A federal government consultation on accessibility legislation was held in Toronto on February 8. A representative from CWDO was there.

There was such an overwhelming response to the pre-registration, that a second ballroom was in place across the hall. Our rooms were linked together for opening comments, including comments from the Hon. David Onley, formerly the Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.  He has been appointed the Ontario Champion for accessibility as it relates to this legislation.

This consultation was one in a series of consultations held across the country, and was the last one scheduled. It was well represented, with over 200 people in attendance between the two rooms. Those who registered received a consultation guide outlining a number of questions the government had to address in developing the legislation.

After introductory remarks, people were asked to raise their hand so that they could be given a card with a number on it, and then people spoke in order of the number on their card. Each speaker was given 3 minutes to speak.

There were three key questions for feedback, and speakers could address any or all of them in their 3 minutes:

  1. What are the key barriers you are experiencing?
  2. What do you think should be done to address those barriers?
  3. What can be done to make attitudes toward people with disabilities more positive?

The federal government was particularly interested in hearing from us about whether we favoured a prescriptive approach, that is, setting timelines, standards, etc., or whether we preferred an outcomes-based approach, for example, awareness campaigns, and measuring progress over time. A couple of people spoke to this point – one who felt that a prescriptive approach was the only way to go since we've been working on "feel-good" campaigns since the 1970s and 1980s, and have not made much headway. Another speaker felt the opposite, and believed people had to have their heart in it to make progress.

Key points raised:

  • The organizers pointed out that employment was a main focus of interest, since everything else serves to be a barrier to employment if it is not available – transportation, housing, etc.
  • They wanted to hear from us about things that were within the federal purview – that is, things under their control and authority.
  • Several speakers in both rooms raised the importance of having an Ombudsman or other independent overseer to hold people accountable to the legislation
  • Several speakers raised the importance of having effective enforcement mechanisms
  • Individuals who were Deaf were very well represented in both rooms and very well organized. They spoke quite eloquently about various aspects of employment and inclusion that are barriers. It was suggested that the unemployment rate in the deaf community is approximately 88%. They also stressed the importance of education as a foundation for employment.
  • Many applicants in both rooms raised concerns related to unemployment rate for persons with disabilities. Statistics Canada has stated that 49% of persons with disabilities who could work are not employed in Canada
  • People recommended setting goals and targets for employers to hire people with disabilities
  • A couple of people spoke out to ensure that their groups would be included in the definition of disability for the legislation – autism and environmental sensitivities. They felt they were not included now
  • Several people raised points about the importance of the federal government using their leverage with regard to transfer payments to the provinces to insist that standards be in place, for example, education and healthcare
  • The point was made that taxpayer dollars should not be spent if the product or service was not accessible, that the government can use its "buying power" to address a number of barriers
  • Concerns were also raised regarding provincial and municipal procurement policies and how they impact accessibility here in Ontario.  The example used was the purchase of buses for a municipal transportation system that could not be made accessible.
  • The AODA Alliance recommended that the federal government NOT copy Ontario's approach to the AODA
  • Someone suggested that persons with disabilities be given access to sexual supports a comment which raised a huge round of applause
  • Some people representing municipal accessibility advisory committees think the committees have no role. stated clearly that the advisory committees are not working very well

There were other points raised, most of which are included in our submission which will be published on this website at the end of February. 

Thank you to the many CWDO members who attended the consultation and responded to our survey. Thank you also to the Canadian Disability Alliance(CDA) for reporting comments which were offered in the second room. Read the CDA's proposals on their Facebook page, and give them your feedback.