Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities http://www.aodaalliance.org [email protected] Twitter: @aodaalliance
January 18, 2019
We wish one and all a happy and barrier-free New Year! We are kicking off 2019 by making public the AODA Alliance’s finalized brief that calls for significant reforms to the Ontario Government’s implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We have just submitted this finalized brief to the hon. David Onley, whom the Ontario Government appointed last February to conduct a mandatory Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.
You can download our entire finalized brief in an accessible MS Word document by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Jan-15-2019-AODA-Alliance-brief-to-david-onley-AODA-Independent-Review-with-pagination.docx
If you want to just read the findings that we urge David Onley to reach, and the recommendations we urge him to make, you can see all of these gathered, chapter by chapter, in one place, in the brief’s appendix, which you can download in an accessible MS Word document by visiting https://www.aodaalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/jan-15-2019-appendix-to-AODA-Alliance-brief-to-david-onley-with-pagination.docx
Late last fall, we made public a draft of this brief, and invited input. Thanks to all who shared their feedback. Our finalized brief includes everything that was in the draft brief. There have been some minor wording adjustments, typos fixed, and formatting adjustments.
We have added three short sections to the brief. We set these out below. They total 12 pages. In summary:
1. In the introductory chapter, we added the new heading 6. It urges Mr. Onley to issue a strong and if at all possible, immediate recommendation that the Ontario Government now lift its freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the 2 Education Standards Development Committees. We did so after learning that late last month; Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho wrote the Health Care Standards Development Committee and two Education Standards Development Committees to say that the Government is now awaiting David Onley’s report before deciding what to do about the Government’s seven-month-long freeze on the work of those AODA Standards Development Committees. This new part of the brief reproduces what the Ontario Government said in that letter.
2. In Chapter 1, we added the new heading 6. It explains why, in our view, Ontario has fallen behind schedule for reaching its 2025 accessibility deadline.
3. In Chapter 1, we added the new heading 10 at the end of that chapter. It spells out why, in our view, our recommendations fit well within the agenda of Ontario’s new Government. We encourage Mr. Onley to address that topic in his report.
We encourage one and all to send David Onley a short email, voicing your support for the findings and recommendations in the AODA Alliance finalized brief. You can email him at [email protected]
If you don’t have time to say more, you might just say something like this:
“I support the findings and recommendations in the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief to the David Onley AODA Independent Review.”
Major New Additions in the AODA Alliance’s finalized January 15, 2019 Brief to the David Onley AODA Independent Review
8. Right Off the Top The Pressing Need for This Independent Review to Recommend that the New Ontario Government Immediately Lift Its Freeze on the AODA Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees
Before diving into the range of issues that this brief explores in depth in the following chapters, we wish as an important preliminary matter to urge this AODA Independent Review to recommend as soon as possible that the Ontario Government should immediately lift its 7-month freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees that have been appointed under the AODA. We encourage this Independent Review to issue a short interim report, in order to make this recommendation, and to get it in the Government’s hands as soon as possible.
Heading 7 in Chapter 5 of this brief addresses the need for Ontario to develop and enact an Education Accessibility Standard to tear down the disability accessibility barriers facing students with disabilities in Ontario’s education system, and a Health Care Accessibility Standard to tear down the barriers facing patients with disabilities in Ontario’s health care system. Students with disabilities face too many disability accessibility barriers in Ontario’s education system. Patients with disabilities face too many barriers in Ontario’s health care system.
That chapter addresses the pressing need for the new Ontario Government to lift its freeze on the work of three Standards Development Committees which were already at work before the 2018 Ontario election. These committees were developing recommendations for an Education Accessibility Standard and a Health Care Accessibility Standard.
It took us many years and tenacious advocacy to eventually get the former Ontario Government to agree to develop new AODA accessibility standards to address those barriers. In 2017, the former Government appointed a Health Care Standards Development Committee. In Early 2018, it appointed a K-12 Education Standards Development Committee and a Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee. They were hard at work when their work was frozen last June, in the wake of the June 2018 Ontario election. Their work remains frozen to this day.
Chapter 5 explains why it is essential for these Standards Development Committees to be allowed to resume their work without further delay, and for this seven-month freeze to be lifted. In our unsuccessful efforts over the past seven months to get this freeze lifted, the new Government has never claimed that Ontario’s education system and health care system are barrier-free for people with disabilities, or that there is no need for people with disabilities to have accessibility in the areas of health care or education. However, just days ago, we learned that the Government has said that it is waiting for the report of this AODA Independent Review before it decides whether to lift its freeze on the work of those Standards Development Committees.
On January 9, 2019, we received a copy of the December 20, 2018 letter from Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho to the chair of the K-12 Standards Development Committee. In that letter, Minister Cho stated:
“I am writing to update you on the status of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee.
As you know, the Hon. David Onleys Third Legislative Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is currently underway and nearing its submission date. At Mr. Onleys request, he has been granted a one-month extension to complete his work, and his report is now due on January 31, 2019. I am looking forward to reading his assessment of the AODA and any proposed recommendations.
In this regard, we will be waiting to review Mr. Onleys report before considering the best path forward to further improving accessibility in Ontario.
Since taking office in June, our new Government for the People has acted swiftly and with determination to implement change that will get Ontario back on track. Once we have analysed and carefully considered the Review, we intend to move forward with the same determination to break down barriers, improve accessibility and make Ontario open for business for everyone.
Your committee has already done meaningful work exploring barriers faced by kindergarten to Grade 12 students. As the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, I appreciate your valuable contribution. I wish you a happy holiday season and look forward to working with you in the New Year.”
Before this, the Government had not made any public statement that it was awaiting this AODA Independent Review’s report before deciding on the future of these Standards Development Committees. The Government has known of the existence of this AODA Independent Review for months. Had the Government earlier said that it was awaiting this Independent Review’s advice on point, we would have immediately urged this Independent Review to issue a short interim report to recommend that this freeze be lifted.
Much public attention in the past months has focused on the new Government’s concern to reduce the costs of government. Chapter 5 of this brief offers several recommendations on how the standards development process under the AODA can be conducted in a more cost-effective way.
The impact of this freeze has been an increased cost to the public, including people with disabilities. As long as Ontario continues without effective accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education, health care providers and facilities, as well as schools, colleges and universities will continue to create new disability barriers, including doing so with public money. (See further Chapter 7) It will cost the public more for those barriers to later be removed. It also costs the public more when the Government leaves it to each education organization and each health care organization to re-invent the accessibility wheel, rather than having the benefit of the directions of clear and strong accessibility standards in these areas.
There is no need for the Government to study and decide on the other issues that this Independent Review will address before it decides on lifting the freeze on these Standards Development Committees. Last fall, the Government was able to decide, without the benefit of this Independent Review’s report, to lift its freeze on the work of the Employment Standards Development Committee and the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. As is documented in Chapter 5, the new Government, when in opposition, was sufficiently familiar with these issues to demand that the former Ontario Government agree to develop an Education Accessibility Standard, and to appoint a Standards Development Committee to work on it.
Any further delay in deciding on lifting the freeze only continues to hurt students with disabilities and patients with disabilities. An immediate, short interim report making the recommendation requested here would help more swiftly bring that delay to an end.
If this Independent Review does not issue an interim report on this topic, then we encourage this Independent Review to place a recommendation to lift this freeze close to the start of its final report to the Government, so that it is prominent.
6. Why is Ontario So Far Behind Schedule for Becoming Accessible to People with Disabilities by 2025?
Pervading this brief is a fundamentally important question: Why is Ontario so far behind schedule for becoming accessible by 2025? How did Ontario find itself in this predicament over 13.5 years after the AODA was enacted, and less than 6 years before the 2025 deadline for becoming accessible?
It is important for this AODA Independent Review to consider this question, in order to formulate appropriate reform recommendations that will hit the mark. We here identify several causes for Ontario’s current accessibility predicament. We do not list them in order of importance or significance. These causes combine together to produce the problem Ontario now faces.
Before listing these causes, we must address one factor that is clearly not a cause for this predicament. The problem is not that the Ontario Government didn’t know what needs to be done to get Ontario on schedule for full accessibility by 2025. What needs to be done has been very clear for years. The AODA spells much of it out in the legislation itself. Two successive Government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews, the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review, each gave the Ontario Government clear and productive recommendations.
The Government has had ample avenues to get input and advice. AODA Standards Development Committees have given the Government detailed recommendations. The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council has been available to advise the Government. For three years, the Government also had the benefit of the position of Special Advisor on Accessibility, reporting to the minister responsible for the AODA.
As well, community organizations like the AODA Alliance have given the Government advice and detailed recommendations through formal consultation sessions, and informal meetings and discussions. Time and again, this advice pointed in the same direction. As well, needed action has often been spelled out in election promises, by some or all of the political parties, including the Ontario Liberal Party that brought forward the AODA in 2004-2005 and that was in power for most of the time since then. Opposition parties raised concerns and suggestions in debates in the Legislature and through informal discussions with Government MPPs.
Thus, we turn our attention to the causes for this predicament. Prominent among these, especially in recent years, is the fact that there has been a troubling lack of concerted and effective leadership on this issue from Ontario’s Premier and from the Premier’s Office. This chapter later discusses this.
Both the 2010 Charles Beer AODA Independent Review Report and the 2014 Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review Report called for the Ontario Government to show new leadership on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Both reports called for the AODA’s implementation to be revitalized, and for new life to be breathed into it. The 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review specifically called for new leadership by the Premier, as a priority. Despite these strong recommendations from authoritative reviews that the former Ontario Government itself appointed, none of this new leadership and revitalization ever materialized.
For example, Premier Wynne never kept her 2014 written election promise to the AODA Alliance that she would instruct her ministers on their accessibility obligations and commitments. As this chapter and Chapter 10 discusses, she did not include many if not most of these commitments and obligations in her Mandate Letters to her ministers. No doubt, the ministers got the implicit message from this that these simply were not priorities.
Closely related to that cause for Ontario’s predicament, the lack of effective leadership on this issue thereafter appears to have trickled down to the senior political levels within the Ontario Government. Within any large organization like the Ontario Government, if there is a lack of effective leadership at the top on an issue, this risks spreading in the organization as a negative signal. When this persists over time, it becomes even more embedded within the organization’s DNA and harder to change.
That clearly appears to have occurred within the Ontario Government in the case of the accessibility issue. After the AODA was enacted, there has too often been a demonstrable lack of sustained political will on this issue in the party in power. Ministers periodically make encouraging speeches. During elections, political parties make encouraging pledges on accessibility. Yet at an operational level, it has quite infrequently gone beyond this at senior levels within the Ontario Government. This is so even though there were individuals within the governing party’s caucus, and even within its Cabinet, that wanted to do much more on accessibility.
By now, most of the MPPs who advocated for the enactment of the AODA and who voted for it have left politics. Their replacements came into public life without having taken part in the events leading to the AODA’s enactment.
Further contributing to this predicament are problems at the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, addressed further later in this chapter and in Chapter 5. The Accessibility Directorate is the Government office that is responsible for leading the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Here again, within the Accessibility Directorate were any number of dedicated, hard-working individuals who wanted to do a good job. However, despite this, problems persisted. Our brief offers several recommendations to fix this recurring problem.
As Chapter 10 details, the Ontario Public Service appears more generally too often to have served as a barrier to progress on accessibility. There are some within the Ontario Public Service who are dedicated supporters on this issue. However, as an overall organization, it too frequently has served as a collective drag on progress, and even an impediment or opponent to progress.
Chapter 10 of this brief shows that the Ontario Government including the Ontario Public Service has not ensured that it is a fully accessible service-provider and employer. The Ontario Government repeatedly claims to lead by example, but continues to lead by a poor example. Over the years, we have met with successive deputy ministers responsible for the operations of the Ontario Public Service as an employer and service-provider, and with successive Secretaries of Cabinet to highlight this problem and to offer constructive solutions, too often without needed success for our efforts.
Making the foregoing worse as a cause of this problem has been the Government’s excessive secrecy around the operations of the Government on this issue, addressed later in this chapter and in Chapter 5. As but one example, the Ontario Government went to excessive lengths to throw obstacles in the AODA Alliance’s path when we tried to get access to information about the AODA’s enforcement in 2013 and 2015. They even sent an armada of fully five lawyers to an Information and Privacy Commission hearing in opposition to the AODA Alliance, in order to further that goal. Similarly, undue secrecy surrounds the work of AODA Standards Development Committees, and conceals the Government’s planning process for new public infrastructure. Thus, bureaucrats and private contractors can with impunity resist efforts at ensuring that this new infrastructure is accessible, without being subject to effective and timely public scrutiny or accountability. Chapters 1, 2, 5 and 7 7 further address this.
Also, slowing progress has been the lack of a multi-year provincial plan for the AODA’s implementation and enforcement to get Ontario to reach the 2025 deadline on time. This chapter later explores this.
Progress on accessibility has also been slowed by weak and ineffective AODA enforcement. Chapter 2 addresses this in detail. Those who violate the AODA, even knowingly and repeatedly, have little if anything to fear in the way of real and practical consequences. This is so despite the Government knowing of rampant AODA violations in the private sector for years, and despite ample unused funds being on hand for AODA enforcement.
Also, slowing progress on accessibility has been the fact that the AODA accessibility standards enacted to date, while helpful, are too weak and limited, as Chapter 3 addresses. Even if fully obeyed, the existing AODA accessibility standards won’t ensure that obligated organizations will become accessible by 2025, or ever. The Ontario Government has done very little to address this problem which the 2014 final report of the Mayo Moran AODA Independent Review had amply documented. Chapter 4 of this brief also shows several important areas where new accessibility standards are needed under the AODA, including, for example, a strong, effective and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard. Our efforts to get the Ontario Government to develop and enact a Health Care Accessibility Standard for patients with disabilities and an Education Accessibility Standard for students with disabilities have met with years of foot-dragging by the previous Government, exacerbated by more foot-dragging by the new Ontario Government.
Creating new accessibility standards and reviewing the sufficiency of existing accessibility standards every five years is core to the AODA’s capacity to lead Ontario to 2025 as a fully accessible province. The process for developing new AODA accessibility standards and for conducting periodic reviews of existing standards is fraught with problems, as Chapter 5 demonstrates. Chapter 5 of this brief shows that there is a need to substantially reform and strengthen the process for developing AODA accessibility standards.
Also exacerbating this predicament, there remain serious problems with the Ontario Government’s efforts at educating the public, including obligated organizations, about accessibility and the AODA. As but two examples, there is a pressing need for schools to provide students with curriculum on accessibility standards, and for there to be mandatory accessibility training for professionals in fields like architecture and interior design. Chapter 6 describes this problem and recommends reforms.
Further slowing progress towards 2025, there remain in place several levers of readily available public power that the Ontario Government could easily and far more effectively use to promote progress on accessibility, but which the Government has not effectively used. Chapter 7 of this brief demonstrates that the Ontario Government has failed to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability accessibility barriers. Chapter 8 of this brief shows that the Ontario Government has not effectively reviewed all Ontario laws to ensure that they do not create or permit disability accessibility barriers. This is so even though all parties in the 2007 election promised that such a review would be completed. Chapter 9 of this brief explains that the Ontario Government has not acted effectively to ensure that provincial and municipal elections in Ontario are accessible to voters and candidates with disabilities.
Finally, Chapter 11 shows that there is a pressing need for the Ontario Government to implement a strong and effective new strategy, beyond enacting an Employment Accessibility Standard, to substantially increase the opportunities for the employment of people with disabilities in Ontario. The former Ontario Government promised action in this area. Yet it dragged its feet for years, and then announced a strategy in June 2017 that is too weak and high-level.
All of the above explains the causes for Ontario being behind schedule up to the June 2018 Ontario election. Over the past seven months since then, an additional cause has arisen. The new Ontario Government has not implemented any new action to kick-start new efforts on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. In addition, it injected more delay, by maintaining for months a freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees. This is addressed in Chapters 4 and 5. That freeze was lifted later last fall in the case of two of the frozen Standards Development Committees. That freeze remains in effect for three other Standards Development Committees, as is addressed at several points in this brief, including in the Introduction.
It is, of course, entirely understandable that a new Government will take some time to get up to speed on the wide range of issues it must handle. However, to reduce this risk, we had provided assistance to Ontario’s new government early on, by:
* Briefing Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party over the months in advance of the election on key accessibility issues that the Government is facing.
* Last spring, sending all party leaders a detailed list of commitments on disability accessibility that we sought in the June 2018 election. It briefs all parties on the key issues.
* Sending Premier Doug Ford and Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho detailed letters in July 2018 that spell out the key actions needed in this area, as are referenced throughout this brief.
All political parties have agreed that Ontario should become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, and that the Ontario Government, through the AODA, should lead our concerted efforts towards that goal. Any comprehensive strategy to get Ontario back on schedule needs to address all the multiple causes for our current predicament of being far behind schedule. This brief offers concrete and constructive recommendations to that end. At one time or other, and often on many occasions, we have pressed the Ontario Government to take all of these measures. As this brief details, in a good number of cases, the former Ontario Government promised any number of these actions, but too often failed to keep its word. We urge this AODA Independent Review to make all the recommendations we propose so that Ontario’s new Government and the public have a constructive action plan that can be implemented to kick-start a new era of faster and more effective progress on accessibility.
10. Why Strong Action on Accessibility Fits within the Agenda of Ontario’s New Government
Strong, effective Government action on accessibility fits well within the agenda of Ontario’s new Government. In addressing this, we emphasize that this AODA Independent Review, like the AODA Alliance, is strictly non-partisan.
Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities is a non-partisan issue. All parties in the Legislature have, at various times, brought forward legislation or amendments, and pressed for more action on accessibility. All parties have emphasized that disability barriers eventually hurt everyone, since everyone eventually is bound to get a disability. Each party has emphasized that accessibility is good for people with disabilities, for all members of the public, and for business.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative Party has made written election commitments on the need for disability accessibility legislation in elections in 1995, 2007, 2014 and 2018. These letters were signed by PC leaders Mike Harris, John Tory, Tim Hudak, and most recently, by Doug Ford.
On October 29, 1998, when Mike Harris was Ontario’s premier, the Legislature unanimously passed an historic resolution. It adopted eleven important principles that a strong and effective Disabilities Act should fulfil. Each PC MPP in the Legislature voted for that resolution.
In 2005, all parties, including each PC MPP, voted unanimously to pass the AODA, and gave it a standing ovation. The AODA requires Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. It requires the Government to lead Ontario to that goal by enacting and effectively enforcing regulations called accessibility standards.
During the 2005 clause-by-clause debate on the AODA, the PC Party proposed amendments at the request of our predecessor coalition, to make the bill even stronger. After the AODA was enacted, the PC leader congratulated the Government for passing it. On a number of occasions while in opposition, the Ontario PC Party has put questions to the Ontario Government at our request, to press for more action on the AODA’s implementation.
In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford continued the PC Party’s commitment to this legislation and its goal, reaffirming:
“Making Ontario fully accessible by 2025 is an important goal under the AODA and its one that would be taken seriously by an Ontario PC government.”
That record fits within a bigger picture. In each of the three Canadian provinces which enacted accessibility legislation, namely Ontario (2005), Manitoba (2013) and Nova Scotia (2017), that legislation unanimously passed. Each Conservative Party supported it.
Similarly, last fall, when the House of Commons passed Bill C-81, the proposed Accessible Canada Act, it was unanimously supported, including by the Conservative Party of Canada. On behalf of the disability community, the Conservative Party of Canada proposed amendments in the House of Commons that would have strengthened Bill C-81 amendments which the Federal Government voted down.
Looking more broadly. The Americans with Disabilities Act was proudly signed into law in 1990 by Republican US President George H.W. Bush. Earlier, when he was US Vice President, President Ronald Reagan appointed him to chair a national de-regulation task force. The Americans with Disabilities Act was supported in the US Congress by Democrats and Republicans alike, including by Senator Bob Dole, who later ran for president as Republican nominee.
The need for the Ontario Government to lead Ontario to disability accessibility by 2025 aligns with the PC Party’s current agenda. In Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, he committed:
“Your issues are close to the hearts of our Ontario PC Caucus” and
“they will play an outstanding role in shaping policy for the Ontario PC Party.”
He committed during the 2018 election to lead a Government “for the people”. At least 1.9 million of the people of Ontario now have a disability. The rest are bound to later get a disability, as they grow older. “The people” are, at some time in their lives, all people with disabilities.
The Government has announced the goal to make Ontario open for business. This needs to include ensuring that Ontario is open for employees, job-seekers, business owners and customers with disabilities.
The new Government said it aims to be responsible in the use of taxpayers’ money. We suggest it was irresponsible for public money to be used in the past to create or perpetuate accessibility barriers against people with disabilities, as we address further in Chapter 7. An ounce of barrier prevention is worth many pounds of cure. A firm commitment to accessibility saves taxpayers the expense of re-doing projects after the fact, to fix accessibility barriers that should have been prevented. Clear and time-based accessibility standards promote stability for businesses, who can then plan with those standards in mind.
In Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, written during the 2018 election campaign, he made a number of important points. These show why it is so important for the AODA to be effectively implemented.
As we explain in Chapter 3, the 2011 AODA Employment Accessibility Standard, now under review by the Employment Standards Development Committee, needs to be strengthened to ensure that the workplaces of tomorrow are barrier-free for job-seekers and employees with disabilities. To do so fits well within the position of the PC Party. In his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford wrote:
“When it comes to people with disabilities, we have a moral and an economic responsibility to focus on their abilities and not just on what holds them back. Our family members, friends and neighbours who have a disability of some kind are a wellspring of talent and determination.
It’s also completely unacceptable that someone should be passed over for a job because of the myth that people with disabilities can’t do the work. We have a moral and social responsibility to change this.”
As Chapter 9 of this brief shows, voters with disabilities can still encounter unfair voting barriers in elections in Ontario. Fixing this problem with new legislation is well within the PC Party’s record. It was commendable that in 2010, when the Legislature was considering bill 231 (intended to modernize Ontario elections), the PC Party proposed a number of good amendments at our request to make voting fully accessible to voters with disabilities. The previous Government defeated those amendments.
Further showing that action in this area fits within the new Government’s agenda, in his May 15, 2018 letter, Doug Ford also wrote:
“There’s no good reason why a person with a disability should not be able to cast a vote in an election.”
Creating, enacting and enforcing a strong Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA falls well within the PC Party’s platform and perspective. While in opposition, the PC Party helped us in Question Period over the past three years to get the previous Government to agree to create an Education Accessibility Standard under the AODA. Moreover, in his May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, Doug Ford also wrote:
“The Ontario PC Party believes our education system must minimize barriers for students with disabilities, providing the skills, opportunities and connections with the business community that are necessary to enter the workforce.”
Developing needed accessibility standards, including in the area of the built environment, is also well within the PC Party’s platform. As well, Doug Ford wrote:
“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.”
Doug Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter highlighted Christine Elliot’s important role within the PC Party on disability issues. The PC Party designated her to speak on behalf of the Ontario PC Party at the May 16, 2018 provincial all-candidates’ debate on disability issues, held in Toronto. She there made important commitments on the PC Party’s behalf, on issues such as the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, on ensuring that students with disabilities can fully participate in education at school, colleges and university, on ODSP reform, on the need for affordable, accessible and, where needed, supportive housing, and other topics.
In his letter, Doug Ford expressed a strong desire to work with the AODA Alliance on disability accessibility issues. He wrote:
“Building a strong, open dialogue with your organization is most certainly a priority for our party. We encourage you to continue this dialogue and share your ideas and solutions for Ontarians with disabilities.”
The new Government ran for office on a platform to try to make the Ontario Government a more efficient operation. This brief identifies a number of troubling inefficiencies in how the Ontario Government has approached accessibility and recommends cost-effective improvements.
The new Government ran for office on an agenda to reduce the number of regulations, particularly as they apply to businesses. That platform doesn’t stand in the way of the Government effectively implementing and enforcing the AODA, including through the enactment of needed accessibility standards under the AODA.
The points made above give illustrations where AODA accessibility standard regulations fit within the PC agenda. Moreover, it was not the new Government’s platform to eliminate all regulations in Ontario, or to refuse to ever enact any new regulations in any circumstance.
Conservative governments with a strong de-regulation agenda can nevertheless enact and enforce regulations where they are needed. As noted above, US Vice President Bush led a national de-regulation task force in the US, and yet, when later elected president, proudly supported the enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act, a landmark new regulatory law.
Moreover, Ontario’s Conservative Party had a similar platform in favour of a reduction in regulatory burdens when its MPPs unanimously voted to pass the AODA. That party, with that platform, made commendable efforts on behalf of Ontarians with disabilities to get the AODA’s regulatory requirements strengthened in 2005, when it was still a bill before the Legislature.
As well, nothing in Premier Ford’s May 15, 2018 letter to the AODA Alliance, quoted earlier, signals any reluctance to or objection to the use of regulatory measures to achieve accessibility for people with disabilities in Ontario. As just noted above, and as is addressed at various points in this brief, the PC Party did not run on a platform to reduce the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. When in opposition, the PC Party supported the AODA Alliance’s efforts to get a new regulation developed in Ontario under the AODA, an Education Accessibility Standard.
The new Government is concerned about regulatory burdens on small business. The AODA was carefully designed so that accessibility standards need not be “one size fits all.” accessibility standards can and do set different requirements for big business than for small businesses, and can set different timelines for big business than for small business. In fact all accessibility standards to date enacted under the AODA do so. If anything, accessibility standards to date exempt or provide substantially reduced provisions for small business.
Finally, in the end, any AODA accessibility standard regulations do not impose any new substantive obligations on businesses or other organizations. Rather, they implement the rights which are already guaranteed to people with disabilities under the Ontario Human Rights Code, and where applicable, the Charter of Rights. If those regulations are developed properly and are effective, they can help businesses in Ontario make money. Accessibility means a business gets access to a wider customer base and a wider pool of potential employees. They help a business retain existing employees as they acquire disabilities, through illness, injury or the natural aging process. They are able to serve a huge international market. There are upwards of one billion people with disabilities around the world.
Therefore, Ontario’s new Government should be open to consider, to accept and to welcome the recommendations for action that this brief proposes.