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 making municipal accessibility advisory committees more effective.
Making Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees More Effective
Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees (MAACs) advise city councils about how to comply with the rules in AODA standards. In addition, they suggest ways that cities can implement these rules. Moreover, they also advise city councils on how to complete their accessibility reports.
Furthermore, MAACs also offer advice about the accessibility of new city buildings or other spaces. This aspect of their work requires MAAC members to have knowledge on technical building requirements and administration. Review attendees suggest that MAAC members should receive more training to increase their expertise in these areas.
More than half of MAAC members must be people with disabilities. However, review attendees suggest that these members should represent a diverse range of disabilities. In particular, the review notes that more MAACs should include members who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Review attendees value these committees, which allow people with disabilities to influence how their own cities implement the AODA. However, attendees report that committees’ levels of influence differ from city to city and town to town. Some attendees report that their MAACs face attitudinal barriers, or a lack of resources. As a result, their cities or towns implement few of the suggestions MAAC members make.
For instance, attendees describe one committee which examines building plans and suggests accessibility improvements to prevent barriers. However, the city ignores these suggestions and builds structures with barriers they could have prevented. Other towns receive advice from their committees, but do not consult them about design plans at all.
As a result, review attendees state that municipal accessibility advisory committees should have greater authority in their towns and cities. Town or city councils should not be able to ignore the advice of their committees. Therefore, review attendees suggest that councils and committees must develop ways to communicate more productively. For example, some city or town councillors are also members of their MAACs. Alternatively, some MAACs make regular reports at council meetings. They have also developed procedures requiring their city to respond to the reports. Moreover, if the city ignores MAAC advice, they must explain their reasons. This process creates more dialogue between an MAAC and its city or town council.
More Committees Needed
In addition, attendees state that some residents and private businesses are asking MAACs for advice, or to help enforce the AODA. For example, some communities ask their MAACs to fine businesses that do not remove barriers, such as not repairing automatic doors. However, MAACs do not have authority over businesses in the private sector. Likewise, they cannot impose fines or other penalties. Therefore, attendees suggest that the private sector could develop its own committees to oversee and advise on accessibility concerns.
Similarly, attendees state that more committees may be needed to fulfill all the duties of MAACs in large cities. Attendees suggest that MAACS in large cities could delegate some of their duties to “advisory groups” that would not report to city councils as MAACs do. Moreover, attendees also report a need for committees in regions that do not yet have MAACs. For instance, some towns are too small to have MAACs. As a result, attendees suggest that regional accessibility advisory committees could advise the councils of multiple towns in one region. Conversely, one central committee could support these communities to comply with the AODA. Finally, attendees suggest that all municipality accessibility advisory committees should share best practices. This sharing of ideas would allow cities and towns to learn from each other about ways to improve accessibility.