Accessible Formats in Healthcare


Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. One issue that a healthcare standard should address is access to information. Healthcare providers should be required to make all information available to all patients. For instance, all healthcare information should be available in accessible formats for patients who need them. Accessible formats in healthcare settings would help create quality medical care for all Ontarians.

Accessible Formats in Healthcare

Under the Information and Communications Standards, healthcare providers must make the information that they create available in accessible formats upon request. Likewise, under the Customer Service Standards, healthcare providers must serve customers in ways that take their communication needs into account. These two provisions seem to ensure that a patient’s service experience should be fully accessible already. However, there is an important service gap which a healthcare standard should fill. Although the service patients receive must be accessible, the goods they receive do not yet need to be.

For instance, when a patient with a print disability purchases medication in Ontario, the pharmacist who sells the medication must provide accessible customer service. However, medication names and instructions are only in standard-sized print. The patient must then make their own labels or systems to recognize which of their medicines is which. They must also find ways to access the medication instruction booklets. They might use software to scan and read instructions, but this process is often time-consuming and full of errors. Alternatively, to ensure that they receive accurate information about the medicine they use, a patient may instead ask loved ones or volunteer readers to go through the instructions verbally. However, this arrangement violates patients’ right to keep personal information confidential.

Accessible Prescriptions

Certain companies and regions have developed small-scale and large-scale solutions for the on-going information gap in healthcare. The Shoppers Drug Mart Pharmacy chain has created an online platform where patients can log on and access the instructions for their medications in alternate formats. Moreover, companies that produce medications in the European Union include Braille labels on all their products. The AODA’s new healthcare standard could implement these strategies for giving all patients access to medication, or suggest other options. A mandate within the AODA’s new standard to provide accessible formats in healthcare would help create quality medical care for all Ontarians.



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Great Conventional Media and Social Media Coverage Highlight Serious Problems with the Doug Ford Government Plan to Divert 1.3 Million Dollars to the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Controversial Private Accessibility Certification Program


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

July 29, 2019

SUMMARY

In both conventional media and social media, there has already been good coverage of the serious problems that we have publicly raised with the Ford Government plan to divert 1.3 million public dollars to the controversial Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) private accessibility certification program. This helps reinforce our call for the Government to set this plan aside. Instead of this inappropriate use of public money, the Doug Ford Government should act now to implement the helpful recommendations in the final report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public its important July 3, 2019 report. It documents serious problems with the Government plan to spend public money on the RHF private accessibility certification program. Our July 3, 2019 report shows that it is an exaggeration, if not inaccurate, to call an RHF assessment of a building an “accessibility certification”. It is an exaggeration, if not inaccurate, to call someone who took a two-week course from the RHF on accessibility and who passed a multiple-choice test an “accessibility professional”. It is an exaggeration if not inaccurate for the Ford Government to claim that public funding for this will remove barriers against people with disabilities.

Our efforts have triggered quite a good early response. In this Update we highlight early attention that our concerns have gotten in conventional media and social media. We also let you know about a recent article in a BC news publication that reinforces our concerns. We also take a closer look at the first public statement to the media that the Doug Ford Government has made in response to our concerns. We show that the Ford Government’s responses do not eliminate our concerns at all.

In this Update we also identify the specific actions we want the Ford Government to now take. What we seek is rooted in the recommendations of the David Onley report, and in election commitments that Doug Ford made to the AODA Alliance and Ontarians with disabilities during last year’s election campaign.

Just before this Update was sent out, we received a letter from Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho. It responds to the questions about the plan to publicly fund the problematic RHF private accessibility certification program in our July 3, 2019 letter to the Accessibility Minister. We are hard at work analyzing this letter and will address it in an upcoming AODA Alliance Update.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Write us at [email protected]

MORE DETAILS

1. Great Conventional and Social Media Coverage

On July 24, 2019, the Toronto Star online ran a great article entitled “Advocates slam Ontario plan to rate accessibility of buildings.” This article is included below. It reported on several of the serious problems with the Ford Government’s plan to give $1.3 million to the RHF for this. Below we address the Government’s first public responses to our July 3, 2019 report.

As well, on Thursday, July 25, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on the Kitchener 570 News Radio station, as part of the “Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke” show. CFRB News Talk 1010 Radio in Toronto did a news interview with him on July 26, 2019. We have not heard if it was used on the air. At 4:45 pm today, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is scheduled to be interviewed on CBC Radio 1 in Ottawa.

There has also been quite a positive and vocal reaction to our report on social media. We set out a sampling from Twitter, below, as well as a Facebook post by Optimal Consulting, an accessibility firm that operates in Ontario.

All the feedback we have seen or received from the disability community has echoed and reinforced our concerns about the Ford Government’s plan to publicly fund the troubling RHF private accessibility certification program for 250 as-yet unspecified buildings in Ontario. They have also broadened the discussion with new information. Beyond what they say that is set out in our July 3, 2019 report, we have not investigated or verified facts set out in those posts. We present them to show that there is real controversy swirling around the Government’s plan.

Here are two tweets as examples. They were both replies to the Toronto Star tweeting about its July 24, 2019 article on this topic, which we provide for you later in this Update:

“Liz Hay. @Kurdi @TorontoStar If a building with “hangout steps” can be certified gold under the RHF system, its understanding of #accessibility is hardly gold standard. #AODAfail”

“Thea Kurdi. @TorontoStar Hmmm… as someone who’s been doing #accessibility audits for 18 years we never only use CSA B651 standard, especially in provinces like ON with Ontario Building Code and #AODA . How does a certification that’s not looking at legislation help government & building owners? #a11y

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify its buildings. torstar.co/b6aY50vaL06”

One of the tweets set out later in this Update , and that arises from our July 3, 2019 report, brought to our attention an important article in the July 9, 2019 edition of the Delta Observer news publication from British Columbia. We also set that article out below. It reports on a human rights complaint that has been filed with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against a BC restaurant. A customer with a disability alleges that the restaurant has accessibility problems that amount to a violation of their human rights. The article says the RHF had certified that venue as accessible.

This shows, as we have said, that just because the RHF “certifies” that a place is accessible does not mean that people with disabilities will experience that place as accessible. Moreover, the fact that the RHF “certified” a restaurant as accessible is no defence to a human rights complaint, if the complainant shows that they faced accessibility barriers. Calling this “accessibility certification” is therefore inaccurate.

2. A Closer Look Shows that the Ford Government’s First Official Response to the AODA Alliance Report Doesn’t Refute Our Serious Concerns

What has the Ford Government told the media in response to the AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report on the Government’s plan to fund the RHF private accessibility certification program to assess 250 buildings in Ontario over the next two years? Twenty-two days before we made our report public, we sent it to the office of the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. We asked his office to let us know if there are any factual inaccuracies in our report. We explained that we have done our best to ensure that it is accurate, and don’t want to make any inaccurate statements in that report. We said we’d like to know before we make the report public, in case there is anything we need to correct. Knowing of our request, Minister Cho’s office and ministry has not suggested to us that there was anything inaccurate in the AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report.

The Government’s first public response to the media was in the same Toronto Star July 24, 2019 article that was mentioned in the tweets above. We here take a closer look at that response, which is full of holes. The article’s key passage is:

“In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, theyll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.

Brad McCannell, RHFs vice-president of access and inclusion, said the foundations certification program is impartial and was developed using extensive research on best practices in accessibility.

When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation, he said in an email. The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years experience related to accessibility in building environments, he said.

After the assessment, buildings receive a rating score corresponding to their level of accessibility: certified gold if they score over 80 per cent, certified if they score between 60 and 80 per cent, and noncertified if they score under 60 per cent. The scorecard includes key elements of success and suggestions for improvement for each assessed facility.

McCannell also noted that the foundations program is geared toward industry, not consumers.

The RHFAC is not designed to assist people with disabilities to find the nearest accessible washroom, but rather its an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities, he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.”

The Government’s response to the Toronto Star does not disprove any of our serious concerns. We address seven points.

First, we have seen no indication that the Ford Government held any open competitive process before it decided whom it would engage to assess the accessibility of 250 buildings in Ontario. There are a number of accessibility experts in Ontario that have been doing this kind of accessibility advisory work for years. There is no indication whether any of them were considered, or even had a chance to bid on this project. We do not know why a Government, acting responsibly with public money, would choose the RHF assessors whose only required accessibility background comes from passing a multiple choice test after a two-week course. A public bidding process would be a more appropriate approach to the responsible use of public money.

On that issue, the Star article includes this Government response:

“The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.”

Yet that track record in BC is called into question by the problems with the RHF Gold rating for the Vancouver International Airport (addressed in our July 3, 2019 report), and the RHF’s rating a BC restaurant as “accessible” which is now being sued under BC’s human rights legislation for alleged accessibility problems. (as addressed in the news article set out later in this Update).

Second, according to the Toronto Star, an RHF spokesperson said that the RHF program is geared towards industry, not consumers. That will hardly be encouraging for Ontarians with disabilities. We need an increased focus on consumers with disabilities. Even if it is geared for industry, there is no way the public can know if the RHF assessments are useful since they are being kept secret, unless an organization wants its RHF report made public.

Third, the RHF spokesperson said that the RHF program is “an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities.” However, as our July 3, 2019 report highlighted, and as a tweet from Ontario-based accessibility consultant Thea Kurdi notes, it is not even clear that the RHF assessments will cover all accessibility requirements in Ontario provincial and municipal laws. Moreover, the “Code” that organizations must meet or exceed is the Ontario Human Rights Code, and not the inferior accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code.

Fourth, according to the Toronto Star, Accessibility Minister Cho said that “CSA Group (i.e. the Canadian Standards Association) will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate.” However, the CSA is itself not a government agency. It is a private organization. To our knowledge, the CSA is not authorized under any law of which we are aware to conduct accessibility assessments of buildings in Ontario or to evaluate the correctness or consistency of assessments done by others. We have seen no proof that the CSA has any expertise in that field. It is certainly not an organization that we would advise a government to engage for that purpose.

Fifth, it is peculiar that the RHF told the Star that: When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation. This flies in the face of the fact that both the Ford Government and the RHF’s website emphasize the Rick Hansen Foundation’s name all over this process. In the Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 news release (included in the appendix to our July 3, 2019 report), the Government states position that is quite contrary to what it here told the Star, where it says:

“Through this investment, the Rick Hansen Foundation will undertake ratings of 250 facilities.”

It would likely come as a troubling surprise to an organization that had paid for the RHF certification and for permission to post an RHF certification sign on their building, as well as to members of the public who see a “Rick Hansen Foundation” accessibility certification sign in front of a building, that the RHF did not actually certify the building’s accessibility. This is especially so since it appears that a bedrock foundation of the RHF private accessibility certification program, and the Government’s promotion of this plan, is its prominent focus on Rick Hansen’s name and notoriety.

Sixth, assuming that the Star quoted it accurately, the RHF statement to the Toronto Star contradicts its own website where the RHF spokesperson said:

“The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years experience related to accessibility in building environments”

The admission requirements to be able to take the RHF two-week course and to pass a multiple choice test to qualify to conduct these building accessibility assessments for the RHF do not require a person to have ” a minimum of five years experience related to accessibility in building environments”, as our July 3, 2019 report documents. According to the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation, posted on the RHF website, the qualifications to take the RHF 2-week course are:

“Prerequisites include the following:
You have a diploma of technology in architecture, engineering, urban planning, interior design or a related program;
You have a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in
a designated trade related to building construction;
You are an engineer or are eligible for registration as
an engineer;
You are an architect or are eligible for registration as an architect; OR You have a minimum of five years’ experience related to building construction.”

If we are right, then the RHF statement to the Star is inaccurate on a very important issue, namely whether a person needs to have any accessibility experience before taking the RHF course. As noted earlier, the Ford Government did not tell us that we got any of our facts wrong in our July 3, 2019 report.

Seventh and finally, the Government’s response does not disprove our serious concerns with the twin risk of conflicts of interest that are inherent in this plan. Our report explains that there are two conflict of interest risks:

1. The RHF can be asked to assess the building of a public or private organization that has given a donation to the RHF, or that offers to do so in the future, or that otherwise signals a willingness to do so. This creates a conflict of interest for the RHF.

2. The RHF’s accessibility assessors are freelancers. They get hired on an ad hoc basis by an organization to do an RHF accessibility assessment and to submit it to the RHF for its adjudication and approval. These assessors are paid by the job. No doubt, they want to get more jobs. As such, they have an incentive to give more favourable accessibility ratings, so that other organizations will also want to choose them for future certification jobs.

To answer these concerns, the Ford Government told the Star:

“”In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, theyll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.”

These Government statements do not eliminate any of our conflict of interest concerns. The fact that the assessors work as freelancers does not take away the fact that the RHF, which grants the ultimate award or certification in its own name, has a potential conflict of interest, in the case of organizations that may be past or potential future donors to the RHF.

As well, the fact that these assessors are paid by the job as freelancers is the very basis for the second conflict of interest concern listed above. By emphasizing that they are freelancers, the Minister’s statement simply reaffirms this problem.

3. What Should the Ford Government Do Now?

The Ford Government should take a long second look at this plan in light of our concerns, and should cancel it.

It’s time for the Ford Government instead to come up with a plan to implement the final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Ford Government received the Onley report six months ago (or 179 days ago(. the Government has announced no plans to implement that report, even though over four months ago, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors said that David Onley did a “marvelous job”.

To create disability accessibility in the built environment, we call on the Ford Government to act on Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance. That is where Premier Ford set out his 2018 election pledges on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

We need Ontario to enact new and modernized accessibility requirements to ensure that the built environment becomes accessible to people with disabilities. The current Ontario Building Code is woefully inadequate. The Onley Report recommended this action. The AODA Alliance has called for this action. On May 15, 2018, Doug Ford pledged:

“Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Codes accessibility provisions.”

We need Ontario to require that design professionals like architects be properly trained to design a built environment that is accessible to people with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has recommended this. So did the Onley Report. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford wrote:

“We need Ontarios design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

We also need the Ford Government to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. The AODA Alliance has called for this. the Onley Report did the same. In the 2018 election, Doug Ford promised that there would be an end to mismanagement of public money.

Rather than taking these important actions, the Ford Government took the official position in the Legislature on May 30, 2019 that this is all just undesirable “red tape”. The Doug Ford Government proudly pointed to its alternative plan of providing public funding to the RHF private accessibility certification program.

In the face of this, last week, the AODA Alliance launched its new grassroots “Dial Doug” campaign. It is inviting the public to call or email the Premier at his office (416 325-1941 or [email protected]) to ask for his plan to make Ontario accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. Members of the public are already taking up this challenge.

4. Toronto Star Online July 24, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/17/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky, seen on hangout steps he says are inaccessible and difficult for people with vision loss, says its wrong for the provincial government to fund a private entity to assess its buildings for accessibility, noting the chosen entity recently gave a certified gold rating to a building with such steps.

Advocates slam Ontario plan to rate accessibility of buildings

By Gilbert Ngabo Staff Reporter

A group that advocates for better accessibility standards in Ontario is voicing concerns about the provinces new assessment plan.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance says the plan to conduct accessibility assessments of public and private buildings will remove few barriers and is bound to be marred by conflicts of interest.

In this springs budget, the province earmarked $1.3 million to conduct accessibility audits of some 250 public and private facilities over two years. The program will be conducted in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF).

In a report released this week, the AODA Alliance a non-partisan coalition advocating for the implementation of the provinces disability accessibility laws said the government should reconsider its decision.

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the RHF to certify its buildings.

You cant say, Hey, youre about to inspect my house, heres some cash. You shouldnt be allowed to do that, said Lepofsky, a lawyer and longtime advocate for people with disabilities. Thats a clear conflict of interest. Its actually quite troubling.

Using properly trained government inspectors would be a better choice, he said, as theyd be bound by the established laws of accessibility.

The alliance is also critical of the government for not consulting members of the disability community before unveiling the certification process. Lepofsky said theres risk of leaving out people whose disabilities are not related to mobility, vision or hearing.

In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, theyll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.

Brad McCannell, RHFs vice-president of access and inclusion, said the foundations certification program is impartial and was developed using extensive research on best practices in accessibility.

When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation, he said in an email. The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years experience related to accessibility in building environments, he said.

After the assessment, buildings receive a rating score corresponding to their level of accessibility: certified gold if they score over 80 per cent, certified if they score between 60 and 80 per cent, and noncertified if they score under 60 per cent. The scorecard includes key elements of success and suggestions for improvement for each assessed facility.

McCannell also noted that the foundations program is geared toward industry, not consumers.

The RHFAC is not designed to assist people with disabilities to find the nearest accessible washroom, but rather its an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities, he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

But Lepofsky pointed to the Vancouver airport a RHF certified gold rated building in 2018 as a reason for caution.

In a RHG tweet announcing the rating, a photo shows hangout steps for socializing at the airport, which are inaccessible to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices and are difficult for people with vision loss or balance issues, he said.

Lepofsky, who raised the problem of hangout steps in Ryerson Universitys Student Learning Centre in an online video in 2017, questioned how a public building with hangout steps can deserve a gold rating for accessibility.

It is troubling that this gold rating signals to the Vancouver International Airport and to the public that having hangout steps is fine from an accessibility perspective, he said. It is also troubling that it signals to design professionals that they should feel free to include them in other buildings without worrying that it raises any accessibility concern.

The provincial government continues to draw criticism from accessibility advocacy communities and experts over AODA.

Earlier this year, former lieutenant-governor David Onley issued a report on the implementation of the 14-year-old act, in which he observed that people with disabilities are still facing soul-crushing barriers in Ontario. The goal of achieving the fully accessible Ontario by 2025 is nowhere in sight, Onleys report concluded.

This month, 21 disability organizations across Ontario sent a letter to the premier decrying a long-standing lack of leadership on the accessibility file and calling for a concrete plan of action on the recommendations from the Onley report.

The Doug Ford government in the past year has done absolutely nothing new to speed up and strengthen the implementation of the AODA. Absolutely nothing, Lepofsky said.

We think (the building certification plan) is just a big distraction rather than doing their job.

With files from Laurie Monsebraatan

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

5. The Delta Optimist July 8, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.delta-optimist.com/news/human-rights-tribunal-to-hear-disabled-customer-s-complaint-about-pat-quinn-s-1.23877536?fbclid=IwAR2YQfRum15xPmepCS7c10T4gO7lDhS-bJUfBimDOggHjSK5zzRiUBoB7mg BC Human Rights Tribunal to hear disabled customers complaint about Pat Quinns

An accessibility complaint against Pat Quinns Restaurant & Bar will go before the Human Rights Tribunal later this year.

The complaint has been filed by Tsawwassens Vince Miele who uses a wheelchair and has long been an advocate for people with disabilities.

According to his application, in February 2016 he made a reservation for four and informed the Tsawwassen Springs restaurant that one in the party uses a wheelchair.

When he arrived, he found his friends had been seated at a table in the lower area of the restaurant, but he was unable to independently join them because of three stairs. A server offered to help him down the stairs, but that was not feasible.

As a result, his friends were moved to the upper level of the restaurant. He said the experience attracted undue attention from other diners and that it was an incredibly embarrassing experience.

After the incident, Miele contacted the restaurant to complain about the lack of access to the lower floor.

I received less than a satisfactory response and in correspondence with others looked originally at a class-action lawsuit, Miele told the Optimist. The commissioner of the tribunal determined that a class-action complaint was a lot more complicated. They felt they would not accept it as a class-action, but continue it at the Human Rights Tribunal.

In January, an application was made to dismiss the complaint, but that was denied, so it will now be heard before the tribunal in November.

Miele said since he started the complaint process three years ago, the restaurant has made some improvements, including installing an automatic door opener from the parkade to the elevator and a door to enable access to the patio. As well, it now has a portable ramp, but Miele contends that does not meet the building code and a permanent ramp should be installed to meet all accessibility standards.

Were very surprised by all of this. Its a shame because it is a great restaurant and we love going there, he said. Im not in this to harm the reputation of the restaurant. I thought it was an oversight when I first wrote to them in good faith and thought it would be corrected.

Three years later we are still waiting. What are we to think? Im adamant about what I want and so are they and thats why we are heading to a hearing. To design something like this so poorly is quite surprising. It should be inclusive and accessible for all and its not.

Dave Symington also wrote to the Optimist about a similar experience he had at the restaurant in May.

Its surprising that a building this new still did not take into account that people with mobility-related disabilities might want to use the lower and main portion of the restaurant, he said. The building code specifically states that where there is a change in floor levels it must be made accessible, which means a permanent ramp or other means where an individual can independently access the area. If we have to make a fuss about sitting in an area that anyone else can, we are not being accommodated fairly.

Through its legal counsel, Tsawwassen Springs provided a written response to the Optimist.

We engaged the services of professional engineers and architects who created the building plans for the construction of Pat Quinns Restaurant & Bar along with the entire building in which the restaurant is situate, which plans were in full compliance with the then current B.C. Building Code including the accessibility requirements provided therein, said the response.

Those building plans were approved by the City of Delta, whose representatives issued all necessary permits. The building, including the restaurant, is Accessibility Certified by the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program.

We will not be providing any further comment while this matter is being considered by the tribunal.

6. Sampling of Recent Tweets

Liz Hay. @tkurdi @TorontoStar If a building with “hangout steps” can be certified gold under the RHF system, its understanding of #accessibility is hardly gold standard. #AODAfail

J E Sleeth. @DavidLepofsky @fordnation @HonDavidOnley Excellent article @TorontoStar re. #aoda #ford giving $ 2 @RickHansenFdn which is not bona fide #accessibility nor a means 2 have private sector be #openforbusiness to #peopleofallabilities it’s not just the #wheelchair

Joel Harden. $1.3 million for accessibility audits will not rid Ontario of the “soul-crushing” barriers that exist. We need immediate action to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, not meager investments. #onpoli #AODA https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/24/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html thestar.com/news/gta/2019/ Twitter Web App

Allen Mankewich. This thread highlights concerns with the RHF’s Accessibility Certification Program and reveals a lot of what I’m hearing in private conversations. Thanks @mssinenomine for compiling the thread, and thanks @DavidLepofsky for releasing a report exposing issues with this program. https://twitter.com/mssinenomine/status/1154420373187751936 twitter.com/mssinenomine/s

Michelle Sanders. #Ontario to allocate $1.3 million to #accessibility audits in partnership with @RickHansenFdn . Accessibility Certification requirements not available to the public + not based on public consult. What are we doing?? @fordnation @aodaalliance @AODAontario https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/24/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html thestar.com/news/gta/2019/ Twitter for iPhone

Micaela Evans A case is heading to the BC Human Rights Tribunal soon that touches on these important issues of the certification https://twitter.com/micievans13/status/1154622550682456064?s=20

Gabrielle Peters The building is accessibility certified by the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ?. Check out the @aodaalliance report at the top of this thread detailing this wasteful use of public money and their “Dial Doug” campaign

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ?. Trust the Doug Ford government to come up with a way to look like it’s doing something about accessibility when all its doing is spending money on a private foundation to ensure it makes the government look like it’s doing something. Ontario taxpayers deserve better. #onpoli
Dorothy Ellen Palmer ?. Unlike the government this private foundation has no obligation to make anything public. Ontarians won’t know which buildings are rated, or how they’re rated. The Ford gov will release results as it sees fit. There is no enforcement for buildings that fail. This fails us all.
While slashing education and health care the Doug Ford government is paying a private foundation 1.3 million to rate 250 buildings. That’s $5,200 per building. Government inspectors already employed could do this. Is this an attempt to ensure that these buildings pass?

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ?. To work as a building accessibility certfier for RHF all you have to do is take a two week course and pass a multiple choice test. Then you’re fully trained to certify every single building you see as accessible or accessible enough for Doug Ford’s purposes. Right. #Accessibilty
Further to the detailed work of BC’s @mssinenomine Ontario disability activists also reject this ridiculously expensive private accessibility certification company that essentially does nothing but make itself money. twitter.com/DavidLepofsky/

Thea Kurdi. To move the needle on #accessibility , enforce existing laws but face reality we need to radically rewrite building codes. Older buildings need audits using detailed requ’ts from several standards to get even close to Human Rights. After renos *maybe then ready for celebration.

Thea Kurdi. My career has been focused on trying to remove barriers people with disabilities unjustly face in built environments. I wish we were ready for whole building certification by now, but current standard practice & building codes don’t create accessible places. Love encouraging…

…and celebrating progress but at best we are only ready to celebrate features. Areas of most progress? Bathrooms, service desks, parking, signage, but rarely more than minimum, & not what we’ve known for decades is needed. #Education is far more valuable than certification.

Thea Kurdi. …this report from @aodaalliance raises many reasonable questions. And for those who don’t know much about #accessibility in buildings I understand wishing one national standard, like the CSA B651, would cover everything. Sadly, it does not. Why? Read: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/top-insider-secrets-whats-stopping-full-inclusion-design-thea-kurdi/ linkedin.com/pulse/top-insi

People have been asking what I think of new RHF certification program. I can see why business & government are attracted to what looks like an easy solution to a complex problem that they want to solve. I can see why people like the idea of celebrating through recognition. But… twitter.com/DavidLepofsky/
Thea Kurdi. @TorontoStar Hmmm… as someone who’s been doing #accessibility audits for 18 years we never only use CSA B651 standard, especially in provinces like ON with Ontario Building Code and #AODA . How does a certification that’s not looking at legislation help government & building owners? #a11y

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify its buildings. torstar.co/b6aY50vaL06

7. Facebook Post by Optimal Consultants, an Ontario-Based Accessibility Consulting Firm

Originally posted at https://www.facebook.com/93712137122/posts/10156628031122123/

(Note: The AODA Alliance has not investigated or verified any statements in this post)

Please read my article in Linked In and in Facebook yesterday about the @RickHansen certification system being flawed. This includes “auditors” who have no formal education in the areas of ergonomics, human factors, psychology or design. As mentioned yesterday we are aware of 1 very important building in Meadowvale Ontario that was deemed by RHF to be accessible and received an award (which is clearly displayed in the building owners website – (note the building is owned by and managed by a real estate company. The certification and award were not in any way pursued by the FI business who leases the building). The two formal audits conducted by Optimal Performance Consultants and paid for by the FI in the building found the building to not meet even basic #OntarioBuildingCode #BarrierFreeDesign let alone provide accessibility for people of ALL abilities. Remember, accessible and inclusive design is NOT just about the #Wheelchair We stand by our University educated, experienced and professional Auditors at Optimal Performance Consultants. Optimizing human performance through the built environment for 30 years. [email protected]





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Great Conventional Media and Social Media Coverage Highlight Serious Problems with the Doug Ford Government Plan to Divert 1.3 Million Dollars to the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Controversial Private Accessibility Certification Program


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org aodafeedb[email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Great Conventional Media and Social Media Coverage Highlight Serious Problems with the Doug Ford Government Plan to Divert 1.3 Million Dollars to the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Controversial Private Accessibility Certification Program

July 29, 2019

SUMMARY

In both conventional media and social media, there has already been good coverage of the serious problems that we have publicly raised with the Ford Government plan to divert 1.3 million public dollars to the controversial Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) private accessibility certification program. This helps reinforce our call for the Government to set this plan aside. Instead of this inappropriate use of public money, the Doug Ford Government should act now to implement the helpful recommendations in the final report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)

Last week, the AODA Alliance made public its important July 3, 2019 report. It documents serious problems with the Government plan to spend public money on the RHF private accessibility certification program. Our July 3, 2019 report shows that it is an exaggeration, if not inaccurate, to call an RHF assessment of a building an “accessibility certification”. It is an exaggeration, if not inaccurate, to call someone who took a two-week course from the RHF on accessibility and who passed a multiple-choice test an “accessibility professional”. It is an exaggeration if not inaccurate for the Ford Government to claim that public funding for this will remove barriers against people with disabilities.

Our efforts have triggered quite a good early response. In this Update we highlight early attention that our concerns have gotten in conventional media and social media. We also let you know about a recent article in a BC news publication that reinforces our concerns. We also take a closer look at the first public statement to the media that the Doug Ford Government has made in response to our concerns. We show that the Ford Government’s responses do not eliminate our concerns at all.

In this Update we also identify the specific actions we want the Ford Government to now take. What we seek is rooted in the recommendations of the David Onley report, and in election commitments that Doug Ford made to the AODA Alliance and Ontarians with disabilities during last year’s election campaign.

Just before this Update was sent out, we received a letter from Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho. It responds to the questions about the plan to publicly fund the problematic RHF private accessibility certification program in our July 3, 2019 letter to the Accessibility Minister. We are hard at work analyzing this letter and will address it in an upcoming AODA Alliance Update.

As always, we welcome your feedback. Write us at [email protected]

MORE DETAILS

1. Great Conventional and Social Media Coverage

On July 24, 2019, the Toronto Star online ran a great article entitled “Advocates slam Ontario plan to rate accessibility of buildings.” This article is included below. It reported on several of the serious problems with the Ford Government’s plan to give $1.3 million to the RHF for this. Below we address the Government’s first public responses to our July 3, 2019 report.

As well, on Thursday, July 25, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was interviewed on the Kitchener 570 News Radio station, as part of the “Kitchener Today with Brian Bourke” show. CFRB News Talk 1010 Radio in Toronto did a news interview with him on July 26, 2019. We have not heard if it was used on the air. At 4:45 pm today, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is scheduled to be interviewed on CBC Radio 1 in Ottawa.

There has also been quite a positive and vocal reaction to our report on social media. We set out a sampling from Twitter, below, as well as a Facebook post by Optimal Consulting, an accessibility firm that operates in Ontario.

All the feedback we have seen or received from the disability community has echoed and reinforced our concerns about the Ford Government’s plan to publicly fund the troubling RHF private accessibility certification program for 250 as-yet unspecified buildings in Ontario. They have also broadened the discussion with new information. Beyond what they say that is set out in our July 3, 2019 report, we have not investigated or verified facts set out in those posts. We present them to show that there is real controversy swirling around the Government’s plan.

Here are two tweets as examples. They were both replies to the Toronto Star tweeting about its July 24, 2019 article on this topic, which we provide for you later in this Update:

“Liz Hay. @Kurdi @TorontoStar If a building with “hangout steps” can be certified gold under the RHF system, its understanding of #accessibility is hardly gold standard. #AODAfail”

“Thea Kurdi. @TorontoStar Hmmm… as someone who’s been doing #accessibility audits for 18 years we never only use CSA B651 standard, especially in provinces like ON with Ontario Building Code and #AODA . How does a certification that’s not looking at legislation help government & building owners? #a11y

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify its buildings.

torstar.co/b6aY50vaL06”

One of the tweets set out later in this Update , and that arises from our July 3, 2019 report, brought to our attention an important article in the July 9, 2019 edition of the Delta Observer news publication from British Columbia. We also set that article out below. It reports on a human rights complaint that has been filed with the British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal against a BC restaurant. A customer with a disability alleges that the restaurant has accessibility problems that amount to a violation of their human rights. The article says the RHF had certified that venue as accessible.

This shows, as we have said, that just because the RHF “certifies” that a place is accessible does not mean that people with disabilities will experience that place as accessible. Moreover, the fact that the RHF “certified” a restaurant as accessible is no defence to a human rights complaint, if the complainant shows that they faced accessibility barriers. Calling this “accessibility certification” is therefore inaccurate.

2. A Closer Look Shows that the Ford Government’s First Official Response to the AODA Alliance Report Doesn’t Refute Our Serious Concerns

What has the Ford Government told the media in response to the AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report on the Government’s plan to fund the RHF private accessibility certification program to assess 250 buildings in Ontario over the next two years? Twenty-two days before we made our report public, we sent it to the office of the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho. We asked his office to let us know if there are any factual inaccuracies in our report. We explained that we have done our best to ensure that it is accurate, and don’t want to make any inaccurate statements in that report. We said we’d like to know before we make the report public, in case there is anything we need to correct. Knowing of our request, Minister Cho’s office and ministry has not suggested to us that there was anything inaccurate in the AODA Alliance’s July 3, 2019 report.

The Government’s first public response to the media was in the same Toronto Star July 24, 2019 article that was mentioned in the tweets above. We here take a closer look at that response, which is full of holes. The article’s key passage is:

“In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, they’ll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.

Brad McCannell, RHF’s vice-president of access and inclusion, said the foundation’s certification program is impartial and was developed using extensive research on best practices in accessibility.

“When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation,” he said in an email. The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments, he said.

After the assessment, buildings receive a rating score corresponding to their level of accessibility: “certified gold” if they score over 80 per cent, “certified” if they score between 60 and 80 per cent, and noncertified if they score under 60 per cent. The scorecard includes key elements of success and suggestions for improvement for each assessed facility.

McCannell also noted that the foundation’s program is geared toward industry, not consumers.

“The RHFAC is not designed to assist people with disabilities to find the nearest accessible washroom, but rather it’s an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities,” he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.”

The Government’s response to the Toronto Star does not disprove any of our serious concerns. We address seven points.

First, we have seen no indication that the Ford Government held any open competitive process before it decided whom it would engage to assess the accessibility of 250 buildings in Ontario. There are a number of accessibility experts in Ontario that have been doing this kind of accessibility advisory work for years. There is no indication whether any of them were considered, or even had a chance to bid on this project. We do not know why a Government, acting responsibly with public money, would choose the RHF assessors whose only required accessibility background comes from passing a multiple choice test after a two-week course. A public bidding process would be a more appropriate approach to the responsible use of public money.

On that issue, the Star article includes this Government response:

“The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.”

Yet that track record in BC is called into question by the problems with the RHF Gold rating for the Vancouver International Airport (addressed in our July 3, 2019 report), and the RHF’s rating a BC restaurant as “accessible” which is now being sued under BC’s human rights legislation for alleged accessibility problems. (as addressed in the news article set out later in this Update).

Second, according to the Toronto Star, an RHF spokesperson said that the RHF program is geared towards industry, not consumers. That will hardly be encouraging for Ontarians with disabilities. We need an increased focus on consumers with disabilities. Even if it is geared for industry, there is no way the public can know if the RHF assessments are useful since they are being kept secret, unless an organization wants its RHF report made public.

Third, the RHF spokesperson said that the RHF program is “an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities.” However, as our July 3, 2019 report highlighted, and as a tweet from Ontario-based accessibility consultant Thea Kurdi notes, it is not even clear that the RHF assessments will cover all accessibility requirements in Ontario provincial and municipal laws. Moreover, the “Code” that organizations must meet or exceed is the Ontario Human Rights Code, and not the inferior accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code.

Fourth, according to the Toronto Star, Accessibility Minister Cho said that “…CSA Group (i.e. the Canadian Standards Association) will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate.” However, the CSA is itself not a government agency. It is a private organization. To our knowledge, the CSA is not authorized under any law of which we are aware to conduct accessibility assessments of buildings in Ontario or to evaluate the correctness or consistency of assessments done by others. We have seen no proof that the CSA has any expertise in that field. It is certainly not an organization that we would advise a government to engage for that purpose.

Fifth, it is peculiar that the RHF told the Star that: “When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation”. This flies in the face of the fact that both the Ford Government and the RHF’s website emphasize the Rick Hansen Foundation’s name all over this process. In the Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 news release (included in the appendix to our July 3, 2019 report), the Government states position that is quite contrary to what it here told the Star, where it says:

“Through this investment, the Rick Hansen Foundation will undertake ratings of 250 facilities.”

It would likely come as a troubling surprise to an organization that had paid for the RHF certification and for permission to post an RHF certification sign on their building, as well as to members of the public who see a “Rick Hansen Foundation” accessibility certification sign in front of a building, that the RHF did not actually certify the building’s accessibility. This is especially so since it appears that a bedrock foundation of the RHF private accessibility certification program, and the Government’s promotion of this plan, is its prominent focus on Rick Hansen’s name and notoriety.

Sixth, assuming that the Star quoted it accurately, the RHF statement to the Toronto Star contradicts its own website where the RHF spokesperson said:

“The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments…”

The admission requirements to be able to take the RHF two-week course and to pass a multiple choice test to qualify to conduct these building accessibility assessments for the RHF do not require a person to have ” a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments”, as our July 3, 2019 report documents. According to the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation, posted on the RHF website, the qualifications to take the RHF 2-week course are:

“Prerequisites include the following:

  • You have a diploma of technology in architecture, engineering,

urban planning, interior design or a related program;

  • You have a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in

a designated trade related to building construction;

  • You are an engineer or are eligible for registration as

an engineer;

  • You are an architect or are eligible for registration as an architect; OR
  • You have a minimum of five years’ experience related to building

construction.”

If we are right, then the RHF statement to the Star is inaccurate on a very important issue, namely whether a person needs to have any accessibility experience before taking the RHF course. As noted earlier, the Ford Government did not tell us that we got any of our facts wrong in our July 3, 2019 report.

Seventh and finally, the Government’s response does not disprove our serious concerns with the twin risk of conflicts of interest that are inherent in this plan. Our report explains that there are two conflict of interest risks:

  1. The RHF can be asked to assess the building of a public or private organization that has given a donation to the RHF, or that offers to do so in the future, or that otherwise signals a willingness to do so. This creates a conflict of interest for the RHF.
  1. The RHF’s accessibility assessors are freelancers. They get hired on an ad hoc basis by an organization to do an RHF accessibility assessment and to submit it to the RHF for its adjudication and approval. These assessors are paid by the job. No doubt, they want to get more jobs. As such, they have an incentive to give more favourable accessibility ratings, so that other organizations will also want to choose them for future certification jobs.

To answer these concerns, the Ford Government told the Star:

“”In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, they’ll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.”

These Government statements do not eliminate any of our conflict of interest concerns. The fact that the assessors work as freelancers does not take away the fact that the RHF, which grants the ultimate award or certification in its own name, has a potential conflict of interest, in the case of organizations that may be past or potential future donors to the RHF.

As well, the fact that these assessors are paid by the job as freelancers is the very basis for the second conflict of interest concern listed above. By emphasizing that they are freelancers, the Minister’s statement simply reaffirms this problem.

3. What Should the Ford Government Do Now?

The Ford Government should take a long second look at this plan in light of our concerns, and should cancel it.

It’s time for the Ford Government instead to come up with a plan to implement the final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Ford Government received the Onley report six months ago (or 179 days ago(. the Government has announced no plans to implement that report, even though over four months ago, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors said that David Onley did a “marvelous job”.

To create disability accessibility in the built environment, we call on the Ford Government to act on Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance. That is where Premier Ford set out his 2018 election pledges on accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities.

We need Ontario to enact new and modernized accessibility requirements to ensure that the built environment becomes accessible to people with disabilities. The current Ontario Building Code is woefully inadequate. The Onley Report recommended this action. The AODA Alliance has called for this action. On May 15, 2018, Doug Ford pledged:

“Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions.”

We need Ontario to require that design professionals like architects be properly trained to design a built environment that is accessible to people with disabilities. The AODA Alliance has recommended this. So did the Onley Report. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford wrote:

“We need Ontario’s design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

We also need the Ford Government to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. The AODA Alliance has called for this. the Onley Report did the same. In the 2018 election, Doug Ford promised that there would be an end to mismanagement of public money.

Rather than taking these important actions, the Ford Government took the official position in the Legislature on May 30, 2019 that this is all just undesirable “red tape”. The Doug Ford Government proudly pointed to its alternative plan of providing public funding to the RHF private accessibility certification program.

In the face of this, last week, the AODA Alliance launched its new grassroots “Dial Doug” campaign. It is inviting the public to call or email the Premier at his office (416 325-1941 or [email protected]) to ask for his plan to make Ontario accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. Members of the public are already taking up this challenge.

4. Toronto Star Online July 24, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/17/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky, seen on hangout steps he says are inaccessible and difficult for people with vision loss, says it’s wrong for the provincial government to fund a private entity to assess its buildings for accessibility, noting the chosen entity recently gave a “certified gold” rating to a building with such steps.

Advocates slam Ontario plan to rate accessibility of buildings

By Gilbert Ngabo Staff Reporter

A group that advocates for better accessibility standards in Ontario is voicing concerns about the province’s new assessment plan.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance says the plan to conduct accessibility assessments of public and private buildings will remove few barriers and is bound to be marred by conflicts of interest.

In this spring’s budget, the province earmarked $1.3 million to conduct accessibility audits of some 250 public and private facilities over two years. The program will be conducted in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF).

In a report released this week, the AODA Alliance — a non-partisan coalition advocating for the implementation of the province’s disability accessibility laws — said the government should reconsider its decision.

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the RHF to certify its buildings.

“You can’t say, ‘Hey, you’re about to inspect my house, here’s some cash.’ You shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” said Lepofsky, a lawyer and longtime advocate for people with disabilities. “That’s a clear conflict of interest. It’s actually quite troubling.”

Using properly trained government inspectors would be a better choice, he said, as they’d be bound by the established laws of accessibility.

The alliance is also critical of the government for not consulting members of the disability community before unveiling the certification process. Lepofsky said there’s risk of leaving out people whose disabilities are not related to mobility, vision or hearing.

In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, they’ll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.

Brad McCannell, RHF’s vice-president of access and inclusion, said the foundation’s certification program is impartial and was developed using extensive research on best practices in accessibility.

“When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation,” he said in an email. The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments, he said.

After the assessment, buildings receive a rating score corresponding to their level of accessibility: “certified gold” if they score over 80 per cent, “certified” if they score between 60 and 80 per cent, and noncertified if they score under 60 per cent. The scorecard includes key elements of success and suggestions for improvement for each assessed facility.

McCannell also noted that the foundation’s program is geared toward industry, not consumers.

“The RHFAC is not designed to assist people with disabilities to find the nearest accessible washroom, but rather it’s an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities,” he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

But Lepofsky pointed to the Vancouver airport — a RHF “certified gold” rated building in 2018 — as a reason for caution.

In a RHG tweet announcing the rating, a photo shows “hangout steps” for socializing at the airport, which are inaccessible to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices and are difficult for people with vision loss or balance issues, he said.

Lepofsky, who raised the problem of hangout steps in Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in an online video in 2017, questioned how a public building with hangout steps can deserve a gold rating for accessibility.

“It is troubling that this gold rating signals to the Vancouver International Airport and to the public that having hangout steps is fine from an accessibility perspective,” he said. “It is also troubling that it signals to design professionals that they should feel free to include them in other buildings without worrying that it raises any accessibility concern.”

The provincial government continues to draw criticism from accessibility advocacy communities and experts over AODA.

Earlier this year, former lieutenant-governor David Onley issued a report on the implementation of the 14-year-old act, in which he observed that people with disabilities are still facing “soul-crushing” barriers in Ontario. The goal of achieving the fully accessible Ontario by 2025 is “nowhere in sight,” Onley’s report concluded.

This month, 21 disability organizations across Ontario sent a letter to the premier decrying a long-standing lack of leadership on the accessibility file and calling for a concrete plan of action on the recommendations from the Onley report.

“The Doug Ford government in the past year has done absolutely nothing new to speed up and strengthen the implementation of the AODA. Absolutely nothing,” Lepofsky said.

“We think (the building certification plan) is just a big distraction rather than doing their job.”

With files from Laurie Monsebraatan

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

5. The Delta Optimist July 8, 2019

Originally posted at https://www.delta-optimist.com/news/human-rights-tribunal-to-hear-disabled-customer-s-complaint-about-pat-quinn-s-1.23877536?fbclid=IwAR2YQfRum15xPmepCS7c10T4gO7lDhS-bJUfBimDOggHjSK5zzRiUBoB7mg

BC Human Rights Tribunal to hear disabled customer’s complaint about Pat Quinn’s

An accessibility complaint against Pat Quinn’s Restaurant & Bar will go before the Human Rights Tribunal later this year.

The complaint has been filed by Tsawwassen’s Vince Miele who uses a wheelchair and has long been an advocate for people with disabilities.

According to his application, in February 2016 he made a reservation for four and informed the Tsawwassen Springs restaurant that one in the party uses a wheelchair.

When he arrived, he found his friends had been seated at a table in the lower area of the restaurant, but he was unable to independently join them because of three stairs. A server offered to help him down the stairs, but that was not feasible.

As a result, his friends were moved to the upper level of the restaurant. He said the experience attracted undue attention from other diners and that it was an “incredibly embarrassing experience.”

After the incident, Miele contacted the restaurant to complain about the lack of access to the lower floor.

“I received less than a satisfactory response and in correspondence with others looked originally at a class-action lawsuit,” Miele told the Optimist. “The commissioner of the tribunal determined that a class-action complaint was a lot more complicated. They felt they would not accept it as a class-action, but continue it at the Human Rights Tribunal.”

In January, an application was made to dismiss the complaint, but that was denied, so it will now be heard before the tribunal in November.

Miele said since he started the complaint process three years ago, the restaurant has made some improvements, including installing an automatic door opener from the parkade to the elevator and a door to enable access to the patio. As well, it now has a portable ramp, but Miele contends that does not meet the building code and a permanent ramp should be installed to meet all accessibility standards.

“We’re very surprised by all of this. It’s a shame because it is a great restaurant and we love going there,” he said. “I’m not in this to harm the reputation of the restaurant. I thought it was an oversight when I first wrote to them in good faith and thought it would be corrected.

“Three years later we are still waiting. What are we to think? I’m adamant about what I want and so are they and that’s why we are heading to a hearing. To design something like this so poorly is quite surprising. It should be inclusive and accessible for all and it’s not.”

Dave Symington also wrote to the Optimist about a similar experience he had at the restaurant in May.

“It’s surprising that a building this new still did not take into account that people with mobility-related disabilities might want to use the lower and main portion of the restaurant,” he said. “The building code specifically states that where there is a change in floor levels it must be made accessible, which means a permanent ramp or other means where an individual can independently access the area. If we have to make a fuss about sitting in an area that anyone else can, we are not being accommodated fairly.”

Through its legal counsel, Tsawwassen Springs provided a written response to the Optimist.

“We engaged the services of professional engineers and architects who created the building plans for the construction of Pat Quinn’s Restaurant & Bar along with the entire building in which the restaurant is situate, which plans were in full compliance with the then current B.C. Building Code including the accessibility requirements provided therein,” said the response.

“Those building plans were approved by the City of Delta, whose representatives issued all necessary permits. The building, including the restaurant, is Accessibility Certified by the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program.

“We will not be providing any further comment while this matter is being considered by the tribunal.”

6. Sampling of Recent Tweets

Liz Hay. @tkurdi @TorontoStar If a building with “hangout steps” can be certified gold under the RHF system, its understanding of #accessibility is hardly gold standard. #AODAfail

J E Sleeth. @DavidLepofsky @fordnation @HonDavidOnley Excellent article @TorontoStar re. #aoda #ford giving $ 2 @RickHansenFdn which is not bona fide #accessibility nor a means 2 have private sector be #openforbusiness to #peopleofallabilities it’s not just the #wheelchair

Joel Harden. $1.3 million for accessibility audits will not rid Ontario of the “soul-crushing” barriers that exist. We need immediate action to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, not meager investments.  #onpoli #AODA https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/24/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html

thestar.com/news/gta/2019/… Twitter Web App

Allen Mankewich.  This thread highlights concerns with the RHF’s Accessibility Certification Program and reveals a lot of what I’m hearing in private conversations. Thanks  @mssinenomine for compiling the thread, and thanks  @DavidLepofsky for releasing a report exposing issues with this program.  https://twitter.com/mssinenomine/status/1154420373187751936 twitter.com/mssinenomine/s…

Michelle Sanders.  #Ontario to allocate $1.3 million to  #accessibility audits in partnership with  @RickHansenFdn . Accessibility Certification requirements not available to the public + not based on public consult. What are we doing?? @fordnation @aodaalliance @AODAontario https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/24/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html thestar.com/news/gta/2019/… Twitter for iPhone

Micaela Evans A case is heading to the BC Human Rights Tribunal soon that touches on these important issues of the certification https://twitter.com/micievans13/status/1154622550682456064?s=20

Gabrielle Peters The building is accessibility certified by the Rick Hansen Foundation.

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ♿.  Check out the  @aodaalliance report at the top of this thread detailing this wasteful use of public money and their “Dial Doug” campaign

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ♿.  Trust the Doug Ford government to come up with a way to look like it’s doing something about accessibility when all its doing is spending money on a private foundation to ensure it makes the government look like it’s doing something. Ontario taxpayers deserve better.     #onpoli

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ♿.  Unlike the government this private foundation has no obligation to make anything public. Ontarians won’t know which buildings are rated, or how they’re rated. The Ford gov will release results as it sees fit. There is no enforcement for buildings that fail. This fails us all.

While slashing education and health care the Doug Ford government is paying a private foundation 1.3 million to rate 250 buildings. That’s $5,200 per building. Government inspectors already employed could do this. Is this an attempt to ensure that these buildings pass?

Dorothy Ellen Palmer ♿.  To work as a building accessibility certfier for RHF all you have to do is take a two week course and pass a multiple choice test. Then you’re fully trained to certify every single building you see as accessible or accessible enough for Doug Ford’s purposes. Right.  #Accessibilty

Further to the detailed work of BC’s @mssinenomine Ontario disability activists also reject this ridiculously expensive private accessibility certification company that essentially does nothing but make itself money. twitter.com/DavidLepofsky/…

Thea Kurdi.  To move the needle on  #accessibility , enforce existing laws but face reality we need to radically rewrite building codes. Older buildings need audits using detailed requ’ts from several standards to get even close to Human Rights. After renos *maybe then ready for celebration.

Thea Kurdi.  My career has been focused on trying to remove barriers people with disabilities unjustly face in built environments. I wish we were ready for whole building certification by now, but current standard practice & building codes don’t create accessible places. Love encouraging…

…and celebrating progress but at best we are only ready to celebrate features. Areas of most progress? Bathrooms, service desks, parking, signage, but rarely more than minimum, & not what we’ve known for decades is needed. #Education is far more valuable than certification.

Thea Kurdi.  …this report from  @aodaalliance raises many reasonable questions. And for those who don’t know much about  #accessibility in buildings I understand wishing one national standard, like the CSA B651, would cover everything. Sadly, it does not. Why? Read:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/top-insider-secrets-whats-stopping-full-inclusion-design-thea-kurdi/ linkedin.com/pulse/top-insi…

People have been asking what I think of new RHF certification program. I can see why business & government are attracted to what looks like an easy solution to a complex problem that they want to solve. I can see why people like the idea of celebrating through recognition. But… twitter.com/DavidLepofsky/…

Thea Kurdi.  @TorontoStar Hmmm… as someone who’s been doing  #accessibility audits for 18 years we never only use CSA B651 standard, especially in provinces like ON with Ontario Building Code and  #AODA . How does a certification that’s not looking at legislation help government & building owners?  #a11y

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify its buildings. torstar.co/b6aY50vaL06

7. Facebook Post by Optimal Consultants, an Ontario-Based Accessibility Consulting Firm

Originally posted at https://www.facebook.com/93712137122/posts/10156628031122123/

(Note: The AODA Alliance has not investigated or verified any statements in this post)

Please read my article in Linked In and in Facebook yesterday about the @RickHansen certification system being flawed. This includes “auditors” who have no formal education in the areas of ergonomics, human factors, psychology or design. As mentioned yesterday we are aware of 1 very important building in Meadowvale Ontario that was deemed by RHF to be accessible and received an award (which is clearly displayed in the building owners website – (note the building is owned by and managed by a real estate company. The certification and award were not in any way pursued by the FI business who leases the building). The two formal audits conducted by Optimal Performance Consultants and paid for by the FI in the building found the building to not meet even basic #OntarioBuildingCode #BarrierFreeDesign let alone provide accessibility for people of ALL abilities. Remember, accessible and inclusive design is NOT just about the #Wheelchair  We stand by our University educated, experienced and professional Auditors at Optimal Performance Consultants.  Optimizing human performance through the built environment for 30 years.  [email protected]





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Community Access for Visual Impaired Aided by Technology


Jul 19, 2019

NANAIMO Emerging technology for those who are visually-impaired is highlighting how inaccessible Nanaimo can be for many.

Nanaimo resident Jean Menzies, like many others across the world, is turning to technology and the increasing number of apps and services to see and make her way through life.

Though the free app Be My Eyes and the paid subscription service Aira help Menzies find what shes looking for in the store or get around town, she said theyd solutions to a much larger accessibility problem in Nanaimo.

The lack of tactile warning strips at flush curbs, the out-dated audible pedestrian signals, the seeming unwillingness or disinterest of the City to improve accessibility for blind citizen is appalling, Menzies said.

The City says it is working on its accessibility for visual impaired people. Officials tout an on-going program with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind (CNIB) where new audible signals will be added to the Citys infrastructure.

According to City of Nanaimo Manager of Communications Farnaz Farrokhi, inclusivity is a major focus moving forward.

As we undertake new city infrastructure projects, the City is taking the approach to support mobility for all abilities and all ages. For example, one of our destination parks is being replaced this year as well as next year and the focus is for it to be an inclusive playground.

Nanaimo resident Jean Menzies, who has been blind since birth, uses a pair of visual assistance apps to help her navigate

Menzies would like to see some of the cost for services like Aira shared amongst the business community in Nanaimo.

There are opportunities for malls or shopping districts to sponsor these services in their area. They can be a free access zone where any shopper with this service can go in independently, spend their money like any other person without having to require assistance.

Be My Eyes claims over 2.5 million volunteers assisting more than 140,000 blind or low vision individuals. Aira offers its services to a global audience on a paid, monthly-subscription.

The challenge when using these services is the quality of information available.

Its providing whats in the visual surrounding that were missing whether its what spice jar am I holding?, which could be easily answered to any volunteerto a more complicated situation where you might need a professional who is vetted and can respect privacy of sensitive personal information, Menzies said.

On July 16, Toronto Pearson International airport became the first such facility in Canada to offer free access to Aira.

[email protected]

On Twitter: @alexrawnsle

Original at https://nanaimonewsnow.com/2019/07/19/community-access-for-visual-impaired-aided-by-technology/



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Providing Accessible Information and Communication in Healthcare


Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. In the meantime, however, there are still AODA requirements for healthcare providers to follow. The Information and Communications Standards have regulations that apply to healthcare providers. When providers follow these requirements, they make healthcare settings more accessible to patients, workers, and visitors with disabilities. Communication in healthcare applies to service in:

  • Doctors’ offices
  • Hospitals
  • Walk-in clinics
  • Wellness centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Labs
  • Healthcare regulating colleges

Communication in Healthcare

Under the Information and Communications Standards, healthcare providers need to create, provide, and receive information and communications in ways accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, providers must:

In addition, all public sector providers, and private sector providers with fifty or more workers, must make their websites accessible by January 1st, 2021.

Proactive Communication in Healthcare is Needed

The Information and Communications Standards mandate many important requirements for healthcare providers and other organizations to become accessible. However, providers could improve their services by providing information more proactively. For example, England’s National Health System contains an Accessible Information Standard. Under this standard, healthcare providers ask all patients if they have any information or communication needs. Providers then create records of individual patients’ needs and share these records with other providers, when possible. This procedure allows providers to make the formats and supports each patient needs available before their arrival, or quickly afterward. For instance, if a patient with a print disability needs blood work, their lab can prepare paperwork in the format the patient needs. Similarly, if a patient who uses plain-language documents comes to pick up a set of prescriptions, the pharmacy can have the information the patient needs available at the time of pick-up.

Stronger Communication in Healthcare is Needed

Under Ontario’s current Information and Communications Standards, these patients must explain their needs to every new provider they meet. Furthermore, they must request formats or supports at the time they are needed and wait until the provider can create them. Admirably, the Standards mandate that formats and supports must be available in a timely manner. However, in situations involving health, patients may need information immediately. For example, the patient picking up plain-language prescription information may wait days before understanding how to use their own prescriptions. Instead, they would need a loved one or volunteer to read information. Likewise, the patient needing blood work would need to have someone else read and fill in the form. Both these set-ups violate people’s right to privacy.

As more people develop disabilities, accessibility to information will become more important, in healthcare and in all other sectors. Our next few articles will explore ways to make more information available to more patients.

 



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Creating a More Robust Customer Service Standards in Healthcare


Currently, the AODA does not have a healthcare standard. A committee is making recommendations about what a healthcare standard should include. In the meantime, however, there are still AODA requirements for healthcare providers to follow. The Customer Service Standards have regulations that apply to healthcare providers. When providers follow these requirements, they make healthcare services more accessible to patients, workers, and visitors with disabilities. Customer service standards in healthcare apply to service in:

  • Doctors’ offices
  • Hospitals
  • Walk-in clinics
  • Wellness centres
  • Pharmacies
  • Labs
  • Health Regulating Colleges

Current Customer Service Standards in Healthcare

Under the Customer Service Standards, healthcare providers need to make their goods, services, and facilities accessible to people with disabilities. For instance, providers must:

Stronger Customer Service Standards in Healthcare are Needed

The Customer Service Standards mandate many important requirements for healthcare providers and other organizations to become accessible. However, there are no guidelines advising organizations on how to implement these requirements. For instance, the mandate about training lists the topics that the training needs to address. However, the mandate does not state how providers can educate themselves on these topics to train their employees. In addition, providers can choose types of training that offer different levels of information, such as classroom sessions or handouts. On one hand, this lack of direction can be helpful. For instance, organizations developing their own policies and training can tailor them specifically to their clientele and services. On the other hand, the lack of guidance is harmful when providers have no experience with accessibility.

Accessibility Training

Providers uncomfortable working with patients who have disabilities may not know how to train themselves or their employees. They may easily create brief policies and training modules that do not cover everything they should. When healthcare workers receive little accessibility training, they may think that a patient’s health problem is due to their disability when the two concerns are not connected. For example, a patient who uses a wheelchair may come to the emergency room. Staff with little accessibility training may spend time trying to learn about the patient’s disability instead of diagnosing their health concern.

Moreover, a healthcare worker may not know how to accommodate treatment to a patient’s disability. For instance, a patient with an intellectual disability may have multiple treatment options with different instructions and side effects. Staff might think it best to choose one treatment instead of taking the time to communicate all options in an accessible way.

Thorough accessibility training for all healthcare workers would ensure that all Ontarians have quality care. A healthcare standard should ensure that all Ontarians have equal access to medical practitioners who respect and understand their needs. Therefore, the new healthcare standard should include specific recommendations about what training and policies should include. However, all customer service organizations should show equal respect and understanding for customers with disabilities. Revised Customer Service Standards in healthcare could also benefit from more guidance within the training mandate.



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Advocates Slam Ontario Plan to Rate Accessibility of Buildings


By Gilbert NgaboStaff Reporter
Wed., July 24, 2019

A group that advocates for better accessibility standards in Ontario is voicing concerns about the province’s new assessment plan.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) Alliance says the plan to conduct accessibility assessments of public and private buildings will remove few barriers and is bound to be marred by conflicts of interest.

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky, seen on hangout steps he says are inaccessible and difficult for people with vision loss, says it’s wrong for the provincial government to fund a private entity to assess its buildings for accessibility, noting the chosen entity recently gave a “certified gold” rating to a building with such steps.

In this spring’s budget, the province earmarked $1.3 million to conduct accessibility audits of some 250 public and private facilities over two years. The program will be conducted in partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF).

In a report released this week, the AODA Alliance a non-partisan coalition advocating for the implementation of the province’s disability accessibility laws said the government should reconsider its decision.

AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said it is wrong for the government to fund a private entity like the RHF to certify its buildings.

“You can’t say, ‘Hey, you’re about to inspect my house, here’s some cash.’ You shouldn’t be allowed to do that,” said Lepofsky, a lawyer and longtime advocate for people with disabilities. “That’s a clear conflict of interest. It’s actually quite troubling.”

Using properly trained government inspectors would be a better choice, he said, as they’d be bound by the established laws of accessibility.

The alliance is also critical of the government for not consulting members of the disability community before unveiling the certification process. Lepofsky said there’s risk of leaving out people whose disabilities are not related to mobility, vision or hearing.

In a statement to the Star, Seniors and Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said the process will be devoid of conflict of interest because those who will conduct the accessibility ratings will not be employed by the government or the RHF.

Instead, Cho said, they’ll be contracted by the foundation as independent professionals who have completed accreditation courses offered by the RHF through George Brown and Carleton University and passed exams conducted by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group).

CSA Group will also be responsible for ensuring the ratings are consistent and accurate, he said.

Brad McCannell, RHF’s vice-president of access and inclusion, said the foundation’s certification program is impartial and was developed using extensive research on best practices in accessibility.

“When you request (an RHF accessibility certification) rating, you are not hiring the Rick Hansen Foundation,” he said in an email. The qualifications for assessors include a diploma in architecture, engineering or urban planning, as well as a minimum of five years’ experience related to accessibility in building environments, he said.

After the assessment, buildings receive a rating score corresponding to their level of accessibility: “certified gold” if they score over 80 per cent, “certified” if they score between 60 and 80 per cent, and noncertified if they score under 60 per cent. The scorecard includes key elements of success and suggestions for improvement for each assessed facility.

McCannell also noted that the foundation’s program is geared toward industry, not consumers.

“The RHFAC is not designed to assist people with disabilities to find the nearest accessible washroom, but rather it’s an industry program designed to influence professionals in the design and construction industry to recognize the gap between code requirement and the real needs of people with disabilities,” he said.

The Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility says it chose the RHF based partly on its track record of conducting such certifications in B.C. and Nova Scotia.

But Lepofsky pointed to the Vancouver airport a RHF “certified gold” rated building in 2018 as a reason for caution.

In a RHG tweet announcing the rating, a photo shows “hangout steps” for socializing at the airport, which are inaccessible to people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices and are difficult for people with vision loss or balance issues, he said.

Lepofsky, who raised the problem of hangout steps in Ryerson University’s Student Learning Centre in an online video in 2017, questioned how a public building with hangout steps can deserve a gold rating for accessibility.

“It is troubling that this gold rating signals to the Vancouver International Airport and to the public that having hangout steps is fine from an accessibility perspective,” he said. “It is also troubling that it signals to design professionals that they should feel free to include them in other buildings without worrying that it raises any accessibility concern.”

The provincial government continues to draw criticism from accessibility advocacy communities and experts over AODA.

Earlier this year, former lieutenant-governor David Onley issued a report on the implementation of the 14-year-old act, in which he observed that people with disabilities are still facing “soul-crushing” barriers in Ontario. The goal of achieving the fully accessible Ontario by 2025 is “nowhere in sight,” Onley’s report concluded.

This month, 21 disability organizations across Ontario sent a letter to the premier decrying a long-standing lack of leadership on the accessibility file and calling for a concrete plan of action on the recommendations from the Onley report.

“The Doug Ford government in the past year has done absolutely nothing new to speed up and strengthen the implementation of the AODA. Absolutely nothing,” Lepofsky said.

“We think (the building certification plan) is just a big distraction rather than doing their job.”

With files from Laurie Monsebraatan

Gilbert Ngabo is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @dugilbo

Original at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2019/07/24/advocates-slam-ontario-plan-to-rate-accessibility-of-buildings.html



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Doug Ford’s Only New Action in Over One Year in Office to Improve Accessibility for Over 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities is Riddled with Problems and Cries Out for a Serious Re-Think, According to a Disability Coalition’s Report Made Public Today


[author admin]
ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

July 25, 2019 Toronto: The centerpiece of the Doug Ford Government’s new strategy to remove the many barriers impeding over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities is riddled with serious problems and cries out for a serious re-think, according to a detailed report researched by the non-partisan AODA Alliance, and made public today (Report set out below). The Ford Government’s April Budget announced the only new measure on disability accessibility in its first year in office, — paying the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) 1.3 million dollars for RHF to privately audit 250 as-yet unidentified public and private sector buildings over two years, on the Government’s behalf.

Among many problems, this new report reveals:

* Ford’s Government says this plan will remove barriers facing people with disabilities. Yet the report reveals that the plan need not result in any barriers ever being removed.

* Instead of using properly trained Government inspectors, Ford’s plan uses private individuals who may have no prior experience with the highly technical area of building accessibility, and who just took a two-week course and passed a multiple choice exam. To acquire the needed expertise, it takes much more training on accessibility than a 2-week course.

* There are serious concerns with RHF’s private standard or yardstick to assess a building’s accessibility. For example, there is a real risk of leaving out people whose disabilities are not related to mobility, vision or hearing.

* There is a risk of conflict of interest if the RHF inspects an organization that has given or may give the RHF a charitable donation. It would be inexcusable for an organization to give money to a Government inspector.

* These private free-lance accessibility assessors appear to have a troubling incentive to give higher accessibility ratings, in hopes of getting more work. An organization chooses the RHF-trained free-lance assessor who will inspect their building. Assessors are paid by the job.

*Even though the taxpayer will fund these inspections, the public will have no right to know the inspection’s results, unless an organization agrees to make its results public.

In a letter set out below and made public today, the AODA Alliance has pressed the Ford Government for important details about its plan. The answers to questions like these are critical to accountability in the use of public money: Which buildings will be inspected? Who chooses them? The Ford Government? The RHF? What assessment tools or checklists and scoring scale will be used? What is the specific curriculum used in the RHF’s two-week training course for assessors?

“Premier Ford should set aside his problem-ridden plan to divert scarce public money into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification. Doug Ford should instead use this money to do his job, to beef up the sluggish implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s Disabilities Act,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which spearheads the campaign to get the Government to effectively implement Ontario’s 2005 accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). “We recently gave Doug Ford’s Government a failing F grade for its efforts on making Ontario accessible to people with disabilities during its first year in office.”

Fully 175 days ago, on January 31, 2019, the Ford Government received a blistering report from the Independent Review of the Government’s implementation of the Disabilities Act, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Onley Report found that Ontario is a province full of soul-crushing barriers facing people with disabilities. It called for strong new Government action and leadership on this issue. It did not recommend pouring public money into a private accessibility certification process, like the RHF’s one. Yet the Ford Government has still not released a plan to implement the Onley Report, even though Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho, told the Legislature that Onley did a “marvelous job.”

Contact: David Lepofsky, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Attachment – AODA Alliance Report Made Public Today

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

A Problematic Government Strategy on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities and An Inappropriate Use of Public Money
The AODA Alliance Report on the Ontario Government’s Proposal to Spend Public Money on the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Process

July 3, 2019

1. Introduction and Summary

a) What Is This Report About?

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, the Ford Government announced that it plans to spend 1.3 million dollars on having the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) conduct a private accessibility certification process on some 250 buildings in the public and/or private sector in Ontario over the next two years. The Ford Government has said that the RHF will be conducting these accessibility assessments for “us” i.e. the Ontario Government. On May 29, 2019, Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said this in the Legislature:

“Last week, we announced further details of our plan to partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation on their building certification program. This $1.3 million that we’re investing will allow us to perform accessibility audits on over 200 buildings over the next two years.”

The Government provided a few more details about this plan in its May 23, 2019 public posting online. (The relevant April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget announcement and the Government’s May 23, 2019 supplementary announcement are set out in this report’s appendix.)

This is a report of the AODA Alliance’s detailed analysis of this plan, based on public information available to us. The AODA Alliances a non-partisan grassroots disability coalition which advocates for the effective implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s landmark 2005 disability accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act(AODA). Learn more about the AODA Alliance by visiting www.aodaalliance.org

This report identifies several serious concerns with the Government’s plan to divert public money into the RHF private accessibility certification process. The Ford Government should address all of these concerns and issues before spending any public money on this. Preferably, the Government should reconsider its decision to divert scarce public funds to this initiative. Those funds could be far better directed at the implementation and enforcement of the AODA.

This report identifies key questions that should be central to proper Government decision-making in connection with the idea of publicly funding this activity by the RHF. We have sent a letter to the Ontario minister responsible for this initiative, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho, requesting answers to key questions. That letter is included in this report’s appendix.

The RHF is a charitable foundation, headed by Rick Hansen. Under the RHF private accessibility certification process, an organization can pay for an assessment of its building’s accessibility by assessors trained via the Foundation.

In 2015 to 2016, Ontario’s previous Government under Premier Kathleen Wynne flirted with the idea of publicly funding a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. After careful consideration, the AODA Alliance took a principled position in opposition to that idea in early 2016. Despite this, the Wynne Government announced that it planned to proceed with such a plan.

In September 2016, the Accessibility Minister was tasked with making this happen, despite our objections. The former Ontario Government ultimately dropped the idea. It never announced this, or publicly stated why it evidently must have decided not to proceed.

The Ford Government did not announce that it was considering the option of publicly funding the RHF private accessibility certification process, or conduct a public consultation on whether this would be a good idea, before it made its April 11, 2019 Budget announcement of 1.3 million dollars for this. As documented in the June 21, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, funding this RHF process is the only new initiative on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its first year in office.

b) Summary of Concerns with the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process

We reiterated in the May 17, 2019 AODA Alliance Update the following major reasons why we have opposed any public funding for a private accessibility certification process, no matter which organization conducts it, because:

“a) A private accessibility certification in reality certifies nothing. It provides no defence to enforcement proceedings under the AODA, the Ontario Building Code, a municipal bylaw, the Ontario Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

b) A private accessibility certification process lacks an assurance of public accountability.

c) A private certification of accessibility can be misleading to the public, including to people with disabilities.

d) The Government should not be subsidizing one accessibility consultant over another.

e) Spending public money on a private accessibility certification process is not a priority for efforts on accessibility in Ontario or a responsible use of public money.

f) The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford Government has not yet agreed to take, but it did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.”

We are not alone in our concern about the idea of a private accessibility certification process. See for example, the online article, set out in this report’s appendix, entitled: “If any company in US or Canada promises Certification in Accessible Audits BUYER BEWARE”.

In addition to the foregoing concerns, this report describes serious concerns that arise from the specifics of the RHF private accessibility certification process which the Ford Government is proposing to publicly finance. In summary, these concerns include the following:

1. Despite the Ford Government’s claims, the Government’s funding of the RHF private accessibility certification process won’t ensure that any disability barriers are ever removed.

2. There is no assurance that the RHF uses a sufficient standard or measure for assessing a building’s accessibility.

3. RHF accessibility certification appears to only or primarily focus on people with physical disabilities, not people with all kinds of disabilities.

4. Once an RHF accessibility certification is granted, the Ford Government has not announced any requirement that it ever be renewed.

5. It is wrong that people must pay a hefty fee to get access to the CSA standard that the RHF says it draws on to assess a building’s accessibility.

6. There are serious concerns about the required qualifications of the persons who can conduct the RHF accessibility assessments and about the RHF calling them “accessibility professionals”.

7. There is a need for effective protection against The RHF being in a conflict of interest with organizations it assesses for accessibility.

8. There are concerns with the RHF’s accessibility adjudication process and the sufficiency of the required qualifications of RHF accessibility adjudicators.

9. There is no indication of which buildings will be checked for accessibility, whether they will be chosen by the Government, the RHF or both and whether the selection process will be fair and open.

10. The public has no right to see the results, findings or recommendations that the RHF provides to an organization whose building was assessed at the taxpayer’s expense.

11. There is no indication if the Ford Government plans to pay all or just part of the RHF fee for its accessibility assessment, even for a highly profitable private business that needs no Government subsidy.

12. The Ford Government appears to create an incorrect impression that it is funding the launch of the RHF private accessibility certification process in Ontario.

13. An open competitive bidding process should precede any such public funding of the RHF.

14. There are related concerns with the RHF process for certifying an entire design firm as champions of accessible design.

15. The RHF gave its first gold accessibility certification to the Vancouver International Airport despite accessibility concerns there.

16. The Ford Government’s action here flies in the face of election promises Doug Ford made to over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance.

c) Why This Report Matters

On June 21, 2019, the AODA Alliance announced that it gave the Ford Government a failing “F” grade for its actions in its first year in office towards leading Ontario to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. That is the deadline which the AODA sets. The only new measure that the Ford Government has announced in its first year in office to speed up Ontario’s progress to reach the goal of full accessibility by 2025 has been its announcement of public funding for the RHF private accessibility certification process, analyzed in this report.

The AODA Alliance has called on the Government to instead announce a plan to implement the final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley submitted to the Government on January 31, 2019. That should include, among other things, creating a comprehensive enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, strengthening AODA enforcement, and ensuring that design professionals are properly trained on accessibility for people with disabilities.

To date, the Ford Government has not announced a plan to implement the Onley Report. To the contrary, on May 30, 2019, the Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat a motion, presented by NDP MPP Joel Harden, that had called on the Government to develop a plan to implement the Onley Report. In their speeches in opposition to that motion, Conservative MPPs pointed instead to the Government’s plan to direct public money to the RHF private accessibility certification process.

Some have sought to analogize between the RHF private accessibility certification process and the LEEDS process for assessing buildings for energy conservation. This is not a correct analogy in this context. The question we raise is not whether the RHF or other organizations should be allowed to offer a private accessibility certification process. The question here presented is whether the Ford Government should be spending scarce public money on the RHF process. As far as we know, the Ford Government does not use public money to subsidize organizations to have a LEEDS assessment of their buildings.

In raising this report’s concerns and questions, we acknowledge the work of the RHF and of Mr. Hansen, and their strong interest in inclusion for people with disabilities.

2. Despite the Ford Government’s Claims, the Government’s funding of the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process Won’t ensure that Any Disability Barriers are Ever Removed

The Ford Government has said that its channelling 1.3 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money into the RHF private accessibility certification process will remove barriers facing Ontarians with disabilities. Yet there is no assurance that any barriers in any building or service will ever be removed. An organization whose building that RHF assesses need not ever make any changes to improve its accessibility before or after an RHF assessment.

The Doug Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 news release, set out below, incorrectly states in its headline:

“Taking Action to Remove Barriers for People with Disabilities Ontario making buildings more accessible”.

That news release also inaccurately states:

“Ontario is focusing on what matters most to people with disabilities and seniors by helping to remove barriers in buildings and making communities more accessible.”

It is implicit in the Government’s announcement and the overall design of the RHF private accessibility certification process and explicit on the RHF website that an organization will only be subject to an RHF accessibility inspection if it voluntarily agrees to that inspection. It is obvious that the only organizations that will take part in this are ones who believe their building is already quite accessible. Why would an organization ever ask for an RHF certification if its building has obvious accessibility problems?

If we are correct in this, then this public expenditure will largely if not totally focus on assessing the accessibility of buildings that are likely the least problematic for Ontarians with disabilities. This too means that it cannot be expected that this will materially contribute to making material progress towards accessibility.

Under this announcement, the RHF will look at some 250 buildings over two years, or 125 buildings per year. That is a tiny drop in the bucket for all of Ontario. It is not a measure that the Government can claim to be a major centerpiece of a serious effort to speed up progress towards achieving an accessible Ontario by 2025.

3. There is No Assurance that the RHF Uses a Sufficient Standard or Measure for Assessing a Building’s Accessibility

An assessment of a building’s accessibility must use a specific, detailed accessibility standard that is strong and effective, that is consistently employed, and that ensures that the building is barrier-free for people with any kind of disability. There is no assurance that the RHF private accessibility certification process uses such a standard. There are causes for concern.

The public, including people with disabilities, have no control over the measure of accessibility that the RHF chooses to use. Instead, Ontario needs a comprehensive enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the AODA, rather than a private accessibility standard that an unelected, private charitable foundation chooses.

The RHF’s website and its Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation states that its accessibility assessments are “based upon CSA B651 standards”, produced by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). This refers to a voluntary accessibility standard that the CSA has established. The CSA is a private organization, not a publicly-accountable government agency.

It is not clear from that statement what precise accessibility standard the RHF assessors use. If it is simply “based on” that CSA accessibility standard, it is not clear whether the RHF assessors use the entirety of that CSA standard, or only parts of it.

If RHF assessors only use part of that voluntary CSA standard, we and the public need to know which parts. We need to know who has decided which parts of that accessibility standard to use, and why others were left out. We do not know if the RHF gives its assessors some discretion over which parts of that CSA accessibility standard to use, or what measures of compliance with an element of that standard the RHF uses.

Making this situation worse, the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation says the RHF measures the “meaningful access” of a building. It uses the short form RHFAC to refer to the RHF accessibility certification. The RHF Guide states:

“RHFAC is the first program of its kind to:

Measure a Sites level of meaningful access based on CSA Group’s B651 standard, which considers the holistic user experience of people of all abilities, including those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities;”

That RHF Guide makes it clear that the RHF does not assess all access issues, but it does not say which access issues it leaves out. The Guide states:

“RHFAC is intended to measure the overall level of meaningful access of the built environment. The rating is not intended as a detailed assessment of all access issues.”

Before diverting any public money into the RHF accessibility certification process, the Doug Ford Government should make it clear for the public what specific accessibility standard the RHF is using on the Government’s behalf. The Ford Government should also satisfy itself and the public that the measure of accessibility that the RHF uses is strong enough to fulfil the needs of Ontarians with disabilities. This is especially important since, as noted earlier, Accessibility Minister Cho told the Legislature that these accessibility assessments are being done for “us” i.e. for the Government. A standard, rating system or measure of accessibility is not sufficient for Ontarians with disabilities just because it happens to be the one that the RHF uses.

We and the public do not know what the RHF considers “meaningful access” to be “meaningful access” is a very slippery term. We have not previously encountered it in our accessibility advocacy efforts.

We are concerned that “meaningful access” seems to be a vehicle for diluting how much actual accessibility must be present to pass an RHF assessment. The measure should be a building’s accessibility pure and simple, not its “meaningful” accessibility.

Key aspects of this must be clarified now, and well in advance of taking any steps to implement this publicly-funded strategy, for the benefit of the public, of people with disabilities and of organizations that might wish to consider taking part in the RHF’s accessibility assessment. Even before that, the Doug Ford Government needs to know and be satisfied by the answers to important questions such as these (which we have sent to the Ford Government) before it can properly decide whether to divert any public money into this RHF program.

What does the RHF mean by “meaningful access”? How much must a building comply with the CSA voluntary built environment accessibility standard to meet this? What kinds of barriers are included? Which ones are left out? How many barriers can remain in a building for the RHF to decide that it nevertheless provides meaningful access?

Who decides if the access is meaningful? Is it the individual assessor? What assurance is there in the RHF’s recruitment, qualifications and training of its assessors that this will be consistently done, and will not vary arbitrarily from assessor to assessor?

How is meaningful access scored on a barrier-by-barrier basis? Is each bathroom assessed separately, with a score attached to it, or are the scores for all bathrooms averaged? What are the scoring instructions and scales that the RHF gives to its assessors?

Has the RHF sufficiently tested out its assessment training and forms to see if different assessors or adjudicators reach different conclusions on the same building or features within that building?

Does the RHF consider that a building has “meaningful access” if a person using a wheelchair can get in and around it, even if there is so much glare in the building that someone with low vision has real trouble navigating inside the building? Does the building have meaningful access if there is Braille on elevator buttons, but an inaccessible series of electronic kiosks? Does it have meaningful access if the noise level and glare in the building create serious impediments for some people with autism?

We do not know if the CSA B651 voluntary built environment accessibility standard, if fully used without exception, is itself sufficient to ensure that it effectively addresses the barriers facing people with all kinds of disabilities, and not just those using wheelchairs. We do not know if the CSA B651 voluntary built environment accessibility standard or the RHF itself has incorporated into its accessibility standard all the accessibility requirements in force in Ontario for the built environment under the AODA, in the Ontario Building Code (inadequate as they are), and in Ontario municipal building bylaws. We certainly don’t know if the CSA accessibility standard meets all the requirements for accessibility that an organization must fulfil in its built environment to fulfil its duties to people with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and in the case of public sector organizations, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If not, a building could get an RHF “gold” certification even though it might not comply with Ontario’s mandatory accessibility laws, insufficient as those laws may now be.

The RHF’s slippery “meaningful access” measure makes the RHF the sole and potentially arbitrary judge of what amount of accessibility people with disabilities need. How much discretion does the RHF give to each of its assessors to decide how much accessibility amounts to “meaningful access”? If assessors have any discretion over this, that can make the RHF accessibility certification process even more slippery and arbitrary.

This all risks lowering the bar for the accessibility of the built environment. It could be as low as the RHF, or a specific RHF assessor, decides it should be in specific cases. We, and Ontarians with disabilities generally, have no control and no say. That is discordant with the AODA’s letter and spirit. If anything, we need the accessibility bar for the built environment in Ontario to be raised. We cannot risk having it lowered. This is all the more important since the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards are now so deficient in the area of the accessibility of the built environment.

This is more troubling in light of the fact that the RHF considers its accessibility rating to be meeting the “minimum” and its gold rating to go beyond that minimum, according to a May 2, 2019 report in the Richmond News. Rick Hansen is quoted as follows, referring to accessibility ratings that the RHF has given to some organizations in Richmond BC:

“Those ratings are really important because they give visibility to owners, their employees and their customers of how accessible they are and theyre recognized and certified for meeting the minimum standard, Hansen said.

And theyre being actively spotlighted when theyve gone beyond minimum to a gold level of accessibility.”

What does the RHF consider to be the “minimum” when it comes to accessibility? The Guide to RFHAC Professional Designation refers to going beyond “code”, which we gather refers to building code requirements. Those vary from province to province. The RHF Guide states, among other things, as being the duties of an RFHAC accessibility professional:

” Identifying positive accessibility features and determining where meaningful access exceeds minimum code requirements”

Unless we can know for certain what the RHF accessibility standard is that its assessors and adjudicators are using, we cannot be assured that the buildings that the RHF rates as “accessible” truly are accessible, and that those which it rates as “gold” have gone beyond that minimum.

We have seen nothing from the RHF that assures us that its “minimum” is the proper minimum that the Ontario Government should be using. Is the “minimum” that the RHF considers simply the inadequate requirements of the Ontario Building Code? That would fall below the higher and paramount accessibility requirements that the Ontario Human Rights Code and, in the case of the public sector, the Charter of Rights each imposes. Unless an accessibility certification is given to a building which meets or exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and, where applicable, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not meeting or exceeding a proper “minimum”.

Because the Ontario Government has chosen to use the RHF private accessibility certification process and to publicly fund it in Ontario, and because the Government said that the RHF is certifying those buildings for “us” (i.e. for the Ontario Government), it has in effect chosen whatever accessibility standard the RHF uses as a de facto private built environment accessibility standard or measure for Ontario. the Ford Government has done so without following any of the safeguards in the AODA for creating an accessibility standard and without making any of the AODA’s enforcement regime available to people with disabilities. This operates in practice as an end-run around the AODA for which Ontarians with disabilities campaigned so hard for a decade from 1994 to 2005, and for which the Legislature, including the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party unanimously voted in 2005.

Before deciding to take this step, the Ontario Government did not consult the AODA Alliance and the broader disability community on the standard to be used by the RHF private accessibility certification process, or on anything to do with its April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget announcement on this issue. Yet central to the AODA’s process for setting accessibility standards is that the disability community is to play a key role by being consulted in the process of developing that standard. This violates the promises that Doug Ford made to Ontarians with disabilities in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, where he set out his party’s 2018 election commitments on disability accessibility issues. He wrote:

a) “This is why were 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 Codes accessibility provisions. We need Ontarios design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

b) “Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party. We encourage you to continue this dialogue and share your ideas and solutions for Ontarians with disabilities.”

4. RHF Accessibility Certification Appears to Only or Primarily Focus on People with Physical Disabilities, Not People with All Kinds of Disability

Built environment barriers can impede people with a very wide range of different kinds of disabilities, not only those with physical disabilities. It is important that any accessibility certification that the Ontario Government helps finance does not leave out any people with disabilities, or create a hierarchy among different disabilities.

It is especially important to ensure that the RHF accessibility assessments don’t exclusively or predominantly focus on people with physical or mobility disabilities. We have cause for concern in this context, even though the RHF at times has stated that its accessibility certification process aims at people of all abilities. According to the Guide for RHFAC Professional Designation for its accessibility assessors, available on the RHF website, its private accessibility certification process only focuses on the needs of people with physical disabilities. It states:

” The Survey is designed to measure the meaningful access of a variety of settings in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.”

The RHF website states categorically that its accessibility rating and certification process only deals with disabilities affecting mobility, vision and hearing, and nothing more. The RHF frequently asked questions includes this statement (referring to the RHF accessibility certification process);

“It measures the level of meaningful access beyond building code, and is based upon the holistic user experience of people with varying disabilities affecting their mobility, vision, and hearing.”

5. Once an RHF Certification is Granted, the Ford Government Has Not Announced Any Requirement that It Ever Be renewed

From what we can tell, it appears that once an organization’s building receives an RHF accessibility certification, and the requisite fees are paid to the RHF, the organization can indefinitely publicly announce and display its accessibility certification. We have seen no indication that this certification is time-limited. That means that the organization can continue to use that designation into the indefinite future, even if the organization later makes changes to the building or its contents that create new and entirely avoidable disability barriers. We have written the Ontario Government to find out if the Government intends to require a time limitation for such certifications.

6. It is Wrong that People Must Pay a Hefty Fee to Get Access to the CSA Standard that the RHF Says It Draws on to Assess a Building’s Accessibility

We, the public, and organizations that might wish to take part in this certification process, evidently must pay a hefty $125 to see the CSA B651 voluntary building accessibility standard. , according to the CSA website. We do not know if CSA has ensured that this documentation is in an accessible format. In contrast, all accessibility standards enacted under the AODA are publicly available for free.

The public should not have to pay to get a copy of this accessibility standard, especially if public money is being diverted into the RHF private accessibility certification process. We should be able to see that standard for free, to see if it is sufficiently strong. It should also be freely available to help make this process publicly accountable. How can we know if a building that RHF certifies as “gold” for accessibility meets the accessibility expectations in the CSA standard if we cannot see that standard without paying the CSA $125.

As noted earlier, the CSA is a private organization. It does not have the public accountability of the Ontario Government when it enacts a statute or regulation or adopts a public policy. In contrast, if Ontario were to create a much-needed Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, it must be done through an open and consultative process.

7. There Are Serious Concerns About the Required Qualifications of the Persons Conducting the RHF Accessibility Assessments and About the RHF Calling Them “Accessibility Professionals”

It is important for anyone conducting an accessibility assessment of a building or of an organization to have sufficient background, training and expertise. This is especially so if they present themselves to the public as ” accessibility professionals”. We do not have that assurance in the case of the RHF accessibility certification process.

The RHF says that its accessibility assessments are done by “RHFAC accessibility professionals”. This is a professional designation which the RHF invented. Just because the RHF says that someone is an “RHFAC accessibility professional” does not mean that they are in fact an accessibility professional, or that they have sufficient training and expertise to assess, much less to certify, a building’s accessibility. The RHF’s use of this “professional” title appears to imbue these individuals with a mantle of authoritativeness, just as the RHF’s calling its assessments an “accessibility certification” gives it an aura of authoritativeness.

To become an RHFAC accessibility professional, a person must, at their own expense, take a two-week course that the RHF appears to have designed, and then pass a test which the RHF designed. A case study exercise is required.

This all presumes that the RHF has the required expertise in the fine details of accessibility of the built environment, as well as expertise in how to train and evaluate accessibility inspectors. It would be necessary for the RHF to demonstrate that it has this expertise.

Before channelling public funds into the RHF private accessibility certification process, the Ontario Government’s due diligence should require the RHF to demonstrate this. We have not seen any objective and reliable proof that the RHF has this expertise. The fact that the RHF has conducted public advocacy or education in the past on the importance of accessibility does not, of itself, demonstrate that it has all this required expertise. The fact that some other provincial governments have opted to direct public money into the RHF process does not of itself ensure that those governments each first undertook this important due diligence. The issues set out in this report combine to raise concerns over whether the RHF has that required expertise.

We do not know how anyone can become a “professional” in anything by taking a two-week course. We do not have access to the specifics of the curriculum that is taught in those two weeks, or the testing that is applied, or the evaluation results that must be achieved to pass that test. To pass that test, the person must pass a multiple-choice examination. In our view, a multiple-choice test has only a limited capacity to effectively measure a person’s accessibility expertise.

A person does not have to have any prior experience or expertise with the accessibility of the built environment to enroll to take the RHF course. For example, as long as a person has a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in a designated trade related to building construction or has been involved in some kind of construction work for five years, they are qualified to take the course. The guide to RHFAC Professional Designation states:

“Prerequisites include the following:
You have a diploma of technology in architecture, engineering, urban planning, interior design or a related program;
You have a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in a designated trade related to building construction; You are an engineer or are eligible for registration as an engineer; You are an architect or are eligible for registration as an architect; OR
You have a minimum of five years’ experience related to building construction.”

It is our view that a two-week course is insufficient to make someone into an “accessibility professional”, especially if they had no prior expertise in the area of disability accessibility of the built environment before taking that course. They cannot learn in two weeks what other accessibility consultants have acquired in years of work experience in this field. Moreover, it is not clear to us that a person, taking that two-week course, will learn and must demonstrate detailed knowledge of all the accessibility requirements in the 247-page CSA standard which the RHF relies on, namely, CSA B651.

It is also essential to obtain detailed information on the credentials or qualifications of those who teach the course. Do those who teach this two-week course themselves have sufficient accessibility expertise, or are they simply delivering content which the RHF has designed for them to deliver?

The RHF course is offered at the premises of some colleges and universities. However, the fact that it is taught in a college or university building does not mean that it is an approved college or university level course, taught by a sufficiently qualified member of that college or university faculty, using a curriculum that meets that college’s or university’s curriculum standards. The RHF website can leave the impression that these courses are in fact college or university courses, where it states:

“To complete the RHFAC Accessibility Assessor training, please register directly with the educational institution offering the course.”

The designation of “professional” can reasonably be expected to give the public an expectation that the individual has recognized and demonstrated expertise in a field, and that the designation has been conferred by a professional body with the authority, experience and safeguards to properly do so, with the expected independent oversight of a professional self-governing body. We are not satisfied that the RHF is in a position to qualify people as “accessibility professionals”. It is not a self-governing professional body, that has been established as such under appropriate laws, with the proper safeguards that are typically built into such bodies in order to protect the public interest.

The fact that the Canadian Standards Association is involved in parts of the RHF accessibility certification process does not remedy this problem. We have seen no indication that the CSA is a self-governing professional licensing body with expertise in the training of accessibility consultants, assessors or certifiers.

Reinforcing these concerns, one need not even attend a course in person to get qualified by the RHF as an assessor. A person can take the two week course via an on-line course. The risk associated with an online course is that there is less chance to learn from other students in the course, and less chance for those delivering the course to observe students to see if they are fully attentive and effectively understanding and absorbing the materials.

Nothing in the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation ensures that an assessor needs to have expert knowledge of the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions and/or of relevant AODA accessibility standards, and/or of related municipal accessibility bylaws in Ontario. We therefore do not know if an assessor would be free to give an organization’s building a positive rating for accessibility even if it is in direct violation of detailed accessibility legislation in Ontario.

This is also the case for accessibility requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code and, in the case of public services, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do not know if those taking this two-week RHF course get copies of the CSA B651 voluntary accessibility standard, as well as the built environment accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code, AODA accessibility standards, or applicable municipal bylaws in Ontario.

8. There is a Need for Effective Protection Against the RHF Being in a Conflict of Interest with Organizations it Assesses for Accessibility

It is important that any organization providing an accessibility “certification”, not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. This is especially so since, according to the Doug Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister, the RHF will be conducting these assessments on behalf of the Ontario Government.

A government auditor or inspector must be in an arms-length relationship from an organization that it audits. They cannot receive payments from an organization that they are going to audit, or have audited, and can have no hope or expectation that they might in future receive payments from that organization. The RHF is a charitable foundation. It solicits charitable donations for its activities. It is important to ensure that an organization, seeking an RHF accessibility assessment, has an arms-length relationship with the RHF, has not made any donations to the RHF and is not planning to do so.

We have not seen anything in the Ford Government’s announcements on this initiative showing that it has put in place open, transparent and accountable measures to ensure that there is no such actual or perceived conflict of interest. The Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation addresses the need for assessors not to have an individual conflict of interest, but not the need for the RHF itself to ensure that it has no conflicts of interest. That Guide states:

” Conflict of Interest: A designated RHFAC Professional shall not place themselves in a conflict of interest with their client or employer and must promptly disclose to the client, employer or RHF any situation where a business or personal interest might be construed as affecting the designated RHFAC Professionals objectivity or independence.”

It appears from the RHF website that the organization to be assessed gets to pick which RHF assessor will conduct their RHF assessment. The assessors that pass the RHFAC training are listed on a roster from which an organization can make its choice.

We need to know if the assessor gets paid by the building assessed, on a piece wages basis. From the description on the RHF website, it appears that this is the case. If so, there is the risk that organizations may shop around to get the most favourable assessor. There is also a real risk that assessors will have a financial interest in giving a more positive accessibility rating. Otherwise, other organizations will be disinclined to hire them. That raises more concerns about Government funding for this process.

9. There Are Concerns with the RHF’s Accessibility Adjudication Process and the Sufficiency of the Required Qualifications of RHF Accessibility Adjudicators

From what we gather, the RHF accessibility certification process works like this: An assessor goes to a building to assess it. They then submit their assessment to the RHF. Someone at the RHF called an RHF certification adjudicator”, then reviews the assessment remotely and decides whether to approve it.

We do not know how an adjudicator can effectively adjudicate on the accessibility of a building without themselves visiting that building. Photos and videos can help, of course, but we question their sufficiency here.

Moreover, since this accessibility certification is being conducted on behalf of the Ontario Government, this adjudication process should have significant procedures to ensure its fairness, openness and transparency. The public should be able to see what the assessor submitted, and what, if anything the adjudicator changed, with the adjudicator’s reasons for this. If the adjudicator decides to give the building a higher or lower rating than did the assessor who was on site, this should be made clear to the public, and their reasons for doing so.

There is cause for concern about the sufficiency of the qualifications that the RHF requires for a person to be an accessibility adjudicator. On its website, the only training in accessibility that is strictly required is for the adjudicator to take the two-week RHF course, described above, to pass the related test or other assessment, and then shadowing and then being reviewed by a senior RHF adjudicator. The RHF website lists these qualifications for a posting for a temporary certification adjudicator:

“QUALIFICATIONS

Education/Experience:

Post-secondary education in a related discipline plus a minimum of 3 years of related experience with the built environment, such as architecture, engineering, construction, urban planning, surveying, facilities management, or accessibility and inclusive design;
Experience assessing applications and documentation for certification or accreditation preferred; Practical knowledge of commonly applied Universal Design principles; Knowledge and application of Universal Design strongly preferred; and
Knowledge or experience with accessibility, individuals with disabilities and/or disability issues preferred.

Skills/Behaviours:

Ability to apply a rating or certification system to assess and verify for program compliance;
Strong spatial aptitude, with ability to visualize spaces from photos and descriptions;
Strong oral and written communication skills. Ability to communicate effectively, concisely and tactfully with others through an online platform; Effective interpersonal, organizational and problem-solving skills;
Effective computer skills including knowledge of Outlook and ability to learn web-based online systems;
Ability to manage and adjudicate a high volume of RHFAC ratings independently and professionally; Ability to work independently and remotely;
Ability to maintain confidentiality and work with integrity; and Strong attention to detail and analytical mindset.
An equivalent combination of education, experience and skills/behaviours will be considered”

Here again, nothing in the foregoing qualifications shows that to be trained to be an RHF accessibility adjudicator, one must have good detailed knowledge of current Ontario accessibility legal requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in relevant municipal bylaws, in AODA accessibility standards, or in the Ontario Human Rights Code or, in the case of public sector agencies, the Charter of Rights.

10. There is No Indication of Which Buildings Will Be Checked for Accessibility, Whether They Will be Chosen by the Government, the RHF, or Both and Whether the Selection Process Will be Fair and Open

The Ford Government has not publicly announced several key details that are important to this initiative, such as:

1. Which organizations’ buildings will be checked for accessibility at public expense by the RHF certification process?

2. What proportion of them will be private businesses and what proportion will be public sector organizations?

3. Who will choose which organizations and which buildings will be subject to these accessibility assessments, the Ontario Government, the RHF or some combination of the two? There is no reason why a private foundation should play any part in the decision of which public or private sector organizations get the benefit of a taxpayer-subsidized accessibility assessment.

4. If the RHF will have any role to play in decisions over which organizations’ buildings will be assessed, what measures will be implemented to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest?

5. What criteria will be used to choose which organizations and which buildings will be assessed?

6. Will the Ford Government invite the public, including Ontario’s disability community, to indicate which organizations and which buildings should be assessed by the RHF?

7. What public accountability and openness requirements will be in place regarding the decisions over which organizations will have their building assessed? The public needs open, proper and effective mechanisms to oversee this process. Will organizations be able to apply to be chosen? Will the public know who was chosen and who was refused, and the reasons for these choices?

11. The Public Has No Right to See the Results, Findings or Recommendations that the RHF Provides to an organization Whose Building Was Assessed at the Taxpayers Expense

Even though the Ontario taxpayer is supposed to pay , in whole or in part, for the RHF private accessibility assessment of some 250 buildings in Ontario over the next two years, the public has no right to know what accessibility rating, report or recommendations were rendered by the RHF assessor for any of them. The Government’s May 23, 2019 news release, set out below makes it evident that the organization, whose building is assessed at public expense, can decide if it wants to make public its certification rating, and that the report of recommendations for improvements by the assessor is private, not public. The news release states:

“? Organizations that are rated through the program get a confidential scorecard rating and report of key areas of success and improvement for their facility.

? The program has two certification levels: RHF Accessibility Certified and RHF Accessibility Certified Gold.

? Certification can be made public through building labeling. Buildings can also be identified as an accessible facility on the RHFAC Registry hosted by CSA Group.”

If the public is to pay for this accessibility assessment, in whole or in part, the public has a right to know the results. Based on the Government’s announcement, an organization could inaccurately claim that it got a great accessibility assessment, while concealing a report from the RHF that lists a large number of readily-achievable low cost accessibility improvements that can and should be made. The public has no way to know what the RHF recommended, or if the organization has taken any of the recommended actions. Indeed, the public has no way to know if the organization has accurately described in public statements what the RHF said about the accessibility of that organization’s building.

12. There is No Indication if the Ontario Government is Paying All or Just Part of the RHF Fee for Its Accessibility Assessment, Even for a Highly Profitable Private Business that Needs No Government Subsidy

A private accessibility certification process like that offered by the RHF would ordinarily charge an organization a fee for conducting its accessibility check of that organization’s building. the Ontario Government has not announced whether the organizations that are chosen for this RHF assessment will get a free accessibility assessment, or whether each organization will have to contribute to part of the fee for this service. If they are to pay part of the fee, what percentage of the fee will they pay? Will this depend on the organization’s resources and profits?

An organization that hires any of the other accessibility consultants that offer services in Ontario does not get such a taxpayer-funded subsidy of their fee. They must pay that entire fee.

Why should any organization get a fee subsidy here? Why should a for-profit company get any public subsidy here? Why should any for-profit company that is making a good profit get a public subsidy here? A for-profit company can write off the cost of any accessibility consultant as a business expense. They thereby already get a tax benefit in such situations. Why do they need this additional public benefit?

13. The Ford Government Appears to Create an Incorrect Impression that It is Funding the Launch of the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process in Ontario

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, the Ford Government made a statement that could create the inaccurate impression that through this 1.3-million-dollar public expenditure, the Government is launching the RHF private accessibility certification process in Ontario. The Budget stated:

“The built environment continues to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. This is why the government will partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program in select communities across the province.”

In fact, the RHF private accessibility certification process was already operating in Ontario, before that Government announcement, and without this Ontario Government funding. According to the RHF website, it had given two gold ratings in Ontario as of February 2019, two months before the Ontario Government’s April 2019 Budget. Another trade news website reported that Toronto’s CN Tower opted into the RHF accessibility certification process by November 2018.

14. An Open Competitive Bidding Process Should Precede Any Such Public Funding of the RHF

The Ford Government was elected on a commitment that it would ensure proper management of Ontario Government finances. Before the Ontario Government decides to channel a substantial 1.3 million dollars into the RHF private accessibility certification process, it should first hold an open competitive bidding process. This should not simply be given to the RHF. We have seen no indication that the Ontario Government did so. We have written the Government to find out about this.

There are a number of accessibility consultants operating in Ontario that review existing buildings and plans for future buildings for accessibility issues. The RHF is certainly not the only game in town. Others may well have as much or more experience and expertise in conducting accessibility audits than does the RHF.

Moreover, as addressed earlier in part, it would be important for the Government to satisfy itself that the RHF has sufficient expertise in this area. The Government is expected to undertake proper due diligence before choosing to spend that much public money on a single private organization. The fact that Rick Hansen has a great deal of notoriety is not, of itself, sufficient to satisfy this due diligence requirement.

The issues raised in this report demonstrate that such due diligence is needed here. If this same private accessibility certification process were conducted by the same organization in the same way, with all the issues identified here, but without the name of Rick Hansen affixed to it, would the Ontario Government have decided to channel 1.3 million public dollars into it?

15. There are Related Concerns with the RHF Process for Certifying an Entire Design Firm as Champions of Accessible Design

From an announcement on Twitter, the RHF appears to now have taken upon itself to designate an entire design firm as the “first design firm to achieve RHF Accessibility Certification”. On Twitter, the RHF congratulated a particular design firm as champions of #accessible design”.

Such a “certification” will convey to many that a design firm has sufficient expertise in accessible design to be counted on as an expert in the area. It also risks implying to the public that such a certified firm is somehow superior to other design firms that have no such RHF “certification”.

This raises important questions. What expertise does the RHF have for assessing the competence, training and experience of an entire design firm, in order to determine if it has sufficient expertise in accessible design is to be certified as such by the RHF? The issues raised in this report raise many important questions that bear on this. We would not accept as a given that the RHF has the requisite expertise, and that its certification of an entire design firm itself deserves any credit. There are design firms specializing in accessible design in Canada which have been working in the accessible design field for many years more than the RHF has been in the accessibility certification field.

It would be important to know what the RHF requires before granting this certification to an entire design firm. What more, if anything does it require beyond completion of the RHF’s two-week course, addressed earlier in this Report? Does the RHF examine the buildings that the design firm has previously designed, to ensure that they had no accessibility problems? Does the RHF simply certify a design firm if it aspires to the RHF standard of “meaningful access” (a standard which we questioned earlier in this report)?

Does the design firm retain that RHF designation even if it later hires new staff who did not get assessed? Building on the conflict of interest concerns addressed earlier, what conflict of interest concerns are in place in relation to the RHF certifying an entire design firm? Does the RHF ensure that it has an arms-length relationship with any design firm that it certifies, and that it does not grant any such certification to a design firm that has ever donated money to the RHF, or that might do so in the future?

It is important that the RHF process of purporting to certify an entire design firm not play any part in the Ontario Government’s decisions in relation to its own construction of infrastructure. There should be no preference given to design firms with this RHF certification, in the present circumstances.

16. The RHF Gave Its First Gold Accessibility Certification to the Vancouver International Airport, But There are Accessibility Concerns There

This report’s concerns with the Ford Government using public money to fund the RHF private accessibility certification process are reinforced by an example of the RHF certification process in practice. The RHF announced on December 5,2018 that it gave its first gold certification, its highest rating, to the Vancouver International Airport. As the June 4, 2019 AODA Alliance Update described, CBC’s flagship TV news program “The National” revealed two deeply troubling instances of horrific accessibility problems at the Vancouver International Airport. In two separate incidents, passengers with disabilities who use wheelchairs were brought to the wrong departure lounge and left there for hours, without food, water, bathrooms or help. The passengers did not speak English. For them, that was likely no “gold” accessibility experience at that airport.

Taking too narrow an approach, the RHF accessibility certification appears only to look at the airport’s bricks and mortar, and not as well at the accessibility of services delivered there. Yet the gold rating that the RHF certification gave risks leading many if not most to wrongly think that this is an airport that is a good and reliable place for passengers with disabilities.

We also note that in a tweet where the RHF announced that it gave a gold accessibility rating to the Vancouver International Airport, a photo shows that there are “hangout steps” at the airport. Hangout steps are a concern from the accessibility perspective.

The AODA Alliance’s widely viewed October 29, 2017 online video about accessibility problems at the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre describes accessibility problems with hangout steps. See also the online post entitled “Why Do We Continue to Celebrate the Creation of New Barriers to Accessibility?” by Ontario-based accessibility consultant Marnie Peters, set out in this report’s appendix.

Hangout steps are akin to amphitheater seating. They are meant as a place to hang out and socialize. It is quite easy to create a socializing or hangout area where people with disabilities can reach and sit in any part of that area. In contrast, hangout steps have a proportion of the seating which is inaccessible to people using a mobility device. They can also be quite hard to navigate for people with vision loss or balance issues.

The RHF website frequently asked questions states that buildings that get a gold accessibility certification are “considered showcases of accessibility”. We question how a public building with hangout steps can deserve a gold rating for accessibility. It is troubling that this gold rating signals to the Vancouver International Airport and to the public that having hangout steps is fine from an accessibility perspective. it is also troubling that it signals to design professionals that they should feel free to include them in other buildings, without worrying that it raises any accessibility concern.

Appendix

1. July 3, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

July 3, 2019

To: The Hon Raymond Cho, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Via email: [email protected]
College Park 5th Floor
777 Bay St
Toronto, ON M7A 1S5

Dear Minister,

Re: Proposed Provincial Funding of the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Process

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, your Government announced that it plans to spend 1.3 million dollars over two years to get the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) to conduct its private accessibility certification on a total of 250 buildings in Ontario. We have been on the public record for over three years voicing serious concerns about spending any public money on any private accessibility certification process.

We have several questions and concerns about the RHF private accessibility certification process, on which your Government is aiming to spend a substantial amount of public money. We set these out below. We ask you to answer these questions and to consider all these issues when considering whether to proceed with the Government’s plan, as announced in the April Ontario Budget.

Process for Selecting the RHF for this Government Funding

1. Did the Ontario Government issue a “request for proposal” or otherwise conduct an open competitive bid process before deciding to award this funding to the RHF? If not, why not?

Standard for Assessing a Building’s Accessibility

2. What specific accessibility standard will the RHF use when it assesses the accessibility of a building? The RHF website and its “Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation” states that its accessibility assessments are “based upon CSA B651 standards”, produced by the Canadian Standards Association. How much of that CSA Standard does the RHF use? All or only part of it? If only part, then which parts are included and which are excluded? If any are excluded, why were they excluded?

3. The RHF says it assesses the “meaningful access” of a building. What specific criteria, measures and rating scales are used to assess if a building has “meaningful access”? Who decides if the access is meaningful? Is it the individual assessor? What safeguards are there to prevent this from arbitrarily varying from RHF assessor to assessor or from RHF adjudicator to adjudicator?

4. Can we please have a copy of the RHF assessor’s and adjudicator’s checklist score criteria. How does the RHF score meaningful access on a barrier-by-barrier basis? What are the scoring instructions and scales that the RHF gives to its assessors, not only for each kind of barrier, but also for determining what overall level of accessibility RHF will award? We seek detailed specifics on this. For example, is each bathroom assessed and rated separately, with a distinct score attached to it, or are the scores for all bathrooms averaged into one figure?

5. How has the RHF tested out its assessment training and forms to see if different assessors or adjudicators reach different conclusions on the same building or features within that building?

Time Limitations on RHF Accessibility Certification

6. Will the Ontario Government require that there be a time limitation affixed to an RHF accessibility certification of a building? Otherwise, what protections will Ontarians with disabilities and the public have against an organization making any changes to the building or its interior or environs that create new disability barriers, sometime after it receives an RHF certification?

Training for RHF Assessors and Adjudicators

7. What are the required qualifications or credentials for a person to be able to teach the RHFAC course? Are the course instructors required to have anything more than their own credentials as an RFHAC assessor? Are they required to be a member of the faculty of the college or university where the course is offered, and to have demonstrated expertise in the accessibility of the built environment?

8. What are the detailed specific contents of the curriculum taught in the two-week RHFAC course for RHF assessors? What specific techniques are used in the course to educate the participants in the experience of people with disabilities?

9. What are the specifics of the knowledge assessed in the RHFAC test at the end of the two-week course?

10. Does an RHF assessor need to have demonstrated expert knowledge in the Ontario Building Code accessibility provisions and relevant AODA accessibility standards, and in related municipal accessibility bylaws in Ontario? Or of the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?

11. Do course participants get a copy of the specifics of the CSA B621 voluntary built environment accessibility standard? Do they get copies of all the built environment accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in AODA accessibility standards, and in applicable municipal bylaws in Ontario? Does the course teach detailed knowledge of these? Does testing at the end of the course assess a person’s detailed knowledge of these?

Ensuring the RHF has No Conflicts of Interest

12. What measures have been put in place to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest with any organizations seeking its accessibility certification? To that end, will organizations be precluded from taking part in Government-funded RHF accessibility assessments if the organization does not have an arms-length relationship with the RHF, or has made a donation to the RHF, or may do so in the future?

13. What measures are to be put in place to avoid the risk that an assessor will lean in favour of a more favourable accessibility rating in order to be better-positioned to get more organizations to hire them to do an RHF accessibility assessment?

Sufficiency of RHF Off-Site Accessibility Adjudication Process

14. What measures will be put in place to ensure that an RHF adjudicator’s off-site review of a building’s accessibility assessment is fair, accurate, open and transparent?

Choice of Which Buildings to Assess for Accessibility

15. Which organizations’ buildings will be checked for accessibility by the RHF certification process? What proportion of them will be private businesses and what proportion will be public sector organizations?

16. Will organizations be able to apply to be chosen for an RHF assessment? Who will choose which organizations and which buildings will be subject to these accessibility assessments, the Ontario Government, the RHF or some combination of the two? If the RHF has any role to play in decisions over which organizations’ buildings will be assessed, what measures will be implemented to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest?

17. What public accountability and openness safeguards will be in place regarding the decisions over which organizations will have their building assessed? What criteria will be used to choose which organizations and which buildings will be assessed?

18. Will the Ford Government invite the public, including Ontario’s disability community, to indicate which organizations and which buildings should be assessed by the RHF?

Amount of Government Subsidy for RHF Accessibility Assessment

19. Will an organization that is chosen for a Government-financed RHF accessibility assessment have the entire cost of the assessment paid for by the taxpayer? If a business is highly-profitable, for example, will it be required to contribute to any part of the cost of the assessment?

We would be pleased to provide any clarifications to these questions, if needed.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont
Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance @davidlepofsky

CC: The Hon. Premier Doug Ford [email protected]
Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, [email protected]
Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, [email protected]

2. Excerpt from the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget Re Public Funding for the Rick Hansen Foundation Private Accessibility Certification Process

Originally posted at http://budget.ontario.ca/2019/chapter-1c.html#s-15

Making Ontario More Accessible

Approximately one in four people in Ontario age 15 years and over has a disability, a number that increases to 43 per cent among seniors. Disabilities can range from flexibility and mobility to vision and hearing. As the population continues to age, the numbers are expected to rise in terms of frequency and seriousness. Ontarios Government for the People will work to ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to live fulfilling and productive lives.

The built environment continues to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. This is why the government will partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program in select communities across the province. With a $1.3 million investment over two years, this program will prepare accessibility assessments of businesses and public buildings and, together with property managers and owners, determine ways to remove any identified barriers for people with visible and invisible disabilities.

3. Text of the Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 Announcement Regarding Public Funding of the Rick Hansen Private Accessibility Certification Process

Taking Action to Remove Barriers for People with Disabilities Ontario making buildings more accessible

NEWS
May 23, 2019 TORONTO People with disabilities and seniors deserve to remain engaged in their communities and represent a huge potential employee and customer base. Many buildings in Ontario continue to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. When buildings are not accessible, people are shut out from fully participating in everyday life, businesses fail to reach their full potential, and communities are not as welcoming as they should be.
Ontario is focusing on what matters most to people with disabilities and seniors by helping to remove barriers in buildings and making communities more accessible.

The Government of Ontario is investing $1.3 million over two years through a new partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation. Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, and Rick Hansen, Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation, were at the MaRS Discovery District today to announce that the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program will be launched in Ontario.

The certification program will provide accessibility ratings of businesses and public buildings by trained professionals, and will help property managers and owners determine ways to remove identified barriers.

Through this investment, the Rick Hansen Foundation will undertake ratings of 250 facilities. The program is expected to start this fall and roll out over the next two years in select communities across Ontario.

Removing barriers in buildings will help make communities and businesses more accessible and open for jobs, said Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility.
We are working to ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to participate more fully in their communities, as consumers and employees. Being accessible benefits businesses and communities and opens them up to qualified talent and more customers.

I am very pleased and honoured to be collaborating with the Ontario government. The $1.3 million will go a long way in providing meaningful access to buildings and communities, and will help make Ontario more inclusive where people with disabilities are living to their full potential, said Rick Hansen, Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

QUICK FACTS

* Organizations that are rated through the program get a confidential scorecard rating and report of key areas of success and improvement for their facility.
* The program has two certification levels: RHF Accessibility Certified and RHF Accessibility Certified Gold.
* Certification can be made public through building labeling. Buildings can also be identified as an accessible facility on the RHFAC Registry hosted by CSA Group.
* Currently, the RHFAC Accessibility Assessor Training Course is offered at George Brown College and Carleton University in Ontario. The program has been successfully implemented by the provincial governments of British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

Rick Hansen Accessibility Certification
2019 Ontario Budget
RHFAC Registry

Pooja Parekh, Ministers Office, 416-314-0797
Matt Gloyd, Communications Branch, 416-314-7013
Dawn Tse, Rick Hansen Foundation, 778-229-7532
http://news.ontario.ca/oss/en
Disponible en français 4. Online Article by a Canadian -Based Accessibility Consultant Warning about Private Accessibility Certification Processes

Originally posted at https://www.optimalperformance.ca/if-any-company-in-us-or-canada-promises-certification-in-accessible-audits-buyer-beware/

Optimal Performance

If any company in US or Canada promises Certification in Accessible Audits BUYER BEWARE
HOME / ACCESSIBILITY / IF ANY COMPANY IN US OR CANADA PROMISES CERTIFICATION IN ACCESSIBLE AUDITS BUYER BEWARE

BUYER BEWARE When you read Building Accessibility Excellence Program (BAEA) Certification Program; There is no such thing and this certification can be downright dangerous and ill founded

The less than scrupulous entrepreneurs who suddenly label themselves not only as accessibility experts but as being able to certify lay people as being certified as Building Accessibility experts or BAEAs abound in Ontario and in the US.

Olga Dosis and I wanted to address this in an effort to ensure you the buyer be fully aware that these promises to certify or as being certified is being used purely as a selling tool and also represent potential liabilities for your company. The liabilities will occur within the Human Rights Code for Ontario or the complaints driven ADA in the case of the USA related to accommodation and accessibility. The second area of liability will arise over time from audits of your companys AODA programs and mandatory processes expected by the Directorate of Ontario, in which case daily penalites can be levied. The third area of liability will rest with civil suits where a non-bona fide certification system within Ontario and states Build Codes audits and recommendations completed by non-qualified consultants will result in accidents, build code violations and even loss of life. This loss of life or accidents may well occur where a certified lay person referring to themselves as Building Accessibility experts recommend a build code change to accommodate a certain type of disability which endangers the life of that person or someone with another type of disability or with no disability at all.

This game of letting employers and lay persons think they can attend a course about building accessibly and then be certified is at best, a naive way of quickly making money from the AODA and ADA Regulations and at worst a dangerous and cynical approach to an unimformed marketplace.

So who really would meet Certification requirements and the work experience to audit a workplace or building and make recommendations about the Build Code for each State or Province? Our past, current and future recommendations to clients and any companies in the US or Ontario who ask us about this is a dedicated team of accessible design experts should conduct audits of your workplace, building, space. The team should be comprised of Interior Designers/Architects/Contractors who are certified in the Build Code for the jurisdiction in which your building is located; coupled with ADA, AODA and Accessible Build Code experts who will have formal University/College level degrees in the area of AODA/ADA Design/Code and Cross Disability Studies. The teaming of experts is the real answer, not a short course of E-Learning followed by the promise of being a certified Building Accessibility expert.

Dont forget we are not talking about relatively simple recommendations such as colour contrast on a wall or designing a directional sign. We may be talking about altering the structural support in a soon-to-be-accessible washroom; the design and installation of a way- finding sign which keeps an unsighted person from walking into a hazardous area; or a customer or employee with a cognitive or learning disability not being made aware of an area of a building which is hazardous to enter; pinch points in a escalator which results in loss of limbs etc. The stakes are high relative to the Building Audits, interpretation of Build Codes and Accessible Codes coupled with the resulting recommendations and guidance for employers, building owners, facility managers and end-users.

The use of University/College educated and long-term experienced teams of experts such as Interior Designers, Contractors, Facility Managers (the experience should include audits and accessible design of multiple building types, sizes and complexity for example) and Accessibility experts (University education in the areas of Human Factors Design/Ergonomic Design/Disability Studies and Design) is who the bona fide experts are. These experts will also have the appropriate insurance in place to protect your firm, building, facility in the case of accidents, law suits and Human Rights/AODA/ADA related claims.

As in any purchasing decisions made for your building, facility, workplace, school or hospital, always ask for complete resumes of the experts; ensure they have the correct degrees, years of experience in multiple settings, no past history of liabilities or actions against them and the use of an ACCESSIBILITY TEAM to ensure all aspects of accessibility are addressed; review the type of insurance the accessibility auditing team carry and the amount of liability coverage in place; interview and establish a working relationship with the accessibility auditing team. Then as the project proceeds including in depth, science based audits; build code review; recommendations and guidance on the part of the consulting team ensure your own internal team works closely with them to assure communication and recommendations are clear.

Many of us would love to learn to be Doctors, Lawyers, Physiotherapists and even Ergonomists by taking a few weeks of study and having a private firm certify us. All reasonable people know however that these specializations take years of study and years of experience to achieve. The old adage of Buyer Beware needs to come to the fore as many lay people hang out a shingle saying they are accessiblity and disability experts in Ontario and the US. If the promise of certified accessible building assssors (BAEA for example) sounds too be good to be true, it is. OPC Inc and our team of Interior Designers/Architects/FMs and contractors wants to ensure the marketplace knows this up front before a serious accident occurs. Lives, limbs and creating equal access to the marketplace, workplaces and public spaces is at stake for Ontario and the US. This is serious business.

Olga Dosis BA, Masters Psychology, Masters Disability Studies

JESleeth Hon B.P&H.E. (Kin), Hon B.Sc.P.. T
Members Association of Interior Designers Ontario (ARIDO), Interior Designers of Canada (IDC), International Facility Managers Association of Canada and National Institute of Building Sciences

Optimal Performance Consultants
416-860-0002
416-860-0005
[email protected]
www.OptimalPerformance.ca

5. Text of an Online Article by Another Accessibility Consultant on Why “Hang-Out Steps Present Major Accessibility Problems

Originally posted at https://medium.com/@marnie_265/why-do-we-continue-to-celebrate-the-creation-of-new-barriers-to-accessibility-d075e05d90d1

June 4, 2019

Why Do We Continue to Celebrate the Creation of New Barriers to Accessibility?

A recent story about new or renovated buildings being celebrated for their innovative and unique designs made my head spin, blood boil and my heart drop. It was a tantalizing title after all, After a Thoughtful Revamp, a University Library Finally Sees the Light

Unfortunately??the light must have been blinding their eyes in this thoughtless revamp.

Universities are supposed to be places of inclusion, diversity and welcoming for everyone. What the architects have developed for the University screams exclusion, discrimination, and segregation.

Steps up to the socializing space. Photo: Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

The changes to the library, in particular steps and risers designed as a place to hang out, are designed to create a multifunctional space ideal for study, reading, discussions, meetings and lectures. But that is only true if you can walk, and dont have vision loss, or hearing loss??there is no way for a person with a mobility aid such as a wheelchair to join their friends, attend a lecture or meeting in this re-envisioned space. There is insufficent colour contrast between the risers, the steps and the landings, step with caution.

High Counters and Chairs in Library. Photo Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

If you want to grab a reference book and grab a space at a table for a quick look??you need to be able to stand sorry, high counters and chairs only, better luck next time all you wheelchair users.

Fully glazed panels with no vision strips or markings. Photo Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

In a high-traffic, wood-finished hub known as the Agora, no running is allowed, or looking down at your phone while walking??lest you run face first into the fully glazed panels without vision strips that make up the several smaller meeting rooms??which I am just guessing here??most probably do not have an assistive listening system to help students with hearing impairments. Say what ? I couldnt hear you.

Universities are supposed to be places of higher learning??people with disabilities face enough challenges from barriers in existing and heritage built environment facilities and urban spaces??we shouldnt be creating new barriers. We most certainly shouldnt be celebrating them.

Marnie Peters??President of Accessibility Simplified

Marnie Peters has 20+ years of experience as a consultant offering comprehensive services related to accessibility and universal design. Her firm, Accessibility Simplified provides professional services to architects, engineers, designers and planners to ensure buildings and urban environments comply with all building codes, accessibility standards and human rights legislation.



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Doug Ford’s Only New Action in Over One Year in Office to Improve Accessibility for Over 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities is Riddled with Problems and Cries Out for a Serious Re-Think, According to a Disability Coalition’s Report Made Public Today


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Doug Ford’s Only New Action in Over One Year in Office to Improve Accessibility for Over 1.9 Million Ontarians with Disabilities is Riddled with Problems and Cries Out for a Serious Re-Think, According to a Disability Coalition’s Report Made Public Today

July 25, 2019 Toronto: The centerpiece of the Doug Ford Government’s new strategy to remove the many barriers impeding over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities is riddled with serious problems and cries out for a serious re-think, according to a detailed report researched by the non-partisan AODA Alliance, and made public today (Report set out below). The Ford Government’s April Budget announced the only new measure on disability accessibility in its first year in office, — paying the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) 1.3 million dollars for RHF to privately audit 250 as-yet unidentified public and private sector buildings over two years, on the Government’s behalf.

Among many problems, this new report reveals:

* Ford’s Government says this plan will remove barriers facing people with disabilities. Yet the report reveals that the plan need not result in any barriers ever being removed.

* Instead of using properly trained Government inspectors, Ford’s plan uses private individuals who may have no prior experience with the highly technical area of building accessibility, and who just took a two-week course and passed a multiple choice exam. To acquire the needed expertise, it takes much more training on accessibility than a 2-week course.

* There are serious concerns with RHF’s private standard or yardstick to assess a building’s accessibility. For example, there is a real risk of leaving out people whose disabilities are not related to mobility, vision or hearing.

* There is a risk of conflict of interest if the RHF inspects an organization that has given or may give the RHF a charitable donation. It would be inexcusable for an organization to give money to a Government inspector.

* These private free-lance accessibility assessors appear to have a troubling incentive to give higher accessibility ratings, in hopes of getting more work. An organization chooses the RHF-trained free-lance assessor who will inspect their building. Assessors are paid by the job.

*Even though the taxpayer will fund these inspections, the public will have no right to know the inspection’s results, unless an organization agrees to make its results public.

In a letter set out below and made public today, the AODA Alliance has pressed the Ford Government for important details about its plan. The answers to questions like these are critical to accountability in the use of public money: Which buildings will be inspected? Who chooses them? The Ford Government? The RHF? What assessment tools or checklists and scoring scale will be used? What is the specific curriculum used in the RHF’s two-week training course for assessors?

“Premier Ford should set aside his problem-ridden plan to divert scarce public money into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification. Doug Ford should instead use this money to do his job, to beef up the sluggish implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s Disabilities Act,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the non-partisan AODA Alliance which spearheads the campaign to get the Government to effectively implement Ontario’s 2005 accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). “We recently gave Doug Ford’s Government a failing F grade for its efforts on making Ontario accessible to people with disabilities during its first year in office.”

Fully 175 days ago, on January 31, 2019, the Ford Government received a blistering report from the Independent Review of the Government’s implementation of the Disabilities Act, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Onley Report found that Ontario is a province full of soul-crushing barriers facing people with disabilities. It called for strong new Government action and leadership on this issue. It did not recommend pouring public money into a private accessibility certification process, like the RHF’s one. Yet the Ford Government has still not released a plan to implement the Onley Report, even though Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho, told the Legislature that Onley did a “marvelous job.”

Contact: David Lepofsky, [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

Attachment – AODA Alliance Report Made Public Today

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

A Problematic Government Strategy on Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities and An Inappropriate Use of Public Money

The AODA Alliance Report on the Ontario Government’s Proposal to Spend Public Money on the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Process

July 3, 2019

1. Introduction and Summary

a) What Is This Report About?

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, the Ford Government announced that it plans to spend 1.3 million dollars on having the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) conduct a private accessibility certification process on some 250 buildings in the public and/or private sector in Ontario over the next two years. The Ford Government has said that the RHF will be conducting these accessibility assessments for “us” i.e. the Ontario Government. On May 29, 2019, Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho said this in the Legislature:

“Last week, we announced further details of our plan to partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation on their building certification program. This $1.3 million that we’re investing will allow us to perform accessibility audits on over 200 buildings over the next two years.”

The Government provided a few more details about this plan in its May 23, 2019 public posting online. (The relevant April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget announcement and the Government’s May 23, 2019 supplementary announcement are set out in this report’s appendix.)

This is a report of the AODA Alliance’s detailed analysis of this plan, based on public information available to us. The AODA Alliances a non-partisan grassroots disability coalition which advocates for the effective implementation and enforcement of Ontario’s landmark 2005 disability accessibility law, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act(AODA). Learn more about the AODA Alliance by visiting www.aodaalliance.org

This report identifies several serious concerns with the Government’s plan to divert public money into the RHF private accessibility certification process. The Ford Government should address all of these concerns and issues before spending any public money on this. Preferably, the Government should reconsider its decision to divert scarce public funds to this initiative. Those funds could be far better directed at the implementation and enforcement of the AODA.

This report identifies key questions that should be central to proper Government decision-making in connection with the idea of publicly funding this activity by the RHF. We have sent a letter to the Ontario minister responsible for this initiative, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho, requesting answers to key questions. That letter is included in this report’s appendix.

The RHF is a charitable foundation, headed by Rick Hansen. Under the RHF private accessibility certification process, an organization can pay for an assessment of its building’s accessibility by assessors trained via the Foundation.

In 2015 to 2016, Ontario’s previous Government under Premier Kathleen Wynne flirted with the idea of publicly funding a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. After careful consideration, the AODA Alliance took a principled position in opposition to that idea in early 2016. Despite this, the Wynne Government announced that it planned to proceed with such a plan.

In September 2016, the Accessibility Minister was tasked with making this happen, despite our objections. The former Ontario Government ultimately dropped the idea. It never announced this, or publicly stated why it evidently must have decided not to proceed.

The Ford Government did not announce that it was considering the option of publicly funding the RHF private accessibility certification process, or conduct a public consultation on whether this would be a good idea, before it made its April 11, 2019 Budget announcement of 1.3 million dollars for this. As documented in the June 21, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, funding this RHF process is the only new initiative on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its first year in office.

b) Summary of Concerns with the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process

We reiterated in the May 17, 2019 AODA Alliance Update the following major reasons why we have opposed any public funding for a private accessibility certification process, no matter which organization conducts it, because:

“a)       A private accessibility certification in reality certifies nothing. It provides no defence to enforcement proceedings under the AODA, the Ontario Building Code, a municipal bylaw, the Ontario Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  1. b) A private accessibility certification process lacks an assurance of public accountability.
  1. c) A private certification of accessibility can be misleading to the public, including to people with disabilities.
  1. d) The Government should not be subsidizing one accessibility consultant over another.
  1. e) Spending public money on a private accessibility certification process is not a priority for efforts on accessibility in Ontario or a responsible use of public money.
  1. f) The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford Government has not yet agreed to take, but it did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.”

We are not alone in our concern about the idea of a private accessibility certification process. See for example, the online article, set out in this report’s appendix, entitled: “If any company in US or Canada promises Certification in Accessible Audits BUYER BEWARE”.

In addition to the foregoing concerns, this report describes serious concerns that arise from the specifics of the RHF private accessibility certification process which the Ford Government is proposing to publicly finance. In summary, these concerns include the following:

  1. Despite the Ford Government’s claims, the Government’s funding of the RHF private accessibility certification process won’t ensure that any disability barriers are ever removed.
  1. There is no assurance that the RHF uses a sufficient standard or measure for assessing a building’s accessibility.
  1. RHF accessibility certification appears to only or primarily focus on people with physical disabilities, not people with all kinds of disabilities.
  1. Once an RHF accessibility certification is granted, the Ford Government has not announced any requirement that it ever be renewed.
  1. It is wrong that people must pay a hefty fee to get access to the CSA standard that the RHF says it draws on to assess a building’s accessibility.
  1. There are serious concerns about the required qualifications of the persons who can conduct the RHF accessibility assessments and about the RHF calling them “accessibility professionals”.
  1. There is a need for effective protection against The RHF being in a conflict of interest with organizations it assesses for accessibility.
  1. There are concerns with the RHF’s accessibility adjudication process and the sufficiency of the required qualifications of RHF accessibility adjudicators.
  1. There is no indication of which buildings will be checked for accessibility, whether they will be chosen by the Government, the RHF or both and whether the selection process will be fair and open.
  1. The public has no right to see the results, findings or recommendations that the RHF provides to an organization whose building was assessed at the taxpayer’s expense.
  1. There is no indication if the Ford Government plans to pay all or just part of the RHF fee for its accessibility assessment, even for a highly profitable private business that needs no Government subsidy.
  1. The Ford Government appears to create an incorrect impression that it is funding the launch of the RHF private accessibility certification process in Ontario.
  1. An open competitive bidding process should precede any such public funding of the RHF.
  1. There are related concerns with the RHF process for certifying an entire design firm as champions of accessible design.
  1. The RHF gave its first gold accessibility certification to the Vancouver International Airport despite accessibility concerns there.
  1. The Ford Government’s action here flies in the face of election promises Doug Ford made to over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance.

c) Why This Report Matters

On June 21, 2019, the AODA Alliance announced that it gave the Ford Government a failing “F” grade for its actions in its first year in office towards leading Ontario to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities by 2025. That is the deadline which the AODA sets. The only new measure that the Ford Government has announced in its first year in office to speed up Ontario’s progress to reach the goal of full accessibility by 2025 has been its announcement of public funding for the RHF private accessibility certification process, analyzed in this report.

The AODA Alliance has called on the Government to instead announce a plan to implement the final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement that former Lieutenant Governor David Onley submitted to the Government on January 31, 2019. That should include, among other things, creating a comprehensive enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, strengthening AODA enforcement, and ensuring that design professionals are properly trained on accessibility for people with disabilities.

To date, the Ford Government has not announced a plan to implement the Onley Report. To the contrary, on May 30, 2019, the Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat a motion, presented by NDP MPP Joel Harden, that had called on the Government to develop a plan to implement the Onley Report. In their speeches in opposition to that motion, Conservative MPPs pointed instead to the Government’s plan to direct public money to the RHF private accessibility certification process.

Some have sought to analogize between the RHF private accessibility certification process and the LEEDS process for assessing buildings for energy conservation. This is not a correct analogy in this context. The question we raise is not whether the RHF or other organizations should be allowed to offer a private accessibility certification process. The question here presented is whether the Ford Government should be spending scarce public money on the RHF process. As far as we know, the Ford Government does not use public money to subsidize organizations to have a LEEDS assessment of their buildings.

In raising this report’s concerns and questions, we acknowledge the work of the RHF and of Mr. Hansen, and their strong interest in inclusion for people with disabilities.

2. Despite the Ford Government’s Claims, the Government’s funding of the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process Won’t ensure that Any Disability Barriers are Ever Removed

The Ford Government has said that its channelling 1.3 million dollars of the taxpayers’ money into the RHF private accessibility certification process will remove barriers facing Ontarians with disabilities. Yet there is no assurance that any barriers in any building or service will ever be removed. An organization whose building that RHF assesses need not ever make any changes to improve its accessibility before or after an RHF assessment.

The Doug Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 news release, set out below, incorrectly states in its headline:

“Taking Action to Remove Barriers for People with Disabilities

Ontario making buildings more accessible”.

That news release also inaccurately states:

“Ontario is focusing on what matters most to people with disabilities and seniors by helping to remove barriers in buildings and making communities more accessible.”

It is implicit in the Government’s announcement and the overall design of the RHF private accessibility certification process and explicit on the RHF website that an organization will only be subject to an RHF accessibility inspection if it voluntarily agrees to that inspection. It is obvious that the only organizations that will take part in this are ones who believe their building is already quite accessible. Why would an organization ever ask for an RHF certification if its building has obvious accessibility problems?

If we are correct in this, then this public expenditure will largely if not totally focus on assessing the accessibility of buildings that are likely the least problematic for Ontarians with disabilities. This too means that it cannot be expected that this will materially contribute to making material progress towards accessibility.

Under this announcement, the RHF will look at some 250 buildings over two years, or 125 buildings per year. That is a tiny drop in the bucket for all of Ontario. It is not a measure that the Government can claim to be a major centerpiece of a serious effort to speed up progress towards achieving an accessible Ontario by 2025.

3. There is No Assurance that the RHF Uses a Sufficient Standard or Measure for Assessing a Building’s Accessibility

An assessment of a building’s accessibility must use a specific, detailed accessibility standard that is strong and effective, that is consistently employed, and that ensures that the building is barrier-free for people with any kind of disability. There is no assurance that the RHF private accessibility certification process uses such a standard. There are causes for concern.

The public, including people with disabilities, have no control over the measure of accessibility that the RHF chooses to use. Instead, Ontario needs a comprehensive enforceable Built Environment Accessibility Standard to be enacted under the AODA, rather than a private accessibility standard that an unelected, private charitable foundation chooses.

The RHF’s website and its Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation states that its accessibility assessments are “based upon CSA B651 standards”, produced by the Canadian Standards Association (CSA). This refers to a voluntary accessibility standard that the CSA has established. The CSA is a private organization, not a publicly-accountable government agency.

It is not clear from that statement what precise accessibility standard the RHF assessors use. If it is simply “based on” that CSA accessibility standard, it is not clear whether the RHF assessors use the entirety of that CSA standard, or only parts of it.

If RHF assessors only use part of that voluntary CSA standard, we and the public need to know which parts. We need to know who has decided which parts of that accessibility standard to use, and why others were left out. We do not know if the RHF gives its assessors some discretion over which parts of that CSA accessibility standard to use, or what measures of compliance with an element of that standard the RHF uses.

Making this situation worse, the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation says the RHF measures the “meaningful access” of a building. It uses the short form RHFAC to refer to the RHF accessibility certification. The RHF Guide states:

“RHFAC is the first program of its kind to:

  • Measure a Site’s level of meaningful access based on CSA Group’s B651 standard, which considers the holistic user experience of people of all abilities, including those with mobility, vision, and hearing disabilities;”

That RHF Guide makes it clear that the RHF does not assess all access issues, but it does not say which access issues it leaves out. The Guide states:

“RHFAC is intended to measure the overall level of meaningful access of the built environment. The rating is not intended as a detailed assessment of all access issues.”

Before diverting any public money into the RHF accessibility certification process, the Doug Ford Government should make it clear for the public what specific accessibility standard the RHF is using on the Government’s behalf. The Ford Government should also satisfy itself and the public that the measure of accessibility that the RHF uses is strong enough to fulfil the needs of Ontarians with disabilities. This is especially important since, as noted earlier, Accessibility Minister Cho told the Legislature that these accessibility assessments are being done for “us” i.e. for the Government. A standard, rating system or measure of accessibility is not sufficient for Ontarians with disabilities just because it happens to be the one that the RHF uses.

We and the public do not know what the RHF considers “meaningful access” to be “meaningful access” is a very slippery term. We have not previously encountered it in our accessibility advocacy efforts.

We are concerned that “meaningful access” seems to be a vehicle for diluting how much actual accessibility must be present to pass an RHF assessment. The measure should be a building’s accessibility pure and simple, not its “meaningful” accessibility.

Key aspects of this must be clarified now, and well in advance of taking any steps to implement this publicly-funded strategy, for the benefit of the public, of people with disabilities and of organizations that might wish to consider taking part in the RHF’s accessibility assessment. Even before that, the Doug Ford Government needs to know and be satisfied by the answers to important questions such as these (which we have sent to the Ford Government) before it can properly decide whether to divert any public money into this RHF program.

What does the RHF mean by “meaningful access”? How much must a building comply with the CSA voluntary built environment accessibility standard to meet this? What kinds of barriers are included? Which ones are left out? How many barriers can remain in a building for the RHF to decide that it nevertheless provides meaningful access?

Who decides if the access is meaningful? Is it the individual assessor? What assurance is there in the RHF’s recruitment, qualifications and training of its assessors that this will be consistently done, and will not vary arbitrarily from assessor to assessor?

How is meaningful access scored on a barrier-by-barrier basis? Is each bathroom assessed separately, with a score attached to it, or are the scores for all bathrooms averaged? What are the scoring instructions and scales that the RHF gives to its assessors?

Has the RHF sufficiently tested out its assessment training and forms to see if different assessors or adjudicators reach different conclusions on the same building or features within that building?

Does the RHF consider that a building has “meaningful access” if a person using a wheelchair can get in and around it, even if there is so much glare in the building that someone with low vision has real trouble navigating inside the building? Does the building have meaningful access if there is Braille on elevator buttons, but an inaccessible series of electronic kiosks? Does it have meaningful access if the noise level and glare in the building create serious impediments for some people with autism?

We do not know if the CSA B651 voluntary built environment accessibility standard, if fully used without exception, is itself sufficient to ensure that it effectively addresses the barriers facing people with all kinds of disabilities, and not just those using wheelchairs. We do not know if the CSA B651 voluntary built environment accessibility standard or the RHF itself has incorporated into its accessibility standard all the accessibility requirements in force in Ontario for the built environment under the AODA, in the Ontario Building Code (inadequate as they are), and in Ontario municipal building bylaws. We certainly don’t know if the CSA accessibility standard meets all the requirements for accessibility that an organization must fulfil in its built environment to fulfil its duties to people with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and in the case of public sector organizations, under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If not, a building could get an RHF “gold” certification even though it might not comply with Ontario’s mandatory accessibility laws, insufficient as those laws may now be.

The RHF’s slippery “meaningful access” measure makes the RHF the sole and potentially arbitrary judge of what amount of accessibility people with disabilities need. How much discretion does the RHF give to each of its assessors to decide how much accessibility amounts to “meaningful access”? If assessors have any discretion over this, that can make the RHF accessibility certification process even more slippery and arbitrary.

This all risks lowering the bar for the accessibility of the built environment. It could be as low as the RHF, or a specific RHF assessor, decides it should be in specific cases. We, and Ontarians with disabilities generally, have no control and no say. That is discordant with the AODA’s letter and spirit. If anything, we need the accessibility bar for the built environment in Ontario to be raised. We cannot risk having it lowered. This is all the more important since the Ontario Building Code and AODA accessibility standards are now so deficient in the area of the accessibility of the built environment.

This is more troubling in light of the fact that the RHF considers its accessibility rating to be meeting the “minimum” and its gold rating to go beyond that minimum, according to a May 2, 2019 report in the Richmond News. Rick Hansen is quoted as follows, referring to accessibility ratings that the RHF has given to some organizations in Richmond BC:

““Those ratings are really important because they give visibility to owners, their employees and their customers of how accessible they are and they’re recognized and certified for meeting the minimum standard,” Hansen said.

“And they’re being actively spotlighted when they’ve gone beyond minimum to a gold level of accessibility.””

What does the RHF consider to be the “minimum” when it comes to accessibility? The Guide to RFHAC Professional Designation refers to going beyond “code”, which we gather refers to building code requirements. Those vary from province to province. The RHF Guide states, among other things, as being the duties of an RFHAC accessibility professional:

“•         Identifying positive accessibility features and determining where meaningful access exceeds minimum code requirements”

Unless we can know for certain what the RHF accessibility standard is that its assessors and adjudicators are using, we cannot be assured that the buildings that the RHF rates as “accessible” truly are accessible, and that those which it rates as “gold” have gone beyond that minimum.

We have seen nothing from the RHF that assures us that its “minimum” is the proper minimum that the Ontario Government should be using. Is the “minimum” that the RHF considers simply the inadequate requirements of the Ontario Building Code? That would fall below the higher and paramount accessibility requirements that the Ontario Human Rights Code and, in the case of the public sector, the Charter of Rights each imposes. Unless an accessibility certification is given to a building which meets or exceeds the accessibility requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and, where applicable, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is not meeting or exceeding a proper “minimum”.

Because the Ontario Government has chosen to use the RHF private accessibility certification process and to publicly fund it in Ontario, and because the Government said that the RHF is certifying those buildings for “us” (i.e. for the Ontario Government), it has in effect chosen whatever accessibility standard the RHF uses as a de facto private built environment accessibility standard or measure for Ontario. the Ford Government has done so without following any of the safeguards in the AODA for creating an accessibility standard and without making any of the AODA’s enforcement regime available to people with disabilities. This operates in practice as an end-run around the AODA for which Ontarians with disabilities campaigned so hard for a decade from 1994 to 2005, and for which the Legislature, including the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party unanimously voted in 2005.

Before deciding to take this step, the Ontario Government did not consult the AODA Alliance and the broader disability community on the standard to be used by the RHF private accessibility certification process, or on anything to do with its April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget announcement on this issue. Yet central to the AODA’s process for setting accessibility standards is that the disability community is to play a key role by being consulted in the process of developing that standard. This violates the promises that Doug Ford made to Ontarians with disabilities in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, where he set out his party’s 2018 election commitments on disability accessibility issues. He wrote:

  1. a) “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.”

  1. b) “Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party. We encourage you to continue this dialogue and share your ideas and solutions for Ontarians with disabilities.”

4. RHF Accessibility Certification Appears to Only or Primarily Focus on People with Physical Disabilities, Not People with All Kinds of Disability

Built environment barriers can impede people with a very wide range of different kinds of disabilities, not only those with physical disabilities. It is important that any accessibility certification that the Ontario Government helps finance does not leave out any people with disabilities, or create a hierarchy among different disabilities.

It is especially important to ensure that the RHF accessibility assessments don’t exclusively or predominantly focus on people with physical or mobility disabilities. We have cause for concern in this context, even though the RHF at times has stated that its accessibility certification process aims at people of all abilities. According to the Guide for RHFAC Professional Designation for its accessibility assessors, available on the RHF website, its private accessibility certification process only focuses on the needs of people with physical disabilities. It states:

” •        The Survey is designed to measure the meaningful access of a variety of settings in the built environment for people with physical disabilities.”

The RHF website states categorically that its accessibility rating and certification process only deals with disabilities affecting mobility, vision and hearing, and nothing more. The RHF frequently asked questions includes this statement (referring to the RHF accessibility certification process);

“It measures the level of meaningful access beyond building code, and is based upon the holistic user experience of people with varying disabilities affecting their mobility, vision, and hearing.”

5. Once an RHF Certification is Granted, the Ford Government Has Not Announced Any Requirement that It Ever Be renewed

From what we can tell, it appears that once an organization’s building receives an RHF accessibility certification, and the requisite fees are paid to the RHF, the organization can indefinitely publicly announce and display its accessibility certification. We have seen no indication that this certification is time-limited. That means that the organization can continue to use that designation into the indefinite future, even if the organization later makes changes to the building or its contents that create new and entirely avoidable disability barriers. We have written the Ontario Government to find out if the Government intends to require a time limitation for such certifications.

6. It is Wrong that People Must Pay a Hefty Fee to Get Access to the CSA Standard that the RHF Says It Draws on to Assess a Building’s Accessibility

We, the public, and organizations that might wish to take part in this certification process, evidently must pay a hefty $125 to see the CSA B651 voluntary building accessibility standard. , according to the CSA website. We do not know if CSA has ensured that this documentation is in an accessible format. In contrast, all accessibility standards enacted under the AODA are publicly available for free.

The public should not have to pay to get a copy of this accessibility standard, especially if public money is being diverted into the RHF private accessibility certification process. We should be able to see that standard for free, to see if it is sufficiently strong. It should also be freely available to help make this process publicly accountable. How can we know if a building that RHF certifies as “gold” for accessibility meets the accessibility expectations in the CSA standard if we cannot see that standard without paying the CSA $125.

As noted earlier, the CSA is a private organization. It does not have the public accountability of the Ontario Government when it enacts a statute or regulation or adopts a public policy. In contrast, if Ontario were to create a much-needed Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, it must be done through an open and consultative process.

7. There Are Serious Concerns About the Required Qualifications of the Persons Conducting the RHF Accessibility Assessments and About the RHF Calling Them “Accessibility Professionals”

It is important for anyone conducting an accessibility assessment of a building or of an organization to have sufficient background, training and expertise. This is especially so if they present themselves to the public as ” accessibility professionals”. We do not have that assurance in the case of the RHF accessibility certification process.

The RHF says that its accessibility assessments are done by “RHFAC accessibility professionals”. This is a professional designation which the RHF invented. Just because the RHF says that someone is an “RHFAC accessibility professional” does not mean that they are in fact an accessibility professional, or that they have sufficient training and expertise to assess, much less to certify, a building’s accessibility. The RHF’s use of this “professional” title appears to imbue these individuals with a mantle of authoritativeness, just as the RHF’s calling its assessments an “accessibility certification” gives it an aura of authoritativeness.

To become an RHFAC accessibility professional, a person must, at their own expense, take a two-week course that the RHF appears to have designed, and then pass a test which the RHF designed. A case study exercise is required.

This all presumes that the RHF has the required expertise in the fine details of accessibility of the built environment, as well as expertise in how to train and evaluate accessibility inspectors. It would be necessary for the RHF to demonstrate that it has this expertise.

Before channelling public funds into the RHF private accessibility certification process, the Ontario Government’s due diligence should require the RHF to demonstrate this. We have not seen any objective and reliable proof that the RHF has this expertise. The fact that the RHF has conducted public advocacy or education in the past on the importance of accessibility does not, of itself, demonstrate that it has all this required expertise. The fact that some other provincial governments have opted to direct public money into the RHF process does not of itself ensure that those governments each first undertook this important due diligence. The issues set out in this report combine to raise concerns over whether the RHF has that required expertise.

We do not know how anyone can become a “professional” in anything by taking a two-week course. We do not have access to the specifics of the curriculum that is taught in those two weeks, or the testing that is applied, or the evaluation results that must be achieved to pass that test. To pass that test, the person must pass a multiple-choice examination. In our view, a multiple-choice test has only a limited capacity to effectively measure a person’s accessibility expertise.

A person does not have to have any prior experience or expertise with the accessibility of the built environment to enroll to take the RHF course. For example, as long as a person has a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in a designated trade related to building construction or has been involved in some kind of construction work for five years, they are qualified to take the course. The guide to RHFAC Professional Designation states:

“Prerequisites include the following:

  • You have a diploma of technology in architecture, engineering, urban planning, interior design or a related program;
  • You have a Journeyman Certificate of Qualification in a designated trade related to building construction;
  • You are an engineer or are eligible for registration as an engineer;
  • You are an architect or are eligible for registration as an architect; OR
  • You have a minimum of five years’ experience related to building construction.”

It is our view that a two-week course is insufficient to make someone into an “accessibility professional”, especially if they had no prior expertise in the area of disability accessibility of the built environment before taking that course. They cannot learn in two weeks what other accessibility consultants have acquired in years of work experience in this field. Moreover, it is not clear to us that a person, taking that two-week course, will learn and must demonstrate detailed knowledge of all the accessibility requirements in the 247-page CSA standard which the RHF relies on, namely, CSA B651.

It is also essential to obtain detailed information on the credentials or qualifications of those who teach the course. Do those who teach this two-week course themselves have sufficient accessibility expertise, or are they simply delivering content which the RHF has designed for them to deliver?

The RHF course is offered at the premises of some colleges and universities. However, the fact that it is taught in a college or university building does not mean that it is an approved college or university level course, taught by a sufficiently qualified member of that college or university faculty, using a curriculum that meets that college’s or university’s curriculum standards. The RHF website can leave the impression that these courses are in fact college or university courses, where it states:

“To complete the RHFAC Accessibility Assessor training, please register directly with the educational institution offering the course.”

The designation of “professional” can reasonably be expected to give the public an expectation that the individual has recognized and demonstrated expertise in a field, and that the designation has been conferred by a professional body with the authority, experience and safeguards to properly do so, with the expected independent oversight of a professional self-governing body. We are not satisfied that the RHF is in a position to qualify people as “accessibility professionals”. It is not a self-governing professional body, that has been established as such under appropriate laws, with the proper safeguards that are typically built into such bodies in order to protect the public interest.

The fact that the Canadian Standards Association is involved in parts of the RHF accessibility certification process does not remedy this problem. We have seen no indication that the CSA is a self-governing professional licensing body with expertise in the training of accessibility consultants, assessors or certifiers.

Reinforcing these concerns, one need not even attend a course in person to get qualified by the RHF as an assessor. A person can take the two week course via an on-line course. The risk associated with an online course is that there is less chance to learn from other students in the course, and less chance for those delivering the course to observe students to see if they are fully attentive and effectively understanding and absorbing the materials.

Nothing in the Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation ensures that an assessor needs to have expert knowledge of the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions and/or of relevant AODA accessibility standards, and/or of related municipal accessibility bylaws in Ontario. We therefore do not know if an assessor would be free to give an organization’s building a positive rating for accessibility even if it is in direct violation of detailed accessibility legislation in Ontario.

This is also the case for accessibility requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code and, in the case of public services, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We do not know if those taking this two-week RHF course get copies of the CSA B651 voluntary accessibility standard, as well as the built environment accessibility provisions in the Ontario Building Code, AODA accessibility standards, or applicable municipal bylaws in Ontario.

8. There is a Need for Effective Protection Against the RHF Being in a Conflict of Interest with Organizations it Assesses for Accessibility

It is important that any organization providing an accessibility “certification”, not have any actual or perceived conflicts of interest. This is especially so since, according to the Doug Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister, the RHF will be conducting these assessments on behalf of the Ontario Government.

A government auditor or inspector must be in an arms-length relationship from an organization that it audits. They cannot receive payments from an organization that they are going to audit, or have audited, and can have no hope or expectation that they might in future receive payments from that organization. The RHF is a charitable foundation. It solicits charitable donations for its activities. It is important to ensure that an organization, seeking an RHF accessibility assessment, has an arms-length relationship with the RHF, has not made any donations to the RHF and is not planning to do so.

We have not seen anything in the Ford Government’s announcements on this initiative showing that it has put in place open, transparent and accountable measures to ensure that there is no such actual or perceived conflict of interest. The Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation addresses the need for assessors not to have an individual conflict of interest, but not the need for the RHF itself to ensure that it has no conflicts of interest. That Guide states:

“• Conflict of Interest: A designated RHFAC Professional shall not place themselves in a conflict of interest with their client or employer and must promptly disclose to the client, employer or RHF any situation where a business or personal interest might be construed as affecting the designated RHFAC Professional’s objectivity or independence.”

It appears from the RHF website that the organization to be assessed gets to pick which RHF assessor will conduct their RHF assessment. The assessors that pass the RHFAC training are listed on a roster from which an organization can make its choice.

We need to know if the assessor gets paid by the building assessed, on a piece wages basis. From the description on the RHF website, it appears that this is the case. If so, there is the risk that organizations may shop around to get the most favourable assessor. There is also a real risk that assessors will have a financial interest in giving a more positive accessibility rating. Otherwise, other organizations will be disinclined to hire them. That raises more concerns about Government funding for this process.

9. There Are Concerns with the RHF’s Accessibility Adjudication Process and the Sufficiency of the Required Qualifications of RHF Accessibility Adjudicators

From what we gather, the RHF accessibility certification process works like this: An assessor goes to a building to assess it. They then submit their assessment to the RHF. Someone at the RHF called an RHF certification adjudicator”, then reviews the assessment remotely and decides whether to approve it.

We do not know how an adjudicator can effectively adjudicate on the accessibility of a building without themselves visiting that building. Photos and videos can help, of course, but we question their sufficiency here.

Moreover, since this accessibility certification is being conducted on behalf of the Ontario Government, this adjudication process should have significant procedures to ensure its fairness, openness and transparency. The public should be able to see what the assessor submitted, and what, if anything the adjudicator changed, with the adjudicator’s reasons for this. If the adjudicator decides to give the building a higher or lower rating than did the assessor who was on site, this should be made clear to the public, and their reasons for doing so.

There is cause for concern about the sufficiency of the qualifications that the RHF requires for a person to be an accessibility adjudicator. On its website, the only training in accessibility that is strictly required is for the adjudicator to take the two-week RHF course, described above, to pass the related test or other assessment, and then shadowing and then being reviewed by a senior RHF adjudicator. The RHF website lists these qualifications for a posting for a temporary certification adjudicator:

“QUALIFICATIONS

Education/Experience:

Post-secondary education in a related discipline plus a minimum of 3 years of related experience with the built environment, such as architecture, engineering, construction, urban planning, surveying, facilities management, or accessibility and inclusive design;

Experience assessing applications and documentation for certification or accreditation preferred;

Practical knowledge of commonly applied Universal Design principles;

Knowledge and application of Universal Design strongly preferred; and

Knowledge or experience with accessibility, individuals with disabilities and/or disability issues preferred.

Skills/Behaviours:

Ability to apply a rating or certification system to assess and verify for program compliance;

Strong spatial aptitude, with ability to visualize spaces from photos and descriptions;

Strong oral and written communication skills. Ability to communicate effectively, concisely and tactfully with others through an online platform;

Effective interpersonal, organizational and problem-solving skills;

Effective computer skills including knowledge of Outlook and ability to learn web-based online systems;

Ability to manage and adjudicate a high volume of RHFAC ratings independently and professionally;

Ability to work independently and remotely;

Ability to maintain confidentiality and work with integrity; and

Strong attention to detail and analytical mindset.

An equivalent combination of education, experience and skills/behaviours will be considered”

Here again, nothing in the foregoing qualifications shows that to be trained to be an RHF accessibility adjudicator, one must have good detailed knowledge of current Ontario accessibility legal requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in relevant municipal bylaws, in AODA accessibility standards, or in the Ontario Human Rights Code or, in the case of public sector agencies, the Charter of Rights.

10. There is No Indication of Which Buildings Will Be Checked for Accessibility, Whether They Will be Chosen by the Government, the RHF, or Both and Whether the Selection Process Will be Fair and Open

The Ford Government has not publicly announced several key details that are important to this initiative, such as:

  1. Which organizations’ buildings will be checked for accessibility at public expense by the RHF certification process?
  1. What proportion of them will be private businesses and what proportion will be public sector organizations?
  1. Who will choose which organizations and which buildings will be subject to these accessibility assessments, the Ontario Government, the RHF or some combination of the two? There is no reason why a private foundation should play any part in the decision of which public or private sector organizations get the benefit of a taxpayer-subsidized accessibility assessment.
  1. If the RHF will have any role to play in decisions over which organizations’ buildings will be assessed, what measures will be implemented to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest?
  1. What criteria will be used to choose which organizations and which buildings will be assessed?
  1. Will the Ford Government invite the public, including Ontario’s disability community, to indicate which organizations and which buildings should be assessed by the RHF?
  1. What public accountability and openness requirements will be in place regarding the decisions over which organizations will have their building assessed? The public needs open, proper and effective mechanisms to oversee this process. Will organizations be able to apply to be chosen? Will the public know who was chosen and who was refused, and the reasons for these choices?

11. The Public Has No Right to See the Results, Findings or Recommendations that the RHF Provides to an organization Whose Building Was Assessed at the Taxpayers’ Expense

Even though the Ontario taxpayer is supposed to pay , in whole or in part, for the RHF private accessibility assessment of some 250 buildings in Ontario over the next two years, the public has no right to know what accessibility rating, report or recommendations were rendered by the RHF assessor for any of them. The Government’s May 23, 2019 news release, set out below makes it evident that the organization, whose building is assessed at public expense, can decide if it wants to make public its certification rating, and that the report of recommendations for improvements by the assessor is private, not public. The news release states:

“       Organizations that are rated through the program get a confidential scorecard rating and report of key areas of success and improvement for their facility.

         The program has two certification levels: RHF Accessibility Certified and RHF Accessibility Certified Gold.

         Certification can be made public through building labeling. Buildings can also be identified as an accessible facility on the RHFAC Registry hosted by CSA Group.”

If the public is to pay for this accessibility assessment, in whole or in part, the public has a right to know the results. Based on the Government’s announcement, an organization could inaccurately claim that it got a great accessibility assessment, while concealing a report from the RHF that lists a large number of readily-achievable low cost accessibility improvements that can and should be made. The public has no way to know what the RHF recommended, or if the organization has taken any of the recommended actions. Indeed, the public has no way to know if the organization has accurately described in public statements what the RHF said about the accessibility of that organization’s building.

12. There is No Indication if the Ontario Government is Paying All or Just Part of the RHF Fee for Its Accessibility Assessment, Even for a Highly Profitable Private Business that Needs No Government Subsidy

A private accessibility certification process like that offered by the RHF would ordinarily charge an organization a fee for conducting its accessibility check of that organization’s building. the Ontario Government has not announced whether the organizations that are chosen for this RHF assessment will get a free accessibility assessment, or whether each organization will have to contribute to part of the fee for this service. If they are to pay part of the fee, what percentage of the fee will they pay? Will this depend on the organization’s resources and profits?

An organization that hires any of the other accessibility consultants that offer services in Ontario does not get such a taxpayer-funded subsidy of their fee. They must pay that entire fee.

Why should any organization get a fee subsidy here? Why should a for-profit company get any public subsidy here? Why should any for-profit company that is making a good profit get a public subsidy here? A for-profit company can write off the cost of any accessibility consultant as a business expense. They thereby already get a tax benefit in such situations. Why do they need this additional public benefit?

13. The Ford Government Appears to Create an Incorrect Impression that It is Funding the Launch of the RHF Private Accessibility Certification Process in Ontario

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, the Ford Government made a statement that could create the inaccurate impression that through this 1.3-million-dollar public expenditure, the Government is launching the RHF private accessibility certification process in Ontario. The Budget stated:

“The built environment continues to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. This is why the government will partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program in select communities across the province.”

In fact, the RHF private accessibility certification process was already operating in Ontario, before that Government announcement, and without this Ontario Government funding. According to the RHF website, it had given two gold ratings in Ontario as of February 2019, two months before the Ontario Government’s April 2019 Budget. Another trade news website reported that Toronto’s CN Tower opted into the RHF accessibility certification process by November 2018.

14. An Open Competitive Bidding Process Should Precede Any Such Public Funding of the RHF

The Ford Government was elected on a commitment that it would ensure proper management of Ontario Government finances. Before the Ontario Government decides to channel a substantial 1.3 million dollars into the RHF private accessibility certification process, it should first hold an open competitive bidding process. This should not simply be given to the RHF. We have seen no indication that the Ontario Government did so. We have written the Government to find out about this.

There are a number of accessibility consultants operating in Ontario that review existing buildings and plans for future buildings for accessibility issues. The RHF is certainly not the only game in town. Others may well have as much or more experience and expertise in conducting accessibility audits than does the RHF.

Moreover, as addressed earlier in part, it would be important for the Government to satisfy itself that the RHF has sufficient expertise in this area. The Government is expected to undertake proper due diligence before choosing to spend that much public money on a single private organization. The fact that Rick Hansen has a great deal of notoriety is not, of itself, sufficient to satisfy this due diligence requirement.

The issues raised in this report demonstrate that such due diligence is needed here. If this same private accessibility certification process were conducted by the same organization in the same way, with all the issues identified here, but without the name of Rick Hansen affixed to it, would the Ontario Government have decided to channel 1.3 million public dollars into it?

15. There are Related Concerns with the RHF Process for Certifying an Entire Design Firm as Champions of Accessible Design

From an announcement on Twitter, the RHF appears to now have taken upon itself to designate an entire design firm as the “first design firm to achieve RHF Accessibility Certification”. On Twitter, the RHF congratulated a particular design firm as champions of #accessible design”.

Such a “certification” will convey to many that a design firm has sufficient expertise in accessible design to be counted on as an expert in the area. It also risks implying to the public that such a certified firm is somehow superior to other design firms that have no such RHF “certification”.

This raises important questions. What expertise does the RHF have for assessing the competence, training and experience of an entire design firm, in order to determine if it has sufficient expertise in accessible design is to be certified as such by the RHF? The issues raised in this report raise many important questions that bear on this. We would not accept as a given that the RHF has the requisite expertise, and that its certification of an entire design firm itself deserves any credit. There are design firms specializing in accessible design in Canada which have been working in the accessible design field for many years more than the RHF has been in the accessibility certification field.

It would be important to know what the RHF requires before granting this certification to an entire design firm. What more, if anything does it require beyond completion of the RHF’s two-week course, addressed earlier in this Report? Does the RHF examine the buildings that the design firm has previously designed, to ensure that they had no accessibility problems? Does the RHF simply certify a design firm if it aspires to the RHF standard of “meaningful access” (a standard which we questioned earlier in this report)?

Does the design firm retain that RHF designation even if it later hires new staff who did not get assessed? Building on the conflict of interest concerns addressed earlier, what conflict of interest concerns are in place in relation to the RHF certifying an entire design firm? Does the RHF ensure that it has an arms-length relationship with any design firm that it certifies, and that it does not grant any such certification to a design firm that has ever donated money to the RHF, or that might do so in the future?

It is important that the RHF process of purporting to certify an entire design firm not play any part in the Ontario Government’s decisions in relation to its own construction of infrastructure. There should be no preference given to design firms with this RHF certification, in the present circumstances.

16. The RHF Gave Its First Gold Accessibility Certification to the Vancouver International Airport, But There are Accessibility Concerns There

This report’s concerns with the Ford Government using public money to fund the RHF private accessibility certification process are reinforced by an example of the RHF certification process in practice. The RHF announced on December 5,2018 that it gave its first gold certification, its highest rating, to the Vancouver International Airport. As the June 4, 2019 AODA Alliance Update described, CBC’s flagship TV news program “The National” revealed two deeply troubling instances of horrific accessibility problems at the Vancouver International Airport. In two separate incidents, passengers with disabilities who use wheelchairs were brought to the wrong departure lounge and left there for hours, without food, water, bathrooms or help. The passengers did not speak English. For them, that was likely no “gold” accessibility experience at that airport.

Taking too narrow an approach, the RHF accessibility certification appears only to look at the airport’s bricks and mortar, and not as well at the accessibility of services delivered there. Yet the gold rating that the RHF certification gave risks leading many if not most to wrongly think that this is an airport that is a good and reliable place for passengers with disabilities.

We also note that in a tweet where the RHF announced that it gave a gold accessibility rating to the Vancouver International Airport, a photo shows that there are “hangout steps” at the airport. Hangout steps are a concern from the accessibility perspective.

The AODA Alliance’s widely viewed October 29, 2017 online video about accessibility problems at the new Ryerson University Student Learning Centre describes accessibility problems with hangout steps. See also the online post entitled “Why Do We Continue to Celebrate the Creation of New Barriers to Accessibility?” by Ontario-based accessibility consultant Marnie Peters, set out in this report’s appendix.

Hangout steps are akin to amphitheater seating. They are meant as a place to hang out and socialize. It is quite easy to create a socializing or hangout area where people with disabilities can reach and sit in any part of that area. In contrast, hangout steps have a proportion of the seating which is inaccessible to people using a mobility device. They can also be quite hard to navigate for people with vision loss or balance issues.

The RHF website frequently asked questions states that buildings that get a gold accessibility certification are “considered showcases of accessibility”. We question how a public building with hangout steps can deserve a gold rating for accessibility. It is troubling that this gold rating signals to the Vancouver International Airport and to the public that having hangout steps is fine from an accessibility perspective. it is also troubling that it signals to design professionals that they should feel free to include them in other buildings, without worrying that it raises any accessibility concern.

Appendix

1. July 3, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities

www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance

July 3, 2019

To: The Hon Raymond Cho, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors

Via email: [email protected]

College Park 5th Floor

777 Bay St

Toronto, ON M7A 1S5

Dear Minister,

Re: Proposed Provincial Funding of the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Private Accessibility Certification Process

In the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget, your Government announced that it plans to spend 1.3 million dollars over two years to get the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF) to conduct its private accessibility certification on a total of 250 buildings in Ontario. We have been on the public record for over three years voicing serious concerns about spending any public money on any private accessibility certification process.

We have several questions and concerns about the RHF private accessibility certification process, on which your Government is aiming to spend a substantial amount of public money. We set these out below. We ask you to answer these questions and to consider all these issues when considering whether to proceed with the Government’s plan, as announced in the April Ontario Budget.

Process for Selecting the RHF for this Government Funding

  1. Did the Ontario Government issue a “request for proposal” or otherwise conduct an open competitive bid process before deciding to award this funding to the RHF? If not, why not?

Standard for Assessing a Building’s Accessibility

  1. What specific accessibility standard will the RHF use when it assesses the accessibility of a building? The RHF website and its “Guide to RHFAC Professional Designation” states that its accessibility assessments are “based upon CSA B651 standards”, produced by the Canadian Standards Association. How much of that CSA Standard does the RHF use? All or only part of it? If only part, then which parts are included and which are excluded? If any are excluded, why were they excluded?
  1. The RHF says it assesses the “meaningful access” of a building. What specific criteria, measures and rating scales are used to assess if a building has “meaningful access”? Who decides if the access is meaningful? Is it the individual assessor? What safeguards are there to prevent this from arbitrarily varying from RHF assessor to assessor or from RHF adjudicator to adjudicator?
  1. Can we please have a copy of the RHF assessor’s and adjudicator’s checklist score criteria. How does the RHF score meaningful access on a barrier-by-barrier basis? What are the scoring instructions and scales that the RHF gives to its assessors, not only for each kind of barrier, but also for determining what overall level of accessibility RHF will award? We seek detailed specifics on this. For example, is each bathroom assessed and rated separately, with a distinct score attached to it, or are the scores for all bathrooms averaged into one figure?
  1. How has the RHF tested out its assessment training and forms to see if different assessors or adjudicators reach different conclusions on the same building or features within that building?

Time Limitations on RHF Accessibility Certification

  1. Will the Ontario Government require that there be a time limitation affixed to an RHF accessibility certification of a building? Otherwise, what protections will Ontarians with disabilities and the public have against an organization making any changes to the building or its interior or environs that create new disability barriers, sometime after it receives an RHF certification?

Training for RHF Assessors and Adjudicators

  1. What are the required qualifications or credentials for a person to be able to teach the RHFAC course? Are the course instructors required to have anything more than their own credentials as an RFHAC assessor? Are they required to be a member of the faculty of the college or university where the course is offered, and to have demonstrated expertise in the accessibility of the built environment?
  1. What are the detailed specific contents of the curriculum taught in the two-week RHFAC course for RHF assessors? What specific techniques are used in the course to educate the participants in the experience of people with disabilities?
  1. What are the specifics of the knowledge assessed in the RHFAC test at the end of the two-week course?
  1. Does an RHF assessor need to have demonstrated expert knowledge in the Ontario Building Code accessibility provisions and relevant AODA accessibility standards, and in related municipal accessibility bylaws in Ontario? Or of the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
  1. Do course participants get a copy of the specifics of the CSA B621 voluntary built environment accessibility standard? Do they get copies of all the built environment accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code, in AODA accessibility standards, and in applicable municipal bylaws in Ontario? Does the course teach detailed knowledge of these? Does testing at the end of the course assess a person’s detailed knowledge of these?

Ensuring the RHF has No Conflicts of Interest

  1. What measures have been put in place to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest with any organizations seeking its accessibility certification? To that end, will organizations be precluded from taking part in Government-funded RHF accessibility assessments if the organization does not have an arms-length relationship with the RHF, or has made a donation to the RHF, or may do so in the future?
  1. What measures are to be put in place to avoid the risk that an assessor will lean in favour of a more favourable accessibility rating in order to be better-positioned to get more organizations to hire them to do an RHF accessibility assessment?

Sufficiency of RHF Off-Site Accessibility Adjudication Process

  1. What measures will be put in place to ensure that an RHF adjudicator’s off-site review of a building’s accessibility assessment is fair, accurate, open and transparent?

Choice of Which Buildings to Assess for Accessibility

  1. Which organizations’ buildings will be checked for accessibility by the RHF certification process? What proportion of them will be private businesses and what proportion will be public sector organizations?
  1. Will organizations be able to apply to be chosen for an RHF assessment? Who will choose which organizations and which buildings will be subject to these accessibility assessments, the Ontario Government, the RHF or some combination of the two? If the RHF has any role to play in decisions over which organizations’ buildings will be assessed, what measures will be implemented to ensure that the RHF has no conflict of interest?
  1. What public accountability and openness safeguards will be in place regarding the decisions over which organizations will have their building assessed? What criteria will be used to choose which organizations and which buildings will be assessed?
  1. Will the Ford Government invite the public, including Ontario’s disability community, to indicate which organizations and which buildings should be assessed by the RHF?

Amount of Government Subsidy for RHF Accessibility Assessment

  1. Will an organization that is chosen for a Government-financed RHF accessibility assessment have the entire cost of the assessment paid for by the taxpayer? If a business is highly-profitable, for example, will it be required to contribute to any part of the cost of the assessment?

We would be pleased to provide any clarifications to these questions, if needed.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance @davidlepofsky

CC: The Hon. Premier Doug Ford [email protected]

Marie-Lison Fougère, Deputy Minister of Accessibility, [email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, [email protected]

2. Excerpt from the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget Re Public Funding for the Rick Hansen Foundation Private Accessibility Certification Process

Originally posted at http://budget.ontario.ca/2019/chapter-1c.html#s-15

Making Ontario More Accessible

Approximately one in four people in Ontario age 15 years and over has a disability, a number that increases to 43 per cent among seniors. Disabilities can range from flexibility and mobility to vision and hearing. As the population continues to age, the numbers are expected to rise in terms of frequency and seriousness. Ontario’s Government for the People will work to ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to live fulfilling and productive lives.

The built environment continues to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. This is why the government will partner with the Rick Hansen Foundation to launch the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program in select communities across the province. With a $1.3 million investment over two years, this program will prepare accessibility assessments of businesses and public buildings and, together with property managers and owners, determine ways to remove any identified barriers for people with visible and invisible disabilities.

3. Text of the Ford Government’s May 23, 2019 Announcement Regarding Public Funding of the Rick Hansen Private Accessibility Certification Process

Taking Action to Remove Barriers for People with Disabilities

Ontario making buildings more accessible

 

TORONTO — People with disabilities and seniors deserve to remain engaged in their communities and represent a huge potential employee and customer base. Many buildings in Ontario continue to be a challenge for people with disabilities and seniors. When buildings are not accessible, people are shut out from fully participating in everyday life, businesses fail to reach their full potential, and communities are not as welcoming as they should be.

Ontario is focusing on what matters most to people with disabilities and seniors by helping to remove barriers in buildings and making communities more accessible.

The Government of Ontario is investing $1.3 million over two years through a new partnership with the Rick Hansen Foundation. Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, and Rick Hansen, Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation, were at the MaRS Discovery District today to announce that the Rick Hansen Foundation Accessibility Certification program will be launched in Ontario.

The certification program will provide accessibility ratings of businesses and public buildings by trained professionals, and will help property managers and owners determine ways to remove identified barriers.

Through this investment, the Rick Hansen Foundation will undertake ratings of 250 facilities. The program is expected to start this fall and roll out over the next two years in select communities across Ontario.

“Removing barriers in buildings will help make communities and businesses more accessible and open for jobs,” said Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility.

“We are working to ensure people with disabilities have the support and resources they need to participate more fully in their communities, as consumers and employees. Being accessible benefits businesses and communities and opens them up to qualified talent and more customers.”

“I am very pleased and honoured to be collaborating with the Ontario government. The $1.3 million will go a long way in providing meaningful access to buildings and communities, and will help make Ontario more inclusive where people with disabilities are living to their full potential,” said Rick Hansen, Founder of the Rick Hansen Foundation.

 

QUICK FACTS

 

  • Organizations that are rated through the program get a confidential scorecard rating and report of key areas of success and improvement for their facility.
  • The program has two certification levels: RHF Accessibility Certified and RHF Accessibility Certified Gold.
  • Certification can be made public through building labeling. Buildings can also be identified as an accessible facility on the RHFAC Registry hosted by CSA Group.
  • Currently, the RHFAC Accessibility Assessor Training Course is offered at George Brown College and Carleton University in Ontario. The program has been successfully implemented by the provincial governments of British Columbia and Nova Scotia.

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

 

Rick Hansen Accessibility Certification

2019 Ontario Budget

RHFAC Registry

Pooja Parekh, Minister’s Office, 416-314-0797

Matt Gloyd, Communications Branch, 416-314-7013

Dawn Tse, Rick Hansen Foundation, 778-229-7532

http://news.ontario.ca/oss/en

Disponible en français

4. Online Article by a Canadian -Based Accessibility Consultant Warning about Private Accessibility Certification Processes

Originally posted at https://www.optimalperformance.ca/if-any-company-in-us-or-canada-promises-certification-in-accessible-audits-buyer-beware/

Optimal Performance

If any company in US or Canada promises Certification in Accessible Audits BUYER BEWARE

HOME / ACCESSIBILITY / IF ANY COMPANY IN US OR CANADA PROMISES CERTIFICATION IN ACCESSIBLE AUDITS BUYER BEWARE

BUYER BEWARE When you read “Building Accessibility Excellence Program (BAEA) Certification Program; There is no such thing and this certification can be downright dangerous and ill founded

The less than scrupulous entrepreneurs who suddenly label themselves not only as accessibility “experts” but as being able to certify lay people as being certified as “Building Accessibility experts or BAEA’s” abound in Ontario and in the US.

Olga Dosis and I wanted to address this in an effort to ensure you the “buyer” be fully aware that these promises to certify or as being certified is being used purely as a selling tool and also represent potential liabilities for your company. The liabilities will occur within the Human Rights Code for Ontario or the complaints driven ADA in the case of the USA related to accommodation and accessibility. The second area of liability will arise over time from audits of your company’s AODA programs and mandatory processes expected by the Directorate of Ontario, in which case daily penalites can be levied. The third area of liability will rest with civil suits where a non-bona fide “certification” system within Ontario and states Build Codes audits and recommendations completed by non-qualified consultants will result in accidents, build code violations and even loss of life. This loss of life or accidents may well occur where a “certified” lay person referring to themselves as Building Accessibility experts recommend a build code change to accommodate a certain type of disability which endangers the life of that person or someone with another type of disability or with no disability at all.

This “game” of letting employers and lay persons think they can attend a course about building accessibly and then be certified is at best, a naive way of quickly making money from the AODA and ADA Regulations and at worst a dangerous and cynical approach to an unimformed marketplace.

So who really would meet Certification requirements and the work experience to audit a workplace or building and make recommendations about the Build Code for each State or Province? Our past, current and future recommendations to clients and any companies in the US or Ontario who ask us about this is a dedicated team of accessible design experts should conduct audits of your workplace, building, space. The team should be comprised of Interior Designers/Architects/Contractors who are certified in the Build Code for the jurisdiction in which your building is located; coupled with ADA, AODA and Accessible Build Code experts who will have formal University/College level degrees in the area of AODA/ADA Design/Code and Cross Disability Studies. The teaming of experts is the real answer, not a short course of E-Learning followed by the promise of being a certified Building Accessibility expert.

Don’t forget we are not talking about relatively simple recommendations such as colour contrast on a wall or designing a directional sign. We may be talking about altering the structural support in a soon-to-be-accessible washroom; the design and installation of a way- finding sign which keeps an unsighted person from walking into a hazardous area; or a customer or employee with a cognitive or learning disability not being made aware of an area of a building which is hazardous to enter; pinch points in a escalator which results in loss of limbs etc. The stakes are high relative to the Building Audits, interpretation of Build Codes and Accessible Codes coupled with the resulting recommendations and guidance for employers, building owners, facility managers and end-users.

The use of University/College educated and long-term experienced teams of experts such as Interior Designers, Contractors, Facility Managers (the experience should include audits and accessible design of multiple building types, sizes and complexity for example) and Accessibility experts (University education in the areas of Human Factors Design/Ergonomic Design/Disability Studies and Design) is who the bona fide experts are. These experts will also have the appropriate insurance in place to protect your firm, building, facility in the case of accidents, law suits and Human Rights/AODA/ADA related claims.

As in any purchasing decisions made for your building, facility, workplace, school or hospital, always ask for complete resumes of the “experts”; ensure they have the correct degrees, years of experience in multiple settings, no past history of liabilities or actions against them and the use of an ACCESSIBILITY TEAM to ensure all aspects of accessibility are addressed; review the type of insurance the accessibility auditing team carry and the amount of liability coverage in place; interview and establish a working relationship with the accessibility auditing team. Then as the project proceeds including in depth, science based audits; build code review; recommendations and guidance on the part of the consulting team ensure your own internal team works closely with them to assure communication and recommendations are clear.

Many of us would love to learn to be Doctors, Lawyers, Physiotherapists and even Ergonomists by taking a few weeks of study and having a private firm “certify” us. All reasonable people know however that these specializations take years of study and years of experience to achieve. The old adage of Buyer Beware needs to come to the fore as many lay people hang out a shingle saying they are accessiblity and disability experts in Ontario and the US. If the promise of certified accessible building assssors (BAEA for example) sounds too be good to be true, it is. OPC Inc and our team of Interior Designers/Architects/FM’s and contractors wants to ensure the marketplace knows this up front before a serious accident occurs. Lives, limbs and creating equal access to the marketplace, workplaces and public spaces is at stake for Ontario and the US. This is serious business.

Olga Dosis BA, Masters Psychology, Masters Disability Studies

JESleeth Hon B.P&H.E. (Kin), Hon B.Sc.P.. T

Members Association of Interior Designers Ontario (ARIDO), Interior Designers of Canada (IDC), International Facility Managers Association of Canada and National Institute of Building Sciences

Optimal Performance Consultants

416-860-0002

416-860-0005

[email protected]

www.OptimalPerformance.ca

5. Text of an Online Article by Another Accessibility Consultant on Why “Hang-Out Steps Present Major Accessibility Problems

Originally posted at https://medium.com/@marnie_265/why-do-we-continue-to-celebrate-the-creation-of-new-barriers-to-accessibility-d075e05d90d1

June 4, 2019

Why Do We Continue to Celebrate the Creation of New Barriers to Accessibility?

A recent story about new or renovated buildings being celebrated for their innovative and unique designs made my head spin, blood boil and my heart drop. It was a tantalizing title after all, “After a Thoughtful Revamp, a University Library Finally Sees the Light”

Unfortunately — the light must have been blinding their eyes in this thoughtless revamp.

Universities are supposed to be places of inclusion, diversity and welcoming for everyone. What the architects have developed for the University screams exclusion, discrimination, and segregation.

Steps up to the socializing space. Photo: Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

The changes to the library, in particular steps and risers designed as a place to hang out, are designed to create “…a multifunctional space ideal for study, reading, discussions, meetings and lectures.” But that is only true if you can walk, and don’t have vision loss, or hearing loss — there is no way for a person with a mobility aid such as a wheelchair to join their friends, attend a lecture or meeting in this ‘re-envisioned’ space. There is insufficent colour contrast between the risers, the steps and the landings, step with caution.

High Counters and Chairs in Library. Photo Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

If you want to grab a reference book and grab a space at a table for a quick look — you need to be able to stand… sorry, high counters and chairs only, better luck next time all you wheelchair users.

Fully glazed panels with no vision strips or markings. Photo Stéphane Groleau Azure Magazine-Bishops-Library-Lemay

“In a high-traffic, wood-finished hub known as the Agora…”, no running is allowed, or looking down at your phone while walking — lest you run face first into the fully glazed panels without vision strips that make up the several smaller meeting rooms — which I am just guessing here — most probably do not have an assistive listening system to help students with hearing impairments. Say what ? I couldn’t hear you.

Universities are supposed to be places of higher learning — people with disabilities face enough challenges from barriers in existing and heritage built environment facilities and urban spaces — we shouldn’t be creating new barriers. We most certainly shouldn’t be celebrating them.

Marnie Peters — President of Accessibility Simplified

Marnie Peters has 20+ years of experience as a consultant offering comprehensive services related to accessibility and universal design. Her firm, Accessibility Simplified provides professional services to architects, engineers, designers and planners to ensure buildings and urban environments comply with all building codes, accessibility standards and human rights legislation.





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