ODA Committee Update
dated June 5, 2003
posted June 7, 2003
ONTARIANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT COMMITTEE UPDATE
Citizenship Minister Defaria Responds To ODA Committee's April 3, 2003 Letter
June 5, 2003
Citizenship Minister DeFaria has responded to the ODA Committee's April 3, 2003 letter. He did not specifically answer most of the detailed questions and issues raised in our April 3, 2003 letter. He instead describes recent Government activity aimed at implementing the ODA, which focuses on educating organizations and promoting voluntary compliance. He did not answer the key question of when his Government would set accessibility standards and regulations under the ODA, nor did he fix a date when the Government will proclaim in force section 21 of the ODA, the Act's only, albeit limited, enforcement provision.
On April 3, 2003, the ODA Committee sent Citizenship Minister DeFaria a detailed letter as a follow-up to his March 31, 2003 meeting with an ODA Committee delegation. You can find that letter on the ODA Committee's
The Minister responded initially in a short letter dated April 4, 2003. (See text below.) There, the Minister thanked us for the meeting and committed to respond in greater detail in a future letter.
The Minister then wrote to us again on May 15, 2003 (See text below). This provides his more detailed response to our letter. In that letter, the Minister largely described the requirements in the ODA. He focused on his Ministry's efforts at getting organizations to voluntarily remove barriers facing persons with disabilities. Those efforts include useful steps.
Action is starting to happen. However these steps are seriously hampered by the fact that they still leave it to organizations to act voluntarily if barriers facing persons with disabilities are to be removed.
Here are some of the key questions we had raised in our last letter to the Minister, and the responses that the Minister gives:
* We asked the Minister the question we have heard from several municipal accessibility advisory committees established under the ODA 2001, i.e. "How can the accessibility advisory committee get their municipality to listen to them and act on their advice?" The ODA 2001 does not require a municipality to take any action in response to a recommendation from the accessibility advisory committee or even to give an explanation for opting not to accept the committee's recommendation. The Minister does not offer us any suggestions. He just reiterates that municipalities are working on complying with the ODA legislation, and describes the Ministry's efforts at educating and supporting the municipalities.
* We asked what steps the Citizenship Ministry has taken to see whether all municipalities with a population over 10,000 have established a municipal accessibility advisory committee, and if so, whether they did so by last September 30, as the ODA 2001 required. The Minister does not indicate any steps having been taken to do this. He refers only to training sessions that the Ministry has provided to the municipal sector.
* We asked the Minister to have his Ministry obtain a copy of each accessibility plan that is made by a provincial ministry, municipality, college, university, school board, hospital, public transit provider or other body required under the ODA 2001. These are required to be made by September 30 of this year. We also asked that his Ministry post all these accessibility plans on its web site. This would make it far easier for the public to get ready access to all of them. It would also let members of the public compare different accessibility plans. The Minister indicates in his letter that the accessibility plans prepared by Ontario Government ministries will be posted on the internet. He does not say whether his Ministry will post all the other accessibility plans made under the ODA by other organizations that are required to make these plans.
* We asked the Minister to proclaim in force now section 21 of the ODA 2001, the only provision that is still not in force. That provision would impose a fine if public sector organizations do not make an annual accessibility plan, or if municipalities with a population over 10,000 do not establish a local disability accessibility advisory committee. The Minister's letter provides no date for proclamation. Read carefully, the Minister's letter does not even commit that this provision will ever be proclaimed in force. The Minister only said that this provision "will await proclamation" and that "If it becomes evident and data indicate that organizations are not meeting ODA obligations, proclamation of Section 21 may be considered at that time." This means that this provision may never be proclaimed in force.
He provides no indication of whether his Ministry will collect the very data he says he would need before deciding whether to proclaim in force this provision. Our last letter gave him data showing that at least one municipality was not in compliance with its ODA obligations as of last fall to establish a municipal accessibility advisory committee. That alone shows that there was a need for this provision to be proclaimed in force.
* We raised the need for the Government to make regulations under the ODA to create enforcement mechanisms and to set mandatory standards for removing and preventing barriers. We asked the Minister what standards his Ministry is developing under the ODA. We also raised the need to know when the Government would consult with the public on such regulations. The Minister's letter recites what the ODA itself provides, but committed to no time lines for Government action. His letter does not tell us what standards, if any, the Ministry is working on now.
* We raised the need for the Government-appointed provincial Accessibility Advisory Council to hold public consultations. We asked the Minister to bring together to the same consultation table representatives of the disability community, as well as other stake-holders such as the municipalities and the private sector. In that way we can all work together far more effectively.
The Minister's letter does not answer this request. Instead, he stated in the most general terms: "To date, the council has focused on meeting with and listening to the ministry's partners and stakeholders with an interest in the implementation of the ODA. The council feels strongly that in order to effectively meet its mandate, members need to be in touch with and reach out to a variety of our stakeholders." This unfortunately provides no informative details.
* Since the Minister had previously said that the Government-appointed provincial Accessibility Advisory Council was holding some sort of public consultations under the ODA about which we had not before been informed, we indicated to the Minister that it is important that we and the public be told that the Council is doing so, that there be a public invitation to give the Council input, and that the Government identify specific questions on which input is requested.The Minister's letter does not act on our request.
* We asked the Minister what the focus is of the Council's consultations, and what input the Council has received. The Minister did not answer this question.
* We asked when the Government plans to use its power to extend the ODA to the private sector. The Minister spoke of the need to convince the private sector that removing barriers was a good thing to do, but did not answer our specific question. He only described the Act's provisions, and the Ministry's efforts at getting the private sector to act voluntarily to remove barriers.
* In our letter, we had noted that 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. We noted also that even though the Ministry is said to have been working on these regulations since February of 2002, no regulation has yet been passed defining any organization as an agency. As such, no organization is required by section 16 of the ODA 2001 to make an accessibility policy.
We explained that it was important for a regulation to be passed which defines who is an "agency" for these purposes. We asked the Minister what he is now considering to include as an "agency."He did not respond. He stated that with regard to what constitutes an "agency," "the Accessibility Directorate has been working to develop the process that will be used to identify "agencies" and to create the framework governing the content of the accessibility policies that would be prepared under Section 16 of the ODA."
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April 4, 2003
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto, ON M4G 3E8
Dear Mr. Lepofsky
Thank you for your letter of April 3, 2003 regarding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act and our meeting on March 31.
As you know, our government is committed to an Ontario in which existing barriers are removed over time and no new barriers are created.
The opportunity to meet with yourself and other ODA Committee representatives was productive. I am reviewing the items outlined in your letter and will reply to you in more detail shortly.
May 15, 2003
Ontarians with Disabilities Act Committee
c/o Marg Thomas
1929 Bayview Avenue
Toronto ON M4G 3E8
Dear Mr. Lepofsky and Members of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act
Thank you for your letters dated March 18 and April 3, 2003 regarding the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 (ODA). I am writing to respond to these letters, and to follow up on our meeting of March 31, 2003.
I appreciate your commitment to the effective implementation of the ODA.
It is important that government, public and private sectors, organizations such as your committee, and individual Ontarians work together toward a province in which people with disabilities enjoy greater independence and have more access to opportunities.
Municipal accessibility advisory committees
Establishing accessibility advisory committees is the cornerstone for municipalities with populations over 10,000. Municipalities across this province are fulfilling their obligations by establishing these committees.
In fact, many municipalities had committees in place long before the September 30, 2002 proclamation, and some have had committees for a number of years. Accessibility advisory committees continue to develop co-operative relationships with their municipal councils.
We encourage newly established committees to consider the work of these municipalities as a guide to their own work. Examples of long-standing, successful committees include Peterborough, Windsor, Ottawa, and Kitchener-Waterloo.
Between September and December 2002, we held more than 30 information sessions for municipalities to support their work. We have prepared accessibility planning guidelines specifically to help municipalities establish committees.
We have encouraged all municipalities to contact the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario for help with any questions or concerns. Municipalities have also been encouraged to contact this ministry's regional consultants in their respective regions.
Organizations required to develop accessibility plans are well into the planning process. Under the ODA, they have the flexibility to identify priorities and timelines based on local resources and needs when preparing accessibility plans.
The Accessibility Directorate has provided specialized knowledge, tools and support to all sectors to ensure the effective implementation of the ODA. Ongoing support has been provided to sectors and government ministries in the work they are doing with accessibility planning.
For example, information sessions have recently been held for government ministries regarding this issue, and they will be posting their plans online.
A monitoring framework has also been developed to follow up with the planning progress of organizations with obligations under the ODA.
Section 21 of the ODA
The Government of Ontario believes that it needs to give all organizations with obligations under the ODA the time and tools to fulfill their obligations.
The Ministry of Citizenship's Accessibility Directorate continues to support all organizations with obligations under the ODA to ensure they understand their obligations.
The intent of the ODA as a legislative framework is to demonstrate effective planning and shared responsibility, with emphasis on implementation at the local level. Therefore, the offences provision will await proclamation.
It will take time to develop the expertise and to build the infrastructure and capacity to make meaningful change.
If it becomes evident and data indicate that organizations are not meeting ODA obligations, proclamation of Section 21 may be considered at that time.
Development of regulations
The development of regulations is an ongoing process, and specific timeframes are not set. However, work is under way.
Section 23 of the ODA requires that no regulation be finalized until a draft of the regulation has been published in The Ontario Gazette, and after interested persons have had an opportunity to make comments to the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.
This provision will allow the disability community and all interested parties the opportunity to provide input into any proposed regulation under the ODA.
We will welcome comments from ODAC and others at that time. In response to your concerns about what constitutes an "agency", the Accessibility Directorate has been working to develop the process that will be used to identify "agencies" and to create the framework governing the content of the accessibility policies that would be prepared under Section 16 of the ODA.
The Accessibility Directorate will be meeting with ministries in the next few weeks to discuss this. Once again, any draft regulations will be posted for public comment in The Ontario Gazette.
ODA and the private sector
The Accessibility Directorate's mandate includes conducting public education programs and developing industry or sector standards and codes of practice on barrier removal and prevention.
This legislation focuses on positive and constructive action - a balanced, reasonable and practical strategy that will engage all sectors of society.
It is apparent that the private sector has to regard accessibility not only as good for business, but also as the right thing to do.
To this end, the Accessibility Directorate has formed partnerships with a number of private-sector organizations to address accessibility and inclusion through the development of voluntary standards and codes of practice.
For example, the Ministry of Citizenship has partnered with the Canadian Standards Association to develop voluntary standards for customer service to increase the knowledge and skills of businesses when serving customers with disabilities.
The Accessibility Directorate is also working with the Greater Toronto Hotel Association.
This joint effort will develop a self-assessment checklist for the hospitality sector to rate its level of accessibility and identify what is required to create accessible facilities. The checklist will be promoted through the development of voluntary standards of accessibility.
The standards will allow hotels and restaurants to display accessible services and premises, and help customers identify hotels and restaurants that are accessible to people with disabilities.
By working with government and associations such as the Canadian Standards Association, proactive businesses will have the competitive advantage - persons with disabilities represent an estimated $25 billion in purchasing power nationwide.
By increasing the knowledge, skills, and awareness of companies serving customers with disabilities, we can create a win-win situation for all.
The ODA allows for the adoption of codes and standards. It is imperative that we continue to work with businesses to develop the understanding that accessibility is a necessary component of general business practice.
Role of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario
The legislated mandate of the Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario clearly identifies the role of the council as an advisor to the Minister of Citizenship on the implementation of the ODA and the preparation of the regulations.
The council's role is to comment on and to provide advice to me in a number of areas of the ODA. As advisors, council members do not act as advocates for any individual stakeholder group or on any specific issues.
To date, the council has focused on meeting with and listening to the ministry's partners and stakeholders with an interest in the implementation of the ODA.
The council recognizes the importance of bringing that broad range of information back to the Accessibility Directorate and to me for consideration to support the effective implementation of the ODA.
The council feels strongly that in order to effectively meet its mandate, members need to be in touch with and reach out to a variety of our stakeholders.
This ongoing outreach is a crucial aspect of the council's work.
I would like to thank you and your colleagues for meeting with me on March 31. The presentation and follow-up discussion were very informative.
Like the ODA Committee, the Government of Ontario is committed to moving ODA implementation forward in partnership with all stakeholders.
I appreciate the offer of assistance of the ODA Committee. I am always interested in hearing from you.
We look forward to continuing communications about the implementation of the ODA.
Original Signed by
c. The Honourable Ernie Eves
The Honourable Chris Stockwell
Minister of the Environment
Chair, Accessibility Advisory Council of Ontario
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Last updated June 7, 2003