August 10, 2010
In June of 2009 our government appointed former Ontario Minister of Community and Social Services, Charles Beer to conduct the first independent review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005. The goal of the review was to determine whether the objective of an accessible province was being met in an effective, efficient, flexible and fair manner.
Mr. Beer held broad consultations from September to December, 2009 with a wide array of individuals and groups from across the province. There were close to 90 meetings with interested parties and public meetings were held in Toronto, Ottawa and London. Videoconferences were arranged with northern communities and English and French online seminars were coordinated to reach people with disabilities who otherwise would not have been able to participate.
On May 31, 2010 I was pleased to table Mr. Beer’s final report, Charting a Path Forward: Report of the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, in the Legislature during National Access Awareness Week. We were fortunate enough to have Mr. Beer present in the House on that day and I took the opportunity to thank him for his dedication to the project.
As the Minister responsible for accessibility in Ontario, I have reviewed Mr. Beer’s report and our government is responding. Mr. Beer suggested that we harmonize standards, and we agree. That is why we are prepared to move forward on this specific recommendation immediately. Moreover, I strongly agree with Mr. Beer’s caution that we must not lose focus on our immediate priority of implementing the remaining four accessibility standards. Once regulations for those standards are in place, I will continue to bring forward changes that will help us reach our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.
During the public review of each of the standards, we consistently heard the need to align the requirements of the standards. The disability, municipal and business communities spoke, and our government listened. That is why we are moving forward with Mr. Beer’s recommendation regarding the need to align the requirements of the standards. Over the coming months, our government intends to integrate the information and communications, transportation and employment standards.
This approach will mitigate cumulative impacts and prevent duplication. In 2013, customer service will also be integrated in the regulation. Most changes to the Built Environment will be reflected in changes to the Ontario Building Code. The rest will be integrated into regulation as well.
While we will continue to seek advice from key stakeholders in the community to make sure we get it right, it is my hope to have the integrated regulation completed and in force in 2011.
I believe, as the Minister responsible for accessibility, that this government has shown substantial leadership when it comes to improving accessibility. In his report Mr. Beer underlines the importance of building on the impressive work that has been accomplished to date. He makes reference to a number of specific initiatives taken at the operational level to strengthen the overall administration of the AODA. He notes steps taken to improve the workings of the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees (MAACs), to provide new tools for the obligated sectors to implement the Customer Service standard, and to develop the enforcement and compliance mechanisms that are now required. He also stresses that we must continue to move forward in a deliberate and focused way to achieve the goals and objectives of the AODA by 2025. We are maintaining this focus.
Ontario is a world leader on accessibility, and our government will continue to champion actions that keep us out in front. In fact, we are moving more quickly than other jurisdictions and, by including requirements not only for the public and broader public sectors but also for the private and not-for-profit sectors, our standards are broader in scope.
In terms of outreach and awareness, our government has already made some tremendous strides. In 2007 we launched AccessOn, our accessibility website, designed to help obligated organizations learn about the legislation and what they need to do to comply, as well as to raise awareness among the public about what accessibility means and how to identify and remove barriers. The EnAbling Change Program has been a particular success as Mr. Beer notes in his report. We have worked closely with a variety of obligated sector organizations to provide clear and useful information to assist their members to implement the accessibility standards. More will be done with this innovative program. Finally, this year we started a YouTube channel dedicated to accessibility which we plan to use to engage a whole new social media audience in accessibility. These initiatives will continue to strengthen public awareness for accessibility.
I was also pleased this year, both by the fact that the Ontario Public Service was the first organization to file their compliance report under the new Accessible Customer Service Standard, and by the high rate of compliance with the standard among the broader public sector.
We are now shifting the focus of our outreach and awareness raising efforts towards reaching the approximately 322,000 private sector and 38,000 non profit sector entities that will be obligated to comply with the standards as of January 1, 2012.
While Mr. Beer’s review found that there are many positive elements to the current standards development process, he has stated that changes are needed to address the significant challenges that emerged through the course of the work.
I agree that changes are needed, and this will continue to be a work in progress. That is why I have asked staff to further explore Mr. Beer’s recommendation for establishing an Ontario Accessibility Standards Board and to report back to me early in 2011. I have always valued the advice of community partners and staff in my ministry. In fact, it was through conversations and requests at the community partnership level that resulted in an increase in the number of disability advocates sitting on the Standard Development Committees.
I strongly agree with Mr. Beer’s recommendation that our immediate focus should remain on the implementation of the remaining standards before making any changes. Changing the standards development process would require significant amendments to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005, and at this time I want to keep my attention on completing the standards. For this same reason, I am not contemplating any immediate organizational changes. I believe any future steps should be considered in the context of the review of the proposed Ontario Accessibility Standards Board. The implementation of such a board could well have a number of implications for the existing organizational structure.
As part of the review, I asked Mr. Beer to make recommendations for a strategy to repeal the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
As the Minister responsible for accessibility, I intend on repealing the Ontarians with Disabilities Act once the regulations for the five standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 are in place. This is consistent with Mr. Beer’s recommendation. Appropriate aspects of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act will be incorporated into the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 at that time.
Mr. Beer noted that Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees have an important role to play in achieving the vision of an accessible Ontario. By building a foundation of awareness and support at the local and community level, they can continue to be tremendous partners in our accessibility plan. I strongly support the role that Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees play, and I agree with Mr. Beer. My ministry will continue to work closely with our municipal colleagues to ensure they continue to be a part of the provincial conversation on accessibility.
My ministry has recently launched a section on the ontario.ca/AccessON website dedicated to “Accessibility in Your Community,” which offers stories and video profiles on communities that are champions in accessibility and examples of best practices at the local level. We continue to work with the Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees as we seek out local and community success stories that can help build awareness across the province about the benefits of accessibility and some of the simple things we can all do to break down barriers.
Ministry staff will also be holding a series of regional forums in 2011 to advise Municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees of the progress being made under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
As we continue to implement this important piece of legislation, our approach will make Ontario a world leader in accessibility. Ontario will be the first jurisdiction in the world to move from complaints-based legislation to a modern regulatory regime in the area of mandated accessibility. We will take this journey together – government, broader public sector, private businesses and the public. And together we will build a stronger, more inclusive society for us all.