New Strategy for a More Accessible and Inclusive Public Service


May 27, 2019
Ottawa, Ontario Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat

Canadians expect innovative, efficient and productive programs and services from an inclusive federal public service that reflects the true diversity of Canada. On the occasion of National AccessAbility Week, the Government of Canada today launched its first ever accessibility strategy for the public service of Canada, setting the conditions to identify, prevent, and remove barriers in the workplace to persons with disabilities.

The strategy, Nothing Without Us, is focused on 5 key objectives:

  • improving recruitment, retention and promotion of persons with disabilities
  • enhancing the accessibility of the built environment
  • making communications technology usable by all
  • equipping public servants to design and deliver accessible programs and services
  • building public service that is confidently accessible

Guided by the principles in the proposed Accessible Canada Act and informed by extensive consultations, the strategy aims to prepare the public service to lead by example and become a model of accessibility, in Canada and abroad.

A number of promising initiatives are already underway. These include:

  • promoting persons with disabilities through the Employment Opportunity for Students with Disabilities led by the Public Service Commission
  • prioritizing accessibility in the renewal of the Parliamentary Precinct led by Public Services and Procurement Canada
  • supporting innovation, experimentation and research in the critical area of workplace accommodation through the Centralized Enabling Workplace Fund led by the Treasury Board Secretariat

Successfully implementing of the strategy will result in more persons with disabilities employed by the Government of Canada in a barrier-free and inclusive workplace, where every employee has what they need to do their best work. The strategy will be reviewed in 2021 to assess progress.

“By developing Canada’s first accessibility strategy for the federal public service, our government is helping create the most inclusive public service in the world. This is an important step in enabling the Government of Canada to set and meet high standards of accessibility in its policies, programs and services to all Canadians. It’s a strategy that reflects the true diversity of the people it serves and one that will help us achieve our ultimate goal: a barrier-free Canada where everyone is fully included.”
The Honourable Carla Qualtrough, Minister of Public Services and Procurement and Accessibility

“Diversity is Canada’s strength and we are fully embracing a public service that reflects everything this country has to offer. The strategy laid out in Nothing Without Us comes from listening to more than 7,000 federal employees and disability stakeholders. It will guide our efforts to build an inclusive federal public service that is more innovative, efficient, and productive.”
The Honourable Joyce Murray, President of the Treasury Board and Minister of Digital Government

Original at https://www.miragenews.com/new-strategy-for-a-more-accessible-and-inclusive-public-service/



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Despite No Announced Plans to Implement the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report, the Ford Government Gives 1.3 Million Dollars to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Program — A Use of Public Money We Don’t Support


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

May 17, 2019

SUMMARY

Why has the Ford Government dragged its feet for months on taking new action to effectively implement and enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)? Why instead, amidst a flurry of its controversial budget cuts across the Ontario Government, has the Government decided to invest 1.3 million new public dollars over two years in the private accessibility certification process now operated by the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF)?

This is not an appropriate use of public money. Instead, the Ford Government needs to now announce a bold and comprehensive plan of action to implement the key recommendations of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Any new public money in this area should be allocated to that effort.

The Ford Government has in effect done nothing new to strengthen the AODA’s implementation in its first 11 months in office, apart from this new announcement. It has been 106 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and Enforcement. The Government has announced no plans to implement that Report’s spectrum of recommendations. 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” in that report and that Ontario has only progressed 30% towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities.

The Onley Report found that Ontario is well behind schedule for reaching full accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025 as the AODA requires. It concluded that progress on accessibility in Ontario has proceeded at a glacial pace, and that Ontario remains a province full of disability barriers.

Instead of announcing any new measures that the Onley Report recommended, in this spring’s Ontario Budget, the Ford Government announced that it is giving the RHF some 1.3 million dollars over two years for its private accessibility certification process. We have serious concerns with this.

We have been on the public record for over four years expressing our strong opposition to any public money going into any private accessibility certification process, no matter who runs it. This Update tells you why. In summary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MORE DETAILS

1. Why We Oppose Public Money Being Spent to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Process, No Matter Who Operates It A Closer Look

1. Overview

The RHF has for some time been offering a private accessibility certification process for buildings. From what we understand, an organization can choose to pay the RHF to have someone visit that building and give it an accessibility rating based on whatever standard of accessibility that the RHF has decided to use. They call this an accessibility “certification.” You can learn more about the RHF program by visiting its website at: https://www.rickhansen.com/become-accessible

We have several serious concerns about investing any public money in this. It is not a responsible use of public money. We voice these concerns no matter what organization were to be publicly funded to conduct this private accessibility certification process. We voiced these concerns before the RHF began offering its certification services. We recognize the RHF’s good work in other areas.

Whether a private organization wants to offer its accessibility certification services, and whether any organizations wish to pay for those services, is up to those organizations. The issue we address here is whether the taxpayer’s money should be used to help subsidize this.

We have publicly stated over the past four years that the Ontario Government should not invest any public money in a private accessibility certification process. The former Ontario Government flirted with the idea of investing public money in a private accessibility certification process four years ago. It evidently invested a great deal of public money in a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to create a public report exploring this idea. We took part in that consultation and voiced our strong and principled opposition to this whole idea as a place to put any public money.

Fortunately, the former Government eventually saw the light, and dropped the idea. It is deeply troubling that the new Ford Government is going further down the wrong road that the former Government had explored.

To read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief to Deloitt on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process, visit https://www.aoda.ca/aoda-alliance-sends-the-deloitte-company-its-submission-on-the-first-phase-of-the-deloitte-companys-public-consultation-on-the-wynne-governments-problem-ridden-proposal-to-fund-a-new-private-ac/

2. A Private Accessibility Certification in Reality Certifies Nothing

The very idea of a private organization certifying another organization or its building as accessible is fraught with problems. Organizations that seek this certification of their building will eventually realize that a so-called accessibility certification through a private accessibility certification process is not what it may appear to be.

Such a certification does not mean that the organization is in fact accessible. All that is certified is a building. The services delivered inside the building may have serious accessibility barriers.

Moreover, the certification does not even mean that the built environment in the building is in fact accessible and free of disability barriers.

Such a certification cannot give that organization a defence if there is an objection that the building does not comply with accessibility requirements in the AODA, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaws. An accessibility certification similarly does not provide a defence if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, or in the case of a public-sector organization, a disability equality rights claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaw, or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law and was accessible.

In addition, a private accessibility certification can have a very limited shelf-life. If anything changes in that building, such as a garbage can blocking an accessibility ramp, the assertion of certified accessibility becomes disconnected with the actual experience of people with disabilities.

When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as is under development in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.

An accessibility certification from a private accessibility certification process ultimately means nothing authoritative. At most, it is an expression of opinion by a private self-appointed certifying organization that it thinks the building in question meets whatever standard for accessibility that the private certifying organization chooses to use. That standard may itself be deficient. Its inspection may be faulty or incomplete.

It is therefore an over-statement to call this an accessibility certification. What it boils down to in real terms is something along the lines of the advice an organization might seek from one of many accessibility consultants.

Several such consultants now operate in Ontario, on a fee-for-service basis. They are available to audit an organization’s building or its plans for a new building. They can give advice on barriers in the building. They can recommend accessibility improvements to an existing building or plans for a new building. What they give is advice, not certification.

As well, there is no assurance that the people who do the actual certifying have as much expertise on accessibility as do other accessibility consultants.

3. A Private Accessibility Certification Process Lacks an Assurance of Public Accountability

There is no assurance of public accountability in a private accessibility certification process. For example, the public has no way to know or assure itself that the private certifier is making accurate assessments.

4. A Private Certification of Accessibility Can Be Misleading to the Public, Including to People with Disabilities

If an organization receives a top-level accessibility certification, that organization may be led to think they have done all they need to do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be led 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 may turn out not to be the case if the certifier uses an insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if things change in the building after the certification is granted.

5. The Government Should Not Be Subsidizing One Accessibility Consultant over Another

In a field where there are a number of accessibility consultants providing advisory services, there is no good reason why the Ontario Government should choose to subsidize one of them. If it were to do so, it should presumably first hold an open competitive bid process. It should not be limited to an organization that calls its accessibility advice a “certification” for the reasons set out above.

Moreover, we see no reason why there should be any public subsidy here. Such an accessibility certification should simply operate on a fee-for-service basis, as do all other accessibility consultants and advisors, whether or not they call their advice accessibility certification.”

6. Spending Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process Is Not a Priority for Efforts on Accessibility in Ontario or a Responsible use of Public Money

Due to its concern over the public debt and deficit, the Ford Government is now implementing major and controversial budget cuts in a large number of areas across the Government. At least some of those cuts have real and troubling implications for people with disabilities.

If the Ontario Government was looking for somewhere to inject a new spending of 1.3 million public dollars to serve the needs of people with disabilities, including in the accessibility context, public spending on a private accessibility certification process would certainly not be a priority. It is not an appropriate public expenditure.

For example, as we covered in our May 13, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Ford Government appears to be cutting its expenditures on existing Standards Development Committees that are doing work in the health care and education areas. This new 1.3 million dollars could better be spent in part to ensure that there is no cut to the number of days that those Standards Development Committees can work.

As well, there is a pressing need for the Government to now appoint a Built Environment Standards Development Committee to recommend an appropriate accessibility standard to deal with barriers in the built environment. These public funds could also be far better used to beef up the flagging and weak enforcement of the AODA.

7. The Onley Report Recommended Important Measures to Address Disability Barriers in the Built Environment that the Ford Government has not yet Agreed to take, But it did not Recommend Spending Scarce Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process

It is striking that the final report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review, which Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho called “marvelous,” did not recommend that public money be spent on a private accessibility certification process. This takes on special importance since the AODA Alliance had urged the Onley Report not to recommend any public investment in a private accessibility certification process. Below we set out an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley AODA Independent Review.

It makes no sense for the Ford Government to announce only one new action on the accessibility front, and for it not to be any of the priority actions that that the Onley Report recommended. The Ford Government indicated last fall that it was awaiting the Onley Report before deciding on what to do in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities. In his December 20, 2018 letter to the chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Accessibility Minister Cho wrote:

“In this regard, we will be waiting to review Mr. Onleys report before considering the best path forward to further improving accessibility in Ontario.”

We commend the Onley Report for not recommending that public money be spent in that area. Mr. Onley clearly knew about this issue from our brief and from his prior activities in the accessibility field. He declared that the built environment should be a priority area for new action. Moreover, he offered other specific recommendations to address barriers in the built environment recommendations that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take.

More broadly, the Onley Report also made a number of important recommendations for new Government action on accessibility beyond the built environment. With one exception addressed below (that is not relevant here), the Government has not yet announced any action on any of them, even though it has had the Onley Report for some 106 days.

Moreover, last July, long before the Onley Report was submitted, we called on the Ford Government to take a number of the priority actions that the Onley Report was later to recommend. See the AODA Alliance’s July 17, 2018 letter to Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho and our July 19, 2018 letter to premier Doug Ford. Publicly funding a private accessibility certification process is not a substitute for, or better than, Government action on any of those important priorities.

Over the past eleven months, the only new action which the Ford Government has announced on accessibility and that is recommended in the Onley Report has been to belatedly lift the Government’s unwarranted and harmful 9-month freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees that were previously developing recommendations for what to include in new accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education. Yet it was the Ford Government that let that freeze run for nine months.

Investing public funds in implementing key recommendations in the Onley Report is far more important to progress on accessibility for people with disabilities than publicly subsidizing a private accessibility certification process.

2. Excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 Brief to the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s Implementation and Enforcement, Entitled “The Need for New Accessibility Standards, Including a Strong and Comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard”

d) The Ontario Government Should Not Invest Public Funds in or Support any Private Accessibility Certification Process in Ontario

Several years ago, the former Ontario Government toyed with the idea of supporting the establishment of a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. It evidently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to explore this. Eventually, after Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid was shuffled out of the AODA portfolio in June 2016, this idea was in effect dropped. We opposed the idea of a private accessibility certification process and opposed the Government investing any public money in it. We urge this AODA Independent Review not to re-open that topic, and not to recommend a private accessibility certification process.

The February 1, 2016 AODA Alliance Update set out this backgrounder on this issue, including a summary of the AODA Alliance’s submission to the Deloitt consulting firm. It said:

“Back on November 16, 2015, the Wynne Government launched a public consultation on its proposal that the Government create a private process for an as-yet-unnamed private organization to provide a private, voluntary accessibility certification of the obligated organization. The Government’s November 16, 2015 email, news release and web posting on this were thin on details.

The Government did not have its own Accessibility Directorate conduct this consultation. Instead, at public expense, the Wynne Government hired the private Deloitte firm to consult the public.

Last fall, we moved as fast as possible to prepare and circulate a draft submission to Deloitte. It was emailed and posted on the web for public comment on November 25, 2015. We have repeatedly sent out invitations for input on it via Twitter and Facebook.

Last fall, we promptly shared our draft submission with Deloitte and with senior Government officials. On December 5, 2015, we wrote Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid to ask for important specifics on the Deloitte consultation. The Government has not answered that letter.

2. Summary of the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 Submission to the Deloitte Company

This submission’s feedback on the idea of the Ontario Government financing the creation of a private accessibility certification process is summarized as follows:

1. It is important to probe beyond any superficial attractiveness that some might think a private accessibility certification process has.

2. It is important for the Government to first decide whether it will adopt a private accessibility certification process, before public money and the public’s effort are invested in deciding on the details of how such a process would work. Several serious concerns set out in this submission are fatal to any such proposal, however its details are designed.

3. Instead of diverting limited public and private resources, effort and time into a problematic private accessibility certification process, the Government should instead increase efforts at creating all the AODA accessibility standards needed to ensure full accessibility by 2025 and keeping its unkept promise to effectively enforce the AODA. A private accessibility certification process is no substitute for needed accessibility standards that show obligated organizations what they need to do, and a full and comprehensive AODA audit or inspection, conducted by a director or inspector duly authorized under the AODA.

4. The Government cannot claim that it has deployed the AODA’s compliance/enforcement powers to the fullest and gotten from the AODA all it can in terms of increasing accessibility among obligated organizations. The Government has invested far too little in AODA enforcement.

5. The entire idea of a private organization certifying an obligated organization as “accessible” is fraught with inescapable problems. Obligated organizations will ultimately realize that a so-called “accessibility certification” through a private accessibility certification process is practically useless. It does not mean that their organization is in fact accessible. It cannot give that obligated organization any defence if an AODA inspection or audit reveals that the organization is not in compliance with an AODA accessibility standard, or if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. An obligated organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law.

6. A private accessibility certification could mislead people with disabilities into thinking an organization is fully accessible in a situation where that organization is not in fact fully accessible.

7. Obligated organizations that have spent their money on a private accessibility certification will understandably become angry or frustrated when they find that this certification does not excuse unlawful conduct. They will understandably share these feelings with their business associates. Ontarians with disabilities don’t need the Government launching a new process that will risk generating such backlash.

8. A private accessibility certification could have a very limited shelf-life. When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as it has promised to do in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.

9. The Government’s idea that a private accessibility certification process would be self-financing creates additional serious problems.

10. Any private certification process raises serious concerns about public accountability. As such, the public will not be able to find out how it is operating, beyond any selective information that the Government or the private certifier decides to make public. Without full access to the activities and records of a private certifier, the public cannot effectively assess how this private accessibility certification process is working, and whether it is helping or hurting the accessibility cause”



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Despite No Announced Plans to Implement the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report, the Ford Government Gives 1.3 Million Dollars to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Program — A Use of Public Money We Don’t Support


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

Despite No Announced Plans to Implement the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report, the Ford Government Gives 1.3 Million Dollars to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Program — A Use of Public Money We Don’t Support

May 17, 2019

          SUMMARY

Why has the Ford Government dragged its feet for months on taking new action to effectively implement and enforce the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)? Why instead, amidst a flurry of its controversial budget cuts across the Ontario Government, has the Government decided to invest 1.3 million new public dollars over two years in the private accessibility certification process now operated by the Rick Hansen Foundation (RHF)?

This is not an appropriate use of public money. Instead, the Ford Government needs to now announce a bold and comprehensive plan of action to implement the key recommendations of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. Any new public money in this area should be allocated to that effort.

The Ford Government has in effect done nothing new to strengthen the AODA’s implementation in its first 11 months in office, apart from this new announcement. It has been 106 days since the Ford Government received the final report of the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and Enforcement. The Government has announced no plans to implement that Report’s spectrum of recommendations. 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” in that report and that Ontario has only progressed 30% towards its target of becoming fully accessible to people with disabilities.

The Onley Report found that Ontario is well behind schedule for reaching full accessibility for people with disabilities by 2025 as the AODA requires. It concluded that progress on accessibility in Ontario has proceeded at a glacial pace, and that Ontario remains a province full of disability barriers.

Instead of announcing any new measures that the Onley Report recommended, in this spring’s Ontario Budget, the Ford Government announced that it is giving the RHF some 1.3 million dollars over two years for its private accessibility certification process. We have serious concerns with this.

We have been on the public record for over four years expressing our strong opposition to any public money going into any private accessibility certification process, no matter who runs it. This Update tells you why. In summary:

  1. a) A private accessibility certification in reality certifies nothing. It provides no defence to enforcement proceedings under the AODA, the Ontario Building Code, a municipal bylaw, the Ontario Human Rights Code, or the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
  1. b) A private accessibility certification process lacks an assurance of public accountability.
  1. c) A private certification of accessibility can be misleading to the public, including to people with disabilities.
  1. d) The Government should not be subsidizing one accessibility consultant over another.
  1. e) Spending public money on a private accessibility certification process is not a priority for efforts on accessibility in Ontario or a responsible use of public money.
  1. f) The Onley report recommended important and much-needed measures to address disability barriers in the built environment that the Ford Government has not yet agreed to take, but it did not recommend spending scarce public money on a private accessibility certification process.

          MORE DETAILS

1. Why We Oppose Public Money Being Spent to Help Finance a Private Accessibility Certification Process, No Matter Who Operates It – A Closer Look

1. Overview

The RHF has for some time been offering a private accessibility certification process for buildings. From what we understand, an organization can choose to pay the RHF to have someone visit that building and give it an accessibility rating based on whatever standard of accessibility that the RHF has decided to use. They call this an accessibility “certification.” You can learn more about the RHF program by visiting its website at: https://www.rickhansen.com/become-accessible

We have several serious concerns about investing any public money in this. It is not a responsible use of public money. We voice these concerns no matter what organization were to be publicly funded to conduct this private accessibility certification process. We voiced these concerns before the RHF began offering its certification services. We recognize the RHF’s good work in other areas.

Whether a private organization wants to offer its accessibility certification services, and whether any organizations wish to pay for those services, is up to those organizations. The issue we address here is whether the taxpayer’s money should be used to help subsidize this.

We have publicly stated over the past four years that the Ontario Government should not invest any public money in a private accessibility certification process. The former Ontario Government flirted with the idea of investing public money in a private accessibility certification process four years ago. It evidently invested a great deal of public money in a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to create a public report exploring this idea. We took part in that consultation and voiced our strong and principled opposition to this whole idea as a place to put any public money.

Fortunately, the former Government eventually saw the light, and dropped the idea. It is deeply troubling that the new Ford Government is going further down the wrong road that the former Government had explored.

To read the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 brief to Deloitt on the problems with publicly funding any private accessibility certification process, visit https://www.aoda.ca/aoda-alliance-sends-the-deloitte-company-its-submission-on-the-first-phase-of-the-deloitte-companys-public-consultation-on-the-wynne-governments-problem-ridden-proposal-to-fund-a-new-private-ac/

2. A Private Accessibility Certification in Reality Certifies Nothing

The very idea of a private organization certifying another organization or its building as accessible is fraught with problems. Organizations that seek this certification of their building will eventually realize that a so-called accessibility certification through a private accessibility certification process is not what it may appear to be.

Such a certification does not mean that the organization is in fact accessible. All that is certified is a building. The services delivered inside the building may have serious accessibility barriers.

Moreover, the certification does not even mean that the built environment in the building is in fact accessible and free of disability barriers.

Such a certification cannot give that organization a defence if there is an objection that the building does not comply with accessibility requirements in the AODA, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaws. An accessibility certification similarly does not provide a defence if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal, or in the case of a public-sector organization, a disability equality rights claim under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. An organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code, the Ontario Building Code or a municipal bylaw, or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law and was accessible.

In addition, a private accessibility certification can have a very limited shelf-life. If anything changes in that building, such as a garbage can blocking an accessibility ramp, the assertion of certified accessibility becomes disconnected with the actual experience of people with disabilities.

When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as is under development in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.

An accessibility certification from a private accessibility certification process ultimately means nothing authoritative. At most, it is an expression of opinion by a private self-appointed certifying organization that it thinks the building in question meets whatever standard for accessibility that the private certifying organization chooses to use. That standard may itself be deficient. Its inspection may be faulty or incomplete.

It is therefore an over-statement to call this an accessibility certification. What it boils down to in real terms is something along the lines of the advice an organization might seek from one of many accessibility consultants.

Several such consultants now operate in Ontario, on a fee-for-service basis. They are available to audit an organization’s building or its plans for a new building. They can give advice on barriers in the building. They can recommend accessibility improvements to an existing building or plans for a new building. What they give is advice, not certification.

As well, there is no assurance that the people who do the actual certifying have as much expertise on accessibility as do other accessibility consultants.

3. A Private Accessibility Certification Process Lacks an Assurance of Public Accountability

There is no assurance of public accountability in a private accessibility certification process. For example, the public has no way to know or assure itself that the private certifier is making accurate assessments.

4. A Private Certification of Accessibility Can Be Misleading to the Public, Including to People with Disabilities

If an organization receives a top-level accessibility certification, that organization may be led to think they have done all they need to do on accessibility. The public, including people with disabilities, and design professionals may be led 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 may turn out not to be the case if the certifier uses an insufficient standard to assess accessibility, and/or if it does not do an accurate job of assessing the building and/or if things change in the building after the certification is granted.

5. The Government Should Not Be Subsidizing One Accessibility Consultant over Another

In a field where there are a number of accessibility consultants providing advisory services, there is no good reason why the Ontario Government should choose to subsidize one of them. If it were to do so, it should presumably first hold an open competitive bid process. It should not be limited to an organization that calls its accessibility advice a “certification” for the reasons set out above.

Moreover, we see no reason why there should be any public subsidy here. Such an accessibility certification should simply operate on a fee-for-service basis, as do all other accessibility consultants and advisors, whether or not they call their advice “accessibility certification.”

6. Spending Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process Is Not a Priority for Efforts on Accessibility in Ontario or a Responsible use of Public Money

Due to its concern over the public debt and deficit, the Ford Government is now implementing major and controversial budget cuts in a large number of areas across the Government. At least some of those cuts have real and troubling implications for people with disabilities.

If the Ontario Government was looking for somewhere to inject a new spending of 1.3 million public dollars to serve the needs of people with disabilities, including in the accessibility context, public spending on a private accessibility certification process would certainly not be a priority. It is not an appropriate public expenditure.

For example, as we covered in our May 13, 2019 AODA Alliance Update, the Ford Government appears to be cutting its expenditures on existing Standards Development Committees that are doing work in the health care and education areas. This new 1.3 million dollars could better be spent in part to ensure that there is no cut to the number of days that those Standards Development Committees can work.

As well, there is a pressing need for the Government to now appoint a Built Environment Standards Development Committee to recommend an appropriate accessibility standard to deal with barriers in the built environment. These public funds could also be far better used to beef up the flagging and weak enforcement of the AODA.

7. The Onley Report Recommended Important Measures to Address Disability Barriers in the Built Environment that the Ford Government has not yet Agreed to take, But it did not Recommend Spending Scarce Public Money on a Private Accessibility Certification Process

It is striking that the final report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review, which Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho called “marvelous,” did not recommend that public money be spent on a private accessibility certification process. This takes on special importance since the AODA Alliance had urged the Onley Report not to recommend any public investment in a private accessibility certification process. Below we set out an excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief to the Onley AODA Independent Review.

It makes no sense for the Ford Government to announce only one new action on the accessibility front, and for it not to be any of the priority actions that that the Onley Report recommended. The Ford Government indicated last fall that it was awaiting the Onley Report before deciding on what to do in the area of accessibility for people with disabilities. In his December 20, 2018 letter to the chair of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, Accessibility Minister Cho wrote:

“In this regard, we will be waiting to review Mr. Onley’s report before considering the best path forward to further improving accessibility in Ontario.”

We commend the Onley Report for not recommending that public money be spent in that area. Mr. Onley clearly knew about this issue from our brief and from his prior activities in the accessibility field. He declared that the built environment should be a priority area for new action. Moreover, he offered other specific recommendations to address barriers in the built environment – recommendations that the Ford government has not yet agreed to take.

More broadly, the Onley Report also made a number of important recommendations for new Government action on accessibility beyond the built environment. With one exception addressed below (that is not relevant here), the Government has not yet announced any action on any of them, even though it has had the Onley Report for some 106 days.

Moreover, last July, long before the Onley Report was submitted, we called on the Ford Government to take a number of the priority actions that the Onley Report was later to recommend. See the AODA Alliance’s July 17, 2018 letter to Accessibility Minister Raymond Cho and our July 19, 2018 letter to premier Doug Ford. Publicly funding a private accessibility certification process is not a substitute for, or better than, Government action on any of those important priorities.

Over the past eleven months, the only new action which the Ford Government has announced on accessibility and that is recommended in the Onley Report has been to belatedly lift the Government’s unwarranted and harmful 9-month freeze on the work of AODA Standards Development Committees that were previously developing recommendations for what to include in new accessibility standards in the areas of health care and education. Yet it was the Ford Government that let that freeze run for nine months.

Investing public funds in implementing key recommendations in the Onley Report is far more important to progress on accessibility for people with disabilities than publicly subsidizing a private accessibility certification process.

2. Excerpt from Chapter 4 of the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 Brief to the David Onley Independent Review of the AODA’s Implementation and Enforcement, Entitled “The Need for New Accessibility Standards, Including a Strong and Comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard”

d) The Ontario Government Should Not Invest Public Funds in or Support any Private Accessibility Certification Process in Ontario

Several years ago, the former Ontario Government toyed with the idea of supporting the establishment of a private accessibility certification process in Ontario. It evidently spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a private consulting firm, Deloitt, to explore this. Eventually, after Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid was shuffled out of the AODA portfolio in June 2016, this idea was in effect dropped. We opposed the idea of a private accessibility certification process and opposed the Government investing any public money in it. We urge this AODA Independent Review not to re-open that topic, and not to recommend a private accessibility certification process.

The February 1, 2016 AODA Alliance Update set out this backgrounder on this issue, including a summary of the AODA Alliance’s submission to the Deloitt consulting firm. It said:

“Back on November 16, 2015, the Wynne Government launched a public consultation on its proposal that the Government create a private process for an as-yet-unnamed private organization to provide a private, voluntary accessibility certification of the obligated organization. The Government’s November 16, 2015 email, news release and web posting on this were thin on details.

The Government did not have its own Accessibility Directorate conduct this consultation. Instead, at public expense, the Wynne Government hired the private Deloitte firm to consult the public.

Last fall, we moved as fast as possible to prepare and circulate a draft submission to Deloitte. It was emailed and posted on the web for public comment on November 25, 2015. We have repeatedly sent out invitations for input on it via Twitter and Facebook.

Last fall, we promptly shared our draft submission with Deloitte and with senior Government officials. On December 5, 2015, we wrote Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid to ask for important specifics on the Deloitte consultation. The Government has not answered that letter.

  1. Summary of the AODA Alliance’s February 1, 2016 Submission to the Deloitte Company

This submission’s feedback on the idea of the Ontario Government financing the creation of a private accessibility certification process is summarized as follows:

  1. It is important to probe beyond any superficial attractiveness that some might think a private accessibility certification process has.
  1. It is important for the Government to first decide whether it will adopt a private accessibility certification process, before public money and the public’s effort are invested in deciding on the details of how such a process would work. Several serious concerns set out in this submission are fatal to any such proposal, however its details are designed.
  1. Instead of diverting limited public and private resources, effort and time into a problematic private accessibility certification process, the Government should instead increase efforts at creating all the AODA accessibility standards needed to ensure full accessibility by 2025 and keeping its unkept promise to effectively enforce the AODA. A private accessibility certification process is no substitute for needed accessibility standards that show obligated organizations what they need to do, and a full and comprehensive AODA audit or inspection, conducted by a director or inspector duly authorized under the AODA.
  1. The Government cannot claim that it has deployed the AODA’s compliance/enforcement powers to the fullest and gotten from the AODA all it can in terms of increasing accessibility among obligated organizations. The Government has invested far too little in AODA enforcement.
  1. The entire idea of a private organization certifying an obligated organization as “accessible” is fraught with inescapable problems. Obligated organizations will ultimately realize that a so-called “accessibility certification” through a private accessibility certification process is practically useless. It does not mean that their organization is in fact accessible. It cannot give that obligated organization any defence if an AODA inspection or audit reveals that the organization is not in compliance with an AODA accessibility standard, or if the organization is subject to a human rights complaint before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal. An obligated organization cannot excuse itself from a violation of the AODA, the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Charter of Rights by arguing that thanks to its private accessibility certification, it thought it was obeying the law.
  1. A private accessibility certification could mislead people with disabilities into thinking an organization is fully accessible in a situation where that organization is not in fact fully accessible.
  1. Obligated organizations that have spent their money on a private accessibility certification will understandably become angry or frustrated when they find that this certification does not excuse unlawful conduct. They will understandably share these feelings with their business associates. Ontarians with disabilities don’t need the Government launching a new process that will risk generating such backlash.
  1. A private accessibility certification could have a very limited shelf-life. When the Government enacts a new accessibility standard (as it has promised to do in the area of health care), or revises an existing one, (as the Government is required to consider every five years in the case of existing AODA accessibility standards), that certification would have to be reviewed once new accessibility requirements come into effect.
  1. The Government’s idea that a private accessibility certification process would be self-financing creates additional serious problems.
      1. Any private certification process raises serious concerns about public accountability. As such, the public will not be able to find out how it is operating, beyond any selective information that the Government or the private certifier decides to make public. Without full access to the activities and records of a private certifier, the public cannot effectively assess how this private accessibility certification process is working, and whether it is helping or hurting the accessibility cause…”



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AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s Accessibility Minister to Urge Swift Action to Implement the Onley Report – and Media Coverage of the Onley Report and of Ongoing Public Transit Barriers


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

AODA Alliance Writes Ontario’s Accessibility Minister to Urge Swift Action to Implement the Onley Report – and Media Coverage of the Onley Report and of Ongoing Public Transit Barriers

March 11, 2019

          SUMMARY

On March 11, 2019, the AODA Alliance sent Ontario’s Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho a letter that calls for swift action to implement David Onley’s withering report on the many years of deficient implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We set out that letter below. In our letter, we identify a short list of immediate actions that the Ford Government should now take to begin its implementation of the Onley report. We will have more to say later on other measures needed to implement this report. While listing these immediate actions, we recognize that beyond them, much more than these priority items will need to be done to implement this report, and to get Ontario back on schedule to become accessible to 1.9 Ontarians with disabilities by 2025.

Below we also set out two recent news articles that cover the Onley report:

* The excellent March 8, 2019 Canadian Press article by Michelle McQuigge, posted by CBC news. this article was also run by a number of other news outlets. The Saturday, March 9, 2018 print editions of the Toronto star and the Globe and Mail each ran it but did not include the quote of AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, seen in the full article below.

* The great March 10, 2019 Toronto Star article on ongoing accessibility problems at the Toronto Transit Commission. It also refers to the Onley report, and also quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky.

We are tweeting up a storm in the wake of the Onley report. We invite you to follow @davidlepofsky and @aodaalliance on Twitter, to retweet our tweets, and add your own comments on the Onley report in your tweets as well. If you are a Facebook user but not a Twitter user, please like the AODA Alliance’s Facebook page, and share our posts. Our tweets on Twitter all come out as well as Facebook posts.

^       MORE DETAILS

^Text of the March 11, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

March 11, 2019

To: The Hon. Raymond Cho, Minister of Accessibility and Seniors

Via Email: [email protected]

Frost Building South

6th Floor

7 Queen’s Park Cres

Toronto, ON M7A 1Y7

Dear Minister,

Re: Implementing the Final Report of the David Onley AODA Independent Review

Thank you for making public the final report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). We write to ask your Government to now take important steps to effectively implement this ground-breaking report.

The Onley report demonstrates in strong, clear and convincing language that the Ontario Government must now take strong new action to substantially improve the many years of flagging implementation and enforcement of the AODA. As our March 8, 2019 news release makes clear, the AODA Alliance applauds the Onley report and agrees with most of its recommendations. Those few recommendations with which we don’t agree (which we will address at a later date) are secondary, and do not take away from the core of the report.

We are gratified that the Onley report largely echoes and incorporates input that we provided to the Onley AODA Independent Review in the AODA Alliance’s January 15, 2019 brief. It also echoes and reflects input we have given to your Government. Finally, it closely parallels and builds on the findings and recommendations in the two earlier mandatory AODA Independent Reviews, the 2010 AODA Independent Review conducted by Charles Beer and the 2015 AODA Independent Review conducted by Mayo Moran.

Your Government now has the benefit of powerful and substantial unanimity among these multiple sources of expert input. The time is now for your Government to take strong action on that advice.

To begin, we ask your Government to now clearly and publicly accept the findings in the Onley report regarding the AODA’s implementation and enforcement. These findings should be the basis of the Government’s actions in the area of accessibility for over 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities who continue to face many serious disability barriers in this province.

We also ask you to act now to implement five of the Onley report’s key recommendations. These include actions that we have earlier identified for the Government as priorities, such as  when we wrote you on July 17, 2018 and/or when we wrote Premier Ford on July 19, 2018. Premier Ford referred our letter to him back to you, so we look to you to act on all of these priorities:

  1. Please appoint a new Standards Development Committee under the AODA to address the removal and prevention of all kinds of disability barriers in the built environment. The Onley report identified this as a top priority. That Standards Development Committee should be free to address, among other things, requirements in the deficient Ontario Building Code. It should be able to address built environment in residential housing. It should also conduct the mandatory 5-year review of the 2012 Public Spaces Accessibility Standard. The Ontario Government remains in violation of the AODA, because it has not yet appointed a Standards Development Committee to conduct that mandatory review. It was obligatory to appoint that review by the end of 2017, when the former Ontario Government was still in power.
  1. Please now launch a short, focused public consultation leading to your Government’s identifying the other accessibility standards that need to be developed to ensure that the AODA leads Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities by 2025.
  1. Please act now to substantially strengthen the Government’s enforcement of the AODA, which the Onley report showed to be substantially deficient and ineffective.
  1. Please launch a major reform to ensure that public money is never used to create or perpetuate disability barriers, whether as a result of public spending on infrastructure, procurement, business grants or loans, or research grants. As part of this, a major reform is desperately needed regarding how Infrastructure Ontario deals with disability accessibility needs in the projects in which it is involved. We would add to the Onley report the fact that a similar reform is desperately needed at Metrolinx when it spends billions of public dollars on public transit infrastructure.
  1. Please now implement a program to ensure that students in Ontario schools receive curriculum on accessibility for and inclusion of people with disabilities in society, and to ensure that key professional, like architects, get much-needed training on accessibility for people with disabilities.

We will later have much more to say on the Onley report’s implementation. However, whatever else might come from the Onley report, these five top priorities cry out for immediate action.

We appreciate your Government announcing last week, in the wake of its release of the Onley report, that it has just lifted the nine-month freeze on the work of the Health Care Standards Development Committee and the two Education Standards Development Committees. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been in the lead in campaigning to get that freeze lifted. We were earlier in the lead in getting the former Ontario Government to agree to create accessibility standards in the important areas of health care and education.

We urge you to get these existing advisory committees back to work as quickly as possible. The Onley report shows that Ontario is well behind schedule for reaching accessibility by 2025. The loss of these many months in the work of those Standards Development Committees made a bad situation worse.

Fortunately, you are well-positioned to quickly get these committees back to work. They and you are not starting from scratch. The members of those Standards Development Committees were all appointed under the AODA well before your Government took power. They were properly constituted under the AODA. Speaking for myself, as a duly-appointed member of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, I’m eager to roll up my sleeves and get right back to the work in which we were immersed when last spring’s election halted our work.

We would welcome a chance to meet with you to discuss action on the balance of the Onley report, but don’t want anything to hold up progress on the items listed in this letter.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O.Ont

Chair, Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

cc: Premier Doug Ford, [email protected]

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

Ann Hoy, Assistant Deputy Minister for the Accessibility Directorate, [email protected]

CBC News Online March 8, 2019

Originally posted at: https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/ontario-nowhere-near-goal-of-full-accessibility-by-2025-review-finds-1.5049380

Ontario nowhere near goal of full accessibility by 2025, review finds

Report offers 15 recommendations to province’s Progressive Conservative government

Michelle McQuigge The Canadian Press Posted: Mar 08, 2019 4:08 PM ET | Last Updated:

Former lieutenant governor of Ontario, David Onley, says the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act continues to leave residents with disabilities facing daily, “soul-crushing” barriers.  (Kelda Yuen/CBC)

The accessibility law that took effect in Ontario 14 years ago and has served as a blueprint for similar legislation in other parts of Canada has fallen well short of its goals and continues to leave disabled residents facing daily, “soul-crushing” barriers, a former lieutenant governor has found.

David Onley, a wheelchair user tasked with reviewing the implementation of Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, delivered a withering indictment of nearly all aspects of the law in a report quietly tabled in the provincial legislature this week.

The scathing report said disabled residents are barred from full inclusion in the province at nearly every turn, likening some of the barriers they face to long-abolished Jim Crow laws that perpetuated racial discrimination in the United States.

He said Ontario is nowhere near realizing the goal at the heart of the act, which promises to make the province fully accessible by 2025. He said only urgent, wide-ranging action from the provincial government can put a stop to the ongoing cycle of human rights violations.

“This is a matter of civil rights, and people with disabilities are being discriminated against on a daily basis in multiple ways,” Onley said in a telephone interview. “We don’t like to use the word discrimination because it gets tossed around, but what other word describes the situation? It is discrimination.”

Onley said the most obvious manifestations of that discrimination can be found throughout Ontario’s public and private buildings, many of which have physical features that actively shut people out.

‘You don’t belong here’

Onley — Ontario’s first disabled lieutenant governor — said some personal examples include restaurants featuring automatic doors atop a flight of stairs or hotels with accessible washrooms but beds too high for him to climb into from his motorized scooter.

“For a person using a wheelchair, stairs are like a sign that says you can’t enter here. The same goes for a deaf student in a classroom without captioning or a blind woman trying to find her way in a building without accurate Braille signage,” he said in the opening chapter of his report. “The message is: you don’t belong here.”

Onley said design barriers are no different than “the signs of a bygone era in foreign countries, telling people which water fountains they could or could not use and which restaurants or buses they could or could not use.”

This is a matter of civil rights, and people with disabilities are being discriminated against on a daily basis in multiple ways.

While Onley identified built environment barriers as one of the most pressing concerns, he listed a host of other problems with the law he said the government has failed to properly address since it took effect in 2005.

Other issues included lack of enforcement, accessibility rules that are slow to be developed and even slower to be implemented, and information-technology standards that are already out of date although they haven’t been fully applied.

Some of the issues are even more fundamental, he said, citing the fact that the law does not currently define “accessibility” and leaves people across the province to come up with their own interpretations. Even the definition of “disability” is problematic, he said, saying AODA’s current language positions disability as a medical issue rather than one of social exclusion.

Clarifying those key terms is among the 15 broad recommendations Onley provided to the current Progressive Conservative government, who had frozen work by committees tasked with developing accessibility standards since taking power last June.

Others involve the government radically changing its approach. Onley urged Premier Doug Ford to lead the way in making accessibility a priority across all ministries, not just the one ostensibly handling the file.

He also urged the government to redesign the provincial education curriculum to make accessibility a focus starting as early as kindergarten and extending through the post-secondary years. He likened the efforts he wants to see with past campaigns that brought public smoking and environmental protection to greater public prominence.

Onley singled out architects as a particular target of educational efforts, noting trainees in the field learn next to nothing about inclusive design.

Other recommendations included offering tax breaks and other financial incentives to those improving accessibility in public buildings and private homes, significantly bolstering enforcement efforts, and lifting the freeze on developing new accessibility standards in areas like health care and education.

The government said it acted on the last recommendation already and will be meeting with committee heads to get work back underway.

No response to recommendations

Minister for Seniors and Accessibility Raymond Cho did not respond to Onley’s other recommendations, but thanked him for the report.

“We aim to modernize our approach to accessibility to make things easier for families, workers and businesses in today’s Ontario,” Cho said in a statement.

Accessibility advocates lauded Onley’s report, saying his “blistering” findings should be of particular concern to other Canadian jurisdictions.

David Lepofsky, chair of advocacy group AODA Alliance, said Manitoba and Nova Scotia both put legislation in place that’s weaker than Ontario’s in many respects. The federal government, he said, is poised to follow suit unless the senate makes amendments to strengthen the proposed Accessible Canada Act, the first national accessibility law in Canada’s history.

“The thing that we’ve learned, that the Onley report shows, is that just doing what Ontario did has helped, but nowhere near as much as what we need,” Lepofsky said. “(Other governments) need to learn from that and be better.”

^

Toronto Star March 10, 2019

News

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/city_hall/2019/03/10/a-look-at-ttc-accessibility-through-the-eyes-of-a-rider-who-uses-two-canes.html

UNEASY ACCESS

Navigating the TTC is a constant challenge for Jessica Geboers. Although provincial law requires transit stations to be fully accessible by 2025, currently only 45 of 75 TTC stations are. That is sparking worries that the deadline won’t be met

Francine Kopun Toronto Star

Jessica Geboers steps off a busy subway car at College station, a cane in each hand, and confronts her first obstacle: two flights of stairs, 10 stairs each.

The stairwell is narrow and passengers headed down the stairs stop to give her the room she needs to make her way up. On this day, at rush hour, a bottleneck forms in seconds.

Sometimes people stop to tell her that there’s an escalator – but Geboers can’t use it, because she can’t hang on to the moving handrails. She has spastic diplegia cerebral palsy, affecting muscle control and coordination.

“They’re trying to be helpful and they mean well, but I’m pretty smart. I can see there is an escalator there, and I’m concentrating on not dying on these stairs,” says Geboers, 29.

Past the turnstiles she is confronted by two more flights of stairs: 14 steps and 21 steps respectively. This time the crowd bunches up behind her, infuriating a young man who bursts away from the pack and dashes around her to the top, muttering his complaint.

Making the TTC more accessible – which the transit service is legally bound to do by 2025 – can’t come soon enough for Geboers, who has a busy life that requires her to spend a lot of time on public transit. She works three days a week and attends physiotherapy appointments twice a week. She volunteers.

She rates the TTC’s accessibility as a six out of 10. “I see that they’re really trying and a good number of stations are accessible, but not as many as should be or could be,” she says.

Last week Mayor John Tory unveiled a newly installed elevator at St. Patrick station, calling it a milestone, but despite making significant progress, there are signs the TTC may be falling behind on its plan to ensure that all stations are accessible by 2025.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) requires the province be fully accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, including transportation systems like the TTC.

The Act was passed in 2005, but, to date, only 45 of Toronto’s 75 subway stations are accessible.

In fact, the AODA has fallen well short of its goals and people with disabilities continue to face “soul-crushing” barriers, according to a report on the act tabled in the provincial legislature this week by former lieutenant-governor David Onley.

While advances have been made in the area of transportation, it remains the most important issue among people with disabilities, according to the report.

“The reason is perhaps obvious,” wrote Onley, who is disabled.

“If you can’t leave your home, there will be no job, recreation, shopping or other opportunities. Better transportation requires money and leadership.”

Among other challenges, the report points out that priority seating in some places is not working out as intended.

Seats intended for wheelchair access are being taken up by able-bodied people, baby strollers and people with grocery carts. Municipalities are urged in the report to bring in and enforce stronger rules around priority seating.

A total of 11 TTC subway stations will be under construction for accessibility by the end of 2019, but only Royal York station will be completed this year.

Only 26 of 41 objectives set out for the five-year period from 2014-18 were completed when the last status update was filed, in April. By the end of this year, 32 of 41 will be completed, according to the TTC.

The new five-year accessibility plan, covering 2019-2023, has not yet been filed.

“It’s clear that TTC needs to accelerate their work to improve accessibility of their infrastructure and service,” says Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 13 Toronto Centre), while acknowledging that the TTC has been working hard to meet the 2025 deadline.

“The year 2025 for AODA compliance is literally around the corner when it comes to major infrastructure upgrades,” she says, adding that if it does fall behind, city council and other government partners need to provide additional funding to make up for lost time.

Mayor Tory, at the launch of the elevator at St. Patrick station, seemed to agree, saying: “If by any chance we fall off track, we’re going to get back on track.”

The TTC says it has made significant progress. All TTC buses are now accessible, with low floors, ramps and seats that flip up to accommodate wheelchairs. It says all subway trains are accessible, with level boarding. Over half of 204 new low-floor accessible streetcars are in service and the rest are expected to arrive by the end of 2019. All of the older inaccessible streetcars will be decommissioned. The plan is to have elevators at all stations by 2025.

After fighting against it in court and losing, the TTC now has a system that audibly announces upcoming stops on subway trains, streetcars and buses, to assist the vision impaired. There are visual signs for the hearing impaired.

Mazin Aribi, chair of the Advisory Committee on Accessible Transit (ACAT), which advises the TTC, says meeting the 2025 target is a delicate balance – too much construction, too fast, triggers complaints from riders.

He thinks that if the TTC continues on its accelerated plan to finish all the subway stations, the 2025 deadline will be met. But he is concerned that planned takeover of the TTC by the province could lead to delays, because the province seems to be focused on saving money and making subways accessible costs money.

“The bottom line is, we do need inclusion,” Aribi says. “It’s public transit. Every person in Toronto is entitled to use and have access.”

The cost for making a station accessible varies, according to the TTC. Sometimes as many as three elevators are required to make a station accessible. The amount of excavation work required varies. Construction costs for St. Patrick were approximately $7.5 million for one elevator. Construction began in December 2016 and the elevator went into service in September.

A second elevator was built by Amexon Development Corp. as part of a Section 37 community benefit, providing access to street level, within the footprint of a property it owns at 480 University Ave., at a cost of $3.9 million to the company. (Section 37 of Ontario’s Planning Act allows developers to exceed height and density zoning regulations in exchange for contributions to neighbourhood projects.)

Several major projects, worth $615.3 million, have been budgeted in the 2018-2027 TTC capital budget, representing more than 9 per cent of the TTC’s overall capital requirements in the next 10 years.

The TTC says it is committed to finishing on time. “Not only is that deadline our commitment, it’s our obligation,” according to a statement from TTC chair Jaye Robinson’s office. Access advocate David Lepofsky, a lawyer who is blind and who fought the TTC in court to force the transit system to announce upcoming stops in streetcars and buses and subway trains, said that without dramatic reforms, the TTC will not meet the 2025 deadline.

While the focus seems to be on elevators, he says the TTC still makes design mistakes at new stations that hinder accessibility.

And the TTC already missed an earlier deadline of 2020, says Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

“Do I have concrete, specific evidence that they aren’t going to meet the plan? No I do not, and I’m not suggesting I do,” Lepofsky says. “Am I worried because of the fact that they’ve been a moving target in the past and could be again? Yes. I am basing the concern on their past conduct.”

The issue should be of concern to everyone, Lepofsky says. As people age, they are likely to suffer from impaired mobility of one form or another.

Since suffering a mild stroke two years ago, Sidonio Ferreira has become well acquainted with a flight of stairs that used to have no impact on his life, at Keele subway station.

“They took my licence away. I have to take the subway,” says Ferreira, 83, who has lived in the same neighbourhood for decades.

He and his wife, 74, struggle with the subway stairs and he says they’re not alone – many of their friends and neighbours do, too.

“So far, I can do it. But it’s very hard.”

Construction of an elevator at Keele is scheduled to begin this year, according to the TTC.



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Accessible Public Spaces in Ontario


Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, organizations must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. Accessible public spaces include:

Similarly, under the Ontario Building Code, all new and redeveloped buildings open to the public, businesses, and apartment buildings must follow accessibility standards. These standards include:

  • Ramps, lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
  • Automatic doors and wide doorways at entrances to buildings and common areas
  • Accessible public washrooms
  • Barrier-free paths of travel into and through buildings
  • Accessible seating and auditoriums
  • Visual fire alarms in auditoriums and hallways

More Accessible Public Spaces Needed

Currently, the Code and Standard do not have guidelines for several aspects of structures. However, many cities, such as Toronto, Brantford, and London, have addressed this gap by developing municipal guidelines for accessible public spaces and features including:

  • Offices
  • Places of worship
  • Courthouses
  • Swimming pools
  • Balconies, porches, and terraces
  • Windows

Toronto and Brantford outline more accessibility guidelines for places like:

  • Libraries
  • Cafeterias
  • Residential kitchens

Toronto’s guidelines include additional provisions for accessible:

  • Restaurants
  • Snow removal
  • Mail boxes
  • Traffic islands

The need for a stronger provincial code and standard

A stronger provincial code and standard would mean that cities need not duplicate each other’s efforts to create accessible public spaces.

In addition, the Code and Standard only mandate accessibility in buildings and spaces that are new or redeveloped. These legal limitations mean that older buildings and spaces are closed or unwelcoming to people with certain disabilities, including people who:

  • Use mobility aids
  • Have heart or lung conditions
  • Have limited upper-body movement

Organizations responsible for buildings and public spaces may feel that they do not need to worry about making older spaces accessible because the standard does not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, grants for structural accessibility may offset costs. In addition, some changes are less costly and easier to put in place. While renovating for accessibility may take time and construction is inconvenient, inaccessibility is just as time-consuming and inconvenient for people with disabilities when they must leave an inaccessible location and do business or activities elsewhere. Finally, there are important reasons for people to choose accessible public spaces.

Fifteen percent (15%) of people in Ontario have disabilities. This number will rise as people age. More and more people will soon want to live and do business in accessible locations. If building owners, and people in charge of public spaces, make those spaces as accessible as they can, their actions may later help someone they know. Moreover, accessibility also affects non-disabled family, friends, and colleagues. Groups travelling on family trips, friendly outings, or company social events will include people with disabilities. These potential clients will choose to go to accessible places.

Small Steps Toward Accessibility

If building owners cannot make large changes, they can still make small ones. Even if a building cannot immediately follow every best practice, they can still choose to implement some. For instance, ramps and elevators are both important items that help people with mobility disabilities access buildings. If a building owner cannot install an elevator but can install a ramp, this effort will make part of the building accessible.

Furthermore, some businesses can offer services that help people access their offerings even when there are physical barriers. For example, a restaurant with a delivery charge and without a ramp may wave the delivery charge for a person who cannot enter the building to eat or pick up food, so that this customer would not need to pay more for accessing the service in the only way possible. Organizations wishing to make their spaces more accessible should consult people with disabilities to find out what changes would be most helpful.

Access Helps Everyone

Organizations in charge of buildings and public spaces who make as many accessibility improvements as they can will show that they welcome tenants, customers, and workers who have disabilities. Moreover, accessible buildings and public spaces are also helpful for other groups of people. Ramps, elevators, and accessible fixed-queuing guides are useful for families with babies in strollers. Wide sidewalks and hallways benefit families with small children who can hold hands while they travel. Automatic doors are useful for people with their hands full of groceries or supplies.

Not all accessibility is mandatory under the AODA. Some of it can be costly or need careful planning. However, some accessible features are easier to put in place than others. People who own buildings or are responsible for public spaces can make one change at a time. Many of these changes will make the world more welcoming to people of all abilities and at every stage of their lives.

 



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Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas


Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, cities and other organizations building or redeveloping outdoor public use eating areas must make those areas accessible to visitors with disabilities. Rules for accessible outdoor public use eating areas apply to private organizations with fifty or more workers and to all public sector organizations.

Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas

Outdoor public use eating areas include picnic grounds and outdoor tables in public parks, hospitals, and universities. Outdoor food courts in resorts and amusement parks also need to be accessible. Organizations that build outdoor eating areas for public use must make at least twenty percent of their tables accessible. Furthermore, organizations with nine or fewer tables must make at least one table accessible.

Minimum Requirements for Accessible Tables

The ground surface on the way to accessible tables must be firm and stable so that canes, crutches, or the wheels of mobility devices will not sink into it. Surfaces must also be level, without slopes. The same rules apply to the ground surface under accessible tables. Moreover, there must be room around tables for visitors using mobility devices to travel forward to their tables, instead of having to approach them without facing them. In addition, tables must have knee and toe clearance so that visitors using mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters can sit comfortably at the tables.

More can be Done

These rules are the minimum guidelines organizations must follow to provide accessible eating areas. However, organizations may increase the accessibility of their eating areas if they wish to do so. They can start by applying the surface rules to their entire areas, not just accessible sections. Additionally, they may also want to invest in more accessible tables. If they later choose to expand their eating areas, the number of accessible tables they need will increase. Finally, organizations may wish to install tables at heights that are most convenient for visitors using mobility devices.

Why do we Need Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas?

Accessible outdoor public use eating areas make organizations from hospitals to theme parks more inclusive to visitors with disabilities. Likewise, organizations making accessibility a priority become more welcoming to families, friends, and colleagues of visitors with disabilities. Inclusiveness means that people can all eat together.



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Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities?


The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers.

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 28, 2019

SUMMARY

Ontario’s new Ford Government has committed to be more responsible in the use of public money than was the former Ontario Government. Here is an example of where they can and should make a real difference.

We often emphasize that public money should never be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Yet the former Ontario Government’s plans for a new major courthouse in downtown Toronto still lack full and proper accessibility, even though some good steps have been taken to include some needed accessibility features. The AODA Alliance has been in the lead in bringing this issue to public attention.

Here is the latest installment in this story. To its credit, the team leading the design and construction of the New Toronto Courthouse, intended for the heart of downtown Toronto, recently built a mock-up of a courtroom, and a public service counter, to be included in that facility. The team commendably sought input from various stakeholders on this mock-up, including from an accessibility perspective. On January 16, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was given a hands-on tour. He found a number of helpful features in the design, but a number of serious accessibility barriers.

A number of the barriers we discovered are described in the January 21, 2019 letter from the AODA Alliance to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. We set that letter out below. We earlier described other examples of accessibility problems with this courthouse’s design in the AODA Alliance’s October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in our May 22, 2018, letter to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. More on this topic can be found in our May 31 2018 and June 1, 2018 letters to Mr. Pontone, which we set out below.

It is good that there are some helpful accessibility features in this mock-up. However, it is very troubling that there are the accessibility problems that we and others have identified, especially since construction of this courthouse is meant to begin later this year. We await word on what the Ontario Government is going to do about these concerns.

There has been another interesting and important development in our quest for a fully accessible court system. One important way for the public to participate in the justice system is as a member of a jury. Yet people with disabilities have faced barriers impeding them from serving as a juror. Last fall, in a break-through, a person with vision loss was permitted to serve as a juror. Below at the end of this Update is an article from the December 29, 2018 Toronto Star reporting on this event. It quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, among others.

For more background on the courts accessibility issue, you might check out the ground-breaking 2007 official report entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Open to Persons with Disabilities” which you can find on the website for the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Finally, on another accessibility topic, there have now been 221 days since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the AODA Standards Development Committees that were working on recommendations on what the Government should include in the Health Care Accessibility Standard and the Education Accessibility Standard. The longer this freeze goes on, the more students with disabilities and patients with disabilities have to continue enduring unfair accessibility barriers.

MORE DETAILS

January 21, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8
Email: [email protected]
Visit: www.aodalliance.org

January 21, 2019

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General
Via email: [email protected]

CC: The Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General of Ontario
[email protected]
Paul Boniferro Deputy Attorney General for Ontario
[email protected]

Dear Sir,

Re: Disability Accessibility Issues in the New Toronto Courthouse

I am writing to bring to your attention further concerns regarding the plans for accessibility at the New Toronto Courthouse, which is supposed to begin construction later this year. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been raising concerns about this project over the past two years.

We appreciate your efforts and interventions to date to try to address our concerns. As a result of your efforts, there have been some improvements. However, as things now stand, we have no assurance that the courthouse that is to be built will in fact be properly accessible for court participants and other attendees with disabilities. We need your intervention now to fix this.

As you recall, as of the 2017 fall, three years into the design of this courthouse, the initial team setting the accessibility project specifications for this courthouse (which was later terminated), and the subsequent team that is to oversee the bidding process and compliance with the project by the winner as it relates to this issue had never consulted with any people with disabilities. It was only after our discovering this and pressing for change that the Government belatedly decided to form a disability advisory group to review the project plans and offer accessibility input. For the AODA Alliance, I am a member of that advisory group.

By the time our advisory group had been formed and met in the 2018 spring, the Government had already settled on the project accessibility requirements, had conducted the competitive bid, and had chosen the successful bidder and design. Our advisory group quickly discovered a series of serious accessibility problems with the planned design. I have detailed some salient accessibility concerns regarding this project in my October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in my May 22 and 31, and June 1, 2018 letters to you. Key correspondence on point is posted on the AODA Alliance website.

It is our understanding from what we have been told by Government representatives, the Government’s various consultants on this project, and the successful bidder Ellis Don, that some of the accessibility concerns that the disability advisory group has raised cannot be addressed, because it is too far along in the planning for this new courthouse. This is emblematic of the fact that accessibility must be centrally incorporated into a project’s planning from the very start. It should not be left, in whole or in part, to much later in the process, as was the case here.

This should not come as news to the Ministry of the Attorney General, or to Infrastructure Ontario. Both of those public organizations have known this for years but have evidently failed to effectively act on it. We regret that there appears to be within both organizations some systemic impediments to acting effectively on accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is good that the Government is working now on developing a new accessibility standard for new courthouses, and that this is being taken into account earlier in the design of the future Halton Courthouse project. However, the 2007 Weiler Committee report on disability accessibility barriers in the court system had pointed out some 12 years ago about the need to develop a new and update-to-date accessibility standard for courthouse design. Since then, several new courthouses have been built at huge public expense, but without ensuring their proper accessibility. All of this is going on years after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, and a third of a century after equality for people with disabilities was enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

Let me turn to the specifics of the New Toronto Courthouse courtroom and service counters mock-up that I visited on January 16, 2019. It was good to see a number of accessibility features built into the mock-up. However, I identified a number of accessibility concerns. Evidently, others who have earlier visited the mock-up also pointed out the same or different concerns.

It is good that the Government had this mock-up prepared, and that it sought input on it, including on accessibility concerns. It is, however, deeply troubling that a number of these problems made their way into this design even at this late stage. This happened after the Government had consulted with our disability advisory group on the building’s design, after there were two accessibility consultants on retainer to advise on this project (one for the Government and one for EllisDon), and after advice on some of these issues had already been given by the disability advisory group.

1. It appears that in the design of the courtroom mock-up, no account was taken of the space, line-of-sight, and lighting needs to accommodate sign language interpreters in the courtroom. During my review of the mock-up, I asked if the team had consulted a sign language interpreter on this. I was told only that a hard of hearing member of the disability advisory group had toured the mock-up (i.e. after the mock-up had already been designed)

During my tour of the mock-up, I explained that the design needs to accommodate the needs of Sign Language interpreters in several different positions in the courtroom, e.g. interpreting for counsel, or for an accused, or for a witness. More than one interpreter could be interpreting from different positions in the courtroom at the same time. The interpreter needs to have enough room. There must be a clear line of sight to the person for whom they are interpreting. The lighting needs to be appropriate.

I had raised this specific issue months ago, during a meeting the Government and EllisDon had with the disability advisory group. At that time, a lead design official for EllisDon had not even known that Sign Language interpretation had to take place in the courtroom, unlike other spoken language interpreters who can be situated in a remote booth elsewhere in the courthouse.

Because I had given this feedback months ago, it is difficult to understand why this was not further explored and addressed prior to designing the courtroom layout and going to the substantial expense of building the mock-up. Having learned of the failure by the Government and EllisDon to deal with this, I have just connected the Government’s accessibility consultants with a Sign Language Interpreter I know, who works in the Toronto courts, and who is readily available to advise the Government on this issue.

2. It is good that there are power door openers e.g. for the courtroom doors. However, none of these that I examined had accessible Braille signage for them. There was also no Braille signage for security card readers. The card readers I saw were close to a power door operator, both unlabeled, and both similarly shaped. This should be an obvious and simple accessibility provision for all such controls.

3. There is a serious barrier to effective communication at the proposed Court Services counters. The mock-up for the Court Services office has a Plexiglas barrier from the counter level to the ceiling for each public service counter. A couple of small openings are cut out for a member of the public to speak to the Court Services official, behind the barrier, and to pass documents back and forth.

I was told that this partition is intended for security for the Court Services workers. It is not meant as bullet-proof protection. Anyone entering the building is required to go through scanners to prevent weapons from entering the courthouse. Rather, this is to prevent a member of the public for lunging at a Court Services worker.

I pointed out the obvious fact that this Plexiglas partition presents a significant communication barrier for people who have difficulties hearing. I was told that there would be a hearing loop technology available. When I asked, I was told there had been no plans for a speaker to amplify the voice of the Court Services worker.

The designers were evidently aware that there is an issue here, as the mock-up presented three different kinds of openings, through which a member of the public can speak to a Court Services official. I was asked for feedback on which option for openings in the partition seemed more effective for talking to the Court Services staff.

I presented the fact that this communication barrier will be a big problem for many, not just for those who having hearing loss to the degree where they use assistive listening devices. I noted that according to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services officials, the most common request for disability accommodation in the courts is related to hearing loss issues.

I proposed the simple and, I would think obvious solution of replacing the Plexiglas partition with a series of bars, with openings to pass documents through. That would let sound pass through much more easily, while still providing the security needed.

I foresaw that if the Plexiglas design is retained, Court Services workers would have to spend their day yelling through opening in the Plexiglas, while sitting next to other Court Services workers who are similarly yelling through the openings in the partition. I doubt that is an optimal working situation.

I would add to my feedback given at the time that to require members of the public to have to raise their voices to ensure they are heard through the Plexiglas openings might require them to speak loudly about personal information that they would not wish to share with others, who are behind them, waiting in line.

4. I was told that the intention was for only one out of every six or so public service counters in the Court Services office to be an accessible one. This in turn would require Court Services staff to use technology to give priority to members of the public who need the accessible counter, and then to route them to those counters. Not just for this reason, there is a plan for everyone who comes to that Court Services area to use a touch screen device to sign in, get their number, and know which counter to attend. I address this further below.

I asked why they don’t simply plan for all counters in that area to be at an accessible height. I was told that people who are standing prefer not to have to sign a document at the lower counter height. The counter height could be made adjustable. As an alternative, I suggested a simple low-cost solution. On any accessible counter height could be a moveable box, that would provide a signing surface that accommodates a person who is standing. With this, there would be no need to have to have some sort of process for identifying who needs an accessible counter, and for giving them priority and routing them to the right counter.

5. I asked how a person would know that it is their turn to proceed to a Court Services counter. I was told that a light over that counter would illuminate. I explained that this was a clear barrier for people with vision loss. There should also be an audio prompt or announcement.

I explained that Service Ontario had a similar accessibility problem until we brought it to attention of senior Government officials. People coming to Service Ontario for help with such things as a health card used to be given a number and told to watch a screen for when their number came up. This happened to me a few years ago. I am blind, and use a readily visible white cane.

6. As noted above, there is a plan for everyone who wants to go to the Court services counter to have to first get an electronic tablet, key in some information and then get a document printed out that will tell them where to go etc. I suggested the far less costly option of just having everyone line up and wait their turn, as is routinely done at banks and other like services.

The tablet threatens to present accessibility problems. I was told that a Court Services worker would be available to work with people with disabilities. However, this may not be evident to people with disabilities who are there. Moreover, apart from disability concerns, there is always the added confusion of learning to use a new app or tablet, compounded if the system goes out of order. A line-up has none of these problems. I suspect that court attendees would rather not have to learn to navigate some new app.

7. We were told that the plan is for the prisoner’s box in each courtroom in this new courthouse to have a design that lacks accessibility. There is one step up into the prisoner’s box.

If an accused requires an accessible prisoner’s box, one will be brought in and assembled, when needed. We were told that this would take about an hour to do. It requires the court to be notified in advance of the need for this on a particular day. This in turn requires lawyers to all know that they need to request this in advance. It requires that any such request not get lost in the shuffle of a huge, busy courthouse.

I proposed that instead, they should simply design an accessible prisoner’s box for permanent use in each courtroom, rather than planning in advance to create new barriers. This avoids the need in a very busy courthouse to have to be notified in advance, and to have the accessible prisoner’s box brought in and assembled. The risk is real that the message can get lost and the accommodation not set up in time.

Moreover, in a very busy, rapid turnover courtroom like the one on the ground floor for first appearances, the prisoner’s box should always be an accessible one. An accused, arrested the night before, and brought in for a first appearance, will likely not have a lawyer who knows to request an accessible prisoner’s box.

I was told that the reason the inaccessible design was desired was because police would like the accused to be raised up one step, for when the officer reaches in to cuff the accused. I expect that other solutions to address this problem should be discoverable with some creativity, without needing to have an inaccessible prisoner’s box.

8. On the wall just outside the courtroom mock-up is a sign listing points for courtroom decorum. We discussed options for making this available in an accessible format.

However, I also asked if the list of points in this public notice included any announcement of how to seek accessibility accommodations while at court. I was told this was not part of the text.

I have several times raised with Ministry officials at the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee that they need to do a much better job of publicizing the availability of accessibility supports in the courts, including the availability of a Courts Accessibility Coordinator in each court facility. This sign would be an important place to include that information, for the public, as they wait in the hall to enter the courtroom.

I raised a number of other points. The foregoing ones rank among the most serious ones. On the one hand, it is good we are being consulted on this. On the other hand, the fact that these problems were designed into this plan shows that the Ministry and its successful bidder at this late date still are falling quite far short on accessibility.

At this consultation, there were two different accessibility consulting firms present. One was retained by the Government’s project compliance team. The other is retained by EllisDon. The taxpayer is paying for them both. We want to know what accessibility advice they have given on this design. At a recent Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee meeting, the Ministry had indicated that the Government was going to have its accessibility consulting firm report directly to the Ministry, rather than the private architect whom the Government has retained to head the project compliance team. I should note that the head of that team, Roman Mychajlowycz of the Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects firm, has not attended any of the consultation sessions last year at which I was present, where we gave input on the accessibility problems with this courthouse. He was also not present at the consultation on this mock-up I attended. I do not know if he attended any of the other consultation sessions on this mock-up. Given the seriousness of the recurring accessibility problems with the design of this courthouse, direct face-to-face involvement by the head of the compliance team, paid by the taxpayer, would seem to us to be appropriate, and not merely his subordinates.

Finally, we would like to know the status of the Government’s work on developing an accessibility standard for the design of future courthouse facilities. We have understood that the KMA firm was working on that. We earlier requested from the Government a draft of their proposals. We would also like to see any advice on the KMA proposals that have come from the accessibility consulting firm that are being paid by the taxpayer to advise on it.

We continue to be eager to help ensure that Ontario’s courts become fully accessible to people with disabilities, and that any new court facility be designed to be accessible.

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

May 31, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Date: May 31, 2018

Thank you so much for attending the May 24, 2018 meeting of the Disability Sector Advisory Group that the Government convened this spring to get input on accessibility issues in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse. Construction of that courthouse is expected to commence sometime next year. We need your active assistance and intervention to ensure that accessibility is properly included in this project.

It was helpful to know that the courthouse design team is considering feedback that the Advisory Group had given at our earlier March 20, 2018 meeting. At the March 14, 2018 meeting we had identified serious accessibility problems in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse that the Government had selected in the competitive process. I want to summarize a few of the key points that the disability sector representatives made at the May 24, 2018 meeting.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the information that the design team gave our Advisory Group revealed that in troubling ways, it appears that the private company that is building this courthouse is giving the building’s aesthetics an improper priority over ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, with the Government’s evident agreement or silence. I offer two examples from this meeting.

First, back at the March 20, 2018 meeting, we had pointed out that the use of “open risers” in the feature staircase in the courthouse’s main lobby presents an accessibility and safety problem for people with vision loss, among others. The Government’s specific requirements for this building preclude the use of open risers. Yet EllisDon, whom the Government selected to build this courthouse, disregarded this, and included open risers in the building design. The Government selected that design in the competitive bid process, despite its direct contravention of this accessibility requirement in the Government’s Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS).

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were told that the project design team is considering “options” for dealing with this issue. We asked what options are being considered. We did not get a direct answer. They did not want to say what options were being considered. We don’t understand why this was being withheld from us.

Moreover, one of the design team members in effect asked us at the May 24, 2018 meeting if there was no way that open risers could be included in the building. We said “no”. We explained there that they were treating aesthetics as more important than accessibility.

Second, we had indicated at our March 14, 2018 meeting that the three-storey atrium design of the building created several accessibility problems. There would be inconsistent lighting and glare during the day, creating problems for those with low vision. The acoustics present problems for people who are hard of hearing, or people with vision loss who use echo-location to help navigate. People with sensory integration problems, include some with autism, also experience sensory overload in such environments. Eliminating this atrium design would eliminate these problems and create more useable floor space.

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the project team’s solution appeared to be to keep the atrium design, but to consider canopies, overhangs and blinds to control lighting, and some acoustic protections to reduce acoustic problems. We were told about sound and lighting studies being conducted to look into these effects.

We responded that the aesthetic tail appears again to be wagging the dog. If blinds must be adjusted throughout the day to regulate the light in the building, there is the real risk that this will not always happen. We won’t know that these palliative measures will work until the building is built, by which time it is too late. The acoustic studies did not explore the impact of the acoustic measures on echo-location for navigating the building. We could only be satisfied that these palliative measures all worked if we could now visit a comparably-designed building that includes all these lighting and audio features, to test to see if they are reliable and consistently effective.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were not shown the layout for any of the non-public secured areas of the building, but were assured that they would be accessible. We asked to be able to see those designs, on an undertaking of confidentiality if necessary, so we can give feedback. We appreciate that the project team agreed to look into this.

* We were told at the May 24, 2018 meeting that the seating area that was proposed for people with disabilities who are waiting for Wheeltrans would be inside the vestibule, just inside the main doors. The disability sector representatives identified several problems with this.

That seating location only has a direct line of sight to half of the pick-up spots where vehicles would arrive. There is an obstructed view to the rest of those drop-off spots. In addition, this seating is placed between the doors to the outside, and the doors to the main floor. As such, people sitting there will have to endure regular blasts of cold air when waiting during the winter, and hot air during the summer, each time the doors open and close.

* We noted that placing Court Services on the third floor presents real problems. This can be the first stop for many who arrive at the courthouse. They must clutter up the elevators to get there, and then head up from there to their destination. This first stop should be on the main floor.

* We understand that there is no location planned to situate the courthouse’s disability accessibility and accommodation coordinator on the ground floor. We emphasized that they should be readily available on the ground floor, to be a first contact, where needed, for court attendees with disabilities.

* We were told that the public was to be told by way of posted signs about the availability of disability services. We emphasized that this was insufficient, as it will not accommodate those with vision loss or dyslexia. I would add that this would not accommodate those with literacy issues.

* At our earlier March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that only one interview room per floor would be accessible. At the May 24, 2018 meeting we learned that this information had been incorrect. We were told on May 24, 2018 that all of the interview rooms are accessible, but only one room per floor will accommodate a scooter. We were still not able to learn how these rooms are to be assigned, to ensure that they are not simply used by people who don’t need that accessibility feature.

* We learned at the May 24, 2018 meeting that some important accessibility concerns that we raised at our earlier meeting have not been corrected at all. The problematic layout of the six public elevators has not been changed, despite the accessibility concerns. There has also been no change to the plan to have a universal washroom on only eight of the building’s seventeen floors, and not on every floor. No reason for this was given.

* For some of the other concerns we had raised at the March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that it is now too late in the planning process to change certain aspects of the building’s design. This demonstrates that it was wrong for the Government not to consult on accessibility some three years ago, at the design process’s outset.

We look forward to further meetings with the disability sector advisory group, to ensure that the accessibility concerns with this building are all effectively addressed.

June 1, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance
Date: June 1, 2018
Re: Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in New Courthouse Construction in Ontario

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today about the future actions needed to ensure accessibility of the New Toronto Courthouse, about accessibility of the forthcoming new Halton Peel Courthouse (at an earlier stage of design) and about the development of a new Government accessibility standard for new court construction. Here are the key items which we requested and those to which you agreed. If I have anything incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible.

Re the New Toronto Courthouse

I asked that you continue to attend any upcoming meetings of the Disability Sector Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. Your oversight is critically important, in our view. Thank you for being agreeable to this.

We have not been told how many future meetings the Government plans for this Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. I recommended to you that this Advisory Group continue to meet with the Government and its contractors until all the accessibility concerns regarding this courthouse have been effectively resolved. I understood you to be supportive of this.

I explained that it is important in this project, and in each future project, that the Government directly retain the accessibility consultant, retained on these projects, and that this consultant report their accessibility advice directly to the Government. Otherwise, as at present, it appears that their accessibility advice is given to the private architecture firm or other private organization that hired them. What the Government and the public learn about that accessibility advice is only that which the retaining private organization chooses to pass along. The public is paying for that advice. The Government should receive that advice directly, and in its entirety. The public should be able to see this advice as well. I understood that you are going to consider this.

The Halton Peel Courthouse

I understand that the accessibility requirements for the future new Halton Peel courthouse have not yet been finalized. The Project Specific Output Specifications PSOS for that project are still under development.

I recommended that the Government now get advice from the disability community, e.g. from the Disability Sector Advisory Group, as these are being formulated, and certainly long before they are finalized. No longer should we ever be told that it is too late in the design process to take into account an accessibility concern. I understood you to be agreeable to and supportive of this.

I therefore asked that the Government now show us these accessibility requirements at whatever stage they have now reached. Even if they are at a draft or preliminary stage, it would help to see what has been developed so far, so that we can give our feedback. As the New Toronto Courthouse experience revealed once again, the earlier in the design development process this consultation occurs, the better will be the end product.

New Accessibility Standard for Future Courthouses

As we discussed, Bob Topping told the Disability Sector Advisory Group at our inaugural March 14, 2018 meeting that his accessibility consulting firm, DesignAble Environments, was working on a new accessibility standard for new court consultation. Corresponding to this, the lead architect for the EllisDon firm told us at that meeting that when they designed the plans for the New Toronto Courthouse, they used the old accessibility standard that the Ministry has had going back many years.

As a result, I asked you to find out who else, if anyone, is working on this new courthouse accessibility standard, beyond DesignAble Environments? We asked to see that standard in its present state of development. We also proposed that the disability community be consulted on this, as early as possible, in its development. I urged you to contact Mr. Topping to follow up on this and to get more information, since it was he who told us about this work at the March 14, 2018 Advisory Group meeting. You agreed to look into this, including speaking to Mr. Topping. Thank you for agreeing to get back to me on this.

In conclusion there is a clear long term need for problems such as these to be resolved on a Government-wide basis. However, in the meantime, resolving the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities in these courthouse projects cannot await a resolution of broader Government-wide deficiencies in how it deals with planning for the accessibility of new infrastructure construction.

I look forward to hearing from you on the important issues we discussed, and especially on those listed in this letter.

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

The Toronto Star December 29, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/11/05/blind-juror-in-toronto-impaired-driving-case-was-almost-rejected.html Blind juror was almost rejected Disability advocates seek removal of courtroom barriers

Betsy Powell Toronto Star

A recent criminal trial at Toronto’s downtown Superior Court featured what may be a first in Ontario: a blind juror.

The fact that is, if not a first, an extremely rare occurrence in Ontario underscores that much more needs to be done to remove the barriers to equal treatment in the criminal justice system, disability advocates say.

“Certainly this applies to ensuring adequate representation of persons with disabilities on juries,” says Luke Reid, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto.

The Criminal Code allows people with vision or hearing disabilities to serve on juries. However, an accused may challenge a juror’s service and the Juries Act deems jurors ineligible if they have “a physical or mental disability that would seriously impair his or her ability to discharge the duties of a juror.”

“However, human rights law would demand that this (or any) requirement not be interpreted in an overbroad way and that persons with disabilities have the right to the necessary accommodations,” Reid wrote in email.

Juror 29743 almost didn’t get picked. While there are likely numerous reasons preventing people with impaired vision from sitting on juries, there is still a “very active debate” around the ability of a “trier of fact” to see a witness’s demeanour in order to assess credibility, Reid noted in an email.

“I think courts tend to err on the side of caution where the right of an accused to a fair trial is potentially at issue.”

This fall, a day before jury selection in an impaired driving causing death trial, prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg told the judge she and defence lawyer Carolyn Kerr had some concerns about a prospective juror, who had shown up at the courthouse with a service dog. Goldenberg told the judge numerous photos would be introduced during the two-week trial.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Rob Goldstein told the lawyers while it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue, he didn’t intend to treat Juror 29743 any differently than other jurors.

“I think it’s something we canvass and we treat her the way we treat any other juror who has a health issue,” Goldstein said. The next day, after Juror 29743 entered the courtroom with her service dog, the judge asked her how she would “deal” with all the photos in the case.

“It would be through description … I cannot see them,” the woman, who works in human resources, told Goldstein.

“OK, all right, so if they are described – you can absorb what’s in them?” the judge asked. She said yes.

The jury selection process continued in the normal course with two already selected jurors, designated as “triers,” deciding whether or not she was an acceptable pick.

Juror 29743 said she had not heard about the case involving a man charged with impaired driving causing death on April 23, 2016, near Jane St. and Humberview Blvd. She also indicated she could consider the evidence without prejudice or bias after being told the accused was a visible minority and Muslim. Nevertheless, the triers immediately rejected her.

Goldstein, however, wasn’t satisfied. He told the triers he was going to reread their instructions and asked them to consult each other again. The test to decide is if a juror would approach jury duty with an open mind and decide the case based solely on the evidence and his legal instructions, the judge told them.

This time, the triers found Juror 29743 acceptable while counsel on both sides said they were “content” with the choice. After a few days of deliberations, the jury returned to court with a guilty verdict. The Star’s attempts to speak to Juror 29743 were unsuccessful.

Lawyer David Lepofsky, a retired Crown attorney who is blind and was not involved in the case, said having a blind juror not only makes the legal system more representative of society, it makes lawyers more effective.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a courtroom that is visual and needs to be explained for the transcript, or audio recording, so having a blind juror will help ensure that happens, “so you get a better record, and it’s better for everybody,” Lepofksy said.

But there are some exceptions where a visually impaired juror might have to be excluded, he added. If, for example, the guilt or innocence of an accused is entirely based on whether a jury believes an accused looks like an assailant captured in a surveillance video.

Lepofksy, now a visiting professor at o University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said traditionally, appeal courts said trial judges were in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses, because they, unlike appeal judges, can access demeanour.

That view has evolved, and now appeal courts are increasingly warning “it’s wrong to over emphasize visual demeanour when assessing credibility.” He uses himself as an example to explain how everyone has different ways of doing that.

“Sighted people use eyes. I listen to a voice … and the whole idea of a jury is it’s a bunch of different people … pooling their different ways of assessing credibility and then voting as a group. Well, who’s to say visual is the only way to do it,” he said.

“Those of us who experience the world non visually, have our own experience too.”

While jurors don’t have to be statistically representative of society, there is an expectation that they bring to the courtroom their own life experience, “drawn from different parts of the community, and they pool to form a collective assessment, a very difficult assessment, who to believe about what happened.”



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Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities? — The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers


Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update

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

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

Will Ontario’s New Government Ensure that New Courthouses, Built Using Public Money, Are Barrier-Free for People with Disabilities? — The Previous Government’s Plans for the New Toronto Courthouse Still Have Significant Accessibility Barriers

January 28, 2019

          SUMMARY

Ontario’s new Ford Government has committed to be more responsible in the use of public money than was the former Ontario Government. Here is an example of where they can and should make a real difference.

We often emphasize that public money should never be used to create or perpetuate disability barriers. Yet the former Ontario Government’s plans for a new major courthouse in downtown Toronto still lack full and proper accessibility, even though some good steps have been taken to include some needed accessibility features. The AODA Alliance has been in the lead in bringing this issue to public attention.

Here is the latest installment in this story. To its credit, the team leading the design and construction of the New Toronto Courthouse, intended for the heart of downtown Toronto, recently built a mock-up of a courtroom, and a public service counter, to be included in that facility. The team commendably sought input from various stakeholders on this mock-up, including from an accessibility perspective. On January 16, 2019, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was given a hands-on tour. He found a number of helpful features in the design, but a number of serious accessibility barriers.

A number of the barriers we discovered are described in the January 21, 2019 letter from the AODA Alliance to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. We set that letter out below. We earlier described other examples of accessibility problems with this courthouse’s design in the AODA Alliance’s October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in our May 22, 2018, letter to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone. More on this topic can be found in our May 31 2018 and June 1, 2018 letters to Mr. Pontone, which we set out below.

It is good that there are some helpful accessibility features in this mock-up. However, it is very troubling that there are the accessibility problems that we and others have identified, especially since construction of this courthouse is meant to begin later this year. We await word on what the Ontario Government is going to do about these concerns.

There has been another interesting and important development in our quest for a fully accessible court system. One important way for the public to participate in the justice system is as a member of a jury. Yet people with disabilities have faced barriers impeding them from serving as a juror. Last fall, in a break-through, a person with vision loss was permitted to serve as a juror. Below at the end of this Update is an article from the December 29, 2018 Toronto Star reporting on this event. It quotes AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, among others.

For more background on the courts accessibility issue, you might check out the ground-breaking 2007 official report entitled “Making Ontario’s Courts Open to Persons with Disabilities” which you can find on the website for the Ontario Court of Appeal.

Finally, on another accessibility topic, there have now been 221 days since the Ontario Government shut down the work of the AODA Standards Development Committees that were working on recommendations on what the Government should include in the Health Care Accessibility Standard and the Education Accessibility Standard. The longer this freeze goes on, the more students with disabilities and patients with disabilities have to continue enduring unfair accessibility barriers.

          MORE DETAILS

January 21, 2019 Letter from the AODA Alliance to Ontario’s Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

1929 Bayview Avenue

Toronto, Ontario M4G 3E8

Email: [email protected]

Visit: www.aodalliance.org

January 21, 2019

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General

Via email: [email protected]

CC: The Hon. Caroline Mulroney, Attorney General of Ontario

[email protected]

Paul Boniferro Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

[email protected]

Dear Sir,

Re: Disability Accessibility Issues in the New Toronto Courthouse

I am writing to bring to your attention further concerns regarding the plans for accessibility at the New Toronto Courthouse, which is supposed to begin construction later this year. As you know, the AODA Alliance has been raising concerns about this project over the past two years.

We appreciate your efforts and interventions to date to try to address our concerns. As a result of your efforts, there have been some improvements. However, as things now stand, we have no assurance that the courthouse that is to be built will in fact be properly accessible for court participants and other attendees with disabilities. We need your intervention now to fix this.

As you recall, as of the 2017 fall, three years into the design of this courthouse, the initial team setting the accessibility project specifications for this courthouse (which was later terminated), and the subsequent team that is to oversee the bidding process and compliance with the project by the winner as it relates to this issue had never consulted with any people with disabilities. It was only after our discovering this and pressing for change that the Government belatedly decided to form a disability advisory group to review the project plans and offer accessibility input. For the AODA Alliance, I am a member of that advisory group.

By the time our advisory group had been formed and met in the 2018 spring, the Government had already settled on the project accessibility requirements, had conducted the competitive bid, and had chosen the successful bidder and design. Our advisory group quickly discovered a series of serious accessibility problems with the planned design. I have detailed some salient accessibility concerns regarding this project in my October 5, 2017, and April 6, 2018 letters to the previous Attorney General, and in my May 22 and 31, and June 1, 2018 letters to you. Key correspondence on point is posted on the AODA Alliance website.

It is our understanding from what we have been told by Government representatives, the Government’s various consultants on this project, and the successful bidder Ellis Don, that some of the accessibility concerns that the disability advisory group has raised cannot be addressed, because it is too far along in the planning for this new courthouse. This is emblematic of the fact that accessibility must be centrally incorporated into a project’s planning from the very start. It should not be left, in whole or in part, to much later in the process, as was the case here.

This should not come as news to the Ministry of the Attorney General, or to Infrastructure Ontario. Both of those public organizations have known this for years but have evidently failed to effectively act on it. We regret that there appears to be within both organizations some systemic impediments to acting effectively on accessibility for people with disabilities.

It is good that the Government is working now on developing a new accessibility standard for new courthouses, and that this is being taken into account earlier in the design of the future Halton Courthouse project. However, the 2007 Weiler Committee report on disability accessibility barriers in the court system had pointed out some 12 years ago about the need to develop a new and update-to-date accessibility standard for courthouse design. Since then, several new courthouses have been built at huge public expense, but without ensuring their proper accessibility. All of this is going on years after the Ontario Legislature unanimously passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act in 2005, and a third of a century after equality for people with disabilities was enshrined in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Charter of Rights.

Let me turn to the specifics of the New Toronto Courthouse courtroom and service counters mock-up that I visited on January 16, 2019. It was good to see a number of accessibility features built into the mock-up. However, I identified a number of accessibility concerns. Evidently, others who have earlier visited the mock-up also pointed out the same or different concerns.

It is good that the Government had this mock-up prepared, and that it sought input on it, including on accessibility concerns. It is, however, deeply troubling that a number of these problems made their way into this design even at this late stage. This happened after the Government had consulted with our disability advisory group on the building’s design, after there were two accessibility consultants on retainer to advise on this project (one for the Government and one for EllisDon), and after advice on some of these issues had already been given by the disability advisory group.

  1. It appears that in the design of the courtroom mock-up, no account was taken of the space, line-of-sight, and lighting needs to accommodate sign language interpreters in the courtroom. During my review of the mock-up, I asked if the team had consulted a sign language interpreter on this. I was told only that a hard of hearing member of the disability advisory group had toured the mock-up (i.e. after the mock-up had already been designed)

During my tour of the mock-up, I explained that the design needs to accommodate the needs of Sign Language interpreters in several different positions in the courtroom, e.g. interpreting for counsel, or for an accused, or for a witness. More than one interpreter could be interpreting from different positions in the courtroom at the same time. The interpreter needs to have enough room. There must be a clear line of sight to the person for whom they are interpreting. The lighting needs to be appropriate.

I had raised this specific issue months ago, during a meeting the Government and EllisDon had with the disability advisory group. At that time, a lead design official for EllisDon had not even known that Sign Language interpretation had to take place in the courtroom, unlike other spoken language interpreters who can be situated in a remote booth elsewhere in the courthouse.

Because I had given this feedback months ago, it is difficult to understand why this was not further explored and addressed prior to designing the courtroom layout and going to the substantial expense of building the mock-up. Having learned of the failure by the Government and EllisDon to deal with this, I have just connected the Government’s accessibility consultants with a Sign Language Interpreter I know, who works in the Toronto courts, and who is readily available to advise the Government on this issue.

  1. It is good that there are power door openers e.g. for the courtroom doors. However, none of these that I examined had accessible Braille signage for them. There was also no Braille signage for security card readers. The card readers I saw were close to a power door operator, both unlabeled, and both similarly shaped. This should be an obvious and simple accessibility provision for all such controls.
  1. There is a serious barrier to effective communication at the proposed Court Services counters. The mock-up for the Court Services office has a Plexiglas barrier from the counter level to the ceiling for each public service counter. A couple of small openings are cut out for a member of the public to speak to the Court Services official, behind the barrier, and to pass documents back and forth.

I was told that this partition is intended for security for the Court Services workers. It is not meant as bullet-proof protection. Anyone entering the building is required to go through scanners to prevent weapons from entering the courthouse. Rather, this is to prevent a member of the public for lunging at a Court Services worker.

I pointed out the obvious fact that this Plexiglas partition presents a significant communication barrier for people who have difficulties hearing. I was told that there would be a hearing loop technology available. When I asked, I was told there had been no plans for a speaker to amplify the voice of the Court Services worker.

The designers were evidently aware that there is an issue here, as the mock-up presented three different kinds of openings, through which a member of the public can speak to a Court Services official. I was asked for feedback on which option for openings in the partition seemed more effective for talking to the Court Services staff.

I presented the fact that this communication barrier will be a big problem for many, not just for those who having hearing loss to the degree where they use assistive listening devices. I noted that according to the Ministry of the Attorney General’s Court Services officials, the most common request for disability accommodation in the courts is related to hearing loss issues.

I proposed the simple and, I would think obvious solution of replacing the Plexiglas partition with a series of bars, with openings to pass documents through. That would let sound pass through much more easily, while still providing the security needed.

I foresaw that if the Plexiglas design is retained, Court Services workers would have to spend their day yelling through opening in the Plexiglas, while sitting next to other Court Services workers who are similarly yelling through the openings in the partition. I doubt that is an optimal working situation.

I would add to my feedback given at the time that to require members of the public to have to raise their voices to ensure they are heard through the Plexiglas openings might require them to speak loudly about personal information that they would not wish to share with others, who are behind them, waiting in line.

  1. I was told that the intention was for only one out of every six or so public service counters in the Court Services office to be an accessible one. This in turn would require Court Services staff to use technology to give priority to members of the public who need the accessible counter, and then to route them to those counters. Not just for this reason, there is a plan for everyone who comes to that Court Services area to use a touch screen device to sign in, get their number, and know which counter to attend. I address this further below.

I asked why they don’t simply plan for all counters in that area to be at an accessible height. I was told that people who are standing prefer not to have to sign a document at the lower counter height. The counter height could be made adjustable. As an alternative, I suggested a simple low-cost solution. On any accessible counter height could be a moveable box, that would provide a signing surface that accommodates a person who is standing. With this, there would be no need to have to have some sort of process for identifying who needs an accessible counter, and for giving them priority and routing them to the right counter.

  1. I asked how a person would know that it is their turn to proceed to a Court Services counter. I was told that a light over that counter would illuminate. I explained that this was a clear barrier for people with vision loss. There should also be an audio prompt or announcement.

I explained that Service Ontario had a similar accessibility problem until we brought it to attention of senior Government officials. People coming to Service Ontario for help with such things as a health card used to be given a number and told to watch a screen for when their number came up. This happened to me a few years ago. I am blind, and use a readily visible white cane.

  1. As noted above, there is a plan for everyone who wants to go to the Court services counter to have to first get an electronic tablet, key in some information and then get a document printed out that will tell them where to go etc. I suggested the far less costly option of just having everyone line up and wait their turn, as is routinely done at banks and other like services.

The tablet threatens to present accessibility problems. I was told that a Court Services worker would be available to work with people with disabilities. However, this may not be evident to people with disabilities who are there. Moreover, apart from disability concerns, there is always the added confusion of learning to use a new app or tablet, compounded if the system goes out of order. A line-up has none of these problems. I suspect that court attendees would rather not have to learn to navigate some new app.

  1. We were told that the plan is for the prisoner’s box in each courtroom in this new courthouse to have a design that lacks accessibility. There is one step up into the prisoner’s box.

If an accused requires an accessible prisoner’s box, one will be brought in and assembled, when needed. We were told that this would take about an hour to do. It requires the court to be notified in advance of the need for this on a particular day. This in turn requires lawyers to all know that they need to request this in advance. It requires that any such request not get lost in the shuffle of a huge, busy courthouse.

I proposed that instead, they should simply design an accessible prisoner’s box for permanent use in each courtroom, rather than planning in advance to create new barriers. This avoids the need in a very busy courthouse to have to be notified in advance, and to have the accessible prisoner’s box brought in and assembled. The risk is real that the message can get lost and the accommodation not set up in time.

Moreover, in a very busy, rapid turnover courtroom like the one on the ground floor for first appearances, the prisoner’s box should always be an accessible one. An accused, arrested the night before, and brought in for a first appearance, will likely not have a lawyer who knows to request an accessible prisoner’s box.

I was told that the reason the inaccessible design was desired was because police would like the accused to be raised up one step, for when the officer reaches in to cuff the accused. I expect that other solutions to address this problem should be discoverable with some creativity, without needing to have an inaccessible prisoner’s box.

  1. On the wall just outside the courtroom mock-up is a sign listing points for courtroom decorum. We discussed options for making this available in an accessible format.

However, I also asked if the list of points in this public notice included any announcement of how to seek accessibility accommodations while at court. I was told this was not part of the text.

I have several times raised with Ministry officials at the Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee that they need to do a much better job of publicizing the availability of accessibility supports in the courts, including the availability of a Courts Accessibility Coordinator in each court facility. This sign would be an important place to include that information, for the public, as they wait in the hall to enter the courtroom.

I raised a number of other points. The foregoing ones rank among the most serious ones. On the one hand, it is good we are being consulted on this. On the other hand, the fact that these problems were designed into this plan shows that the Ministry and its successful bidder at this late date still are falling quite far short on accessibility.

At this consultation, there were two different accessibility consulting firms present. One was retained by the Government’s project compliance team. The other is retained by EllisDon. The taxpayer is paying for them both. We want to know what accessibility advice they have given on this design. At a recent Ontario Courts Accessibility Committee meeting, the Ministry had indicated that the Government was going to have its accessibility consulting firm report directly to the Ministry, rather than the private architect whom the Government has retained to head the project compliance team. I should note that the head of that team, Roman Mychajlowycz of the Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects firm, has not attended any of the consultation sessions last year at which I was present, where we gave input on the accessibility problems with this courthouse. He was also not present at the consultation on this mock-up I attended. I do not know if he attended any of the other consultation sessions on this mock-up. Given the seriousness of the recurring accessibility problems with the design of this courthouse, direct face-to-face involvement by the head of the compliance team, paid by the taxpayer, would seem to us to be appropriate, and not merely his subordinates.

Finally, we would like to know the status of the Government’s work on developing an accessibility standard for the design of future courthouse facilities. We have understood that the KMA firm was working on that. We earlier requested from the Government a draft of their proposals. We would also like to see any advice on the KMA proposals that have come from the accessibility consulting firm that are being paid by the taxpayer to advise on it.

We continue to be eager to help ensure that Ontario’s courts become fully accessible to people with disabilities, and that any new court facility be designed to be accessible.

Sincerely,

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

May 31, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance

Date: May 31, 2018

Thank you so much for attending the May 24, 2018 meeting of the Disability Sector Advisory Group that the Government convened this spring to get input on accessibility issues in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse. Construction of that courthouse is expected to commence sometime next year. We need your active assistance and intervention to ensure that accessibility is properly included in this project.

It was helpful to know that the courthouse design team is considering feedback that the Advisory Group had given at our earlier March 20, 2018 meeting. At the March 14, 2018 meeting we had identified serious accessibility problems in the design of the New Toronto Courthouse that the Government had selected in the competitive process. I want to summarize a few of the key points that the disability sector representatives made at the May 24, 2018 meeting.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the information that the design team gave our Advisory Group revealed that in troubling ways, it appears that the private company that is building this courthouse is giving the building’s aesthetics an improper priority over ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, with the Government’s evident agreement or silence. I offer two examples from this meeting.

First, back at the March 20, 2018 meeting, we had pointed out that the use of “open risers” in the feature staircase in the courthouse’s main lobby presents an accessibility and safety problem for people with vision loss, among others. The Government’s specific requirements for this building preclude the use of open risers. Yet EllisDon, whom the Government selected to build this courthouse, disregarded this, and included open risers in the building design. The Government selected that design in the competitive bid process, despite its direct contravention of this accessibility requirement in the Government’s Project Specific Output Specifications (PSOS).

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were told that the project design team is considering “options” for dealing with this issue. We asked what options are being considered. We did not get a direct answer. They did not want to say what options were being considered. We don’t understand why this was being withheld from us.

Moreover, one of the design team members in effect asked us at the May 24, 2018 meeting if there was no way that open risers could be included in the building. We said “no”. We explained there that they were treating aesthetics as more important than accessibility.

Second, we had indicated at our March 14, 2018 meeting that the three-storey atrium design of the building created several accessibility problems. There would be inconsistent lighting and glare during the day, creating problems for those with low vision. The acoustics present problems for people who are hard of hearing, or people with vision loss who use echo-location to help navigate. People with sensory integration problems, include some with autism, also experience sensory overload in such environments. Eliminating this atrium design would eliminate these problems and create more useable floor space.

At the May 24, 2018 meeting, the project team’s solution appeared to be to keep the atrium design, but to consider canopies, overhangs and blinds to control lighting, and some acoustic protections to reduce acoustic problems. We were told about sound and lighting studies being conducted to look into these effects.

We responded that the aesthetic tail appears again to be wagging the dog. If blinds must be adjusted throughout the day to regulate the light in the building, there is the real risk that this will not always happen. We won’t know that these palliative measures will work until the building is built, by which time it is too late. The acoustic studies did not explore the impact of the acoustic measures on echo-location for navigating the building. We could only be satisfied that these palliative measures all worked if we could now visit a comparably-designed building that includes all these lighting and audio features, to test to see if they are reliable and consistently effective.

* At the May 24, 2018 meeting, we were not shown the layout for any of the non-public secured areas of the building, but were assured that they would be accessible. We asked to be able to see those designs, on an undertaking of confidentiality if necessary, so we can give feedback. We appreciate that the project team agreed to look into this.

* We were told at the May 24, 2018 meeting that the seating area that was proposed for people with disabilities who are waiting for Wheeltrans would be inside the vestibule, just inside the main doors. The disability sector representatives identified several problems with this.

That seating location only has a direct line of sight to half of the pick-up spots where vehicles would arrive. There is an obstructed view to the rest of those drop-off spots. In addition, this seating is placed between the doors to the outside, and the doors to the main floor. As such, people sitting there will have to endure regular blasts of cold air when waiting during the winter, and hot air during the summer, each time the doors open and close.

* We noted that placing Court Services on the third floor presents real problems. This can be the first stop for many who arrive at the courthouse. They must clutter up the elevators to get there, and then head up from there to their destination. This first stop should be on the main floor.

* We understand that there is no location planned to situate the courthouse’s disability accessibility and accommodation coordinator on the ground floor. We emphasized that they should be readily available on the ground floor, to be a first contact, where needed, for court attendees with disabilities.

* We were told that the public was to be told by way of posted signs about the availability of disability services. We emphasized that this was insufficient, as it will not accommodate those with vision loss or dyslexia. I would add that this would not accommodate those with literacy issues.

* At our earlier March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that only one interview room per floor would be accessible. At the May 24, 2018 meeting we learned that this information had been incorrect. We were told on May 24, 2018 that all of the interview rooms are accessible, but only one room per floor will accommodate a scooter. We were still not able to learn how these rooms are to be assigned, to ensure that they are not simply used by people who don’t need that accessibility feature.

* We learned at the May 24, 2018 meeting that some important accessibility concerns that we raised at our earlier meeting have not been corrected at all. The problematic layout of the six public elevators has not been changed, despite the accessibility concerns. There has also been no change to the plan to have a universal washroom on only eight of the building’s seventeen floors, and not on every floor. No reason for this was given.

* For some of the other concerns we had raised at the March 14, 2018 meeting, we were told that it is now too late in the planning process to change certain aspects of the building’s design. This demonstrates that it was wrong for the Government not to consult on accessibility some three years ago, at the design process’s outset.

We look forward to further meetings with the disability sector advisory group, to ensure that the accessibility concerns with this building are all effectively addressed.

June 1, 2018 Letter from AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky to Assistant Deputy Attorney General Dante Pontone

To: Dante Pontone, Assistant Deputy Attorney General for Ontario

From: David Lepofsky, Chair, AODA Alliance

Date: June 1, 2018

Re: Accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities in New Courthouse Construction in Ontario

Thank you for taking the time to speak to me today about the future actions needed to ensure accessibility of the New Toronto Courthouse, about accessibility of the forthcoming new Halton Peel Courthouse (at an earlier stage of design) and about the development of a new Government accessibility standard for new court construction. Here are the key items which we requested and those to which you agreed. If I have anything incorrect, please let me know as soon as possible.

Re the New Toronto Courthouse

I asked that you continue to attend any upcoming meetings of the Disability Sector Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. Your oversight is critically important, in our view. Thank you for being agreeable to this.

We have not been told how many future meetings the Government plans for this Advisory Group regarding the New Toronto Courthouse. I recommended to you that this Advisory Group continue to meet with the Government and its contractors until all the accessibility concerns regarding this courthouse have been effectively resolved. I understood you to be supportive of this.

I explained that it is important in this project, and in each future project, that the Government directly retain the accessibility consultant, retained on these projects, and that this consultant report their accessibility advice directly to the Government. Otherwise, as at present, it appears that their accessibility advice is given to the private architecture firm or other private organization that hired them. What the Government and the public learn about that accessibility advice is only that which the retaining private organization chooses to pass along. The public is paying for that advice. The Government should receive that advice directly, and in its entirety. The public should be able to see this advice as well. I understood that you are going to consider this.

The Halton Peel Courthouse

I understand that the accessibility requirements for the future new Halton Peel courthouse have not yet been finalized. The Project Specific Output Specifications PSOS for that project are still under development.

I recommended that the Government now get advice from the disability community, e.g. from the Disability Sector Advisory Group, as these are being formulated, and certainly long before they are finalized. No longer should we ever be told that it is too late in the design process to take into account an accessibility concern. I understood you to be agreeable to and supportive of this.

I therefore asked that the Government now show us these accessibility requirements at whatever stage they have now reached. Even if they are at a draft or preliminary stage, it would help to see what has been developed so far, so that we can give our feedback. As the New Toronto Courthouse experience revealed once again, the earlier in the design development process this consultation occurs, the better will be the end product.

New Accessibility Standard for Future Courthouses

As we discussed, Bob Topping told the Disability Sector Advisory Group at our inaugural March 14, 2018 meeting that his accessibility consulting firm, DesignAble Environments, was working on a new accessibility standard for new court consultation. Corresponding to this, the lead architect for the EllisDon firm told us at that meeting that when they designed the plans for the New Toronto Courthouse, they used the old accessibility standard that the Ministry has had going back many years.

As a result, I asked you to find out who else, if anyone, is working on this new courthouse accessibility standard, beyond DesignAble Environments? We asked to see that standard in its present state of development. We also proposed that the disability community be consulted on this, as early as possible, in its development. I urged you to contact Mr. Topping to follow up on this and to get more information, since it was he who told us about this work at the March 14, 2018 Advisory Group meeting. You agreed to look into this, including speaking to Mr. Topping. Thank you for agreeing to get back to me on this.

In conclusion there is a clear long term need for problems such as these to be resolved on a Government-wide basis. However, in the meantime, resolving the accessibility needs of Ontarians with disabilities in these courthouse projects cannot await a resolution of broader Government-wide deficiencies in how it deals with planning for the accessibility of new infrastructure construction.

I look forward to hearing from you on the important issues we discussed, and especially on those listed in this letter.

David Lepofsky CM, O. Ont

Chair Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance

The Toronto Star December 29, 2018

Originally posted at https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2018/11/05/blind-juror-in-toronto-impaired-driving-case-was-almost-rejected.html

Blind juror was almost rejected

Disability advocates seek removal of courtroom barriers

Betsy Powell Toronto Star

A recent criminal trial at Toronto’s downtown Superior Court featured what may be a first in Ontario: a blind juror.

The fact that is, if not a first, an extremely rare occurrence in Ontario underscores that much more needs to be done to remove the barriers to equal treatment in the criminal justice system, disability advocates say.

“Certainly this applies to ensuring adequate representation of persons with disabilities on juries,” says Luke Reid, a lawyer with ARCH Disability Law Centre in Toronto.

The Criminal Code allows people with vision or hearing disabilities to serve on juries. However, an accused may challenge a juror’s service and the Juries Act deems jurors ineligible if they have “a physical or mental disability that would seriously impair his or her ability to discharge the duties of a juror.”

“However, human rights law would demand that this (or any) requirement not be interpreted in an overbroad way and that persons with disabilities have the right to the necessary accommodations,” Reid wrote in email.

Juror 29743 almost didn’t get picked. While there are likely numerous reasons preventing people with impaired vision from sitting on juries, there is still a “very active debate” around the ability of a “trier of fact” to see a witness’s demeanour in order to assess credibility, Reid noted in an email.

“I think courts tend to err on the side of caution where the right of an accused to a fair trial is potentially at issue.”

This fall, a day before jury selection in an impaired driving causing death trial, prosecutor Marnie Goldenberg told the judge she and defence lawyer Carolyn Kerr had some concerns about a prospective juror, who had shown up at the courthouse with a service dog. Goldenberg told the judge numerous photos would be introduced during the two-week trial.

Ontario Superior Court Justice Rob Goldstein told the lawyers while it was entirely appropriate to raise the issue, he didn’t intend to treat Juror 29743 any differently than other jurors.

“I think it’s something we canvass and we treat her the way we treat any other juror who has a health issue,” Goldstein said. The next day, after Juror 29743 entered the courtroom with her service dog, the judge asked her how she would “deal” with all the photos in the case.

“It would be through description … I cannot see them,” the woman, who works in human resources, told Goldstein.

“OK, all right, so if they are described – you can absorb what’s in them?” the judge asked. She said yes.

The jury selection process continued in the normal course with two already selected jurors, designated as “triers,” deciding whether or not she was an acceptable pick.

Juror 29743 said she had not heard about the case involving a man charged with impaired driving causing death on April 23, 2016, near Jane St. and Humberview Blvd. She also indicated she could consider the evidence without prejudice or bias after being told the accused was a visible minority and Muslim. Nevertheless, the triers immediately rejected her.

Goldstein, however, wasn’t satisfied. He told the triers he was going to reread their instructions and asked them to consult each other again. The test to decide is if a juror would approach jury duty with an open mind and decide the case based solely on the evidence and his legal instructions, the judge told them.

This time, the triers found Juror 29743 acceptable while counsel on both sides said they were “content” with the choice. After a few days of deliberations, the jury returned to court with a guilty verdict. The Star’s attempts to speak to Juror 29743 were unsuccessful.

Lawyer David Lepofsky, a retired Crown attorney who is blind and was not involved in the case, said having a blind juror not only makes the legal system more representative of society, it makes lawyers more effective.

There’s a lot of stuff that goes on in a courtroom that is visual and needs to be explained for the transcript, or audio recording, so having a blind juror will help ensure that happens, “so you get a better record, and it’s better for everybody,” Lepofksy said.

But there are some exceptions where a visually impaired juror might have to be excluded, he added. If, for example, the guilt or innocence of an accused is entirely based on whether a jury believes an accused looks like an assailant captured in a surveillance video.

Lepofksy, now a visiting professor at o University’s Osgoode Hall law school, said traditionally, appeal courts said trial judges were in a superior position to assess the credibility of witnesses, because they, unlike appeal judges, can access demeanour.

That view has evolved, and now appeal courts are increasingly warning “it’s wrong to over emphasize visual demeanour when assessing credibility.” He uses himself as an example to explain how everyone has different ways of doing that.

“Sighted people use eyes. I listen to a voice … and the whole idea of a jury is it’s a bunch of different people … pooling their different ways of assessing credibility and then voting as a group. Well, who’s to say visual is the only way to do it,” he said.

“Those of us who experience the world non visually, have our own experience too.”

While jurors don’t have to be statistically representative of society, there is an expectation that they bring to the courtroom their own life experience, “drawn from different parts of the community, and they pool to form a collective assessment, a very difficult assessment, who to believe about what happened.”



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What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?


The design of public spaces standard of the AODA outlines the need for newly constructed or redeveloped public spaces to be accessible for people with disabilities. This requirement may leave people asking: What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

What is the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

The Design of Public Spaces Standard describes ways to make communal spaces more accessible. Most of the spaces it covers are outdoors. For instance, there are requirements for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Outdoor public eating areas like rest stops or picnic areas
  • Outdoor play spaces, like playgrounds in provincial parks and local communities
  • Accessible parking (on and off street)
  • Outdoor paths of travel, like sidewalks, ramps, stairs, curb ramps, rest areas and accessible pedestrian signals

In contrast, the Ontario Building Code covers rules for the accessibility of most indoor spaces. However, the Design of Public Spaces Standard includes guidelines for service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas with fixed seating. Finally, the Standard also covers the maintenance and restoration of public spaces.

Who does the Standard Apply To?

The standard applies to new spaces and buildings. It also applies to existing spaces undergoing major renovations. However, existing spaces that do not need major reconstruction do not need to comply.

Furthermore, public sector organizations, and private organizations with fifty or more workers, need to make all of these types of space accessible. In contrast, private organizations with fewer than fifty workers are only required to obey guidelines for accessible:

  • Recreational trails and beach access routes
  • Accessible parking
  • Service-related elements like service counters, fixed queuing lines, and waiting areas
  • Maintenance and restoration of public spaces

Why do we need the Design of Public Spaces Standard?

Public spaces are everywhere. We enter public space the moment we step out of our front doors to go anywhere, whether it is down the sidewalk to visit a neighbour, to the beach for a day of fun with friends, to the parking lot of the grocery store, or to the playground with our children. The Design of Public Spaces Standard brings us closer to a province where every person can take all these journeys.



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Conventional Public Transit in Ontario


Under the Transportation Standard of the AODA, conventional public transit services must have accessible announcements on all their vehicles. Vehicles that must have accessible announcements are:

  • Buses
  • Motor coaches
  • Streetcars
  • Subways
  • Light rail
  • Commuter rail
  • Inter-city rail

Conventional Public Transit Features

Audible and visual announcements

Announcements displaying information that all passengers need to know should be both audible and visual. In other words, conventional public transit vehicles should always use both verbal announcements and visual signs. Passengers who are blind or visually impaired will rely on verbal announcements, while passengers who are deaf or hard of hearing will use visual signage. Both these announcement methods must be working at all times unless there is no one in a vehicle. However, if a vehicle is empty, drivers should still ensure that pre-boarding announcements are audibly and visually displayed. Announcements allow anyone wishing to board the vehicle to have the information they need.

Pre-boarding announcements

At every stop, announcements should tell potential passengers about the vehicle’s route, the direction it is going, and its destination or next major stop. Announcements should be loud enough so that people waiting for a vehicle can hear which one has arrived. Signage should be visible at the entrances where passengers board.

On-board announcements

While the vehicle is moving, announcements should tell passengers about each potential stop. Announcements for each stop should sound and display when the vehicle approaches the stop so that passengers can request to deboard. In addition, an announcement should also sound and display when the vehicle has reached a stop.

Verbal announcements

Verbal announcements must be spoken clearly so that passengers can understand them.

Visual signage

Visual signs must be legible and use good colour contrast so that passengers can read them. Signs on the same vehicles should be consistently located, coloured, shaped, and sized. For example, signs on every city bus should appear in the same place, and be the same colour, shape and size. In this way, passengers who take busses regularly will know where to look for a sign and what it should look like. Similarly, passengers who often take the subway should also know what kind of sign to look for and where it should be located.

Additionally, people arranging where signs should be located should always place them so that they avoid glare or shadowed areas. Sign surfaces should also be glare-free. Furthermore, signs should have solid characters instead of hollow ones. Finally, signs may include pictograms or symbols.

Why We Need Accessible Announcements

Accessible announcements ensure that all passengers who use conventional public transit will know where every vehicle is going. Moreover, accessible announcements also inform passengers when they have reached their stop, and about every stage of a trip.



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