Ontario accessibility in 'crisis,' says report quietly released by Ford government

The Ontario government quietly released a review last week calling the current state of accessibility in the province a 'crisis.' (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)
The Ontario government quietly released a review last week calling the current state of accessibility in the province a 'crisis.' (Michael Wilson/CBC - image credit)
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With a year left until Ontario is supposed to be fully accessible, the state of accessibility in the province is in "crisis," a new report finds.

The declaration, along with over 23 recommendations on how to get the province back on track, was made in a critical report by Rich Donovan, the fourth person appointed to review the province's progress implementing the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

Enacted in 2005, the AODA was intended to make the province accessible by 2025. But at the pace things have been going, Donovan says it's a "near certainty" that the province will miss the mark, directly impacting the 2.9 million people with disabilities in Ontario.

"The implications of getting accessibility right — and the continually rising costs of failing to do so — are why the Ontario government must care. Must prioritize. Must act," wrote Donovan, who was appointed in 2022 to undertake the review.

"Any further delays are an unacceptable risk to the province."

The Ontario government quietly released the report last Thursday, months after receiving it in June. Building on his interim report released in March, Donovan found that:

  • AODA outcomes are poor and are failing people with disabilities.

  • Enforcement of the legislation does "not exist."

  • The lack of data and research for people with disabilities was the "single biggest missed opportunity" since the AODA was enacted in 2005.

  • There is a "lack of urgency" on the file from both current and previous Ontario governments.

  • There is a "lack of accountability" for implementing the AODA both in the public and private sector.

However, the review "is not intended to be an indictment of the Ontario Government," Donavon wrote.

"While the identification of gaps is necessary, the emphasis of the recommendations report is how to move forward."

Ministry defends time taken to table report

Donovan made 23 recommendations under the categories: crisis, strategic and tactical. According to his report, the "vast majority" of them are designed to be completed in the next three years.

Crisis recommendations must be resolved within 180 days, he said, and are intended to address immediate threats to public safety. His report says they will lay the "necessary groundwork for a successful accessible regime that has been absent for 17 years."

This includes the creation of emergency response protocols in provincial buildings, creating a new agency dedicated to all things AODA, and making sure the government, through the Crown agency Supply Ontario, only procures accessible services and products after 2025.

Rich Donovan is the fourth reviewer of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, appointed to review the legislation in 2022.
Rich Donovan is the fourth reviewer of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, appointed to review the legislation in 2022.

Rich Donovan is the fourth reviewer of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, appointed to the task in 2022. (The Return on Disability)

Meanwhile, strategic recommendations are geared toward shifting private sector accessibility regulation to the federal government — something Donovan says can help get rid of duplication and boost enforcement now that Canada is working on a federal counterpart of the AODA, the Accessible Canada Act.

Tactical recommendations focus on "immediate tangible improvements," such as building a team to collect, analyze and publish disability research and assembling an initial panel of 100 different people with disabilities, who aren't advocates or activists, to help inform policy.

In an email to CBC Toronto, the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility defended the time it took to table the report, saying Donovan's review required "careful review and consideration."

"We believe Mr. Donovan's report warranted time spent on a thoughtful analysis and response to his recommendations and that is what we have done."

The statement says the ministry has started work on at least three of his recommendations:

  • The creation of a new volunteer group of people with disabilities to provide their experience and feedback on accessibility issues.

  • An update to building evacuation plans for all government-owned buildings and leased buildings.

  • All government procurement through Crown agency Supply Ontario incorporating accessibility standards.

"We will continue to work together with our partners and across government to address the other recommendations that could helps us meet, achieve or exceed AODA standards by 2025," the statement reads.

Advocates mixed on report, critics take aim at province

In a news release Monday, AODA Alliance, a consumer watchdog group, welcomed some, but not all of Donovan's recommendations.

The alliance says it supports the formation of a crisis committee, the creation of an action plan for achieving accessibility and the forming of a new provincial agency to take primary responsibility for AODA implementation and enforcement.

However, in the release, the alliance says it does not support Ontario transferring the regulation of accessibility in the private sector to the federal government. Among other things, it also doesn't support imposing accessibility surcharges on some government services, or Donovan's view that there is an "over-reliance" on accessibility standards at the expense of the lived experience of people with disabilities.

David Lepofsky is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.
David Lepofsky is Chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance.

David Lepofsky is chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

Regardless, AODA Alliance chair David Lepofsky said there was no good reason to keep the report hidden from the public for this long.

"The report found that Ontario is far behind schedule and has no effective action plan to lead this province to become accessible by 2025 or by any time in the future," Lepofsky said in the release.

"Instead of using the past six months to follow this wise recommendation, Premier Ford squandered those months by keeping Donovan's report secret."

In a separate news release Monday, the NDP says it's calling for "urgent action" after the Progressive Conservatives tried the "bury" the report.

"It speaks volumes that the Conservative government sat on this report for six months instead of taking immediate action to address this crisis," said MPP Monique Taylor, the critic for Children, Community, and Social Services.

"It's clear they are not taking it seriously. We need urgent action to address this serious challenge, especially if we want to have any hope of getting anywhere near AODA standards by 2025."