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Strengthening the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005)

Date: 
Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A Brief Submitted to the Ministry of Community and Social Services

Submitted by:   Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians / L'Alliance pour l'Égalité des Personnes Aveugles du Canada (AEBC)

March 2011

INTRODUCTION

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is pleased to provide feedback on the Ontario Government's February 1, 2011 draft Integrated Accessibility Regulation, which is designed to remove old barriers and prevent the introduction of new ones facing people with disabilities in transportation, employment, and in information and communications. In preparing this submission, the AEBC is proud to have worked closely with the Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act Alliance (the AODA Alliance) and with Citizens With Disabilities Ontario (CWDO). We have also reviewed the submission from the Ontario Human Rights Commission (OHRC), and the AEBC endorses generally the submissions of these three organizations for amendments to the draft Regulation which we believe are needed to strengthen it. We will, therefore, focus our comments on a number of issues that are of particular importance to the blind and deaf-blind communities.

The Alliance for Equality of Blind Canadians (AEBC) is a national organization of rights holders who are blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted, who have come together to speak for ourselves. Our work focuses on improving public attitudes, and to influence the direction of legislation, programs, and public policy across Canada. The AEBC is active in Ontario. For background on the work and philosophy of the AEBC, please visit our improved website, www.blindcanadians.ca.

MAKING THE REGULATION MORE EFFECTIVE

In summary, there are some useful provisions in this regulation. However, it is too weak, its proposed time lines are far too long, and it desperately needs substantial amendment and strengthening, as it falls very far short of existing requirements under the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC), and where applicable, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as provisions contained in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities (CRPD), which we believe must also be considered in drafting this Regulation.

The AODA was enacted to ensure that Ontario becomes fully accessible by the year 2025. At the time it was enacted, many groups including the AEBC stated this timeline was far too long, and we hold to that belief.

The Act was expressly designed to take a very different approach, to bring together representatives from the disabled community, obligated sectors and governments to work collaboratively to achieve the Act's goals. This Act was, and still is, intended to result in proactive and wide-ranging systemic change, to alleviate the past and present need for the disabled community to approach organizations from the various obligated sectors one by one, or take complaints to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal one at a time. As presently written, we do not believe this Regulation will achieve the legislated goal of ensuring Ontario is fully accessible by 2025.

The AEBC also believes the principles of universal design must guide the development of all facets of this Regulation. This is particularly important in the areas of procurement of goods, equipment, and technology, and the setting of World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0 for websites. Based on the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code, the AEBC believes that all new equipment, including kiosks, must be usable by all, and that the Ontario government must set WCAG 2.0 Level AA as the standard, so that organizations will advance quicker towards accessibility of websites, and avoid needless OHRT complaints and training of their staff twice on different levels of accessibility.

What we continue to see, however, is push back from obligated sectors. Too often they contend the AODA imposes significant new requirements on them. But they are wrong!

What they seem to have forgotten, or are choosing to ignore altogether is that, while the AODA may spell out more specifics, the legal obligation to provide "equal treatment: in the provision of goods, services, employment and accommodations short of undue hardship” is contained in the Ontario Human Rights Code, which has covered persons with a wide range of disabilities since way back in the early 1980s. The AODA also expressly states that the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code prevail, as they must, since that statute includes primacy over all other statutes unless an exception is included. To give lengthy time lines to comply, in our view, takes away from existing OHRC requirements and thus contravenes the Code.

In short, if any of the obligated sectors have failed to respond to their requirements, it is not our fault, and it is time they stopped blaming us. It is time obligated sectors stopped making excuses, acknowledged their legal, moral, and business obligations, and got on with the job of making Ontario truly accessible. It is also time for the Ontario Government to step up its educational and information programs concerning the development and statutory requirements of the AODA. Achieving the elusive goal of full access is a move that would make this Province the envy of persons with disabilities worldwide, and will enable Ontario's private sector to create many new opportunities, both within Ontario and abroad.

BUSINESS BENEFITS OF ACCESSIBILITY

If ever any of the obligated sectors truly doubted the benefits of implementing true accessibility, the case was made yet again, this time by the Martin Prosperity Institute In June 2010, when it issued a report called, "Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario.” It outlined the enormous potential for economic growth if accessibility is addressed:

  1. An accessible Ontario attracts more tourism, more business and becomes a destination of choice for business, commerce, residents, and travelers;;
  2. Accessible businesses have an edge over their competition, claiming higher market shares; and
  3. Accessible workplaces mean more people will be able to work, return to work or continue working. This means fewer people will need to rely on public financial aid (such as the Ontario Disability Support Program) and will be able to pay a higher share of taxes as wage earners.

With the above clearly in mind, the AEBC fully supports the framework for strengthening this Standard in the AODA Alliance's brief:

  1. Strengthening the actions that organizations must take to become accessible;
  2. Shortening time lines;
  3. Reducing overbroad exemptions and exceptions from providing accessibility; and
  4. Ensuring that people with disabilities have a voice in proceedings taken to enforce this regulation.

NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES

Setting the threshold within the private sector at fifty (50) employees excludes a very large percentage of Ontario organizations. We therefore recommend that an additional level be set of twenty-five (25) employees; and when calculating the number of employees in an organization, it must include the number of full time employees in that organization as well as consultants and those working in related, jointly operated, or co-managed organizations.

EFFECTIVENESS OF ACCESSIBILITY PLANS

The Regulation must make it crystal clear that an organization that is required to develop an accessibility plan must not merely develop a plan, but must also take concrete steps to implement its content, review and update it on a regular basis, and to demonstrate the organization is making real progress towards achieving full accessibility.

We therefore recommend that: Section 4(1)(c) be amended to read: "Review and update the accessibility plan at least once every three years and thereafter to implement, maintain and document it as updated."

ACCESSIBLE WEBSITES AND WEB CONTENT

The AEBC believes that, in this technological age, it is critical for all Ontarians to be able to access information independently and in the timeliest manner. For computer users, this is most usually achieved via the internet. Therefore, the AEBC believes that obligated organizations must make their websites fully accessible and usable as soon as possible through WCAG 2.0 accessibility standards at Level AA.

14 (1.) Obligated organizations shall make their internet and intranet websites and web content conform to the World Wide Web Consortium Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) 2.0, at Level AA, and shall do so in accordance with the schedule set out in this Regulation.

Some of the timelines under Section 14 for making new and existing websites and their content accessible are much too long, given the fast-paced change of technology. For example, by the time organizations that have ten (10) years to implement WCAG 2.0 Level AA accessibility, the world of technology will be far different than it is in 2011, and this Regulation must provide for these future changes and advances in technology.

Lengthy timelines are also inconsistent with the provisions of the Ontario Human Rights Code, and with the November 2010 Federal Court decision in Jodhan vs. Canada, which called for website accessibility compliance for federal government departments "within 15 months.”

While organizations do refresh their websites at different times, the timeline should also apply within the same fifteen (15) month period to new websites or refresh of existing websites, as well as new content and software applications posted to websites. This will further the elimination of old barriers, and will help prevent the development of new ones.

The AEBC does not support any two-staged approach that would mandate Level A for a period of time, then moving to Level AA later on, as this would require organizations to conduct different kinds of training twice.

KIOSKS

We are currently seeing a proliferation of the range and number of devices that can be lumped under the terms "kiosks" or "point of sale" devices. They include machines in museums where information is provided to visitors, ticket outlets, and to expedite the check-in process at airport terminals, in addition to a growing number of other point-of-sale devices where patrons purchase a variety of products.

These devices often create new barriers, as they are too often operated by flat screen, touch pads that do not provide tactile access or voice output. Thus, a blind patron must often provide their PIN number to a staff member; and contracts with most financial institutions provide that the customer is fully responsible for any such charges that may appear on their statements.

The AEBC therefore recommends that:

  1. The definition of "kiosk" under section 6.5 must be expanded to clarify that it includes a broad range of devices such as point-of-sale technology;
  2. Section 5 require the Government of Ontario, the Legislative Assembly, and designated public sector organizations to incorporate accessibility criteria and features when procuring or acquiring goods, services, or facilities and that Section 6 sets out additional requirements for self-service kiosks; and
  3. All requirements under Sections 5 and 6 should apply to all classes of organizations including large and small private organizations, on a phased in schedule if necessary. Otherwise, weak or non-existent procurement requirements will only create new barriers or perpetuate existing ones.

EMPLOYMENT

Despite the OHRC's “Duty to Accommodate Policy,” issued many years ago, and reinforced numerous times in Canadian jurisprudence, the overall unemployment rate for persons with disabilities, including Canadians who are blind, deaf-blind, and partially sighted has improved only slightly over the past twenty years.

The world of work has changed dramatically over that time, and is likely to continue to change. The current prediction is that most workers will hold several jobs, or even pursue several careers during their working lifetime poses a new barrier on persons with any disability, as on average, it takes us longer to obtain employment in the first place.

About 20 years ago, technology was expected to become our great leveller, and while it has made it possible for persons with disabilities to pursue some jobs that were previously unattainable, attitudes, the built environment, and new barriers in technology  still prevent the vast majority of Ontarians with disabilities from achieving full-time, gainful employment.

Thus, it is imperative that this Regulation reinforce existing policies and law, and not denigrate in any way from what is currently required by the Ontario Human Rights Code.

PLAIN LANGUAGE VERSION OF THE REGULATION

It is critical that all Ontarians, whether community members or employed in an obligated sector, have a version of the Regulation that is clear and fully understandable. This is essential so there will be no misunderstanding of its requirements, and so community members will be clear on what recourse exists when, and if, an organization fails to take concrete steps to make its operations fully accessible.

CONCLUSION

The purpose of any Regulation is to support the statutory requirements contained in the Act under which it is issued. The Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act was designed to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, and if this Regulation is to significantly advance that goal, it must be strengthened and its requirements made clearer.

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