Accessibility Could Cost City

Accessibility News Note: So the excuses and delay tactics have started. Perhaps if they had started implementing years ago they could have lessened the impact instead of acting like this was a rabbit just recently pulled out of a hat by the Government. Earth to Councillors, the AODA has been coming for a long time! You cant pretend you didn't see this coming and that goes for all Municipalities in Ontario, you should have been busy yesterday!!

Posted By STEPHEN UHLER, STAFF WRITER

February 11 th, 2009

Meeting all of the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act could prove to be very costly to municipalities like the City of Pembroke.

Members of the planning and waterfront committee were outraged to learn during their meeting Tuesday they could be on the hook for $250,000 to $750,000 annually to provide information services which would be accessible to everyone regardless of their disability.

This could include the procurement of computer software that enables screen readers, speech-to-text conversion, preparing documents to be printed in Braille-ready format, website reconfigurations and interpretation services, plus all the staff training which would be required.

While no one disputed the need to provide people with special needs access to services, they did have a problem with spending a lot of money to ensure every possible contingency was covered.

Coun. Terry O'Neill, head of the planning committee, said he wanted to make it clear no one at the table has any objection to improving the quality of life for the city's citizens, nor dispute the need to do so.

However, being essentially ordered by the provincial government to spend large sums of money locally to cover all possibilities didn't make sense to him.

"There's no sanity here," he said. "We can't afford this."

Coun. Shirley White said if the province wants to push this policy forward, without the funding support, it should be providing the service itself, which municipalities can then access quickly to provide to those who request it.

"That is just common sense," she said, "but to have every municipality spend up to three quarters of a million dollars a year on the chance we'd get a requesf is ridiculous."

Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 2005, five standards are set out which are designed to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025. Each of them have specific deadlines of which municipalities have to comply. A customer service policy, the first one, has to be in place by Jan. 1, 2010.

The other standards are information and communications, built environment, employment and transportation.

Colleen Sauriol, manager of the city's planning and building departments, informed the committee Tuesday under the act, all municipalities will have to meet set information and communication standards by Dec. 31, 2011.

She said the proposed standard states municipalities and other organizations are required to provide information and communications upon request from a person with a disability, in a format which takes into account the person's disability and be appropriate for the type of communication which meets the standard's technical requirements.

"We would have to have this on everything the city is involved with," Ms. Sauriol said, and all documentation. This includes the website, software systems, the front counter, anywhere the public has access to municipal services.

"This would also have to be specifically designed to meet each person's unique needs," she said. The standard as presented states organizations will accept and provide communication through sign language, note taking and real-time captioning services and personal communication assistants when a person with a disability has requested accommodation.

"Further training will have to be provided all staff and volunteers," Ms. Sauriol said. What also has to be taken into account is the need to upgrade or replace computer equipment to ensure the city's systems are capable of handling this technology.

"This has to happen within six years of the standard coming into effect," she said.

According to a report commissioned by the province on the costing, it is estimated most small municipalities will see a one to three per cent increase in their operating budgets to accommodate these changes. For the city, that translates to an extra $250,000 to $750,000 annually.

The committee was united in criticizing this cost, although not the thinking behind it.

Deputy Mayor Les Scott agreed the city should do everything it can to assist people with special needs, but to do so in a fiscally responsible way. He feels the city cannot afford to make sure every potential avenue is covered and said if the province wants to mandate these services, then it should be the one to pay for it.

Coun. Gary Severin said the city needs to get the message out to the provincial government small municipalities can not afford to comply with all of these provisions solo.

"We can't anticipate each disability and accommodate all of them," he said. "We don't have the money."

Mayor Ed Jacyno said he feels the city has made great strides already to be accessible and is always working to improve things. However, to try and meet these new standards would end up clobbering the ratepayers at a time when they can least afford it.

"To spend this kind of money to accommodate two or three people who may request it isn't right," he said. "If we were to cater to everyone's disability across the province to this degree, Ontario would be bankrupt."

He said AMO is intending to bring up the concerns of its members about this legislation to the province in the hope of convincing it to back off a bit and he felt the city should pass a resolution backing the efforts as a sign of support

The committee agreed, and one will be drafted in time to be presented to council in the near future.

Article ID# 1429934

Reproduced from http://www.thedailyobserver.ca/ArticleDisplay.aspx?e=1429934

More all disability articles.