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AODA Alliance Presses the Ford Government to Immediately Lift Its Freeze on the Work of Standards Development Committees, Appointed under Ontario’s Disabilities Act To Make Recommendations on Needed Accessibility Standards

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

August 29, 2018

SUMMARY

The AODA Alliance today wrote the Ford Government’s Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. It urges the Government to now lift its freeze on the mandatory work of advisory committees which have been appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to advise the Ontario Government on needed reforms to tear down accessibility barriers that 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities suffer from in the areas of access to education, to employment, to health care and to information and communication.

That letter, set out below, shows how the Government’s immediately lifting that freeze would help Ontarians with disabilities. It is consistent with the position of Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party, including during the recent Ontario election. A continuation of that freeze contradicts the Party’s earlier statements, position and commitments.

With students heading back to school next week, the AODA Alliance’s letter emphasizes the pressing example of the Education Standards Development Committee, which has been frozen since the Ford Government was elected to power. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was appointed as a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. A new “Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities”, which the Ontario Human Rights Commission released today, shows that hundreds of thousands of students with disabilities in Ontario still suffer from too many disability barriers when they try to take part in Ontario’s education system.

The AODA Alliance today urges its supporters around Ontario to contact their MPPs, and to urge them to get the Ford Government to lift its ongoing freeze on the work of the Standards Development Committees. Let these Committees get back to work. Let them fulfil their mandatory duties under the Disabilities Act. Any delay in the work of these Standards Development Committees pushes Ontario further and further behind schedule for becoming fully accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025, the Disabilities Act’s mandatory deadline for which all political parties, including the Tories, voted in 2005.

The history of the AODA Alliance’s multi-year campaign to get a strong, effective Education Accessibility Standard enacted in Ontario under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, is available at www.aodaalliance.org/education

For more information, contact the AODA Alliance at aodafeedback@gmail.com or via Twitter @aodaalliance

MORE DETAILS

Text of the August 29, 2018 Letter to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedback@gmail.com Twitter: @aodaalliance

August 29, 2018

To: The Hon. Raymond Cho, Minister of Accessibility and Seniors Via Email: raymond.cho@pc.ola.org Raymond.cho@ontario.ca
Frost Building South
6th Floor
7 Queen’s Park Cres
Toronto, ON M7A 1Y7

Dear Minister,

Re: Pressing Need for You to Now Lift Your Government’s Freeze on the work of Standards Development Committees Appointed Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

We write to ask you, as an immediate priority, to lift the freeze on the work of the four Standards Development Committees which have been appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These Committees were appointed to make recommendations to the Ontario Government on measures needed to remove and prevent disability accessibility barriers that impede 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities in the important areas of access to education, to employment, to health care and to information and communication.

We very much appreciated the opportunity for a warm introductory phone call with you on August 23, 2018, and your office’s having reached out to invite us to take part in that call. During that call, I emphasized the pressing importance for your Government to let all the AODA Standards Development Committees get back to work now.

Let me offer, as an illustration, the example of the Education Standards Development Committee, whose work is now frozen. Next week, students head back to school. Over one third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario schools face too many disability barriers in Ontario’s education system. They number around one out of every six students. That huge number swells even larger when we add to it the barriers impeding students with disabilities in Ontario post-secondary education programs.

These barriers make it harder for students with disabilities to succeed in Ontario’s education system. They contribute to the high unemployment rate among Ontarians with disabilities.

We tirelessly campaigned for over six long years to get the former Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. An Education Accessibility Standard is needed to remove recurring accessibility barriers in our education system, so students with disabilities and their families don’t have to sue one barrier at a time, one education organization at a time. It could eliminate the need for each education organization to have to re-invent the same solutions, saving them money.

An Education Accessibility Standard would better serve students with disabilities. It would better support the efforts of the many dedicated people working throughout our education system, who want to ensure that students with disabilities can fully benefit from education programs. It would reinforce Ontario’s commitment to achieve an accessible province by 2025, the mandatory deadline enshrined in the AODA for which your Party unanimously voted in 2005.

Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley has said that the unemployment rate facing people with disabilities in Canada is not only a national crisis, but a national shame. We agree, and add that a good education is essential to get a good job.

Originally, Ontario’s education system was not designed to fully include students with disabilities in the mainstream. As one example, when 2016 began, only 85 of the Toronto District School Board’s 550 schools had physical accessibility. Historically, mainstream classroom teachers were trained to teach students without disabilities. Only special education teachers were trained to teach students with disabilities. Too often, classroom curriculum, gym and playground equipment, and new digital equipment in our education system lack universal design and the accessibility that students with disabilities need.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission’s ground-breaking 2003 report, The Opportunity To Succeed: Achieving Barrier-Free Education For Students With Disabilities, documented serious education accessibility barriers. Despite some progress, too many of these barriers still persist today. A new policy on accessible education which the Ontario Human Rights Commission unveiled today demonstrates this.

Removing and preventing accessibility barriers lets students with disabilities be fully included in and fully participate in our education system. When it was in the opposition, Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party took much-appreciated action to pressure the former Ontario Government to agree to create an AODA Education Accessibility Standard, after that Government unjustifiably dragged its feet for years on our request for this. For example, it was only when PC MPP Bill Walker pressed Premier Wynne in Question Period in the Legislature on December 5, 2016 that she finally agreed to create an Education Accessibility Standard.

After that, the former Ontario Government again dragged its feet for over one year before setting up the required Standards Development Committee to develop recommendations on what the promised Education Accessibility Standard should include. We very much appreciated PC MPP Sam Oosterhoff pressing the former Ontario Government in Question Period on April 13, 2017 to end that inexcusable delay.

I was honoured earlier this year to be appointed to serve as a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. Once we were finally appointed, we got right to work. We held two meetings, one in February and one in April. Our third meeting was scheduled for June 21 and 22, 2018. However, after the June Ontario election, but before your Government was sworn in, the Ontario Public Service cancelled that meeting, pending briefing the new Government. It froze all the work of any of the four Standards Development Committees then in operation.

Your government has not lifted that freeze since then. We have repeatedly tweeted to various MPPs to get this freeze lifted. We also identified this for you as a priority in our July 17, 2018 letter to you and its enclosed briefing note, and in our July 19, 2018 letter to Premier Ford. These list AODA priorities for you and the Premier. Neither your August 15, 2018 letter to us nor Premier Ford’s July 31, 2018 reply to us specifically address this request.

During the ongoing period of this freeze, your Ministry asked members of our K-12 Standards Development Committee to hold the week of September 24, 2018 for a possible next meeting. However last week, we were told to no longer hold that week.

The Chair of the K-12 Standards Development Committee advised our Committee that she briefed you back on July 20, 2018 on the work of our committee. However she has had no information to give us since then on when our work might resume.

Your Government has not indicated when it will decide on lifting this freeze, or on when our next meeting might take place. We were originally told that the freeze was to take place pending the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario briefing you. You now have been briefed by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, by the chair of the K-12 Standards Development Committee, and by us.

A resumption of the work of the Standards Development Committees which were already appointed is required under the AODA. These Committees have a statutory job to complete. This is not a discretionary matter.

There is no reason to delay the resumption of the work of the Standards Development Committees which have been appointed under the AODA. All those Committees can do is to make recommendations to the Government. They do not themselves adopt any policies or enact any accessibility standards. Once they give the Government their recommendations, your Government will have the freedom to decide what to enact in accessibility standards. Your Government will not be bound to follow any or all of their recommendations.

Lifting this freeze now is the first important step your government can easily take to fulfil its election commitments in this area. During the recent Ontario election campaign, your Party recognized that students with disabilities face too many barriers, and that the importance of tackling those barriers as part of the AODA’s intent. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out the PC Party’s election pledges on accessibility, Doug Ford wrote:

“Too many Ontarians with disabilities still face barriers when they try to get a job, ride public transit, get an education, use our healthcare system, buy goods or services, or eat in restaurants.

Whether addressing standards for public housing, health care, employment or education, our goal when passing the AODA in 2005 was to help remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating more fully in their communities.

For the Ontario PCs, this remains our goal. Making Ontario fully accessible by 2025 is an important goal under the AODA and it’s one that would be taken seriously by an Ontario PC government.”

On your Party’s behalf, Doug Ford there also recognized the importance of tackling the barriers in Ontario’s education system, when he wrote:

“The Ontario PC Party believes our education system must minimize barriers for students with disabilities, providing the skills, opportunities and connections with the business community that are necessary to enter the workforce.”

Premier Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to us also recognized the leading role that Christine Elliot plays in the area of disability policy, writing:

“Christine Elliott, our former Health Critic and Deputy Leader, has been a tireless advocate for Ontarians with disabilities.”

Christine Elliot was designated to speak for your Party at the May 16, 2018 province-wide all-candidates’ debate on disability issues. At that debate, she spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to more effectively implement the AODA, and to take effective action on the barriers impeding students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system.

Under the former Ontario Government, Ontario fell behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025, the AODA’s mandatory goal. The three month delay in the work of the Standards Development Committees, since the election of your Government, has pushed Ontario further behind schedule for reaching that goal. Any further delay in our getting back to work pushes Ontario even further behind schedule.

Please now lift your Government’s freeze on the work of the Standards Development Committees. Let us get back to work. We are eager to do whatever we can to help your Government succeed in fulfilling its mandate under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

cc: Premier Doug Ford doug@ontariopc.com
Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, marie-lison.fougere@ontario.ca
Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, ann.hoy@ontario.ca