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Improving the AODA Standards Development Process

In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. During the public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees outlined many barriers that people with disabilities face. More improvements to the AODA would help to remove existing barriers and prevent future ones. Therefore, in addition to direct recommendations, Onley’s review also includes suggestions from attendees about how to remove these barriers. This article will explore attendees’ suggestions for improving the AODA standards development process.

Improving the AODA Standards Development Process

AODA standards mandate how organizations must make themselves accessible to people with disabilities. The standards outline organizations’ responsibilities, and the deadlines they must meet. AODA Standards development committees are responsible for creating and maintaining the standards. Committee members decide which rules a standard should include.

committee members can be:

  • People with disabilities
  • Representatives from the industries or sectors that the standard will one day apply to
  • Members of government organizations responsible for those industries or sectors
  • Other people or organizations the minister chooses to include
  • Experts who advise the committee
  • Members of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council

AODA standards development committees must re-examine standards, determine whether they are fulfilling objectives, and make any needed changes, in five years or less after a standard has been accepted. This process ensures that standards remain up-to-date and deal with any new barriers that arise after their creation.

Review attendees state that the process for developing standards has improved since the first review of the AODA in 2010. However, other improvements recommended in the first review have not yet taken place.

Under the current system, the minister in charge of the AODA must form a new committee for every standard. In contrast, the first review of the AODA recommended creating one agency “at arm’s length from the government”. This agency or board could be responsible for developing all standards. Moreover, attendees report that the current structure of standards development should be “a collaborative conversation” between government and committee members. However, attendees describe the process as sometimes “adversarial”. In other words, attendees state that government and committee members often find it difficult to agree and work together. An arms-length private standards board may offer a different structure of standards development.

Improvements to the Existing Structure

Attendees also offer suggested changes that could improve the existing structure of standards development committees. Some attendees state that parts of the process work well. For instance, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO) has recently helped select and train committee members. However, other attendees report that ADO staff tried to influence committee decisions, instead of remaining neutral. Furthermore, attendees suggest that the ADO could provide more support to committee members with disabilities. However, Onley’s review does not state what kinds of support would be most helpful.

In addition, attendees suggest that changing committees’ voting rules would strengthen standards. Currently, a recommendation must have seventy-five percent (75%) of members’ votes before it becomes an official recommendation. In contrast, attendees suggest that fifty percent (50%) of members’ votes should be enough. However, this majority must include at least fifty percent (50%) of the votes of members with disabilities.

Moreover, attendees suggest including a representative of the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC) as a member on every committee. Likewise, attendees state that committee members should have more training about human rights.

Public Accountability

Furthermore, attendees suggest that committees should be more accountable to the public. Currently, committees must make minutes of their meetings, and these minutes are available to the public. Nonetheless, committee members must sign non-disclosure agreements. Therefore, some of the committees’ proceedings are hidden from the public. Instead, committees should include more information in their minutes. Likewise, community groups sometimes have the chance to meet with committees to discuss how standards could impact them. Attendees suggest that the public needs more awareness that these chances exist.

Furthermore, attendees suggest that committees should include members who have a variety of disabilities, including:

  • Visible disabilities
  • Invisible disabilities
  • Episodic disabilities
  • Disabilities gained through ageing

Finally, attendees express concerns about the process for reviewing standards. Currently, committees are required to review standards every five years. Committees can review standards sooner, but they are not required to do so. However, attendees state that when some committees start their reviews, some of the standard mandates they created have not yet been implemented. As a result, the review process can accomplish little. Although a review takes place, many of its recommendations may be duplicates of recommendations that already exist in the standards. If these recommendations have not been implemented by the review date, it seems unlikely that restating them in a review will hasten the implementation process. Instead, other changes to the standards development process may better support the implementation of standards.