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Friday, November 1, 2013

Let's Talk About The AODA

I'm finding that people inside and outside Ontario don't know what the AODA is, and especially Ontarians, that's not good, cause the AODA is a big thing.  I'm taking a course on it right now, so here's what I got so far. 

AODA stands for the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2005).  It will eventually replace the also-in-effect Ontarians with Disabilities Act (2001), which applies only to making government accessible.  The AODA affects not just the government, but everywhere else.  

The goal of the AODA is to make Ontario completely accessible (or as reasonably accessible as possible) by the year 2025 in customer service, employment, information and communication, built environments, and transportation.  This includes the public sector (government, education, medical, religious organizations) and private sector (businesses). 

Basically, the government of Ontario recognizes that 1 in 7 Ontarians are disabled (approximately 1.7 million Ontarians) and that this number will rise in years to come.  Especially with the aging population, it's been estimated that about 60% of the population will be disabled.  And the province needs to be accessible, to follow human rights, equality, participation of citizens and to change perceptions on disability. 

What's exciting about the AODA is that it was created by non-political people, people who usually don't get involved with government and it was unanimously passed by government.  It is legislation from the people, rather than from the government.  It takes the burden of accessibility off the disabled (in theory), and makes it an issue of the province.  So instead of having to fight for Accessibilty case by case, violations of the AODA are seen as a crime against the province and the province is responsible for pursuing crimes of inaccessibility.  

So how is this suppose to work?  Well, there are five committees, for transportation, employment, customer service, information and communication, and built environments.  These committees release standards that various businesses and organizations have to meet by certain time periods.  For example, just this year, the standards for large businesses and non-profits came into effect.  They have to meet these standards, or, failing an inspection or non-compliance, face a fine of $50,000.  

Smaller businesses have more time to comply, but there's still arguments saying that the government should help them to achieve accessibility on time.  

But part of compliance is to submit a report, I believe every five years, the same way that the standards are reviewed and renewed every five years.  But this is why you'll see hospitals, schools, and businesses releasing accessibility plans on their websites in Canada; it's part of the AODA that they have this information available to the public.  They also are responsible for training their staff.  

Municipalities with populations over 10,000, and places that want to, are required to have an accessible advisory committee.  These people advises the municipality on leases, purchases, constructions, and renovations of buildings the city is in charge of, and to review the plans and drawings of development projects.  

There is also an Accessibility Directorate of Ontario.  This person is in charge of accessibility in public education.  I'm not entirely sure how they are suppose to work yet, to be perfectly honest.  

Yes, the AODA has some problems.  For example, as mentioned in the Beer Report (PDF) there are issues with government leadership and involvement, notably with compliance and enforcement.  There are also issues with harmonization between the standards, with confusing overlaps and inconsistencies.  Think about how transportation and built environments must overlap, or customer service and built environments, or employment and customer service.  

There are also issues with awareness.  A growing number of news articles report disabled people being turned out of restaurants with their service animals, because the owners weren't aware of the AODA or refused to acknowledge a service animal.  But there's also public awareness that the AODA is a part of their legislation, that accessibility is part of their rights.  

Obviously, the AODA isn't in complete effect yet, and what is in effect is not perfect.  However, it's suppose to be elections in the next year or so, and this is working to make a difference, not only for current disabled people, but for the future as well.  

For more information, I do recommend reading the Beer Report (PDF) as it's called, as it is a good breakdown of the AODA.  For AODA news, I recommend the AODA Alliance. 

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