Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update
United for a Barrier-Free Society for All People with Disabilities
102 Days after the Ford Government Received the Report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA, the Government Has Still Not Announced a Detailed Plan to Implement It
May 13, 2019
We have recently focused a lot of attention on Parliament in Ottawa, and on Bill C-81, the proposed federal Accessible Canada Act. Yet we never lose sight of important issues at the provincial level at Queen’s park. Here’s the latest!
In a nutshell, the Ford Government has been proceeding at the speed of a turtle in slow motion, when it comes to the implementation and enforcement of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Almost 11 months after the new Ontario Government took office, we’ve seen no indication of any action to speed up and strengthen the AODA’s faltering implementation and enforcement. This stands in striking contrast to certain other areas of governing, where the new Ontario Government has shown itself quite ready to act in a swift and decisive way. In this Update you can read the latest about the following issues, and then read the actual documents on point:
* Ontario Accessibility Minister wrote the AODA Alliance on April 10, 2019 but had little to say.
* On April 10, 2019 Ontario’s Accessibility Minister was questioned in Question Period in the Legislature about the Onley Report on the AODA’s implementation and enforcement, but again had little to say.
* Letters to the editor in newspapers continue to be a great way to help our accessibility campaign, as recent examples show, and
* Over two months after the Ford Government said it was lifting its 9-month freeze on the work of the AODA Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees, no new meetings of These Committees have even been scheduled.
We will have more to say on recent developments on the Ontario front over the next weeks.
1. A Closer Look at Recent Developments on the Provincial Front
a) Ontario Accessibility Minister Wrote the AODA Alliance on April 10, 2-019 But Had Little to Say
On April 3, 2019, Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho wrote the AODA Alliance. We set out his letter below.
The minister was answering two earlier letters from the AODA Alliance. In our February 6, 2019 letter, we asked the Minister to immediately lift his Government’s long freeze on the work of Standards Development Committees that were developing recommendations on what to include in new AODA accessibility standards to tear down disability barriers in the areas of health care and education. We also asked his Government to quickly make public the final report of David Onley’s Independent Review of the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.
In our March 11, 2019 letter, we asked the Government to “clearly and publicly accept the findings in the Onley report regarding the AODA’s implementation and enforcement.” We also asked him to quickly take action on five priority areas identified in the Onley report, namely:
- to 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.
- to 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.
- to substantially strengthen the Government’s enforcement of the AODA, which the Onley report showed to be substantially deficient and ineffective.
- to 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, and
- to 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.
Our March 11, 2019 letter thanked the Government for releasing the Onley report to the public on March 7, 2019 and for announcing that it was lifting its freeze on the work of the existing AODA Standards Development Committees that had been working in the areas of health care and education. Our letter urged the Government to get these existing advisory committees back to work as quickly as possible.
Minister Cho’s responding April 3, 2019 letter to us, set out below, was exceedingly general. It said nothing and committed to nothing on any of the issues we had raised and that then remained outstanding. He re-announced that the Government had lifted the freeze on the Standards Development Committees working in the areas of disability barriers in health care and education, something he’d earlier announced on March 7, 2019. Beyond that he only said that he’d have more to say at some unspecified future time.
The minister also said this in his letter:
“We are always interested in listening to businesses, non-profit organizations and the broader public sector to hear their views on accessibility.”
He made no mention of consulting with people with disabilities on accessibility. This takes on greater significance below. Read on!
b) On April 10, 2019 Ontario’s Accessibility Minister Was Questioned in Question Period About the Onley Report But Had Little to Say
On April 10, 2019, MPP Joel Harden, the NDP accessibility critic, directed questions at Accessibility Minister Cho about the Onley Report. He asked the minister if the Government accepts the findings in the Onley Report. He also asked for the minister’s plans regarding the implementation of the Onley Report’s recommendations. Below we set out the Hansard transcript of that exchange.
This was raised in the Legislature on an especially appropriate day. Later that day, NDP MPP Joel Harden held and hosted a Town Hall meeting at the Legislature for people with disabilities to describe the disability barriers they face and the corrective action they need. MPPs of all parties were invited to attend.
AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky was invited to co-MC the Town Hall. For several hours stretching through the afternoon, individuals and disability organizations presented pointed and troubling illustrations of the barriers that persist in 2019, 14 years after the AODA was enacted.
In response to MPP Harden’s question whether the minister accepts the Onley Report’s findings, Minister Cho said that Mr. Onley did a “marvelous job” in his report. The Minister criticized the previous Ontario Liberal Government’s performance on the accessibility issues and said “…the accessibility is not done even 30%.” This seems to be a helpful recognition by the minister that Ontario has a long way to go to reach full accessibility by 2025, as the AODA requires. The Onley Report did not cite a specific 30% figure, but found that Ontario is far behind its goal of reaching accessibility by 2025.
In response to Mr. Harden’s question whether the minister would be releasing a plan of action in response to the Onley Report, and if so, when, the Minister said:
“After the Honourable David Onley completed his review, we tabled the review. I talked to him—three times, I went to see him—and he emphasized getting jobs for people with disabilities is most important. That’s why we’re going to focus and I’m going to hold my own town hall meeting with the business community.”
That answer included no commitment to create a plan of action in response to the Onley Report. The minister committed to no time lines for doing so.
The only action that the minister announced was a plan to hold a town hall for businesses. Of course, that could be one helpful step. However it is far less than what we need or what the Onley Report calls for. Here again, as in the case of the minister’s April 3, 2019 letter to the AODA Alliance the minister talked about consulting businesses, but not people with disabilities. We need the Government to do much more than to hold a town hall for businesses.
We want to thank MPP Harden for raising this issue in Question Period. We also thank him, his staff, and the other NDP MPPs and staff who helped make this Town Hall such a success. We also thank the MPPs from other parties who came to watch some of the Town Hall. In our usual spirit of non-partisanship, we encourage and invite all parties to host similar Town Hall events for the public including people with disabilities.
c) Letters to the Editor in Newspapers Continue to Be a great Way to Help Our Accessibility Campaign
As in the past, letters to the editor in Ontario newspapers remain a great way to help advance our ongoing non-partisan accessibility campaign.
On March 15, 2019, the Toronto Star ran two letters to the editor about the need for more provincial action on accessibility. One was by AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky. The other was by Janis Jaffe-White, a tenacious advocate for students with disabilities. We set these out below.
These letters were written to comment on and follow up on a great March 13, 2019 Toronto Star editorial that had called for action on accessibility as a result of the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report.
Whenever you notice an article on an accessibility issue in a newspaper, we encourage you to take the opportunity to get more coverage for this issue by sending in your own letter to the editor. If it gets published, let us know. You can always write us at [email protected].
d) Over Two Months After the Ford Government Said It Was Lifting Its 9-Month Freeze on the Work of the AODA Health Care and Education Standards Development Committees, No New Meetings of These Committees Have Even Been Scheduled
Last June, in the wake of the June Ontario election, the work of AODA Standards Development Committees in the areas of disability barriers in our health care system and education system were frozen. For those of you who have been following our AODA Alliance Updates for several months, You will recall that we spent a great deal of time and effort to get the Ford Government to lift that freeze.
After months of this effort, the Ford Government agreed partway through last fall to lift its freeze on the work of the Employment Standards Development Committee and Information and Communication Standards Development Committee. However it left the other Standards Development Committees frozen. They were focusing on disability barriers in health care and education. We need those remaining advisory committees to get back to work, developing recommendations on the disability barriers and education that need to be removed and prevented in new AODA accessibility standards.
The Ford Government gave various excuses for that freeze. The Minister for Accessibility and Seniors needed time to be briefed, we were originally told. Six months after the freeze went into effect, and long after the Minister for Accessibility and Seniors had had ample time to be briefed, the Government said for the first time that it was awaiting the David Onley AODA Independent Review Report before it decide what to do about the freeze.
That reason for continuing the freeze was unconvincing. It was quite obvious that Mr. Onley would recommend that that freeze be lifted. Mr. Onley submitted his report to the Ontario Government on January 31, 2019, fully 102 days ago. He did indeed recommend that that freeze be lifted.
The Ford Government waited until March 7, 2019 to announce that it was lifting that freeze. Yet over two months since that announcement, and over four months since the Ford Government received the Onley Report, no meetings have yet even been scheduled for the Standards Development Committees working in the areas of health care or education.
On May 6, 2019, members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee received an email from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky is a member of that Standards Development Committee. We set that email out below.
On the one hand, it is good that Accessibility Directorate of Ontario is finally reaching out with preliminary steps that aim towards scheduling the next meeting of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee. As well, the email describes some changes to the way the Standards Development Committee will be operating.
We are open to improving the process for the Standards Development Committees. Our brief to the Onley AODA Independent Review included an entire chapter that detailed problems with the way the former Ontario Government operated those committees. The previous minister had, we regret, been unwilling to make changes as a result of concerns we had raised last spring.
We are, however, concerned about some of the specific changes announced in this new email. There is no reason why the Government should have waited over two months since it announced it decision to lift its freeze on these Standards Development Committees just to ask members of those committees whether they want to continue on those committees, and whether they have changed their job. That inquiry should have been made back on March 7, 2019, when the Government announced that these committees would resume their work. The Government has not yet canvassed about available dates so that the next committee meeting can be scheduled.
It appears that the Government has substantially reduced the amount of actual time when the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee can meet and do its important work. We assume that the same will be the case for the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee and the Health Care Standards Development Committee. The Government is reducing meetings from two days to one, and reducing by an undisclosed amount the total number of meeting days. This is especially problematic since the committees lost the chance to do any work over the past year due to the Government’s freeze on their work. During that year, they could have been making substantial progress if not coming close to finishing their work. students with disabilities and health care patients with disabilities are suffering the consequences.
It appears that the Government wants out-of-town committee members to take part in meetings by phone rather than in person. While reasonable cost-saving measures are understandable, this measure threatens to create real problems. The K-12 Education Standards Development Committee has over 20 members. It is hard to build the kind of cooperative exchange of ideas and views if some if not many are taking part over a speaker phone.
The Accessibility Directorate of Ontario’s email says that Committee members will later receive a letter of re-engagement from the minister. This is an unnecessary step. Those who were previously appointed to these Standards Development Committees remain as members of these Standards Development Committees under the AODA. The June 2018 election and its results did not change that, or dissolve these Committees. There is no need to add yet another bureaucratic step to this process which has already been delayed for too long.
We will keep you posted on developments on this front.
2. April 3, 2019 Letter to the AODA Alliance from Minister for Accessibility and Seniors Raymond Cho, In Response to the AODA Alliance’s February 6 and March 11, 2019 Letters to the Minister
Thank you for your letters regarding the review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. I appreciate hearing your thoughts and concerns.
The government is taking immediate action as it continues to work towards improving the lives of people with disabilities. We are resuming the Health Care and K-12 and Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committees, which is something we’ve heard Ontarians ask for.
We are always interested in listening to businesses, non-profit organizations and the broader public sector to hear their views on accessibility. I am also working with my colleagues across other Ministries to review the Honourable David Onley’s Third Legislative review of the AODA and move forward with a plan to improve accessibility in Ontario.
The government will continue to consider Mr. Onley’s recommendations and will have more to say on next steps in the future. We are committed to working with Ontarians towards improving accessibility and we will take the time to get this right for all Ontarians.
Thank you again for writing. Please accept my best wishes.
3. Ontario Hansard April 10, 2019
Accessibility for persons with disabilities
Mr. Joel Harden: My question today is for the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility. Today, people with disabilities from across Ontario are converging right here at Queen’s Park because we’re hosting an open forum for them. They are fed up with our province’s agonizingly slow progress towards making this province fully accessible and the barriers that are preventing them from living their lives to the fullest.
In his report on the third review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, the Honourable David Onley said the following: “For most disabled persons, Ontario is not a place of opportunity but one of countless, dispiriting, soul-crushing barriers.”
My question to the minister: Do you accept the findings of the Onley report?
Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: I’d like to thank the member for raising that question. First of all, I’d like to thank the Honourable David Onley. He did a marvelous job; I read the report.
I’d like to refer that question to the Liberal Party. They were in government for 15 years and the accessibility is not done even 30%.
By the way, I will drop by your town hall meeting.
Our government is open for business for everybody, even people with disabilities, and I’ll try my best as minister.
The Speaker (Hon. Ted Arnott): Supplementary?
Mr. Joel Harden: Thank you to the minister for that answer, but 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities actually deserve better. This is a human rights issue. Stalling any further and only looking backwards is not an option.
The AODA sets a target for this province to be fully accessible by 2025, but the Onley report says we are nowhere near achieving that goal. Mr. Onley has 15 recommendations—Speaker, to the minister—for improving accessibility through stronger enforcement, new standards for buildings and making sure public money is never used again to create new barriers. Will the minister be releasing a plan of action and response to the Onley report, and if so, Speaker, when can we expect that plan of action?
Hon. Raymond Sung Joon Cho: Thank you again for the question. After the Honourable David Onley completed his review, we tabled the review. I talked to him—three times, I went to see him—and he emphasized getting jobs for people with disabilities is most important. That’s why we’re going to focus and I’m going to hold my own town hall meeting with the business community. Thank you for the question.
4. The Toronto Star March 15, 2019
Originally posted at: https://www.thestar.com/opinion/letters_to_the_editors/2019/03/15/praising-advocacy-for-those-with-disabilities.html
Letters to the Editor
Praising advocacy for those with disabilities
Time to clear the way, Editorial, March 13
Three cheers for the Star editorial “Time to clear the way.” It calls for the Ford Government to swiftly implement former Lieutenant Governor David Onley’s report that shows that 1.9 million Ontarians with disabilities still face far too many disability accessibility barriers. As the leading non-partisan disability coalition that’s campaigned for accessibility for almost a quarter century, we strongly support Onley’s findings and key recommendations.
We’ve asked Ford’s minister to accept Onley’s findings and to get to work swiftly on taking action. Ontarians with disabilities cannot afford more months of waiting.
As Onley said, Premier Ford needs to make accessibility for people with disabilities a major priority.
David Lepofsky, Toronto
The editor is right. This situation is “clearly unacceptable.” Thisis a violation of human rights under the Ontario Human Rights Code. The basic problem is lack of enforcement of the law. Everyone has the legal right to be treated equitably.
Onley is right as well. People with disabilities often feel they “don’t belong here.” School is a mini-society where inclusion develops attitudes of acceptance and belonging. It is not the curriculum that is the problem. It is the living of acceptance of all individuals within the school system and wider community. To achieve accessibility and full participation of everyone, an emphasis must be placed on compliance with and enforcement of the legally mandated human-rights requirements.
Janis Jaffe-White, Toronto
5. May 6, 2019 Email from the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario to Members of the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee
Please see the message below, sent from the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division. We ask that you kindly provide your response by Friday May 10th.
Dear Kindergarten-Grade 12 Education Standards Development Committee Members,
We are pleased to confirm that the Government has announced that it will be resuming the work of the committees that have been exploring the development of new accessibility standards in Health Care, Kindergarten – Grade 12 and Post-Secondary Education under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
We wish to confirm your continued interest to sit on this committee. In addition, per the requirements of the Act regarding committee composition, we will be reviewing members’ institutional affiliations or roles to determine if any have changed – for example, if any members have switched employers or organizational affiliations, or moved to new roles within the same organization.
It is important to note that since your last meeting, there have been some changes to the way the committees will move forward. Changes will include:
- The overall number of meeting days will be decreased;
- The time allocated for meetings will be decreased (e.g., 1-day versus 2-day meetings);
- Members are asked to participate in meetings via teleconference, where appropriate; and,
- Before scheduling travel and/or accessibility supports, Ministry pre-approval is required.
This new approach is consistent with the government’s efforts to increase efficiencies and is intended to help the committees reach their goal of submitting an initial recommendations report to the minister in a more effective and streamlined way.
Please reply to this email to confirm your continued interest in sitting on the Kindergarten-Grade 12 Education Standards Development Committee, as well as any relevant changes to your status.
All returning members will receive a formal invitation to re-engage from the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, the Honourable Raymond Cho.
We look forward to working with you once again soon.
The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division