Ford Government Belatedly Makes Public Blistering Independent Review’s Final Report on Failed Government Implementation of Ontario’s Disabilities Act – Report Declares Disability Inaccessibility a ?Crisis? Needing Urgent Action, Will Premier Ford Take Action?

ACCESSIBILITY FOR ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT ALLIANCE

NEWS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 18, 2023 Toronto: After improperly keeping it secret for over six months, last Thursday, the Ford Government quietly made public the blistering Final Report of the Independent Review of Ontario’s Disabilities Act, which it hand-picked Mr. Rich Donovan to conduct. Ontario is getting very close to 2025, the mandatory deadline for the Ontario Government to lead this province to become accessible to Ontarians with disabilities. Yet the report found that Ontario is far behind schedule and has no effective action plan to lead this province to become accessible by 2025 or by any time in the future. Download the Report at https://www.ontario.ca/page/2023-legislative-review-accessibility-ontarians-disabilities-act-2005

The Ford Government received this report back on June 6, 2023. The Disabilities Act required the Government to make it public. Last Thursday, the Government issued no announcement that it made this report public. The NDP, and not the Government, told the AODA Alliance that the report had been released to the public.

In its most important recommendation, Donovan’s report declares that the many barriers that impede 2.9 million Ontarians with disabilities is a crisis, endangering the safety of this large vulnerable population. It recommends several urgent actions to immediately tackle this crisis which the AODA Alliance applauds, such as:

* Establishing a Crisis Committee chaired by the Premier and co-chaired by the Secretary of Cabinet, to oversee urgent crisis reforms.
* Directing all Ontario Government Deputy Ministers to identify disability barriers in their areas of responsibility and to design and implement action plans to remove these barriers, with their pay tied to their performance on this issue.
* Requiring the Ontario Government to implement an audited strategy to ensure that it only procures goods and services that are accessible to people with disabilities.
* Prioritizing the removal of the many barriers people with disabilities face in Ontario’s health care system and education system.
* Directing Ontario’s Auditor General to monitor and publicly report on provincial actions on tearing down disability barriers. * Strengthening the paltry enforcement of the Disabilities Act.

Rich Donovan’s Final Report calls on Premier Ford to immediately establish a Crisis Committee, chaired by Ford, to oversee urgent reforms over six months, said David Lepofsky, who chairs the non-partisan grass roots AODA Alliance that campaigns to tear down accessibility barriers. But instead of using the past six months to follow this wise recommendation, Premier Ford squandered those months by keeping Donovan’s report secret.

Donovan’s Final Report also included several recommendations that we disagree with and urge the Ford Government to reject, said Lepofsky. For example, the Report said Ontario should offload its legislative authority over regulating accessibility in the private sector to the Federal Government. Yet this would require an undesirable amendment to Canada’s Constitution that we’d oppose. It would unfairly force vulnerable Ontarians with disabilities to have to lobby federal MPs from coast to coast just to get new private sector reforms enacted. The Federal Government would likely not agree to take this on. Moreover, Donovan proposes that the Canada Revenue Agency should enforce accessibility in Ontario’s private sector, even though the overloaded CRA has no expertise in this area.

Below is a summary of Donovan’s recommendations we agree with, those we object to, and those added measures which Ontario needs but which the Report did not address.

Contact: AODA Alliance Chair David Lepofsky, aodafeedback@gmail.com

Twitter: @aodaalliance

For background, read:

* The March 1, 2023 Interim Report of the Rich Donovan 4th AODA Independent Review
* The January 31, 2019 Final Report of the David Onley 3rd AODA Independent Review
* The AODA Alliance’s May 31, 2023 brief to the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review on the recommendations for reform that he should make
* The AODA Alliance’s February 6, 2023 brief to the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review on the findings that he should make.
* The March 20, 2023 Toronto Star editorial echoing the March 1, 2023 Initial Report by the Rich Donovan AODA Independent Review

AODA Alliance’s Initial Response to the Final Report of the Rich Donovan Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act

Recommendations We Support

1. We strongly support the report’s most important finding, declaring the current state of accessibility to be a crisis. It requires a crisis response. We endorse this report’s most important recommendation:

Within 30 days of the tabling of this report, the province of Ontario must form a Crisis Committee chaired by the Premier and co-chaired by the Secretary of Cabinet. Within 30 days of the formation of the Crisis Committee, said committee must communicate its ability to take action on the crisis recommendations. All crisis recommendations are intended to be actioned within 180 days of the formation of the Crisis Committee. If any actions will take longer than 180 days, the Crisis Committee must provide publicly explicit reasons as to why this is the case within this 180-day window. All crisis recommendations are to be owned by the Crisis Committee until implementation, and accountability will rest with the Premier and Secretary of Cabinet.

2. We agree with three of the Report’s recommendations aimed at deputy ministers across the Ontario Government:

a) The Crisis Committee must issue a directive to all Deputy Ministers to identify barriers in customer (public) and employee experiences within their respective Ministry and its services. To identify such barriers, DMs must engage in material consultations with PWD, both as customers and employees.

b) that Deputy Ministers be required to sign accessibility plans and that their pay be cut by at least 5% if they do not meet the objectives on accessibility in their plans.

c) The Crisis Committee must issue a directive to all Deputy Ministers that they must publish the barriers identified during consultations, as well as a plan to remove these barriers. This plan will have a three-year timeframe, after which a new plan must be developed.

3. We agree with the Final Report’s recommendation that Ontario should mandate specific protocols for people with disabilities in the public and private sectors in an emergency. Our experience with the Ontario Government’s failed treatment of people with disabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic shows this to be more important than ever.

4. We endorse the report’s recommendation that Ontario should create an action plan for achieving accessibility and that the Secretary of Cabinet should be assigned with lead responsibility for this.

5. We strongly support the report’s recommendations requiring that the Ontario Government:

Issue a mandate that Supply Chain Ontario must only procure accessible products and services after January 1, 2025. Any exception must be approved by the Premier and published for public consumption.

We also support the report’s recommendations that a process be put in place to audit procurement to ensure that this requirement is obeyed. The AODA Alliance has pressed for this for 15 years. See the AODA Alliance website’s public money page.

6. We endorse the report’s recommendation that there is a pressing need for action on barriers facing people with disabilities in the health care system and the education system. The AODA Alliance has campaigned for accessibility standards in these areas since 2009. See the AODA Alliance website’s health care page and education page.

7. We agree with the report that a new provincial agency should be created, which is above the Legislature and which will have lead responsibility for AODA implementation and enforcement. We recommended something similar to the Federal Government when it was designing the Accessible Canada Act. A limited version of this was also recommended by the 1st AODA Independent Review conducted by Charles Beer.

We support this reform only if there will be no amendments to the AODA. We never want the Legislature to open up the AODA for any amendments. We also caution that the report risks piling too much responsibility on to this agency, creating unrealistic expectations.

8. We support the report’s recommendation that AODA enforcement should be assigned to an arms-length provincial agency and that this be properly funded. Earlier AODA Independent Reviews have made similar recommendations, as has the AODA Alliance. We emphasize that this should be done within the existing terms of the AODA. See the AODA Alliance website’s enforcement page.

9. We endorse the report’s recommendation that Ontario should create a package of support tools for small and medium enterprises. Contrary to the report, however, we do not believe that the province should provide those organizations with funding to obey the AODA. This is a cost of doing business that the taxpayer should not be expected to subsidize.

10. We agree with the report’s recommendation that a position should be established at the office of the Auditor General, an Assistant Auditor General, Commissioner of Accessibility, to report to the Legislature on the State of Accessibility in Ontario no less than annually. The report was uncertain whether the AODA requires further AODA Independent Reviews after 2025. In fact, the entire AODA remains in full force after 2025.

11. We endorse the report’s recommendation that disability should be formally recognized as a core platform of Environmental, Social, and Corporate Governance (ESG).

12. We see value in the report’s encouragement of leveraging digital technology as a short-term solution to exclusion of people with disabilities due to barriers in the built environment. However, the report incorrectly suggests, based on its survey, that people with disabilities face few, if any, digital barriers when compared to built environments. In fact, huge barriers to digital accessibility impede some people with disabilities, such as those with vision loss.

Recommendations with Which we Disagree in Whole or in Part

1. We strongly oppose the report’s proposal that Ontario should transfer to the Federal Government its legislative jurisdiction over the regulation of accessibility in private sector organizations. It would require a constitutional amendment, which is extremely unlikely to happen. We also doubt the Federal Government would accept this provincial responsibility.

This change would seriously hurt Ontarians with disabilities. It would make it even harder to win enactment of long-overdue much-needed effective accessibility standards for the private sector. We’d have to convince a majority of MPs from right across Canada, most of whom don’t come from Ontario. Moreover, the Federal Government has a very poor track record in implementing the Accessible Canada Act, passed in 2019.

The report’s proposal would harmfully splinter legislative authority. The same Ontario private organizations would have their accessibility regulated under the provincial Ontario Human Rights Code and some new federal legislative regime.

2. We disagree with the Final Report’s recommendation that the Canada Revenue Agency be assigned to enforce the AODA for private organizations in Ontario. The CRA has no expertise in disability accessibility. It is not accountable to Ontario voters for its actions enforcing Ontario legislation. We doubt the Federal Government would agree to the CRA taking on this work. It is overloaded collecting taxes.

3. We do not support the report’s unwieldy and impractical proposal that a group of at least 100 people with disabilities, who are separate from disability organizations, should be assembled to consult government on policy issues.

4. The report substantially overemphasizes a need for data collection. It fundamentally misses the mark when it concluded:

“The single greatest missed opportunity of the past 17 years of the AODA has been data collection.

Those recommendations would distract from and delay the reforms that Ontarians with disabilities need now. People with disabilities don’t need a massive provincial data collection to know what barriers we face in housing, transportation, education, health care, employment, information and communication and access to goods and services. We need action to fix this, not more research to study it.

5. We reject the report’s recommendations that the government impose accessibility surcharges on identified government services. This would unfairly create hostility or backlash against people with disabilities and their needs. It disregards the fact that organizations already have a decades-old legal duty to allocate funds to removing and preventing disability barriers. It is not some new unfunded legal mandate.

6. We resoundingly reject the report’s implicit questioning of the effectiveness of mandatory accessibility standards as if they had been treated as the sole tool for leading Ontario to become accessible to people with disabilities. The Report concedes that standards may be one viable tool to attain the goal of an accessible Ontario We have always recognized that accessibility standards must be deployed in combination with other strategies.

In this regard, we disagree with the Final Report as well as the Donovan Independent Review’s Interim Report that there has been an overreliance on accessibility standards. Instead, there has in fact been a serious failure to develop the full range of effective AODA accessibility standards that people with disabilities and obligated organizations need and a failure to effectively enforce those limited accessibility standards that have been enacted.

The Report relies on a harmful and inaccurate false dilemma. It stated that people with disabilities do not demand standards or definitions, they demand positive experiences similar to that of the rest of the population.

It is not a matter, as the Report would have it, of people with disabilities either wanting effective accessibility standards or wanting positive experiences similar to people without disabilities. They want and need both. The former is an indispensable means to achieve the latter.

The non-partisan grass roots organized disability movement spend an exhausting, grueling decade from 1994 to 2005, campaigning in community after community across Ontario to get the AODA passed. They did this so that we would be entitled to the enactment and enforcement of strong accessibility standards. It has similarly campaigned hard for the past 17 years to get that legislative commitment honoured.

In other contexts, the Report points to New Zealand for guidance. Yet earlier this year, the New Zealand disability community resoundingly rejected a proposed weak accessibility law, in large part because that bill did not include the twin requirements to create accessibility standards and effectively enforce them.

7. We disagree with the Report when it suggests that compliance with the AODA would only be mere checking of boxes. Compliance, done right, would ensure that disability barriers are removed and no new barriers are created. We regret that the Ontario Government’s failed approach to compliance has largely not achieved this.

8. We do not support the report’s emphasis on trying to solve the accessibility barriers that people with disabilities face by changing attitudes towards disability through yet more public education. Been there. Done that. Minister after minister has already announced public education campaigns, targeted at the public and at business leaders like those the report recommends. Decades of experience shows that this does not materially reduce the problem. The solution is to raise action, not merely raise awareness.

9. We disagree with the report’s denigrating advocacy organizations in this context and its urging government to engage high-quality outside message consultants to assist in messaging. Such a waste of public money would only enrich expensive consultants.

More generally, we disagree with the report’s unfounded and incorrect claim that disability advocacy organizations are divorced from and disregard the experiences of individuals with disabilities. Rich Donovan never raised this concern with the AODA Alliance or sought our feedback on it.

10. We agree with the report’s conclusion that a dedicated strategy is needed to address the barriers that people with disabilities face in the built environment. We however do not agree with most of the report’s recommendations on what that strategy should be or the reasons for the current problem. They rest on an inaccurate understanding of what the Accessible Canada Act requires and what that federal law’s impact will be on the Ontario economy. They implicitly fail to recognize the legal obligations that Ontario organizations have had in this area for the past four decades under the Ontario Human Rights Code and, where applicable, the Canadian Charter of Rights.

In this context, we support the report’s proposed goal of ensuring that public sector buildings become accessible by 2030. We agree with the Report’s proposal that public sector buildings should be audited for accessibility. Although the report did not address this, we would strenuously oppose the Government using the controversial and inadequate Rick Hansen Foundation’s private accessibility certification program for that purpose.

11. We agree that it would be great if the Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure could become a centre of excellence regarding built environment accessibility. However, that would require a massive re-engineering of that Ministry. Its long track record of failures cannot be offset in the short run by hiring a new team of specialists.

12. We disagree with some parts of the report’s assessment of why there has been poor enforcement of the AODA. The truth is that no Ontario Government has been prepared to take seriously the AODA’s effective enforcement.

13. We do not place any hope or emphasis on the report’s priority on trying to coordinate efforts by the federal, provincial and municipal levels of government. It is extremely unlikely that decision-makers from the three levels of government will ever get together with sufficient authority to commit to anything meaningful. Even if they did, there is a real and serious risk that their efforts will dilute efforts to the lowest common denominator. That would hurt people with disabilities.

Vital Recommendations Absent from the Rich Donovan Final Report

The following important measures, desperately needed to strengthen the AODA’s implementation, are not in Rich Donovan’s Final Report:

* Strengthening the inadequate existing AODA accessibility standards that address customer service, information and communication, transportation, and employment, and enacting new accessibility standards to comprehensively cover the built environment, including residential housing.
* Measures to effectively ensure that Ontario legislation and regulations do not create or permit the creation of disability accessibility barriers.
* A comprehensive strategy to substantially reduce the disproportionately high unemployment rate facing Ontarians with disabilities.
* Effective measures to ensure accessibility of elections for voters and candidates with disabilities.