting the strong message widely broadcasted as soon as possible to any organization that seeks Ontario infrastructure funds, such as municipalities, universities, colleges, school boards, public transit providers, and hospitals, that they must prove in their applications that they will ensure that public money isn’t used to create, perpetuate or exacerbate barriers against persons with disabilities.

* Ensuring that this infrastructure accessibility commitment applies to all forms of provincially-funded infrastructure, and not just the built environment such as buildings. It should, for example, extend with full and equal force to electronic and information technology infrastructure, such as the Presto Smart Card for paying public transit fares.

* Ensuring as well that the same principles apply to the Government’s use of public funds to procure goods, services and facilities for use by the Government or the public. The recently-enacted Integrated Accessibility Regulation lays a foundation for this. It provides:

5. (1) The Government of Ontario, Legislative Assembly and designated public sector organizations shall incorporate accessibility criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities, except where it is not practicable to do so.

(2) If the Government of Ontario, Legislative Assembly or a designated public sector organization determines that it is not practicable to incorporate accessibility criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services or facilities, it shall provide, upon request, an explanation.

* establishing detailed guidelines for infrastructure accessibility, beyond those set out in the current accessibility standards enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These should, for example:
a) make it clear that for infrastructure projects to be accessible, they must meet the accessibility requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and not just the more limited requirements of accessibility standards enacted to date under the AODA.

b) Make it clear that “where feasible” in this policy will be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Human Rights Code. By this, barriers against persons with disabilities cannot be created, exacerbated or perpetuated with public infrastructure money if there is a way to avoid this without proven undue hardship.

* implementing in the Ontario Public Service policies for implementing this accessibility commitment, and for monitoring compliance with it. This should not simply leave it to each ministry to decide whether it will implement this accessibility commitment, or what accessibility will mean, or how much weight to give it in making decisions among competing applicants for capital and infrastructure grants.

We will seek election commitments from the three Ontario political parties in this direction. We want to be sure that the next Government maintains and builds on this victory. We would welcome the chance to work with the Ontario Government on implementing this new accessibility commitment. We urge that the foregoing steps be taken promptly, so that no more capital money is given out without ensuring that it is never used to make life worse for persons with disabilities.

To learn about our past efforts on this issue, and frustrations we have encountered along the way, visit: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/07082009.asp
and: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06202010.asp

MORE DETAILS – WHAT THE 10 YEAR INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN SAYS ABOUT ACCESSIBILITY AND DISABILITIES

The 10 Year Infrastructure Plan is posted on the Government’s website at this time at: http://www.moi.gov.on.ca/en/infrastructure/building_together/plan.asp

We will post it on our website . The Government has also posted it in PDF format and in multiple segments in HTML format.

The key passages in the new 10-Year Infrastructure Plan bearing on disability accessibility issues are as follows:

* This plan also sets out directions to ensure effective investments in cultural and tourism infrastructure, in the justice system, in supporting the delivery of social services, in ensuring accessibility, and in providing more streamlined access to government services.

* The Province and its partners have a responsibility to act as good stewards, so that Ontario’s infrastructure provides the services needed today and in the decades ahead. Good stewardship rests above all on proper asset management, because very often the best investments are in repairs and rehabilitation, not replacement.

Good stewardship also entails looking forward to manage emerging issues, such as climate change and the need for accessibility and environmental sustainability, so that infrastructure remains able to meet public needs through the 21st century. Part Three of this plan provides more details on how asset management planning and stewardship will evolve in Ontario over the coming decade.

* Social infrastructure accomplishments

The Province has invested more than $570 million in capital funding in the social sector since 2003 to:

• Increase the capacity of shelters for women fleeing domestic violence by adding beds to existing shelters and building new ones
• Redevelop four children’s treatment centres
• Invest in about 1,000 projects to improve social service agencies’ facilities
• Support community-based options, like family and group homes and independent living, so that people with developmental disabilities no longer live in ministry-operated facilities
• Commit to modernize information systems for court-ordered support orders, social assistance services, and child protection services
• Build four new secure custody/detention facilities dedicated to youth justice services and expand an existing one.

Programs and services are provided by some 1,870 community-based transfer payment agencies funded by the Ministry of Children and Youth Services and the Ministry of Community and Social Services. Examples of infrastructure in the sector include shelters, children’s aid societies, youth detention facilities and probation offices, treatment centres for children with complex conditions, facilities for early childhood development and people with special needs, and offices and other meeting places. Affordable housing, another important part of social infrastructure, is discussed in Section D.

The government has also identified poverty reduction as a priority because all Ontarians should have the opportunity to be at their best. This includes ensuring that the Province’s infrastructure helps to provide strong, healthy, and inclusive communities for Ontarians to live, work, and play.
The new Poverty Reduction Act, 2009, requires a provincial strategy, to be renewed at least every five years, and annual reporting on progress. As part of the poverty reduction strategy, the government has set a target of reducing the number of children living in poverty by 25 per cent over five years. This strategy will inform much of the work in the sector over the next several years. For example, the social service ministries are developing initiatives to transform and improve child welfare, developmental services, and children’s mental health. Such initiatives will help identify infrastructure priorities where possible.

Several other factors create a need for infrastructure investments in this sector:

• While emergency shelters provide short-term relief to women fleeing domestic violence, the transition to independent life may need additional support. One concern is that the length of time spent in a shelter is increasing and now averages 27 days. This may be because of limited availability of affordable, transitional, and second-stage housing. As a result, several shelters are over capacity, with long waiting lists.
• Another concern in the sector is the increasing number of adults with developmental disabilities, medical problems, or both, who entered children’s residential services early in their lives and are still living there because of lack of capacity in adult services.
• Because many of the sector’s programs and services are delivered over the long term and through numerous agencies, information management is critical to ensure better outcomes. The next decade will see an increased focus on using technology to integrate information, manage risks, and increase efficiency.

* Making Ontario Accessible

People with disabilities regularly face barriers that prevent them from working, travelling in, and enjoying their communities. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, the government is developing five accessibility standards to break down these barriers so that people of all ages and abilities can more easily live, work, and travel throughout the province. Ontario’s infrastructure will need to reflect these standards as they continue to be introduced.
The first standard to be implemented under the act — ensuring accessible customer service — is already in place for Ontario’s broader public sector.

Three additional standards were recently approved for information and communications, employment, and transportation. The final standard, related to the built environment, is currently under development. The built environment standard would reduce physical barriers for people with disabilities, both inside buildings and outdoors.

Making the province accessible by 2025 will help Ontario tap into the economic power of thousands of customers and visitors with disabilities and harness a larger, more diverse labour pool.

Moving forward

Working with agencies and municipalities over the next 10 years, the Province will:

• Align infrastructure investments with innovative programs, services, and supports aimed at reducing poverty and enhancing outcomes.
• Support the creation of community “hubs,” which could include a range of services located together.
• Help women fleeing domestic violence move from shelters into affordable long-term housing, contributing to greater availability of much-needed shelter space.
• Invest in bringing together disparate information sources and systems to provide better service throughout the sector.
• Continue to undertake building condition assessments to set priorities for renewal of the facilities of community-based agencies and organizations.
• In support of the 2025 accessibility goal, require all entities seeking provincial infrastructure funding for new buildings or major expansions/renovations to demonstrate how the funding will prevent or remove barriers and improve the level of accessibility where feasible.

* This long-term plan sets out an infrastructure investment strategy that will act as a catalyst for Ontario’s economic growth and quality of life. Around the world, other economies are investing in infrastructure at unprecedented levels. Over the next decade, Ontario must continue investing to remain competitive. The more than $35 billion in investment planned over the next three years will be put to work helping to ensure that our goods get to market on time, road congestion is reduced, people have better access to public transit, our workforce is well educated, and our health care system is sustainable.

As important as those investments are, this plan does more for people in Ontario. Through innovation and good management, it aims to make infrastructure investments more cost-effective and to ensure projects get finished on time and on budget. It will help to protect Ontario’s critical infrastructure against the challenge of climate change, and ensure that infrastructure is accessible and sustainable.

If you don’t now receive our updates directly from us, sign up for AODA Alliance e-mail updates by writing to our new email address: aodafeedback@gmail.com
Learn more at: www.aodaalliance.org

UNITED FOR A BARRIER-FREE ONTARIO

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