The Ontarians With Disabilities Act Committee's Presentation
to the Minister of Citizenship, Isabel Bassett,
on Tuesday, August 4, 1998 from 10 To 11:30 am during the Minister's
Closed, Invitation-Only, Toronto, Stakeholder's Meetings
posted February 29, 2000 at 6:03 PM
On Tuesday, August 4, 1998, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., Ontario Citizenship Minister Isabel Bassett heard a presentation from representatives of the ODA Committee at her Minister's office in Toronto. Although the ODA Committee was critical of the closed, invitation-only format of those consultations, it nevertheless
did what it could to give its input to the Government and to encourage as many others as possible to do the same.
Here is the text of the presentation which was made to the Minister on that morning. As part of its commitment to a more open process, the ODA Committee immediately released this text to the public.
We thank you for this opportunity to provide you with input on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, before you start drafting it. To make the best possible use of the ninety minutes allocated to the ODA Committee during your Toronto stakeholder meetings, we will first explain who we are. Then we will give specific comments on the Government's ODA Discussion Paper. We will talk about the principles and parameters in that Paper, and then answer questions you have asked. Then we will give a general conclusion on where we go from here.
Who are we:
The ODA Committee is a broad-based, voluntary non-partisan province-wide coalition of individuals and community organizations concerned with the rights of persons with disabilities. We came together in 1994 to advocate for the passage of a strong and effective new law that would lead to the achievement a barrier-free Ontario by the year 2000.
The ODA Committee's membership reflects a broad range of experience with many different disabilities. Its members come from right across Ontario. We not only include individuals from all walks of life, but as well, 85 disability organizations in Ontario. We reflect the expertise of all of our members with the barriers persons with disabilities face, and the measures that we to identify and remove them, while preventing new ones from being created.
In the three-and-a-half years since we formed, we have brought our important message to the Ontario Government, the Opposition parties, the public and the media. The Committee has continued to seek new members, and to learn from all our members, from the disability community and the broader public through active work in the community right across this province. For example, in 1996 alone, the ODA Committee held highly successful public forums on the Ontarians with Disabilities Act in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, Thunder Bay, London and Windsor.
Public events were held in all of these communities again in 1997, with additional events also occurring in Parry Sound, Kingston, and Peel Region. In 1998 we began with a highly successful public forum on the ODA
held in York Region. We have local activities occurring on a regular basis in many communities from across the province. We have continuously gathered extensive input from our members and the broader disability community through a variety of means. We do all of this with the efforts of volunteers and voluntary community organizations. In the spring of 1998 we presented a thorough Brief to members of the Legislature reflecting the input from our members around the Province about barriers they face. We are also non-partisan. We are prepared to share our ideas and advice with all parties, and have sought to secure support from all parties.
We emphasize at the outset that you are not to think we view our ninety minutes with you as the sole or major opportunity needed for our membership to have their voices heard. The issues you raised in the Discussion Paper are complex and may impact people with disabilities differently depending on the nature of their
disability, where they live, their circumstances and their cultural backgrounds. Our presentation today is based on the fundamental basis that the ODA must be very inclusive and must respond to the needs of people with all types of disabilities, from all ethno-racial or aboriginal backgrounds, in all socio-economic circumstances and living everywhere in the province.
Given the very short two-and-a-half weeks we have had to prepare this presentation since we received your invitation, the limited time for this meeting itself, and the 12 questions that your Discussion Paper poses, we can only focus today on general principles concerning the content of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act as it would apply across the board, to a diversity of activities where we seek to participate, to all kinds of organizations and on behalf of the wide spectrum of disabilities.
Our role is to provide you with the overall principles that our membership have agreed to and recommend overall structures and ways in which these principles can be incorporated into this legislation. It is equally important that you hear personally from people with disabilities, their friends and families across
the province, and from the diversity of community organizations concerned with their needs and rights, about the specific issues and barriers that they face. It is for that very reason that we have urged the government to design a public consultation, which is open, accessible, participatory and unconstrained by preconditions, so that you can hear directly from and learn from each segment of Ontario's disability population, amounting to
some 1.5 to 1.7 million persons.
Just a word on the ODA Committee's delegation here today. Other than our legal counsel, they are all consumers who are here in their personal capacities, on behalf of the ODA Committee as a whole. They are not here today representing any individual community organization or specific type of disability. They support the principles put forward by the ODA Committee as a whole. They haved devoted incredible energy to this effort. They are here to remind you that they are but a few of the many, many people that would like an opportunity to speak to you and your Parliamentary Assistant directly and in person.
While we believe that everyone should have an opportunity to participate in person, given the short time available and the size of the room for this meeting, we decided that we need to focus on substantive issues relating to the content of the ODA. The ODA Committee's 90 minutes with you this morning was not the
time or place to squeeze in all who want to speak to you, and who have been given no other chance during the Government's stake- holder meetings. However, we want to make sure that throughout our presentation you remember that this is about real people who need a real voice in the process that only you can give them by holding a truly open and accessible consultation process. It is not too late to do so and we hope that you will accept our offer to work with you to make that happen.
As a good start, we hope that you and your Parliamentary Assistant Derwyn Shae will attend our open forum on the ODA this afternoon at Queen's Park, from 4:30 to 7:00 p.m. Please come and hear what people have to say. It is not a substitute for the kind of open consultation that the Government should conduct, but
it provides a good start, and a good example on how an open consultation with the people can be undertaken.
The ODA Committee Response to the Discussion Paper
This presentation was prepared in the brief time since the Government's Discussion Paper was released on July 13, 1998, and is intended to provide you with a general response to major items addressed in that paper. It is intended to summarize and supplement the previous written submissions that we have provided
to the Government in the past. It is not intended in any way to replace them. We strongly encourage you to carefully review our previous submissions to the Government as well as this presentation.
Our presentation incorporates integrated responses the three main questions you raised in the Discussion Paper, as well as some of the other questions found later in your paper. Our answers
overlap because the questions necessarily do. We will do our best to respond to the important issues raised. We will also comment on the principles and parameters that the paper says are intended to guide and restrict responses. Those principles and parameters are set forth in the Discussion Paper as nonnegotiable
decisions. However the ODA Committee strongly believes that an ODA that is based on all the principles and parameters set out in the Discussion Paper cannot meet the goal of a barrier-free society. It could not result in a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act called for by this Coalition.
In 1995 the ODA Committee adopted a series of general principles as the basis for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. These principles still guide us today. They were given to the Ontario
Government as far back as 1995. These are the principles against which we must measure any legislation introduced by the Government.
Your July 1998 Discussion Paper is the first real substantive Government response to them. It is a positive sign that some of our principles are incorporated into the Government's Discussion paper. We do not intend to spend a great deal of time in this presentation discussing those areas in which the Government
agrees with our principles, except to acknowledge where it occurs. For example, we will not spend valuable time here today describing the wide range of barriers that face people with disabilities. Your Discussion Paper clearly says that they do exist. We encourage you to review our 1998 Blueprint document
that includes a detailed summary of barriers identified by our members throughout the province as an Appendix.
Our main focus today will be on two areas. The restrictions that the Discussion Paper places on the consultation and those areas in which your paper either contradicts our principles or where
they are ignored.We hope that one outcome of the consultation process will be an endorsement of all our general principles by your government. This would make the ongoing process of drafting and consulting on
the legislation itself much clearer. It would allow energy in the next stage of the process to be focused on those areas where further is needed.
The ODA Committee's core principles are:
- The purpose of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should be to effectively ensure to persons with disabilities in Ontario the equal opportunity to fully and meaningfully participate in all aspects of life in Ontario based on their individual merit, by removing existing barriers confronting them and by preventing the creation of new barriers. It should seek to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for persons with disabilities by the year 2000;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act's requirements should supersede all other legislation, regulations or policies which either conflict with it, or which provide lesser protections and entitlements to persons with disabilities;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require companies, organizations, government entities and public premises to be made fully physically accessible to all persons with disabilities through the removal of existing physical barriers and the prevention of the creation of new barriers, within strict time frames to be prescribed in the legislation or regulations;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the providers of goods, services and facilities to the public to
ensure that their goods, services and facilities are fully usable by persons with disabilities, and that they are designed to reasonably accommodate the needs of persons with disabilities. Included among services, goods and facilities, among other things, are all aspects of education including primary, secondary and post-secondary education, as well as providers of transportation and communication facilities (to the extent that Ontario can regulate these) and public sector providers of information to the public, for example, governments. Providers
of these goods, services and facilities should be required to devise and implement detailed plans to remove existing barriers within legislated timetables;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require public and private sector employers to take proactive steps to achieve barrier-free workplaces within prescribed time limits. Among other things, employers should be required to identify existing barriers which impede persons with disabilities, and then to devise and implement plans for the removal of these barriers, and for the prevention of new barriers in the workplace;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a prompt and effective process for enforcement. It should not simply incorporate the existing procedures for filing discrimination complaints with the Ontario Human Rights
Commission, as these are too slow and cumbersome, and yield inadequate remedies.
- As part of its enforcement process, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act should provide for a process of regulation-
making to define with clarity the steps required for compliance with the Ontarians with Disabilities Act. It should be open for such regulations to be made on an industry-by-industry basis, or sector-by-sector basis. This should include a requirement that input be obtained from affected groups such as persons with disabilities before such regulations are enacted. It should also provide persons with disabilities with the opportunity to apply to have regulations made in specific sectors of the economy.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also mandate the Government of Ontario to provide education and other information resources to companies, individuals and groups who seek to comply with the requirements of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should also require the Government of Ontario to take affirmative steps to promote the development and distribution in Ontario of new adaptive technologies and services for persons with disabilities;
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act should require the provincial and municipal governments to make it a strict
condition of funding any program, or of purchasing any services, goods or facilities, that they be designed to be fully accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities. Any grant or contract that does not so provide is void and unenforceable by the grant-recipient or contractor with the government in question.
- The Ontarians with Disabilities Act must be more than mere window-dressing. It should contribute meaningfully to the improvement of the position of persons with disabilities in Ontario. It must have real force and effect.
THE GOVERNMENT'S Discussion Paper
We are pleased that the government has accepted as an underlying
starting-point for the Ontarians with Disabilities Act that
people with disabilities face barriers that prevent them from
fully participating in society, that this is harmful not only to
people with disabilities but to society as a whole who lose the
benefit of our participation, and that these barriers must be
removed. Both Opposition parties have also echoed this view.
This means that we are all starting with some important common
In terms of those principles and parameters set out in the
Discussion Paper there are several where clearly we are in
agreement since they reflect positions that the ODA Committee has
taken from the beginning. It is no surprise that we share the
Government's position, expressed in the Discussion Paper, that
the province benefits when Ontarians with disabilities can
participate. It is implicit in all of our work. We are pleased
that the government thereby implicitly recognizes that the
Ontarians with Disabilities Act is in the interests of the
Province as a whole.
Similarly, your Discussion Paper recognizes that everyone has a
role in preventing and removing barriers. This principle is
similar to the ODA Committee principles that we reviewed earlier.
However, it must follow that if this principle is adopted then a
strong and effective ODA must cover all sectors of society. No
one who has barriers, or who might create them in the future,
should be given a special exemption from the Act's requirements
of removing and preventing barriers.
The Discussion Paper includes a statement that the Human Rights
Code provides Ontarians with disabilities the right to equal
treatment. We agree that the Human Rights Code does provide some
protection for people with disabilities. However, based on 16
years of experience with that law, and even longer experience
with its federal counterpart, we know very well that the Human
Rights Code is certainly not enough to achieve the barrier-free
society that is the goal of the ODA. It is a starting point on
which we must significantly improve, not the end point which
should be the centerpiece of any new approach. Human Rights
Codes do not provide for any real remedy until after the barrier
has been created and has inflicted harm on someone through
discrimination. It requires individual complaints. It can take
many years and resources to resolve each of the complaints. The
result may be a change for the individual or one workplace, but
it does not often result in systemic change. We need an ODA to
complement the Human Rights Codes that will effectively remove
barriers systemically and prevent new ones from being created.
We will discuss the Human Rights Code and Commission later.
Finally, we agree that barrier removal must be phased in over a
period of time. We also share your Discussion Paper's
recognition that time frames for implementing approaches should
be realistic. This has always been the view of our membership
and the broader disability community. It is reflected in our
previous submissions to Government. We are realistic. We are
pleased, however, that the government does recognize that the
establishment of specific time frames are a necessary part of the
Government's role in achieving barrier removal and prevention.
We will discuss later how we think these time frames should be
There are several parameters in the Discussion Paper that we
believe need clarification or with which we disagree. We will
briefly focus on those at this point. In some cases we will
discuss the issues in more detail later in this presentation.
One of our concerns is with the Discussion Paper's insistence
that priorities should be established for preventing and removing
barriers. We do not believe that the ODA can or should do this
in legislation. Since this is also the subject of your first
question we will deal with it later in our presentation.
The Discussion paper also says that the approaches recommended
during this consultation should support the government's goals.
We were surprised and concerned that in the list of the
Government's goals that follows this statement, barrier removal
and prevention was not one of them. We hope and trust that the
Government realizes that creating legislation that will
effectively remove existing barriers and prevent new ones will be
consistent with the goals listed in this Discussion Paper. This
would seem to be consistent with the first principle you set out
in this Discussion Paper, namely that society benefits from
barrier-free participation of persons with disabilities in
A barrier-free Ontario would, for example, reduce social-
assistance dependency by persons with disabilities. It would
stimulate employment and job creation. These are stated to be
goals of the Government. Failing to provide for a strong and
effective ODA would, in our view, undermine the goals of the
Government, by allowing more barriers to be created, and leaving
future generations with the burden of having to fix the damage
that could have been so readily prevented. We agree that the
goal of achieving a barrier-free Ontario may require some
restructuring, including a restructuring of some of the ways that
Government conducts itself. However, The Government has
elsewhere demonstrated a willingness to mandatorily require far
more substantial restructuring than the ODA would involve, such
as the dramatic restructuring of health care, education and local
government organization. Moreover, one important role of the ODA
would be to cut through red tape that operates as a barrier
impeding people with disabilities. For example, a requirement to
remove transportation barriers province-wide would eliminate the
barriers that now exist because of local government rules that
may prevent a person getting a two-way ride across local
jurisdictional lines in the same accessible taxi.
Beyond all of this, the achievement of a barrier-free society can
and must be listed among the Government's goals, because of the
Government's obligations under Canada's Constitution. That is
the supreme law that prevails over all other laws and goals. The
Supreme Court has recognized the constitutional significance of
achieving a barrier-free society, and the Government's positive
obligation to achieve this, in its landmark Eldridge decision
last year, which interpreted the Charter's guarantee of equality
to persons with disabilities.
Our great concerns with this section of the Discussion Paper are
the restrictions placed on the legislation before the
consultation even begins. While the discussion paper
acknowledges, in a general way, that legislation or regulation
may be needed, we are told that we already know what the
legislation will not contain in the two key areas of employment
and enforcement. It is unfortunate that the government has taken
positions in these very important areas before hearing from
people with disabilities. Despite the restrictions placed in the
Discussion Paper, we intend to respond to the paper as though
government is approaching this consultation with the open mind
that a consultative process requires. We hope that when you hear
our submission as well as the responses from others who may
choose to deal with these issues, you will understand why the
choices that your government has made are inconsistent with a
strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. We hope
and trust that this will then lead you to reconsider your current
In the area of enforcement the Discussion Paper says that
"Approaches should use existing legislation and enforcement
mechanisms." It is difficult to understand exactly what is meant
by this. After all, it is included in a Discussion Paper whose
very purpose is to seek new ideas for what should be included in
a new law.
We are worried that this may imply that the Government does not
believe that new legislation is in fact needed. We are not
asking for the Government to repeal existing laws that protect
our rights. However, we do not agree with the suggestion that
those existing laws are able to fully and completely meet are
needs. They have not. We have had lots of time to watch them in
action. People with disabilities need and deserve better.
We are particularly troubled by the Discussion Paper's statement
that no new enforcement agency will be created. The Discussion
Paper seems to suggest that even where existing enforcement
mechanisms are proven to be inadequate there will be no new
agency created to enforce the ODA. We have been clear from the
beginning that to truly remove and prevent barriers an ODA must
have a clear, strong enforcement mechanism. We do not believe
that as it now exists the Ontario Human Rights Commission is the
right choice for the job.
We want to explain our thinking on this. We also should let you
know that in the short period since the release of your
Discussion Paper, all of the feedback we have had from around the
province strongly supports the position on this issue that we
have expressed in our correspondence to you.
The decision about what type of enforcement should be used must
be based on fundamental principles that are consistent with the
proposed ODA. We propose the following requirements to guide you
in deciding what type of enforcement agency should be used to
enforce the ODA.
First, there must be a single agency charged with the
responsibility for enforcing this new and important legislation.
Central co-ordination by an agency is necessary for effective
enforcement. The agency would have the role of both legal
enforcer and public watchdog.
Second, the enforcement agency must have expertise in the area of
barrier removal and prevention as it relates to people with
Third, it must be accountable to people with disabilities and the
public, so that it has credibility.
Fourth, it must be impartial and not part of any other agency or
organization required to comply with the ODA.
Fifth, it must have adequate resources to do this important new
Sixth, it must have authority under the legislation to
effectively enforce the ODA
Seventh, it must have the confidence of the public that it can
fairly and efficiently carry out its responsibilities.
At this time the Ontario Human Rights Commission does not meet
most of these basic requirements. It does have the required
independence, but it does not have the resources, expertise in
barrier removal and prevention nor the procedures or mandate to
be an effective enforcement agency.
We do not want in any way to suggest that we are critical of
either the Chief Commissioner, the other Commissioners or the
staff of the Commission. They are trying to do a very difficult
job under increasingly tough circumstances. The Commission does
not have enough resources to do its present job, and never got
the new resources that were promised to it during the last
election. In terms of expertise, most of the Commission's actual
work involves non-disability matters. Its individual complaint
format, helpful to an extent and must remain available. However
it is not the main way that enforcement should take place under
legislation designed to achieve systemic barrier identification,
removal and prevention.
It should come as no surprise to you that we disagree with the
Discussion Paper's serious restriction that only voluntary
measures will be considered in dealing with barriers in
employment. We want to be clear on what we mean mandatory
measures as opposed to voluntary strategies. The mandatory
measures that we think need to be considered include such things
-a requirement that employers identify barriers in the workplace
whether or not there is a complaint by an individual employee
-a requirement that employers develop barrier removal and
implementation plans. These plans should comply with the ODA and
any regulations passed under the ODA regarding the plan's
contents and the time lines for the plan's and implementation.
-a requirement that employers prevent new barriers
We have several concerns regarding your position on tackling
workplace barriers. First, people with disabilities have lived
with voluntary employment schemes for many years. We still face
unacceptably high levels of unemployment. Workplaces are still
full of old, pre-existing barriers that prevent participation in
the workplace. In addition, new barriers are being created in
both public and private workplaces. Discrimination in employment
remain the single biggest basis for complaints filed with the
Human Rights Commission by people with disabilities. This just
proves how pervasive the problem is in a world already governed
Voluntary measures say to employers just do what you want to do.
#(is this too blunt?) Do nothing if you want. Do nothing even if
you know about a barrier. Do nothing even if it costs nothing to
remove it right now. Left to this, anyone aware of the barriers
faced by people with disabilities in the workplace, will agree
that nothing substantial will change without something more than
voluntary measures. This is no different than in many of the
areas in which your government has made fundamental shifts in
programs on the basis that the fact that the problem exists shows
that old methods don't work. (# unclear sentence; maybe give an
We also just don't see how voluntary measures can be legislated.
The purpose of legislation is to create enforceable obligations.
What will the law say to employers: "REmove barriers, if you
Members of the ODA Committee have been involved in trying to make
voluntary measures work for a number of years. Taking into
account our individual and organizational members it is unlikely
that anyone in Ontario has done more to try to educate and
persuade employers to voluntarily remove barriers and prevent new
ones. Trust us when we say that it is not enough. People with
disabilities need more. People with disabilities deserve more.
Yes, we agree that there are some employers who have moved
forward voluntarily. Of course, this does not prove that
voluntary measures are going to be a meaningful solution. If
voluntary measures worked, it would not be considered unusual and
therefore worthy of awards when employers remove and prevent
We want to emphasize that we do not see employers as malicious or
motivated by bad intent. We would agree that many if not most of
the barriers we face in the workplace, as elsewhere, were created
as a result of ignorance. Despite this, we have seen no concerted
effort to become educated or change practices on a wide-scale
basis. For every pilot project and best-practices example in an
industry, we can show you many in the same industry who have done
little or nothing. Employers will change if the law requires
them to change, and if they are given help in changing.
Moreover, the ODA should not deal with barriers in the workplace
differently or with any less effectiveness than barriers in any
other setting. What is the justification for making barrier-
prevention in the workplace be voluntary if it is going to be
mandatory in a hospital or school? It cannot be suggested that
people with disabilities face far fewer problems and barriers in
the workplace, compared to other areas of life. Workplace
barriers are indeed a huge problem for us. Barrier removal and
prevention should be required in all areas otherwise the result
If barriers exist, the ODA should require them to be removed,
whether they exist in the workplace, in schools or on
playgrounds. Employers are no different from people in the other
sectors where barriers must be removed. They deserve no special
The Discussion Paper's approach could lead to absurd results.
For example, if hospitals are, as they should be, required to
ensure that there are accessible washrooms for their patients and
visitors, then the barrier will also be removed for employees of
the hospitals. At the same time, employees working for companies
that do not provide services to the public would still find the
barriers in place, when they try to go to the bathroom. There is
no logic nor justification for treating these two situations
differently. All need washrooms they can use.
Moving on to the next statement in the Discussion Paper, we are
concerned about and somewhat confused by the statement that "The
roles and responsibilities of different levels of government
should be considered." We recognize the obvious fact that the ODA
can apply only to areas within provincial jurisdiction. However,
as the Government properly points out in the principles in the
Discussion Paper, everyone must be involved in barrier removal
and prevention. This must fully include municipalities. They
are clearly within the jurisdiction of the Provincial Government.
They exist solely on the basis of legislation passed by the
Ontario Legislature. Changes to funding structures and decisions
about who pays for certain services does not change the basic
principle that barriers must be removed if they prevent people
with disabilities from fully participating in society.
Moreover, the Government undertook its off-loading onto
municipalities after it promised to tackle barriers through the
ODA. We raised concerns about the impact of downloading in a
submission to the Legislature over a year ago. We recommended
that downloading, if it was to occur at all, should only take
place after the ODA is passed, so that it does not create new
barriers or make it harder to remove old ones. If the
Legislature has made it harder for municipalities to address
their barriers, it can also now act to make it easier for them to
do so. Either way, barrier-removal must occur.
Our response to Specific questions in the discussion paper
We now wish to turn to the specific questions in the Discussion
Paper. The first question asks: What are the priorities for
preventing and removing barriers?
The ODA Committee is concerned that this question may not be
helpful and will divert attention from the real task at hand -
creating a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
People should not have to choose whether they would prefer to
have either an accessible hospital or an accessible bus. They
should not have to choose whether Braille should be provided
first, and sign language interpreters only later or the other way
around. Similarly, we should not have to choose priorities
between barrier-prevention and barrier-removal. It is not fair
to people participating in the consultation to suggest to them
that this issue needs to be dealt with and that priorities will
be set out in the legislation itself.
The ODA Committee is practical, and has always recognized that
not every barrier can be removed at once. As we will discuss in
a few minutes, we are proposing a way for the ODA to be designed
that does not set "priorities" in the statute itself, but which
provides a sensible, fair and workable means for people to figure
out what must be done, and when it must be done by, to comply
with the law. Under these proposals, if the barriers are
difficult to remove or are very expensive to remove all at once,
the regulation could give a longer time to deal with them than if
the barrier were easy and cheap to remove, unless there are
circumstances justifying more prompt action.
The question also seems to assume that removing barriers is
something that is or should be done in sequenfce, on a sector by
sector progression. The reality is that there are barriers in
every facet of society. There is no reason that barrier
identification followed by barrier removal should not occur in
all sectors starting as soon as the legislation is passed.
This "priorities" question also seems to assume that within each
sector the task of barrier removal will be the same. This too is
not the case. For example, a small organization may have more
difficulty removing a barrier that is expensive to remove than a
large organization. The result may be that in the larger
organization the barrier is removed in the first year, while in
the other organization there is a longer phase-in time, a subsidy
program or some other form of assistance.
In any event, it is just not practical to draft a statute that
comprehensively fixes "priorities" among barriers. The statute
would be thousands of pages long. It would not be able to address
unforeseen barriers that have not yet been invented, but which we
may confront in the future. Even if we wanted to come up with
some checklist of barrier priorities, we would first have to be
given a complete list of the barriers out there. You would need
a far more exhaustive consultation process than you are now
doing, and probably a far more exhaustive one than is even
possible before drafting a law like this.
How can you choose priorities when you do not know all the
choices? The ODA should help us find those barriers and plan to
remove them in an orderly way. In effect, this question places
the cart before the horse. It will not help the drafting of this
If we are to discuss priorities, the ODA Committee thinks that
the real priority is achieving a barrier-free society. The best
way to do this is to have a strong and effective ODA.
Let us now address your Discussion Paper's question 2 that asks:
"What could a new Ontarians with Disabilities Act include to help
prevent and remove barriers?"
This is the real question that should be the core focus of this
consultation. We have spent a tremendous amount of time and
energy working on the answer to this question. As a starting
point we suggest that you review our brief, Blueprint for the ODA
that incorporates what we heard from people with disabilities
from around the province. Building on the principles that we
described earlier in this presentation, we added the next layer -
an overview of what the ODA should look like. We hope that you
will use it as the basis for drafting the Ontarians with
Disabilities Act. Because of the importance of this section of
the consultation, we want to go through with you here some of the
key points made in that brief as to what would be included in a
strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
To begin, we believe that the ODA should explicitly state that
its goal is to achieve a barrier-free society for people with
disabilities, so that they can fully participate in society.
This sets the tone for the legislation. It will also assist in
interpreting the rest of the legislation in the future. It also
provides the standard against which to evaluate whether or not
the legislation has been successful in removing and preventing
barriers, a question you ask in the discussion paper.
WHAT SHOULD the ODA COVER?
The legislation must cover all activities, whether in the public
or private sector, within the jurisdiction of the Ontario
Legislature. Some of the general areas to which the legislation
must apply include: employment, public transportation, health
care, technology, education and training at all levels,
communications and telecommunications, recreational programs and
facilities, information provided to the public, housing,
products, police and law enforcement, tourism and entertainment.
As well, it should govern the Legislature itself. The heart of
our democratic system must be barrier-free as a symbol of what
our society must strive to achieve.
The ODA must cover all types of barriers that prevent people with
disabilities from fully participating in society. It should
include for example, physical barriers, such as high curbs and
steps, communication barriers faced by people who are deaf or who
us augmentative communication devices, attitudinal barriers that
are created when people rely on stereotypes and barriers to
employment, and information barriers such as when information is
only provided in printed form despite the needs of blind and
visually impaired persons for alternate formats. It also
includes for example technological barriers, such as technology
which is not designed so that persons with disabilities can use
it too. These are just examples, and are not intended to be
The Discussion Paper includes several good examples of barriers
that the ODA must address. We assume that although your
Discussion Paper's examples deal almost exclusively with barriers
facing people with physical or sensory disabilities, the
government's intention is to have legislation that is inclusive
and deals with barriers faced by all people with disabilities
including learning disabilities, developmental disabilities and
psychiatric, psychological or mental disabilities.
To ensure that all barriers are addressed, the ODA should use a
definition of disability that includes a broad range of physical,
sensory and mental disabilities. No disability should be
specifically excluded from protection under the legislation.
Out of an abundance of caution, we want to emphasize the
importance of including both physical and mental disability
barriers in the Act. When the Ontario Government first decided
to include disability in the Ontario Human Rights Code in 1980 it
first proposed to cover only people with physical disabilities or
people who have recovered from a previous mental disability. The
disability community strongly objected. This definition excluded
an important segment of persons with disabilities. The
Government agreed. It revised its bill before it was passed into
law in 1982 to include both physical and mental disabilities.
The Supreme Court of Canada has addressed this issue in a
comparable situation in Battlefords and District Co-operative
Ltd. v. Gibbs. That case held that it is discriminatory to
extend an important benefit, in that case an employment benefit,
to people with physical disabilities while giving inferior
protections or benefits to people with mental disabilities.
Also, since the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was passed the
human rights codes in several jurisdictions have been amended to
ensure that both physical and mental disabilities are included.
Governments did this because the Charter guarantees equality both
to people with mental disabilities and physical disabilities.
Any law that just prohibited discrimination because of physical
disability, but not mental disability, was understood to violate
the Charter, which is part of Canada's Constitution. The same
principle comes out in the Supreme Court's recent decision in the
Vriend case, requiring Alberta to include sexual orientation in
its Human Rights legislation. The ODA Committee strongly
believes that an ODA must be inclusive of all disabilities, pure
WHO SHOULD BE EXPECTED TO COMPLY WITH THE ODA?
To achieve a barrier free society the ODA must apply to all
provincial and municipal governments, as well as all private and
public sector organizations and businesses that can be subject to
the laws of Ontario. These organizations created the barriers
that obstruct people with disabilities, often unintentionally.
They must share responsibility for removing them, and for
preventing them. In the words of your Discussion Paper:
"Everyone has a role in preventing and removing barriers." As we
said earlier, this means the law should apply to the Ontario
Legislature and Government, the Ontario Public Service, all
municipal, regional and local governments including all their
committees and commissions, the broader public sector such as
schools, school boards public transit services and hospitals, as
well as all businesses and other organizations operating in
Ontario, and the Legislature itself.
Governments have special obligations to ensure all people with
disabilities have a full and equal chance to participate in
society. The government cannot avoid its obligations under the
ODA by downloading its responsibilities to other levels of
government, or to the private sector by privatization. The
Government may decide not to deliver a program itself. However,
where the government is providing the funding or setting the
standards it must ensure that existing barriers are identified
and removed and that no new barriers are created. Last fall, the
Supreme Court of Canada in the Eldridge case made it clear that
where an organization other than the government is delivering or
implementing a government policy, the government must ensure it
does so in a way that ensures that people with disabilities
receive the same benefits as others in society. The ODA must put
the Government's constitutional obligations into real action.
It is important that institutions that symbolize the government
and people should be accessible. This is why the ODA must
include the Ontario Legislature, as well as MPP's offices.
Everyone, including people with disabilities, must be able to
watch and participate in government. Perhaps one of the best
examples of why voluntary measures don't work is the fact that
when our members have gone to MPPs offices across Ontario to
speak about the need for an ODA some of them found that they
could not get any closer than the parking lot because the offices
were not accessible. This cannot be acceptable in Ontario.
What should the ODA require?
The ODA must clearly and explicitly guarantee persons with
disabilities the right to participate fully in a barrier free
society. This includes a right to have existing barriers
identified and removed. It also includes a right to have new
-It must state that no statute or regulation of Ontario, nor any
municipal bylaw, can be passed or implemented if it conflicts
with the requirements of the ODA. The ODA should apply fully and
equally in all areas of the province, including cities, towns and
Organizations, including businesses, that must comply with the
ODA should be required to identify barriers which now exist
within their organizations that keep persons with disabilities
from taking advantage of the services or facilities they provide
or that prevent them from participating in employment or other
activities. They should also be required to develop and
implement a plan for removing the barriers. The plan should set
out stages in which barriers will be removed, and set a final
date when they will be completely eliminated. It should also
include steps to ensure new barriers are not created in the
Governments should have additional obligations for removing and
preventing barriers. For example, they should be required to
develop and carry out a barrier free plan for each provincial
ministry or department within a specified time. Barrier free
plans must also be made and applied to services either delivered
by government directly or delivered on behalf of government.
Some examples of the areas where this would apply include:
- the education system (Minister of Education & Training)
- the Ontario system of colleges and universities (Minister of
Education & Training)
- the health and long-term care system (Minister of Health)
- the social services system (Minister of Community & Social
- child care services (Minister of Community & Social Services)
- the justice system (Attorney General)
- police services (Solicitor General)
- provincial and municipal public transportation (Minister of
- the Ontario housing system (Minister of Municipal Affairs &
- Building Codes at the provincial and local levels (Minister of
Municipal Affairs & Housing)
- labour issues including occupational health and safety
(Minister of Labour)
- recreation and tourism (Minister of Citizenship, Culture &
- the Ontario Public Service (Chair of Management Board)
- the Legislature and the electoral process (Speaker of the
Government should also do everything possible to purchase or rent
only barrier free products, facilities and services. This would
provide an excellent incentive for companies providing services,
facilities or products to remove existing barriers and prevent
new ones from arising. If they want the Government's business,
which is good business to get, they have to offer a barrier-free
There should also be a mandatory review of existing legislation,
regulations and policies, and new ones to be proposed in future,
to ensure they are barrier free. If necessary, the government
should amend the legislation or regulations to eliminate
The ODA should also direct Government to work with people with
disabilities to develop expertise in designing barrier free
programs, goods and services. This expertise should also be made
available to help the private sector comply with the ODA.
The ODA must also give the provincial government authority and
duty to develop, implement and enforce barrier free standards to
apply across the entire province. Barriers are created in part
because municipalities may each have a set of different
standards, creating confusion and inconsistency. These new
province-wide standards would apply to areas like transportation,
zoning, or parking rules for people with disabilities.
Barriers must be removed and prevented in every area and region
of the province. People with disabilities should have the
ability to travel and live in any area of the province without
having to face new barriers in each location.
The ODA must also do nothing to diminish rights that people with
disabilities have under the Human Rights Code and the Building
HOW SHOULD THE ODA BE ENFORCED?
The ODA must provide prompt and effective ways to enforce the
rights it guarantees. Although people should still be able to
file individual complaints when they run into a barrier, there
should be additional ways of enforcing the ODA that are fast,
cost-effective and fair and that do not depend on individuals
having to file complaints each time they face a barrier.
The ODA should contain several stages of enforcement. This might
Self-enforcement - This would apply to governments, businesses
and other organizations covered by the ODA. It is an important
first step in the enforcement process. But it must not be the
only step. It would involve the development and implementation of
the barrier free plans we talked about earlier.
Regulation - In order to create a framework for the first phase
of enforcement through self-enforcement, the ODA should require
regulations to be made outlining, on a sector-by-sector basis,
what barriers must be removed. These regulations would also set
out the time frame for removing these barriers.
In some areas, steps required to remove all barriers and prevent
the creation of new ones may be clearly identified in the ODA.
In some cases, change can happen quickly. For example, there is
no cost or significant change needed for public transit services
to require that operators announce each stop. In other areas,
change may take somewhat longer.
People with disabilities as well as those required to comply with
the legislation need this type of certainty. Creating a
regulation-making process that incorporates meaningful input by
all stake holders including people with disabilities will be
important. If, after consultation, there is no consensus among
stakeholders, the government will have an obligation to determine
the content of the regulations.
We also recommend that the ODA require these regulations to be
enacted within specified time lines. If it is left open-ended,
we fear that the regulations may never come. We know that there
are some regulation-making powers under the Ontario Human Rights
Code that have existed for almost two decades that might have
assisted us, but they are largely unused.
In order to deal with new barriers that cannot be anticipated
today we also recommend that interested stake-holders, including
people with disabilities, be able to propose a regulation. For
example, if the ODA had been drafted 10 years ago it is unlikely
that anyone would have considered creating regulations to deal
with barrier-free standards for the Internet.
The advantage of this type of regulatory system is the increased
certainty for everyone involved. Rather than creating new
barriers, it will level the playing field for those required to
comply and minimize the number of individual complaints that will
have to be filed. It is far easier for an employer, for example,
to know what barriers must be removed and within what time frame,
than to just deal with a succession of Human Rights Complaints.
It also means that in a competitive industry everyone must live
with the same rules. Businesses will be more willing to act if
they know that their competitors must do the same thing. It also
provides a way for people affected by the regulations to have a
say in what they will include. It also gives guidance to those
required to comply with the ODA so that they know what they have
to do to prevent barriers and thus avoid the possibility of legal
This is not possible in a system that is based solely on
individual complaints, like that that exists now under the Human
Rights Code, where only the two parties involved in the
complaint itsself have any influence on the outcome. People will
of course be able to use legal processes if the regulations are
not obeyed. It is far simpler to do this, however, than the
current Human Rights system which first requires a determination
as to whether something is a barrier and then requires a case-by-
case solution. We still think there is a role for individual
complaints, of course, but we hope that this new regulation-
process, combined with the system of barrier-free plans, will
reduce substantially the need to rely on such individual
complaints to make the law work.
This approach also eliminates the need to try to set arbitrary
priorities. The regulation-making process will look at all of the
factors involved in barrier removal including the cost of
removing the barriers, the time frame in which it is reasonable
to expect them to be removed, and how significant the barrier is.
As well, this new approach will remove the need for you to look
now for a definitive answer to your first question, the one about
priorities among barriers, about which we have expressed our
serious concerns earlier.
As part of the enforcement and implementation of the ODA, funding
must be made available to organizations of people with
disabilities that are involved in promoting a barrier free
society so that they can help provide education, information and
support for people with disabilities and to those required to
comply with the ODA.
As we discussed earlier, the ODA must establish an accountable
and effective public agency responsible for enforcement of the
ODA. Adequate funding must be available for this new
The powers and duties of the enforcement agency should include
-a requirement to report annually to the legislature on the
progress made towards the goal of achieving a barrier free
society. It should also identify where additional work is still
- the ability to receive complaints from both individuals and
groups; -the authority to enforce the ODA without waiting for an
-the authority to look at systemic problems and come up with
-the power and obligation to make the new regulations that we
discussed earlier, including regulations setting standards in
-the authority to receive barrier-free plans prepared by
government and organizations. These plans should be available to
the public. The agency should be able to take steps to enforce
the ODA's requirements regarding the preparation, filing and
implementation of these plans where self-enforcement is not
accomplishing the ODA's goals.
Who should undertake this enforcement role?
The ODA Committee has in the past held off taking a position on
whether the Ontario Human Rights Commission should be that
agency, or whether a new enforcement agency should be created.
We hesitated because in 1995 the Premier made an election promise
to increase funding to the Human Rights Commission. That promise
was made in connection with the Commission's current
responsibility of enforcing the Ontario Human Rights Code, not in
connection with the new task of enforcing the ODA. We could not
consider the Commission as an option until we saw what the
situation would be after the Government kept that funding
Instead of keeping that election promise, the Government
announced cuts in the budget of the Ontario Human Rights
Commission. We know that you subsequently stated in a letter to
the editor last spring that the Commission's budget is now the
same as it was in 1995, but we have no accurate and detailed
figures as to the current Human Rights Commission budget status.
Moreover, we have repeatedly asked, but never gotten an answer
on whether or when the Government will keep its promise to give
the Commission new funds to supplement its pre-1995 budget level.
We would still appreciate receiving this information.
With the uncertainty with respect to funding continuing and the
limited mandate and current expertise of the Commission, we
cannot support making them the agency responsible for enforcing
the ODA. We are therefore calling for the creation of a new,
independent agency with a clear mandate and adequate, stable
funding. You may be interested to learn that Israel is in the
process of enacting a comprehensive disability rights law.
Israel's Parliament has already voted to establish a new
enforcement agency, just to deal with Idisability issues, which
is to be up and running by the start of next year.
The design of the new ODA enforcement agency should be consistent
with the principles we outlined earlier in this presentation.
In addition to creating a new agency, the ODA should require that
a Minister of the Ontario Government be designated who will be
responsible for achieving a barrier free society for persons with
disabilities. The Minister should be responsible for: monitoring
Ontario Government programs and laws to ensure that they are
designed and operated in a barrier free manner. The minister
should also be responsible for reviewing proposals brought to
cabinet to ensure that they are barrier free and that they take
into account the needs of persons with disabilities. It is
important that this Minister not be responsible for delivering
day-to-day programs or services, such as long-term care, since it
would create a conflict of interest for the Minister to review
their own programs.
The ODA should mandate that municipal councils, school boards,
government committees and commissions and other public agencies
should adopt similar procedures for their activities as would be
required of the Ontario Government e.g. by implementing a system
to ensure that existing bylaws and policies, as well as new ones,
are screened to make sure they are barrier-free.
The ODA should require all Ontario regulatory agencies, boards
and tribunals to consider the impact of any decision they make on
barrier removal or prevention, and the achievement of a barrier
free society for persons with disabilities. For example, the
Health Services Restructuring Commission should be required to
ensure that any restructuring of Ontario's health system is done
in a way that both removes existing barriers, and which prevents
new ones from being created as a result of the restructuring. We
are very concerned that that is not happening now, and as a
result, hospital restructuring is leading to the creation of new
barriers impeding persons with disabilities from getting access
to health care.
What remedies should be available for breaches of the ODA?
For every right there must be a remedy. Remedies should be
meaningful and effective. They must ensure that existing
barriers are removed and new ones are prevented. Remedies should
include such things as systemic remedies, injunctions and
damages. Class actions should be available which could be
brought by groups of people with disabilities.
In addition to orders that would require the removal of specific
barriers, there should also be penalties where there was a
deliberate breach of the legislation. Monetary compensation
should also be available to individuals who suffered as a result
of a barrier that should have been removed but was not.
Experience in other jurisdictions
We think that it is important to learn from other jurisdictions
in deciding what to include in the ODA. As of today
comprehensive disability legislation passed in a number of
jurisdictions including the US, Israel, Australia and the UK. In
this presentation we are going to talk only about the Americans
with Disabilities Act because we know that you have received
analysis of that legislation.
We have always said that we do not intend to seek a carbon copy
of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but we want to learn from
the U.S. What they have done successfully, we should do. What
they have learned does not work, we want to improve upon.
Before looking at any details we want to emphasize the bottom
line. The Americans with Disabilities Act has improved
accessibility and removed barriers that kept people with
disabilities from full participation in several important areas
of life. Over and over we hear from individuals with
disabilities who go to the United States that they find a
dramatic difference there, as compared with Canada. It is easier
to get around, it is easier to use public services, and it is
easier to get into and enjoy public facilities. Whether
buildings and locations are very new or very old, under the
Americans with Disabilities Act the United States has done an
excellent job. That is not to say they have solved all the
problems, and that there are no barriers that need removing.
However, at bottom we can say we have a lot to learn from the
United States on how to do much better than we have done in the
past. We can also learn about things that did not work as well
so that we can improve upon them in our legislation.
We know there is some debate in the U.S. about the ADA's
effectiveness, but it is vital that we place that debate in its
proper context. Some people with disabilities in the U.S. have
argued that the ADA has not delivered as much as was expected.
All it means is that more needs to be done to remove barriers.
This was recently recognized by President Clinton who, on the
eighth anniversary of the ADA signed a new executive order
designed to increase awareness of the ADA and the obligations
under it to remove barriers.
There are certain areas where the Ontarians with Disabilities Act
could readily improve upon the Americans with Disabilities Act.
For example, the ADA covers only certain areas of activity such
as employment, health care and transportation. It does not
include other important areas such as housing, education,
communications or aeronautics all of which are covered under
separate legislation passed prior to the ADA.
As we said earlier, we recommend that the ODA cover barriers in
the full range of activity which the Ontario legislature can
address. We don't want to have to come back to the Legislature
in future to amend other pieces of existing legislation or to
seek new legislation to deal with gaps in ODA coverage.
We have reviewed a great deal of studies and data on the impact
of the ADA, as well as the report prepared for your ministry by
the Roehr Institute on the effectiveness and the cost/benefit of
the ADA. It is important in reviewing all of this material to
remember that while the ADA was passed more than eight years ago,
many parts of the law only came into effect two years ago. As We
share the main conclusion of the Roehr report, namely that there
were many positive benefits and some weaknesses. We should keep
in mind, however, that when compared with progress in Ontario
even the weaknesses of the ADA surpass our own record.
we want to briefly comment on some specific aspects of the Roher
report. In dealing with enforcement, the report says that the
ADA uses a complaints-driven approach to enforcement that has
resulted in procedural backlogs and delays. While individual
complaints are one component of the ADA, the report fails to take
into account that the ADA has been most effective in those areas
where standards have been set by regulation, such as
transportation. It has also been very effective where a public
body has assumed responsibility for the systemic enforcement of
the act. This occurs primarily in the area of public and private
The fact that the ADA is not as effective where it relies
primarily on individual complaints, supports our position that
the current Ontario Human Rights Code, which also depends on
individual complaints, is not the most effective way to remove
and prevent barriers. At least under the ADA where the public
enforcement body does not act quickly enough individuals can
still go through the Court systems. This is not true with the
Ontario Human Rights Code, but it is worth considering under the
There are several studies done by the General Accounting Office
in the US that were not included in the Roher Report. These
massive surveys on barrier removal in the area of selected
private services shows remarkable progress. We would be glad to
provide you with information about these reports on your request.
There is also nothing in the Roher Report about the significant
changes in transportation that have occurred under the ADA nor
the improved representation of people with disabilities among the
graduates of post-secondary institutions.
It is also easy to find critics of any system and those quoted in
the Roher report are no exception. We want to point out,
however, that in a major Lou Harris U.S. Poll conducted in 1995
they found that only 9% of U.S. business executives wanted the
ADA weakened, while 82% thought the ADA's benefits were worth the
cost. A poll released just last month found the average cost of
accommodation was $300.
Similarly, while some advocates for people with disabilities
criticized the ADA, 96% of the people with disabilities
questioned in a major survey done for the United Cerebral Palsy
Association in 1996 indicated that the ADA already made a
positive difference in their lives.
We urge you to look at the picture as a whole. The ADA was
passed by a Republican administration, committed to less
regulation of business, in a country which is acknowledged to
allow a less active role for government. More recently, when
Congress was considering its legislation to prohibit unfunded
mandates, the ADA was specifically excluded from these
restrictions. This shows that even in the U.S., there is an
important bi-partisan recognition of the important role that
government must play, in enacting and enforcing mandatory
legislation in this field, including in the area of employement.
The ADA has made a difference and comprehensive disability
legislation, which takes into account what we can learn, both
positive and negative from the ADA, will do the same in Ontario.
We want now to turn to your third question, and in answering it,
to generally comment on all the remaining questions in the
Discussion Paper. Question 3 asks: "What additional approaches
could complement an Ontarians with Disabilities Act?"
As we said earlier, we do believe that once there is a strong and
effective ODA in place other approaches can be used to encourage
compliance. We will briefly discuss our comments on some of
these other approaches. We also want to be clear that we do not
believe that these measures can replace the type of ODA that we
have described - one that has mandatory measures backed up by
effective enforcement. Neither can these measures patch up
gaping holes in a weak and ineffective ODA.
In looking at some of the suggestions made in the Discussion
Paper we think it might help to explain our understanding of how
these measures might work.
Self-enforcement - As we said earlier, there is room in
legislation for self-enforcement. This is not the same as
"voluntary measures". For example, "self-enforcement" means the
party with the legal duty to identify and remove existing
barriers and prevent new ones should be given an opportunity to
find and remove barriers before specific regulatory intervention.
For that very reason, we have proposed that a core element of an
effective ODA would be a requirement that employers, service
providers, government agencies and the like develop barrier-free
plans. They would be free to develop these plans, assess their
own environments and develop ways to remove barriers provided
that, if they do not do so or do so in a way that does not meet
the standards set in legislation or regulations, there must be an
effective means of enforcing the legislation.
On the other hand, self-regulation is, in our experience, as
utterly ineffective as voluntary measures unless it is backed up
by a mandatory legal requirement and an enforcement mechanism to
For example, if the government allows the transportation
industry, under the ODA to decide, on its own, what standards
should be developed, if any, for accessibility, and if and when
they should take effect and how they should be enforced, if at
all, nothing will happen. This approach is doomed to failure.
A good example of how self-enforcement can work in conjunction
with mandatory standards is the reference in your discussion
paper to the new transportation standards. While the standards
were developed by the industry, it was done with an awareness
that if the industry did not act the Canadian Transportation Act
gives the Canadian Transport Agency the authority to impose
Tax Incentives - The Discussion Paper suggests the use of tax
incentives to promote barrier removal. Again, tax incentives
within the framework of mandatory legislation may help encourage
compliance. However, on their own, we already know that tax
incentives have not proved to be effective. Tax incentives
already exist. Despite these incentives barriers remain and new
ones keep arising.
There are several problems with relying on tax incentives as a
major strategy for barrier removal. Firstly, many organizations
where there are barriers pay no tax. This includes the Ontario
government, municipal and regional governments, hospitals and
other major non-profit health care providers, and major non-
profit municipal and regional transit services, just to name a
few. If you use tax incentives as the major mechanism for
barrier removal in the employment area, these major employers who
do not have to pay tax will have no incentive whatsoever to
As well, you are of course aware that for companies now making a
profit and paying tax there is already a system of tax incentives
in place for the cost of accommodating people with disabilities.
This would be a legitimate business expense. Except in the area
of capital expenditures, it would presumably be written off one
hundred per cent in the year incurred. We are aware of no
studies which document managers holding back removing barriers in
those organizations only because they need something more than
one hundred per cent write-off in the same year, or they need a
faster rate of depreciation for capital expenditure activity.
If the tax incentive is any more than a simple flat write-off,
then you are really creating a regime of positive tax subsidies.
If that is the case, it would be worth considering a direct
subsidy regime, rather than a tax incentive. This would provide
employers, service providers and others in the not-for-profit
sector with a place to apply to obtain comparable funding. It
would also give the government a chance to monitor how and where
the money is being used to address barriers. A system of tax
incentives will never allow us to know actually how much money is
spent across the province on barrier removal, and what is being
accomplished. A direct subsidy system would make it easier to
evaluate progress and therefore meet one of the goals set out in
the Discussion Paper.
Finally, many barriers cost little or nothing to remove. Tax
incentives will not make any difference where there is no cost to
deduct. For example, what is the cost of allowing flexible work
hours or part-time work to accommodate an employee's disability?
Many barriers we face remain in place not because it costs too
much to remove them, but because people have no reason to think
about them, identify them and remove them or they are unwilling
to do so. Tax incentives will not change this. Mandatory legal
Government policies - Policies can sometimes make a difference,
but they are no substitute for binding and enforceable
legislation. For example, despite some suggestions that there is
a government policy on point, it is still very hard to get
government information, including legislation, in alternative
formats, or to even find out what the policy is. In some cases
people may not be aware of a particular policy.
Unlike legislation, policies are usually internal documents that
are not made widely available to the public. It is important
that the barrier-identification and removal process be open and
accessible. Moreover, policies, unlike laws, can be repealed in
secret by unaccountable bureaucrats, or by politicians without
the supervision of the Legislature. For example, until recently
there was a policy that the provincial government would subsidize
the purchase of new buses by municipalities providing that they
were accessible to people with disabilities. In recent years
this policy has been waived creating new barriers in the area of
transportation for many years to come.
Information technology - Clearly new developments in technology
can eliminate barriers. Voice-activated computers, scanners and
other adaptive technology have opened up new worlds for people
with all types of disabilities. Technology can also create
barriers. While some bank machines may now be more accessible,
others are becoming less accessible. As technology becomes more
central to every area of daily life, it becomes even more
important to develop mandatory standards and barrier removal and
prevention plans. What is now "accessible" may, in the future
become inaccessible unless there is legislation in place to
ensure that this does not occur.
One of the best examples of this is the Internet. While the
Ministry of Citizenship Web Site was designed to be accessible,
many web sites are not. Some that used to be accessible to text
readers, for example, became inaccessible with the introduction
of more complicated technology. In the US, under the Americans
with Disabilities Act, there are standards in place to ensure
that web site design is accessible. This means that people with
disabilities will be able to have access to the wide range of
information and services available on the Internet. If we don't
do something about this in Ontario now, children with
disabilities will face horrendous new barriers in education,
while adults with disabilities will find the workplace more
inaccessible than ever in the future.
Public education and technical assistance - Once mandatory
legislation is in place resources will need to be made available
for public education and technical assistance. We agree that the
Internet is one mechanism for delivering this type of
information, however, we warn that many people with disabilities
do not have access to the Internet. Alternative sources of
information must always be available.
We also warn that it is frankly wrong to think that public
education will accomplish much absent strong and effective
legislation. Our Committee's members have spent many a year
undertaking public education efforts. We know how to do it. We
have tried our best. It doesn't change practices, and the
Promoting best practices-sharing ideas for barrier prevention and
removal is useful, once legislation is in place. It cannot,
however, be the substitute for legislation. For example, the
discussion paper uses the Health Station's Barrier Free Health
Centre as an example. While we agree it is a good example it has
not, as yet, been adopted in any other health centre, hospital or
health care setting. Some aspects of accessibility are present
in many health care settings, but there are still health care
institutions in this province where they lack something as basic
as accessible washrooms. Patients using wheelchairs must be
carried or use a commode. We need mandatory legislation to
ensure that the best practices are actually practiced. We say
the same about partnerships.
We hope that our presentation has been helpful to you. Before concluding we would like to say a few things about where we go from here.
We definitely think the Premier was on the right track when he made his promise to us to pass a strong and effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The poll that we had done for us in 1996 shows that the majority of Ontarians agree with us, even if there is a cost to implementation. We would once again like to offer
any assistance we can give you in developing the legislation. Over the past several months our members have been meeting with members of your caucus around the province to educate them about
the ODA and to enlist their assistance. We found that they recognize the need for them to learn so much more about the barriers we face. We again want to tell you that would welcome an opportunity to meet with your caucus as a whole and respond to any questions they may have about the ODA and our vision of an
Ontario without barriers.
The ODA is not just about the 17% of the public who now have a disability, and who cannot fully participate in Ontario Society. The ODA is about everyone's access to society. Virtually everyone will have a disability at some point in their life. We are trying to open society up for all. That is why there is so much support for what we are proposing. That is why in the three and a half years that we have taken our message to the public, no
one has spoken out against the goal of a barrier-free society. No one has denied that we face barriers. No one claims that existing laws, policies, programs and practices have or will get rid of them. That is why you will find that there is strong support across Ontario for a strong and effective ODA. That is why everyone we meet with , to discuss our ideas, both formally and informally, both from the disability community and from
outside, have been so supportive and encouraging to our efforts.
Thank you for giving us this time to meet with you. We know that we are the first group from whom you will be hearing. We want to conclude by asking two things. We would like to receive copies of any notes or minutes made at the other meetings and to receive copies of submissions by other groups. We also would like to
meet with you after receiving that material and reviewing it, so we could help your efforts by providing you with any further information you need. We welcome any and all chances to work together with you on this very important project.
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