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Raising Awareness about Accessibility in Ontario

In the Third Review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is a renewal of government leadership to implement the AODA. Therefore, in response to the review, the Ontario government has implemented a framework to make the province more accessible. Through this framework, called Advancing Accessibility in Ontario, the government commits to making changes that will improve opportunities for citizens with disabilities. These changes will take place in four areas of the economy. In this article, we will focus on the area of raising awareness about accessibility in Ontario.

Raising Awareness about Accessibility in Ontario

The framework outlines current and future projects that the government is engaging in to help Ontarians better understand and practice accessibility. Moreover, many of these projects involve partnerships between government ministries, as well as with:

Through these partnerships, the government plans to make organizations aware of the responsibilities they have, under the AODA, to make their premises and services accessible. In addition, the plans aim to educate Ontarians about the benefits that accessibility brings to the province. Furthermore, these projects will support the government’s efforts to achieve the AODA’s goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025. For instance, these plans include:

  • Creating ReadAble Fest, a reading program to teach students about people with disabilities
  • Supporting the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival, which shows films by and about people with disabilities
  • Updating Ontario’s travel website to include information about accessible tourism
  • Developing Ontario Live, a virtual centre for arts and attractions
  • Requesting feedback to improve accessible housing programs and services across the province
  • Creating online versions of government services currently offered only in person, such as:
    • Renewing health cards or driver’s licences
  • Requiring organizations that host national or international sports events to remove accessibility barriers
  • Partnering with community organizations to support isolated people during COVID-19
  • Establishing Inclusion Week, to raise awareness about accessibility and mental health within the Ontario Public Service (OPS)
  • Developing higher standards for federally-funded infrastructure, such as:
    • Replacing older busses with more accessible ones
    • Improvements to bus stops
  • Requiring government ministries to make their digital communications accessible
  • Funding assessment and resource centres to support post-secondary students with learning disabilities
  • Creating resources to raise awareness about concussion safety for athletes with intellectual disabilities
  • Improving the accessibility of the Ministry of Education’s Learn at Home website

Recommendations for More Government Leadership from the Third Review of the AODA

All these strategies are valuable steps that the government should take to make Ontario more accessible. However, the Third Review of the AODA recommends many more important actions to raise awareness about accessibility in Ontario. For example, the Review recommends that the government should:

  • Develop public awareness campaigns about accessibility, similar to past campaigns on recycling or impaired driving
  • Include disability at every level of the school curriculum
  • Encourage guest speakers with disabilities to discuss their lived experience, in venues such as:
    • Schools, colleges, and universities
    • Businesses
  • Support media programming that highlights successful people with disabilities, or accessible organizations

In other words, the government’s current framework will not create enough improvement to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025. Moreover, some of the framework’s goals for the future involve laws that the government should already be following. For instance, under the Transportation Standards of the AODA, newly-bought public transit vehicles must have accessibility features. Therefore, the framework should not include this element as a current goal. Instead, whenever public transit companies retire vehicles, the new ones they buy should always be accessible.

Similarly, in January 2020, the government was required to make all its websites accessible. Therefore, the framework should not need to include the accessibility of any websites or digital communication as a current goal. Instead, all government websites, and any digital communications the government has made since 2012, should already be accessible to citizens with disabilities.