Tell the Health Care Standards Development Committee If You Support the AODA Alliance’s Recommendations on What the Promised Health Care Accessibility Standard Should Include, Spelled Out in the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org

Email: [email protected]

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Tell the Health Care Standards Development Committee If You Support the AODA Alliance’s Recommendations on What the Promised Health Care Accessibility Standard Should Include, Spelled Out in the AODA Alliance’s Finalized Brief

August 5, 2021

         SUMMARY

On August 3, 2021, the AODA Alliance submitted its final brief to the Health Care Standards Development Committee. It gives our feedback on its initial or draft recommendations on what should be included in the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard. The Health Care Accessibility Standard is needed to tear down the many barriers that impede people with disabilities in Ontario’s health care system.

We want the Health Care Standards Development Committee to incorporate our recommendations into its final report to the Ontario Government. Our finalized brief includes all the recommendations and other content that was in our draft brief that we circulated for public comment on July 23, 2021. There has only been very minor editing and fine-tuning.

Below we set out the 67 recommendations that our brief makes. To download and read the entire brief that explains these recommendations, visit https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/08/August-3-2021-finalized-AODA-Alliance-Brief-to-Health-Care-Standards-Development-Committee.docx

Help us build support for our cause. Please email the Health Care Standards Development Committee. Tell the Committee if you support our recommendations. You can write them at: [email protected]

If you or an organization with which you are connected is writing a submission to the Health Care Standards Development Committee it would be great if your submission could state that you endorse the AODA Alliance ‘s recommendations in its August 3, 2021 brief to the Health Care Standards Development Committee. As well, any individual or organization can simply write that Standards Development Committee at the email address listed above, and just say something like:

“I support the recommendations that the AODA Alliance sent the Health Care Standards Development Committee in its August 3, 2021 Brief.”

The deadline for submitting feedback to the Committee is August 11, 2021. Even if you miss that deadline, it can always help to send in an email any time that supports our recommendations.

Do you want more background on this issue? Explore the time line of our efforts to get a strong Health Care Accessibility Standard by visiting the AODA Alliance website’s health care page.

Now 917 days have passed since the Ford Government received the blistering final report of the Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, conducted by former Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Ford Government has announced no plan to implement that report.

We always welcome your feedback. Write us at [email protected].

         MORE DETAILS

List of the AODA Alliance August 3, 2021 Brief’s Recommendations

Where the following recommendations by the AODA Alliance refer to the “Initial Report”, that is the Health Care Standards Development Committee’s Initial Report in which that Committee sets out draft proposals for what the promised Health Care Accessibility Standard should include.

#1 Throughout the Initial Report, action recommendations should be revised to go beyond providing disability accommodations to patients with disabilities, and making plans for barrier-removal and prevention, so as to also spell out specific measures that must be undertaken to remove and prevent recurring disability barriers to health care services.

#2 The Health Care Accessibility Standard’s primary focus should be on specifying detailed actions to remove and prevent barriers, not by overloading people with disabilities with redundant separate consultations with one hospital after the next across Ontario.

#3 The Standards Development Committee should explicitly and comprehensively make recommendations for the entire health care system, and not merely for the small fraction of the health care system that hospitals comprise. At a minimum, the Standards Development Committee should make a strong recommendation that the Health Care Accessibility Standard must address disability barriers in the entire health care system, and not merely in the hospital sector. It should specify that all health care providers should be required to remove and prevent the same barriers, in terms at least as strong as the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

#4 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should cover and apply to all public and private health care programs, services and products available in Ontario, whether or not OHIP covers them. It should cover all health care providers and professions, whether or not Ontario recognizes, regulates or licenses them. It should cover ambulances and other vehicles which can transport patients in connection with health care services. It should cover all parts of Ontario. It should address accessibility barriers that are distinctive to the north, to remote communities, as well as the distinctive barriers facing different racialized, ethnic or other communities within Ontario.

#5 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should address the accessibility needs of patients with any kind of disability, and the accessibility needs of any patients’ support people with any kind of disability. The term “disability” should be defined broadly to include any permanent or episodic disability within the meaning of the AODA or the Ontario Human Rights Code.

#6 The Committee’s final report should clearly state that to make hospitals accessible to people with disabilities, much more is needed than addressing training, accountability and sensitivity within hospitals.

#7 The Initial Report should not recommend that smaller obligated organizations always or presumptively get more time to comply with the Health Care Accessibility Standard than do larger obligated organizations. This especially should not take place in circumstances where smaller organizations can comply more quickly than larger organizations.

#8 The Initial Report should be revised to describe the Standards Development Committee’s mandate as achieving the removal and prevention of disability barriers, the accessibility of health care services, and inclusion of people with disabilities in the health care system. It should not describe the goal as merely making the health care system more accessible or more inclusive, or merely reducing barriers.

#9 The long term objective of the Health Care Accessibility Standard should be to ensure that Ontario’s health care system and the services, facilities and products offered in it, become fully accessible to all patients with any kind of permanent or episodic disabilities and to any support people with disabilities for any patient, by 2025, the AODA’s deadline, by requiring the removal and prevention of the accessibility barriers that impede people with disabilities, and by providing a prompt, accessible, fair, effective and user-friendly process to learn about and seek disability-related accommodations tailored to a person’s individual disability-related needs. It should aim to ensure that patients with disabilities can fully benefit from and be fully included in the health care services and products offered in Ontario’s health care system on a footing of equality. It should aim to eliminate the need for patients with disabilities and any support people with disabilities to have to contend with and fight against health care accessibility barriers, one at a time, and the need for health care providers to have to re-invent the accessibility wheel one health care facility or one health care provider at a time. It should aim for health care services, facilities and products in Ontario to be designed and operated based on accessibility principles of universal design.

#10 The Initial Report’s vision of an accessible health care system should be expanded to include the following:

  1. a) The health care system will be designed and operated from top to bottom for all its patients, including patients with all kinds of permanent or episodic disabilities, as disability is defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The health care system will no longer be designed and operated from an implicit starting point of aiming predominantly to serve the fictional “average” patient, who is too often assumed to have no disabilities.
  1. b) Patients with disabilities, and where needed, any patients’ support people with disabilities, will be able to effectively communicate with health care providers and health care staff in connection with requesting or receiving health care services and products throughout each stage of the healthcare process. This will include face-to-face interactions, telephone or alternates to telephone use, accessible information and forms as well as alternate arrangements for providing one’s signature. For example, health care facilities and ambulances will be equipped with needed equipment to ensure effective communication with people with communication-related disabilities.
  1. c) Patients with disabilities, and where needed, any patients’ support people with disabilities will be able to get and receive information relevant to their health care needs in private, e.g., when giving information at a health care provider’s office or when seeking or receiving information about their medication at a pharmacy, rather than in a public place where others can overhear. Effective procedures will protect the confidentiality of private information relating to patients with disabilities who rely on others to assist them with communication.
  1. d) Information technology and applications which patients can use at home, or at a health care facility in connection with seeking and receiving health care services, will be designed based on principals of universal design and will be accessible to and usable by patients with disabilities, and where needed, to patients’ support people with disabilities. Where needed for effective communication, health care facilities will also provide alternatives to telephone use including email, text, video and authorized human assistance.
  1. e) Health care products, and any instructions for their use, will be designed and available based on principles of universal design so that people with disabilities and not just people with no disability can use and benefit from them.
  1. f) Support services such as sighted guides for visually impaired patients and attendant care will be available to patients with disabilities who need them while going to or at a facility to receive health care services.
  1. g) Publicly funded appointments for receiving health care services will be sufficiently long to enable those patients with a disability, who need more time, to be able to receive the health care services they need. If a patient with disabilities cannot attend a health care provider’s premises due to their disability, there will be in place measures whenever therapeutically possible for remote appointments or home visits.
  1. h) Patients will be free to use their own accommodation supports, such as service animals, when seeking or obtaining health care services and products.
  1. i) New Government strategies, services and facilities in Ontario’s health care system will be proactively designed from the start and operated to fully include the needs of patients with disabilities. Those responsible at the provincial and local levels for leading, overseeing and operating Ontario’s health care system will have strong and specific requirements to address disability accessibility and inclusion in their mandates and will be accountable for their work on this issue. Ontario’s disability community will have effective input into public decisions on the design and operation of Ontario’s health care system to ensure that existing disability accessibility barriers are removed and no new ones are created.
  1. j) An accessible health care system is one where people with disabilities can work in a barrier-free workplace.

#11 The Initial Report should not merely recommend that an obligated organization “consider accessibility.” It should instead require specific actions that will achieve accessibility.

#12 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should require each health care facility and health care provider to create a welcoming environment for patients with disabilities and any patients’ support people with disabilities to seek accommodations for their disabilities when receiving health care services.

#13 Each major health care facility such as each hospital should be required to establish a permanent committee of its board to be called the “Accessibility Committee.” This Accessibility Committee should have responsibility for overseeing the facility’s compliance with the AODA, and with the requirements of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms in so far as they guarantee the right of people with disabilities to fully participate in and fully benefit from the health care services that the facility provides. It should endeavour to reflect the spectrum of disability needs.

#14 Each major health care facility such as each hospital should be required to establish or designate the position of Chief Accessibility/Accommodation Officer, reporting to the Chief Executive Officer. Their mandate, responsibility and authority should be to ensure proper leadership on the facility’s accessibility and accommodation obligations under the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the AODA, including the requirements of this accessibility standard. This responsibility may be assigned to an existing senior management official.

#15 Beyond the specific measures to remove and prevent barriers set out in the Health Care Accessibility Standard and in other accessibility standards enacted under the AODA, each health care facility and health care provider should be required to periodically and systematically review its health care services, facilities, equipment and products to identify recurring accessibility barriers that can impede the provision of health care services to patients with disabilities. A comprehensive plan for removing and preventing these accessibility barriers should be developed, implemented and made public with clear timelines, with clear assignment of responsibilities for action, monitoring for progress, and reporting to the facility’s accessibility committee. This plan should aim at all accessibility barriers that can impede patients with disabilities from fully benefiting from the facility’s health care services, whether or not they are specifically identified in the Health Care Accessibility Standard or in any other AODA accessibility standards.

#16 The Initial Report should be expanded to recommend specific, detailed accessibility requirements in the built environment of hospitals and other health care facilities such as those recommended in Appendix 1 to this brief. The goal of these should be that the built environment in the health care system, such as hospitals and any other places where health care services are provided, including the furniture there, will all be fully accessible to people with disabilities, and will be designed based on the principle of universal design. For example:

  1. a) The front area or drop-off areas for a hospital or other health care facility should be accessible, with automatic power doors that do not require a button to be found and pressed, and with tactile walking surface indicators both to warn when a person is walking into a driving area and to guide a person to the facility’s entrance. All other entrances and exits should be fully accessible, with automatic power door operators and an accessible path of travel to the door. This includes entrances from indoor or underground parking to the health care facility.
  1. b) Inside the health care facility, major public areas such as emergency room doors should always be fully accessible and have automatic power door openers.
  1. c) For the benefit of patients and others with learning and cognitive disabilities, vision loss or other disabilities that can affect mobility or way-finding, hospitals and other health care facilities should have way-finding markings in important areas such as the main lobby from the front door to the help desk and other major routes such as to main elevators, including colour contrasted markings such as a carpeted path or tactile walking surface indicators.
  1. d) Hospitals and other health care facilities with elevators should have accessible elevators that can accommodate people using mobility devices. They should also have accessible elevator buttons (with braille and large print on or beside each button), braille and large print floor numbers just outside elevator doors, and audible floor announcements on elevators. Elevator button panels should be consistent in layout from one elevator to the next.
  1. e) Health care facilities, including hospitals, should never install “destination elevators” which require a person to pre-select the floor to which they are going before entering the elevators. These present unfixable accessibility problems.
  1. f) Hospitals and other health care facilities should have accessible signage throughout, including braille and large print, for key locations. For example, public bathrooms should have accessible braille and large print signs on them. These signs should be placed in consistent and predictable locations.
  1. g) Where a health care facility has power doors that require a button to be pushed (i.e., they don’t open automatically), the button should always be located throughout the health care facility in a consistent place to make it easier to find. The button should be located near the door, so that a slow-moving individual can make it through the open door after pressing the button before the door closes. The button should always be located on the wall, and not on a free-standing post or bollard.
  1. h) Despite weaker requirements in other AODA accessibility standards, the Health Care Accessibility Standard should set out specific and strong requirements for the accessibility of any electronic kiosks in hospitals and other health care facilities, such as:
  1. i) specifying their required end-user functionality that effectively address recurring known needs arising from specific disabilities, and,
  1. ii) ensuring that they are at an accessible height e.g., for those using a wheelchair or other mobility device.

As a starting point, see the US Access Board’s standard for accessible electronic kiosks.

  1. i) Patient consultation or treatment rooms should have enough space to enable people using mobility devices to navigate in them and reach any treatment or consultation area. They should have enough space to enable a Sign Language interpreter to be positioned in the room to interpret for a deaf patient or support person.
  1. j) Movable furniture such as desks, tables or chairs should not obstruct accessible paths of travel around a facility where health care services are delivered, such as a doctor’s office, e.g., in their hallways or treatment rooms.
  1. k) Major health care facilities should provide accessible waiting areas for accessible transit pickup and drop-off, close to the pickup/drop-off point, with clear sight lines.
  1. l) Major health care facilities such as hospitals should be designed to avoid major sensory overstimulation or acoustic overloads, such as bright lights, loud music, large atrium areas, or frequent loud announcements. This is especially important in treatment areas or hospital rooms.
  1. m) Throughout a health care facility, proper colour contrasting should be required to assist people with low vision and cognitive disabilities, such as around elevator opening, doorways, and on the edge of stairs and handrails.
  1. n) Health care facilities should be required to have accessible bathrooms so that all patients can use the facilities, including adult change tables, sufficient transfer space and maneuvering room for mobility devices.
  1. o) Major health care facilities should include sensory rooms for people with sensory overload issues, such as in hospital emergency rooms.
  1. p) In a health care facility, all stairs and staircases, including “feature staircases” (included as aesthetic design enhancements) should be accessible, e.g., with tactile warnings at the top and bottom of each set of stairs, no open risers and with proper colour contrast on railings and step edges. There should never be curving staircases.
  1. q) Health care facilities should provide charging areas for electric mobility devices.
  1. r) Hospital rooms should be able to accommodate a patient’s mobility device so they can keep theirs with them and readily available when admitted to hospital.
  1. s) In a health care facility, waiting areas, isolation areas, breastfeeding rooms, staff areas and volunteer areas should be designed to be accessible.
  1. t) Accessible and bariatric paths of travel should be provided in health care facilities.
  1. u) Despite the more limited provisions regarding the provision of accessible parking spaces in other AODA accessibility standards, the Health Care Accessibility Standard should set higher and more specific requirements for accessible parking spaces for health care facilities, such as:
  1. i) requiring a greater number of accessible parking spots for the facility, where possible.
  1. ii) requiring that the accessible parking spots be located as close as possible to the doors of the health care facility.

iii) requiring that at least some of the accessible parking spots have larger dimensions to accommodate larger accessible vans, so that a passenger with a disability can park in that spot and have sufficient room to exit the vehicle, and

  1. iv) requiring that there be accessible curb cuts and an accessible path of travel from the accessible parking spots to the health care facilities’ entrances.
  1. v) Health Care facilities should have designated snow-piling areas outside, to prevent snow from being shoveled onto accessible paths of travel.
  1. w) Major health care facilities such as hospitals should provide service animal relief areas close to the facility’s door, covered wherever possible, with an accessible path of travel to them.
  1. x) When a major new health care facility like a hospital is being designed, or a major new wing or renovation is being planned, especially if public money is helping fund it, a properly trained and qualified accessibility consultant should be required to be engaged on the project from the very beginning. Their accessible design advice should be transmitted unedited to the Government or other organization for whom the project is being built and should be made public. Direct consultation with end-users with disabilities should be part of the design process from the beginning.

#17 The standard should require that:

  1. a) Each hospital patient’s bed should have an accessible means for a patient with disabilities to notify the nursing station of a health care need, not just a button or pull-string that they may not be able to reach and operate.
  1. b) Furniture such as seating in health care facilities should be designed with accessibility features and positioned in a manner that does not block accessible paths of travel.
  1. c) A Help Desk should be positioned immediately inside the main entrance of any major health care facility, including hospitals, to assist patients, including patients with disabilities, to get directions or help to their destination within the facility, or to request other accommodation supports.
  1. d) In any discrete department or area where health care services are provided, (such as an area for day surgery), the check-in desk should be located immediately adjacent to the entrance to that area, so that patients and support people with disabilities can easily reach it after entering the room or area.
  1. e) Accessible public service counters should be installed, even in existing health care facilities, with a specified height requirement, no glass barrier creating barriers for people with hearing loss and knee space for people using a mobility device.
  1. f) A large health care facility like a hospital should have rest areas along routes through the building so that people with fatiguing conditions can stop and rest along their route to get health care services.
  1. g) Health care facilities such as hospitals should have emergency areas of refuge with separate ventilation in case of fire, so that people with disabilities who cannot escape the building have safe areas to wait, while being protected from life-threatening smoke.
  1. h) The Ontario Government should make available to health care facilities and providers: guides on accessible procurement including procurement of accessible furniture, lists of vendors of accessible furniture. The Ontario Government should provide a hub for procuring accessible furniture to help health care facilities and providers reduce the cost of their acquisition.

#18 the Ministry of Health should within one year survey all offices of physicians, chiropractors, occupational and physiotherapists and other like health care providers where they provide direct health care services to patients, on the extent to which their premises are accessible for patients with disabilities. The Ministry should make public a report on the results of this survey (anonymized).

#19 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should set specific technical requirements for the accessibility of diagnostic and treatment equipment. As a starting point, the Health Care Standards Development Committee should consider the accessible medical diagnostic equipment standards that the US Access Board has formulated. The needs of patients with all kinds of disabilities, and not only those with mobility disabilities, should be met by the technical requirements that the Health Care Accessibility Standard sets.

#20 The Ontario Government should impose a strict funding condition on the purchase or rental of any new health care diagnostic or treatment equipment anywhere in the health care system requiring that it must be accessible to patients with disabilities and designed based on principles of universal design, in compliance with the technical standards to be included in the Health Care Accessibility Standard.

#21 The Ontario Government should be required to make readily available to health care providers and facilities, and to the public, an up-to-date list of accessible health care diagnostic and treatment equipment and venders, so that each health care provider and facility does not have to re-invent the wheel by re-investigating these same issues.

#22 To save money, the Ontario Government should be required to attempt to negotiate bulk purchasing of accessible diagnostic and treatment equipment so that health care facilities and providers can obtain them at lower prices.

#23 When health care facilities and providers purchase, rent or otherwise acquire new or replacement diagnostic or treatment equipment, these should be required to be accessible to patients with disabilities and to be designed based on principles of universal design.

#24 Health care facilities and providers should survey their existing diagnostic or treatment equipment, and take the following steps to address any accessibility problems they have, if that equipment is not now being replaced:

  1. a) Identify where the nearest place is where a patient can get diagnosis or treatment services where there is accessible diagnostic and treatment equipment, and to help facilitate the access of the patient with disabilities to health care services from that provider or facility.
  1. b) Adopt and implement an interim plan to make any readily achievable accessibility improvements to the health care facility’s or provider’s existing diagnostic or treatment equipment.
  1. c) Develop plans to purchase, rent or otherwise acquire accessible diagnostic or treatment equipment over a period of up to five years.

#25 These accessibility/universal design requirements should also apply to consumer health care products, such as for example, pill bottles.

#26 Because Ontario’s system for electronic health care records has been centrally created, the Health Care Accessibility Standard should require the Ontario Government and any provincial agency that is responsible for overseeing the design, procurement or operation of the system for electronic health care records to ensure that these records will be kept and available in accessible formats for patients and support people with disabilities, and, as a related benefit, to health care providers and their staff with disabilities, except where technically impossible. PDF format should not be treated as being an accessible format.

#27 Individual health care organizations or facilities, including laboratories, that create their own health care records in electronic form should also be required to ensure that they are readily available in accessible formats for patients with disabilities and any patients’ support people with disabilities, and, as a side benefit, for health care providers and their staff with disabilities, except where technically impossible.

#28 All the Initial Report’s recommendations on training on accessibility laws should be revised to explicitly include training on the accessibility requirements regarding people with disabilities in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

#29 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should require training on disability accessibility, disability human rights and disability Charter obligations for existing health care professionals as a condition of continuing in practice.

#30 The Ontario Government should be required to impose a condition of its funding for post-secondary education programs to train anyone in a health care discipline, profession or field, that the college or university that offers that degree or course must include a sufficient designated and mandatory curriculum on meeting the needs of patients with disabilities.

#31 Wherever possible, any new health care facility or provider receiving public funds that is setting up a new location should be required to locate at or near an accessible public transit stop on an accessible public transit route, with an accessible path of travel from the public transit stop to the health care facility or provider. Similarly, where an existing health care facility or provider is going to move to another location, it should be required to attempt to relocate to a location that is on an accessible public transit route.

#32 Where it is medically possible for a patient to take part in a health care service without physically attending at the health care facility or provider, an option should be provided for taking part remotely, e.g., via Facetime or other remote video conferencing. The Health Care Accessibility Standard should also require the removal of the OHIP barrier to funded physicians house calls.

#33 Where OHIP or a health care facility or provider has a policy or practice of permitting only one health issue per visit, an exception should be created for patients with disabilities for whom transportation to the health care facility is impeded by accessibility barriers.

#34 A health care facility or provider should not be permitted to charge a late fee or a missed appointment fee where a patient with a disability has in good faith attempted to attend on time but was made late or precluded from attending by transportation barriers (such as being made late for the appointment by the community’s para-transit service).

#35 When the Ontario Government is undertaking planning for new health care services, or for improvements to health care services, it should be required to include in those plans, and to make public, requirements to ensure that wherever possible, health care services and facilities are provided in locations on accessible public transit routes, with an accessible path of travel from the accessible public transit stop to the facility or provider.

#36 The 2011 Transportation Accessibility Standard should be amended to set accessibility requirements for public transit stations and stops, as the joint July 31, 2017 AODA Alliance/ARCH brief to the Transportation Standards Development Committee recommended.

#37 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should set technical specifications to ensure the full accessibility of ambulances and other vehicles that transport patients, including patients with disabilities, to or from health care services. See also below re: the need to include equipment in those vehicles for communication with patients with communication-related disabilities.

#38 Any health care facility or provider, including such places as doctors’ offices and pharmacies, should be required to designate an accessible private area where patients with disabilities can give and receive private information in connection with their health care services or products without others being able to overhear this.

#39 Health care facilities and providers should be required to notify all patients, including patients with disabilities, of their right to have their health care needs and issues discussed and information exchanged in a private location, and should instruct their staff, including any who deal with patients or the public, of their duty to fully respect this right.

#40 Without limiting the information and communications to which this part of the Health Care Accessibility Standard should apply, it should address:

  1. a) Information or communications needed to provide a health care provider with the patient’s history, needs, symptoms or other health problems.
  1. b) Information and communications regarding the patient’s diagnosis, prognosis or treatment, including any risks, follow-up or other health care services to secure.
  1. c) A health care facility’s discharge instructions.

#41 Health Care facilities should be equipped with assistive listening devices to enable patients with hearing loss and support people with hearing loss to be able to effectively communicate e.g., at nursing stations, help desks, and when dealing directly with health care providers.

#42 Health care-related products such as prescription and non-prescription medications should be provided when needed with accessible labels, instructions or users’ manuals, available in accessible formats. Those who sell or rent these to the public should be required to regularly notify the public, including their customers, that accessible labels, instructions, and users’ manuals are available on request. See e.g. work on developing standards and practices for accessible prescription drug container labels by the US Access Board. See also the February 6, 2020 news release announcing that the Empire chain of stores, including all Sobeys Stores, will provide accessible prescription labels to customers with disabilities free of charge on request. If they can, so can all other drug stores.

#43 Where a health care facility or health care provider provides information about their services or facilities in print or via the internet, they should be required to ensure that their website meets current international accessibility requirements along prompt time lines, even if the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard does not now require this. Currently, the Information and Communication Accessibility Information and Communication Accessibility Standard has too many exemptions, leaves out too many providers of goods and services, and has timelines that are too long. Whether or not those exemptions, exclusions and long timelines are justified for other sectors, they are unjustified for a sector as important as the health care sector.

#44 Ambulances and other vehicles that transport patients should include equipment to facilitate communication with patients with communication disabilities, such as remotely-accessed sign language interpretation and other communication supports.

#45 The Ontario Government should be required to set up hubs or centralized services to enable health care facilities and providers, including small providers, to quickly and easily access communication supports needed for patients with communication-related disabilities (for example Sign Language interpreters and real time captioning). The Ontario Government should fund these services as part of its funding of the health care system, in furtherance of the Supreme Court of Canada’s Eldridge decision.

#46 Any prepared information on health care conditions, treatment instructions, prognoses, risks, laboratory or other test results and the like which a health care facility or provider makes available to patients, whether in print or electronic form, should be made available at the same time on request in an accessible format. The standard should direct that PDF format is not sufficient to be accessible, and that if information is available in a PDF document, it should also be posted in an accessible format such as HTML or MS Word. Health care facilities and providers should be required to notify patients, including patients and their support people with disabilities, that any hard copy or electronic documents provided to them can be requested and obtained in an accessible format on request.

#47 Where a health care facility or provider asks patients or their support people to use information technology hardware or software in connection with the delivery of health care services (such as asking them to fill out their medical history on a portable computer or tablet device), the facility or provider shall:

  1. a) In the case of new or updated information technology or equipment to be acquired, ensure that it is accessible to people with disabilities and is designed based on principles of universal design;
  1. b) In the case of existing information technology now being used, retrofit to be accessible except where this would pose an undue hardship and,
  1. c) For those people who prefer this option, ensure that patients with disabilities or their support people with disabilities are assisted to use that technology, in private, at the same time as others would use it, where this would not reduce their access to the health care services to which it pertains.

#48 The Ontario Government should be required to develop and make public a strategy for ensuring that health care promotion initiatives in Ontario are accessible to people with disabilities. For example, it should require that:

  1. a) All advertisements for health care promotion should have captioning and audio description.
  1. b) All mail-out, printed and online materials focusing on health promotion should be required to be in accessible formats, regardless of any exemptions in the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.

#49 Hospitals and other major health care facilities should be required to provide support services for patients with disabilities when needed to ensure that those patients can fully access and benefit from the health care services that the facility offers, to let patients know about the availability of these services, and to annually publicly report on the number of staff available to provide this support, such as:

  1. a) Attendant care.
  1. b) Assistance with meals.
  1. c) Assistance with being guided to and getting around the health care facility e.g., for patients with vision loss or cognitive disabilities.

#50 In a hospital or other major health care facility, there should be one nurse at each nursing station designated to receive training and to be responsible for addressing the needs of patients with complex needs due to their disability.

#51 Each health care provider and facility should be required to put in place a system and designate a person to solicit and receive requests from patients or their support people for disability accommodations in connection with health care services or products.

#52 Each health care provider or facility should be required to make readily-available to the public, including to their patients, in an accessible format, information about how to identify themselves in advance to the health care provider as having disability-related accessibility or accommodation needs, and to ask to arrange for these needs to be met.

#53 Each hospital and larger health care facility should be required to collect anonymized information on disability-related accessibility and accommodation requests received from or on behalf of patients with disabilities, to assist that health care provider or facility in planning for future disability accessibility and accommodation. This anonymized information should be available for study by the Government or other health policy planners.

#54 The Chief Executive Officer of any hospital or large health care facility should be required to annually review the information that the facility has collected on the requests for disability accessibility and accommodation that the facility has received and report to the board of directors on measures that could improve the facility’s capacity to meet these needs.

#55 Each health care profession’s self-governing college should be required to:

  1. a) Review its public complaints process to identify any barriers at any stage in that process that could adversely affect people with disabilities filing a complaint, or about whom a complaint is filed.
  1. b) Develop a plan for removing and preventing any accessibility barriers identified, whether or not those barriers are specified in any current AODA accessibility standards.
  1. c) Publicly report to its governing board of directors and the public on these barriers and the college’s plans to remove and prevent such barriers, in order to achieve a barrier-free complaints process.
  1. d) Establish and maintain a standing committee of its governing board of directors responsible for the accessibility of the services that the college offers the public, including, but not limited to its public complaints process.
  1. e) Consult with the public, including people with disabilities, on barriers that people with disabilities experience when seeking the services of the health care professionals that that profession regulates, to be shared with the board’s Accessibility Committee. To avoid duplication of efforts and burdens on the disability community, several regulatory colleges can jointly undertake this consultation.

#56 The Ministry of Health should be required to designate a senior official at the “Assistant Deputy Minister” level as the leading public official who is responsible for ensuring accessibility, accommodation and inclusion for patients with disabilities in Ontario’s health care system. They should be responsible for ensuring that any policies, plans or proposals regarding the health care system are screened to ensure that they will not create any new barriers for patients with disabilities, and will instead remove barriers.

#57 The Ministry of Health should be required to conduct a system-wide review of the health care system for any systemic barriers, in consultation with the public including people with disabilities. It should identify and make public a plan to remove and prevent systemic or system-wide barriers that impede patients with disabilities from receiving accessible health care, along time lines that the Health Care Accessibility Standard will set.

#58 Each hospital and other major health care facility should be required to establish and regularly publicize a dedicated disability accessibility/accommodation complaints hotline, to trigger prompt action when problems are raised.

#59 The Ministry of Health should be required to establish and regularly publicize a hotline to receive complaints about accessibility problems facing patients and support people with disabilities in Ontario’s health care system. The Ministry should be required to annually publish a report with an anonymized summary of the substance of complaints received and action taken to prevent their recurrence.

#60 The Health Care Accessibility Standard should require the creation of authoritative, well-trained system navigators to assist patients with disabilities and their support people to navigate Ontario’s health care system.

#61 The OHIP fee schedule should be revised to provide for added time to serve the needs of patients with disabilities who need more time for assessment, diagnosis and treatment, to eliminate the harmful financial incentive that the Ontario Government now creates for physicians to avoid treating taking on those patients.

#62 Each hospital and major health care facility should be required to establish a committee of those employees and volunteers with disabilities who wish to voluntarily join it, to give the facility’s senior management feedback on the barriers in the health care facility that could impede patients with disabilities or any patients’ support people with disabilities, and/or employees/volunteers with disabilities.

#63 The Health Care Standards Development Committee should endorse the recommendations regarding health care services in the Initial Report of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario schools.

#64 The Initial Report’s Recommendation 15 regarding the conduct of an after-the fact review of the problems facing people with disabilities in accessing health care during the COVID-19 pandemic should be revised so that this review is an Independent Review conducted by trusted and respected persons who are independent of the Government and of the health care system.

#65 The Initial Report should recommend that the Health Care Accessibility Standard

  1. a) Require the Government to immediately rescind the January 13, 2021 critical care triage protocol and all directions and training materials relating to it, and should direct that these are not to be followed or considered appropriate under any situation.
  1. b) Require the Ontario Government to immediately make public all versions of the critical care triage protocol that have been in force in Ontario, or distributed to hospitals, as well as any critical care triage protocol or directions to ambulances or other emergency services, and any reports that the government received from the Government-appointed Bioethics Table.
  1. c) Require that if critical care triage is directed to occur during this or other emergencies, the Government shall make public on a daily basis the number of patients who are refused or denied critical care that they need and want, due to critical care triage.
  1. e) Require that the Clinical Frailty Scale shall not be used as a tool to decide who is to ever be refused critical care they need and want.
  1. f) Forbid the use or distribution of the “Short Term Mortality Risk Calculator” that was made available under the auspices of Critical Care Services Ontario to all Ontario hospitals.

#66 the Health Care Accessibility Standard should require the Government to ensure the availability of remote or distance delivery of health care services where medically feasible, and where patients with disabilities face barriers attending at a health care office or facility to receive such services.

#67 The Initial Report should be expanded to list a full range of disability barriers reported to the Standards Development Committee in access to health care during the pandemic.



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Ford Government Finally Makes Public the Initial Recommendations by the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on How to Make Ontario Schools Accessible for Students with Disabilities


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Ford Government Finally Makes Public the Initial Recommendations by the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee on How to Make Ontario Schools Accessible for Students with Disabilities

June 1, 2021

At long last, the Ford Government today belatedly made public the initial or draft recommendations on what the promised Education Accessibility Standard should include. The Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee submitted these initial or draft recommendations to the Government over two and a half months ago.

These will be available online for the public to submit feedback up to September 2, 2021, according to the Government announcement. That feedback will be sent to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee is then required to review that feedback and take it into account as it works to finalize its recommendations for the Government.

In addition to finding them on the Ford Government’s website, you can go to the AODA Alliance’s website to find the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s initial recommendations at https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Committee-Approved-K-12-Initial-Recommendations-Report-Submission-2021.docx

In addition to finding it on the Government’s website, you can also go to the AODA Alliance website to download the survey that the Government created and is inviting the public to answer to give feedback on these draft recommendations at https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/K-12-Initial-Recommendations-Report-Survey-Word-Version.docx

In contravention of s, 10(1) of the AODA, the Ford Government has still not publicly posted the initial or draft recommendations of the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee. On May 7, 2021 AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had to resort to filing a court application, arguing that the Ford Government is in breach of its duty to post the initial or final recommendations it receives from these Standards Development Committees upon receiving them. You can read more about that court application in the May 7, 2021 AODA Alliance Update.

The Government finally posted the initial recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee today, just two days before an upcoming conference call, scheduled for June 3, 2021 with a Superior Court judge. Lepofsky requested that call to ask that the Court schedule a hearing in court on his application as soon as possible on an urgent or expedited basis.

We will later have much to say about these initial or draft recommendations. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. He took active part in the development of these initial recommendations. Lepofsky believes that the members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee with whom he worked did an excellent job of undertaking the most thorough top-to-bottom review of Ontario’s education system in decades, if not ever, from the perspective of students with disabilities. He shares the committee’s eagerness for public feedback to help with the finalization of these recommendations.

The AODA Alliance welcomes your feedback on these initial or draft recommendations. To assist us in preparing a written brief to submit to the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, send your feedback to us at [email protected].

We want all Standards Development Committees that are now underway to get their finalized recommendations completed, submitted to the Ford Government, and posted publicly well before the Ontario Election campaign begins next spring. We want to be able to press all major political parties and candidates for commitments to detailed reforms in Ontario’s education and health care systems, to make them barrier-free for people with disabilities. Any delay in posting a Standards Development Committee’s initial or final recommendations hurts people with disabilities, delays progress on accessibility, and makes it harder for us to effectively avail ourselves of the democratic process during a provincial election.

Parents of students with disabilities can benefit from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky‘s captioned online video, already seen over 2,000 times. It offers practical tips on how to advocate for students with disabilities in the school system. This video fits well within the focus of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee’s initial recommendations.

For more background on the AODA Alliances multi-year campaign to tear down the barriers facing students with disabilities at all levels of Ontario’s education system, check out the AODA Alliance website’s education page.

You can also read the AODA Alliance’s October 10, 2019 Framework for what the promised Education Accessibility Standard should include.

In honour of this week, National AccessAbility Week, read the report card that the AODA Alliance made public on the Ford Government’s performance on disability accessibility issues during its first three years in office. The Ford Government was awarded an “F” grade.



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In a Detailed Report Card Delivered During National AccessAbility Week, the Ford Government Gets a Blistering “F” Grade for Its Three Year Record Since Taking Office on Action to Make Ontario Accessible for 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities


ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

In a Detailed Report Card Delivered During National AccessAbility Week, the Ford Government Gets a Blistering “F” Grade for Its Three Year Record Since Taking Office on Action to Make Ontario Accessible for 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities

May 31, 2021 Toronto: During National AccessAbility Week, the non-partisan grassroots AODA Alliance releases a report card (set out below) on the Ford Government’s record for tearing down the barriers that people with disabilities face, awarding the Government an “F” grade.

When he was campaigning for votes in the 2018 election, Doug Ford said that our issues “are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus” and that:

“Too many Ontarians with disabilities still face barriers when they try to get a job, ride public transit, get an education, use our healthcare system, buy goods or services, or eat in restaurants.”

Yet three years after taking office, people with disabilities are no better off, and in some important ways, are worse off, according to today’s new report card. Passed unanimously in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. Ontario is nowhere near that goal with under four years left. The Ford Government has no effective plan to meet that deadline.

This report card’s key findings include:

  1. The Ford Government has no comprehensive plan of action on accessibility, 851 days after receiving the Report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review.
  1. The Government has not ensured that public money will never be used to create new accessibility barriers.
  1. The Ford Government has failed to enact or strengthen any accessibility standards under the AODA.

 

  1. The Ford Government has announced no new action to effectively ensure the accessibility of public transportation.

 

  1. The Ford Government imposed substantial and harmful delays in the work of Five important AODA Standards Development Committees that was underway before the Government took office.

 

  1. The Ford Government has repeatedly violated its mandatory duty under the AODA to make public the initial or final recommendations of a Government-appointed Standards Development Committee “upon receiving” those recommendations.

 

  1. The Ford Government has failed for 3 years to fulfil its mandatory duty to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard.

 

  1. The Ford Government has made public no detailed plan for effective AODA enforcement.

 

  1. In a waste of public money, the Ford Government diverted 1.3 million dollars into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s controversial private accessibility certification process. This has resulted in no disability barriers being removed or prevented.

 

  1. The Ford Government unfairly burdened Ontarians with disabilities with having to fight against new safety dangers being created by municipalities allowing electric scooters.

 

  1. The Ford Government’s rhetoric has been harmfully diluting the AODA’s goal of full accessibility.

 

  1. The Ford Government has given public voice to false and troubling stereotypes About disability accessibility.

 

  1. The Ford Government has failed to effectively address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

  1. The lives of vulnerable Ontarians with disabilities are endangered by the Ford Government’s secret plans for critical care triage during the COVID-19 pandemic, If hospitals cannot serve All critical care Patients.

“We keep offering the Ford Government constructive ideas, but too often, they are disregarded,” said David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance which campaigns for accessibility for people with disabilities. “Premier Ford hasn’t even met with us, and has turned down every request for a meeting.”

AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has had to resort to a court application (now pending) to get the Ford Government to fulfil one of its important duties under the AODA, and a Freedom of Information application to try to force the Ford Government to release its secret plans for critical care triage if the COVID-19pandemic worsens, requiring rationing of critical care.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, [email protected]

Twitter: @aodaalliance

 A Report Card on the Ford Government’s Record, After Three Years in Office, on Achieving Disability Accessibility

May 31, 2021

Prepared by the AODA Alliance

 Introduction

This year’s National AccessAbility Week takes place when Ontario’s Ford Government is completing its third year of a four year term in office. This is an especially appropriate time to take stock of how well the Ford Government is doing at advancing the goal of making Ontario accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act enshrines in Ontario law.

It is with a strong sense of frustration that we award the Ford Government a failing “F” grade for its record on this issue.

The Ontario Public Service includes quite a number of public officials who are deeply and profoundly dedicated to the goal of tearing down barriers impeding people with disabilities, and preventing the creation of new disability barriers. They have commendably found quite a number of willing partners within the disability community (both individuals and disability organizations), and among obligated organizations in the public and private sectors. These partners are also committed to the goal of accessibility, and have in their spheres of influenced tried to move things forward. To all these people we and people with disabilities generally are indebted.

For example, several Standards Development Committees have been appointed under the AODA to craft recommendations on what enforceable AODA accessibility standards should include to be strong and effective. They have invested many hours, trying to come up with workable recommendations.

As well, over the past three years, the Ontario Government has continued to operate voluntary programs that have existed for years to contribute to the goal of accessibility. The Ford Government has also, we believe, improved things by freeing its Standards Development Committees from excessive involvement by Public Service staff. This has enabled those staff to support the work of those committees, while leaving them free to do their own work, devising recommendations for the Government.

However, all of that cannot succeed in bringing Ontario to the goal of an accessible province by 2025, without strong leadership by the Ontario Government and those who steer it. This has been the conclusion of three successive Independent Reviews, conducted under the AODA, by Charles Beer in 2010, by Mayo Moran in 2014 and by David Onley in 2018.

Over the past three years, we regret that that leadership has continued to be lacking. The result is that Ontario is falling further and further behind the goal of an accessible province by 2025. Less and less time is available to correct that.

This report details several of the key ways that the Ontario Government has fallen far short of what Ontarians with disabilities need. As the Government’s mandatory annual report on its efforts on accessibility back in 2019 reveals, the Government’s prime focus has been on trying to raise awareness about accessibility. As has been the Ontario Government’s practice for years, that 2019 annual report was belatedly posted on line on the eve of the 2021 National AccessAbility Week, two years after many of the events reported in it.

Decades of experience, leading to the enactment of the AODA in 2005, has proven over and over that such awareness-raising and voluntary measures won’t get Ontario to the goal of accessibility by 2025, or indeed, ever. As always, the AODA Alliance, as a non-partisan coalition, remains ready, willing, able, and eager to work with the Government, and to offer constructive ideas on how it can change course and fulfil the AODA’s dream that the Legislature unanimously endorsed in May 2005.

1. The Ford Government Has No Comprehensive Plan of Action on Accessibility, 851 Days After Receiving the Report of David Onley’s AODA Independent Review

We have been urging the Ford Government to develop a detailed plan on accessibility since shortly after it took office, to lay out how it will get Ontario to the AODA’s mandatory goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. It has never done so.

In December 2018, the Ford Government said it was awaiting the final report of former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, before deciding what it would do regarding accessibility for people with disabilities. On January 31, 2019, the Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Minister for Accessibility Raymond Cho publicly said on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job.”

The Onley report found that Ontario is still full of “soul-crushing” barriers impeding people with disabilities. It concluded that progress on accessibility has taken place at a “glacial pace.” It determined that that the goal of accessibility by 2025 is nowhere in sight, and that specific new Government actions, spelled out in the report, are needed.

However, in the 851 days since receiving the Onley Report, the Ford Government has not made public a detailed plan to implement that report’s findings and recommendations. The Government has staged some media events with the Accessibility Minister to make announcements, but little if anything new was ever announced. The Government repeated pledges to lead by example on accessibility, and to take an all-of-Government approach to accessibility. But these pledges were backed by nothing new to make them mean anything more than when previous governments and ministers engaged in similar rhetorical flourishes.

2. The Government Has Not Ensured that Public Money Will Never Be Used to Create New Accessibility Barriers

In its three years in office, we have seen no effective action by the Ford Government to ensure that public money is never used to create new disability barriers or to perpetuate existing barriers. The Ontario Government spends billions of public dollars on infrastructure and on procuring goods, services and facilities, without ensuring that no new barriers are thereby created, and that no existing barriers are thereby perpetuated.

As but one example, last summer, the Ford Government announced that it would spend a half a billion dollars on the construction of new schools and on additions to existing schools. However, it announced no action to ensure that those new construction projects are fully accessible to students, teachers, school staff and parents with disabilities. The Ontario Ministry of Education has no effective standards or policies in place to ensure this accessibility, and has announced no plans to create any.

3. The Ford Government Has Enacted or Strengthened No Accessibility Standards

In its three years in power, the Ford Government has enacted no new AODA accessibility standards. It has revised no existing accessibility standards to strengthen them. It has not begun the process of developing any new accessibility standards that were not already under development when the Ford Government took office in June 2018.

As one major example, the Ford Government has not committed to develop and enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard under the AODA, to ensure that the built environment becomes accessible to people with disabilities. No AODA Built Environment Accessibility Standard now exists. None is under development.

This failure to act is especially striking for two reasons. First, the last two AODA Independent Reviews, the 2014 Independent Review by Mayo Moran and the 2019 Independent Review by David Onley, each identified the disability barriers in the built environment as a priority. They both called for new action under the AODA. Second, when he was seeking the public’s votes in the 2018 Ontario election, Doug Ford made specific commitments regarding the disability barriers in the built environment. Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, setting out his party’s election commitments on disability accessibility, included this:

  1. a) “Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus and Candidates, which is why they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party to assist Ontarians in need.”
  1. b) “Whether addressing standards for public housing, health care, employment or education, our goal when passing the AODA in 2005 was to help remove the barriers that prevent people with disabilities from participating more fully in their communities.”
  1. c) “Making Ontario fully accessible by 2025 is an important goal under the AODA and it’s one that would be taken seriously by an Ontario PC government.”
  1. d) “This is why we’re disappointed the current government has not kept its promise with respect to accessibility standards. An Ontario PC government is committed to working with the AODA Alliance to address implementation and enforcement issues when it comes to these standards.

Ontario needs a clear strategy to address AODA standards and the Ontario Building Code’s accessibility provisions. We need Ontario’s design professionals, such as architects, to receive substantially improved professional training on disability and accessibility.”

4. The Ford Government Has Announced No New Action to Effectively Ensure the Accessibility of Public Transportation

Just before the 2018 Ontario election, the Ontario Government received the final recommendations for reforms to the Transportation Accessibility Standard from the AODA Transportation Standards Development committee. Since then, and over the ensuing three years in office, the Ford Government announced no action on those recommendations. It has not publicly invited any input or consultation on those recommendations. At the same time, the Ford Government has made major announcements about the future of public transit infrastructure in Ontario. As such, barriers in public transportation remained while the risk remains that new ones will continue to be created.

 5. The Ford Government Imposed Substantial and Harmful Delays in the Work of Five Important AODA Standards Development Committees that was Underway Before the Government Took Office

When the Ford Government won the 2018 Ontario election, the work of five AODA Standards Development Committees were all frozen, pending the new Minister for Accessibility getting a briefing. Any delay in the work of those committees would further slow the AODA’s sluggish implementation documented in the Onley Report.

Those Standards Development Committees remained frozen for months, long after the minister needed time to be briefed. We had to campaign for months to get that freeze lifted.

Over four months later, in November 2018, the Ford Government belatedly lifted its freeze on the work of the Employment Standards Development Committee and the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. However it did not then also lift the freeze on the work of the three other Standards Development Committees, those working on proposals for accessibility standards in health care and education.

We had to keep up the pressure for months. The Ford Government waited until March 7, 2019 before it announced that it was lifting its freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. It was as long as half a year after that announcement that those three Standards Development Committees finally got back to work.

In the meantime, the many unfair disability barriers in Ontario’s education system and Ontario’s health care system remained in place, while new ones continued to be created. The final enactment of new accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education was delayed commensurately, as was the enactment of revisions to strengthen Ontario’s 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard and Ontario’s 2011 Employment Accessibility Standard.

6. The Ford Government Has Repeatedly Violated Its Mandatory Duty Under the AODA to Make Public the Initial or Final Recommendations of a Government-Appointed Standards Development Committee “Upon Receiving” Those Recommendations

Section 10(1) of the AODA requires the Government to make public the initial or final recommendations that it receives from a Standards Development Committee, appointed under the AODA “upon receiving” those recommendations. The Ontario Government under successive governments and ministers has wrongly taken the approach that it can delay making those recommendations public for months despite the AODA‘s clear, mandatory and unambiguous language.

The Ford Government has certainly taken this troubling approach. It delayed some two years before making public the final recommendations of the Employment Standards Development Committee earlier this year. It delayed some six months before making public the final recommendations of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee last year. It delayed over five months before making public the initial recommendations of the Health Care Standards Development Committee earlier this month. It has delayed over two months so far in making public the initial recommendations of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee.

As a result, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky has brought a court application, now pending, to seek an order compelling the Ford Government to obey the AODA. This is especially disturbing, because the Government is leading by such a poor example when it comes to the AODA. Its delay in complying with s. 10 of the AODA slows the already-slow process of developing and enacting or revising accessibility standards under the AODA.

7. The Ford Government Has for 3 Years Failed to Fulfil Its Mandatory Duty to Appoint A Standards Development Committee to Review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard

The AODA required the Ontario Government to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the Public Spaces Accessibility Standard by the end of 2017. Neither the previous Wynne Government nor the current Ford Government have fulfilled this legal duty. This is a mandatory AODA requirement.

The Ford Government has had three years in office to learn about this duty and to fulfil it. We flagged it for the Government very soon after it took office in 2018.

8. The Ford Government Has Made Public No Detailed Plan for Effective AODA Enforcement

During its three years in office, the Ford Government has announced no public plan to substantially strengthen the AODA’s weak enforcement. Three years ago, the Ford Government inherited the previous McGuinty Government’s and Wynne Government’s multi-year failure to effectively and vigourously enforce the AODA. What little enforcement that took place fell far short of what people with disabilities needed, as is confirmed in both the 2015 Moran Report and the 2019 Onley Report. The failure to effectively enforce the AODA has contributed to Ontario falling so far behind the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.

 

9. In a Waste of Public Money, the Ford Government Diverted 1.3 Million Dollars into the Rick Hansen Foundation’s Controversial Private Accessibility Certification Process

The only significant new action that the Ford Government has announced on accessibility over its first three years in office was its announcement over two years ago in the April 11, 2019 Ontario Budget that it would spend 1.3 million public dollars over two years to have the Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification process “certify” some 250 buildings, belonging to business or the public sector, for accessibility. In two years, this has not been shown to lead to the removal or prevention of a single barrier against people with disabilities anywhere in the built environment. It has predictably been a waste of public money.

The Ford Government did not consult the AODA Alliance or, to our knowledge, the disability community, before embarking on this wasteful project. It ignored serious concerns with spending public money on such a private accessibility certification process. These concerns have been public for well over five years. The Ford Government gave no public reasons for rejecting these concerns.

A private accessibility certification risks misleading the public, including people with disabilities. It also risks misleading the organization that seeks this so-called certification. It “certifies” nothing.

A private organization might certify a building as accessible, and yet people with disabilities may well find that the building itself, or the services offered in the building, still have serious accessibility problems. Such a certification provides no defence to an accessibility complaint or proceeding under the AODA, under the Ontario Building Code, under a municipal bylaw, under the Ontario Human Rights Code, or under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

If an organization gets a good -level accessibility certification, it may think they have done all they need to do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be misled to think that this is a model of accessibility to be emulated, and that it is a place that will be easy to fully access. This can turn out not to be the case, especially if the assessor uses the Rick Hansen Foundation’s insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if the assessor’s only training is the inadequate short training that the Rick Hansen Foundation created.

For example, the Ford Government got the Rick Hansen Foundation to certify as accessible the huge New Toronto Courthouse now under construction. Yet we have shown that its plans are replete with serious accessibility problems. The Rick Hansen Foundation’s assessor never contacted the AODA Alliance to find out about our serious concerns with the courthouse’s design before giving it a rating of “accessible.”

The Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification process lacks much-needed public accountability. The public has no way to know if the private accessibility assessor is making accurate assessments. It is not subject to Freedom of Information laws. It operates behind closed doors. It lacks the kind of public accountability that applies to a government audit or inspection or other enforcement. For more details on the problems with private accessibility certification processes, read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process.

10. The Ford Government Unfairly Burdened Ontarians with Disabilities with Having to Fight Against New Barriers Being Created by Municipalities Allowing Electric Scooters

It is bad enough that the Ford Government did too little in its first three years in office to tear down the many existing barriers that impede people with disabilities. It is even worse that the Government took action that will create new disability barriers, and against which people with disabilities must organize to battle at the municipal level.

When the Ford Government took office in June 2018, it was illegal to ride electric scooters (e-scooters) in public places. In January 2019, over the strenuous objection of Ontario’s disability community, the Ford Government passed a new regulation. It lets each municipality permit the use of e-scooters in public places, if they wish. It did not require municipalities to protect people with disabilities from the dangers that e-scooters pose to them.

Silent, high-speed e-scooters racing towards pedestrians at over 20 KPH, ridden by an unlicensed, untrained, uninsured joy-riders, endanger people with disabilities, seniors, children and others. Leaving e-scooters strewn all over in public places, as happens in other cities that permit them, creates physical barriers to people using wheelchairs and walkers. They create tripping hazards for people with vision loss.

Torontonians with disabilities had to mount a major campaign to convince Toronto City Council to reject the idea of allowing e-scooters. They were up against a feeding-frenzy of well-funded and well-connected corporate lobbyists, the lobbyists who clearly hold sway with the Ontario Premier’s office.

Unlike Toronto, Ottawa and Windsor have allowed e-scooters, disregarding the danger they now pose for people with disabilities. Some other Ontario cities are considering allowing them.

Thanks to the Ford Government, people with disabilities must now campaign against e-scooters, city by city. This is a huge, unfair burden that people with disabilities did not need, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a cruel irony that the Ford Government unleashed the danger of personal injuries by e-scooters at the same time as it has said it wants to reduce the number of concussions in Ontario.

11. The Ford Government’s Rhetoric Has Been Harmfully Diluting the AODA’s Goal of Full Accessibility

A core feature of the AODA is that it requires Ontario become “accessible” to people with disabilities by 2025. It does not merely say that Ontario should become “more accessible” by that deadline.

Yet, the Ford Government too often only talks about making Ontario more accessible. In fairness, the previous Ontario Liberal Government under Premier Dalton McGuinty and later Premier Kathleen Wynne too often did the same.

This dilutes the goal of the AODA, for which people with disabilities fought so hard for a decade. It hurts people with disabilities. It is no doubt used to try to lower expectations and over-inflate any accomplishments.

 

12. The Ford Government Has Given Public Voice to False Troubling Stereotypes About Disability Accessibility

 

Two years ago, the Ford Government publicly voiced very troubling and harmful stereotypes about the AODA and disability accessibility during National AccessAbility Week.

In 2019, during National AccessAbility Week, NDP MPP Joel Harden proposed a that the Legislature pass a resolution that called for the Government to bring forward a plan in response to the Onley Report. The resolution was worded in benign and non-partisan words, which in key ways tracked Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance. The proposed resolution stated:

“That, in the opinion of this House, the Government of Ontario should release a plan of action on accessibility in response to David Onley’s review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act that includes, but is not limited to, a commitment to implement new standards for the built environment, stronger enforcement of the Act, accessibility training for design professionals, and an assurance that public money is never again used to create new accessibility barriers.”

Premier Ford had every good reason to support this proposed resolution, as we explained in the June 10, 2019 AODA Alliance Update. Yet, as described in detail in the June 11, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Doug Ford Government used its majority in the Legislature to defeat this resolution on May 30, 2019, right in the middle of National Access Abilities Week.

The speeches by Conservative MPPs in the Legislature on the Government’s behalf, in opposition to that motion, voiced false and harmful stereotypes about disability accessibility. Those statements in effect called into serious question the Ford Government’s commitment to the effective implementation and enforcement of the AODA. They denigrated the creation and enforcement of AODA accessibility standards as red tape that threatened to imperil businesses and hurt people with disabilities.

13. The Ford Government Has Failed to Effectively Address the Urgent Needs of Ontarians with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

All of the foregoing would be enough in ordinary times to merit the “F” grade which the Ford Government is here awarded. However, its treatment of people with disabilities and their accessibility needs during the COVID-19 pandemic makes that grade all the more deserved.

In the earliest weeks, the Government deserved a great deal of leeway for responding to the pandemic, because it was understandably caught off guard, as was the world, by the enormity of this nightmare. However, even well after the initial shock period when the pandemic hit and for the year or more since then, the Ford Government has systemically failed to effectively address the distinctive and heightened urgent needs of people with disabilities in the pandemic.

People with disabilities were foreseeably exposed to disproportionately contract COVID-19, to suffer its worst hardships and to die from it. Yet too often the Government took a failed “one size fits all” approach to its emergency planning, that failed to address the urgent needs of people with disabilities. This issue has preoccupied the work of the AODA Alliance and many other disability organizations over the past 14 months.

Two of the areas where the Government most obviously failed were in health care and education. This is especially inexcusable since the Government had the benefit of a Health Care Standards Development Committee, a K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and a Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee to give the Government ideas and advice throughout the pandemic. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee delivered a detailed package of recommendations for the pandemic response four months into the pandemic. Yet those recommendations have largely if not totally gone unimplemented.

The Government repeatedly left it to each school board, college, university, and health care provider to each separately figure out what disability barriers had arisen during the pandemic, and how to remove and prevent those barriers. This is a predictable formula for wasteful duplication of effort, for increased costs and workloads, all in the middle of a pandemic.

For example, the Ford Government largely left it to each frontline teacher and principal to figure out how to accommodate the recurring needs of students with different disabilities during distance learning. The Government relied on TVO as a major partner in delivering distance learning to school students, even though TVO’s distance learning offerings have accessibility barriers that are unforgivable at any time, and especially during a pandemic.

As another example, the Ford Government did not properly plan to ensure that the process for booking and arranging a COVID-19 vaccine was disability-accessible. There is no specific accessible booking hotline to help people with disabilities navigate the booking process from beginning to end.

There is no assurance that drug stores or others through whom vaccines can be booked have accessible websites. We have received complaints that the Government’s own online booking portal has accessibility problems. Arranging for a barrier-free vaccination for People with Disabilities is even harder than the public is finding for just booking a vaccination for those with no disabilities.

14. The Lives of Vulnerable People with Disabilities are Endangered by the Ford Government’s Secret Plans for Critical Care Triage During the COVID-19 Pandemic, If Hospitals Cannot Serve All Critical Care Patients

The AODA Alliance, working together with other disability organizations, has also had to devote a great deal of effort to try to combat the danger that vulnerable people with disabilities would face disability discrimination in access to life-saving critical care if the pandemic overloads hospitals, leading to critical care triage. The Ford Government has created new disability barriers by allowing clear disability discrimination to be entrenched in Ontario’s critical care triage protocol. Even though formal critical care triage has not yet been directed, there is a real danger that it has occurred on the front lines without proper public accountability e.g. by ambulance crews declining to offer critical care to some patients at roadside, when called via 911.

The Ford Government has allowed a concerted disinformation campaign to be led by those who designed the Ontario critical care triage protocol, and who are falsely claiming that there is no disability discrimination in that protocol.

Further Background

Further background on all of the issues addressed in this report card can be found on the AODA Alliance’s web site. It has separate pages, linked to its home page, addressing such topics as accessibility issues in transportation, health care, education, information and communication, the built environment, AODA enforcement, and disability issues arising during the COVID-19 pandemic, among others. Follow @aodaalliance



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For over 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Sunday January 31, 2021 Will Be The Ford Government’s Sad Two Year Anniversary of Inaction On Disability Accessibility


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

For over 2.6 Million Ontarians with Disabilities, Sunday January 31, 2021 Will Be The Ford Government’s Sad Two Year Anniversary of Inaction On Disability Accessibility

January 29, 2021

            SUMMARY

Ontario is on the verge of a deeply troubling anniversary of Ontario Government inaction. This Sunday, January 31, 2021 marks the two year anniversary since the Ford Government received the blistering  final report of the Independent Review of the Implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. This report was written by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley.

In the two years since it received this report, the Ford Government has announced no strong, comprehensive plan to implement its recommendations. Most of its recommendations have not been implemented at all. This is so even though Ontario’s Accessibility Minister, Raymond Cho said in the Legislature on April 10, 2019 that David Onley did a “marvelous job” and that Ontario is only 30 percent along the way towards the goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities.

It is a wrenching irony that this anniversary of inaction comes right after we celebrated the 40th anniversary of Canada’s Parliament deciding to include equality for people with disabilities in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That momentous breakthrough took place on January 28, 1981, 40 years ago yesterday. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in no small part to implement that constitutional right to equality for people with disabilities.

Over the past two years, the AODA Alliance has spearheaded grassroots efforts to get the Ford Government to come forward with a strong and comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report. We have offered many constructive recommendations. We have also offered the Government our help. On Twitter and in our AODA Alliance Updates, we have maintained an ongoing count of the number of days that had passed since the Government received the Onley Report, keeping the spotlight on this issue. As of today, it has been 729 days.

The Government has taken a few new actions on accessibility since it took office in June 2018, the most important of which are summarized below. But these have been slow, halting and inadequate.

            MORE DETAILS

 1. What the Onley Report Found About the Plight of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities

In February 2018, the Ontario Government appointed David Onley to conduct a mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. He was mandated to recommend reforms needed to ensure that Ontario becomes accessible by 2025, the goal which the AODA requires. Based on public feedback he received, the Onley report found that the pace of change since 2005 for people with disabilities has been “glacial.” With under six years then left before 2025 (now less than four years), the Onley report found that “…the promised accessible Ontario is nowhere in sight.” Onley concluded that progress on accessibility for people with disabilities under this law has been “highly selective and barely detectable.”

David Onley also found “…this province is mostly inaccessible.” The Onley Report accurately concluded:

“For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”

The Onley Report said damning things about years of the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. He in effect found that there has been a protracted, troubling lack of Government leadership on this issue, even though two prior Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews called for renewed, strengthened leadership:

“The Premier of Ontario could establish accessibility as a government-wide priority with the stroke of a pen. Our previous two Premiers did not listen to repeated pleas to do this.”

The Onley Report made concrete, practical recommendations to substantially strengthen the Government’s weak, flagging AODA implementation and enforcement. Set out below is the Onley Report’s summary of its recommendations. Many if not most of them echo the findings and recommendations that the AODA Alliance submitted in its detailed January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley Review. Among other things, David Onley called for the Government to substantially strengthen AODA enforcement, create new accessibility standards including for barriers in the built environment, strengthen the existing AODA accessibility standards, and reform the Government’s use of public money to ensure it is never used to create disability barriers.

 2. What New Has the Ford Government Done on Accessibility Since the Onley Report?

It was good, but long overdue, that when releasing the Onley report back in March 2019, the Ford Government at last lifted its inexcusable 258 day-long freeze on the important work of three Government-appointed advisory committees. These committees were mandated under the AODA to recommend what regulations should be enacted to tear down disability barriers in Ontario’s education system impeding students with disabilities, and in Ontario’s health care system obstructing patients with disabilities. The AODA Alliance led the fight for the previous nine months to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze. Because of those delays, the Government delayed progress on accessibility for people with disabilities in health care and education. We are feeling the harmful effects of those delays during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ford Government’s main focus of its efforts on accessibility for people with disabilities has been on educating the public on the benefits of achieving accessibility for people with disabilities. That is work that the previous Government had been doing for over a decade. That alone will not bring about significant progress.

Since releasing the Onley Report, the Ford Government has held a couple of staged ministerial events, on January 28, 2019 and on October 29, 2019 (for which an inaccessible email invitation was sent), supposedly to announce a framework to implement the Onley Report. However they announced little, if anything, new. To the contrary, they focused on re-announcing things the Government had been doing for years, including at least one measure dating back to the Bob Rae NDP Government that was in power over a quarter century ago.

The Government has announced no plans to implement any of the recommendations for reform of accessibility standards from the Transportation Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report to the Ontario Government in the spring of 2018, almost three years ago) or the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee (which submitted its final report some ten or eleven months ago).

The Government has had in hand for at least a month, if not more, the initial report of the Health Care Standards Development Committee. It must be posted for public comment. The Government has not posted it, or announced when it will do so. In the midst of this pandemic, swift action in the area of health care accessibility is desperately needed for people with disabilities and all Ontarians.

In the meantime, the one major new strategy on disability accessibility that the Ford Government has announced in its over two and a half years in office has been an action that David Onley never recommended and has, to our knowledge, never publicly endorsed. The Government diverted 1.3 million public dollars to the seriously problematic Rick Hansen Foundation’s private building accessibility “certification” program. We have made public serious concerns about that plan. The Government never acted on those concerns. Almost two years later, there is no proof that that misuse of public money led to the removal of any barriers in an Ontario building.

Despite announcing that the Government will take an “all of Government” approach to accessibility in response to the Onley Report, we have seen the opposite take place. TVO has not fixed the serious accessibility problems with its online learning resources, much needed during distance learning in this pandemic. The Government is building a new courthouse in downtown Toronto with serious accessibility problems about which disability advocates forewarned. During the pandemic, the Government has had circulated two successive critical care triage protocols which direct hospitals to use an approach to triage that would discriminate against some patients with disabilities and has refused to directly speak to us about these concerns. Over our objection, the Government has unleashed electric scooters on Ontarians, exposing people with disabilities to dangers to their safety and accessibility. This is all amply documented on the AODA Alliance’s website.

Over 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities deserve better.

 3. The Onley Report’s Summary of Its Recommendations

  1. Renew government leadership in implementing the AODA.

Take an all-of-government approach by making accessibility the responsibility of every ministry.

Ensure that public money is never used to create or maintain accessibility barriers.

Lead by example.

Coordinate Ontario’s accessibility efforts with those of the federal government and other provinces.

  1. Reduce the uncertainty surrounding basic concepts in the AODA.

Define “accessibility”.

Clarify the AODA’s relationship with the Human Rights Code.

Update the definition of “disability”.

  1. Foster cultural change to instill accessibility into the everyday thinking of Ontarians.

Conduct a sustained multi-faceted public education campaign on accessibility with a focus on its economic and social benefits in an aging society.

Build accessibility into the curriculum at every level of the educational system, from elementary school through college and university.

Include accessibility in professional training for architects and other design fields.

  1. Direct the standards development committees for K-12 and Post-Secondary Education and for Health Care to resume work as soon as possible.
  1. Revamp the Information and Communications standards to keep up with rapidly changing technology.
  1. Assess the need for further standards and review the general provisions of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation.
  1. Ensure that accessibility standards respond to the needs of people with environmental sensitivities.
  1. Develop new comprehensive Built Environment accessibility standards through a process to:

Review and revise the 2013 Building Code amendments for new construction and major renovations

Review and revise the Design of Public Spaces standards

Create new standards for retrofitting buildings.

  1. Provide tax incentives for accessibility retrofits to buildings.
  1. Introduce financial incentives to improve accessibility in residential housing.

Offer substantial grants for home renovations to improve accessibility and make similar funds available to improve rental units.

Offer tax breaks to boost accessibility in new residential housing.

  1. Reform the way public sector infrastructure projects are managed by Infrastructure Ontario to promote accessibility and prevent new barriers.
  1. Enforce the AODA.

Establish a complaint mechanism for reporting AODA violations.

Raise the profile of AODA enforcement.

  1. Deliver more responsive, authoritative and comprehensive support for AODA implementation.

Issue clear, in-depth guidelines interpreting accessibility standards.

Establish a provincewide centre or network of regional centres offering information, guidance, training and specialized advice on accessibility.

Create a comprehensive website that organizes and provides links to trusted resources on accessibility.

  1. Confirm that expanded employment opportunities for people with disabilities remains a top government priority and take action to support this goal.
  1. Fix a series of everyday problems that offend the dignity of people with disabilities or obstruct their participation in society.



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Send Us Your Feedback on the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee’s Final Recommendations on What is Needed to Strengthen the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, Enacted under Ontario’s Disabilities Act


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Send Us Your Feedback on the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee‘s Final Recommendations on What is Needed to Strengthen the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, Enacted under Ontario’s Disabilities Act

December 17, 2020

            SUMMARY

Over the past weeks, there has been a ton of breaking news on different fronts of our never-ending campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. Before we shut down for the holidays, we’re going to try to catch you up on some that we have not earlier been able to address.

On or around November 16, 2020, the Ford Government made public the final recommendations of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. We set out those final recommendations below.

What is this about and what does it mean for 2.6 million Ontarians with disabilities? The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the Government to lead Ontario to become fully accessible by 2025. The Government must enact and effectively enforce all the accessibility standards needed to ensure that the AODA’s goal is achieved. An accessibility standard is an enforceable and binding provincial regulation that spells out what an obligated organization must do to prevent and remove accessibility barriers and that sets timelines for action.

Almost ten years ago, back in June 2011, the Ontario Government enacted the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation (IASR) under the AODA. Among other things, that regulation includes a series of provisions requiring the accessibility of information and communication. Those provisions are often called the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard.

Under the AODA, the Ontario Government is required to appoint a Standards Development Committee five years or less after an accessibility standard is enacted, to review it and see if it needs to be improved. Therefore, in 2016, the Ontario Government appointed the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee to review the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, and to recommend any revisions needed so that this accessibility standard would best achieve the AODA’s purposes.

After meeting over a period of months, the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee came up with a package of draft recommendations on how to strengthen the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. On July 24, 2019, the Ontario Government posted those draft recommendations online and invited public input on them. The Ontario Government was required to do this under the AODA.

The public then had a few weeks to give feedback to the Standards Development Committee on its draft recommendations. For example, the AODA Alliance submitted a 73 page brief to the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee on November 25, 2019. Our brief commended much of what was in the Committee’s draft recommendations. It also offered extensive feedback and recommendations to the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee.

That Standards Development Committee was then required to meet again to consider all the feedback it received from the public. It did so. Among other things, on January 22, 2020, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was given an opportunity to present in person for 30 minutes to the Committee.

The Information and Communication Standards Development Committee then finalized its package of recommendations for revisions to the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. On February 28, 2020, the Standards Development Committee submitted those recommendations to the Ford Government. The Government is required to make those recommendations public, so the public can give the Government feedback on them. For no discernible or justifiable reason, the Ford Government held off making the Standards Development Committee’s final recommendations public for eight months.

What comes next? Under the AODA, the Government can enact revisions to the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard. It can make all, some or none of the changes that the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee recommended. It can also enact revisions beyond those that the Standards Development Committee recommended.

We and the public therefore now have an opportunity to take our case for revisions directly to the Ford Government. We therefore invite your feedback on the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee‘s final recommendations, set out below. Given the incredible number of issues we are now addressing, we have not yet had a chance to analyze the Standards Development Committee’s final report and recommendations. You can always send us your thoughts by emailing us at [email protected]

Under the AODA, the Government is required to post the Standards Development Committee’s final recommendations for 45 days. Sadly, the Government under successive premiers has at times followed an irrational practice of taking down those recommendations after the minimum time period that the AODA requires them to be posted. Nothing would stop the Government from leaving them up and visible to all on the internet on a permanent basis. That would provide greater openness and accountability for the Government and the AODA itself.

Despite the Government’s past practice in this area, the AODA Alliance will continue its practice of leaving such reports and recommendations permanently posted on our website.

If the Government decides to make revisions to the Information and Communication Accessibility Standard, the AODA requires the Government to post the wording of the draft regulation it proposes to enact, for public comment. We will let you know if the Government does this.

We offer two examples here of the need for prompt action in this area. First, as was pointed out in the December 8, 2020 panel on accessible education on The Agenda with Steve Paikin, TVO’s online educational materials for school students doing distance learning are still replete with accessibility problems. TVO has announced no detailed plan of action to fix these. TVO is owned and operated by the Ontario Government.

Second, just weeks ago, the Ford Government’s Accessibility Minister issued an invitation in an inaccessible broadcast email to an upcoming event where he was to make an announcement on accessibility. The Government apologized for this. As it turned out, nothing new was announced at the event in question.

The Ford Government has repeatedly claimed to be “leading by example” on accessibility. These incidents are an awful example by which Ontarians should not be led in the area of accessible information and communication.

So far, the Ford Government has been very lethargic in fulfilling its duties to develop accessibility standards under the AODA. For example:

  1. In the spring of 2018, weeks before the 2018 Ontario provincial election, the Transportation Standards Development Committee submitted to the Government its final report proposing revisions needed to the 2011 Transportation Accessibility Standard. That has languished on the Ford Government’s desk since it took office in June 2018, two and a half years ago. Since then, the Government has not invited any public feedback on this, and has announced no plans in this area. Ontario thus continues to have a public transit system replete with disability barriers.
  1. As noted above, the Government sat on the final report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee for over a half a year before fulfilling its duty to make that report public, for public input.
  1. The Government still has not fulfilled its duty to appoint a Standards Development Committee to review the 2012 Public Spaces Accessibility Standard. The Government was required to appoint that Standards Development Committee fully three years ago. The current Government is on the hook for two and a half of the three years of AODA contravention.
  1. On taking office, the Ford Government left five existing Standards Development Committees frozen and in limbo for months, before allowing them to get back to fulfil their mandatory work. We had to campaign for months to get them unfrozen. That included, among others, the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee.

For more information on our multi-year campaign to make information and communication fully accessible to people with disabilities, visit the AODA Alliance’s information and communication web page.

To see what we asked the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee to recommend to the Ford Government, check out the AODA Alliance’s November 25, 2019 brief to the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee.

There have now been an unbelievable 686 days since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has still announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that blistering report, including its strong recommendations regarding the development of strong accessibility standards. That delay makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, addressed in a new online video we recently unveiled.

            MORE DETAILS

Information and Communication Standards Development Committee Chair’s letter to the minister

February 28, 2020

The Honourable Raymond Cho
Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
777 Bay Street
5th Floor, Toronto, Ontario
M7A 1S5

Dear Minister,

The Information and Communications Standards Development Committee has completed our legislative review of the Information and Communications Standards. As chair and on behalf of the committee, I am pleased to submit the final recommendations report for the proposed accessibility standard for your consideration.

In meeting the provisions of the legislative review, as set out in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, we re-examined the long-term objective of the Information and Communications Standards and each of the requirements. Our review included all of the Standard’s sections, the focus areas identified in the terms of reference, and additional items raised by committee members well as a limited amount of external feedback.

As you wisely requested, we considered how to make it easier for businesses and the public sector to achieve accessibility in all of the recommendations.

The report is structured in two phases, stemming from an early and clear consensus that the current structure of standards is not keeping pace with technology. Phase 1 contains 32 recommendations that the committee is proposing as immediate solutions to identified gaps and unintended barriers in the current standards. Phase 2 proposes a new model to transform and modernize the regulatory approach to accessibility in Ontario. It could be applied first to the Information and Communications Standards and would allow organizations to continuously adapt and improve their websites, web content and technology up to and beyond 2025. If the model proves successful, the committee’s intent is that government explore applying it to other accessibility standards in the future. Phase 2 is a proposal for culture change in Ontario.

Our committee had extensive discussions in reviewing the path to a province where people with disabilities be able to participate fully and equitably in the creation and use of information and communication. As chair, and in-line with The Honourable David Onley’s recent report, I assess that relying on the AODA and its associated Standards will never achieve that objective. More is needed, and this report only begins to address those needs.

We considered public feedback and stakeholder presentations in finalizing our recommendations. We have reflected this in the report. We thank the individuals, and organizations who provided feedback on the initial recommendations report.

As chair, and past chair of Accessibility Standards Advisory Committee, it is prudent for me to comment on the effectiveness of the Standards development process. In short, the Standard development process is broken, primarily for the reasons listed below:

  1. Research and feedback: Current sources of information on the experiences of people with disabilities and obligated organizations are too narrow and heavily biased by lobby groups. The voices of individual people with disabilities and “obligated organizations” must be sought out broadly and intentionally. The few sources that are available are gathered at the end of the process – these ongoing insights must seed the process, not merely confirm its outcome.
  2. Bounded by current standards: Understanding that legislation requires an explicit review (as is current interpretation), the process needs to be more responsive to on-the-ground realities that may or may not be covered by legislation.
  3. Timing and permanency: These reviews are by nature, periodic. Instead, permanent bodies, staffed by full time professional appointees must be the norm. These appointees must be paid a significant salary to attract the best and brightest in Ontario, or more boldly, globally. These professionals are better equipped to capture and react to insights gathered from a vastly to-be-improved research process.
  4. Encourage risk and failure: Disability regulations around the world have failed to deliver on their promise. Acknowledge that publicly. Encourage, and fund, innovation that ensures Ontario is a place where people with disabilities be able to participate fully and equitably in all aspects of the economy and society. Notice that mere accessibility is not the benchmark.

It has been an honour to chair this committee and work alongside such dedicated members who exude professionalism and are comfortable with taking risk.

We look forward to the Minister’s response on these final recommendations.

Sincerely,
Rich Donovan
Chair of Information and Communications Standards Development Committee

Final Report of the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee

 

Originally posted at https://www.ontario.ca/page/copyright-information-c-queens-printer-ontario

 

Introduction

Recognizing the history of discrimination against persons with disabilities in Ontario, the purpose of this act is to benefit all Ontarians by developing, implementing and enforcing accessibility standards in order to achieve accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises on or before January 1, 2025; and providing for the involvement of persons with disabilities, of the Government of Ontario and of representatives of industries and of various sectors of the economy in the development of the accessibility standards.

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005

The act became law in 2005. Its stated goal is the creation of an accessible Ontario by 2025, through the development, implementation and enforcement of accessibility standards that apply to the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

With the act, Ontario became the first province in Canada and one of the first places in the world to bring in a specific law establishing a goal and timeframe for accessibility. It was also the first place to legally require accessibility reporting, and one of the first to establish accessibility standards so that people with disabilities have more opportunities to participate in everyday life.

Accessibility standards

The accessibility standards under the act are laws that businesses and organizations with one or more employees in Ontario must follow so they can identify, remove and prevent barriers faced by people with disabilities. These standards are part of the act’s Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. Currently, there are five accessibility standards, and they apply to key areas of day-to-day life for Ontarians. These are:

  • Information and Communications
  • Employment
  • Transportation
  • Design of Public Spaces
  • Customer Service

Standards review process

The act requires that each of Ontario’s accessibility standards be reviewed within five years of becoming law, to determine whether they are working as intended and to allow for changes to be made if they are required. These reviews are carried out by Standards Development Committees. The act also requires that committees be comprised of representatives from industries or other organizations that are affected by the accessibility standards, government ministries with responsibilities relating to those industries and organizations and people with disabilities or their representatives.

As required by the act, the committee must:

  • re-examine the long-term objectives of the standards
  • if required, revise the measures, policies, practices and requirements to be implemented on or before January 1, 2025, as well as the timeframe for their implementation
  • develop initial proposed recommendations containing changes or additions that the committee considers advisable, and submit them for public comment
  • based on public feedback, make such changes to the proposed accessibility standards that it considers advisable, and submit those recommendations to the minister

This report presents the final recommendations for proposed accessibility standards by the Information and Communications Standards Development Committee.

Information and Communications Standards Development Committee

The committee was established in late 2016. The committee was originally composed of 23 members, however 3 resigned during the process. As of this final report, there were 20 members, 16 of these are voting members voting members. The remaining four members, who were non-voting, were drawn from ministries which have responsibilities relating to the sectors to which the standards apply. Nine of the voting members were people with disabilities or their representatives. All members, including those who resigned, are listed in appendix A of this report.

To begin its review, the committee was provided with stakeholder feedback from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility (formerly the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario). This feedback was informed by incoming written correspondence, telephone calls, compliance-related activities and consultation with stakeholders.

Their first meeting—an orientation session—was held in March 2017. Through 2017 and into Winter 2018, the committee held several meetings to complete its initial recommendations. These initial recommendations were posted for public comment between July 24th, 2019 and October 18th, 2019. On January 22 and 23, 2020, the committee met one last time to finalize this report while taking into account public comments.

The committee’s deliberations benefitted from the diverse viewpoints and knowledge that members brought to the table. After each meeting, members sought feedback from their communities and networks to share at the following meeting. This input informed voting on recommended changes.

As noted above, this document sets out the committee’s final recommendations for proposed updated accessibility standards. As outlined by the act, the Minister shall decide whether to recommend to the Lieutenant Governor in Council that the proposed standard be adopted by regulation in whole, in part or with modifications.

Approach taken by committee

The standards deal with the way organizations create and share information and outline how they are to make information and communication accessible to people with disabilities. The standards require that accessible formats and communication supports be made available on request. They also cover such areas as emergency and public safety information, websites, feedback processes, as well as educational, training and library materials and resources and training for educators.

The committee’s discussions reflected a consensus that the current standards are not keeping pace with technology. There was mention that the standards are not always strong enough and are often too difficult to apply. The committee also discussed the fact that the standards are confusing and prevent innovation in accessible technology. Overall, committee members agreed that the standards need to be modernized and crafted to ensure they remain relevant in the future, as technology changes at an increasingly rapid pace.

To assist with developing this advice, the committee created the Digital Inclusion Technical Subcommittee. The subcommittee’s main task was to provide expert advice to the committee about section 14 of the regulation, which sets out the accessibility requirements for websites and web content. All members of the subcommittee are listed in appendix A of this report.

In addition, the subcommittee was asked to think about some very broad questions, including what accessibility means in today’s digital world, and whether the current regulatory system can deliver the desired outcomes.

Based on the subcommittee’s advice, the committee settled on both a short- and long-term approach to making information and communication accessible for people with disabilities. This report is divided into two parts or phases.

Phase 1 contains 32 recommendations that the committee is proposing as immediate solutions to identified gaps and unintended barriers in the current standards. Each of these recommendations contains:

  • an explanation of the issue
  • the specific language of the recommendation as voted on
  • an explanation of the intent and desired outcome of the recommendation
  • recommended timing for implementation of the revised requirement if applicable

Phase 2 proposes a new model to transform and modernize the regulatory approach to accessibility in Ontario. It could be applied first to the Information and Communications Standards and would allow organizations to continuously adapt and improve their websites, web content and technology up to and beyond 2025. If the model proves successful, the committee’s intent is that government explore applying it to other accessibility standards in the future. Phase 2 is, in effect, a proposal for culture change in Ontario. The committee recognizes that, given its potentially transformative nature, this phase may take more time to develop and implement.

The committee recognizes that due to the nature of the topic, complexity of technology, simple and plain language may not have been viewed as a priority at the beginning of the process. Based on the feedback we have received and the knowledge we have gained through this process, the committee recommends any further public communication of this report should available in a simple language version.

Phase 1

This section focuses on the Information and Communications Standards outlined in the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. Recommendations in this section are listed according to the different sections under the standards.

It should be noted that throughout this report, reference is frequently made to obligated organizations. These are organizations that are expected to comply with requirements in the regulation. Obligated organizations include:

  • the Government of Ontario
  • the Legislative Assembly
  • designated public sector organizations
  • large organizations, private or not-for-profit, with 50 or more employees
  • small organizations, private or not-for-profit, with one to 49 employees

Some requirements do not apply to all these organizations. Small organizations, for example, are exempt from some requirements. This report will specify when this is the case. If it does not, the requirements being discussed may be assumed to apply to all the above obligated organizations.

Recommended long-term objective

While developing its specific recommendations, the committee continuously considered the long-term objective of the standards. The act requires all the Standards Development Committees to establish these long-term objectives, and the Information and Communications Standards Development Committee is required to re-examine the long-term objective.

The current long-term objective of the accessible Information and Communications Standards is:

That by 2025, all information and methods of communication to and from an individual will be designed to be accessible to people with disabilities consistent with human rights law, the French Language Services Act (1990) (where applicable) and inclusive design principles. The committee intends for the requirements to build upon the principle of providing accommodation to people with disabilities to preserve and enhance dignity and independence.

The committee believes that the objective above is too complicated, and recommends the following clear and simple objective instead:

That people with disabilities be able to participate fully and equitably in the creation and use of information and communication.

Part 1: Regulation in general or Sections 9 to 11

Recommendations in this section are related either to the regulation in general or to Sections 9–11 of the regulation.

Recommendation 1: Feedback requirements

Section 11 of the regulation relates to the feedback organizations receive from the public, and outlines accessibility requirements around the feedback process. The committee learned that organizations were confused about the fact that there are different requirements related to feedback located throughout the regulation. Specifically, section 11: Feedback of the Information and Communications Standards and Section 80.50: Feedback process required of the Customer Service Standards have some of the same requirements.

The committee proposes the following:

The feedback requirements in Sections 11 and 80.50 of the regulation should be combined and placed in the General Requirements section of the regulation, ensuring both the format requirements of section 11 and the specific requirement for a process in Section 80.50 about goods, services and facilities remain. In addition, the committee recommends that clear definitions of the terms “feedback” and “communication” be included.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to eliminate the confusion caused by having requirements for a feedback process dealt with in two different parts of the regulation. This change should not modify the obligations of organizations but simply make them clearer and easier to find and understand.

Recommendation 2: Usage of portable document format (PDF)

During a 2016 meeting of the Standing Committee on Finance and Economic Affairs, the standing committee discussed a proposal to ban PDFs from government use. This is because PDFs are often inaccessible. While the proposal was not approved, it was referred to this formal regulatory review process. The Information and Communications Standards Development Committee discussed the fact that PDFs are often inaccessible, and while it is possible to make them accessible, the expertise needed to make a fully accessible PDF is seldom present in obligated organizations. However, the committee concluded that while certain problems do exist with PDFs, banning them altogether is not the best solution, particularly since they work well when made properly accessible.

The committee proposes the following:

Government should not ban the use of PDFs for any obligated organization.

Timeline: N/A

The committee did discuss a number of alternative measures, including non-regulatory approaches such as increasing education for government employees on how to make PDFs accessible, but did not vote on the matter.

Recommendation 3: Final review of regulatory language

The Minister may accept in whole, in part or with modifications the committee’s recommendations once they are received. The committee recognizes that members are not usually involved in the decision-making process after its final advice is submitted. However, some recommendations for the standards are highly technical, and the committee is concerned about ensuring consistency in the interpretation of those recommendations. In particular, there is concern about technical aspects related to section 14: accessible websites and web content.

The committee proposes the following:

Government use the technical expertise of the Digital Inclusion Technical Subcommittee as a resource, as needed, to clarify intent and technical accuracy during the regulatory drafting stage related to section 14.

Timeline: N/A

The intent of this recommendation is to avoid any possible confusion regarding the intent of the committee’s recommendations and to ensure that the government can easily obtain clarification if confusion arises.

Recommendation 4: Products and product labels

The current regulation states that products and product labels are not required to be made accessible unless specifically mentioned in the standards. Stakeholders have expressed concern that a large number of goods remain inaccessible because of this exemption. The committee agreed that there should, at the very least, be a digital format available for all products and product labels where applicable. The problem is that both federal and provincial governments regulate in this area, and so making a recommendation solely at the provincial level would be ineffective.

In order to ensure a solution to this issue is coordinated between the federal and provincial jurisdictions, the committee proposes the following:

The Government of Ontario should meet with the Government of Canada to look for solutions to the problem of accessible products and product labels. These solutions may include clarifying jurisdictional authority over different products. In addition, it is recommended that Ontario meet with various industries to explore non-regulatory solutions to this issue. Medical labelling should be a priority for action.

Timeline: One year for Ontario and Canada to produce a report that sets a strategic direction on the recommendations above. If a report is not created by the governments of Ontario and Canada by this time, then the recommendation is that Ontario develop a strategy within one additional year to address this, including creating an expert committee.

The committee recognizes that the exemption of products and product labels is an accessibility barrier, but also recognizes that a solution to this problem needs to involve all levels of government that have authority over this area. The committee also recognizes that technology offers the potential for organizations to develop innovative solutions to this issue and would like the Government of Ontario to work with industries to encourage the development of non-regulatory solutions.

Part 2: section 12

The following recommendations relate to section 12 of the regulation, which requires organizations to provide accessible formats and communication supports for people with disabilities. The committee discussed this at length and have a number of recommendations regarding section 12 – Accessible formats and communication supports.

Recommendation 5: Determination of suitability

If a person with a disability asks an organization for an alternate format or communication support, that organization is required to consult with the requester about the request. The final decision on whether to provide the requested alternate format or communication support is with the organization. The committee noted that this is resulting in the provision of formats that do not meet the needs of people with disabilities.

The committee proposes the following:

Change regulation 12.(2) to state: “The obligated organization shall consult with the person making the request and gain agreement in determining the suitability of an accessible format or communication support.”

Timeline: Language to be changed immediately, and regulation to become effective six months after language change.

The intent of this recommendation is that the final decision on the suitability of an accessible format should not be left to the organization alone. Rather, both the organization and the person requesting an alternate format should work together to gain agreement on suitability. The committee recognizes that this may create an impasse, and this is partly what motivates recommendation 7 (to follow). Despite the potential for an impasse, the committee feels this recommendation will result in improved accessibility. The committee recognizes that with this change, organizations may need time to adjust their processes, so it is proposed that it be effective six months after the amended regulation is in force.

Recommendation 6: Timely manner

Section 12 of the regulation states that organizations must provide accessible formats in a ‘timely manner,’ considering the requester’s needs due to disability. Stakeholder feedback revealed that people with disabilities and organizations often do not agree on the definition of timely manner. Specifically, people with disabilities point out that organizations are only required to take the person’s needs ‘into account’ when deciding on what would be a timely manner.

The committee proposes the following:

Change the regulation to state that organizations must provide accessible formats in a mutually agreed upon timely manner which considers the circumstances of the requester, and the urgency of his or her request.

Timeline: Language to be changed immediately, and regulation to become effective six months after language change.

The idea is similar to the intent of recommendation 5, which is to ensure that important decisions that affect people with disabilities must be made with their participation. In this case, it would require that organizations and people with disabilities agree on what is meant by a timely manner. Again, the potential for disagreement is recognized, but the committee feels this recommendation will result in improved accessibility. As with Recommendation 6, the committee is proposing that this change become effective 6 months after the amended regulation is in force, to give organizations time to prepare and adjust.

Recommendation 7: Agreement between people with disabilities and organizations

Certain sections of the regulation require or provide for feedback processes allowing people with disabilities to make their needs and positions clear to organizations. Unfortunately, there is currently no mechanism to resolve disagreements when either party is unhappy with the result. Clearly, such a mechanism would be useful.

The committee proposes the following:

The issue of a lack of mechanism to address disagreement between organizations and people with disabilities in any section of the regulation should be referred to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council.

Timeline: Referred to the council immediately following the submission of the final proposed recommendations. The council should develop a mechanism within one year.

The intent of this recommendation is for the council to investigate the creation of a mechanism to support the satisfaction of both people with disabilities and organizations, in relation to requirements under the act and regulation. The council is best positioned to examine this issue.

Recommendation 8: Harmonization of section 12

As was noted in recommendation 1, organizations are confused by multiple and often duplicate requirements throughout the regulation. Specifically in this case, section 12 of the Information and Communications Standards and section 80.51 of the Customer Service Standards create duplicate requirements for providing accessible formats.

The committee proposes the following:

Requirements for alternate formats and communication supports should be combined and moved to one place, in the general requirements section of the regulation. There should be no material change in the requirements, except for any other recommendations made by the committee regarding section 12. A reference to the combined section in the general requirements should be made whenever requirements for alternative formats and communication supports are mentioned in the regulation.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to clarify requirements and eliminate confusion by ensuring they are contained in one section of the regulation. The committee feels that moving the requirement for accessible formats into the general requirements section of the regulation would also make it clear that this requirement applies to all of the standards, and not just to Information and Communications. To be clear, the intent is not to weaken requirements in any way.

Recommendation 9: On-demand conversion ready formats

Currently, there is sometimes a delay when the government is asked to provide alternate formats of documents. The committee feels that technology has advanced to the point where there is no real excuse for this delay.

The committee proposes the following:

The Government of Ontario and Legislative Assembly should produce a conversion-ready digital format of all public-facing materials and provide those materials on-demand:

  • ‘on-demand’ in this case would mean immediately, meaning that it should already have been created
  • ‘conversion-ready digital format’ means a format which has the properties it needs to be readily converted into an accessible format

Timeline: January 1, 2021

The intent of this recommendation is to strengthen the idea that accessible formats should not be offered as an accommodation, to be provided only when requested and only after a delay. Accessible formats and communications supports are necessary from the start as part of an accessibility foundation. This would be a significant new requirement for government, but given current technology, it is possible.

Recommendation 10: On-demand ASL and LSQ translations

In developing recommendation 9, the committee struggled with the fact that users of American Sign Language (ASL) and Langue des signes québécoise or Langue des signes du Québec (LSQ) would not benefit from the change in recommendation 9. It was agreed that while providing all public facing materials in ASL and LSQ on-demand would simply be too burdensome, there are certain types of information and communication which should be available in these formats.

The committee proposes the following:

The Government of Ontario should convene a meeting of deaf, hard of hearing and deafblind stakeholders to determine which materials should be provided by the Government of Ontario to the public in ASL and LSQ translation. The committee recommends that following the meeting, the materials identified start to be made available on-demand.

Timeline: One year for the meeting to occur, and January 1, 2021 for the requirement to be effective.

The committee’s intent is that the Government of Ontario find a fair and reasonable answer to the question of which types of materials should be available in ASL and LSQ on demand.

Part 3: Section 13

The following recommendations relate to section 13 of the regulation, which requires organizations to provide accessible formats of publicly posted emergency plans and procedures upon request. During discussion, many committee members expressed concern with current emergency outcomes for people with disabilities, and the committee feels that improving these outcomes is absolutely critical. The committee recognizes that the scope and overall effectiveness of the requirements in Section 13 are limited, and strongly recommends that other action to improve these outcomes be taken as soon as possible.

Recommendation 11: Emergency requirements

Section 13 in the Information and Communications Standards, section 27 in the Employment Standards and Sections 37 and 56 of the Transportation Standards are all related to emergency requirements. As has been noted previously in this document, having requirements located in different places throughout the regulation is confusing for all parties. In the case of emergency requirements, that is a particularly significant problem.

The committee proposes the following:

The emergency requirements throughout the regulation should be brought together and moved into the general requirements with no material changes to what is being required.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to ensure that nothing is missed, and no requirements are overlooked when it comes to protecting the lives of people with disabilities and their families. These requirements should be consolidated and given a clear and prominent position in the general requirements of the regulation.

Recommendation 12: Unacceptable emergency outcomes and preparedness

After a significant discussion regarding emergency outcomes, the committee has concluded that the preparedness of all levels of government for emergencies involving people with disabilities is unacceptable.

The committee strongly recommends the following to help protect the lives of people with disabilities and their families:

Disability and accessibility should be front and centre in the upcoming review of the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act. To that end, the Solicitor General, who has responsibility for emergency management, should involve people with disabilities in the review. The Solicitor General should specifically include the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council. The same process should occur when the Fire Code is next reviewed.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to address the lack of emergency planning focused on the needs of people with disabilities. It is unacceptable and must be dealt with urgently.

Part 4: Section 14

The following recommendations relate to section 14 of the regulation, which sets out the accessibility requirements for websites and web content. In both stakeholder feedback and in the committee meetings, Section 14 received the most attention and led to the most significant level of feedback and discussion. It has become clear that there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the requirements of Section 14, particularly given the rapidly changing pace of digital society.

The globally accepted standard for web accessibility is a set of standards called the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0), which is published by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). While this standard is the one used in section 14, stakeholders and committee members agree that is not clear enough how the WCAG 2.0 guidelines should be applied to many technologies beyond websites and web content, nor is it easy to determine when the requirements of WCAG 2.0 have actually been met.

In order to help clear up this confusion and also inform its recommendations, the committee created a Digital Inclusion Technical Subcommittee. This subcommittee provided two distinct sets of expert advice to the committee:

  1. Recommendations to address confusion and gaps in section 14 (part of the phase 1 recommendations)
  2. A proposal for a new model for these standards (see phase 2)

Recommendation 13: Mobile applications and new technologies

One of the most frequently asked questions during stakeholder consultations was whether and how section 14 applied to mobile applications. The answer, for the most part, is that they do not. The current requirements apply to web-based applications only, which does not generally include mobile applications.

The committee proposes the following:

The definition of website should be aligned with the definition used by the United States Access Board, the European Union and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, among others, which include mobile applications, interfaces or other technologies as required. Relevant sections of these definitions have been provided in appendix C.

Timeline: By 2021, which aligns with the existing requirement for all websites to be accessible.

The intent of this recommendation is for both mobile applications which run from a website, and those which run as a standalone device but rely on the internet for function, would be subject to accessibility requirements under section 14. These requirements would apply to the government and legislative assembly, the broader public sector and large organizations. For the purposes of Section 14, small organizations are currently exempt from accessibility requirements.

Recommendation 14: Procurement

Procurement refers to the purchasing or acquiring of goods or services. The subcommittee noted that there are no accessible procurement requirements specifically related to section 14. There are procurement requirements in the general requirements section of the regulation, but the subcommittee suggested that these are not strong enough to result in accessible digital procurement.

The committee proposes the following:

The Government of Ontario and designated public sector organizations shall incorporate accessibility design, criteria and features when procuring or buying goods, services or facilities. These criteria include:

  • using qualified third-party evaluation certification services established through programs such as:
    • the United States Access Board Trusted Tester Program
    • inclusive design or accessibility certificate programs such as those offered by colleges or universities
    • professional certifications from organizations such as the International Association of Accessibility Professionals (IAAP)
    • other professional service vendors that may qualify for such activities
  • both manual and automated verification of compliance to technical web and software criteria, not just automated testing
  • functional testing of usability by persons with disabilities
  • interoperability with alternative access systems (as defined in the glossary)
  • sign language and other communication modalities
  • the requirement to procure accessible authoring and development tools

This requirement would be in addition to the general accessible procurement requirements in the regulation. The reference criteria for authoring tools would be Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines (ATAG) 2.0 (A and B)

Timeline: January 1, 2022. Where an obligated organization has entered into a contract before January 1, 2022, it is not required to meet the requirements of this section. The intent of the committee is not to allow grandfathering past 2023.

The committee’s intent with this recommendation is to ensure that digital procurement by the Government of Ontario and broader public sector organizations includes accessibility criteria, and that authoring and development tools that are procured are accessible.

The committee would also like non-digital procurement as required by the procurement requirement in the general requirements to be strengthened. Since this is beyond the scope of the committee’s mandate, the committee would like this work to be referred to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council and broader government bodies that manage procurement.

Recommendation 15: Differentiating organizations/high impact organizations

The obligations of organizations under the regulation are determined by how many employees they have, as this has traditionally been a measure of how much widespread impact they have. However, the subcommittee advised the committee that as technology evolves, the number of employees is no longer necessarily a good indicator of the impact organizations may have on Ontarians. The fact is that, increasingly, organizations with very few employees are able to provide a high level or volume of services and thus should be considered “high-impact organizations.”

The committee believes that section 14, and eventually the whole regulation, need to adapt to capture these new business models.

The committee proposes the following:

  • Create a definition for ‘high-impact’ organizations. One such definition might be an organization that has one or more Ontario employees and meets either of the following criteria:
    • one million or more average annual users in Ontario (free or paid)
    • $10 million or more in yearly global revenues
  • These newly defined high-impact organizations would have to comply with the Information and Communications Standards and report under the act, and be subject to the same requirements as large organizations
  • For such businesses as described above that are under federal instead of Ontario jurisdiction, or with no employees in Ontario, the province should engage in consultation with businesses and the federal government to determine and harmonize mechanisms to regulate them

Timeline: One year with proactive outreach.

The committee’s intent with this recommendation is to ensure that all organizations with many users in Ontario, and therefore having a large impact on the province, are complying with section 14 of the regulation. This approach could be used for other requirements in the future where appropriate.

Recommendation 16: Significant refresh

Currently, the requirements of section 14 apply to organizations which either create new websites or significantly refresh existing websites. Stakeholder feedback and advice from the subcommittee suggested there is confusion about what ‘significant refresh” means, as the term is subjective. In addition, the committee learned that since Section 14 requirements apply to websites that are new or significantly refreshed, some organizations are choosing to update their websites only a bit at a time, thus avoiding the requirements. This may actually result in reduced accessibility for users.

The committee proposes the following:

  • Any content that is new or which an obligated organization changes, updates or adds to a website must meet the accessibility requirements of section 14
  • Furthermore, when content is added, changed or updated, it is recommended that organizations take the opportunity to make all content accessible
  • The committee recommends that content should include all functions, interactions and ‘branding’ (look and feel) for a site. It is recommended that section 14 include examples for the sake of clarity

Timeline: Regulation to be changed immediately, to be effective six months after the new regulation comes into force.

The intent of this recommendation is to bring the section 14 requirement closer to its intended function, which is to ensure that over time, organizations develop greater accessible content for users with disabilities.

Recommendation 17: Practicability

Section 14 contains an exemption for obligated organizations which gives them the ability to claim that making a website accessible is ‘not practicable’. The committee feels that this term is too vague and might allow some organizations to avoid doing something they are actually able to do.

The committee proposes the following:

Clearly define the term “not practicable,” bringing it in line with the term “undue hardship,” as set out by the Ontario Human Rights Code. A link to this terminology has been provided in appendix C.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to reduce how easy it is for obligated organizations to use vague wording in the standards as an excuse to not fulfil their requirements. Aligning the language with that of the Ontario Human Rights Commission would bring significant clarity, as both the commission and the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario have previously ruled on what undue hardship actually is.

Recommendation 18: Harmonization and application across requirements

Section 14 is intended to bring about greater accessibility in websites. The committee noted, however, that websites are mentioned in different sections of the regulation, but only in section 14 are the accessibility requirements explained. In the view of the committee, this makes it too easy for stakeholders to overlook or miss the requirements.

The committee proposes the following:

It should be made clear that section 14 applies to all sections of the regulation. This could be communicated as a reference to section 14 wherever websites are directly referenced in the regulation.

Timeline: Immediate

The committee’s intent with this recommendation is to make sure obligated organizations follow website accessibility requirements by reducing any confusion about what they are obligated to do.

Part 4, subpart 1: Section 14 exemptions

Section 14 identifies a number of situations in which websites or web content do not need to comply with accessibility requirements. The committee does not believe that these exemptions are functioning as intended and recommends changes to these exemptions.

Recommendation 19: Extranet exemption

Section 14 covers internet, intranet and extranet websites, and in the process it defines what these are. Intranet websites are websites that can be accessed from within a particular organization’s network. Currently, not all organizations are required to make these sites accessible. Moving on to extranet websites, section 14 defines these as websites which require a login. It considers these as an extension of intranets, and therefore also exempt for most organizations. The problem is that a great number of other internet websites that happen to require logins are therefore also considered extranets and so are exempt, which is certainly not desirable.

The committee proposes the following:

The exemption for public-facing websites with a log-in (previously referred to as extranets) should be removed and these types of websites should be required to comply with the regulation.

Timeframe: New public-facing websites with a log-in must comply by January 1, 2022, and all public-facing websites with a log-in must comply by January 1, 2023.

The intent of this recommendation is to completely remove the exemption for extranet websites, ensuring not only that these be required to comply with section 14, but also that other internet websites not be able to avoid the requirement simply because they use logins. The committee recommends a longer timeframe for implementation as this would be a new requirement.

Recommendation 20: Intranet exemption

Further to recommendation 19, the committee believes that technology has advanced to the point where all organizations should be able to make their websites accessible under section 14. Thus far, only the Government of Ontario and Legislative Assembly are required to do so. The subcommittee and committee do not believe there would be a major issue with extending this requirement to the broader public sector and large organizations.

The committee proposes the following:

The exemption for employee-facing websites and content (previously referred to as intranets) should be removed and, like all other websites, these types of websites should be required to comply with the regulation.

Timeline: New employee-facing websites must comply by January 1, 2022, and all employee-facing websites must comply by January 1, 2023.

For clarity, the committee recommends that all definitions related to a type of website be removed and that section 14 simply apply to all websites, internet or intranet for all obligated organizations. Because this would be a new requirement, the lengthy timeline above is recommended.

Recommendation 21: Pre-2012 exemption

Section 14 provides an exemption from having to make web content accessible if that content was first published on a website before 2012. The committee discussed that this exemption has created two problems. First, some organizations are using this exemption as a loophole that enables them to continue using some content from pre-2012 websites on new websites. The second problem is that organizations are taking useful pre-2012 content, such as historical records, off their websites when they move to a new or refreshed website because they do not have the resources to make this content accessible.

The committee proposes the following:

A category should be created for older archived content. A potential model for this would be the federal Treasury Board Secretariat of Canada archived content policy. This would grant an exemption only to non-active documents. Active content, which is anything that requires input or, like forms, can be changed, will not be covered under this exemption. Pre-2012 images used for navigation in refreshed websites must be made accessible.

Timeframe: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to ensure that no content which is intended for active use can be exempt, and that inactive, archived content which is for informational purposes only can remain exempt.

Recommendation 22: Live captioning and audio description

Currently, the Government of Ontario and Legislative Assembly are the only organizations which must meet the live captioning and audio description requirements in the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0. All other organizations are exempt from implementing this requirement.

The committee proposes the following:

  • By January 1, 2022, the exemptions to the WCAG 2.0 Level AA guidelines regarding live captioning and audio descriptions should be removed.
  • Between now and January 1, 2022, obligated organizations should put in place the infrastructure to support live captioning and audio description. Organizations which are currently exempt and are required to prepare a multi-year plan should include progress toward this infrastructure in their plan.

Timeline: Exemptions removed by January 1, 2022, to be evaluated for acceleration by the next committee.

The intent of this recommendation is to have obligated organizations plan infrastructure, adopt training, and generally get ready to implement live captioning and audio descriptions by 2022, or sooner if the next committee should choose to accelerate the timeline. The committee’s intention is to establish a high standard (equal to CRTC standards for live captioning) of quality in live captions.

Recommendation 23: Web hosting location

Section 14 only applies to content which organizations control either directly or through a contractual relationship that allows for modification of the product. The committee has learned that some organizations are interpreting this to mean that if their websites are hosted on servers outside the province, they may claim exemption from the section 14 requirements.

The committee proposes the following:

Section 14 should apply to obligated organizations no matter where their web servers are located.

Timeline: One year

The intent of this recommendation is to clarify that the regulations apply to obligated organizations regardless of where their websites might be hosted.

Recommendation 24: New and emerging technologies

New and emerging technologies present the risk of discriminating against persons with disabilities. As well, people with disabilities are more vulnerable to abuses of new technology and existing and emerging privacy protections do not work for them. These issues include:

  • data gaps: people with disabilities are not reflected in existing data.
  • algorithmic bias: data analytics reflect human bias.

Even if and when these risks are ameliorated, these technologies (for example, artificial intelligence) make decisions and take actions based on an average or majority. People with disabilities are very different from each other and often represent a minority of 1. People with disabilities are harmed by data in both directions. The risks are dismissed because they only affect a small number. The benefits are not pursued because they only benefit a small number.

Note: Additional resources available in appendix C.

The committee proposes the following:

When decisions are being based on data analytics using population data, there should be a disability impact assessment.

Government should immediately create a task force to work with the government on the design and testing of its digital services and to investigate risks, risk mitigation and opportunities in the context of the disability ecosystem. The task force should include experts in disability use case, emerging technologies and data analytics, the majority of whom are people with disabilities from a wide functional cross-section. This task force shall act as an ongoing bridge to phase 2.

Recommendation 25: Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) Version

The version of the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines referred to in section 14 of the regulation is out of date.

The committee proposes the following:

When the requirement to comply with WCAG 2.0 AA in section 14 is fully implemented (January 1, 2021), Government should update the requirement to the most recently published version of WCAG (for example, WCAG 2.1) within 1 additional year.

Part 5: Sections 15, 16, 17 and 18

The following recommendations relate to Sections 15, 16, 17 and 18, which cover educational and training facilities, producers of educational and training materials, and libraries of educational and training institutions.

One of the topics that was brought to the committee’s attention was the difficulty that education providers and students frequently have obtaining accessible resources. The committee has heard that these resources are too often unsatisfactory or delayed provision of these resources is resulting in poor learning outcomes for students with disabilities. Based on these observations, the committee recommends the following:

Recommendation 26: Purchase of accessible teaching/training materials

During its education and training discussions, the committee noted that the procurement of course materials is a good time to ensure that accessible versions are available.

The committee proposes the following:

It is recommended that obligated organizations that are educational or training institutions be required to order text books or other curricula materials, printed or digital, from producers who agree to provide accessible or conversion-ready versions, in the same time frame as print or digital materials. For clarity sake, digital includes but is not limited to static, dynamic and interactive content.

These materials should meet or exceed the obligations of education providers as described in the Ontario Human Rights Commission’s “Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities”.

Timeline: Immediate

Recommendation 27: Definition of educational and training institutions

Education and training accessibility requirements in the regulation only apply to organizations that are classified as educational or training institutions, even though many organizations which do not meet that classification provide these services.

The committee proposes the following:

That the government consider including all organizations (public or private) that provide formal education and training in the requirements.

The committee has asked the public what types of organizations should fall under the definition of formal, and provides this information to the government with this report in appendix C.

Timeline: Immediate

Recommendation 28: Increasing captionist capacity

Committee members are concerned that there are too few trained captionists in the province. While training for captionists does exist in Ontario, the committee believes there is not enough supply to meet the potential demand.

The committee proposes the following:

The Government of Ontario should explore, in partnership with post-secondary institutions, employers and apprenticeship bodies, establishing a post-secondary course to train captionists, possibly in partnership with a court stenographer’s course.

Timeline: Immediate

Recommendation 29: Accessibility in education

The committee believes that the inclusion of accessibility-related content in all levels of education curricula is one of the best ways to influence cultural change.

The committee proposes the following:

The government should explore ways to make education and skills development about accessibility, including e-accessibility, part of early years, elementary, secondary and post-secondary curricula.

Timeline: Immediate

The intent of this recommendation is to increase the amount of accessibility-related content in all levels of education in Ontario.

Recommendation 30: Accessibility in information and communication tools and systems

Some members of the committee have noted that there is often a lack of knowledge regarding the needs of people with disabilities on the part of the designers of information and communication tools and systems, and this leads to a lack of accessibility in these products.

The committee proposes the following:

All obligated organizations which provide education or training on the design, production, innovation, maintenance or delivery of information and communication tools and systems shall include curricula that address the needs of all people with disabilities, including deaf, deafblind and hard of hearing people who use ASL and LSQ.

Timeline: One calendar year from effective date.

The intent of this recommendation is to ensure that information and communication tools and systems are created with accessibility features built-in and are maintained by individuals who are familiar with accessibility features.

Recommendation 31: Accessibility in provincially regulated professions

The question of accessibility in provincially regulated professions was of significant interest to the committee. Provincially regulated professions provide a wide array of services to Ontarians, and ensuring they understand the needs of people with disabilities would help make these services more accessible. The committee believes that education around accessibility in all provincially regulated professions could greatly enhance awareness and further prevent attitudinal barriers.

Note: As a resource, the committee refers to the Ontario Human Rights Code “Policy on ableism and discrimination based on disability.

The committee proposes the following:

Certification requirements of provincially regulated professions must include knowledge and application of accessibility (including accessible formats, language, communication and IT support) and the prevention of attitudinal barriers. These should be worked into instructional planning and course design for organizations which provide education or training.

Timeline: One calendar year

The intent of this recommendation is to integrate accessibility into the education and certification of regulated professionals in Ontario.

Recommendation 32: Education standards

The Information and Communications Standards of the regulation currently contain requirements related to education and training. When the committee first reviewed Sections 15–18 and proposed recommendations 24–29, the Government of Ontario had created committees to propose new standards in the regulation for education.

The committee proposes the following:

If the government creates education standards with requirements that are equal to or greater than those requirements found in Sections 15–18 of the regulation, including the result of recommendations 24–29 made in this report, these sections can be moved to the Education Standards.

If any elements of Sections 15–18, including the result of recommendations 24–29 made in this report, are not reflected in newly created education standards (or within the jurisdiction of education standards development committees) for example application of standards to private schools and colleges—these requirements must be retained in the Information and Communications Standards.

The committee’s intent is to make recommendations 24–29 related to Sections 15–18, while allowing the government to house these requirements in the most logical place in the regulation.

Part 6: Section 19

Section 19 relates to public libraries. The committee has reviewed and consulted on this section and voted to confirm that it recommends no changes to this section.

Phase 2

Declaring a breakdown – a call for a new way forward

During their deliberations and interactions with constituents, it became clear to the members of the committee that the current approach to regulating the accessibility of information and communication in Ontario is flawed, and if the approach does not change, the policy aims of the regulations will not be fully achieved. There was consensus that reliance on a wholly prescriptive standard that is not responsive to changes in technology and its application is a fundamental shortcoming of the current approach. There is also a need to enhance the active participation of those who build and use technology daily both to understand and to mandate the application of technologies in ways that maximize economic and social participation for Ontarians with disabilities.

A new model for accessibility regulation

As mentioned at the beginning of this report, the Digital Inclusion Technical Subcommittee was asked to think about some very broad questions, including what accessibility means in today’s digital world, and whether the current regulatory system is really able to deliver the desired outcomes.

In the process of considering the broader questions, the subcommittee had thorough discussions which formed the basis of a broad new proposal, presented here in this second chapter of the report, to improve access for Ontarians with disabilities: The Accessibility Ecosystem model.

The Accessibility Ecosystem model responds to what the subcommittee perceives as weaknesses in the current regulatory model and introduces a response that is better suited to a world of rapidly changing technology and business models. The committee also recognizes the need for a more responsive model that is focused on equipping obligated organizations with the knowledge and tools to best serve Ontarians on the front lines of business and government service delivery.

Government’s broader use of the Accessibility Ecosystem model

Though the application of the Accessibility Ecosystem is proposed first for digital content and its applications, this model may prove to be more broadly applicable to other standards.

The Accessibility Ecosystem is presented at a very high level, both to maximize compatibility with various requirements and in recognition that more in-depth research and development needs to be done by government and relevant stakeholders to take this model to the next step.

The committee proposes:

  • That the government adopt and operationalize phase 2 as the regulatory approach to accessibility in Ontario. The committee is aware that this approach will continue to evolve. The intent of the committee is to have phase 1 implemented in parallel with phase 2. Phase 1 should occur during the transition to phase 2.
  • Note: The infographics and additional materials (for example, long descriptions) have been submitted alongside this report after the appendices.

Timeline: Two years from submission of the final recommendations for phase 2 to be fully implemented.

What this document contains:

Current context:

  • committee investigates what the current regulatory model seems to be missing.

Accessibility Ecosystem:

  • the Accessibility Ecosystem model is proposed as a solution, and its advantages are listed.

Laws, Trusted Authority, Community Platform and Compliance

The Accessibility Ecosystem, listed and explained:

  • How is the new model better?
  • A look at what sets the Accessibility Ecosystem apart.
  • Cost, funding and sustainability
  • An explanation of how, far from being an onerous cost, the new model is actually a shrewd investment.

Current context

The subcommittee’s starting point was an acknowledgement of the fact that our understanding of accessibility has evolved since the act was drafted and implemented. People with disabilities are as diverse in their needs and perceptions as people without disabilities, and perhaps even more so. For that reason, one-size-fits-all approaches to accessibility often don’t work. In addition, it is now understood that even the word ‘accessible’ does not have a single definition and is more related to technical requirements than a person’s demand for a great experience. What is meant by accessible depends on the person and his or her goals and context. What this means is that accessibility can only be achieved through a process of inclusive design – one that recognizes that all people are variable and diverse, and our products and services must make room for a wide range of human differences.

It is also critical to understand that even if all the specified goals of the act were to be achieved by 2025, it would not be a case of mission accomplished. There would still be people with disabilities for whom Ontario is not accessible. Our society is changing all the time. New barriers to accessibility are constantly emerging, as are new opportunities for greater accessibility. The subcommittee concluded that creating an accessibility check list, however comprehensive, to address the needs of all Ontarians with disabilities is an impossible task. People not represented in the deliberations would likely be left out, unanticipated new barriers would not be considered, and new technologies that might be used to address barriers would not be leveraged. At that point, the subcommittee decided it was time to take a critical look at the current act and regulation model. What it found was five areas in which the current model is simply not meeting the needs of Ontarians with disabilities:

Participation

In the current model, the primary participants are the participating organizations and the provincial government compliance authority. The relationship is one of obligation and policing. The primary questions from obligated organizations are about what is required of them, and whether there might be exemptions. Their primary motivation for complying is avoiding penalties and/or reputational damage.

It is hard to blame organizations for this approach, because accessibility and inclusive design have traditionally been framed primarily as something that organizations must be legally compelled to do, rather than something that is also in their best interests. The fact is however, that there is significant evidence showing that inclusive design is in the interests of business. Research has shown that an organization that attends to inclusive design and accessibility, for customers and employees with disabilities, will garner economic, social and innovation benefits. There are both micro and macro-economic gains to be made for the participating company and for Ontario society as a whole, but that case is not being made clearly or often enough.

The current model also does not harness the significant energy, knowledge and support of many community stakeholders who are deeply committed to accessibility. These include:

  • students, many of whom participate in projects such as “mapathons,” design challenges and curriculum-based assignments
  • Ontario’s world-leading cluster of researchers specializing in accessibility and inclusive design
  • non-obligated organizations that recognize the importance of accessibility without being compelled to comply by law
  • persons with disabilities and their families or support communities
  • professional organizations
  • community volunteers
  • civil society

The efforts made by these people, groups and organizations are significant, but there is currently no real way to collect, harness and showcase their contributions or quantify their economic impact.

Updating

Other than the five-year review, there is currently no mechanism for keeping the standards up to date. This is especially problematic when it comes to information technology systems and practices, which are changing at an accelerating rate and affecting more and more essential aspects of our lives. Barriers to accessibility emerge suddenly, and if they are not dealt with immediately they can spread and multiply. Opportunities for greater accessibility appear, but if they are not quickly seized they can disappear. In this fast-moving world, accessibility standards quickly fall out of date, and the system is not equipped to deal with that.

Integrating innovation

Ontario is home to many innovators, many of whom have turned their ingenuity to addressing accessibility challenges. Unfortunately, there is currently no easy way for these innovators, including obligated organizations or other stakeholders, to propose new and better strategies for addressing barriers. The relationship is strictly one way, with the act essentially telling organizations what to do. This removes an incentive to innovate in accessibility.

Review and feedback

Legislation often triggers new demands for services. The act has prompted the growth of the accessibility services sector in Ontario. Training, evaluation, design, development and remediation services are now effectively growth industries in Ontario. However, these businesses and services range in expertise and quality, and there is currently no mechanism for reviewing or providing feedback about them.

Indicators

There is currently no way of tracking progress toward accessibility goals. No progress indicators have been established, making it extremely difficult to determine how well accessibility standards are working.

Based on all of this, the subcommittee concluded that an entirely new approach needs to be taken. This approach must move from presenting accessibility as an obligation to be borne by a specific group of organizations in Ontario, to a process that all Ontarians participate in, and benefit from. This is what the committee means when it refers to a culture change, and the vehicle for that culture change is the proposed new “Accessibility Ecosystem.”

The Accessibility Ecosystem

Fundamentally, the Accessibility Ecosystem is a new way of organizing the standards within the regulation. Initially, it is being proposed for the Information and Communication Standards, though the committee believes that it could one day be the framework for the full set of regulation standards. The primary aim of the Accessibility Ecosystem is to encourage organizations to see the act less as an obligation than as something in which they participate for their own benefit, and the benefit of all Ontarians. For that reason, the first step in implementing this new system, however symbolic, would be to rename “obligated organizations” as “participating organizations.” This reframing will also provide a way to keep improving and updating how we address barriers faced by persons with disabilities in Ontario, up to and beyond 2025.

The objectives of the Accessibility Ecosystem are as follows:

  • keep up with changes in technology
  • respond to new barriers
  • respond to new opportunities
  • respond to barriers not anticipated when the standards were written
  • encourage and support organizations and the larger community in finding innovative ways to address barriers
  • discourage the ‘us-them’ attitude towards accessibility, where the interests of persons with disabilities are seen as counter to the interests of businesses
  • encourage working together to make things more accessible to the benefit of everyone
  • communicate that accessibility is a responsibility we all share
  • show how accessibility and inclusive design are a good way to do business, and a good way to grow the economy and economic participation for Ontarians with disabilities
  • reduce confusion about the regulations and make it easier to find tools and resources needed to comply with them
  • provide clear, up-to-date, specific advice regarding how requirements can be met
  • create the conditions and supports so that all Ontarians feel that they can participate in removing barriers

The proposed ecosystem has three interdependent parts. They support one another, and all play a role in telling organizations what they need to do to remove barriers and expand opportunities. The ecosystem as a whole provides the balance between legal compulsion and alignment with current technical practices. All three parts require funding and ongoing support. The three parts are the laws, the Trusted Authority and the Community Platform.

The laws

This is the least flexible part. The laws would establish requirements, but not specify how they must be met. The Laws include three types:

  • Functional Accessibility Requirements (FARd) (contained in appendix B of this report). These are requirements that are constant. They do not mention specific technologies, to avoid a situation in which a technology changes and evolves to the point where the requirement no longer makes sense. If organizations need help understanding how to meet the requirements, they are linked to acceptable methods of doing so by the Trusted Authority. These requirements are modeled on and harmonized with requirements adopted by both the European Union and relevant US accessibility laws. The functional requirements do not replace technical requirements but specify what they are trying to achieve.
  • Regulations regarding the policies of the ecosystem. These govern the Trusted Authority, the Community Platform and updates to the laws.
  • Regulations that support system-wide long-term changes and improvements in the accessibility of Ontario. These include:
    • integrating education about accessibility in all education, starting as early as Kindergarten – Grade 12
    • integrating accessibility into professional training for all professions that have an impact on products and services
    • requiring accessibility when purchasing products and services, especially when spending public funds
    • including people with disabilities in decision making and planning processes, and ensuring that mechanisms for participation are accessible

Trusted Authority

The Trusted Authority would be an independent group that provides ongoing oversight and support to the system of accessibility standards, in order to ensure that the system is performing as it should and accomplishing what it is intended to accomplish. The Trusted Authority would include people with a wide range of expertise, including lived experience with disabilities.

As implied by the name, the Trusted Authority must be credible, understandable and reliable. All its activities must be transparent and open to public scrutiny. The Trusted Authority would have the power to consult with any individual or group to address knowledge and skill gaps.

The Trusted Authority would:

  • Determine and provide clear up-to-date qualifying methods for meeting regulations. (The current set of qualifying methods includes the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0, the Authoring Tool Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 and other standards such as Electronic Publication (EPub) and International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 24751).
  • In addition to qualifying methods, ensure that necessary tools and resources are available to use the qualifying methods.
  • Provide guidance regarding how to achieve the functional accessibility requirements, specific to the particular organizations. This includes links to resources and tools in the Community Platform.
  • Retire qualifying methods that are out of date.
  • Clarify laws when there is uncertainty or when there are changes.
  • Review new and innovative methods proposed by organizations and individuals to determine whether they can be used to meet the requirements.
  • Address gaps in available qualifying methods to meet the requirements.
  • Ensure that the barriers experienced by all Ontarians with disabilities are addressed by regularly evaluating who might be falling through the cracks. This includes individuals with a range of technical literacy, individuals in urban, rural and remote communities, Ontarians at all income levels and individuals with disabilities that are not visible or episodic disabilities. It also includes people who experience other barriers that might worsen the barriers experienced due to disabilities.
  • Provide, track and make publicly available indicators of progress toward an accessible Ontario. Examples of those indicators might include the number of companies with an accessibility officer, the number of accessibility complaints received and their resolution, the number of employees who self-identify as having a disability, and the number of Ontarians trained in accessibility skills.
  • Prioritize accessibility processes and tools rather than specialized technologies and services for people with disabilities. In this way, people with disabilities do not have to bear the additional cost of buying their own specific technology.
  • Support innovation that recognizes the diversity of needs experienced by people with disabilities rather than a “winner takes all” or a “one winning design” approach.
  • Support recognition that people with disabilities must be designers, developers, producers and innovators, and not only consumers of information and communication.
  • Qualifying methods must include accessible tools and processes.

The Trusted Authority would maintain an online interactive guide for participating organizations. This guide would let organizations know which FARs apply to them, what qualifying methods they could use to meet the requirements, and what tools and resources are available to help them implement the qualifying methods. The guide would be inclusively designed to consider the different types and ranges of expertise of organizations in Ontario.

It is recommended that the Trusted Authority report directly to the Legislative Assembly. It is the responsibility of the Legislative Assembly to maintain the FARs and the responsibility of the Trusted Authority to maintain the qualifying methods. Funding commitments for the Trusted Authority must span two political terms to ensure sustainability and independence. Decision-making regarding leadership of the Trusted Authority should be transparent and inclusive of Ontarians with disabilities.

Community Platform

The Community Platform would be an online platform, open to everyone in Ontario, that provides a simple and clear way for community members to contribute their knowledge, expertise and constructive criticism about accessibility in this province.

The Community Platform would:

  • collect and make accessibility resources and tools easily available
  • share training and education
  • make it possible for community members to monitor and review how organizations are doing in meeting the requirements
  • empower communities to organize events and activities that support accessibility
  • showcase and share good examples of accessible practices
  • collect and showcase data on various economic and social aspects of disability

The Community Platform must be an open online infrastructure that is easy to get into, easy to use and easy to navigate. It would allow any community member to pool, share and review a large variety of resources that are helpful in implementing the qualifying methods. These resources might include training modules, software tools, evaluation tools, design tools, reusable software components, helpful example practices, examples of contract language for procurement contracts, examples of job description language and many other resources.

The platform would also provide a means for community members to constructively review the resources. Community members would be able to identify gaps in resources, and these gaps would be disseminated publicly to potential innovators and resource producers. The Community Platform will learn from similar initiatives to avoid the pitfalls involved in keeping resources up-to-date and usable by a large diversity of individuals and organizations. Financial support would be needed to maintain the infrastructure and keep the various resources relevant and up-to-date.

Compliance

Clearly, compliance will have to be an important part of any successful accessibility ecosystem. The question, then, is how do we enforce and ensure proper compliance? Before making a more definitive recommendation, the committee would like to ask the public for input on how compliance might work, informed by its discussion on this topic summarized below:

The committee had an in-depth discussion of how compliance might work in phase 2. It was agreed that a reasoned, measured approach that rewards good actors and addresses bad behaviour is critical. In addition, greater accountability of leadership was a recurring theme. The committee also discussed greater connections between government bodies/ministries to enable government to be a better leader and using a greater spectrum of compliance measures. Some questions that came up were:

  • What is the right way to focus on organizations that want to do this right and actively build models that work well?
  • How do you evolve the current approach to compliance in order to encourage organizations to participate in this ecosystem, using a combination of both incentives and disincentives?
    • examples of incentives include grants, loans, tax benefits and public recognition of success
    • examples of disincentives include fines, levies to cover the cost of accessibility, surcharges and naming non-compliant organizations using social media
  • How best do you highlight the benefits of proactively investing in the integration of emerging technologies? How should we define emerging technology?

How is the new model better?

There are several characteristics of the Accessibility Ecosystem that set it apart. It is a more aspirational system, focusing as it does on what is important and good about accessibility, rather than simply emphasizing that it is an obligation. It is also a more inclusive system, not just inviting but actually relying on input from the public and from stakeholders, including those organizations obligated to meet accessibility requirements. Finally, it is designed to evolve and adapt as technology and attitudes change around it. Specifically, the new model will speed progress toward an accessible and inclusive Ontario because:

  • the Trusted Authority will intervene when new barriers arise
  • the Trusted Authority will integrate accessibility into the foundation before barriers are created
  • the Trusted Authority will be able to represent accessibility and inclusive design at technical and policy planning tables, to integrate inclusive design considerations from the start
  • efforts to produce services and resources that address accessibility, which are currently fragmented, will be coordinated and strategically channeled
  • new and current contributors to the goal of accessibility will be provided with productive ways to participate
  • the Trusted Authority will have the opportunity to provide a more comprehensive set of qualifying methods to address more of the barriers experienced by all persons with disabilities in Ontario
  • innovative practices that improve accessibility for people with disabilities will be showcased, rewarded and even adopted as qualifying methods
  • the Trusted Authority be able to maintain the momentum of accessibility efforts across political terms

Cost, funding and sustainability

Reports such as the Releasing Constraints report led by the Martin Prosperity Institute show that public investment in accessibility is one of the most economically rewarding investments of public dollars. By establishing a locus of expertise in accessibility, Ontario gains recognition as a global leader in meeting the growing demand for accessibility expertise and innovation, and achieves unprecedented gains in prosperity. This leadership potential has not been fully realized in the current act framework, but the Accessibility Ecosystem would change that.

The Community Platform would serve to reduce redundancy and significantly improve the effectiveness and efficiency of accessibility efforts. The Community Platform is also structured in such a way that while the infrastructure would be maintained through public funding, the resources, tools, training and review would be contributed by the community at large for mutual benefit. Support for the Trusted Authority and the Community Platform could be shared by multiple jurisdictions across Canada, including other provinces and the federal government. Other jurisdictions have expressed interest in collaborating and sharing these services.

Glossary

Qualifying methods

A means of meeting a Functional Accessibility Requirement for a type of service or product that is sanctioned by the Trusted Authority. Qualifying methods can refer to specific technologies and formats, and the tools and resources needed to employ these methods would be available in the Community Platform.

Participating organizations

Organizations within Ontario, including organizations obligated by the act, previously referred to as “obligated organizations.” The renaming recognizes that a role of all organizations in Ontario is to participate in promoting and advancing accessibility for their own benefit and the benefit of Ontario as a whole.

Platform

An online service that connects people who need something with resources or people that meet those needs. The platform provides a place to pool shared resources and tools, attach descriptions, including constructive criticism of the resources and tools. Platforms have points of entry suited to the different users and contributors of the platform.

Alternative access systems

Computer-based technology comes with a standard set of devices to interact with the technology, such as keyboards and displays. People may not be able to use these standard devices. Alternative access systems replace or augment these standard devices.

Appendix A: Committee membership

Information and Communications Standards Development Committee

Voting members

  • Rich Donovan (Chair)
  • Kim Adeney
  • David Berman
  • David Best
  • Louise Bray
  • Jennifer Cowan
  • Pina D’Intino
  • Louie DiPalma
  • Robert Gaunt
  • Gary Malkowski
  • Chantal Perreault
  • James Roots
  • Kevin Shaw
  • Jutta Treviranus
  • Diane Wagner
  • Richard Watters

Non-voting members

  • Kate Acs
  • Michele Babin
  • Adam Haviaras
  • Kathy McLachlan

Resigned

  • Jessica Gabriel
  • Ben Williamson
  • Matthieu Vachon

Digital Inclusion Technical Subcommittee

Members

  • Jutta Treviranus (Lead)
  • David Berman
  • Pina D’Intino
  • Anne Jackson
  • Dan Shire
  • Aidan Tierney
  • George Zamfir

Appendix B: Functional Accessibility Requirements (FARs)

The following is a draft of the proposed requirements that would constitute one part of the laws. These requirements would be directly linked to qualifying methods for meeting the requirements (provided by the Trusted Authority), and then to tools and resources needed to use the methods (provided by the Community Platform).

Where visual modes of presentation are provided:

  • at least one configuration must be provided that does not require vision
  • visual presentation must be adjustable to support limited vision and/or visual perception or processing (magnification, contrast, spacing, visual emphasis, layout)
  • at least one configuration must convey information without dependence on colour distinction
  • visual presentation that triggers photosensitive seizures must be avoided
  • it must be possible to render the presentation in alternative formats, including tactile formats

Where auditory modes of presentation are provided:

  • at least one configuration must be provided that does not require hearing (captions and sign language)
  • audio presentation must be adjustable to support limited hearing and/or auditory processing (volume, reduced background noise)
  • it must be possible to render the presentation in alternative formats, including tactile formats

Where speech is required to operate a function:

  • at least one configuration must be provided that does not require speech

Where manual dexterity is required for operation:

  • the opportunity to use alternative modes of operation must be provided
  • at least one mode of operation must be provided that enables operation through actions that do not involve fine motor control. These would include path dependant gestures, pinching, twisting of the wrist, tight grasping or simultaneous manual actions (for example, one-handed operation)

Where hand strength is required for operation:

  • at least one alternative mode of operation must be provided that does not require hand strength

Where operation requires reach:

  • operational elements must be within reach of all users

Where memorization is required for use:

  • at least one configuration must provide memory supports or eliminate the demand on memorization or accurate recall (unless the purpose is to teach or test memorization)

Where text literacy is required for use:

  • at least one configuration must provide literacy supports or eliminate the demand for text literacy (for example, text-to-speech, pictorial representation)
  • at least one configuration must provide simple language (unless the purpose is to teach or test text literacy where a different level of literacy is required). Simple language means the literacy level of Grade 3.

Where extended attention is required for use:

  • at least one configuration must reduce demand on attention or enable use with limited attention

Where operation has time limits:

  • at least one configuration must enable extension or elimination of time limits

Where controlled focus is required for use:

  • at least one configuration must provide support for focus or eliminate demand on controlled focus

Where specific sequencing of steps for operation is required:

  • at least one configuration must provide support for sequencing steps, or eliminate the demand for specific sequencing of operation steps (unless the purpose is to teach or test accurate sequencing)

Where abstract thinking is required:

  • at least one configuration must reduce demand for understanding abstractions such as acronyms, allegory and metaphor (unless the purpose is to teach or test abstract thinking)

Where accuracy of input is required:

  • a simple undo must be available

Where biometrics are employed:

  • alternative methods of identification must be made available

Appendix C: Definitions and resources

Relevant to all recommendations:

User: Someone who uses a product, machine or service.

Relevant to recommendation 13

United States Access Board definition of web page

A non-embedded resource obtained from a single Universal Resource Identifier (URI) using HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) plus any other resources that are provided for the rendering, retrieval and presentation of content.

European Union Web Accessibility Directive scope:

  1. In order to improve the functioning of the internal market, this directive aims to approximate the laws, regulations and administrative provisions of the member states relating to the accessibility requirements of the websites and mobile applications of public sector bodies, thereby enabling those websites and mobile applications to be more accessible to users, in particular to persons with disabilities.
  2. This directive lays down the rules requiring member states to ensure that websites, independently of the device used for access thereto, and mobile applications of public sector bodies meet the accessibility requirements set out in Article 4.

United Nations Convention language:

  1. States Parties shall also take appropriate measures:(g) To promote access for persons with disabilities to new information and communications technologies and systems, including the internet.

Relevant to recommendation 14

Alternative access systems

Computer-based technology comes with a standard set of devices to interact with the technology, such as keyboards and displays. People may not be able to use these standard devices. Alternative access systems replace or augment these standard devices.

Relevant to recommendation 17

Ontario Human Rights Code (the Code) “Undue Hardship” terminology

Relevant to recommendation 26

Ontario Human Rights Code “Policy on accessible education for students with disabilities”

Relevant to recommendation 27

Public feedback answers related to the question Which types of organizations should be included in the definition of formal education?:

Note: The survey answers below are extracted from survey responses:

  1. The term ‘formal’ education or training should be defined as stated above (for example, education or training that results in a certificate or other documentation) and the requirement would apply to any organizations that provide that type of education or training.
  2. Any that provide formal education or training.
  3. Any organization that would be giving a certification at the end of the training course.
  4. Tutoring organizations, recreational learning programs such as art, music, physical activity etc.
  5. Educational institutions.
  6. Yes but some agencies do not have the resources to do this. It must be funded.
  7. Everyone.
  8. Private Sector Organizations that provide (paid for) training to externa! clients. Public and Non-Profit organization whose mandate it is to provide training.
  9. University, public schools, private/board schools, workplace education training, broadcasting networks (news), city/town governments.
  10. Any time someone is enrolling as a student or paying for training.
  11. Institutions that issue certifications and designations, along with online training sessions.
  12. Public, private and non- profit.
  13. All.
  14. All.
  15. All businesses and companies, public or private, all not-for-profit companies, schools, colleges, universities, private schools.
  16. It should include all publicly funded education and all paid education.
  17. Would not recommend using the type of organization but would recommend looking at the type or frequency of the training that is being provided. Organizations that have a dedicated training and education dept that do regular training external to their organization should be considered.
  18. Anything that leads to a certification.

Infographics

Frame 1: Accessibility Ecosystem

Frame 1: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

A diagram representing the Accessibility Ecosystem using the visual analogy of a sailing ship in the water.

Introductory text

From obligation to participation: The AODA Accessibility Ecosystem is like a ship in an unpredictable and changing global and technical context. The laws provide the compass, the Trusted Authority steers the course, and the community uses the Community Hub to provide the ideas, tools and resources needed to make the journey.

Description of diagram

The sails of the ship are being blown by wind representing culture change and innovation.

The water has a shark fin representing barriers and fish jumping out of the water representing opportunities.

The ship represents the Ontario community and contains the three parts of the Accessibility Ecosystem: the Accessibility Law, the Trusted Authority and the Community Hub.

The Accessibility Law and Trusted Authority are two separate parts connected by a double helix that has the following phrases printed on it: “Needed Adjustments”, “How to Achieve It” and “What Must Be Achieved”. The Community Hub sits beside Trusted Authority outside the helix with arrows pointing into the helix.

Subtext for the three parts of the Ecosystem further explains each of the Ecosystem’s part. This subtext is as follows:

Accessibility Law
Measures that bring about long-term culture change
Functional accessibility requirements that remain constant
Regulating overall process

Trusted Authority
Ensuring tools and resources are available
Responding to changes in context
Retiring outdated methods
Qualifying innovative methods

Community Hub
Training
Community feedback and monitoring
Pooled resources and tools
Research and guidance
Innovative approaches to addressing barriers

Frame 2: Accessibility Ecosystem

Frame 2: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

The same diagram represented in Frame 1 is lightened with further descriptions of the three parts of the Accessibility Ecosystem layered on top.

Introductory text

There are three important parts in the Accessibility Ecosystem: Laws, Trusted Authority and Community Hub.

Ecosystem parts descriptions

Accessibility Law
The Law is the compass that keeps the ship on course. The law achieves an accessible community and maintains rules about the structure of the overall ecosystem.

Trusted Authority
The Trusted Authority provides directions to steer the course. The Trusted Authority must keep a careful watch for new barriers, opportunities and changes in technology trends and adjust directions in response to these changes.

Community Hub
The Community Hub engages everyone in the community including the general public, people with lived experience of disability, and participating organizations. The Community Hub provides the ideas and resources needed to progress forward.

Frame 3: Accessibility Ecosystem

Frame 3: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

The same diagram represented in Frame 2 (Frame 1 lightened) with even further descriptions of the three parts of the Accessibility Ecosystem layered on top.

Introductory text

Each of the three parts plays an important role in the ecosystem. They rely on each other to be successful.

Ecosystem parts descriptions

Accessibility Law
The laws lay out the functional accessibility requirements and provide regulations to bring about the needed culture change. The laws are the most constant.

Trusted Authority
Participating Organizations and community members can propose innovative new ways to meet the Functional Accessibility Requirements. The Trusted Authority is responsible for keeping the qualifying methods for meeting Functional Accessibility Requirements up-to-date, understandable and do-able. This requires the support of the Community Hub.

Community Hub
Everyone in the community has a role to play and can benefit from participating in the community effort. The Community Hub is the place where new ideas, tools, resources, training, reviews and constructive feedback is gathered and shared.

Frame 4: Accessibility Ecosystem

Frame 4: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

The same diagram represented in Frame 1 is darkened. Layered on top of the darkened diagram is a circle placed in the front part of the ship within the Ontario community. The circle represents Participating Organizations. Four lines with arrows extend out of the Participating Organization circle. Each line has a question attached to it with the arrow pointing to an answer within the ecosystem.

The questions and answers are as follows:

How can I make my services accessible?
Arrow points to Accessibility Law.
A second line with an arrow extends out of the question through the Trusted Authority and back to Participating Organizations.

How can I qualify my new method?
Arrow points to Trusted Authority: Qualifying innovative methods.

Where can I learn more?
Arrow points to Community Hub: Training.

What tools are there to help?
Arrow points to Community Hub: Pooled resources and tools.

Frame 5: Accessibility Ecosystem

Frame 5: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

The same diagram represented in Frame 4 (Frame 3 darkened). Layered on top of the diagram are two circles placed in the front part of the ship within the Ontario community. The circles represent the Public and Individuals with Disabilities. Three lines with arrows extend out of the Public circle and one line extends out of the Individuals with Disabilities circle. Each line has a question attached to it with the arrow pointing to an answer within the ecosystem.

The Public questions and answers are as follows:

How can I participate in drafting the laws?
Arrow points to Accessibility Law.

How can I propose new methods?
Arrow points to Trusted Authority: Qualifying innovative methods.

How can I provide feedback?
Arrow points to Trusted Authority.

The Individuals with Disabilities question and answer is:

How can I contribute to resources?
Arrow points to Community Hub: Pooled resources and tools.

Frame 6: trusted authority process

Frame 6: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

An explanation of the Trusted Authority process supported by a visual design that includes line drawings of a variety of people with talk bubbles containing descriptions of who they, as the Trusted Authority, are. The talk bubbles include:

We have the power to:

  1. continuously update the qualifying methods
  2. review innovative proposed new methods as alternatives or additions to existing methods
  3. clarify and rule on disputes regarding the regulations

We have inclusive representation and the power to consult with:

  1. external subject matter experts
  2. additional individuals with lived experience
  3. representative organizations

We support the law, but are independent of partisan influence.
We link the law directly to qualifying methods supported by tools, resources and training.
We bridge political terms.

We are the Trusted Authority
The Trusted Authority is responsible for keeping the qualifying methods for meeting Functional Accessibility Requirements up-to-date, understandable and do-able. This requires the support of the Community Hub. Participating Organizations and community members can propose innovative new ways to meet the Functional Accessibility Requirements.

Frame 7: participating organizations process

Frame 7: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

An explanation of the Participating Organizations process supported by a visual design that includes line drawings of a variety of people and talk bubbles containing questions and answers.

The questions and answers are as follows:

Question: How can I connect with potential customers with lived experience who can provide feedback?
Answer: Through community hub forums

Question: We have created tools and resources for the qualifying method, how do we share it?
Answer: Share in community hub, (make sure they’re referenced)

Question: Where can I learn more?
Answer: In the Community hub for training, education and exemplars

Question: Who has expertise and experience to help me?
Answer: Visit directory with reviews

Question: We found an innovative way to meet the functional accessibility requirement, will it qualify?
Answer: Vet with trusted authority

Question: What tools are there to help?
Answer: Access community hub tools and reviews

Question: Here are the services I provide; how do I make them accessible?
Answer: Trusted Authority provides relevant FARs and qualifying methods

We are Participating Organizations:
Participating Organizations are organizations operating in Ontario that are obligated by the Law. The Accessibility Ecosystem enables these organizations to participate in advancing accessibility in Ontario and to contribute innovative approaches. All organizations benefit from a more accessible Ontario.

Frame 8: shared responsibility and shared benefit process

Frame 8: View a larger version of this infographic (PDF). Read the text version below.

An explanation of the Community and Community Hub: Shared Responsibility and Shared Benefit process supported by a diagram that includes line drawings of a variety of people around a helix.

The left side of the helix has the following phrases:
Provide constructive feedback
Help develop training, tools and resources
Find new ways to address barriers
Create innovative inclusive technologies and practices
Help identify barriers

The right side of the helix has the following phrases:
Greater innovation
Greater prosperity
Ontario as a global leader
Participation and contributions by all Ontarians

We are the Community and the Community Hub
The Community Hub is the most participatory of the ecosystem and supports engagement by everyone in the community including people from the government, obligated organizations, and diverse individuals inclusive of those with disabilities.



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Share with Others the Youtube Link to Yesterday’s Important Panel on TV Ontario’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Revealing the Hardships Facing Many Ontario Students with Disabilities During Distance Education and While Attending Re-Opened Schools


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Share with Others the Youtube Link to Yesterday’s Important Panel on TV Ontario’s “The Agenda with Steve Paikin” Revealing the Hardships Facing Many Ontario Students with Disabilities During Distance Education and While Attending Re-Opened Schools

December 9, 2020

Did you miss last night’s important panel on Ontario’s flagship public affairs program The Agenda with Steve Paikin on the barriers and hardships facing many Ontario students with disabilities during distance learning or while attending re-opened schools? You can now watch it online any time you want, on your computer, tablet, smart phone or smart TV! If you want to cut and paste the link, here it is!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AO0MDM54gnA&feature=youtu.be

In the past, TVO has upgraded the automated Youtube captioning for its postings from The Agenda with Steve Paikin and has posted a transcript of such panels within a period of days.

On this panel, Steve Paikin interviewed three guests:

  1. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, who is also a member of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, as well as a member and past chair of the Toronto District School Board’s Special Education Advisory Committee.
  2. Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a teacher and mother of two children with autism.
  3. Grand Erie District School Board Special Education Advisory Committee member Paula Boutis, who is also the mother of a child with a disability and the President of Integration Action for Inclusion, a parent association of families with children with disabilities working to improve inclusion in education and community), and a past member of the TDSB Special Education Advisory Committee.

One of the many important points made during this interview is the pressing unmet need for the Ford Government to have developed and implemented a comprehensive province-wide plan on how school boards should meet the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities during distance learning and while attending re-opened schools. It is important to emphasize that the Government was handed just such a plan on a silver platter some five months ago – one it has not implemented. That plan was developed by a sub-committee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and was delivered to the Government on July 24, 2020. That Committee has representation from the disability community and school boards. It sets out a strong consensus position.

At the end of the interview, David Lepofsky stated that Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce told the Ontario Legislature on July 8, 2020 that he speaks regularly with Lepofsky. You can read the official Ontario Hansard transcript of that statement! Minister Lecce has not spoken to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky since he made that statement. You can also read the AODA Alliance’s September 23, 2020 letter to Education Minister Lecce, asking for a meeting.

Please encourage as many people as possible, including your member of the Legislature and your local school staff and school board officials to watch the December 8, 2020 panel on The Agenda with Steve Paikin. Forward this Update to them. Publicize it on social media.

We know that so many parents of students with disabilities are struggling more than ever to advocate to their school and school board to meet their children’s learning needs. That’s why we have made available a helpful video that offers parents of students with disabilities a series of very practical tips on how to advocate to school boards for their children. Please encourage parents, teachers, principals and others to watch that video too! Encourage principals to share that video with all the families attending their school.

We again want to acknowledge and thank Steve Paikin, and the staff of The Agenda with Steve Paikin, for shining a bright spotlight on this important disability issue. As AODA Alliance Chair David emphasized in another recent online lecture about advocating for the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been inexplicably hard to get media attention on vital disability issues over the past nine months. We are struggling to understand why that is so. Bucking that trend, Mr. Paikin and The Agenda with Steve Paikin stand out as a true and commendable model of receptiveness to our issues and concerns. Steve Paikin noted at the start of this interview that it was an approach from the AODA Alliance that led his program to decide to include this panel, arising out of our concern that an earlier panel on The Agenda did not accurately describe the experience of many students with disabilities during distance education.

Despite the ordeal facing so many Ontarians, including the plight of so many students with disabilities and their families, yesterday, the Ford Government decided yesterday to cancel the rest of the sittings of the Legislature this week. It will not sit again until mid-February of next year.

It is in that context that we remind one and all that there have now been 678 days, over 22 months, since the Ford Government received the final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. In all this time, the Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that ground-breaking report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing students with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic, addressed in this new episode of The Agenda with Steve Paikin.

Send us your feedback on this interview on The Agenda with Steve Paikin or on any other accessibility topic. Write us at [email protected]



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Ford Government Admits It Sent Out An Inaccessible Broadcast Email Yesterday to Announce Its Upcoming Announcement on Accessibility, Claiming a “Clerical Error”– Even Though Ministers’ Announcements Are Carefully Screened In Advance


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

Ford Government Admits It Sent Out An Inaccessible Broadcast Email Yesterday to Announce Its Upcoming Announcement on Accessibility, Claiming a “Clerical Error”– Even Though Ministers’ Announcements Are Carefully Screened In Advance

October 27, 2020

          SUMMARY

Yesterday, the AODA Alliance made public the jaw-dropping fact that the Ford Government’s Minister for Accessibility sent out a broadcast email that was inaccessible, to invite people to attend an minister’s announcement on Thursday, October 29, 2020 on the very subject of accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities. After our news release made this public, the Ford Government acknowledged that the announcement email was inaccessible, and apologized to the AODA Alliance. Below we set out the minister’s subsequent October 26, 2020 broadcast email, and an October 29, 2020 email to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from the Ford Government’s Deputy Minister of Accessibility.

The minister’s email, set out below, claims that it was a “clerical error” that led the minister to broadcast his inaccessible email invitation. Of Course, mistakes can happen. However, the Ontario Government does not simply sent out such emails, without them going through all sorts of scrutiny and checking, e.g. to make sure they are consistent with Government messaging and strategy.

There can be layers and layers of such vetting. This would especially be the case when it is a minister’s announcement of an upcoming Government-staged news event being announced. The fact that this broadcast email included its text within a text box, well-known to create accessibility barriers for screen-readers, should have been caught by someone, if that internal scrutiny took accessibility seriously.

There have now been 635 days since the Ford Government received the Onley Report, the report of the Government-appointed Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. That report found substantial problems with the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the AODA. This incident is sadly typical of those problems. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan to implement the Onley Report’s recommendations.

          MORE DETAILS

Text of Ford Government Broadcast Email Received by the AODA Alliance

Earlier today an invitation was sent from this account that was not accessible. We regret the clerical error and would like to reiterate that accessibility is of the utmost importance to the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. Please find an accessible invitation below and attached.

You’re invited

The Honourable Raymond Cho, Minister for Seniors and Accessibility invites you to a virtual announcement about Advancing Accessibility in Ontario.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

12:00 p.m. – 12:30 p.m.

The announcement will be held on Zoom

Meeting link will be provided upon RSVP

Please log on to the meeting 10 minutes prior to start time

Please R.S.V.P. to Dylan Franks at (416) 828-5726 or

[email protected]

This invitation is intended for the recipient and is non-transferable without permission.

Please advise if you need this communication in another format.

Text of October 27, 2020 Email to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from Ontario Government Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Denise Cole

Good afternoon David,

Thank you for sending me your news release. I have looked into the matter and hasten to reply. On behalf of the ministry, my sincere apologies for this unintentional error having occurred. It was a ministry mistake, and as the Deputy Minister, I accept full responsibility. An accessible version will be sent to you shortly.

With apologies,

DAC

Denise Allyson Cole

Deputy Minister

Ministry for Seniors & Accessibility

777 Bay Street, 6th Floor

Toronto ON M5G 2C8



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An Important New Report to the Ontario Government Calls on the Government and School Boards to Take Action Now to Ensure that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Able to Fully Participate in Ontario Schools as They Re-Open This Fall


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

An Important New Report to the Ontario Government Calls on the Government and School Boards to Take Action Now to Ensure that One Third of a Million Students with Disabilities are Able to Fully Participate in Ontario Schools as They Re-Open This Fall

August 14, 2020

          SUMMARY

We today share with you a very important new report that bears on the needs of a third of a million students with disabilities in Ontario-funded schools, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Three weeks ago, the Ford Government received a detailed report on the steps it needs to take to meet the needs of students with disabilities now and into the fall, in the face of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This thorough report, which we set out in full below, was written by a subcommittee of the Government-appointed K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky serves on that Standards Development Committee and was one of the members of the subcommittee that collectively developed this report. The subcommittee included representation from the disability sector and the school board community.

We are delighted that this report includes the substance of all the recommendations that the AODA Alliance put forward in its June 19, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government on how to meet the needs of students with disabilities during school re-opening. It expands and enhances on the recommendations in the AODA Alliance‘s June 19, 2020 brief to the Ontario Government. This report also goes further, adding other important recommendations.

With school re-opening fast approaching, it is important for the Ford Government to now announce a plan to implement these recommendations. Until the Ford Government does so, we call on all Ontario school boards to review this report and implement its recommendations in their plans for school re-opening.

We encourage one and all to send this report to your member of the Ontario legislature, your school board trustee, and your local media. Email Premier Doug Ford and Education Minister Stephen Lecce. Emphasize to all of them that this report needs immediate action.

The AODA Alliance has been spearheading a campaign for over a decade to tear down the barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system. We led the multi-year campaign to get the Ontario Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act .

For more background on these issues, please visit the AODA Alliances COVID-19 web page and our education web page. Check out the widely-viewed online video of the May 4, 2020 virtual Town Hall on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, co-organized by the Ontario Autism Coalition and the AODA Alliance.

Stay safe, and let us know what you do to help us press for these reforms. Email us at aodafeed[email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

July 24, 2020 Letter to the Ontario Minister of Education and Minister for Accessibility from the Chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

Date: Friday, July 24, 2020

The Honourable Stephen Lecce

Minister of Education

5th Floor, 438 University Avenue,

Toronto, Ontario M7A 2A5

The Honourable Raymond Cho
Minister for Seniors and Accessibility
5th Floor, 777 Bay Street,

Toronto, Ontario M7A 1S5

Dear Minister Lecce and Minister Cho,

Re: K-12 Education Standards Development Committee: Planning for Emergencies and Safety Small Group Report

On behalf of the members of the Planning for Emergencies and Safety small group (the small group), I am pleased to submit the small group’s advice and recommendations on emergency planning and safety for students with disabilities in K-12 education during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee (The Committee) formed the small group when the Ministry of Education was seeking feedback from the Committee on the barriers and issues identified through the COVID-19 pandemic. The small group’s mandate includes using experiential learning from the COVID-19 pandemic to:

  • identify new and reoccurring accessibility barriers to learning for students with disabilities in the context of remote learning; and
  • develop an emergency plan framework (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

The small group members have put incredible effort, time and passion to complete this report that includes valuable advice and recommendations for government consideration. The report addresses the following 9 barriers for students with disabilities as a result of COVID-19:

  1. organizational, policy and procedural barriers
  2. mental health and well being
  3. academic (learning inequities for students with disabilities)
  4. support for secondary school students with disabilities
  5. transitions between in school and virtual learning
  6. accessible communication and technology
  7. training on the integration of digital technology into learning
  8. transportation
  9. recommendations addressing barriers for the Government and School Boards in emergency planning and safety

Thank you for your shared commitment to ensuring accessibility and inclusion for students with disabilities in Ontario. We have appreciated the discussions with Minister Lecce on Grants for Students Needs funding and the school board memos that address the current work being done to support students. The barriers in our report reflect what we have heard from various educational partners, families of student with disabilities and students within Ontario. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss these additional recommendations. The work and passion of the Committee continues, and we look forward to more opportunities to share our advice and feedback with you.

Together we can create an accessible and inclusive education system for students with disabilities during this unprecedented time.

Sincerely,

(Original signed by)

 

 

Lynn Ziraldo,
Chair, K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

Attachments:

  1. Small group report

July 24, 2020 Report to the Ontario Government from the Planning for Emergencies and Safety Subcommittee of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee

July 24, 2020

Introduction

The COVID-19 Pandemic has tested emergency plans for all levels of government, businesses, agencies, education systems, communities, families, and citizens in the province of Ontario. Many risks have been identified and challenges have arisen because of the pandemic and more continue to be identified as we move through the stages of the emergency. Emergency plans, response and procedures need to be reviewed to address these risks and barriers immediately and to improve responses to emergencies in the future.

As the Ministry of Education was seeking feedback on barriers and emerging issues identified during the COVID-19 Pandemic, the K-12 Standards Development Committee formed the Planning for Emergency and Safety Working Group with a focus on students with disabilities with the following mandate:

Using experiential learning from the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Identify new and reoccurring accessibility barriers to learning for students with disabilities in the context of remote learning
  • Develop an emergency plan framework (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

Methodology

The Planning for Emergencies & Safety Working Group gathered resources from experts including the Framework for Reopening Schools developed by UNICEF, SickKids recommendations to Reopening Schools, Letters to Minister Lecce from the Ontario Human Rights Commission of July 14, 2020; and various other resources and articles from educational partners within Ontario, other provinces and countries (See Resource Section). While reviewing the documents, the Working Group identified barriers and subsequently developed recommendations to address said barriers.

Organizational Challenges and Barriers during COVID-19

Through a review of resources, feedback from parents and guardians, agencies, health professionals and educational stakeholders’ opinions expressed, the Working Group found that students with disabilities have faced challenges compounded by COVID-19.  Their needs have been inconsistently addressed or not at all. These are some organizational, policy and procedural barriers identified:

  • Inconsistent or unclear messaging from varying levels of government, health agencies and school boards
  • Lack of or unable to access consistent data from all regions and school boards to support data driven decisions and implement actions quickly and effectively.
  • Policies and procedures outdated, non-existent, or inflexible to accommodate this type of emergency – COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Emergency response teams not reflecting the different subject knowledge needed to support decision making and development of a plan that reflects the needs of students with disabilities.
  • Inter-governmental, health service, service agencies and school board service agreements did not reflect the ability to provide services in a virtual learning environment
  • Service delivery models used by government, health services, service agencies and school boards not conducive to virtual service delivery.
  • The extent to which Board’s utilized or sought feedback from its SEACs in developing response or action plans to the COVID-19 pandemic varied from none to fully participated.
  • Not all school boards have an Accessibility Standards Committee or for those school boards that do have members of the community or people with disabilities who have lived experience that can help plan and implement the Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 in schools for students with disabilities
  • School board Accessibility Standards Committee can be helpful in helping to plan and implement the Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 in schools for students with disabilities. However, not all school boards have such committees, or committee membership that includes members of the community or people with disabilities who have lived experience that can inform planning and implementation.

Key Recommendations for Planning for Emergencies

It is important in planning for return to school, the opportunity is taken to review and create structures, policy and procedures that can adapt and be more flexible for a 2nd wave or future emergencies.

By learning from innovations and emergency processes, systems can adapt and scale up the more effective solutions. In doing so, they could become more effective, more agile, and more resilient” – (quoted from THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC: SHOCKS TO EDUCATION AND POLICY RESPONSES, World Bank).

There are 5 known steps to Emergency Planning and Preparedness: 1) Know your risk, 2) Build your Team, 3) Make critical information accessible quickly, 4) Update alert and response procedure, 5) Test the plan and revise.

To eliminate barriers identified, that a return to school plan has input from end users, be designed through an inclusive process and not by one team or group. A team of subject expertise from across the organization is critical for developing a strong plan.

Recommendations – Government

For the above reasons, it is recommended that

  • The Ministry of Education should establish a Central Education Leadership Command Table with responsibilities for ensuring that students with disabilities have access to all accommodations and supports they require during the present COVID-19 pandemic. The responsibilities of the Command Table shall include:
    1. immediately develop a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent learning needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19 pandemic quickly and resolve issues for students with disabilities as they arise. The comprehensive plan should be shared for implementation by school boards. This plan should include and incorporate the three options for education:
  • normal school day routine with enhanced public health protocols
  • modified school day routine based on smaller class sizes, cohorting and alternative day or week delivery, and,
  • at-home learning with ongoing enhanced remote delivery
    1. collect and share data on existing and emerging issues as a result of COVID-19, the effective responses of other jurisdictions in supporting students with disabilities during the current emergency, using evidence base data collection method for people with disabilities
    2. establish a fully accessible centralized hub, and share and publicize the hub, for sharing of effective practices about supporting students with disabilities
    3. develop a rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards
    4. provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected.
  • The government/Ministry of Education shall establish a cross sectorial Partnership Table at provincial and regional levels with the responsibility to integrate, coordinate and foster cross sector planning and response to emergencies. Responsibilities of this table are to:
    1. enhance an interlinked, coordinated and inter-ministerial approach in providing a seamless service delivery model to provide services and supports to students with disabilities (Psychology, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Mental Health, etc.).
    2. collect data now, from respective sectors, health services, education, service agencies, etc. to identify existing and emerging barriers, know exactly which students with disabilities and how they are impacted, their needs, and how to better direct resources to support them
    3. provide clear communication and guidance on school opening, health service delivery, etc. based on data collected to ensure accessibility for students with disabilities.
  • The Ministry of Education provincial and regional partnership tables should include advisors that can provide insight on the needs and challenges of students with disabilities from lived experience and the collective experience of disability support groups, as well as students with disabilities.
  • The Ministry of Education should assign staff to assist the Central Educational Command Table by serving as a central rapid response team to receive feedback from school boards on recurring issues facing students with disabilities and to help find solutions to share with school boards.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct that each school board shall establish a similar Board Command table. (See recommendation 12 for School Boards).
  • The provincial government continue and enhance an interlinked, coordinated and inter-ministerial approach in providing a seamless service delivery model to provide services and supports to students with disabilities (Psychology, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy, Mental Health, etc.).
  • The Ministry of Education should collect and aggregate International data, resources and information from other countries experiences for use in planning transitions between in-school and distance education, including continuation of virtual learning at home.
  • The Ministry of Education should developed comprehensive plans for students with disabilities that addresses the surge in demand and increase capacity to provide specialized disability supports, including enhanced staffing, for the return to in-class and distance learning (increase in in-class supports, social workers, psychologists, guidance counsellors)
  • The Ministry of Education should develop guidelines that provide for alternate or enhanced childcare opportunities to be made available to families of students with a disability, for students required to stay home due to adapted model classroom scheduling. (Excludes childcare needs that are related to quarantine self-isolation for child or family due to exposure or a local outbreak of the virus.)
  • To get the most from the volunteer work of SEACs around Ontario, the Ministry of Education should:
  1. a) Create and maintain a listserv or other virtual network of all Ontario SEACs, to enable them to share their efforts with all other SEACs around Ontario, and
  2. b) Frequently gather input from SEACs around Ontario about the experiences of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis to inform future policies and regulations and directions for school boards.
  • To promote transparency, accountability and identify trends, the Ministry of Education should immediately issue a policy direction for boards to create an exclusion policy, that imposes restrictions on when and how a principal may exclude a student from school, including directions that:
  1. a) Does not impede, create barrier, or disproportionally increase burdens for students with disabilities the right to attend school for the entire day as do students without disabilities. The power to refuse to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day should not be used in a way that disproportionately burdens students with disabilities or that creates a barrier to their right to attend school.
  2. b) Tracks exclusions and provide a transparent procedure and practice to parents/guardians, by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school during the school re-opening process to immediately give the student and their parent/guardian written notice of their decision to do so, including written reasons for the refusal to admit, the duration of the refusal to admit and notice of the parent/guardian’s right to appeal this refusal to admit to the school board.
  3. c) Tracks exclusions, increases accountability and informs policies by requiring a principal who refuses to admit a student to school for all or part of the school day to immediately report this in writing to their school board’s senior management, including the reasons for the exclusion, its duration and whether the student has a disability. Each school board should be required to compile this information and to report it on a regular basis to the board of trustees, the public and the Ministry of Education (with individual information totally anonymized).
  • The Ministry of Education should provide clear guidelines and expectations to school boards on the implementation of Public Health Guidelines to mitigate risks of COVID-19 to ensure that school buildings and grounds be fully accessible for students with disabilities.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should establish a similar Board Command/Central table as the Ministry of Education’s Central Education Command/Central Table, to receive and act on feedback from teachers, principals and families about problems they are encountering serving students with disabilities during the COVID-19 period. The Table will quickly network with similar offices/Tables at other school boards and can report recurring issues to the Ministry’s command table.
  • School Boards should utilize the expertise of the Special Education Advisory Committee members by directly involving members in the planning for the delivery of remote learning, other emergency plans, through regular meetings and frequent communications.
  • School Boards should enhance its hub of resources with successful practices, lesson plans, resources specific to students with disabilities in a virtual learning environment for ease of access and support teachers and students in their learning.
  • School Boards should involve their Accessibility Committee, or if there is no committee to establish an Accessibility Advisory Committee which will review all plans at the school board and school level for mitigating risk of COVID-19 meet the accessibility requirements of all students or people with disabilities.
  • School Boards should assign a leadership staff member responsible for ensuring that all changes at schools in response to COVID-19 maintain accessibility for all students with disabilities.

Mental Health & Well Being

As found through the review of resources, student and family mental health & wellbeing needs have soared to due to the traumatic effects of COVID-19. Students wellbeing has suffered for a variety of barriers: effects of isolation from social distancing, increased rise in domestic violence, lack of access to school breakfast programs, lack of access to mental health & therapeutic services, and negative financial impact to family’s income to name a few.

Barriers

  • Agencies, different levels of government and school boards developing plans and working on solutions to barriers with little or no coordination
  • Support for parents with students with complex needs are insufficient
  • Health services and supports not consistently or sufficiently prepared to provide health and mental health services in a virtual setting
  • There is a flood of information and resources being presented to teachers, parents and students
  • More inter-ministerial leadership and collaboration between Ministries of Education (MOE), Community, Children & Social Services (MCCSS) and Health (MOH) is required
  • School Boards and staff must be equipped with appropriate PPE for their own health and wellbeing
  • Need to safely deliver additional supports such and as breakfast & nutrition programs provided by community agencies
  • Plans for the next phase include a return to in-class and virtual instruction, including adapted models whereby some students will be scheduled at home on an alternate day or alternate week basis. Having students at home for short or long periods (alternate day to full semester) will be a significant challenge for families and may prevent the return to work for many parents. Some parents of children with disabilities face barriers to employment, and many others are overburdened with providing 24-hour care to students with complex care needs.

Recommendations – Government

  • The government should enhance the central hub of mental health & wellbeing information resources at provincial and regional levels with key messages and links to other resources. Ensure all resources are in an accessible digital format (as per Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation), well publicised and shared with school boards.
  • Ministries should review and increase capacity of Ontario Telehealth Network (OTN) and other privacy protected health platforms to allow for boards to use (even in non-emergency times) and deliver services by regulated health care professionals that protect the privacy of the health services and IPRCs.
  • Ministries of Education, Health and Children, Community & Social Services should remove any cross-jurisdictional barriers related to the provision of health and education services to ensure students with disabilities can be provided with the mental health & wellbeing services they require to be delivered remotely. (For example, under Policy/Program Memorandum (PPM) 149, Protocol for Partnerships with External Agencies for Provision of Services by Regulated Health Professionals, Regulated Social Service Professionals, and Paraprofessionals permit electric consent for services and virtual access to services for students with disabilities).
  • The Ministry of Education should provide funding and clear guidelines on use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and protocols for detection and containment of COVID-19 for boards, staff and all students, including those with disabilities. Public health authorities should establish clear protocols for the detection and containment of COVID-19 (and other infectious diseases) for school boards. The guidelines and protocols should be flexible for school boards to react to local situations to mitigate risks.
  • The Ministry of Education’s plan for school re-openings must include detailed directions on required measures to mitigate risk for students with disabilities from COVID-19 to maintain their health and wellbeing during any return to school. This requires additional planning in advance by school boards and additional funding to school boards to hire and train the additional Special Needs Assistants (SNA) and Educational Assistants (EA) they will need to ensure the safety of students with disabilities. It also requires safeguards to ensure that EAs or SNAs do not work at multiple sites and risk transmitting the COVID-19 virus from one location to another.
  • Ministries should review policies and regulations to continue to permit the virtual provision of therapy supports and services that have transitioned successfully to a virtual learning environment and where possible, permit and foster increased access to therapies and services to areas in province where a lack of services exists.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • Many students with disabilities volunteer at school events, in school daycares, kindergarten classes as part of their learning plan, IEP or fulfilling the 40 hours volunteer requirement. School Boards should develop/review guidelines for students with disabilities who volunteer in school to limits risk to health and safety but does not stop this valuable learning experience for students with disabilities.
  • Many adults with disabilities volunteer in schools and school daycares for the opportunity to exist as a valued contributing member within their community. School Boards should develop guidelines for people with disabilities who volunteer within the school that limits risk to the health and safety but continues to have the opportunity to be a contributing member of the school community.
  • School Board should provide virtual learning opportunities for volunteering and co-op courses for students with disabilities. Resources and guidelines should be developed to create the opportunity for the student to complete volunteering hours or cooperative credits successfully.
  • School Boards should develop and/or review guidelines for transitions plans for students with disabilities to outline supports and accommodations that may be offered in a virtual learning environment or enhanced by online tools and resources to support the physical and emotions wellbeing of student with disabilities when transitioning back to school. Accommodations or strategies should be reviewed and adapted to the virtual learning environment to support transitions. (An example would be for students with disabilities have access to audio described (DV) and closed-captioned (CC) virtual tours of the school facilities, so students could familiarize themselves with the school prior to the start of school. (See also Transition section).
  • In consultation with community agencies, School Boards should develop/revise procedures and protocols for volunteers and community agencies that support the health and wellbeing of students with disabilities continue to operate in the school (Example, Food nutrition programs, clothing exchanges, etc.)
  • In consultation with Public Health Regional Health, School Boards must develop clear protocols and procedures with accommodations for students with disabilities for the detection, isolation, tracing and follow up those students who develop symptoms for the virus, flu, respiratory infection, etc. For example: Ensure dedicated space to isolate students with disabilities who may need to return home is accessible and provides the accommodations required to meets the needs of any students with disabilities.

Academic

The pandemic has had profound impacts to student’s learning and staff’s ability to provide a learning environment that promotes student success and achievement. Learning inequities for students with disabilities have increased throughout the pandemic due to barriers faced. Some of the barriers identified were:

Barriers

  • Ongoing accessibility issues with online and virtual learning resources provided for learning at home
  • Wealth of resources, tools, etc. being developed by Boards, Agencies and Associations with limited sharing of resources. Resources developed may not be accessible.
  • Virtual learning is not working for many students with disabilities
  • Many students with disabilities were not effectively engaged in virtual learning for a variety of reasons, including accessibility challenges with the internet, computer software and hardware, nature of resources provided, individual challenges related to format, capacity of family, or behaviour.
  • Closure of schools for 3 months has resulted in significant loss of learning for many students
  • Special Education Advisory Committees meetings have been cancelled and some the skills and knowledge of SEAC members has not been fully utilized.
  • Teachers, students and parents were not prepared for the sudden transition from in-class instruction to the virtual learning environment and planning for future interruptions of schools would benefit from proactive planning for education in a virtual instruction and learning environment.

Recommendations – Government

  • The Ministry of Education should develop curriculum for students from Kindergarten to Grade 12 to enable students to develop the skills and knowledge they need for learning in a virtual learning environment. In the interim, the Ministry should share existing, accessible resources on this topic to teachers and School Boards (Please see Training for additional recommendations)
  • The Ministry of Education should collect and make readily available resources/information on practices, effective strategies in learning environment, and alternate approaches for students struggling with online learning, etc. from School Boards, agencies and disability specific associations.
  • Ministry of Education should provide clear expectations for teacher led instruction, synchronous learning, and weekly teacher student-teacher connections for students who are participating in virtual instruction and learning. Expectations should include monitoring if students with disabilities are fully participating, learning and benefiting from these activities; and if not, action to address barriers or issues identified.

Recommendations – School Board

  • School Boards should assess and document accommodations, modifications, resources and supports for all students with disabilities to plan for transition back to school and continuation of virtual instruction and learning. (Please see Transitions Recommendations for details)
  • School Boards should develop and provide all resources for instruction and assessment materials, homework assignments in an accessible digital format (See Communications & Technology section for recommendation on accessible digital format).

Secondary School

The secondary school experience is different from elementary school. It is where students develop, time management, organizational, advocacy skills, networking and social skills, become more aware of community and identify career paths. It is for this reason, the Working Group felt it was important to identify barriers and make recommendations specific to secondary students. Many of these recommendations can benefit the entire secondary school student population.

Barriers

  • Students with disabilities have experienced little to no personal contact with their school community social network supports (classroom teachers, Educational Assistants, custodians, administrative assistants, etc.), who rely on this contact to maintain their engagement within the school community and preserve their mental health.
  • At any time, students with disabilities have very limited opportunity to fulfill the 40 hours of volunteering required for graduation and rely heavily on volunteering at their high school or local elementary school events. All opportunities for volunteering were eliminated during the pandemic.
  • Many students with disabilities take optional specialized courses such as Specialized High School Major (SHSM), cooperative credits, etc. which provide hands on and participation within the community. Hands on learning, skills in applicable to trades and life skills were significantly diminished during COVID-19.
  • Clubs, councils, sports teams and extracurricular activities are a formative and important part of the high school experience. Often these extracurricular activities are the only opportunity students with disabilities has to socialize with their peers. Not having access to extracurricular activities has impacted their mental health and well-being.
  • Many students with disabilities rely on in class instruction be it due to learning disability, anxiety, learning style, ADHD, or simply due to preference in the way they individually learn, among others. The loss of in-class instruction has significantly impacted their learning and future for success.
  • Learning at home during school closure has been challenging for students in terms of academic achievement, mental health and wellbeing
  • All four years of high school are an integral part of a young person’s development and a multitude of students require and rely on in class instruction be it for specialized courses That require specialized equipment, trained staff;
  • The experience of four years of high school are incredibly formative of a young person’s social, emotional, mental and physical relationship with society, the world around them and indeed the values they will build their life around;
  • Return to school planning must consider the impacts on minority & racialized students, students in abusive households, students with limited access to technology or broadband, students with disabilities and students with other complex learning needs;
  • Many students rely on in class instruction be it due to learning disability, anxiety, learning style, ADHD, or simply due to preference in the way they individually learn, among others;

Recommendations – Ministry

  • The Ministry of Education should allow high school in-class instruction to operate for the 2020-2021 school year, if authorized by Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health.
  • The Minister should direct School Boards to continue courses which require specialized forms of equipment, classrooms, teaching staff and/or resources (science labs, shops, media classrooms) continue to operate, in accordance with local public health advice.
  • As per the Canadian Mental Health Association, 70% of mental health challenges have their onset in childhood or youth and the Kids Help Phone Line has seen a increase in demand, The Ministries of Education and Health should increase capacity of mental health professionals and supports for School Boards, to ensure there is no waitlist for any secondary student requiring support.
  • The Ministry of Education should include student voice through student trustees’ association or other student leaders, when developing a plan for return to school.
  • The Ministry of Education should waive the compulsory credit in Health & Physical Education for students who have entered secondary school in the 2020-21 school or whose timetable will be negatively impacted, should Physical Education classes not operate in the conventional manner.
  • If required by Public Health, the Ministry of Education should fund PPE for students and staff to mitigate risks of infection.
  • The Ministry should direct School Boards to develop a prioritization and execution plan for conducting clinical assessments (e.g., psycho–educational assessments) that students with disabilities require in order to access necessary supports and services as they transition from secondary to post-secondary destinations.

Recommendations – School Board

  • School Boards and Schools should include student voice, including students with disabilities in developing the Board return to school plan, as well as, individual school return plans respectively.
  • School Boards and Schools should provide clear instruction on proper personal protection equipment (PPE) and safety measures to students, parents, and staff.
  • School Boards should follow or mirror Public Health protocols prescribed by the local Public Health. If PPE is not required by the local Public Health, student have the choice to wear PPE. If PPE is required, that school boards are funded appropriately to provide PPE for all students and staff.
  • Where local public health advice can be adhered to, Schools should continue to offer extracurricular activities such as clubs, councils, teams using proper social distancing and general safety protocols.
  • Where applicable, School Boards should waive parking fees for students to reduce financial burdens and help mitigate health risks for students by not riding on a crowded public transit bus.
  • School Boards should make decisions pertaining to cancellation of extracurricular activities in school mirror that of activities outside of school. (Example: If soccer clubs operate locally, then soccer clubs in schools should continue to operate).
  • School Boards should develop and offer online programming for students who cannot or wish not to attend school in person, but not be considered a long-term alternative to in class instruction.
  • School Boards and schools seek out the voice of students, including voices of students with disabilities, when they develop return to school plan options.
  • School Board should develop guidelines for clubs or programs that supplement or enhance education for students with disabilities so they can continue to operate upon return to school.
  • School Boards should continue to offer where possible, alternate classrooms, quiet workspaces, and other special education requirements prescribed in a student’s Individual Education Plan (IEP).
  • School Boards should research and investigate potential online coop placements that may be available for all students; including students with disabilities.
  • When permitted under local health advice, the School Board should review new health and safety protocols with student and the coop placement provider.

Transitions

An impact of the pandemic for students with disabilities is that learning has been lost or stagnant. Learning recovery will be important when returning to school. This will mean targeted measures to reversing learning loss or closing gaps. There will be a need for clear system wide guidance for in-class and central assessments to inform and plan for curriculum delivery, supports and service upon return to school.

Transition planning will occur at the provincial, local and student level. The Ministry of Education will need to identify barriers and gaps from all educational stakeholders to develop an informed return to school plan. School boards will need identify barriers and gaps at a system and individual student level to create an informed back to school plan as well as address the needs for students with disabilities.

The Individual Education Plan (IEP) is a tool for documenting student strengths and needs and the accommodations, programs and services they require to be successful. IEPs are a valuable tool in documenting the student’s current level of achievement and transition plans for planned changes in grades, schools, and life after secondary school. The IEP can also be used to plan for return to school, full time or in an adapted model, or for continued virtual learning.

Barriers

  • During the school closure gaps in student skills and knowledge related to on-line and distance learning has been evident
  • Planning for school year 2020-2021 will include in school and distance learning
  • School staff will need to assess student’s with disabilities to determine their accessibility and learning needs
  • Students with disabilities individual IEPs and transitions plans need to be reviewed to address barriers and gaps to allow for student success.
  • Student voice often forgotten in the planning process
  • Students and prospective students cannot visit the physical environments of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic and do not have the opportunity to check for physical accessibility and familiarize themselves with environment

Recommendations – Government

  • The Ministry of Education should direct School Boards to develop a prioritization and execution plan for conducting clinical assessments (e.g., psycho–educational assessments) that students with disabilities require, in order to access necessary supports and services as they transition from secondary to post-secondary destinations.
  • The Ministry of Education, in partnership with MCCSS should work with school boards to identify their cohorts of students with intellectual and other disabilities who completed their school careers in June 2020 and identify and assess if barriers faced during COVID-19 did not allow for successful student transitions to their chosen pathway (Examples: to work, volunteer work, recreation/leisure programs, and post-secondary education) as outlined in their transition plans. Jointly, the Ministries and School Boards should develop plans to help this cohort of students with disabilities achieve their individual transition goals.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should be independently collecting board wide data on gaps, barriers, emerging issues, transition challenges, technology challenges, additional students’ needs and supports arising or as a result of COVID-19 through assessment, student and parent feedback to address and plan for system wide supports and services required by students with disabilities upon return to school.
  • To help with successful transitions for student with disabilities in returning to school, School Boards shall contact parent/guardians, as soon as possible, to discuss and identify learning gaps, individual needs arising from school shutdown and distance learning, transition challenges, social and emotional needs to inform and revise/or create individualized transition plans for students with disabilities.
  • To help reduce stress and anxiety and prepare themselves for return to school, students with disabilities should be involved with discussions and decision made in developing their Transition Plan.
  • School Boards and Administrators shall ensure Individual Education Plans for students with disabilities are revised/created to reflect specific goals and activities to address the individual needs identified in Recommendation #3 to help increase academic and transition success for each student with a disability upon returning to school.
  • School Boards shall include the student when developing their individualized Transition and IEP. All
  • When School Boards develop the Individualized Transition Plans for each student, it should be:
    1. flexible to accommodate the stop and start of in class learning. All methods of instruction should be considered for learning to ensure students have access to an education (virtual instruction, in home instruction, etc.)
    2. include a flexible and hybrid model for entry needs to accommodate the varying student needs. Any model developed for return to school shall be developed in consultation with parent/guardians and student
    3. include strategies for students around social/physical distancing. Social distancing guidelines should be developed in consultation with parents/guardians and student.
    4. Include steps for follow up and checking in with the student
    5. All documentation or information be provided to the parent/guardian and student before the meeting with enough time to review. Documents should be provided in an accessible format.
  • School Boards should take more interactive approaches to collect on-going feedback from parents, students and staff (i.e. “Thought exchange”) to guide and inform changes to policies and procedures impacted by COVID-19.
  • School Boards should develop a clear system wide plan to address increased classroom and school supports and services (Educational Assistants, Education Works, social workers, psychologists, guidance councillors) identified through assessments to help mitigate issues and support learning for students with disabilities.
  • School Boards should create audio described (DV) and closed-captioned (CC) virtual tours of their school. The virtual tour must be fully accessible and thoroughly provide information on accessibility and locations at the schools. Virtual tours should be made permanently available; not just during the pandemic.

Communications & Technology

For our purpose, communication includes technologies, systems, protocols and procedures that enable an organization to effectively communicate to its employees, partners and community. During an emergency, communication is essential and should ensure all relevant personnel can quickly and effectively communicate with each other during such crises, sharing information that will allow the organization to quickly rectify the situation, protect employees and assets, and allows the business to continue.

To relate this to Education – government, school boards, agencies, staff, students, parent/caregivers, should have the ability to communicate effectively during a crisis, while the business of providing learning continues.

Barriers

  • Ongoing accessibility issues with virtual learning environment or platform (Examples: no closed captions, compatibility issues with screen readers, lack of support or knowledge of accessibility features, no ASL interpretation)
  • Ongoing accessibility issue with information and resources provided
  • Conflicting guidelines provided by different ministries and level of government.

Recommendations – Government

  • That a designated communication lead should be assigned at the provincial and regional level for consistent messaging.
  • For efficiency and elimination of duplication of effort for School Boards, The Ministry of Education should immediately engage an arms-length digital accessibility consultant to evaluate the comparative accessibility of different digital learning and virtual learning environments or platforms available for use in Ontario schools. This should involve end-user testing. The Ministry should immediately send the resulting report and comparison to all school boards and make it public. This should be revisited as the fall approaches, in case there have been changes to the relative accessibility of different virtual instruction environments or platforms.
  • The Ministry of Education should provide a list of acceptable accessible, cross platform virtual learning environments and synchronous teaching systems to be used by school boards.
  • The Ministry of Education should make public a plan of action to swiftly make its own online learning content accessible for people with disabilities, setting out milestones and timelines, and should report to the public on its progress.
  • The Ministry of Education should immediately direct TVO/TFO to make its online learning content accessible to people with disabilities, and to promptly make public a plan of action to achieve this goal, with specific milestones and timelines. The implementation of this recommendation has become urgent since Royal Assent was given to Bill 197, COVID-19 Economic Recovery Act, 2020 as amends to the Ontario Educational Communications Authority Act broaden the mandates of both TVO and TFO to position them to provide centralized support for online learning in the English-language and French-language publicly-funded education systems, respectively.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct its entire staff and all School Boards that whenever making information public in a Portable Document Format (PDF), it must at the same time, make available a textual format such as an accessible Microsoft Word (MSWord) or accessible HTML document. Videos must be audio described (DV) and closed captioned (CC). Templates and technical guides should be developed and provided to school boards.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • For consistent messaging, that the School board should designate a communication lead for COVID-19 related issues.
  • School Boards should develop protocols and procedures to mitigate security risks for online and virtual learning platforms to help protect privacy of students with disabilities and staff. Online and virtual learning platforms should also be accessible for all students with disabilities.
  • That School Boards should provide clear communication around protocols and return to school plans. Boards should make written communications readily available and accessible by everyone in the community, parents and students.
  • School Boards should review and revise instructional videos for parents around virtual learning tools used in the school board. Videos must be clear and accessible.
  • School Boards should provide solely dedicated or designated staff, who are available to support technology including accessibility needs to parents who are supporting the learning needs of students with disabilities at home.

Training

The COVID-19 Pandemic has changed the way in which education is delivered. Students, parents/guardians, teachers, staff, school boards and government had to change the way they access, support or deliver education. The pandemic highlighted gaps in digital skills, adaptation of technology to teaching and learning. It has also increased demand for technology and the need to integrate technology effectively into teaching and learning. With this increased demand in the use of technology and the gaps in digital skills identified, it is imperative to train students, parent/guardians and staff in the use and integration of technology in teaching and learning.

Barriers

  • Teachers, students and parent/guardians unprepared for learning at home and use of virtual platforms such as google classroom, Microsoft teams, Zoom for individual and synchronous learning
  • Teachers, ECEs, Staff need training in virtual online learning platforms
  • Teachers, ECEs, Staff need training in strategies to support students with disabilities around transitions between education models, including preparation for changing environments and self regulation
  • Teachers, ECEs lack training in strategies to support Public Health directed precautions, such as social distancing, sanitizing procedures and use of PPE when required to support students
  • School closures have had a significant impact on the mental health and well being of students with disabilities and teachers, ECEs, staff will require training on child development and trauma informed practice to assist them in supporting students in transitioning back to school or continuation of virtual education.
  • The expectation on parent/guardians to support students with learning at home were significant and parents need supports and training in virtual learning software and how they can effectively support their child’s learning.

Recommendations – Government

  • That Ministry of Education should model leadership to School Boards and provide accessible virtual learning webinars, templates for learning, etc. to be utilized in training administrators and teachers.
  • The Ministry of Education should direct School Boards to provide all staff training in child development, mental health and wellbeing to support the wellbeing and learning of students with disabilities.
  • The Government should provide direction to School Boards and Public Service agencies to develop a coordinated training delivery model to support parents of students with rehabilitation needs, mental health concerns or who have complex or significant medically needs, with the delivery of virtual care, including privacy protected health platforms such as OTN, ADcare.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • School Boards should provide focused, practical training for administrators and teachers to support students with disabilities’ health, wellbeing and learning in a mixed or virtual environment.
  • School Boards should provide administrators training and guidelines on supporting students with disabilities through transitioning and change.
  • School Boards should develop parent training modules and resources to enable parent/guardians to develop the skills and knowledge required to support online and virtual learning at home for students with disabilities.
  • School Boards should provide training for teachers and staff on specific tips and solutions, successful and evidence based promising practices by disability to support teachers and students with disabilities learning. These should be made available as soon as possible or at the latest, during the first days of PD before school instruction begins.

Transportation

School Bus operation and delivery of bus services is regulated and governed both federally and provincially. Transport Canada has consulted with the Public Health Agency of Canada to provide guidelines around bus operations during the pandemic. The National Association for Pupil Transportation (NAPT) has also provided general guidelines for the provision of student (pupil) transportation services.

The Ministry of Education’s Return to School Framework directs School Boards to follow these federal guidelines.

To accommodate Federal Transportation and Public health guideline that require social and physical distancing, School Boards will have to revise transportation services delivery that will impact bus routes, increase the number of buses and drivers required, increase ridership time, etc. to mitigate risks to students with disabilities while transporting to and from school.

Barriers

  • Lack of or reduced public transportation available for students with disabilities, particularly for secondary students who take public transit. Municipal governments eliminated routes or reduced schedules during COVID-19. Municipalities have not made public transportation plans for when students return to school.
  • As School Boards and Consortiums plan transportation services to meet the Transport Canada guidelines, current challenges of inadequate buses, shortage of drivers and increasing fuel costs will be a barrier to boards.
  • Changes to routine can have a significant impact to a student with disabilities’ mental health, success for the start of school day and learning. Predictable changes to transportation for students with disabilities can include, increased ridership time, bus route, bus type (72-passenger, small bus), supports or accommodations required for a successful ride, etc. while maintaining safety and mitigating risks for infection.
  • Many School Boards currently overspend the transportation grant, while still achieving a high efficiency rating from the Ministry of Education. The additional requirements defined under the Transport Canada Guidelines will increase cost pressures to provide transportation services to students with disabilities while maintaining safety and mitigating risk of infection.
  • As students with disabilities require may require specific transportation accommodations such as a safety harness, seat belt, wheelchair accessible which cannot be accommodated in all vehicle types.

Recommendations – School Boards

  • As many School Boards overspend its transportation grant while maintaining a high efficiency rating, the Ministry of Education should provide school boards with additional COVID-19 specific funding to follow the guidelines as provided by Transport Canada around:
    • Measures to mitigate risk of exposure
    • Procedures to be taken before a trip, during a trip and at the end of the trip
    • PPE guidelines
    • Physical Distancing
    • Shield and Enclosure system guidelines (if bus operators choose to do so)
  • School Boards should review transportation accommodations and requirements, in consultation with parents and student, IEPs of students with disabilities who require transportation services to identify any change/modifications to accommodations required. The student’s IEP shall be modified to reflect additional requirements to transport the student safely on the bus. The review for medically fragile students should include professionals, such as nurses, occupational therapists, as well as parents. All transportation requirements shall be relayed to the Bus Consortia and administrator of the school for implementation.
  • School Boards must create/revise a protocol for the safe gathering of all students and parent/guardians at bus stops and safety on the bus. It is important that student with disabilities be included and familiarized with these protocols with their peers.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should provide bus drivers with training on new health and safety protocols for students with disabilities on a regular bus, small bus and wheelchair accessible bus.
  • Bus Consortia should minimize changes to routes, vehicle type, and schedules for students with disabilities while developing changes to routes, to limit increased anxiety or behaviours as a result of the changes. When changes are considered, parents and student should be consulted about changes.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should review procedures and protocols for persons responsible for putting a student with disability’s harness on/off or supporting a student on the school bus to mitigate health risks for the student, bus driver and support person.
  • School Boards and Bus Consortia should revise/develop, implement and disseminate bus safety protocol Information for parents needs to help mitigate health and safety risks and assuage parent’s fears. This includes protocols around harnesses. All communications should be clear and made readily available on the Board and Bus Consortia website in an accessible digital format.
  • Students with disabilities should be included in any training that is provide for all students on enhanced safety rules on the bus.
  • As students with disabilities are statistically proven to be at a higher risk of infection, School Boards and Bus Consortia should implement enhanced student bus ridership attendance procedures to aid in tracing of COVID-19 and mitigating health risks.
  • Traffic volume, student and road safety is always a concern around schools. It is expected for vehicle traffic to increase when school returns, as parent/caregiver or a secondary student chooses to drive to school. School Boards should work collaboratively with Municipalities to develop safe arrival and departure awareness campaigns for students, parents/caregivers and buses. These campaigns could include guidelines for kiss & ride, audio described (DV) and closed captioned (CC) virtual or diagrams of vehicle traffic flows for entering and exiting school property from the street, identifying school bus only access areas, promote other methods of transportation, etc.

Conclusion

The Planning for Emergencies are please to provide its draft recommendations related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Working Group will continue to review resources and information on barriers and issues arising from COVID-19 and as students return to school. It will start work on its mandate to develop an emergency plan framework focused on students with disabilities (that covers the phases of preparing, planning, response and recovery) for a systematic response to an emergency.

Thank you to all the members of the Planning for Emergencies Working Group for their dedication in developing this draft set of recommendations. Working Group members are:

  • Donna Edwards (Chair – Working Group)
  • Stephan Andrews
  • David Lepofsky
  • Dr. Ashleigh Malloy
  • Alison Morse
  • Rana Nasrazadani
  • Ben Smith
  • Angelo Tocco
  • Dr. Lindy Zaretsky
  • Lynn Ziraldo (Chair K-12 SDC)

Glossary

Accessibility: a general term for the degree of ease that something (e.g., device, service, physical environment and information) can be accessed, used and enjoyed by persons with disabilities. The term implies conscious planning, design and/or effort to make sure something is barrier-free to persons with disabilities. Accessibility also benefits the general population, by making things more usable and practical for everyone, including older people and families with small children.

Accessible: does not have obstacles for people with disabilities – something that can be easily reached or obtained; facility that can be easily entered; information that is easy to access.

Accessible digital format: Information that is provided in digital form that is accessible such as HTML and MS Word.

Synchronous learning: is the kind of learning that happens in real time. This means that you, your classmates, and your instructor interact in a specific virtual place, through a specific online medium, at a specific time. In other words, it’s not exactly anywhere, anyhow, anytime. Methods of synchronous online learning include video conferencing, teleconferencing, live chatting, and live-streaming lectures.

Asynchronous learning: happens on your schedule. While your course of study, instructor or degree program will provide materials for reading, lectures for viewing, assignments for completing, and exams for evaluation, you have the ability to access and satisfy these requirements within a flexible time frame. Methods of asynchronous online learning include self-guided lesson modules, streaming video content, virtual libraries, posted lecture notes, and exchanges across discussion boards or social media platforms.

Distance Education Program: Programs to provide courses of study online, through correspondence, or by other means that do not require the physical attendance by the student at a school. (From Bill 197)

Special Education Services – As defined in the Education Act, “facilities and resources, including support personnel and equipment, necessary for developing and implementing a special education program”.

Virtual learning: is defined as learning that can functionally and effectively occur in the absence of traditional classroom environments (Simonson & Schlosser, 2006).

Virtual education: refers to instruction in a learning environment where teacher and student are separated by time or space, or both, and the teacher provides course content through course management applications, multimedia resources, the Internet, videoconferencing, etc. Students receive the content and communicate with the teacher via the same technologies.

Virtual learning environment: refers to a system that offers educators digitally-based solutions aimed at creating interactive, active learning environments. VLEs can help educators create, store and disseminate content, plan courses and lessons and foster communication between student and educator. Virtual learning environments are often part of an education institution’s wider learning management system (LMS).

Virtual instruction: is a method of teaching that is taught either entirely online or when elements of face-to-face courses are taught online through learning management systems and other educational tools and platforms. Virtual instruction also includes digitally transmitting course materials to student.

Resources

Mental Health

Public Health Guidance and Safety

 

Tools/Best Practices

Stakeholder Reports and Information

Additional Reading



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More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

More Helpful Media Coverage and More Organizations Endorse the AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on How to Meet the Needs of Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic

June 30, 2020

          SUMMARY

With the delight of summer and the ongoing terrible stress of COVID-19 both upon us, here is a grab-bag of latest news in our multi-front campaign for accessibility for people with disabilities. We wish one and all a safe, happy and accessible Canada Day.

1. Support Keeps Growing for the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance Brief to the Ford Government on Protecting Students with Disabilities During the Transition to School Re-opening

An impressive list of 12 disability-related organizations have now endorsed the 19 recommendations to the Ford Government in the June 18, 2020 AODA Alliance brief on what needs to be done to meet the needs of students with disabilities during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis and the transition to school re-openings. Those organizations now include:

  1. March of Dimes of Canada
  2. Citizens with Disabilities Ontario
  3. Community Living Ontario
  4. Spinal Cord Injury Ontario
  5. The Canadian National Institute for the Blind
  6. the Inclusive Design Research Centre of the Ontario college of Art and Design University
  7. Physicians of Ontario Neurodevelopmental Advocacy
  8. Balance for Blind Adults
  9. The Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder Network – Elgin, London, Middlesex, Oxford
  10. Ontario Parents of Visually Impaired Children (Views for the Visually Impaired)
  11. Ontario Autism Coalition
  12. Integration Action for Inclusion

As we announced on June 26,2020, our brief’s recommendations have also been endorsed by the Ontario Secondary School Teachers Federation. OSSTF is the union that represents thousands of public high school teachers. Thus our recommendations have a broad consensus of support from a diversity of voices within the front lines of the disability community and from teachers who work at the front lines of our education system.

It is not too late for you as an individual, or for an organization with which you are connected, to write the Ministry of Education to endorse the AODA Alliance’s June 18, 2020 brief on school re-openings. Email the Ontario Government at [email protected] to support our June 18, 2019 brief. We’d welcome the chance to add more organizations to this list.

 2. What Has TVO Done to Fix Its Website Accessibility Problems?

The Ford Government has repeatedly announced that it has partnered with TVO to deliver online learning content to students during distance learning, while schools are closed due to COVID-19. Back on May 4, 2020, we made public the fact that there are significant accessibility problems with the online learning resources offered on the website of TVO, Ontario’s publicly-owned and operated public education TV network. This was revealed during the May 4, 2020 virtual town hall that was jointly organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We are proud that since then, over 1,600 people have watched that virtual town hall. It is still available online for you to watch, and for you to share with others to watch!

Since we revealed this problem, the AODA Alliance has expressed its concerns in detail to TVO in a 30-minute phone call on May 14, 2020 between AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky and the TVO vice president for digital content. The AODA Alliance followed this up with a detailed letter to TVO’s digital content vice president on May 21, 2020. We have also raised this issue at the highest levels within the Ministry of Education. The Ministry oversees TVO.

Since then, we have not heard a word from TVO. TVO has not told us of anything it has done, if it has done anything, to act on the serious accessibility problems we identified and the concrete recommendations for action that we offered.

 3. More Media on the Impact of COVID-19on People with Disabilities

For more than three months, our media has devoted most of its attention to the COVID-19 crisis. Despite that, it has been incredibly hard for the disability community to get sufficient and appropriate media attention on the disproportionate impact that COVID-19 has had on people with disabilities, and on the failure of our governments to effectively address the unmet needs of people with disabilities during this pandemic. We have tried hard and will continue to try hard to get the media to properly cover these issues.

Set out below are three good media reports that have accrued over the past weeks that we’ve wanted to share with you:

  1. An article in the June 23, 2020 Mississauga News on the barriers for people with disabilities that are threatened by Mississauga’s approach to allowing restaurants to open patios to serve the public. For practical suggestions on how to ensure such patios are accessible to people with disabilities, and don’t create barriers to people with disabilities, check out a list of tips from DesignAble Environments, an accessible design consulting firm.
  2. The May 6,2020 Global News report on the impact of COVID-19 on people with disabilities, and
  3. The May 5, 2020 report in QP Briefing on the virtual town hall organized by the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition on meeting the needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.

 4. Delay and Delay and More Delay from the Ford Government

There have now been 516 days, or a full year and a half, since the Ford Government received the ground-breaking final report of the Independent Review of the implementation of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act by former Ontario Lieutenant Governor David Onley. The Government has announced no comprehensive plan of new action to implement that report. That makes even worse the serious problems facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

There have been fully 97 days, or over three months, since we wrote Ontario Premier Doug Ford on March 25, 2020 to urge specific action to address the urgent needs of Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. He has not answered. The Premier’s office has not contacted us. The ordeal facing Ontarians with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis is worsened by that delay.

Visit the AODA Alliance’s COVID-19 web page to see what we have been up to, trying to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis are properly addressed. Send us your feedback! Write us at [email protected]. Please stay safe!

          MORE DETAILS

 Mississauga News June 23, 2020

Originally posted at https://www.mississauga.com/news-story/10039099–waived-all-the-red-tape-mississauga-to-allow-more-bar-and-restaurant-patios-starting-wednesday/

‘Waived all the red tape’: Mississauga to allow more bar and restaurant patios starting Wednesday

Patios could be ‘navigational nightmare,’ accessibility advocate says

NEWS Jun 23, 2020 By Steve Cornwell Mississauga News

When Ontario allows Mississauga bars and restaurants to serve customers outdoors starting Wednesday, June 24, you may see proliferation of patios in the city.

Mississauga council is moving forward with a temporary bylaw relaxing restrictions and fees on restaurant patios in strip mall parking lots, public streets and on sidewalks.

Prior to the new bylaw, restaurants patios were permitted on private property in Mississauga’s downtown area, Port Credit or where the city has allowed them through a zoning variance.

The new rules apply to the city’s five business improvement areas and wherever restaurants have their own entrances.

Restaurant patios can extend for free once establishments reopen: province

Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie said the move is meant to help restaurants and bars revive revenues impacted by the COIVD-19 pandemic.

“We’ve waived all the red tape,” she said. “We’ve waived all the fees and we’re just telling them to get ready because as soon as they get the green light from the province to open Phase 2 they can start serving.”

Peel Region, including Mississauga, is not yet in the province’s Stage 2 reopening phase, which allows restaurants and bars to host patrons on outdoor patios. The province will allow Peel to move to that stage June 24.

Until then, the city would continue to enforce COVID-19 emergency orders forbidding restaurants and bars from having services beyond takeaway and delivery, according to Mississauga’s planning commissioner, Andrew Whittemore.

Patios on sidewalks and on public streets would still require a temporary permit. Parking lot patios in strip malls would also need to be permitted by property managers.

Crombie also said inspectors will be out ensuring that the patios meet Mississauga’s building standards.

But accessibility advocate David Lepofsky said a sudden surge of new furniture on sidewalks could be a big proplem for individuals that use mobility devices or have low vision.

“For people like me who are blind, those patios that stick out on the sidewalk are just a big navigational nightmare in the best of times,” said Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. “And they can be unpredictable. It’s there one day; it’s not there the next day.”

He said problems for people with accessibility needs could be intensified during the pandemic as there are more concerns around interacting with others for help to get around obstacles.

“Ordinarily if you got something that’s a little uncertain (in your path) you could just ask a stranger,” he said.

“But that means that I take your arm. Well, I don’t want to take your arm and you don’t want me taking your arm because now we’re not two metres apart.”

City council still needs to hold a July 8 planning and development meeting to officially pass the temporary bylaw. However, it voted to relax enforcement on patios that would be allowed under the new rule — after Mississauga enters Stage 2 — in the meantime.

Toronto is moving ahead with a similar program, CaféTO, which aims to streamline the placement of temporary sidewalk and curb lane patios, once permitted.

That program requires a minimum 2.1 metres of clearance for pedestrians and for any patio installation to be cane-detectable, meaning individuals with low or no vision can use their white-cane to navigate around it.

 Global News Online May 6, 2020

Originally posted at https://globalnews.ca/news/6906216/coronavirus-canadians-disabilities/

‘I need help’: Coronavirus highlights disparities among Canadians with disabilities – National

BY EMERALD BENSADOUN- GLOBAL NEWS

Prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, 27-year-old Marissa Blake was rarely ever home. Now, Blake, who lives in Toronto supportive housing and needs assistance to walk, can only have one visitor a week for three hours and can’t see her friends in-person. An appointment to discuss surgery on her legs was cancelled, and her sleep and care schedule are in flux because her personal support workers keep changing.

“It’s difficult,” she said. “I feel like I’m in jail.” Disability advocates say B.C.’s woman’s death shows need for clearer COVID-19 policy. Her exercise program with March of Dimes Canada, a rehabilitation foundation for disabled persons, was cancelled, and Blake said she’s been less physically active than usual.

“It’s been really making me tight, really making me feel like I’m fighting with my body,” she said. “I can’t just get up and walk. I need help.”

But for Blake, isolation and exclusion are having the largest impact. “The biggest thing for me is support,” she said.

“I miss my friends. I miss interacting with people. Because when you look at a computer, it’s great but it’s not the same as seeing them face-to-face.”

One in four Canadians — about 25 per cent of the population — has a disability, according to the latest data from Statistics Canada. Despite this, advocates say they are often left out of emergency planning.

David Lepofsky, who chairs the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, likened the situation to a fire raging inside of an apartment building complex, where the people inside are alerted by a fire alarm and loudspeaker that tells them to exit by taking designated stairs illuminated by clearly-indicated markers.

A person who is deaf wouldn’t hear the fire alarm. A person in a wheelchair would be trapped inside. And those designated markers will do nothing for someone who can’t see. Unless they receive support, Lepofsky said anyone with disabilities living in the building will likely not survive. Similarly, he said the government has applied a mostly one-size-fits-all approach to COVID-19 measures that offer little support the country’s disabled.

“It’s because of their disability and it’s because no one planned for them in the emergency,” he said.

Often, Canadians with more severe disabilities will get placed in long-term care facilities, where health officials said over 79 per cent of COVID-19-related deaths occur. Lepofsky said that poses a danger to those with disabilities, as well. He said comparable problems arise in Ontario’s virtual elementary and secondary education system, called Learn At Home. The program isn’t user-friendly for students with disabilities who may be deaf, blind or unable to use a mouse, said Lepofsky. Despite making up upwards of one-in-six of the student population, he said much of the program was made with only able-bodied students in mind. When asked about this, the Ontario Ministry of Education said in a statement to Global News that Education Minister Stephen Lecce had convened two “urgent” discussions with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education where they discussed how best to support students and families during this period and has consulted the K-12 Standards Development Committee struck by the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility. They said all resources were reviewed for accessibility based on the standards of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005), but that school boards were ultimately responsible for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.

“The Ministry has provided clear direction to school boards on how to support students with special education and mental health needs during school closures,” they said.

March of Dimes Canada president Len Baker said even before the existence of COVID-19, people with disabilities were facing “significant” challenges every day, including already-existing barriers like attitudinal ones about disability.

“Those historic barriers become exacerbated during a time such as this pandemic, where now not only do they have to address the issues that they need to be able to complete their goals and feel connected to the community, but with social distancing and the isolation that the pandemic brings, it causes us concern that many individuals are going to feel even a greater sense of isolation and loneliness during this time,” he said.

Baker said around 50,000 students with disabilities rely on the organization for opportunities to read, learn skills, get out in the community, to participate and connect with others. But since the pandemic started, he said they’ve had to revamp their services to be available virtually or over the phone.

Marielle Hossack, press secretary to the minister of employment, workforce development and disability inclusion, said in a statement to Global News the federal government has increased human resources for support services for Canadians with disabilities over the phone and online, and is looking into implementing ALS and LSQ into current and future emergency responses.

The federal government has also established the COVID-19 Disability Advisory Group, which is comprised of experts in disability inclusion, that provide advice on “real-time live experiences of persons with disabilities.” Hossack wrote the group discusses disability-specific issues, challenges and systemic gaps as well as strategies, measures and steps to be taken.

But some advocates don’t think that’s enough.

Karine Myrgianie Jean-François, director of operations at DisAbled Women’s Network Canada, told Global News that despite making up such a large percentage of the population, many are not getting support services typically provided by provincial health departments or social services. This is due to a lot of factors, she said — because there’s a lack of protective equipment, because people are getting sick, because it’s too dangerous. For children with disabilities, Jean-François said the pandemic means they’re often relying on their parents for mental and physical support they would have received at school.

“A lot of the measures that have been made to prepare for this pandemic have been done to think about the greatest number of people, which often means that we forget about people who are more marginalized and people who have a disability are included in that,” she said.

Jean-François said that includes the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB). Currently, 70 per cent of Canadians eligible for the disability tax credit will receive the enhanced GST/HST benefit based on their income levels due to COVID-19, but that may not add up to much for Canadians with disabilities who may also need to hire food deliveries, in-house care, or those that would be deemed ineligible for the aid because they’re unable to work.

The money “doesn’t go as far as it used to,” she said. When factored to include the rising cost of living, Jean-François said most Canadians with disabilities — many of whom are already living at or near the poverty line — end up barely scraping by. “We’re not all equal under COVID-19,” she said. “We need to be looking at… who stands up to make sure that people get what they need, and how to make sure that they’re supported in what they’re doing both financially but also mentally, because it’s it’s really hard work to support people who were left alone.”

 QP Briefing May 5, 2020

Some Ontario e-learning doesn’t work for students with disabilities

Jack Hauen

Some TVO and ministry course content isn’t accessible to people with low vision, said Karen McCall, a professor who teaches about accessible media at Mohawk College and owns an accessible design firm. She was one of several experts who spoke at a virtual town hall hosted on Monday by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, a member of the province’s K-12 AODA standards committee, and Ontario Autism Coalition President Laura Kirby-McIntosh, who is also a high school teacher.

None of the stories in the “math storytime” section worked for McCall, who has low vision herself and uses a screen reader. She couldn’t find any homework in the “homework zone.”

Teachers did a good job of describing what was going on in the videos she watched, until they didn’t, she said. For instance, one math teacher didn’t read out the main formula students were to use.

“She said this formula equates to one quarter, but if I’m a student who’s trying to learn this, I have no idea what equates to one quarter,” McCall said.

Another gap came during a science class. “Everything was fine, everything was explained, until the teacher said, ‘Watch what happens,’ and then did not describe what was happening,” she said.

But the biggest problems came with the ministry of education’s own course preview site, McCall said, where her screen reader couldn’t make heads or tails of what it said.

“If they’re going to rely on this kind of content, they’ve got to make sure it’s properly accessible,” Lepofsky said of the provincial government.

Kirby-McIntosh noted that Zoom is the most accessible streaming service, but some school boards have banned teachers from using it. More top-down direction is needed to avoid these types of errors, she said.

Other experts during the town hall provided tips for educators and parents such as making sure videos were the highest quality possible, so kids with hearing loss can better lip read; and sticking to routines as much as possible, which helps many kids on the autism spectrum.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce has held two meetings with the Minister’s Advisory Council on Special Education (MACSE) during the pandemic, and is also consulting the K-12 standards development committee that Lepofsky sits on, said ministry of education spokesperson Ingrid Anderson.

Lepofsky confirmed that he’ll be speaking with Lecce on Wednesday.

“TVO has been working to make all their online content and resources accessible and compliant to AODA regulations. The Ministry will continue to work with the Agency to consider ways to enhance accessibility beyond the AODA requirements,” Anderson said in a statement. “School boards remain independently accountable for making decisions on the use of digital learning resources and collaboration tools to support students’ learning online.”

The minister’s advisory committee is “no substitute for consulting extensive grassroots disability community participation that is needed,” the AODA Alliance wrote in an April 29 letter to Lecce. A number of positions on the committee remain vacant, the group said. “Also, MACSE is designed to focus on ‘special education’ which is not addressed to students with all kinds of disabilities, due to the Government’s unduly narrow definition of special education students.”

The town hall’s last guest was Jeff Butler, the acting assistant deputy minister of student support and field services in the ministry of education. He pointed to actions the ministry has taken already, like directing school boards to consult with their special education committees and honour individual education plans; as well as working with boards to distribute assistive technology that usually lives in schools to families.

The ministry has also hosted a series of webinars for teachers to learn about special education during the pandemic. About 500 educators have attended them so far, and more are planned, he said.

Responding to McCall’s feedback about sites not working with screen readers, he said: “I absolutely am listening on that and will take that input back. It is important to us that those resources that are there are accessible for students with disabilities and students with special needs.”

He promised to continue to engage with experts, saying that their input has been “incredibly valuable.”

It’s critical for the government to carry these lessons through to when schools eventually re-open, Lepofsky said.

For instance, some students won’t be able to socially distance or wear masks due to their disabilities, if they require a close by aide or are hypersensitive to touch. “We can’t tell those kids, ‘Oh, sorry kid, you stay home, everybody else is going back to school.’”

A “surge” in education hours will be needed for some kids with disabilities, who will have fallen further behind some of their peers, Lepofsky said, giving the example of kids learning to read braille who require hand-over-hand instruction that’s impossible to conduct online.

“This is really something we can’t leave to every single school board again to try to reinvent the same wheel,” he said, calling for the provincial government to “take on leadership here.”

Kirby-McIntosh ended the stream with a message for Lecce: don’t just assemble a “spiffy webpage with a blizzard of links,” but consult with experts and provide school boards with top-down direction on best practices.

“Please learn from this town hall,” she said, and gather ideas from the front-line people teaching kids with disabilities during the pandemic.

“The premier committed at the beginning of this crisis to protecting those who are most vulnerable,” she said. “Well, surely a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities are among those most vulnerable.”



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On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the AODA Alliance Again Writes Ontario’s Education Minister and TVO’s Vice President to Try to Get the Urgent Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities Met During the COVID-19 Crisis


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

Web: www.aodaalliance.org Email: [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance Facebook: www.facebook.com/aodaalliance/

On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, the AODA Alliance Again Writes Ontario’s Education Minister and TVO’s Vice President to Try to Get the Urgent Learning Needs of Students with Disabilities Met During the COVID-19 Crisis

May 21, 2020

          SUMMARY

In our continuing campaign to get the Ford Government to address the urgent needs of a third of a million vulnerable students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis, the AODA Alliance today wrote two important letters, set out below. These are especially timely, because today is the internationally recognized Global Accessibility Awareness Day (GAAD).

First, we wrote Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce today to again press him to direct the establishment within his Ministry of a command table of experts on teaching students with disabilities. We need this command table created to lead and oversee the creation and implementation of an emergency plan to address the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. We were following up on our April 29, 2020 letter to the minister. In our new letter we point out three striking examples that show why there is a pressing need for the minister to direct his Ministry to immediately take the overdue actions we recommend.

Second, we today wrote the vice president for digital content at TVO, Ontario’s public education TV network. We summarized a recent discussion that the vice president had with AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. In that discussion, we gave TVO constructive recommendations for urgent action that TVO needs to take to fix the accessibility problems in its online education content.

Taken together, these letters show a recurring failure of leadership by the Ford Government when it comes to meeting the urgent needs of students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis. A striking illustration of this is the Education Minister’s May 8, 2020 email to all school boards about distance learning during COVID-19. We also set out that memo below. The minister’s detailed email to all school boards was missing the key directions to school boards on how to meet the urgent needs of students with disabilities during COVID-19.

Stay tuned for more AODA Alliance Updates. Keep us posted by sending us your feedback, at [email protected]

          MORE DETAILS

May 21, 2020 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

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

May 21, 2020

Via Email

To: The Hon Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education

[email protected]

Dear Minister,

Re: Ensuring that Students with Disabilities Fully Benefit from Education at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis

We write On Global Accessibility Awareness Day to follow up on our April 29, 2020 letter to you about the pressing need for the Ontario Government to create and swiftly implement a comprehensive plan to meet the urgent learning needs of a third of a million Ontario students with disabilities during the COVID-19 crisis.

Since we wrote you almost a month ago, we appreciate having had the chance to have conversations with your deputy minister, two of your assistant deputy ministers, and some other officials within the ministry. I also welcomed the chance to make a five-minute presentation to you during the May 6, 2020 virtual meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee of which I am a member.

It is good that during Premier Ford’s May 19, 2020 daily COVID-19 briefing, you recognized that more than ever, families of students with disabilities in Ontario need more support for their children to be able to learn at home. It is helpful that you said that the Government has great concern about these children and that the Government wants to ensure that these children get the support they need.

However, almost ten weeks into the school shutdown, and even after announcing that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year, the Government has still announced no comprehensive plan to remove the troubling and recurring additional barriers facing students with disabilities that you have acknowledged. Your Government still leaves it to each school board to separately figure out what these barriers are and how to systematically overcome them. Your Government has still not set up and put in charge a much-needed command table with expertise in educating students with disabilities to steer and lead the province’s efforts in this area. This is especially wasteful and ineffective when school boards, like your Government, are trying to cope with an unexpected and unprecedented crisis. Front line educators and parents are struggling to do their best. They need more help from the Ontario Government.

Here are three illustrative and deeply disturbing examples of missing provincial leadership. We ask you to intervene with your Ministry officials to get them to act not only on these examples, but on a comprehensive plan of action.

First, with the rapid move to online classes, it is a bedrock necessity that the platform that schools use for online class meetings is accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. From our exchanges with Ministry staff, it is clear that the Ministry has not shown the required leadership on this issue. It does not appear to have directed school boards to ensure that they use accessible platforms, nor has it compared the options to direct which platform should be preferred.

Your detailed May 8, 2020 email to all school boards and other key players in the education system focuses primarily on the Ministry’s directions to school boards to use “synchronous learning” (i.e. online classes in real time via web-based meeting platforms). That memo is stunningly silent on the need to ensure that the platform school boards use is accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. That memo gives school boards no directions on which platforms to use. That memo was sent two days after I briefed you and four of your caucus colleagues on this serious issue during the May 6, 2020 meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee in which you commendably participated.

The Ministry has told us that it has left it to each school board to decide for itself which meeting platform to use. That is a failed approach. It abdicates provincial leadership and oversight. Your Ministry is leaving it to each school board to itself decide whether or not it should investigate the relative accessibility of different online meeting platforms. A school board may not even know that this is an issue it needs to investigate.

Under your Ministry’s approach a school board is free to simply overlook this issue altogether. Your Government is burdening each school board to duplicate the same investigation of the comparative accessibility of different online meeting platforms. It is not clear which school boards have any expertise to do this. There is no assurance that any school boards who do this will in fact get it right. Your Ministry is not tracking which online platforms are being used in Ontario schools, or to what extent accessible platforms are being used.

The Ministry told us it has not itself undertaken a comparison of the various virtual meeting platforms available to school boards in order to assess their comparative accessibility. We have called on your Ministry to do so and to direct school boards on the accessible platforms that may be used. Parents, students, and teachers with disabilities should not have to fight against such recurring barriers one class, one school, or one school board at a time.

Your Ministry told us that it leaves it to each school board to decide which synchronous meeting platform to use, based on the school board’s assessment of its local needs. With respect, blindness, dyslexia, or other reading-related disabilities do not change when they occur in Cornwall or Kenora. The reason why the Government is now developing an Education Accessibility Standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is so that people with disabilities will not have to fight the same battles time and again and so that school boards won’t have to each reinvent the same accessibility wheel.

We have received troubling word that at least one school board has forbidden its teachers from using Zoom, which is at least as accessible as or more accessible than the other available online platforms. That flies in the face of the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act .

Your Ministry arranged a helpful May 13, 2020 demonstration of the specific online meeting platform that it has chosen to purchase for school boards, called “Bongo.” It is part of the Bright Space learning management system that your Ministry chose to procure from the D2L firm for use by school boards if they wish. During this demonstration, it became apparent that neither your Ministry nor D2L claimed that Bongo is the most accessible meeting platform available. Its accessibility features were helpfully demonstrated and described.

During this demonstration, we learned that your Government has no idea how many school boards, schools or teachers around Ontario are using the Bongo platform. Your Ministry has left them free to use whatever platform they wish. As far as your Ministry would know, there could be few if any teachers using Bongo or who even know about it.

This presentation included a comparison of Bongo’s accessibility features as compared to those of the Zoom platform. It was D2L that was comparing its product to Zoom. Your Ministry did not invite Zoom for a chance to showcase its own product’s accessibility features, leaving it to its competitor D2L to do this.

The D2L presentation made an unfair comparison. It compared the Bongo platform, for which the Ministry was directly or indirectly paying a fee, to the free version of Zoom. I pointed this out and asked how the Bongo platform compared to Zoom’s more robust pay version, as opposed to its free version, which has fewer features. D2L acknowledged that the pay version of Zoom is closer in comparison to Bongo.

During that May 13, 2020 presentation, my questions revealed that Bongo is missing an important accessibility feature that Zoom contains. With Zoom, a student can easily and instantly raise his or her virtual hand for the teacher’s attention, by simply typing a keyboard shortcut. Bongo has no such keyboard shortcut. For a student to reach Bongo’s accessible control for raising his or her hand, it takes more hunting around the program. Its location is not obvious. It is important for a student to be able to quickly raise one’s hand without having to hunt around the program for the relevant control. D2L conceded that their accessibility tester had earlier asked Bongo’s provider to add this to their program. D2L did not include this important fact in its comparison of its product to Zoom.

In the Ministry’s PowerPoint prepared to demonstrate Bongo’s accessibility, a slide was included to suggest that the ARCH Disability Law Centre used Bongo. This was obviously done to convey or imply that it had ARCH’s approval as accessible. The slides stated:

“•        We have several clients who support people with disabilities: CNIB, CHS, Vision Australia, Thomas Pocklington Trust, ARCH Disability Law Centre.

ARCH’s use of Virtual Classroom

  • Educating Canadians on Accessibility Rights using Brightspace and Virtual Classroom
  • ARCH is offering online courses to Community Champions and Disability Rights Lawyers on the Optional Protocol (OP) of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) with Simultaneous French interpretation, English and French live captions, ASL, and LSQ.

Press Release – ARCH launches OP Lab: Learning, Sharing, Actioning!”

This was quite misleading. At this May 13, 2020 presentation, I responded that ARCH’s executive director had advised me that while they had procured Bongo for certain upcoming events, they have not yet used it because it has several accessibility problems. ARCH has been trying to get these problems fixed. Neither D2L nor the Government disputed this.

Second, as a key part of its approach during the COVID-19 crisis, your Government has repeatedly pointed to key online learning resources for teachers and parents. We have alerted the Government that these have accessibility problems. This includes both the Government’s own “Learn at Home” web page and the Government-owned TVO’s online learning resources. It became evident from my May 14, 2020 phone call with TVO’s Vice President for Digital Content that TVO is lacking a plan to retrofit its online educational resources to ensure that they become accessible to students, teachers, and parents with disabilities. TVO seemed to be unaware of the severity of this problem until we brought it to their and the public’s attention. I encourage you to read our May 21, 2020 letter to TVO’s Vice President of Digital Content, copied to you. It sets out our constructive advice to TVO – advice which TVO found quite helpful.

We have seen no indication that your Ministry was aware of the problems with its own online resources or those of TVO until we raised these concerns. We have seen no plan from your Ministry to fix these problems.

This TVO situation reflects a double failure. TVO failed to properly ensure its online content’s accessibility. After that, your Ministry failed to ensure the accessibility of TVO’s online content before so heavily relying on it as part of its COVID-19 emergency planning.

Third, struggling with this COVID-19 crisis, it is great that teachers, parents, and others with expertise in the field in Ontario and elsewhere have been coming up with creative ways to help students with different disabilities learn while schools are closed. We have been urging your Government for weeks without success to devote staff to effectively gather from the front lines specific examples of effective strategies. We still need your Government to do so and to effectively share these with educators and parents as quickly as possible in a user-friendly way, not through a blizzard of links.

Let us illustrate how disturbing this situation is. On May 4, 2020, in the absence of effective Government action on this front, the AODA Alliance and the Ontario Autism Coalition joined together to hold a successful virtual town hall. It offered practical tips to parents and teachers for teaching students with disabilities at home during COVID-19. Your Ministry’s Assistant Deputy Minister of Education responsible for special education Jeff Butler commendably took part in our virtual town hall and described its contents as valuable. In just over two weeks, it has been viewed over 1,400 times. We have no budget to publicize it.

We have repeatedly asked your Ministry to publicize this virtual town hall to school boards and frontline educators. So far, it has not agreed to do so. What could be a simpler and lower-cost way to help students with disabilities? We have also urged your Ministry for weeks without success to take over this idea and itself hold such events. We have offered to help with ideas. The Ministry, with its staff and resources, could do this more effectively than did our handful of volunteers who pulled together our successful May 4, 2020 virtual town hall in under a week.

Instead of taking us up on this, the Government has largely re-announced the same initiatives that have been underway for weeks. While helpful to a point, those measures have not effectively addressed the pressing concerns of vulnerable students with disabilities.

On May 19, 2020 you said at the Premier’s daily COVID-19 briefing that you have directed school boards to unlock all their special education and mental health resources during the school shutdown to help students with disabilities. That of course has been their job from the outset. However, for them to succeed, they need far more provincial direction and support than this.

On May 19, 2020, in response to a question from the media at the Premier’s COVID-19 briefing, you announced some sort of two-week summer program aimed at helping orient some students with disabilities, such as those with autism, to a return to school. That announcement gave no specifics, such as where this will be offered or which students or how many students will be eligible for this program. Depending on how this is carried out, it could be helpful.

However, here again, there is a similar pressing need for the Ontario Government to show leadership by setting specific detailed and effective standards and requirements for school re-openings to ensure that the added needs of students with disabilities are effectively met in this process. Your Ministry’s approach to date to students with disabilities during this crisis will not ensure that this is properly handled.

Your May 8, 2020 memo to all school boards is quite illustrative of this entire problem. It commendably makes a few general references to accommodating students with special education needs and to mental health issues. However, it gives no specific directions for meeting the recurring needs of students with disabilities in circumstances where specificity and provincial leadership are required.

We remain eager to help with solutions. We need your active intervention to set things right. Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC: Premier Doug Ford

Via Email: [email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Jeff Butler, Acting Assistant Deputy Minister of the Student Support and Field Services Division

[email protected]

Yael Ginsler, Assistant Deputy Minister of Education (Acting) for the Student Achievement Division

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Demetra Saldaris, Director of the Professionalism, Teaching Policy and Standards Branch

[email protected]

Rashmi, Swarup TVO Vice President Digital Learning

[email protected]

May 21, 2020 Letter from the  AODA Alliance to TVO’s Vice President for Digital Content

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

Twitter: @aodaalliance

May 21, 2020

To: Rashmi Swarup

Vice President Digital Learning

Via email: [email protected]

Dear Ms. Swarup,

Re: Accessibility Problems with TVO’s Online Educational Content

Thank you for speaking to me by phone on May 14, 2020 about the accessibility problems on TVO’s website. It is especially timely that I am writing you on Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Here are several key points that I shared with you during our discussion.

I explained that TVO’s online learning content requires a major review as soon as possible for accessibility problems. Our preliminary look at them revealed significant and obvious problems. This strongly suggests that accessibility problems are likely more pervasive. The fact that they turned up so quickly suggests to us that TVO has not done effective accessibility user testing.

I explained that to rectify this, TVO needs to immediately put in place several new measures. It needs to now publicly commit to fix its online content’s accessibility problems and to ensure that any new online content created in the future is accessible from the start.

You explained that you have been in your position for about one year as TVO’s Vice President of Digital Content. Previously, you were a superintendent of schools at the York Region District School Board. You didn’t claim to be a subject matter expert on digital content accessibility, though you have taken required basic AODA training – training which we know to be quite introductory.

TVO needs to have a senior official with subject matter expertise in digital accessibility with lead responsibility and authority for ensuring the accessibility of TVO’s digital content and online offerings. It seems clear from the presence of accessibility problems in TVO’s online educational content that it is lacking that expertise in a leadership role.

I outlined for you that a number of major organizations have helpfully established a position of Chief Accessibility Officer to address their accessibility needs and duties. TVO could benefit from doing so. From what you explained, it appears that no one senior official at TVO has full responsibility for and authority over ensuring digital accessibility. Responsibility is spread over several members of the TVO senior management team. That is a far less effective way of addressing this important issue.

TVO needs to bring on board the subject matter expertise to fix this problem. I explained that there are digital accessibility experts TVO can retain to assist in this area.

TVO needs to establish and make public a detailed plan to fix the accessibility problems with its current digital learning content and to ensure that new digital content that TVO creates in the future is barrier-free. I explained that end-user testing is an important aspect of this. Automated checking tools cannot replace proper user testing by human beings. From our preliminary inspection of some of TVO’s online educational content, it seemed that no proper user testing would have earlier occurred.

You said you appreciated our raising these concerns and the recommendations that I shared. Our raising these concerns had escalated TVO’s attention. We appreciate your agreeing to write us to let us know what new action TVO will take to address these concerns.

We hope the Ontario Government will support TVO’s taking swift action to correct these problems. We had raised our concerns about TVO at senior levels within the Ministry of Education. The Minister of Education Stephen Lecce has repeatedly said that the Government has partnered with TVO to help deliver online education to students during the COVID-19 crisis.

Finally, I emphasized that as a public broadcast, TVO should be a leader in this area. In contrast to TVO’s accessibility deficiencies, WGBH, a US PBS station, is a key hub and, I believe, the birthplace for the important accessibility innovation of audio description for video content.

We look forward to hearing from you about the reforms TVO will adopt. It is important for corrective action to be taken quickly, given that schools remain closed for the rest of this school year due to the COVID-19 crisis and may have to close again should there be a second surge of COVID-19.

Please stay safe.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

CC

Premier Doug Ford

[email protected]

Stephen Lecce, Minister of Education,

[email protected]

Raymond Cho, Minister of Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Nancy Naylor, Deputy Minister of Education

[email protected]

Claudine Munroe, Director of the Special Education/Success for All Branch

[email protected]

Denise Cole, Deputy Minister for Seniors and Accessibility

[email protected]

Susan Picarello, Assistant Deputy Minister, Accessibility Directorate of Ontario

[email protected]

Renu Mandhane, Chief Commissioner, Ontario Human Rights Commission

[email protected]

May 8, 2020 Email from Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce to Ontario School Boards

May 8 2020 Email from Minister of Education Stephen Lecce to Ontario School Boards

From: Ministry of Education (EDU) <

[email protected]>

Sent: May 8, 2020 5:36 PM

To: Ministry of Education (EDU) <

[email protected]>

Subject: Updates on Continuity of Learning for the Extended School Closure Period | Mises à jour sur la continuité de l’apprentissage pendant la période

de fermeture prolongée des écoles

table with 2 columns and 2 rows

Memorandum To:

Chairs of District School Boards

Directors of Education

School Authorities

From:

Stephen Lecce

Minister of Education

Nancy Naylor

Deputy Minister

table end

Thank you for your continued commitment to supporting students during the school closure period. We have heard so many inspiring stories from across the province of students, parents, and educators doing extraordinary work to continue learning and build and maintain relationships at this time.

During this time, the mental health and well-being of students and the people working in the education system remains a priority. The government and school boards have moved rapidly to mobilize critical mental health resources and supports for students during these uncertain times.

As you know, the school closure period has been extended to at least May 31, 2020. To that end, we are writing to provide guidance on provincial standards for continuity of learning for the remainder of the closure period, as well as to provide updates on progress to date.

GUIDANCE FOR CONTINUITY OF LEARNING

As we entered the school closure period, our transition to Learn at Home was aided by existing tools that were in place to support virtual learning.  The ministry provides Ontario’s Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) at no cost to educators in school boards and First Nation/federally operated schools to use for delivering online programming. As a learning management system, the VLE provides tools for both synchronous and asynchronous learning delivery.  Boards may already have access to other synchronous learning management systems and tools, such as Google Classroom or Edsby.

While the expectation of the ministry was that educators would embrace the use of synchronous learning during the school closure period, there has been an inconsistent uptake of this mode of learning. As such, this memo is providing clarity on the ministry position.

Recognizing there are a wide range of modalities that are used in the continuum of learning between educators and their students, the ministry’s expectation is that synchronous learning be used as part of whole class instruction, in smaller groups of students, and/or in a one-on-one context.

We know that parents and students are looking for ways to interact with their teachers – which can be addressed through multiple modalities – and that online synchronous learning experience with teachers and education workers is an effective and supportive method that will position students to succeed during the school closure period. Similarly, parents expect their child’s educators to strive toward as normal a learning environment as possible during this period, of which synchronous learning is a key component.

Boards should take steps to ensure that privacy considerations are addressed and that students are aware of best practices, including not giving out passwords, ensuring that teachers are the last person to leave a synchronous meeting, and respecting other board policies on student conduct.

We recognize that there may be exceptional situations where synchronous online delivery may not be possible for all students. Exceptions could include, for example, where a parent has excused their child from instruction or this form of instruction, in which case a parent’s wishes should be respected.

If a student cannot participate due to a lack of devices or internet connectivity, or where students require accommodations for special education needs, alternate arrangements must be made, including personal outreach through phone calls. With that in mind, it is insufficient for educators to communicate with their students in one interaction per week, for example. We recognize that school boards have made extraordinary efforts to ensure that students have devices and connectivity wherever possible, and we once again reiterate our expectation that boards provide necessary technology to students as soon as possible, and appropriate accommodations for students with special education needs, where necessary.  The ministry will continue to support school boards in these efforts.

If a teacher or education worker does not feel they can currently deliver education to their students in this manner, schools and boards are encouraged to provide support and professional development.  However, in situations where teachers or education workers are not delivering synchronous learning, schools and boards are expected to immediately move to a team assignment approach to ensure that students are offered synchronous delivery of teacher led learning.

School boards should continue to follow the guidance provided on March 31, 2020 regarding the hours per student, per week, and the suggested areas of curriculum focus by grade groupings.

UPDATES ON PROGRESS TO DATE

Working Together

Between April 15 and 29, the ministry conducted a series of meetings beginning with Parent Involvement Committee Chairs and extending to include meetings with the following key roles responsible for supporting vulnerable students: Student Success and Student Effectiveness Leads, Indigenous Graduation Coaches, and Black Student Graduation Coaches. These meetings provided a venue for board leads to share successful practices and ongoing challenges to supporting vulnerable students and identify additional ways to offer support.

During these meetings, partners in school boards shared information on the many ways they are addressing the needs of vulnerable students, their wellbeing, and academic success. The ministry will continue to work with partners to determine ways to support student well-being, engagement in learning, and inclusive approaches to learning within a remote learning environment, as well as when students return to school.

Access to Technology

Access to internet connectivity and learning devices has been identified by school boards and other stakeholders as an urgent need during the school closure period. In response to this need, the ministry launched an education-related call for proposals on the Ontario Together web portal, focused on supporting

equity of access to remote learning.

Through this initiative, the ministry will identify proposals that school boards may wish to consider to support student and educator access to internet connectivity and devices such as computers, tablets, and portable wi-fi hotspots. As well, school boards may also wish to consider consulting other partners and sources, such as OECM, to consider comparable services and goods.

As we prepare for the eventual return to the classroom, broadband modernization activities in schools continue.  All Ontario students and educators in publicly funded schools will have access to reliable, fast, secure and affordable internet services at school, in all regions of the province including rural and northern communities.  This work will be complete in secondary schools by September 2020 and in elementary schools by September 2021.

As of March 31, 2020, broadband modernization was complete at 1,983 schools (including 403 in northern communities and 686 in rural communities) and in progress at 2,953 schools (including 99 in northern communities and 408 in rural communities).

Ensuring protection of privacy and security of digital learning resources is of the utmost importance for the ministry to support a safe, inclusive and accepting learning environment for synchronous learning.  While school boards remain independently accountable for establishing clear policies and approving appropriate use of collaboration tools to support students’ learning online, we will continue to work with boards and our government partners to provide guidance on cyber security and privacy best practices for sharing with educators in your schools.

School Construction

Schools are an essential part of supporting student achievement, as well as providing safe and healthy learning and work environments for students and staff. As we head into the spring and summer months, when school boards undertake critical capital construction and renewal projects, the province has revised the list of essential workplaces to support school infrastructure.  Construction projects and services (e.g. new construction, maintenance and repair) that support the essential operation of, and provide new capacity in, schools and child care centres can proceed, provided that there is strict adherence to health and safety requirements.

As school boards are best situated to understand their own particular circumstances, the ministry is asking that school boards consider whether their construction projects are able to reopen in light of these changes. This may mean that boards will need to consult with their own legal counsel, as appropriate.

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison

was launched on March 20, 2020. This website provides supplemental resources for parents and students to support independent learning at home while schools are closed.

Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison  includes learning resources on a variety of subjects including math, science, technology, Indigenous history and ways of knowing, art, physical education,  social sciences, and mental health. Supports for students with learning disabilities and special education needs, including autism, have also been included.

Resources continue to be added to address a range of learning needs.

Over the past month, there have been over four million visits to  Learn at Home/

Apprendre à la maison.

We encourage you to continue to share this website and promote the new resources available with parents and students in your board.

If there are additional high-quality online learning resources that you think would be particularly beneficial to students and parents at this time, we encourage you to share them with us by emailing  [email protected]

School Mental Health Ontario

School Mental Health Ontario – a provincial implementation support team that works alongside the ministry, school boards, and provincial education and health organizations to develop a systematic and comprehensive approach to school mental health – has several resources available to support families during the school closure period (

https://smho-smso.ca/blog/how-to-support-student-mental-health-during-the-covid-19-pandemic/).

Professional development

Through webinars, the ministry is providing professional development to support educators in the use of the VLE and pedagogy for remote, synchronous and asynchronous learning. In addition, the ministry is providing professional learning webinars for educators on specialised topics such as supporting students with special education needs, kindergarten/primary education and meaningful assessments and evaluations.

To date, more than 23,000 teachers have participated in, or registered for future webinars, on 34 different topics.  Completed webinars have been recorded and posted for teachers who were unable to attend the live session.

In addition to the webinar series, the ministry has created the Supports for Virtual Learning eCommunity.  Over 9,000 educational staff have accessed this professional learning community, including resources for self-serve learning that are updated regularly.

First Nation and Indigenous partners

The ministry continues to support First Nation education partners during the school closure period. This has included providing access to online education resources, connecting First Nation partners to the supply chain to purchase Chromebooks and iPads, as well as encouraging local school boards to work closely with local First Nations and Indigenous partners, where possible.

In addition to supporting educators through teleconferences in areas/communities where bandwidth is limited or unavailable, the ministry has responded

to outreach from First Nation partners and has established a series of ongoing virtual meetings with First Nations Education Task Teams. The Task Teams were established to work collaboratively with First Nation education leadership, to identify gaps in services and develop options to address emerging priorities for First Nation students.

We are also ensuring that First Nation educators have access to Ontario’s VLE and training for teachers provided by the ministry.

There is no cost to the First Nation schools to access and use the VLE.

Summer learning

The ministry is working with boards and organizations to support an expanded offering of summer learning opportunities. This plan will focus on programs that support student learning through the summer such as summer school, course upgrading, and gap-closing programs for vulnerable students, students with special education needs, and Indigenous students.  This plan will be flexible to accommodate both remote and face-to-face learning, pending emergency measures through the summer. While summer learning opportunities are voluntary for students, we hope that many students will take advantage of the opportunity to continue their learning throughout the summer.

The goal with these measures is to mitigate the impacts of the school closure period and the learning loss that may typically occur during the summer.

Further details will be provided in the coming weeks.

Communication with parents and families

We recognize that many boards are creating opportunities for parents to provide feedback on the current learning experience through surveys and other platforms, as well as continuing to seek the advice of their Parent Involvement Committee (PIC). Through a virtual meeting with PIC chairs at the end of April, the ministry heard that parents appreciate the efforts their boards are making to address a variety of diverse family challenges due to the pandemic.  We encourage boards to continue to be open to feedback and to recognize where delivery of education under current circumstances can be challenging, and can be adjusted to better serve students and families.

Thank you once again for your flexibility and willingness to work together to support Ontario’s students.

Sincerely,

Stephen Lecce                        Nancy Naylor

Minister of Education            Deputy Minister

c:    President, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

Executive Director, Association des conseils scolaires des écoles publiques de l’ontario (ACÉPO)

President, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

Executive Director, Association franco-ontarienne des conseils scolaires catholiques (AFOCSC)

President, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

Executive Director, Ontario Catholic School Trustees’ Association (OCSTA)

President, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Ontario Public School Boards’ Association (OPSBA)

Executive Director, Council of Ontario Directors of Education (CODE)

President, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

Executive Director and Secretary-Treasurer, Association des enseignantes et des enseignants franco-ontariens (AEFO)

President, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

General Secretary, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA)

President, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

General Secretary, Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO)

President, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

General Secretary, Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF)

Chair, Ontario Council of Educational Workers (OCEW)

Chair, Education Workers’ Alliance of Ontario (EWAO)

President of OSBCU, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)

Co-ordinator, Canadian Union of Public Employees – Ontario (CUPE-ON)



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