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McGuinty Government Issues Weak Final Response to Beer Independent Review of AODA

Government Does Not Promise the New Leadership or Transformative Change that Charles Beer Recommended

August 11, 2010

SUMMARY

On August 11, 2010, the McGuinty Government released a weak and inadequate final response to the Government-appointed Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA. (5-page text set out below)

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The Government has disregarded, ducked or delayed on much of what Charles Beer found about the Government’s inadequate implementation of the AODA to date. It does not commit to make the transformative changes to the AODA’s implementation that Charles Beer recommended.

The AODA requires Ontario to become fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025, now less than 15 years away. The AODA required the Government to appoint an Independent Review, four years after this legislation went into effect, to investigate and report on how effectively the legislation is working. The Independent Review was required to recommend any improvements that are needed, to ensure that Ontario reaches full accessibility for persons with disabilities by 2025.

In June 2009, four years after the AODA went into effect, the McGuinty Government appointed former Liberal Cabinet Minister Charles Beer to conduct this Independent Review. He rendered his Report in February 2010. The Government made that Report public on May 31, 2010, after studying it for three months.

Echoing concerns that the AODA Alliance and others have been raising with the Government for some time, the Beer Report found several significant problems with the way the Ontario Government was implementing the AODA, despite its good intentions. It calls for significant changes in the Government’s implementation of the AODA. The Beer Report found a need for new Ontario Government leadership in this area and a revitalized, transformative change in how the Government implements this legislation. It found that the Government needs to breathe new life into the AODA.

This reform must be much more than mere tinkering with the AODA’s implementation, the Beer Report found. These are necessary if Ontario is to become fully accessible to persons with disabilities by 2025. That is another way of saying, as we have been saying for some time, that Ontario is now not on schedule for reaching the full accessibility by 2025 that the AODA requires.

“It is very troubling that the McGuinty Government’s weak response to the Beer Report doesn’t show the new Government leadership that the Charles Beer Report said Ontario needs,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance, which spearheads the grassroots campaign for the AODA’s effective implementation. “The Beer Report calls for the Government to make transformative change. The Government’s response largely just sticks to business as usual. Charles Beer’s Report shows that the Government’s business-as-usual approach is a problem, not the solution.”

The overall flavour of the Government’s August 11, 2010 response to the Beer Report flies in the face of the core focus of the Beer Report. We urge the Government to commit to revitalize the AODA’s implementation, to institute transformative change, and to breathe new life into the AODA’s implementation, all of which the Government-appointed Charles Beer called for.

Highlights of the Government’s Response

* Central to the Beer Report, it called for the Government to show new leadership for implementation of the AODA e.g. by appointing a full-time deputy minister to be responsible for all Government work on accessibility. Right now, the Government’s many departments take a disorganized, uncoordinated “silo” approach to accessibility. The Government’s response does not even mention the Beer Report’s recommendation of a new full-time accessibility deputy minister. It does not commit to create that position.

* The Beer Report called for a bold new public education campaign on accessibility, because it found such a serious knowledge gap on this issue in the public. In effect, the Beer Report concluded that the Government efforts on this to date were insufficient.

The Government response does not commit to any major changes or any major specific and new public education program, beyond what it is already doing. It just points to the programs it already has underway, and says it is now shifting focus beyond the broader public sector vis a vis one accessibility standard, the Customer Service Accessibility Standard. The Government response also says it has a new YouTube accessibility channel. That is not transformative change to meet our needs.

* The Beer Report called for substantial improvements to the way the Government develops accessibility standards under the AODA. It recommended that the Government establish an arm’s-length advisory body — the Ontario Accessibility Standards Board — to review and develop accessibility standards.

The Government response vaguely agrees that “changes are needed.” It only commits that public officials will study the proposal of a new independent Accessibility Standards Board and report back to the Community and Social Services Minister early in 2011. We have no idea when the public will hear more about this, or whether this will lead to any actual changes.

The Government has already had six months to study this recommendation. The disability community, and the opposition NDP and Conservative Parties, urged this recommendation on the Government back in 2004-2005 when the Government was first developing the AODA.

While public officials continue to study this recommendation, the Government says it is not contemplating any immediate organizational changes.

* The Beer Report called for the Government to strengthen support for municipal accessibility advisory committees. These committees advise municipal governments on accessibility issues.

The Government’s response points to a new Government website on this, and otherwise mainly commits to continue doing what it has done in the past in this area.

* The Beer Report called for the Government to harmonize the accessibility standards prior to releasing the remaining proposed standards as regulations. The Government already announced back on May 31, 2010 that it would do this. This is the Report’s least significant recommendation in terms of strengthening the AODA’s implementation.

We expect the Government would have done this whether or not the Beer Report would have recommended it. Harmonizing those standards does not fix the other major problems with the AODA that the Beer Report found.

* The Beer Report calls for the Government not to repeal the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 until addressing all of its contents in amendments to the AODA or in accessibility standards. We and others in the disability community urged that nothing be done in this regard that would reduce the tools available to promote work towards removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities.

The Government response states that it plans to repeal the Ontarians with Disabilities Act once the regulations for the five standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 are in place. It also states: “Appropriate aspects of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act will be incorporated into the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 at that time.”

This vague announcement does not commit that all provisions in the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that contribute to the removal and prevention of barriers will be retained and incorporated into the AODA or accessibility standards enacted under it. We may have to campaign to retain these.

For example, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001 requires the Government to consider accessibility when procuring goods and services, or when investing in infrastructure. The Government does not here commit to retain those requirements in the AODA once the Ontarians with Disabilities Act is repealed.

You can read the Beer Report at:
http://www.aoda.ca/?page_id=468

You can read the AODA Alliance’s analysis of the Beer Report at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/06032010.asp

You can read the AODA Alliance’s December 11, 2009 brief to the Beer Independent Review at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/strong-effective-aoda/12152009.asp

*****

MCGUINTY GOVERNMENT RESPONSE TO CHARLES BEER INDEPENDENT REVIEW OF AODA

(Made public on Government website at noon August 11, 2010)

In June of 2009 our government appointed former Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, Charles Beer to conduct the first independent review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. The goal of the review was to determine whether the objective of an accessible province was being met in an effective, efficient, flexible and fair manner.

Mr. Beer held broad consultations from September to December, 2009 with a wide array of individuals and groups from across the province. There were close to 90 meetings with interested parties and public meetings were held in Toronto, Ottawa and London. Videoconferences were arranged with northern communities and English and French online seminars were coordinated to reach people with disabilities who otherwise would not have been able to participate.

On May 31, 2010 I was pleased to table Mr. Beer’s final report, Charting a Path Forward: Report of the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, in the Legislature during National Access Awareness Week. We were fortunate enough to have Mr. Beer present in the House on that day and I took the opportunity to thank him for his dedication to the project.

As the Minister responsible for Accessibility in Ontario, I have reviewed Mr. Beer’s report and our government is responding. Mr. Beer suggested that we harmonize standards, and we agree. That is why we are prepared to move forward on this specific recommendation immediately. Moreover, I strongly agree with Mr. Beer’s caution that we must not lose focus on our immediate priority of implementing the remaining four accessibility standards. Once regulations for those standards are in place, I will continue to bring forward changes that will help us reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.

Harmonization of Standards

During the public review of each of the standards, we consistently heard the need to align the requirements of the standards. The disability, municipal and business communities spoke, and our government listened. That is why we are moving forward with Mr. Beer’s recommendation regarding the need to align the requirements of the standards. Over the coming months, our government intends to integrate the information and communications, transportation and employment standards.

This approach will mitigate cumulative impacts and prevent duplication. In 2013, customer service will also be integrated in the regulation. Most changes to the Built Environment will be reflected in changes to the Ontario Building Code. The rest will be integrated into regulation as well.

While we will continue to seek advice from key stakeholders in the community to make sure we get it right, it is my hope to have the integrated regulation completed and in force in 2011.

Renewed leadership

I believe, as the Minister responsible for accessibility, that this government has shown substantial leadership when it comes to improving accessibility. In his report Mr. Beer underlines the importance of building on the impressive work that has been accomplished to date. He makes reference to a number of specific initiatives taken at the operational level to strengthen the overall administration of the AODA. He notes steps taken to improve the workings of the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees (MAACs), to provide new tools for the obligated sectors to implement the Customer Service standard, and to develop the enforcement and compliance mechanisms that are now required. He also stresses that we must continue to move forward in a deliberate and focused way to achieve the goals and objectives of the AODA by 2025. We are maintaining this focus.

Ontario is a world leader on accessibility, and our government will continue to champion actions that keep us out in front. In fact, we are moving more quickly than other jurisdictions and, by including requirements not only for the public and broader public sectors but also for the private and not-for-profit sectors, our standards are broader in scope.

In terms of outreach and awareness, our government has already made some tremendous strides. In 2007 we launched AccessOn, our accessibility website, designed to help obligated organizations learn about the legislation and what they need to do to comply, as well as to raise awareness among the public about what accessibility means and how to identify and remove barriers. The EnAbling Change program has been a particular success as Mr. Beer notes in his report. We have worked closely with a variety of obligated sector organizations to provide clear and useful information to assist their members to implement the accessibility standards. More will be done with this innovative program. Finally, this year we started a YouTube channel dedicated to accessibility which we plan to use to engage a whole new social media audience in accessibility. These initiatives will continue to strengthen public awareness for accessibility.

I was also pleased this year, both by the fact that the Ontario Public Service was the first organization to file their compliance report under the new Accessible Customer Service Standard, and by the high rate of compliance with the standard among the broader public sector.

We are now shifting the focus of our outreach and awareness raising efforts towards reaching the approximately 322,000 private sector and 38,000 non profit sector entities that will be obligated to comply with the standards as of January 1, 2012.

Ontario Accessibility Standards Board

While Mr. Beer’s review found that there are many positive elements to the current standards development process, he has stated that changes are needed to address the significant challenges that emerged through the course of the work.

I agree that changes are needed, and this will continue to be a work in progress. That is why I have asked staff to further explore Mr. Beer’s recommendation for establishing an Ontario Accessibility Standards Board and to report back to me early in 2011. I have always valued the advice of community partners and staff in my ministry. In fact, it was through conversations and requests at the community partnership level that resulted in an increase in the number of disability advocates sitting on the Standard Development Committees.

I strongly agree with Mr. Beer’s recommendation that our immediate focus should remain on the implementation of the remaining standards before making any changes. Changing the standards development process would require significant amendments to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, and at this time I want to keep my attention on completing the standards. For this same reason, I am not contemplating any immediate organizational changes. I believe any future steps should be considered in the context of the review of the proposed Ontario Accessibility Standards Board. The implementation of such a board could well have a number of implications for the existing organizational structure.

Repeal of the ODA

As part of the review, I asked Mr. Beer to make recommendations for a strategy to repeal the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

As the Minister responsible for accessibility, I intend on repealing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act once the regulations for the five standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 are in place. This is consistent with Mr. Beer’s recommendation. Appropriate aspects of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act will be incorporated into the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 at that time.

Role of Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees

Mr. Beer noted that Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees have an important role to play in achieving the vision of an accessible Ontario. By building a foundation of awareness and support at the local and community level, they can continue to be tremendous partners in our accessibility plan. I strongly support the role that Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees play, and I agree with Mr. Beer. My ministry will continue to work closely with our municipal colleagues to ensure they continue to be a part of the provincial conversation on accessibility.

My ministry has recently launched a section on the ontario.ca/AccessON website dedicated to “Accessibility in Your Community,” which offers stories and video profiles on communities that are champions in accessibility and examples of best practices at the local level. We continue to work with the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees as we seek out local and community success stories that can help build awareness across the province about the benefits of accessibility and some of the simple things we can all do to break down barriers.

Ministry staff will also be holding a series of regional forums in 2011 to advise Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees of the progress being made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.

Moving Forward

As we continue to implement this important piece of legislation, our approach will make Ontario a world leader in accessibility. Ontario will be the first jurisdiction in the world to move from complaints-based legislation to a modern regulatory regime in the area of mandated accessibility. We will take this journey together – government, broader public sector, private businesses and the public. And together we will build a stronger, more inclusive society for us all.

Madeleine Meilleur
Minister