The stop-start nature of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), and what it means for Ontarians looking for an accessible province by 2025

Written by fellow accessibility advocate Dan Deering.

The AODA is faltering, it is now up to those that want to see a fully accessible and inclusive Ontario maintain pressure on the provincial institutions tasked with delivering it.”

The uncertainty around councils, committees and public resource priorities that Doug Ford’s election win brought has now extended to uncertainty around the progress of elements of the AODA. CBC reported, 13th November, that since the spring election five months ago, “the government hasn’t put several Standards Development Committees (SDCs) — special groups looking at how to get rid of accessibility barriers in the province — back to work”.1 These groups are tasked withdevelop[ing] proposed accessibility standards to be considered for adoption by regulation.” 2

The article continues, that “the three still paused — looking at health care, schools K – 12 and post-secondary institutions — are the most recent to begin their work.” The Minister for Seniors and Accessibility, Raymond Cho, who is responsible for overseeing the SDCs work, said he would give further comment on the groups that have been inactive since the election “upon further consideration.” 3 Words that were of little comfort to David Lepofsky, chair of the AODA Alliance, who said, “Our students with disabilities have been facing this uphill situation in schools for years. It’s long overdue time to fix it, so we can’t afford a delay.” 4

The AODA is a 2005 piece of Ontario legislation “mandating that organizations must follow standards to become more accessible to people with disabilities. All levels of government, private sectors, and non-profits must comply with this legislation.” The objective of the legislation is to have a fully accessible province by 2025. The AODA is far from perfect, it’s a progressive piece of legislation, but with flaws. For example, earlier this year, David Lepofsky, criticized enforcement of the AODA. Only “six monetary penalties” were handed out “despite thousands of known violations” of the AODA, a 2015 report cited. Mr. Lepofsky has called on “enforcement [to be] taken out of the government’s belly and assigned to an independent, arms-length public agency”. 5

At the end of September, 2018, ARCH, Disability Law Center released a stinging criticism of the third, and most recent, review process of the AODA. In ARCH’s submission to the Honourable Mr. David Onley, it criticized the short period of time in which consultations were convened, the “short time period given for those meetings…[resulted in] ARCH not [being] able to attend any of the Toronto in-person consultations.” The ARCH Review continues,

“ARCH has not had an opportunity to consult with our communities specifically regarding this review in any meaningful way. There has been lack of notice for public meetings, a failure to broadly consult and a short turnaround time for written submissions. Persons with disabilities are not being meaningfully included in this process – one that is central to the success and impact of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).”

ARCH is concerned that “this lack of outreach to those particularly affected by the AODA is especially problematic given that this is likely to be the very last Independent Review that can have a proactive and meaningful impact on whether Ontario will be fully accessible by the AODA target date of 2025.” The Review adds, “by the time a fourth Independent Review will take place, it will be too late to amend the current standards or introduce new standards necessary to ensure accessibility for persons with disabilities.” 6

ARCH’s concerns about the process of the AODA may be reflective of decades of distrust that the disability community in Ontario has towards the province’s and national government’s accessibility and inclusiveness agenda; it is, after all, symptomatic of many governments across the world to prioritize economic policy objectives ahead of social policy goals, and Canada is no different.

As frustrated as many Ontarians may be with the progress of the AODA, in a national context Ontario’s 2005 progressive piece of legislation was eight years ahead of Manitoba’s equivalent piece of legislation (2013), the second province to adopt such legislation. 7 Nova Scotia was the third province to pass accessibility legislation in 2017. 8

Elsewhere, in British Columbia, its government only held a reading in May, this year, of the British Columbia Accessibility Act, 2018. British Columbia, has a vision, however, outside any accessibility legislation, to create a fully accessible province by 2024 9; whether this vision is realistic in the absence of a legislative act remains to be seen.

The AODA and its objective to create an accessible and inclusive Ontario is already uncertain, seven years ahead of its 2025 goal deadline. Ontarians can ill-afford to be the victim of provincial government inaction, at the very time that it needs it the most, and particularly by an institution – i.e. provincial government – that should be unequivocal in its support and advocacy for the people that need the AODA. The AODA is faltering, it is now up to those that want to see a fully accessible and inclusive Ontario to maintain pressure on the provincial institutions tasked with delivering it.

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