What is needed for successful implementation of AODA?
On May 31, 2013, the Government marked National Access Awareness Week with the release of Charting a Path Forward: Report of the Independent Review of the Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act, 2005. The Minister of Community and Social Services, Madeleine Meilleur, also provided some details on the upcoming implementation of new standards, timelines for implementation, penalties for non compliance and a framework for appeals.

Under section 41 of the AODA, a comprehensive review is mandatory within four years after the act takes effect. Charles Beer was commissioned by the government to conduct an independent review of the process of implementing the AODA (since only one standard has been passed into law) and to report on the findings and make recommendations for improving the effectiveness of the act and regulations. The review included consultation with the public and persons with disabilities.

Overall, the Report provides a good overview of process issues related to the efforts to implement the AODA. The Report considers many of the challenges with the development of the standards including concerns AMO has raised regarding:

  • Leadership;
  • Implementation challenges including harmonization and costs;
  • Integration of the AODA with other legislation and initiatives; and
  • The standards development process.
These concerns have been identified by AMO and captured in the paper supported by the AMO Board of Directors, The Case for Harmonization of AODA Standards. The issues and recommendations identified will provide a good backdrop to measure against as the government continues with the implementation of the Act.

A significant portion of the Report focuses on the need for strong leadership and establishing appropriate governance and oversight on implementing the AODA in its entirety including:
  • Formally designating the Minister of Community and Social Services as Minister Responsible for Accessibility;
  • Elevating the role of the Assistant Deputy Minister to Deputy Minister;
  • Establishing a more effective public awareness and education campaign; and
  • The creation of an arm’s length advisory body - the Ontario Accessibility Standards Board with responsibility for oversight of the standards and to replace the standards development committee process.
These recommendation speak to the need for a more focused and coherent approach to the development of standards that will be implemented by stakeholders including municipalities. AMO has raised concerns regarding the composition and process of the standard development committees-specifically that appropriate technical expertise was lacking and that the committees had not been brought together in a manner that supported a principled approach to developing shared outcomes that included developing standards that are feasible, practical, implementable and affordable. Rather than overly technical standards, AMO had proposed an outcomes focused standard development process. AMO has also called on the government to demonstrate greater accountability in the implementation of the AODA as it is anticipated that for many municipalities, the implementation of the AODA standards will have significant cost and human resource impacts.

AMO has long said, that the issues with implementing the act are not based on a debate of whether accessibility is the right thing to do-municipalities have long been leaders in this area - even in the absence of a compliance and enforcement framework. The concerns rest, with  establishing sound standards that are supported by appropriate timelines to implement the numerous standards so that accessibility planning will be sustainable and that the objectives of the act will in fact, be achieved.

On May 31st, the Minister also provided some details on the framework for implementing the next three standards - Information and Communication, Employment and Transportation - and penalties and appeals. AMO was pleased that the government responded to some of our concerns and will integrate these next three standards into a single regulation. Details on what this will look like have not been provided, it is expected that the regulation will be available for review in early fall. It appears that the municipal concern with more flexible timelines for implementing the standards and a less burdensome training schedule have not been addressed at this time.

AMO is hopeful that the important observations and recommendations provided by Charles Beer will be reflected in the future efforts to implement the act. A sound policy process recognizing the need for flexibility to implement standards based on timelines that allow for appropriate budgeting are imperative to the success of the AODA. As Charles Beer has indentified, achieving good outcomes must be driven by strong and supportive leadership.

AMO will continue to monitor the progress of the AODA and work with its Resource Teams to understand the implications for municipalities and to develop principled recommendations for improvement to the government.