Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
Breaking News! The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario Tells the AODA Alliance that One Standards Development Committee is Going Back to Work After a 119-Day Freeze – And News on the Federal Accessibility Front
October 19, 2018
We’re busy on both the provincial and federal fronts of our accessibility campaign!
1. A Small Partial Victory on the Ontario Front
After the June 7, 2018 Ontario election, the work of five Standards Development Committees appointed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act was suspended by the Ontario Government. We have been campaigning for the past 119 days to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze so that these Standards Development Committees can get back to work. They are appointed to recommend what AODA accessibility standards should include.
Today, we received an email from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. It invites AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to make a presentation to the Employment Standards Development Committee at their meeting tentatively set for November 21, 2018. We had asked months ago for an opportunity to make a presentation to that committee. The October 19, 2018 email to AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario states in part:
“I am following up with your request of June 30th, 2018 on making a presentation to the Employment Standards Development Committee once it resumes its work on the review of the Employment Standards. The SDC will be reconvening in November to review the feedback received during the public posting period so that they can prepare their recommendations for the final proposed employment standard for submission to the Minister. The meeting is tentatively scheduled for November 21st, 2018 with two time slots available for presentations.”
That means that the Ford Government must have lifted its freeze, at least in so far as that one Standards Development Committee is concerned. The Ford Government has not made any public announcement that the freeze on the work of any of the other four Standards Development Committees has been lifted, as far as we have been able to determine. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. He has not been notified that that Standards Development Committee has had its freeze lifted.
On receiving the email from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky responded with an email that asks if the freeze on any of the other Standards Development Committees has been lifted. We have not yet received an answer to that email.
When the freeze was imposed last June, Standards Development Committees had been appointed under the AODA and had been working in the following areas:
- The Employment Standards Development Committee was working on recommendations on revisions needed to the 2011 Employment Accessibility Standard;
- the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee was working on recommendations to improve the 2011 Information and Communication Accessibility Standard;
- The Health Care Standards Development Committee was developing recommendations on what the Ontario Government should include in a Health Care Accessibility Standard;
- The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee was working on recommendations on what to include in an Education Accessibility Standard for public and Catholic schools, and
- The Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee was working on recommendations on what to include in an Education Accessibility Standard for colleges and universities.
As part of our campaign against this freeze, for several weeks we have been posting daily tweets on Twitter that have kept a daily count of the number of days that this freeze has been in effect. As of this morning, that number was 119 days. Our tweets have been directed at MPPs in the Legislature from each of the political parties.
On August 29, 2018, we wrote Ontario’s new Minister for Accessibility and Seniors, Raymond Cho, to urge him to lift this freeze. That letter explains in detail why the freeze should be lifted, and why it flies in the face of positions the Ontario PC Party took while in opposition. You can read the AODA Alliance’s August 29, 2018 letter to the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/aoda-alliance-presses-the-ford-government-to-immediately-lift-its-freeze-on-the-work-of-standards-development-committees-appointed-under-ontarios-disabilities-act-to-make-recommendations-on-needed/
The media has covered this freeze. Below we set out a transcript of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky’s interview on CBC Ottawa Radio’s “All in a Day” program on August 30, 2018. In that interview, CBC reported that an email from the Ontario Government to CBC stated in part:
“the Minister is in the process of reviewing the extensive portfolio of seniors and accessibility and the work of the standards development committees, the Minister has had several meetings and briefing with stakeholders and staff including the AODA alliance, and the Minister continues to receive key briefings on files related to the portfolio. The ministry will connect with the committees with information when it becomes available.”
We are happy that the Employment Standards Development Committee is now able to get back to work. We respectfully question why it would take almost four months to brief a minister on five advisory committees, whose job under the AODA is to bring forward recommendations to the Government, which the Government is not bound to follow. This minister is a full-time minister for accessibility and seniors.
We urge the Ford Government to now lift its freeze on all these Standards Development Committees. Any delay in their work drives Ontario further behind schedule for becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the AODA’s mandatory deadline. If the Employment Standards Development Committee can get back to work, the other Standards Development Committees should also be able to do so.
We encourage you to press your MPP to help us get the freeze lifted from all Standards Development Committees.
2. More News on the Federal Front
The AODA Alliance’s October 25, 2018 presentation to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Human Resources, Skills and Social Development and the Status of Persons with Disabilities has been shifted a bit earlier. We are presenting on Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act.
It will still be on the morning of October 25, 2018. However, it will take place between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m, 45 minutes earlier than we were previously told. We present along with four other organizations.
We remind you that you can attend in person. Contrary to an earlier AODA update, the hearing is not at the Parliament Buildings. It is instead at a nearby building in downtown Ottawa. Come to Room 415, 180 Wellington, Ottawa. (Entrance at 197 Sparks Street)
You can also watch it live online, or afterwards, when it is archived. Go to this link: https://www.bing.com/search?q=hearings+Bill+C-81+Standing+Committee+on+Human+Resources,+Skills+and+Social+Development+and+the+Status+of+Persons+with+Disabilities&go=Submit&qs=n&form=QBLH&pq=hearings+Bill+C-81+Standing+Committee+on+Human+Resources,+Skills+and+Social+Development+and+the+Status+of+Persons+with+Disabilities&sc=10-14&sp=-1&sk=&cvid=d63c261e27184bb7b950c2bd9c5a8240
Up to October 25, you can email that Standing Committee to voice your support for the AODA Alliance’s brief on Bill C-81 and the amendments we seek to make that bill into a good law. Email the Committee at [email protected]
Please get more organizations to support our brief. It has already been supported by CNIB, the March of Dimes, the Ontario Autism Coalition, Communication Disabilities Access Canada, Barrier-Free Manitoba, Citizens with Disabilities Ontario, the ARCH Disability Law Centre, the Environmental Health Association of BC, Quebec Accessible, Balance for Blind Adults, Easter Seals Ontario, and Autism Ontario. Please get other community organizations to support our brief as well.
There’s yet another way you can help. Please email or tweet to MPs to support our brief. A list of the email addresses and Twitter handles of all federal MPs is available at https://www.aodaalliance.org/whats-new/email-addresses-and-twitter-handles-for-all-members-of-canadas-parliament-as-of-october-11-2018/
We are very busy tweeting federal MPs to get them to support the amendments to Bill C-81 that we seek. Why not just follow @aodaalliance on Twitter, and retweet our tweets to MPs?
CBC Radio Ottawa August 30th 2018
David Lepofsky Interview on All in a Day with Alan Neal
Alan: When the Provincial government transitioned from Premiere Wynne to Premiere Ford in June, some work was put on hold and that included the work of the Standards Development Committees. They are the groups that make recommendations on how to improve accessibility in education, healthcare and employment. Well two months later, there have been no promises from the Province that the committee’s work will continue, and that has disability rights advocate David Lepofsky worried. He’s a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. He penned a letter to the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility urging the Minister to let the committees get back to work. David Lepofsky joins us now by phone from Toronto. Good afternoon.
David: Good Afternoon.
Alan: How did you find out your committee was frozen?
David: Well, we were originally scheduled to have a meeting to do the work we were appointed to do back on the 21st – 22nd of June that was tentative pending the election. After the election, the public service emailed us that the meetings are cancelled and since then we have basically been told everything is on hold, they haven’t given us any new dates. They asked us at one point to hold the week of September 24th and they told us to un-hold it and there has been no indication of when or if we will get further directions.
Alan: Now that’s for the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee–have you heard news from other committees?
David: Well, in fact the email that came to us was addressed to all standards development committees. Just so people understand, there is a law in place in Ontario called the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act. It was passed unanimously by all parties back in 2005 and I had the privilege of leading the collation that fought to get that law passed. It requires the Province to lead Ontario to become fully accessible to over 1.9 million people with disabilities by 2025. The way the government is supposed to do that is by passing a series of detailed regulations. They are called accessibility standards that will tell different sectors in the economy what they have to do, what barriers to fix and by when. Where do these come from? Well, the government appoints advisory committees called Standards Development Committees to make recommendations on what needs to be enacted and then when the government gets their advice it can decide what to pass or what not to pass. There are a series of these that were appointed under this legislation back in the spring. I’m on one of them and we were all busy doing our work until the election came along and then it was all “put on hold.” As I said, we’re trying to get the government to lift the freeze, let us get back to work so we can come up with the best advice we can to give to the government.
Alan: David, can you give me an example of something that your committee was working on before the freeze?
David: Sure, the committee I am appointed to is looking into the kinds of barriers that impede students with disabilities that is: physical disabilities, mental disabilities, sensory disability, autism, learning disabilities, the whole spectrum in publically funded schools (public and Catholic schools) between kindergarten and Grade 12. That’s approximately a third of a million students in Ontario or somewhere between 1/5 and 1/6 of every student. We were looking at barriers in the design of school buildings, barriers in the curriculum, barriers in the technology that kids use. So often our education system has been designed and operated as if it’s only for kids with no disabilities and when these kids come along they have to try to fit into a system that was designed as if they weren’t there.
Alan: So that work has now been frozen. What conversations have you had with this government? And maybe the ministry as well? You’ve talked about that email you got, but anything about when the committees may be unfrozen?
David: We’ve got no indication. I lead the AODA Alliance. It’s a non-partisan coalition that campaigns to get this legislation effectively implemented. I wear several hats, and that’s one of them, and we’ve written the Premiere and the Minister responsible for accessibility, Raymond Cho, and we’ve asked them to un-freeze these committees, let them get back to work. Letting us go back to work does not commit the government on what it will do once we render our advice, so the government is free to take our advice and use all of it, some of it or none of it, but they can’t use our advice until we have the time to get it prepared and delivered. And one of the things that is significant is that we are non-partisan. I’ve got to explain when it came to education our coalition led the fight for getting a standard created that would tear down the barriers facing kids in schools. We spent years doing this, and the previous government, the Kathleen Wynne government, eventually agreed to do it, but took years making up its mind and we turned to the opposition parties including the Conservatives to support our cause, and commendably they did. The opposition Conservatives blasted the former government for when it hadn’t decided whether even to do work in this area and once it decided to, it blasted the former government for taking too long to set up our committee. Commendably, they did that, but we now need them to stick to that same agenda and not themselves cause further delay by maintaining this freeze.
Alan: David, we asked the ministry for clarification on the freeze. Spokesperson Michael Thomas emailed a statement saying, in part: “The Minister is in the process of reviewing the extensive portfolio of seniors and accessibility and the work of the standards development committees. The minister has had several meetings and briefings with stakeholders and staff including the AODA alliance, and the Minister continues to receive key briefings on files related to the portfolio. The Ministry will connect with the committees with information when it becomes available.” Does that reassure you?
David: No it doesn’t, and the reason is this: Yes, they did talk to us, and I did talk to the Ministry, it was a good call, just about a week ago, which we really appreciate, but here’s the problem. They were elected back in early June. The Minister was sworn in at the end of June. We have in Ontario commendably for the first time a full-time Minister for accessibility and seniors and we’ve congratulated the Premiere for doing that; it’s a first – and it’s good, but because we have a full-time minister, this minister has time to devote to this file that is much more than any previous minister has had. So it shouldn’t take them two months to decide to resume the work in committees like ours, which while in opposition they thought was so important that they blasted the previous government in question period for dragging its feet. So they knew it was important when they were in opposition. The commitments during the elections about the importance of accessibility and the unfairness of barriers that face people with disabilities including kids with disabilities in schools, they knew all that coming in. All they need to do now is to lift the freeze so we can get back to work; it’s going to be months before we render our advice. There is no policy justification for delaying any further, and that’s why we are actually urging everyone to contact their member of the legislature, whatever be their party, and say that for the benefit for people with disabilities, including kids with disabilities in school, please lift the freeze. Let these advisory committees get back to do our work so we can formulate the good advice that this government needs.
Alan: David thank you very much for joining us this afternoon.
David: Thanks so much for including us.
Alan: David Lepofsky is the Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disability Act Alliance and a member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee (which is currently frozen). We’ll tweet out a link to the letter he was written by the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility.