Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
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January 29, 2021
Ontario is on the verge of a deeply troubling anniversary of Ontario Government inaction. This Sunday, January 31, 2021 marks the two year anniversary since the Ford Government received the blistering final report of the Independent Review of the Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This report was written by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley.
In the two years since it received this report, the Ford Government has announced no strong, comprehensive plan to implement its recommendations. Most of its recommendations have not been implemented at all. This is so even though Ontario’s Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho said in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a marvelous job and that Ontario is only 30 percent along the way towards the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities.
It is a wrenching irony that this anniversary of inaction comes right after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Canada’s Parliament deciding to include equality for people with disabilities in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That momentous breakthrough took place on January 28, 1981, 40 years ago yesterday. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in no small part to implement that constitutional right to equality for people with disabilities.
Over the past two years, the AODA Alliance has spearheaded grassroots efforts to get the Ford Government to come forward with a strong and comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report. We have offered many constructive recommendations. We have also offered the Government our help. On Twitter and in our AODA Alliance Updates, we have maintained an ongoing count of the number of days that had passed since the Government received the Onley Report, keeping the spotlight on this issue. As of today, it has been 729 days.
The Government has taken a few new actions on accessibility since it took office in June 2018, the most important of which are summarized below. But these have been slow, halting and inadequate.
1. What the Onley Report Found About the Plight of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities
In February 2018, the Ontario Government appointed David Onley to conduct a mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. He was mandated to recommend reforms needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025, the goal which the AODA requires. Based on public feedback he received, the Onley report found that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial.” With under six years then left before 2025 (now less than four years), the Onley report found that “the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” Onley concluded that progress on accessibility for people with disabilities under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”
David Onley also found “this province is mostly inaccessible.” The Onley Report accurately concluded:
“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”
The Onley Report said damning things about years of the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. He in effect found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even though two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:
“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”
The Onley Report made concrete, practical recommendations to substantially strengthen the Government’s weak, flagging AODA implementation and enforcement. Set out below is the Onley Report’s summary of its recommendations. Many if not most of them echo the findings and recommendations that the AODA Alliance submitted in its detailed January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley Review. Among other things, David Onley called for the Government to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement, create new accessibility standards including for barriers in the built environment, strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards, and reform the Government’s use of public money to ensure it is never used to create disability barriers.
2. What New Has the Ford Government Done on Accessibility Since the Onley Report?
It was good, but long overdue, that when releasing the Onley report back in March 2019, the Ford Government at last lifted its inexcusable 258 day-long freeze on the important work of three Government-appointed advisory committees. These committees were mandated under the AODA to recommend what regulations should be enacted to tear down disability barriers in Ontario’s education system impeding students with disabilities, and in Ontario’s health care system obstructing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance led the fight for the previous nine months to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze. Because of those delays, the Government delayed progress on accessibility for people with disabilities in health care and education. We are feeling the harmful effects of those delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Ford Government’s main focus of its efforts on accessibility for people with disabilities has been on educating the public on the benefits of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. That is work that the previous Government had been doing for over a decade. That alone will not bring about significant progress.
Since releasing the Onley Report, the Ford Government has held a couple of staged ministerial events, on January 28, 2019 and on October 29, 2019 (for which an inaccessible email invitation was sent), supposedly to announce a framework to implement the Onley Report. However they announced little, if anything, new. To the contrary, they focused on re-announcing things the Government had been doing for years, including at least one measure dating back to the Bob Rae NDP Government that was in power over a quarter century ago.
The Government has announced no plans to implement any of the recommendations for reform of accessibility standards from the Transportation Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report to the Ontario Government in the spring of 2018, almost three years ago) or the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report some ten or eleven months ago).
The Government has had in hand for at least a month, if not more, the initial report of the Health Care Standards Development Committee. It must be posted for public comment. The Government has not posted it, or announced when it will do so. In the midst of this pandemic, swift action in the area of health care accessibility is desperately needed for people with disabilities and all Ontarians.
In the meantime, the one major new strategy on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its over two and a half years in office has been an action that David Onley never recommended and has, to our knowledge, never publicly endorsed. The Government diverted 1.3 million public dollars to the seriously problematic Rick Hansen Foundation’s private building accessibility certification program. We have made public serious concerns about that plan. The Government never acted on those concerns. Almost two years later, there is no proof that that misuse of public money led to the removal of any barriers in an Ontario building.
Despite announcing that the Government will take an all of Government approach to accessibility in response to the Onley Report, we have seen the opposite take place. TVO has not fixed the serious accessibility problems with its online learning resources, much needed during distance learning in this pandemic. The Government is building a new courthouse in downtown Toronto with serious accessibility problems about which disability advocates forewarned. During the pandemic, the Government has had circulated two successive critical care triage protocols which direct hospitals to use an approach to triage that would discriminate against some patients with disabilities and has refused to directly speak to us about these concerns. Over our objection, the Government has unleashed electric scooters on Ontarians, exposing people with disabilities to dangers to their safety and accessibility. This is all amply documented on the AODA Alliance’s website.
Over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.
3. The Onley Report’s Summary of Its Recommendations
1. Renew government leadership in implementing the AODA.
Take an all-of-government approach by making accessibility the responsibility of every ministry.
Ensure that public money is never used to create or maintain accessibility barriers. Lead by example.
Coordinate Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government and other provinces.
2. Reduce the uncertainty surrounding basic concepts in the AODA. Define accessibility.
Clarify the AODA’s relationship with the Human Rights Code.
Update the definition of disability.
3. Foster cultural change to instill accessibility into the everyday thinking of Ontarians.
Conduct a sustained multi-faceted public education campaign on accessibility with a focus on its economic and social benefits in an aging society.
Build accessibility into the curriculum at every level of the educational system, from elementary school through college and university.
Include accessibility in professional training for architects and other design fields.
4. Direct the standards development committees for K-12 and Post-Secondary Education and for Health Care to resume work as soon as possible.
5. Revamp the Information and Communications standards to keep up with rapidly changing technology.
6. Assess the need for further standards and review the general provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
7. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.
8. Develop new comprehensive Built Environment accessibility standards through a process to:
Review and revise the 2013 Building Code amendments for new construction and major renovations Review and revise the Design of Public Spaces standards
Create new standards for retrofitting buildings.
9. Provide tax incentives for accessibility retrofits to buildings.
10. Introduce financial incentives to improve accessibility in residential housing.
Offer substantial grants for home renovations to improve accessibility and make similar funds available to improve rental units. Offer tax breaks to boost accessibility in new residential housing.
11. Reform the way public sector infrastructure projects are managed by Infrastructure Ontario to promote accessibility and prevent new barriers.
12. Enforce the AODA.
Establish a complaint mechanism for reporting AODA violations. Raise the profile of AODA enforcement.
13. Deliver more responsive, authoritative and comprehensive support for AODA implementation. Issue clear, in-depth guidelines interpreting accessibility standards.
Establish a provincewide centre or network of regional centres offering information, guidance, training and specialized advice on accessibility.
Create a comprehensive website that organizes and provides links to trusted resources on accessibility.
14. Confirm that expanded employment opportunities for people with disabilities remains a top government priority and take action to support this goal.
15. Fix a series of everyday problems that offend the dignity of people with disabilities or obstruct their participation in society.