Long Overdue! Ford Government Belatedly Posts for Public Comment Draft Recommendations for Regulations to Tackle Disability Barriers in the Built Environment

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance Update United for a Barrier-Free Ontario for All People with Disabilities Website: https://www.aodaalliance.org
Email: aodafeedback@gmail.com
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July 8, 2024

SUMMARY

Better late than never! On June 5, 2024, the Ford Government posted for public comment a draft report of the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee. The Government had appointed that Standards Development Committee to make recommendations on what mandatory accessibility standards should be enacted under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act to remove and prevent the many accessibility barriers that people with disabilities face in the built environment in Ontario. In a June 5, 2024, email to the AODA Alliance, Assistant Deputy Minister of Accessibility Meenu Sikand wrote:

“The committee’s initial recommendations report addresses accessible built environment requirements found in both the Design of Public Spaces Standards and the Ontario Building Code.”

The public has until August 29, 2024, to send their feedback. The Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee is required to review that feedback and take it into account when finalizing its report for the Ford Government.

We encourage one and all to send the Government your feedback. You can find the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee’s draft report on the Government’s website or on the AODA Alliance’s website. If you want us to email it to you in MS Word format, send a request for it to aodafeedback@gmail.com

The AODA Alliance is working on a brief to submit to this Standards Development Committee. We welcome your ideas and thoughts. What is good in the draft report? What is missing? What needs to be improved? Let us know by August 15, 2024. Send your thoughts to us at aodafeedback@gmail.com

We here offer a closer look at the abysmally slow effort by every Government in power since the AODA was passed in 2005 to live up to the AODA’s requirement of making buildings in Ontario accessible to people with disabilities by 2025. Take a close look at our closer look!

We set out an excellent article about this in the influential Queen’s Park publication “The Trillium.” We also set out the key part of the Government’s June 5, 2024, announcement.

There are now only 177 days until 2025, the deadline which the AODA set for the Government to have led this province to become accessible to people with disabilities. Premier Ford where’s your long overdue plan of action?

MORE DETAILS

A Closer Look at the Ontario Government’s Lethargic Action on Making Ontario’s Built Environment Accessible to Ontarians with Disabilities

Many have asked us why Ontario is so far behind its mandatory goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, as the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act requires. Just looking at the snail’s pace of action on barriers in the built environment gives some real insight. Of course, disability barriers in the built environment are just one category of accessibility barrier. There are many others as well.

Well before the Ontario Legislature passed the AODA in May 2005, the Ontario Government had wisely announced that it would need to develop and enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard to address the many accessibility barriers in the built environment. Yet almost two decades later, no Built Environment Accessibility Standard has ever been enacted under the AODA to comprehensively remove and prevent disability barriers in Ontario’s built environment.

Commendably, the McGuinty Government appointed a Built Environment Standards Development Committee within the earliest years after the AODA was enacted. However, no government has ever implemented most of what that Standards Development Committee recommended under the AODA at least 15 years ago.

In the 2011 Ontario election, the Ontario Liberals under Dalton McGuinty promised to “promptly” enact a Built Environment Accessibility Standard. It never kept that election pledge. Some 12 years later, we’re still waiting.

The Ontario Liberals took very limited baby steps. In December of 2012, the Ontario Government under Premier McGuinty enacted the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard under the AODA. It covers a tiny fraction of the disability barriers in the built environment. It covers some barriers outside buildings. It covers only a couple of kinds of barriers inside buildings. Since then, the Government made some revisions to the accessibility provisions of the Ontario Building Code. However, these were grossly insufficient.

Taken together, a building can easily comply with the Ontario Building Code and the Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard and still be replete with disability barriers. See for example the widely viewed AODA Alliance video revealing serious disability barriers at Toronto’s Ryerson Student Learning Centre.

Under the AODA, the Ontario Government was legally required to appoint a new Standards Development Committee to review the 2012 Design of Public Spaces Accessibility Standard by December 2017. Yet the Ontario Government broke that law by failing to do so for some five years.

Making this worse, the Ford Government failed to hold a public competition for members of the public to apply to be appointed to the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee. There were excellent candidates who could have been considered but who never got a chance to apply.

As one example of someone who was excluded and who might have had something to offer, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky had told the Ford Government in advance that he wanted to apply for a position on that Standards Development Committee. Yet the Ford Government broke with well-established prior practice by failing to hold a competition for serving on that Committee.

It gets worse. The Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee submitted its draft report to the Ford Government in October 2023. By law, the Government was required to publicly post it for feedback upon receiving it. That is what Sections 10 and 11 of the AODA require. Yet the Ford Government disobeyed that legal requirement as well. It unjustifiably kept the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committees draft report secret for 8 months, publicly posting it only on June 5, 2024.

In 2021, AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky took the Ford Government to court for failing to obey that same legal requirement in the case of three earlier Standards Development Committees. By the time that case came to court, the Ford Government had belatedly scurried to publicly post Standards Development Committee reports as it had been obliged to do. Yet when no court proceeding was hanging over its head, the Ford Government went back to disregarding the AODA’s clear and strong terms.

All of this comes in the face of three successive government-appointed AODA Independent Reviews that strongly recommended much more action to address barriers in the built environment as a priority. That was recommended by the Mayo Moran Report in 2015, the David Onley Report in 2019, and the Rich Donovan Report in 2023.

Rich Donovan’s final Independent Review report, shared with the Ford Government on June 6, 2023, admonished the Government that Ontario was facing an accessibility crisis, requiring a crisis response. The Ford Government has not announced any crisis response, nor has it even acknowledged Ontario’s accessibility crisis. Instead, after receiving that stern warning, the Ford Government suppressed from the public the draft Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee report for 8 long months, contrary to the AODA.

In its six years in power, the Ford Government has neither enacted nor revised any accessibility standards under the AODA. It has sat on reports from six Standards Development Committees without enacting any of their recommendations, including the Transportation Standards Development Committee, the Employment Standards Development Committee, the Information and Communication Standards Development Committee, the Health Care Standards Development Committee, the K-12 Education Standards Development Committee, and the Post-Secondary Education Standards Development Committee.

To learn about the AODA Alliance’s efforts over the past 15 years to get Ontario to enact a strong, effective and comprehensive Built Environment Accessibility Standard, visit the AODA Alliance website’s built environment page.

We note that in the otherwise superb Trillium article that follows, there is one incorrect statement. The article states:

“Months later, the then-Liberal government announced new standards for the built environment things like stairs, doorways and basically everything man-made that you interact with while walking or rolling.”

No such standard was ever enacted. The cause for celebration was the fact that the McGuinty Government said it would develop a Built Environment Accessibility Standard.

The Trillium July 7, 2024

Originally posted at: www.thetrillium.ca

Six months from accessibility deadline, Ontario has spent decades ‘ignoring’ the issue, advocates say

Province launches survey on built environment standards while ‘fundamentally violating the AODA’: lawyer

As the government embarks on another survey about a set of recommendations from a task force, some advocates say they would prefer it do something.

Ontario recently launched a consultation on 127 proposals from the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee things like more funding for building retrofits, more accessible washrooms and relief areas for service animals.

The proposals are largely good, even boundary-pushing, said Brad Evoy, the executive director of the Disability Justice Network of Ontario. But there hasn’t been much in the way of enforcement for organizations (and the province itself) lagging behind on accessibility as a legal deadline “is hurtling towards us.”

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), passed in 2005, mandated standards for a fully accessible Ontario including goods, services, accommodation, employment and buildings in the public and private sectors by Jan. 1, 2025.

Some disability advocates thought that was too long, according to David Lepofsky, the chair of the AODA Alliance.

“There was some blowback. ‘Why 20 years? It’s gonna be a long time, people may be dead by then,'” he said, adding that he ultimately accepted the timeline because he accepted the government’s explanation that old buildings would take time to renovate.

Months later, the then-Liberal government announced new standards for the built environment things like stairs, doorways and basically everything man-made that you interact with while walking or rolling.

There was much rejoicing. But it was not to last, Lepofsky said.

“To this day, we do not have a comprehensive built environment accessibility standard,” he said.

“We’ve got buildings being built to a building code that is woefully out of date. We’ve got no accessibility standards to deal with 99.5 or more per cent of the barriers in the built environment. We are less than half a year from the deadline where they’re all to be accessible, and we have no government plan,” he said.

Even if the government accepts these new recommendations, which all have to do with the built environment, it’ll take years to get them implemented, Evoy said. And that’s if they’re not simply ignored.

“Fundamentally, so much of the AODA relies on … an understanding that private corporations and private citizens will take on the cost and take on the implementation of a lot of portions of the AODA. And I don’t think that’s been successful,” he said.

“It’s frustrating beyond all belief,” said Anthony Frisina, a wheelchair user, speaker and accessibility consultant in Hamilton, noting that more than a quarter of Canadians identify as having a disability.

The lack of action “is pretty much stating, without stating, that people with disabilities are a burden,” he said.

Successive governments wear the lack of progress but the Ford government has spent years “fundamentally, inexcusably violating the AODA,” said Lepofsky, who is also a lawyer.

“So we’re way behind in the built environment, and the response of two successive governments is to ignore an explicit legal obligation,” he said.

Lepofsky questioned why accessibility rarely comes up in the Ford government’s push for more housing.

“Where is their strategy to tear down the the red tape barriers that impede homeowners from making their own homes accessible if they want to do it on their own dime?” he said.

A homeowner who wants to put in a ramp may have to get approval from a committee of adjustments or their condo board, or survey their neighbours, he said.

“Now, if you’re an employee and you want a disability accommodation in the workplace, the employer doesn’t have to take a referendum of your coworkers on whether they should,” he said.

Lepofsky will have been in this fight for 30 years come November, which, despite his strong words, provides him with an almost zen outlook. He’s seen governments and ministers that are more receptive and less receptive and, although he said this is the only premier in two decades to refuse to meet with him, he takes a “this too shall pass” approach to advocacy.

“We just have to keep bringing our message to the public,” he said.

“Nobody’s permanent. And if Doug Ford is not the next premier, there will be another premier. If he is the next premier, he will eventually step down. His party will have a new leader.”

Ontario’s survey closes on Aug. 29, just over four months from the AODA’s deadline.

Ontario Government Website Announcement of Public Consultation on Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee Draft Report

Originally posted at https://www.ontario.ca/page/design-public-spaces-standards-development-committee Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee
Learn about the group that makes recommendations on how to improve existing design of public spaces accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Share your feedback
Share your feedback to help make the design of public spaces more accessible for people with disabilities.

Deadline: August 29, 2024.

Background
In December 2021, the Minister for Seniors and Accessibility established the Design of Public Spaces Standards Development Committee to undertake an evidence-based and focused review of the province’s accessible built environment standards in regulation under both the AODA and the 2015 barrier-free accessibility requirements in the Ontario Building Code.

Recommendations
The committee put forward initial recommendations and asked for public feedback to help them draft their final recommendations to the Minister Responsible for Accessibility.