Key Lessons from Ontario Experience
Oct 08, 2012
As part of Barrier-Free Manitoba's review of the MAAC's recommendations, we asked three leaders with very different vantage points to share their views on major lessons from the Ontario experience with accessibility-rights legislation so far.
* Jim Sanders, Chair, Ontario Accessibility Standards Advisory Council, the lead government appointed body that has provided ongoing advice to the Ontario minister responsible for the AODA since the passage of the act.
* David Lepofsky, Chair, ADOA Alliance, the individual who has championed disability rights for more than three decades, led the effort to secure the AODA and now actively advocates for its effective implementation.
* Charles Beer, Independent Reviewer, the Ontario government appointed consultant who conducted the comprehensive four-year review of the AODA in 2009.
The lessons they shared helped to shape Barrier-Free Manitoba's call for stonger measures in five areas. Following is the text from the letters they sent us in response to our invitation (originals of this correspondence are included in the full version of our response to the MAAC's recommendations).
This will acknowledge your September 14th letter on behalf of Barrier Free Manitoba inviting my comments as Chair of the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council of Ontario on the proposed plan to develop and implement a Province of Manitoba Accessibility Legislation. In particular, you asked for a comment on the importance of setting a date for implementation of such legislation.
Although, I closely followed the early days leading up to the AODA and the development of supporting standards, I only became directly involved as a result of my January, 2010 appointment as ASAC Chair. My comments therefore are based upon observations as the development and implementation of standards here in Ontario have progressed.
Intuitively, a specific "dead line" date serves the purpose of allowing for an ongoing evaluation of progress and determination of meeting the interim target set. Equally important is the establishment of specific bench marks. Such an overall time frame is critical to a timely completion. I strongly recommend a legislated date for the full implementation of the proposed accessibility law.
I was impressed with the proposed requirement that the Committee leading the development of the Standards and oversight of the implementation would be composed of a majority of persons with a disability.
It has been my observation as well of the importance of a strong and skilled level of a permanent and dedicated staff unit lead by a senior level bureaucrat.
We have already experienced the benefits of the AODA here in Ontario. The beneficiaries in fact are all Ontarians. I appreciate this opportunity to share these comments and look forward to updates from time to time.
Jim Sanders C.M.
Accessibility Standards Advisory Council
I am pleased to respond to Barrier-Free Manitoba’s recent letter inviting my comment, as Chair of the AODA Alliance, on key lessons that can be drawn from the development and implementation to date of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2005 (AODA).
We want to acknowledge the impressive progress made in Manitoba over the past few years toward the introduction of provincial accessibility-rights legislation. Having spearheaded the work to secure such legislation in Ontario, we are well aware of the extraordinary efforts required to get to where you are today. Given the inadequacies of current legal and regulatory mechanisms in various parts of Canada to effectively deal with the barriers facing people with disabilities, we are keenly aware of the compelling need for strong and effective, mandatory barrier removal and prevention new legislation in Manitoba.
We here focus on a few major themes presented in the AODA Alliance's comprehensive brief submitted to the 2009 independent review of the implementation of the AODA (The Charles Beer Independent Review). A full copy of our brief to the Beer Independent Review is available at: http://www.aodaalliance.org/docs/1209-Charles-Beer-Review-AODAA-Brief.doc.
While our brief focused on the early implementation of the AODA, the lessons learned here, and addressed in that brief, are fully relevant to the efforts in Manitoba to draft a new Disabilities Act. We encourage you to learn from what we have done well, and from what we now know we could have done better in Ontario.
Senior Government Leadership
There is the need for strong and sustained senior leadership from the provincial government to 'champion' the transformative changes required under accessibility-rights legislation.
This is not a question of just having the right person in charge. It is imperative that lead responsibility for all accessibility efforts across the Government is assigned to a single minister. We have learned from many years’ experience that unless a single person is in charge with lead responsibility for accessibility, with the authority and resources to make this happen, with a coordinated plan and with public accountability for his or her performance, progress will be unnecessarily slow, uncoordinated and faltering. We have this as a recurring problem in Ontario. The Charles Beer Independent Review recommended that a single minister have this mandate. We agree.
At a larger level, the legislation must set out clear requirements that the provincial government and all other organizations take active measures beyond specific compliance with accessibility standards to bring themselves into a state of full accessibility.
Openness in the Standard Setting Process
Openness in the standard development process is critical to public confidence in the implementation of the legislation. It is also essential to help inform and educate the public, including directly affected stakeholders on the important issues being dealt with. Finally, complete openness goes a long way to ensure that the process is not dominated or ostensibly run by the government of the day or of any one sector.
As far as is reasonably possible, requirements for openness and fair, flexible processes should be set out in the legislation. These requirements should be augmented through clear guidelines established in the terms of reference of committees relating to keeping and making public minutes of meetings and decisions and the public availability of research and discussion documents, as well as recommendations to the Government. Transparency should also extend to a responsibility for government to provide summaries of the public feedback it receives when finalizing and enacting accessibility standards.
Acknowledgement of Obligations under the Human Rights Code
The core aim of the AODA has been to provide for the timely and systemic implementation of accessibility requirements established in the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. This is the only principled and reasonable alternative to requiring that people with disabilities litigate about the many barriers they face one barrier at a time. We gather that the proposed legislation in Manitoba will have a similar intent.
We have found, however, that there is still far too little public understanding of the pre-existing duty under human rights legislation to prevent and remove barriers to accessibility faced by persons with disabilities. This has contributed to a mistaken belief by some that AODA accessibility standards create new cost burdens when, in fact, the obligations had already been long established but may not have been recognized.
Based on our experience, government has a huge role in promoting widespread public awareness not only of requirements under the legislation and the benefits of removing and preventing barriers faced by persons with disabilities but also of the pre-existing duty to provide accessibility under human rights legislation. The Charles Beer Independent Review of the AODA recognized a pressing need for more public education on accessibility requirements and benefits yet again in 2009.
Related to this, the AODA Alliance had recommended the AODA be revised to require that accessibility standards enacted under it should, at minimum, meet the accessibility requirements in the Ontario Human Rights Code. We have further recommended an extensive involvement by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in the standard development process.
Target Date for Full Accessibility
You specifically asked us to comment on the extent to which the AODA’s establishment of the 2025 end date by which to achieve full accessibility has been helpful in supporting progress under the legislation.
The concept of a target date for the AODA was introduced by the then Minister who led the legislative initiative, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, not, as many might surmise, by disability advocates or other stakeholder groups. There were initial concerns by some within the disability community that the 2025 target date was too long ahead. On the other hand, during public hearings on the AODA bill in 2005, which were televised across Ontario on the Legislature's cable channel, there was an impressive amount of support for this end date from a full range of sectors, including the private sector.
Based on our experience, the setting of a mandatory end date for full accessibility has proven to be absolutely central to the strength and effectiveness of the Ontario legislation. This target date has been indispensible in:
• Establishing a sense of urgency and priority for the goal of the legislation.
• Setting benchmarks that provide for the ongoing evaluation of progress and the identification of additional effort required.
• Holding government, other sectors, as well as ourselves, accountable for results.
In sum, the mandating of a definite end date in the legislation has significantly contributed to accomplishments under the AODA while helping stakeholders more ably identify and deal with the challenges of achieving full accessibility. It has been critical to our measuring of progress, and assessing what might need to be changed along the way to ensure that Ontario is on schedule for meeting this end date. Without this end date in the legislation, we would be at a tremendous disadvantage, and progress achieved to date on accessibility would have been hampered.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide comment on major lessons from the Ontario experience. We in Ontario look forward to learning from the Manitoba experience in the years ahead.
Congratulations on the progress to date, and keep up the tremendous and inspiring work.
David Lepofsky, CM, O. Ont.
Chair, AODA Alliance
Learn more at www.aodaalliance.org
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Thank you very much for your letter of September 17th regarding Manitoba’s development of new legislation for accessibility rights. I was very interested to learn about this initiative and the steps that Barrier-Free Manitoba has taken to ensure strong and effective legislation.
You have asked me to comment on Ontario’s experience with its pioneer legislation passed unanimously by its Legislature in 2005 entitled the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). As you note I carried out the first independent review of the AODA as required under the terms of the Legislation. It is from this vantage point that I offer the following comments regarding your specific questions together with some additional comments.
Let me deal initially with the three specific questions you addressed in your letter:
1. Target Date
As I went about the review, which encompassed close to nine months, it struck me that having a specific target date to achieve full accessibility was very important. I say this not because the province will necessarily have achieved full accessibility by 2025 but because it established a time line to work towards. That date helps to focus everyone’s attention whether it be the public sector, the broader public sector, the private sector or the not-for-profit sector. The existence of the timeline underlines the accountability of all those involved. And I say all this recognizing that by 2025 the province may not be entirely accessible but it will have to report clearly on what has been accomplished and on what remains to be done.
2. Senior Leadership
It also became very clear early on that to accomplish the kind of transformative change being undertaken would require strong leadership from the highest levels of the Ontario government as well as from all of the other key sectors in Ontario society. Certainly in 2004 and 2005 the government had taken a very strong and focused approach to identify the key issues, involve all stakeholders (including those with disabilities), and make sure there was greater public awareness about the whole issue of accessibility. It is my view that senior government officials, both political and bureaucratic, need to remain closely involved throughout the implementation of the various Standards. In this way you can build both stronger public awareness of the need for full accessibility and a willingness to make the necessary changes. I would also underline that this leadership is also required from all the main sectors of the province.
3. Local Government
Through the process of my review I came to see the critical importance of the province’s municipal accessibility councils. The existence of the Councils provided an opportunity for greater local government and citizen involvement. I found a number of examples of improved accessibility for recreation and transportation services through the work of many of the
Councils. A number of Councils were working hard on public infrastructure projects in their communities. Progress was by no means uniform but I felt over time the municipal involvement would be key for success. Different jurisdictions may wish to involve local government in different ways but I believe their role is essential if we are to move to full accessibility. I also discovered that other broad public sector bodies such as school boards, hospitals, colleges, and universities put in place strong informal structures to assist in implementing the AODA.
In this context I felt it important that the province take the lead in bringing together the municipal accessibility councils and the other informal structures to share plans and ideas regarding how they were each implementing the Act. The exchanging of best practices was in my mind vital. I also suggested that Chambers of Commerce liaise with municipal and other broader public sector bodies on the implementation of the accessibility standards as they were formalized. In a couple of jurisdictions I found that they were already starting to do this.
Ontario is, of course, still on its journey to full accessibility. My report tried to outline a number of challenges that lay ahead. I also suggested some changes to the process of standards development in the province. I am sure that as your province moves forward in developing its own legislation it will review closely the Ontario experience to see if that can help you to improve upon what we have begun. I also understand that each jurisdiction will go through its own learning process. We are all in fairly new terrain not just in Canada but throughout the world in ensuring greater accessibility.
Finally, I suggested at the end of my report that with Canada’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities the time had arrived to make accessibility a national priority. Both Manitoba and Ontario may soon have a joint interest in pursuing this issue with their federal and provincial colleagues. It would be wonderful to see all the provinces and territories and the federal government with strong accessibility legislation.
If there is any other way I can be of assistance please do not hesitate to let me know.
Report of the Independent Reviewer of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005