ODA Committee Update
dated January 6, 2004
posted March 11, 2004
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
DISCUSSION PAPER ON OPTIONS FOR INITIAL SHORT-TERM LOW-COST ACTIONS TO BEGIN STRENGTHENING OF THE ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT 2001
January 6, 2004
The new Ontario Government has launched public consultations on how to strengthen the Ontarians with Disabilities Act 2001, passed by the previous Government, to make it strong and effective. We understand that the new Government is particularly interested in identifying initial actions that can be taken quickly, to begin the process of strengthening the ODA, and thereby to now accelerate the process of removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities. This includes ideas for actions that can be undertaken promptly, and that will involve little or no cost.
To help organizations and individuals develop their suggestions for the Ontario Government, the ODA Committee has prepared this Discussion Paper.
It sets out some options for such initial short-term steps. These ideas come from suggestions from our membership, from the ODA Committee's 1998 Blueprint for a strong, effective Ontarians with Disabilities Act, from our 2001 proposals to the Ontario Legislature to strengthen the previous Government's ODA bill, and from our 2002 proposed Ontario Government Workplan for implementing the current legislation. The ODA Committee had canvassed its membership, including through its website and email list, to gather ideas.
This Discussion Paper is not meant to be a list of formal, final proposals by the ODA Committee. Rather it is a set of ideas for discussion. We hope that as many individuals and organizations as possible will review these, identify ones they like, suggest improvements to them, suggest other ideas, and indicate their short-run priorities. We emphasize in offering these ideas that these are not meant as the final word in this area, and are not meant as the total list of "fixes" that the current ODA 2001 ultimately requires.
In putting these options forward, we hope to stimulate discussion that will generate even more ideas. We emphasize a few points at the outset. First, this is only a Discussion Paper. The ODA Committee encourages one and all to give us feedback on it to help us formulate more detailed suggestions and priorities. Send us your feedback at the address at the end of this Discussion Paper.
Second, we encourage one and all to give their input directly to the Ontario Citizenship Ministry.
Third, even though we offer a range of ideas here, the Government will want to know your priorities. Finally, in thinking about these options, and in coming up with additional ones, think of things that will have the greatest impact on achieving a barrier-free province in a practical way that will directly benefit Ontarians with disabilities.
As mentioned above, the following are only options for immediate action. They are not intended to serve as a list of all the steps that will eventually be needed to make the ODA 2001 strong and effective.
At the end of this Discussion Paper, after the range of options is set out, a background is provided for those seeking more information on the ODA issue.
OPTIONS FOR SHORT-TERM ACTION
The following options reflect these themes:
* These steps can be taken relatively quickly
* They do not involve major new expenditures.
* They can be taken before the Government decides on all the specific changes it will ultimately make to the ODA.
* They complement and build upon work that has already been done since 2001 on implementing the current bill.
* They all are consistent with the new Government's election commitments on strengthening the ODA.
Where in the following items it is suggested that the ODA 2001 itself be amended, if the Government does not want to make any initial changes to the Act until it works out all the changes it will ultimately make, it may be able in some cases to pass regulations in the interim, with a view to these being entrenched in the Act. It is preferable in the longer run for major requirements to be included in the Act itself, rather than in regulations.
In the short term, regulations, where available, may have to make do.
Also, where it is here suggested that the legislation be amended, it would be helpful if at the least the Government were to announce its intent to make these changes when it later comes forward with its full legislative package, so that the public and stake-holders all know what to expect.
Strengthen ODA's Purpose
1. The Government should amend the ODA 2001 to state specifically that its purpose is to achieve a barrier-free Ontario for all persons with disabilities, where persons with disabilities can fully participate in all aspects of Ontario life. Currently, the ODA 2001 merely says its purpose is "to improve opportunities for persons with disabilities and to provide for their involvement in the identification, removal and prevention of barriers to their full participation in the life of the province."
Proclaim Rest of ODA in Force
2. Section 21 of the ODA 2001 should be proclaimed in force. It is the only provision of the ODA 2001 which the previous Government never proclaimed in force. Section 21 imposes a fine on an organization which fails to make an accessibility plan or policy, if the organization is required to do so under the ODA 2001. That provision also makes it an offence for a municipality with a population over 10,000 to fail to establish a disability accessibility advisory committee. While this is only a very limited enforcement mechanism, it will have to suffice in the interim until an effective enforcement mechanism is developed and incorporated in a strengthened ODA over the next months.
Priority on Barrier-Prevention
3. The Government should develop and pass regulations under the ODA 2001 if possible, or at least announce clear guidelines and policy in the interim, with a view to their ultimately being incorporated as amendments to the ODA, putting detailed requirements into the ODA's provisions that address barrier-prevention in new government capital programs, and that deal with procurement by provincial and municipal governments of goods and services. These would aim to ensure that tax dollars are not used to create new barriers against persons with disabilities. Right now the ODA 2001 has unenforceable provisions that simply require the provincial and municipal levels of government to consider accessibility when new capital programs are undertaken and new goods and services are purchased by these levels of government. Barrier prevention usually costs little if anything. There should be an immediate effort to ensure that no new barriers are created, especially with tax dollars.
These new regulations or policies should aim to ensure that provincial and municipal Governments shall not purchase goods or services for the use of itself, its employees or the public that create or maintain barriers for persons with disabilities. Where this is not possible because the goods or services are not available in an appropriate form, the Government shall ensure that the benefits of the goods and services are available for persons with disabilities at no extra cost or effort to persons with disabilities. New regulations could, for example, set standards for how an organization such as a provincial ministry or municipal government shall ensure no new barriers in this context, by e.g. providing for procurement procedures that screen for disability barriers. These regulations could also provide for a mechanism for such organizations to make public the procedures they have for this and could provide for reporting on these procedures to the Ontario Accessibility Directorate. The Accessibility Directorate could also make public on its website proposed criteria for barrier-free products and services, after consulting with persons with disabilities. Regulations could provide that provincial capital funding for projects shall be made available only where there is a sufficient barrier-free plan incorporated into the project. Pending the enactment of such regulations or of an amendment to the ODA itself to this effect, the Ontario Government could announce this as a mandatory Government policy.
Strengthening Accessibility Planning
4. The Government should amend the ODA or pass regulations that could later be incorporated into the ODA, to set specific strengthened requirements for the contents of annual accessibility plans. Currently, the ODA itself gives little direction on what a public sector organization's accessibility plans are required to include.
For example, new provisions could set out that the purpose of the accessibility plan is to ensure that the organization becomes barrier-free as soon as reasonably possible. For example, as for Ontario Government ministries, the regulations could state that: The accessibility plan that each ministry shall make and implement shall include the comprehensive identification, removal and prevention of barriers to persons with disabilities in the Acts and regulations administered by the ministry and in the ministry's policies, programs, practices and services, as well as the ministry's workplace. The plan shall contain specific action steps and time lines for the identification, removal and prevention of barriers consistent with the requirements set out in the regulations. Except where not practicable, the plan shall specify who is responsible within the ministry for taking actions set out in the plan. The accessibility plan shall include,
(a) a report on the measures the ministry has taken to identify, remove and prevent barriers to persons with disabilities;
(b) whether the Ministry has met its obligations set out in the plan for that year and, if not, the particulars of its non-compliance and the reasons for this;
(c) the measures in place to ensure that the ministry assesses its proposals for Acts, regulations, policies, programs, practices and services to determine their impact on removing and preventing barriers against persons with disabilities, and the persons responsible for this activity;
(d) a report on the Acts, regulations, policies, programs, practices and services reviewed during the year, the recommendations made to ensure that they are barrier free, and whether the recommendations were adopted.
(e) a list of the Acts, regulations, policies, programs, practices and services that the ministry will review in the coming year in order to identify barriers to persons with disabilities, and the persons responsible for this activity;
(f) the specific measures that the ministry intends to take in the coming year to identify, remove and prevent barriers to persons with disabilities. In developing and implementing its accessibility plan, a ministry shall consult with persons with disabilities who may be affected by the plan. Regulations should also be passed requiring accessibility plans to be promptly posted on the internet at an accessible site.
Comparable requirements could be set for other organizations which the ODA 2001 requires to make annual accessibility plans. They could also, for example, require that each organization that has a website make their websites disability-accessible within one year, as the Ontario Government undertook to do for itself in the ODA 2001.
Improve Accessibility in Operations of Ontario Government
5. The Government should designate the Minister of Citizenship officially as the Minister responsible for Disability issues. While the ODA responsibility is assigned to this minister, and while MPPs have referred to the Citizenship Minister as the minister responsible for disability issues, there is currently no official designation of any minister as actually having this role. This stands in marked contrast, for example, to the longstanding official designation of one minister as responsible for women's issues.
6. The Ontario Government should make a public proclamation that it is committed, among other things, to a barrier-free Ontario Government, whose services to the public will be barrier-free for persons with disabilities who use those services, and whose workplace will be barrier-free for Ontario public servants with disabilities. It should publicize this to all Ontario public servants, and let them know where to find existing resources for this. It would be preferable if it could fix a target year by which this goal is intended to be reached.
7. The Ontario Government should announce the date on which it will release its first accessibility plans for each of its ministries. Those plans were required to be released on September 30, 2003.
8. The Ontario Government should designate a specific official in each Ontario Government ministry as having lead responsibility in that ministry for disability accommodation and for barrier removal and prevention in that ministry. This is not meant to be a new post to be filled with a new employee, but rather an added responsibility of an existing staff person.
The Government should make that position reportable directly to the deputy minister. That position should also consult and coordinate with the Ontario Accessibility Directorate.
9. The Ontario Government should adopt as Ontario Government policy the Ontario Human Rights Commission's policy guidelines on the duty to accommodate persons with disabilities.
10. The Ontario Government should adopt as Ontario Government policy with a view to its being entrenched in amendments to the ODA that where a Ministry or Ontario Government employee determines that accommodation will not be provided to an Ontario public servant who seeks accommodation in the workplace because of his or her disability, the applicant must be advised of the reasons in writing. A reasonable time line should be set for such decisions to be made and reported back to the employee requesting the accommodation. All refusals of accommodation must be approved by the Deputy Minister. The applicant for accommodation should be permitted to appeal the decision to the Accessibility Directorate. The directorate should consider the appeal in accordance with the duty of fairness and should render a decision with written reasons within 30 days of receiving notification of the appeal from the person with a disability. Currently the ODA 2001 provides no internal procedure to assist Ontario Government employees who seek and are refused accommodation in the workplace. This proposal would provide a prompt, accountable process internal to the Ontario Government. This will reduce the need to resort to filing complaints with the Human Rights Commission, and will thereby save the Government money. Until it is formalized in the law, this new procedure should be set out in a new Government policy.
11. The Ontario Government should undertake an accelerated review of barriers in the Ontario Disability Support Plan (ODSP) with a report to be promptly made public.
12. The Government should amend the ODA to require that all Ontario regulatory agencies, boards and tribunals be required 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. Ontario has many administrative tribunals, boards, commissions and agencies to regulate many aspects of life, such as the Ontario Labour Relations Board or the Ontario Municipal Board. They make rulings and policy in a wide range of life, from labour relations to land use planning. This proposal would call on each of these to take into account disability barriers when they make their decisions, rulings and policies. This would help "mainstream" ODA issues into a wide range of Government activities.
It would also be helpful to call on these agencies, at one of their inter-agency conferences, to hold sessions on how to implement this initiative.
13. The Government should initiate a full review of barriers and accessibility requirements at the Ontario Legislature, and in offices of MPPs. This could possibly be undertaken at the direction of the new Speaker of the Legislature. An existing staff official at the Ontario Legislature should be identified as responsible for disability accommodation and barrier-removal and prevention. This responsibility should be made reportable directly to the Speaker of the Legislature.
Improve Accessibility at Municipal Government Level
14. The Government should amend the ODA or pass regulations if permissible to require that when a municipality's Accessibility Advisory Committee (AAC) makes recommendations to the Municipal Council, the Council shall respond to the recommendations within 14 days. If the Council decides to decline the Advisory Committee's advice in whole or in part, it shall provide written reasons for its decision. Recommendations and reports from the advisory committee and responses to these from the municipal council shall promptly be made public. The Municipal Council should be required to fulfil all reasonable requests for information by the Accessibility Advisory Committee within the mandate of the Advisory Committee's work. Right now, municipalities that receive a recommendation on accessibility issues need not even let the AAC know whether it will implement the recommendation.
Provide Expanded Technical Advice for Organizations on Barrier Removal and Prevention
15. A major role intended for the Ontario Accessibility Directorate under the current ODA is to give advice and technical support to organizations seeking to remove and prevent barriers. The Accessibility Directorate should design and develop a comprehensive service to more extensively fulfil this role. It should gear up to be able to make available to the public, including public and private sector organizations, a service, free of charge, that provides advice and information on how to remove and prevent barriers and achieve accessibility, and on the benefits of doing so. This advice should be available over the phone, via email and in writing on request.
16. The Ontario Accessibility Directorate should post on the Ontario Government's website additional practical resources to help organizations that want to address barriers. These could include, for example:
(a) any accessibility standards, whether voluntary or mandatory, that have been developed in Ontario or elsewhere. These would help organizations with their accessibility planning.
(b) Copies of any accessibility plans that have been established so far under the ODA 2001.
(c) Details of steps taken by the Ontario Government to make its own websites accessible.
Develop Accessibility Standards
17. Towards the end of developing and enacting accessibility standards, the following should be undertaken:
(a) The Government could accelerate the process for developing up-to-date, effective barrier-free building design standards. The previous Government had this under study for several years. The Ministry of Municipal Affairs held a consultation on this subject in 2002 with an eye to reforming the Ontario Building Code. Reforms to that Code are not expected to be on line until possibly 2005. The Ontario Realty Corporation also held limited consultations for Ontario Government building design standards.
The Ontario Government could bring all these resources together in one place, and gather any further technical information needed to come up with a set of comprehensive, modern building accessibility standards. These could be made public even before there are any amendments to the ODA or the Ontario Building Code, so that organizations can put them to use immediately.
(b) The Government could seek out opportunities to enhance the training of architects and interior design specialists in barrier-free design, both for students training in these fields and for those already practicing in these fields.
(c) The Government could widely circulate the voluntary standards on serving customers with disabilities, develped by the Canadian Standards Association, to get input on these as a possible comprehensive standard in this area.
(?) (c) The Government could act on the recommendations of the Ontario Human Rights Commission that provincial standards be developed on barrier-free public transit and barrier-free education for persons with disabilities at all levels of the education system.
Plan for Barrier-Free Elections
18. The Ontario Government should initiate a comprehensive review of barriers facing voters with disabilities in provincial and municipal elections. Currently, there are no consistent practices at the municipal and provincial levels. There may be duplication of efforts in this area by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs vis-a-vis municipal elections and Elections Ontario regarding provincial elections. It would be preferable if all these issues could be addressed together by one branch of the Ontario Government, with a view to reforms being in place before the next municipal and provincial elections. This might be incorporated in the Ontario Government's efforts at democratic reform, as there is a specific minister now with that broad responsibility.
Finalize a Regulation that Defines "Agency"
19. The Ontario Government should release a draft regulation on how to define the term "agency" in the ODA 2001. The Citizenship Ministry has had this issue under study for up to two years. Pending release of this draft regulation, the Ministry could make a public statement indicating which organizations it is contemplating defining as an "agency" under the ODA 2001 so that those organizations can get an early start on developing their accessibility policies. The Ministry could also release a discussion paper on this topic, if draft regulations are not yet near completion.
Section 16 of the ODA 2001 requires that any organization which the regulations define as an "agency" must make an accessibility policy. This presumably was meant to include some organizations which the ODA 2001 does not now require to make an annual accessibility plan. Until an organization is defined as an "agency," it need not develop an accessibility policy.
No regulation has been passed defining any organization as an agency. As such, no organization is now required by section 16 of the ODA 2001 to make an accessibility policy.
Background to the Current ODA Consultation
In his April 7, 2003 letter to the ODA Committee, Dalton McGuinty stated: "We therefore commit that: We will introduce, with the intent of passing within one year of forming government, a strong and effective Ontarians With Disabilities Act, following fully-accessible, province-wide hearings. It will incorporate all 11 principles that were adopted by the Ontario Legislature on October 29, 1998. The legislation and regulations will include timelines, standards and a mechanism for effective enforcement, and, at a minimum, will reflect the substance of amendments to the Conservative bill offered by the Liberal party in the fall of 2001."
To achieve this, the ODA, passed by the previous Government in 2001, must ultimately be amended to:
* make barrier removal and prevention mandatory, not voluntary, along reasonable time lines.
* extend the ODA's requirements to the private sector
* require the development of accessibility standards and
* provide for effective enforcement and remedies.
On December 3, 2003, the new Ontario Citizenship Minister, Dr. Marie Bountrogianni, announced that she will be holding public consultations on how to strengthen the ODA. For example, the Citizenship Ministry has asked for input on this question: "What are your organization's top three priorities to make the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 (ODA) more meaningful? Please identify both legislative changes and non-legislative initiatives, including those that would facilitate more immediate impacts (i.e. lower cost or no cost initiatives) in increasing the effectiveness of the ODA."
To see the ODA Committee's 11 principles for the ODA, visit:
To see the ODA Committee's full 1998 Blue Print for the ODA, visit:
To see the package of amendments to the previous Government's ODA 2001 that the Liberal Party put forward on December 10, 2001, at the request of the ODA movement, and that the Liberals have, at a minimum, promised to implement to strengthen the ODA visit:
The ODA Committee can be contacted at the following address:
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue, Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Tel: (Voice direct) 416-480-7686
Voice mail: 416-480-7012
TTY: c/o Susan Main 416 964-0023 ex. 343
Web site: www.odacommittee.net
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