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Emergency Response Protocol that Addresses the Needs of People with Disabilities

In the fourth review of the AODA, Rich Donovan states that Ontario will not be fully accessible by 2025. In other words, the provincial government will not meet its own deadline, set out in the AODA in 2005. Limited creation, implementation, and enforcement of AODA standards impacts the well-being and safety of Ontarians with disabilities. Therefore, Donovan recommends that the Ontario government should declare this lack of progress on accessibility a crisis. This crisis state should last six (6) months. During this time, the Ontario government should form a crisis committee to implement crucial accessibility improvements in the province. The Premier should act as the chair of this committee, and the Secretary of Cabinet should act as co-chair. One of the improvements the committee should implement is creation of an emergency response protocol that addresses the needs of people with disabilities.

Emergency Response Protocol that Addresses the Needs of People with Disabilities

The review notes that most emergency response protocol does not address the needs of people with disabilities. This oversight occurs because people responsible for creating protocols lack knowledge and best practices for responding to emergencies in accessible ways.

For example, building evacuations require most people to exit buildings. However, many people with physical disabilities need to navigate to exits in elevators, which cannot operate in emergency conditions. Likewise, many buildings lack wayfinding supports that allow people with visual disabilities to locate exits quickly and independently. In short, some people with disabilities need support to exit buildings during emergencies along with their non-disabled peers. However, emergency response protocols instruct people with physical or visual disabilities to wait inside buildings until they are rescued.

Similarly, many emergency response protocols use sound for alerting people to an emergency. Comparably, first responders and others in authority during emergencies may only be prepared to communicate with people by speaking. These communication barriers create potential harm for people with many disabilities, including people who are:

  • Deaf
  • Hard of hearing
  • Autistic or neurodiverse

In other words, current emergency response protocol prioritizes the safety of people without disabilities above the safety of people without disabilities.


Therefore, the review recommends that the crisis committee should create an emergency response protocol that addresses the needs of people with disabilities. For instance, this protocol should provide guidance and best practices for ensuring that all people can exit a building, regardless of their disabilities. This protocol would apply to all Ontario government buildings. Furthermore, the committee should then publish the protocol, so that other organizations can implement its guidance on their own premises.

In addition, the government should pass laws requiring all workplaces in the province to develop similar protocols. While the AODA requires accessible emergency response in specific situations, a new law would mandate that safety for people with disabilities is no longer considered on a case-by-case basis.

Finally, the committee must establish a plan to supervise the implementation of the emergency response protocols that other organizations create. While AODA enforcement is limited, emergency response protocols that value the safety of all people must be enforced.