ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 31, 2021 Toronto: During National AccessAbility Week, the non-partisan grassroots AODA Alliance releases a report card (set out below) on the Ford Government’s record for tearing down the barriers that people with disabilities face, awarding the Government an “F” grade.
When he was campaigning for votes in the 2018 election, Doug Ford said that our issues “are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus” and that:
“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.”
Yet three years after taking office, people with disabilities are no better off, and in some important ways, are worse off, according to today’s new report card. Passed unanimously in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. Ontario is nowhere near that goal with under four years left. The Ford Government has no effective plan to meet that deadline. This report card’s key findings include:
1. The Ford Government has no comprehensive plan of action on accessibility, 851 days after receiving the Report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review.
2. The Government has not ensured that public money will never be used to create new accessibility barriers.
3. The Ford Government has failed to enact or strengthen any accessibility standards under the AODA.
4. The Ford Government has announced no new action to effectively ensure the accessibility of public transportation.
5. The Ford Government imposed substantial and harmful delays in the work of Five important AODA Standards Development Committees that was underway before the Government took office.
6. The Ford Government has repeatedly violated its mandatory duty under the AODA to make public the initial or final recommendations of a Government-appointed Standards Development Committee “upon receiving” those recommendations.
7. The Ford Government has failed for 3 years to fulfil its mandatory duty to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard.
8. The Ford Government has made public no detailed plan for effective AODA enforcement.
9. In a waste of public money, the Ford Government diverted 1.3 million dollars into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s controversial private accessibility certification process. This has resulted in no disability barriers being removed or prevented.
10. The Ford Government unfairly burdened Ontarians with disabilities with having to fight against new safety dangers being created by municipalities allowing electric scooters.
11. The Ford Government’s rhetoric has been harmfully diluting the AODA’s goal of full accessibility.
12. The Ford Government has given public voice to false and troubling stereotypes About disability accessibility.
13. The Ford Government has failed to effectively address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
14. The lives of vulnerable Ontarians with disabilities are endangered by the Ford Government’s secret plans for critical care triage during the COVID-19 pandemic, If hospitals cannot serve All critical care Patients.
“We keep offering the Ford Government constructive ideas, but too often, they are disregarded,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance which campaigns for accessibility for people with disabilities. “Premier Ford hasn’t even met with us, and has turned down every request for a meeting.”
AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has had to resort to a court application (now pending) to get the Ford Government to fulfil one of its important duties under the AODA, and a Freedom of Information application to try to force the Ford Government to release its secret plans for critical care triage if the COVID-19pandemic worsens, requiring rationing of critical care.
Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, email@example.com Twitter: @aodaalliance
A Report Card on the Ford Government’s Record, After Three Years in Office, on Achieving Disability Accessibility
May 31, 2021
Prepared by the AODA Alliance
This year’s National AccessAbility Week takes place when Ontario’s Ford Government is completing its third year of a four year term in office. This is an especially appropriate time to take stock of how well the Ford Government is doing at advancing the goal of making Ontario accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act enshrines in Ontario law.
It is with a strong sense of frustration that we award the Ford Government a failing “F” grade for its record on this issue.
The Ontario Public Service includes quite a number of public officials who are deeply and profoundly dedicated to the goal of tearing down barriers impeding people with disabilities, and preventing the creation of new disability barriers. They have commendably found quite a number of willing partners within the disability community (both individuals and disability organizations), and among obligated organizations in the public and private sectors. These partners are also committed to the goal of accessibility, and have in their spheres of influenced tried to move things forward. To all these people we and people with disabilities generally are indebted.
For example, several Standards Development Committees have been appointed under the AODA to craft recommendations on what enforceable AODA accessibility standards should include to be strong and effective. They have invested many hours, trying to come up with workable recommendations.
As well, over the past three years, the Ontario Government has continued to operate voluntary programs that have existed for years to contribute to the goal of accessibility. The Ford Government has also, we believe, improved things by freeing its Standards Development Committees from excessive involvement by Public Service staff. This has enabled those staff to support the work of those committees, while leaving them free to do their own work, devising recommendations for the Government.
However, all of that cannot succeed in bringing Ontario to the goal of an accessible province by 2025, without strong leadership by the Ontario Government and those who steer it. This has been the conclusion of three successive Independent Reviews, conducted under the AODA, by Charles Beer in 2010, by Mayo Moran in 2014 and by David Onley in 2018.
Over the past three years, we regret that that leadership has continued to be lacking. The result is that Ontario is falling further and further behind the goal of an accessible province by 2025. Less and less time is available to correct that.
This report details several of the key ways that the Ontario Government has fallen far short of what Ontarians with disabilities need. As the Government’s mandatory annual report on its efforts on accessibility back in 2019 reveals, the Government’s prime focus has been on trying to raise awareness about accessibility. As has been the Ontario Government’s practice for years, that 2019 annual report was belatedly posted on line on the eve of the 2021 National AccessAbility Week, two years after many of the events reported in it.
Decades of experience, leading to the enactment of the AODA in 2005, has proven over and over that such awareness-raising and voluntary measures won’t get Ontario to the goal of accessibility by 2025, or indeed, ever. As always, the AODA Alliance, as a non-partisan coalition, remains ready, willing, able, and eager to work with the Government, and to offer constructive ideas on how it can change course and fulfil the AODA’s dream that the Legislature unanimously endorsed in May 2005.
1. The Ford Government Has No Comprehensive Plan of Action on Accessibility, 851 Days After Receiving the Report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review
We have been urging the Ford Government to develop a detailed plan on accessibility since shortly after it took office, to lay out how it will get Ontario to the AODA’s mandatory goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. It has never done so.
In December 2018, the Ford Government said it was awaiting the final report of former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, before deciding what it would do regarding accessibility for people with disabilities. On January 31, 2019, the Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Minister for Accessibility Raymond Cho publicly said on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job.”
The Onley report found that Ontario is still full of “soul-crushing” barriers impeding people with disabilities. It concluded that progress on accessibility has taken place at a “glacial pace.” It determined that that the goal of accessibility by 2025 is nowhere in sight, and that specific new Government actions, spelled out in the report, are needed.
However, in the 851 days since receiving the Onley Report, the Ford Government has not made public a detailed plan to implement that report’s findings and recommendations. The Government has staged some media events with the Accessibility Minister to make announcements, but little if anything new was ever announced. The Government repeated pledges to lead by example on accessibility, and to take an all-of-Government approach to accessibility. But these pledges were backed by nothing new to make them mean anything more than when previous governments and ministers engaged in similar rhetorical flourishes.
2. The Government Has Not Ensured that Public Money Will Never Be Used to Create New Accessibility Barriers
In its three years in office, we have seen no effective action by the Ford Government to ensure that public money is never used to create new disability barriers or to perpetuate existing barriers. The Ontario Government spends billions of public dollars on infrastructure and on procuring goods, services and facilities, without ensuring that no new barriers are thereby created, and that no existing barriers are thereby perpetuated.
As but one example, last summer, the Ford Government announced that it would spend a half a billion dollars on the construction of new schools and on additions to existing schools. However, it announced no action to ensure that those new construction projects are fully accessible to students, teachers, school staff and parents with disabilities. The Ontario Ministry of Education has no effective standards or policies in place to ensure this accessibility, and has announced no plans to create any.
3. The Ford Government Has Enacted or Strengthened No Accessibility Standards
In its three years in power, the Ford Government has enacted no new AODA accessibility standards. It has revised no existing accessibility standards to strengthen them. It has not begun the process of developing any new accessibility standards that were not already under development when the Ford Government took office in June 2018.
As one major example, the Ford Government has not committed to develop and enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, to ensure that the built environment becomes accessible to people with disabilities. No AODA Built Environment Accessibility Standard now exists. None is under development.
This failure to act is especially striking for two reasons. First, the last two AODA Independent Reviews, the 2014 Independent Review by Mayo Moran and the 2019 Independent Review by David Onley, each identified the disability barriers in the built environment as a priority. They both called for new action under the AODA. Second, when he was seeking the public’s votes in the 2018 Ontario election, Doug Ford made specific commitments regarding the disability barriers in the built environment. Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out his party’s election commitments on disability accessibility, included this:
a) “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.”
b) “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.”
c) “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.”
d) “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.”
4. The Ford Government Has Announced No New Action to Effectively Ensure the Accessibility of Public Transportation
Just before the 2018 Ontario election, the Ontario Government received the final recommendations for reforms to the Transportation Accessibility Standard from the AODA Transportation Standards Development committee. Since then, and over the ensuing three years in office, the Ford Government announced no action on those recommendations. It has not publicly invited any input or consultation on those recommendations. At the same time, the Ford Government has made major announcements about the future of public transit infrastructure in Ontario. As such, barriers in public transportation remained while the risk remains that new ones will continue to be created.
5. The Ford Government Imposed Substantial and Harmful Delays in the Work of Five Important AODA Standards Development Committees that was Underway Before the Government Took Office
When the Ford Government won the 2018 Ontario election, the work of five AODA Standards Development Committees were all frozen, pending the new Minister for Accessibility getting a briefing. Any delay in the work of those committees would further slow the AODA’s sluggish implementation documented in the Onley Report.
Those Standards Development Committees remained frozen for months, long after the minister needed time to be briefed. We had to campaign for months to get that freeze lifted.
Over four months later, in November 2018, the Ford Government belatedly lifted its freeze on the work of the Employment Standards Development Committee and the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. However it did not then also lift the freeze on the work of the three other Standards Development Committees, those working on proposals for accessibility standards in health care and education.
We had to keep up the pressure for months. The Ford Government waited until March 7, 2019 before it announced that it was lifting its freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. It was as long as half a year after that announcement that those three Standards Development Committees finally got back to work.
In the meantime, the many unfair disability barriers in Ontario’s education system and Ontario’s health care system remained in place, while new ones continued to be created. The final enactment of new accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education was delayed commensurately, as was the enactment of revisions to strengthen Ontario’s 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard and Ontario’s 2011 Employment Accessibility Standard.
6. The Ford Government Has Repeatedly Violated Its Mandatory Duty Under the AODA to Make Public the Initial or Final Recommendations of a Government-Appointed Standards Development Committee “Upon Receiving” Those Recommendations
Section 10(1) of the AODA requires the Government to make public the initial or final recommendations that it receives from a Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA “upon receiving” those recommendations. The Ontario Government under successive governments and ministers has wrongly taken the approach that it can delay making those recommendations public for months despite the AODA’s clear, mandatory and unambiguous language.
The Ford Government has certainly taken this troubling approach. It delayed some two years before making public the final recommendations of the Employment Standards Development Committee earlier this year. It delayed some six months before making public the final recommendations of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee last year. It delayed over five months before making public the initial recommendations of the Health Care Standards Development Committee earlier this month. It has delayed over two months so far in making public the initial recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee.
As a result, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has brought a court application, now pending, to seek an order compelling the Ford Government to obey the AODA. This is especially disturbing, because the Government is leading by such a poor example when it comes to the AODA. Its delay in complying with s. 10 of the AODA slows the already-slow process of developing and enacting or revising accessibility standards under the AODA.
7. The Ford Government Has for 3 Years Failed to Fulfil Its Mandatory Duty to Appoint A Standards Development Committee to Review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard
The AODA required the Ontario Government to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard by the end of 2017. Neither the previous Wynne Government nor the current Ford Government have fulfilled this legal duty. This is a mandatory AODA requirement.
The Ford Government has had three years in office to learn about this duty and to fulfil it. We flagged it for the Government very soon after it took office in 2018.
8. The Ford Government Has Made Public No Detailed Plan for Effective AODA Enforcement
During its three years in office, the Ford Government has announced no public plan to substantially strengthen the AODA’s weak enforcement. Three years ago, the Ford Government inherited the previous McGuinty Government’s and Wynne Government’s multi-year failure to effectively and vigourously enforce the AODA. What little enforcement that took place fell far short of what people with disabilities needed, as is confirmed in both the 2015 Moran Report and the 2019 Onley Report. The failure to effectively enforce the AODA has contributed to Ontario falling so far behind the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.
9. In a Waste of Public Money, the Ford Government Diverted 1.3 Million Dollars into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Controversial Private Accessibility Certification Process
The only significant new action that the Ford Government has announced on accessibility over its first three years in office was its announcement over two years ago in the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget that it would spend 1.3 million public dollars over two years to have the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification process “certify” some 250 buildings, belonging to business or the public sector, for accessibility. In two years, this has not been shown to lead to the removal or prevention of a single barrier against people with disabilities anywhere in the built environment. It has predictably been a waste of public money.
The Ford Government did not consult the AODA Alliance or, to our knowledge, the disability community, before embarking on this wasteful project. It ignored serious concerns with spending public money on such a private accessibility certification process. These concerns have been public for well over five years. The Ford Government gave no public reasons for rejecting these concerns.
A private accessibility certification risks misleading the public, including people with disabilities. It also risks misleading the organization that seeks this so-called certification. It “certifies” nothing.
A private organization might certify a building as accessible, and yet people with disabilities may well find that the building itself, or the services offered in the building, still have serious accessibility problems. Such a certification provides no defence to an accessibility complaint or proceeding under the AODA, under the Ontario Building Code, under a municipal bylaw, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, or under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
If an organization gets a good -level accessibility certification, it may think they have done all they need to do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be misled to think that this is a model of accessibility to be emulated, and that it is a place that will be easy to fully access. This can turn out not to be the case, especially if the assessor uses the Rick Hansen Foundation’s insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if the assessor’s only training is the inadequate short training that the Rick Hansen Foundation created.
For example, the Ford Government got the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify as accessible the huge New Toronto Courthouse now under construction. Yet we have shown that its plans are replete with serious accessibility problems. The Rick Hansen Foundation’s assessor never contacted the AODA Alliance to find out about our serious concerns with the courthouse’s design before giving it a rating of “accessible.”
The Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification process lacks much-needed public accountability. The public has no way to know if the private accessibility assessor is making accurate assessments. It is not subject to Freedom of Information laws. It operates behind closed doors. It lacks the kind of public accountability that applies to a government audit or inspection or other enforcement. For more details on the problems with private accessibility certification processes, read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process.
10. The Ford Government Unfairly Burdened Ontarians with Disabilities with Having to Fight Against New Barriers Being Created by Municipalities Allowing Electric Scooters
It is bad enough that the Ford Government did too little in its first three years in office to tear down the many existing barriers that impede people with disabilities. It is even worse that the Government took action that will create new disability barriers, and against which people with disabilities must organize to battle at the municipal level.
When the Ford Government took office in June 2018, it was illegal to ride electric scooters (e-scooters) in public places. In January 2019, over the strenuous objection of Ontario’s disability community, the Ford Government passed a new regulation. It lets each municipality permit the use of e-scooters in public places, if they wish. It did not require municipalities to protect people with disabilities from the dangers that e-scooters pose to them.
Silent, high-speed e-scooters racing towards pedestrians at over 20 KPH, ridden by an unlicensed, untrained, uninsured joy-riders, endanger people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. Leaving e-scooters strewn all over in public places, as happens in other cities that permit them, creates physical barriers to people using wheelchairs and walkers. They create tripping hazards for people with vision loss.
Torontonians with disabilities had to mount a major campaign to convince Toronto City Council to reject the idea of allowing e-scooters. They were up against a feeding-frenzy of well-funded and well-connected corporate lobbyists, the lobbyists who clearly hold sway with the Ontario Premier’s office.
Unlike Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor have allowed e-scooters, disregarding the danger they now pose for people with disabilities. Some other Ontario cities are considering allowing them.
Thanks to the Ford Government, people with disabilities must now campaign against e-scooters, city by city. This is a huge, unfair burden that people with disabilities did not need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a cruel irony that the Ford Government unleashed the danger of personal injuries by e-scooters at the same time as it has said it wants to reduce the number of concussions in Ontario.
11. The Ford Government’s Rhetoric Has Been Harmfully Diluting the AODA’s Goal of Full Accessibility
A core feature of the AODA is that it requires Ontario become “accessible” to people with disabilities by 2025. It does not merely say that Ontario should become “more accessible” by that deadline.
Yet, the Ford Government too often only talks about making Ontario more accessible. In fairness, the previous Ontario Liberal Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty and later Premier Kathleen Wynne too often did the same.
This dilutes the goal of the AODA, for which people with disabilities fought so hard for a decade. It hurts people with disabilities. It is no doubt used to try to lower expectations and over-inflate any accomplishments.
12. The Ford Government Has Given Public Voice to False Troubling Stereotypes About Disability Accessibility
Two years ago, the Ford Government publicly voiced very troubling and harmful stereotypes about the AODA and disability accessibility during National AccessAbility Week.
In 2019, during National AccessAbility Week, NDP MPP Joel Harden proposed a that the Legislature pass a resolution that called for the Government to bring forward a plan in response to the Onley Report. The resolution was worded in benign and non-partisan words, which in key ways tracked Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance. 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.”
Premier Ford had every good reason to support this proposed resolution, as we explained in the June 10, 2019 AODA Alliance Update. Yet, as described in detail in the June 11, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Doug Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat this resolution on May 30, 2019, right in the middle of National Access Abilities Week.
The speeches by Conservative MPPs in the Legislature on the Government’s behalf, in opposition to that motion, voiced false and harmful stereotypes about disability accessibility. Those statements in effect called into serious question the Ford Government’s commitment to the effective implementation and enforcement of the AODA. They denigrated the creation and enforcement of AODA accessibility standards as red tape that threatened to imperil businesses and hurt people with disabilities.
13. The Ford Government Has Failed to Effectively Address the Urgent Needs of Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic
All of the foregoing would be enough in ordinary times to merit the “F” grade which the Ford Government is here awarded. However, its treatment of people with disabilities and their accessibility needs during the COVID-19 pandemic makes that grade all the more deserved.
In the earliest weeks, the Government deserved a great deal of leeway for responding to the pandemic, because it was understandably caught off guard, as was the world, by the enormity of this nightmare. However, even well after the initial shock period when the pandemic hit and for the year or more since then, the Ford Government has systemically failed to effectively address the distinctive and heightened urgent needs of people with disabilities in the pandemic.
People with disabilities were foreseeably exposed to disproportionately contract COVID-19, to suffer its worst hardships and to die from it. Yet too often the Government took a failed “one size fits all” approach to its emergency planning, that failed to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities. This issue has preoccupied the work of the AODA Alliance and many other disability organizations over the past 14 months.
Two of the areas where the Government most obviously failed were in health care and education. This is especially inexcusable since the Government had the benefit of a Health Care Standards Development Committee, a K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and a Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee to give the Government ideas and advice throughout the pandemic. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee delivered a detailed package of recommendations for the pandemic response four months into the pandemic. Yet those recommendations have largely if not totally gone unimplemented.
The Government repeatedly left it to each school board, college, university, and health care provider to each separately figure out what disability barriers had arisen during the pandemic, and how to remove and prevent those barriers. This is a predictable formula for wasteful duplication of effort, for increased costs and workloads, all in the middle of a pandemic.
For example, the Ford Government largely left it to each frontline teacher and principal to figure out how to accommodate the recurring needs of students with different disabilities during distance learning. The Government relied on TVO as a major partner in delivering distance learning to school students, even though TVO’s distance learning offerings have accessibility barriers that are unforgivable at any time, and especially during a pandemic.
As another example, the Ford Government did not properly plan to ensure that the process for booking and arranging a COVID-19 vaccine was disability-accessible. There is no specific accessible booking hotline to help people with disabilities navigate the booking process from beginning to end.
There is no assurance that drug stores or others through whom vaccines can be booked have accessible websites. We have received complaints that the Government’s own online booking portal has accessibility problems. Arranging for a barrier-free vaccination for People with Disabilities is even harder than the public is finding for just booking a vaccination for those with no disabilities.
14. The Lives of Vulnerable People with Disabilities are Endangered by the Ford Government’s Secret Plans for Critical Care Triage During the COVID-19 Pandemic, If Hospitals Cannot Serve All Critical Care Patients
The AODA Alliance, working together with other disability organizations, has also had to devote a great deal of effort to try to combat the danger that vulnerable people with disabilities would face disability discrimination in access to life-saving critical care if the pandemic overloads hospitals, leading to critical care triage. The Ford Government has created new disability barriers by allowing clear disability discrimination to be entrenched in Ontario’s critical care triage protocol. Even though formal critical care triage has not yet been directed, there is a real danger that it has occurred on the front lines without proper public accountability e.g. by ambulance crews declining to offer critical care to some patients at roadside, when called via 911.
The Ford Government has allowed a concerted disinformation campaign to be led by those who designed the Ontario critical care triage protocol, and who are falsely claiming that there is no disability discrimination in that protocol.
Further background on all of the issues addressed in this report card can be found on the AODA Alliance’s web site. It has separate pages, linked to its home page, addressing such topics as accessibility issues in transportation, health care, education, information and communication, the built environment, AODA enforcement, and disability issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic, among others. Follow @aodaalliance