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Status of the A.O.D.A.

Date: 
Thursday, October 1, 2009

By John Rae, 1st Vice President, AEBC

BACKGROUND

Is Ontario now on schedule for achieving fully accessible employment, goods, services, facilities and buildings in the public and private sectors by 2025 as the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act requires?

How much progress towards full accessibility has been made from June 2005 to the present?

To what extent has the AODA 2005 Impacted the Lives of Ontarians with Disabilities?

What plans does the Ontario Government have for enforcing the AODA?

These are the questions the AEBC considers most critical at this point in the Act's history.

WHO IS THE AEBC?

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC) is a national organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind and partially sighted.

Founded in 1992, the AEBC provides a vehicle for self expression by blind Canadians on important topics such as public awareness and public policy issues.

1. Lack of Real Government Commitment:

When Dr. Bountrogianni was consulting with the community, and developing the AODA legislation, it seemed that the Government of Ontario was giving real priority to improving the lives of persons with disabilities, by removing and preventing barriers which impede or prevent our full participation in the life of our Province.

More recently, and especially since the AODA was moved to the Ministry of Community and Social Services (MCSS), it seems that this level of leadership has been lost. This often occurs in the lives of persons with disabilities when a "champion" moves on to other work.

The Ontario Government must breathe new life into the AODA by demonstrating a renewed commitment to its success.

2. AODA Is Misplaced Under MCSS

The AODA is a rights-based and not a social service piece of legislation. Hence, its move to MCSS was inappropriate.

In addition, its placement in this huge Ministry makes it easy for the AODA to get lost.

The AODA should be relocated into a more rights-based Ministry where it would receive greater visibility and commitment.

3. Standards Development Process Not Guided By Human Rights Code Requirements

Increasingly, representatives from obligated sectors who participate in meetings regarding the development of accessible standards seem either unaware of, or unwilling to acknowledge, the content of the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Duty to Accommodate Guidelines, provisions which have been in place in Ontario for many, many years.

Some of the Draft Accessibility Standards have proposed sections that are in direct conflict with the code. The OHRC must be more involved in the Standards Development Committees, and must be given more resources to conduct educational programs to better inform Ontario of the existing provisions under the Code.

4. AODA Requirements Are Not New Requirements:

Many respondents are trying to convince us that the requirements in the AODA are somehow new. However, while the development of Standards Development Committees may be new, the coverage of Disability under the Human Rights Code, the Duty to Accommodate Guidelines, and the Primacy provision of the Code have been in effect for many years.

Therefore, the AODA is simply giving greater prominence to barrier removal and prevention requirements - work which should have been underway for many years.

The disabled community must not be held responsible for work that has not been undertaken to date.

5. Improve the process for obtaining public input on proposed accessibility standards

Even with greater representation from the disabled community, its representatives remain out-resourced. Some resources must be provided so that disabled community representatives can conduct their own research and call upon their own experts.

Some members from the disability community, including myself, decided not to apply to become part of the standards development process for a number of reasons. These included the location of meetings, lack of clarity of what assistance might be provided, and the lack of any stipend for individuals who are not employed. Why should we, the real experts on disability, be expected to provide free consulting services to government?

6. Ensure laws enacted in Ontario are screened for accessibility barriers

A "Disability Lens" must be put in place, and all laws, policies and programs must be assessed through such a lens, so that they will contribute positively to the realization of the provisions of the AODA.

7. Make provincial and municipal elections barrier-free for voters and candidates with disabilities

Despite the presence of the AODA, when the Select Committee on Elections conducted its work, it did investigate a number of issues regarding elections, including making it possible for electors who are blind to vote independently and in secret. However, while the Committee made recommendations on a number of topics, the Report was silent when it came to making any recommendation on this critical aspect of a citizen's role in a democracy. The AODA should have had much greater impact on this process.

8. Ensure Access to Information:

The Information and Communications Accessible Standard must ensure that access to information is provided. This must include mandating the use of the most current accessibility standards, and not a lesser level as obligated sectors are seeking.

Ontario could become a leader in this field, which would be good for business and persons with disabilities alike. It would be preferable to make needed upgrades once, and not piecemeal.

9. Retain the ODA 2001

While the AODA 2001 has understandably come under considerable and justifiable criticism for what it did not require, we believe it has forced municipalities to think about disability in ways they may never have previously done.

By forming local Advisory Committees, municipalities are at least consulting more with the disabled community. The AEBC believes that repeal of this Act would be premature at this time.

10. Benchmarks:

The disability community has repeatedly criticized setting the year 2025 as the time for achieving full accessibility. It is simply too far off!

Progress must be required on making Ontario more accessible so the Government can assess the effectiveness of this Act, and so the disabled community can measure progress.

11. Education vs. Enforcement:

The AEBC believes in both! The Ontario Government now needs to move on implementing the enforcement provisions of the AODA, and needs to provide the disabled community details for this critical aspect of the AODA's work.

12. Make minister's annual reports on AODA more meaningful and useful

The AODA requires the tabling of an annual report on the status of progress under the AODA. These reports provide an opportunity to showcase what progress is taking place. However, to date, these reports have been more of a government "public relations exercise" than a vehicle for providing any real analysis of what has occurred and where the process is going.

These reports could become more useful, by describing what progress is actually happening, as "success often begets more success." Thus, we must ask, are these reports so brief because there is really so little progress to report?

Conclusion

While the year 2025 is still far off, progress to date seems minimal and hard to measure.

The AEBC hopes your review and Report will help to breathe new life into the process of making Ontario truly accessible for all its citizens and residents. After all, persons who are currently not disabled are only an accident or illness away from joining this growing segment of our province's population, so the success of the AODA is in the interest of all Ontarians.