The AODA Clock is Ticking

There are until a fully Accessible Ontario! Will you be compliant?

Let our team of experts help with your AODA needs:

  • Website Audits
  • Multimedia
  • Web Design
  • Accessible Documentation

For more details email info@aoda.ca

The AODA and the Integrated Accessibility Standards

By Dianne Wintermute, Staff Lawyer
Posted to site August 25, 2011 

As is evident, the Government’s commitment to accessibility for all Ontarians has been significantly watered down by these Standards, and is a significant disservice to Ontarians with Disabilities.

On June 3, 2011, the Integrated Accessibility Standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act (AODA) were proclaimed into force and
effect as regulations under that AODA.
 
ARCH is disappointed with these resulting Standards. The Ministry of Community and Social Services had originally announced that there were to be five separate Standards: Customer Service; Built Environment; Information and Communication; Transportation; and Employment. Committees were set up to address each of these areas and to make recommendations on the appropriate standards that organizations should be required to meet. Consultations with the community followed these recommendations and the comments made by concerned members of Ontario were to be taken into account before the final Standard was released.
 
This was the process followed for the Customer Service and Built Environment Standards. However, when the next three Standards were to be available for consultation, the process changed mid-stream. The committees that had been established to develop the Information and Communication, Transportation and Employment Standards had been meeting for over three years, and indeed, some extensive Standards had already been drafted at the Committee level under each of these areas. However, in a surprising and disappointing move, the Government announced that these Standards would now be lumped together and called the Integrated Accessibility Standards. The resulting Standards were a very pared down version with little more than guidelines for “accessibility”. Some critics, however, suggest that the Integrated Standards are actually barriers to accessibility.
 
The Ontario government did hold a public consultation on the Integrated Standard. ARCH made submissions as part of this public consultation which can be read on ARCH’s website at: http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/?q=submissionshttp://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/?q=submissions.
 
One of the concerns that ARCH raised is that the vast majority of organizations are exempt from compliance with these Standards. Only organizations with more than 50 employees must comply with the Integrated Standards. This means that, in the employment arena, the vast majority of employers in Ontario are exempt from the requirements under the Employment Standards. Indeed, Statistics Canada reports that over 95% of businesses in Ontario employ fewer than 50 employees, making the impact of this Standard negligible. Indeed, one has to ask what is the purpose of creating employment Standards at all, if the bulk of employers in the province do not have to meet them.
 
The same exemptions apply to Information and Communications and Transportation services. ARCH urged the government to tighten the Integrated Standards so that they were more meaningful to persons with disabilities and to harmonize them with the Customer Service Standards that exempt organizations with under 20 employees. This number would relieve truly small organizations from any onerous obligations, while ensuring that accessibility for persons with disabilities was enhanced in Ontario. Our concerns were not adopted.
 
Another major concern that ARCH expressed about the Integrated Standards is the lack of real enforcement mechanisms to ensure compliance with the Standards. As the Standards are currently written, there is really no robust system in place that will ensure meaningful investigations for those organizations covered by the Standard; there is no significant public complaints process that would allow members of the public to make complaints about non-compliance and to follow up on those complaints. Most importantly, is the concern that there are no ways for any member of the public who has been denied accessibility under the Integrated Standards to receive any individual compensation or redress it they encounter an organization that has not complied with the Standards.

As a result of the lack of monitoring and enforcement it is doubtful that the stated objective of the AODA which was to achieve a fully accessible Ontario
by 2025 will be achieved.
 
Each of the Standards themselves will likely have relatively little impact on improving the lives of persons with disabilities. For example, under the
Information and Communication Standard, materials must be conversion ready. It does not require that all new documents, including emergency and public safety, program requirements, educational materials and training or similar materials that are not already posted on the internet be made conversion ready in advance – it is only upon request that documents must be made conversion ready and available to persons with disabilities. In addition, commercial products, like books, magazines films or DVDs are exempt from being conversion ready. There is no identification of what the best practices are in the industry to promote accessibility and to which companies should strive.
 
The Standards for kiosk and website requirements are similarly deficient. They merely require that organization “consider” accessibility for self service
kiosks. Under the Built Environment Standard, there were very specific requirements for the construction of new buildings, as well as the retrofitting
of older ones. These provisions are absent from this Standard, so even new kiosks will not have to meet a specific standard, organizations will merely
need to consider making it more accessible.
 
The same disappointing news continues under the Employment Standard. While requests for personal accommodations must be implemented, employers with over 50 employees have until 2017 to do so. The Standard does not speak to a whole range of accommodations that employees may require – only to accessible formats and communication supports. In addition, employers with under 50 employees are exempt from filing accessibility reports, or keeping records of training that has been offered to employees on accessibility related matters.
 
Finally, with respect to the Transportation Standards, these are to be implemented on new modes of transportation. There is no mention of retrofitting
existing transportation systems. The Standards merely require that all modes of transportation be accessible by 2025.
 
As is evident, the Government’s commitment to accessibility for all Ontarians has been significantly watered down by these Standards, and is a significant disservice to Ontarians with Disabilities.
 
However, one should be reminded about the statement that is contained in each of the Standards under the AODA, “The requirements in the standards set out in this Regulation are not a replacement or a substitution for the requirements established under the Human Rights Code nor do the standards limit any obligations owed to persons with disabilities under any other legislation”. If a person with a disability experiences discrimination in a denial of a service or if there needs are not accommodated, they can pursue redress through the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. See: http://www.hrto.ca/hrto.

Reproduced from http://www.archdisabilitylaw.ca/sites/all/files/ARCH%20Alert%20-%20Aug%2016%2011%20-%20text.txt