On June 3, 2015—the 10th anniversary of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA)—Ontario’s government introduced an accessibility action plan, which establishes measures to meet the goal of an “accessible Ontario” by 2025. The action plan also responds to the Report on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act review released in February 2015.
There are five accessibility standards currently in place under the AODA. The timelines for full implementation of the five standards are outlined below (deadlines in bold have passed):
The Design of Public Spaces Standard began in 2007
- The Standard was enacted in 2013
- Full Implementation in Government is 2015
- Full Implementation in the Public Sector will be in 2016
- Full Implementation in the Private Sector will be in 2018.
The Employment Standard began in 2007
- The Standard was enacted in 2011
- Full Implementation in Government was 2013
- Full Implementation in the Public Sector is 2015
- Full Implementation in the Private Sector will be in 2017.
The Information and Communications Standard began in 2007
- The Standard was enacted in 2011
- Full Implementation in Government will be in 2020
- Full Implementation in the Public Sector will be in 2021
- Full Implementation in the Private Sector will be in 2021.
The Transportation Standard began in 2006
The Customer Service Standard began in 2006
- The Standard was enacted in 2008
- Full Implementation in Government was 2010
- Full Implementation in the Public Sector was 2010
- Full Implementation in the Private Sector was 2012
In addition, on January 1, 2015, amendments to Ontario’s Building Code came into force that will enhance accessibility in newly constructed buildings and existing buildings that are scheduled to undergo extensive renovations.
The action plan, Path to 2025: Ontario’s Accessibility Action Plan, focuses on three key priorities.
1. Initiatives to encourage businesses to hire persons with disabilities:
- Community Loans—a $4 million program to provide low-interest commercial loans to businesses that show a commitment to hiring persons with disabilities.
- Partnership for Accessible Employment—a $5 million program that helps small and medium-sized businesses hire and employ persons with disabilities.
- Abilities Connect—a $1.8 million partnership with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to help employers build more inclusive workplaces and create a network of businesses that promote best practices.
Moreover, the AODA Employment Standard will require large businesses in 2016 and small businesses in 2017 to provide for accessibility across the employment cycle, from recruitment to hiring to ongoing support. More accessible hiring processes, workplace information and career development will empower more people with disabilities to participate in the job market and the economy.
The government intends to launch an awareness campaign later this year so companies of all sizes will understand what’s required of them—and when.
2. Reviewing, streamlining and expanding accessibility laws and standards:
- Addressing barriers to accessibility identified through the government-wide review.
- Working with stakeholders on the steps the government could take regarding the timing of ongoing reviews of the act and accessibility standards. This would allow for collaboration with key stakeholders and the collection of critical implementation and compliance data to inform future reviews.
- Starting to repeal sections of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act duplicated by the AODA, reducing burden on municipalities and public sector organizations.
- Working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care to review gaps and barriers in the delivery of health care as a first step toward illuminating barriers that will be overcome through education, outreach and new standards.
- Introducing legislation addressing barriers to accessibility identified through a government-wide review of high-impact legislation, ensuring that government documents and appeals processes are accessible for people with disabilities.
- Amending the Customer Service Standard to clarify and streamline requirements based on advice from the Minister’s Standards Development Committee.
- Reviewing the Transportation Standard beginning in the fall of 2015 to ensure requirements are working as intended and enabling Ontarians to travel easily to where they need to go—including to their workplaces.
3. Promoting awareness of and enforcing accessibility standards:
- Consulting with industry disability advocates, certification experts, municipalities and not-for-profits to develop a voluntary, third-party certification program, similar to the “LEED” designation in green buildings.
- Collaborating with professional audit services to enhance compliance and audit activities.
- Exploring opportunities through social media or online platforms to expand and strengthen the conversation on accessibility between businesses and persons with disabilities.
- Creating more public awareness campaigns focusing on raising awareness of the AODA and the Employment Standard.
- Releasing an annual compliance and enforcement plan—which will include audit blitzes—and report back to inform the public of efforts being made, and monitor compliance trends among obligated organizations. These annual updates will outline the previous year’s results and publicize targets and the plan for the following year.
- Boosting ability to track incoming complaints and feedback. Public feedback will be used to inform trends analysis, as well as legislative reviews, outreach, compliance and enforcement activities.
- Making it easier for businesses and other organizations to find the tools and resources they need on the government website. These resources include:
- A help desk to provide assistance with questions about accessibility requirements and to receive both positive and negative feedback. The information is tracked and may inform future policy decisions.
- Policy guidelines with practical examples.
- Web-based training videos.
- Online templates to help organizations understand and meet their accessibility requirements.
- Extensive education and outreach activities across Ontario.
Other items to note
Many accessibility advocates have complained that the standards don’t require employers and service providers to retrofit their buildings to make them accessible. The 2015 review, conducted by University of Toronto law professor Mayo Moran, recommended that the government consider establishing Building Code requirements for building retrofits to remove architectural barriers. The government is considering the matter.
However, the government is not pursuing the tax incentives for accessibility recommended by Moran.
Will the measures outlined in this action plan be enough to make Ontario accessible by 2025, less than 10 years from now? Obviously we can’t say for sure. The government will likely have to try numerous initiatives and incentives to reach the goal, and many of those will fail to provide value.
One area to watch will be how employers treat employees who become disabled while working, either by injury or age. Employers will learn important lessons in accessibility from these employees—or face significant penalties.