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During National Access Abilities Week, Ontario NDP Accessibility Critic Joel Harden Presented a Proposed Resolution for Debate in the Legislature that Called On the Ford Government to Create a Plan to Implement the Report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the Implementation and Enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

There are Many Good Reasons Why the Ford Government Should Support this Proposed Resolution

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

June 10, 2019

SUMMARY

A Commendable Effort to Advance the Goal of Accessibility for 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities

Marking Canada’s National Accessibility Abilities Week, Ontario NDP MPP and Accessibility Critic Joel Harden proposed a resolution in the Ontario Legislature for debate on Thursday May 30, 2019. The resolution called on the Government to come up with a plan to implement the report of David Onley’s Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The proposed resolution stated:

“That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should release a plan of action on accessibility in response to David Onley’s review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to implement new standards for the built environment, stronger enforcement of the Act, accessibility training for design professionals, and an assurance that public money is never again used to create new accessibility barriers.”

We appreciate MPP Harden’s bringing forward this proposed resolution for debate in the Legislature. This is an important issue for over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities.

The Onley report found that Ontario remains full of soul-crushing accessibility barriers. It concluded that Ontario is still mostly inaccessible to people with disabilities, and is not a place where people with disabilities can fully participate as equals. It recommended strong new action to substantially speed up progress in Ontario on accessibility, so that Ontario can reach the goal of full accessibility by 2025, the deadline which the AODA imposes.

Why the Ford Government Should Support MPP Joel Harden’s Proposed Resolution

For several reasons, the Ford Government has every reason to find this proposed resolution agreeable, and to support it:

* Last December, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho stated that the Government was awaiting the Onley Report before it decided how it would proceed in the area of disability accessibility. the Ford Government has now had the Onley Report in its hands since January 31, 2019, a total of 131 days. The Government has shown itself ready and willing to act decisively and very quickly on issues that it considers important.

* The Ford Government has been eager to show voters that it takes a different and better approach to governing Ontario than did the previous Government. The Onley Report shows that the former Government did a poor job of implementing and enforcing the AODA. The new Ford Government has an incentive to do a much better job at this.

* On April 10, 2019, Ontario’s Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho said that David Onley did a “marvelous job” in this report. Speaking for the Ford Government in the Legislature, the minister acknowledged that Ontario is not yet even 30% along the way to becoming accessible.

* MPP Harden’s proposed resolution in key ways tracks commitments that Doug Ford and the Ontario Conservatives made to Ontarians with disabilities during the 2018 Ontario general election. It is in line with the Ford Government’s core messages:

1. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance (set out below), spelling out the PC Party’s election pledges on accessibility, Doug Ford committed that our issues regarding accessibility “are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus and Candidates.”

2. In his May 15, 2018 letter, Doug Ford recognized:

“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.”

The Onley Report reached the same conclusion.

3. The Onley Report found that Ontario is clearly not on schedule to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. In his May 15, 2018 letter, Doug Ford committed:

“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.”

4. MPP Harden’s proposed resolution calls for a new plan of action for improved enforcement of the AODA, as the Onley Report recommended. In his May 15, 2018 letter, Doug Ford committed:

“An Ontario PC government is committed to working with the AODA Alliance to address implementation and enforcement issues when it comes to these standards.”

5. MPP Harden’s proposed resolution calls for new accessibility standards in the area of the built environment and new accessibility training for design professionals (such as architects). The Onley Report showed the need for such actions. In his May 15, 2018 letter, Doug Ford pledged:

“Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions. We need Ontario’s design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

6. Mr. Harden’s proposed resolution calls for a plan to ensure that public money is never used to create new disability barriers. The Ford Government has emphasized that it wants to ensure that public money is always used responsibly. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford promised a change from the ” government mismanagement” of the previous Government. No one disputes that using public money to create new accessibility barriers is a form of “government mismanagement.”

* Such resolutions in the Legislature are not legally binding. However, they can be viewed as a strong political statement. The Ford Government should not want to be seen as voting against so straightforward a resolution that is important to so many Ontarians, especially since it has repeatedly called itself the “Government for the People.”

* The proposed resolution was worded in a neutral and tempered way. It gives the Government a great deal of flexibility on what it could include in a plan to implement the Onley Report, on what to include in an accessibility standard to address the built environment, on how to strengthen AODA enforcement, and on how to ensure that public money is no longer used to create new accessibility barriers. The resolution’s wording neither states nor implies any criticism of the Government, nor any partisan arguments or claims against the Ford Government.

* When the Ontario Conservatives last formed a government in Ontario, under Premier Mike Harris, they voted for each of the three resolutions on proposed accessibility legislation that the opposition presented in the Legislature on behalf of the AODA Alliance’s predecessor coalition, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee. For a trip down memory lane, check out the text of the different resolutions which the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed on May 16, 1996, October 29, 1998 and November 23, 1999 regarding the need for accessibility legislation in Ontario.

What Happened in the Legislature on the Day Before It Was to Debate Joel Harden’s Proposed Resolution?

How would the Ford Government respond to this proposed resolution? On May 29, 2019, the day before Mr. Harden’s proposed resolution was scheduled to be debated in the Legislature, Mr. Harden raised this in Question Period. He Pressed the Government to commit to action to make disability accessibility a priority, given that it was then National Access Ability Week. Below we set out the transcript of the exchange that day during Question Period. We offer these observations about that exchange:

1. Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho stated:

“Last week, we announced further details of our plan to partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation on their building certification program. This $1.3 million that we’re investing will allow us to perform accessibility audits on over 200 buildings over the next two years.”

The Government has elsewhere said this would lead to certification or audit of 250 buildings over two years.

We have serious and substantial concerns with this. First, as reiterated in our May 17, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, we have for years made it clear that we do not agree with investing public money in a private accessibility certification process, no matter who is operating it. It is an inappropriate use of public money. The Government should instead spend that money on AODA implementation and enforcement.

Second, the minister said that the Rick Hansen Foundation is conducting those building audits as “us” i.e. the Ontario Government. Yet there is no public accountability for this private accessibility certification process, for the measures of accessibility it chooses to use, and for how it goes about its business. If the Ontario Government is to do a building audit, it should be conducted by public auditors with a public mandate and public accountability, based on accessibility standards that the public sets through the Government.

2. Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho understandably blamed the previous Liberal Government for insufficient action on accessibility. However, the minister then cast some of the blame on the New Democratic Party for the former Liberal Government’s poor record on accessibility. The minister said:

“The previous government for the last 15 years did very little, like the Honourable David Onley said. The last 15 years, the NDP supported the last government, so you are on the same team.

The soul-crushing barriers Mr. Onley outlined were also highlighted in the first two AODA reviews by Charles Beer and Mayo Moran. This report is an indictment of the previous government, which your party supported for 15 years.”

While we don’t wade into partisan political bickering in the Legislature, we are not aware of any support by the NDP of the former Government’s slow action on accessibility. To the contrary, the NDP helped us press the previous Liberal Government to take swifter action on accessibility.

3. The Minister for Accessibility and Seniors also stated:

“Our government is carefully reviewing Mr. Onley’s report, which we made public faster than either previous report.”

It is true that the Ford Government made public the Onley Report quicker than the previous Government made public the 2010 AODA Independent Review by Charles Beer or the 2014 AODA Independent Review report by Mayo Moran.

However, by May 29, 2019, the date of this exchange in Question Period in the Legislature, the Ford Government had had ample time to study the Onley Report and arrive at a plan of action.

SoWhat Happened with Joel Harden’s Proposed Resolution?
So, what happened to Joel Harden’s proposed resolution? Was it passed or defeated during
debates in the Legislature on May 30, 2019? For the answer to this suspenseful question, watch for the next AODA Alliance Update. Same AODA Alliance time. Same AODA Alliance channel!

Below we set out:

* The text of NDP MPP Joel Harden’s resolution that he presented to the Ontario Legislature on May 30, 2019.

* NDP MPP Joel Harden’s May 27, 2019 news release, announcing that his proposed resolution would be debated in the Legislature on May 30, 2019

* NDP MPP Joel Harden’s guest column in the May 30, 2019 Ottawa Citizen. It explained the resolution that Mr. Harden was seeking to get the Legislature to pass that day. It refers, among other things, to the AODA Alliances efforts on accessibility, and to the online video about public transit accessibility barriers that we made public in May, 2018, and

* A transcript of the May 29, 2019 question that MPP Joel Harden asked the Ford Government during Question Period regarding his proposed resolution on the AODA.

* Text of the May 15, 2018 letter from PC Leader Doug Ford to the AODA Alliance, setting out his party’s 2018 election promises on disability accessibility.

MORE DETAILS

Text of the Private Member’s Motion by Joel Harden, NDP Accessibility Critic, Debated in the Ontario Legislature on May 30, 2019

That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should release a plan of action on accessibility in response to David Onley’s review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to implement new standards for the built environment, stronger enforcement of the Act, accessibility training for design professionals, and an assurance that public money is never again used to create new accessibility barriers.

May 27, 2019 Ontario NDP News Release

May 27th, 2019

NDP MPP for Ottawa Centre calls on Ford to implement recommendations from AODA third review

QUEEN’S PARK The Ontario NDP critic for Accessibility and Persons with Disabilities, Joel Harden (Ottawa Centre), held a press conference today to introduce his private member’s motion, which calls on the Ford government to implement key recommendations from David Onley’s third legislative review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“The over 1.9 million Ontarians who live with disabilities face constant barriers to their participation in areas including employment, education, health care and recreation,” Harden said. “As the population ages, the number of people living with a disability will grow.”

The AODA seeks to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025; every three years, an independent reviewer is appointed to assess the Act’s effectiveness.

“Former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s third legislative review of the AODA, which was informed by consultations with the disability community and tabled in the Legislature on March 8, makes the disconcerting assertion that, ‘For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity, but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers,'” said Harden.

“The Liberals dragged their feet on meeting the AODA’s target, and now the Ford Conservatives are dragging Ontario further backwards, neglecting to lay out a plan of action to implement Onley’s recommendations. The recommendations include a commitment to implementing new standards for Ontario’s built environment, stronger enforcement of the AODA, accessibility training for design professionals such as architects and an assurance that public funds won’t be used to create new accessibility barriers.”

At the conference, Harden was joined by Shanthiya Baheerathan of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario and Kate Chung of the Older Women’s Network, who both spoke about the need for a more accessible Ontario.

“I, myself, had to fight for years to have my disability recognized and accommodated by my university, and in that process I lost years of my life,” Baheerathan relayed. “Enforcing AODA would work towards ensuring that no other 18-year-old need to waste time overcoming barriers and advocating for an accessible space to learn. Instead, they could use that time and energy to actually learn.”

Chung said it won’t cost the government anything to change building code standards to ensure housing is built accessibly for the many Ontario seniors and people with disabilities who need it. “Yet, it will save millions in health care dollars for vast numbers of people, it will reduce the demand for long-term care beds, and end ‘bed-blocking’ in hospitals.”

“Ontarians with disabilities deserve to have a government that listens to their needs and takes concrete action to reduce the barriers that prevent them from enjoying a full life. The Ford government must act now and implement the Onley report’s key recommendations,” Harden said.

Harden’s motion will be debated in the Legislature on May 30.

Ottawa Citizen May 30, 2019

Originally posted at: https://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/harden-ontarios-accessibility-standards-are-falling-woefully-short

Harden: Ontario’s accessibility standards are falling woefully short

Joel Harden
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Outgoing Ontario Lieutenant-Governor David Onley is saluted while arriving for his last full day in office at Queen’s Park in Toronto on Monday, September 22, 2014. A former Ontario lieutenant-governor tasked with reviewing the disability legislation says the province is nowhere near meeting its stated goal of full accessibility by 2025. Darren Calabrese / THE CANADIAN PRESS

For an able-bodied person, whether the pillars on the platform of a train station or bus stop are straight or angled is easily taken for granted. For someone who is sight impaired, an angled pillar can mean the difference between constantly bumping one’s head or shoulder on a part of the pillar that can’t be anticipated by a cane, or being able to commute without threat of pain or injury.

This distinction, which David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, demonstrates in a video he posted online last spring, is just one of countless examples of Ontario’s standards of accessibility falling short of the disability community’s needs.

For the more than 1.9 million Ontarians who live with disabilities, lack of accessibility is an ongoing barrier to participation in things like education, employment, transit and recreation. From public space design to health care to public information, Ontario’s accessibility standards are nowhere near where they need to be to meet peoples’ needs, nor where the province pledged they would be in the 2005 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

On Thursday, the legislative assembly at Queen’s Park will debate my private member’s motion, which calls on the Ford government to implement key recommendations from the third legislative review of the AODA. The AODA mandates the standards that public, private and non-profit sector entities must adhere to in the areas of customer service, public space design, communications, transportation and employment. It has set a firm deadline to make Ontario fully accessible for people with disabilities by the year 2025 a target that, in 2019, no longer feels far off.

To ensure the AODA stays on track, every three years, an independent, non-partisan reviewer is appointed to consult with the disability community and assess whether the AODA and its standards are doing what they’re supposed to do making Ontario more accessible plus recommending additional steps as needed, to meet the 2025 obligation.

Conducted by David Onley, the former lieutenant governor of Ontario and a disability rights advocate, the AODA’s third review should be a major call to action for Ontarians, and certainly, for the Ford government. Onley’s report paints a grim picture of the status quo for people with disabilities in this province, and portrays the sluggish pace at which Ontario is moving when it comes to setting or enforcing accessibility standards.

In his report, submitted to the Ford government on Jan. 31, 2019, Onley writes that the AODA’s vision has turned out to be “a mirage.”

“Every day, in every community in Ontario, people with disabilities encounter formidable barriers to participation in the vast opportunities this province affords its residents its able-bodied residents,” he writes. “For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

Onley’s words echo the frustrations I heard from the dozens of Ontarians living with disabilities who traveled from across the province to attend an April 10 town hall on accessibility that our office held at Queen’s Park. Several of my fellow NDP MPPs joined Lepofsky, Sarah Jama, co-founder of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario, and myself, to listen to account after account of people fed up with Ontario’s agonizingly slow progress towards accessibility. Many spoke of the daily barriers they face that stop them living full lives.

Onley’s key recommendations to the government include committing to implementing new standards for our built environment, stronger enforcement of the AODA, accessibility training for design professionals and an assurance that public money never again be used to create new accessibility barriers.

The Ford Conservatives should establish a clear plan of action for getting Ontario on track to meet its AODA obligations. I invite the government to vote with the NDP on Thursday, and implement Onley’s key recommendations right away, so that Ontarians with disabilities no longer have to wait to live the full lives they deserve.

Joel Harden is the Ontario NDP critic for accessibility and persons with disabilities, as well as the MPP for Ottawa Centre.

Ontario Hansard May 29, 2019

Question Period

Accessibility for persons with disabilities

Mr. Joel Harden: My question is for the Premier. This week is National AccessAbility Week. While we’ve made strides and progress in this province, it’s thanks to disability rights activists around our towns and cities. Unfortunately, the previous government paid lip service to the goal of accessibility, and this government is on track to do the same.

During the election campaign, the Premier promised stronger enforcement of accessibility laws, a clear strategy to meet accessibility standards, examining our building code requirements for accessibility provisions and requiring design professionals to have accessibility training. But we didn’t hear any announcement in the budget on this, and I’m wondering why there’s no prioritization of accessibility during National AccessAbility Week for this government.

Hon. Victor Fedeli: To the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility.

Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: I thank the member of the opposition for raising the important question. I want to assure this House that this government takes our responsibilities for Ontarians living with disabilities very seriously.

Last week, we announced further details of our plan to partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation on their building certification program. This $1.3 million that we’re investing will allow us to perform accessibility audits on over 200 buildings over the next two years.

We know there’s more to do, but it’s also time for real action and we are taking it right now.

The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary question.

Mr. Joel Harden: To put that in perspective, to what the minister said, $1.3 million is less than what the Premier of this government is spending on his own personal lawyer in his office, Mr. Gavin Tighe.

People with disabilities deserve more from this government. We know that the last government talked a great talk but delivered very little. We know that Queen’s Park, the very building in which you and I are working, is not fully accessible. That is true across this province: Health care, education, transportation and our spaces of recreation remain inaccessible, Speaker, and we are obliged by law to make this province fully accessible by 2025.

Tomorrow, we are going to be introducing a private member’s motion that will require us, as a Legislature, to set clear targets on accessibility. I have a very clear question for the Premier or for the minister: Will you be supporting this motion tomorrow?

Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: I will repeat what the opposition member said. The previous government for the last 15 years did very little, like the Honourable David Onley said. The last 15 years, the NDP supported the last government, so you are on the same team.

The soul-crushing barriers Mr. Onley outlined were also highlighted in the first two AODA reviews by Charles Beer and Mayo Moran. This report is an indictment of the previous government, which your party supported for 15 years.

Our government is carefully reviewing Mr. Onley’s report, which we made public faster than either previous report. I will respond to your motion tomorrow.

May 15, 2018 Letter from PC Leader Doug Ford to the AODA Alliance

May 15, 2018

David Lepofsky, Chair
Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance (AODA Alliance)

Dear David,

The Ontario PC Party is pleased to respond to the AODA Alliance’s survey for the 2018 Ontario election. Our team is focused on providing a clear alternative to voters. After 15 years of high taxes and government mismanagement under the Wynne Liberals, the people of Ontario are ready for change.

Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus and Candidates, which is why they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party to assist Ontarians in need.

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.

Christine Elliott, our former Health Critic and Deputy Leader, has been a tireless advocate for Ontarians with disabilities. Ms. Elliott called to establish the Select Committee on Developmental Services, with a mandate to develop a comprehensive developmental services strategy for children, youth and adults in Ontario with an intellectual disability or who are dually diagnosed with an intellectual disability and a mental illness.

When it comes to people with disabilities, we have a moral and an economic responsibility to focus on their abilities and not just on what holds them back. Our family members, friends and neighbours who have a disability of some kind are a wellspring of talent and determination.

There’s no good reason why a person with a disability should not be able to cast a vote in an election. It’s also completely unacceptable that someone should be passed over for a job because of the myth that people with disabilities can’t do the work. We have a moral and social responsibility to change this.

This is why we’re disappointed the current government has not kept its promise with respect to accessibility standards. An Ontario PC government is committed to working with the AODA Alliance to address implementation and enforcement issues when it comes to these standards.

Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions. We need Ontario’s design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.

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.

Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party. We encourage you to continue this dialogue and share your ideas and solutions for Ontarians with disabilities.

When I am elected Premier on June 7th, I promise I will focus on investing in the priorities that matter most to the people of Ontario. Jobs and economic development will be a key focus, and Ontario will be open for business again.

In the coming weeks, our team will be releasing our platform of policies and priorities and a clear vision for a prosperous Ontario.

If you have any further questions please feel free to reach out at any time.

Sincerely,

Doug Ford
Leader, Ontario PC Party