Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Ontario Human Rights Commission article, and comments

There is an interesting article from the Ontario Human Rights Commission that discusses their submission regarding the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and changes that are proposed to make the AODA more effective, and compliant to the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Here is the link to this article:
This blog will discuss some quotes from this article.

"Disability is consistently the most frequent ground of discrimination cited in over 50% of applications to the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario."  This first quote should hopefully draw attention to the fact that we need to be doing far better at meeting the needs of our citizens with disabilities.   Whether it be the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, the AODA, the Human Rights Commission, or other obligations that pertain to our nation, we need to start taking all of this more seriously if we claim to be a country that values the basic rights of every citizen.

"In its 2009 submission on the first AODA legislative review, the OHRC called for better harmonization between the AODA and the Ontario Human Rights Code as well as other laws including the Ontario Building Code Regulation.[2] The first AODA review report released in 2010,[3] and the government’s response,[4] both recognize the need to look at options for harmonizing legislation."  This second quote clearly shows that there is a lack of action.  The first submission was five years ago yet harmonization of legislation is still very slow to conform.  This clearly shows the level of commitment by our elected officials, which is very little.

"As stated in past submissions,[9] the OHRC also recommends that AODA regulations should adopt the following accessibility-related human rights principles to help guide overall interpretation of the standards:
  • Design universally / inclusively
  • Create no new barriers
  • Identify and remove existing barriers
  • Favour integration over segregation
  • Provide interim or next best measures where ideal or full accommodation is not (yet) feasible
  • Achieve results progressively to the maximum of available resources, and at the same time
  • Consider and accommodate individual needs short of undue hardship by exploring solutions through a cooperative process that maximizes confidentiality and respect." Create no new barriers...our National Building Code still exempts houses from barrier-free design requirements in section so we are still creating barriers by continuing with our outdated construction techniques.  VisitAbility in new housing would offer a cost-effective solution to this goal of not creating new barriers in homes, where we spend the greatest portion of each day.  It would also decrease the number of deaths and serious injuries that happen nation wide because of the poor design of our homes.  Here's a brief video which introduces VisitAbility, as well as its benefits to all individuals, regardless of age or ability.

"The weakest aspect of the regulated standards to date is that very few require removal of existing barriers. The standards mostly focus on preventing new barriers going forward, which is necessary, but also inadequate to make Ontario accessible by 2025." With homes being exempt from barrier-free requirements, removing barriers in homes is also not deemed to be a priority, even with our significant challenges surrounding our aging population.  How can we support their right to age in their own homes, safely, if we continue to ignore the danger in some of these homes?  We don't even regulate our renovation sector, so even if an individual chooses to be proactive and look into barrier-free features, what training or oversight is there in place for the bad apples in the renovation sector?  Some renovation companies are very capable and offer best practices, even though homes are exempt from barrier-free requirements, but this is not a standard requirement in this sector.

"The OHRC recommends that the government find more ways to give the AODA broader public profile and support including through promotion, education and training, including with professional and trade schools, accreditation institutions and associations."  Yes, please do so as soon as possible.  Media exposure would be great.  If the general public is not aware, then they won't know that current obligations exist.  This education program should also extend to Home Builder Associations nation wide, and discussions on barrier removal in the housing industry should be a priority item.

"The OHRC recommends that the government begin seeking public input on other priority areas for new regulated standards under the AODA.
In no particular order of priority, new regulated standards might be considered for areas such as:
  • Air quality standards of the type proposed by the former Built Environment Standards Development Committee in 2009 to address the needs of persons with environmental disabilities[21]
  • Captioning and descriptive video standards for movie theatres and movie distributors operating in Ontario
  • Accessibility standards for the education system, health care services and residential housing (as recommended by the AODA Alliance)
  • Accessibility standards to facilitate participation in sporting and leisure activities
  • Standards for accessible elections including: accessible constituency offices and meeting rooms and polling stations and returning offices; internet and telephone voting; accessible all candidate debates[22]
  • Standards for psychological health and safety in the workplace[23]
  • Other elements for potential standards proposed by the former Built Environment Standards Development Committee such as building maintenance, contrast, colour, glare, acoustics, lighting, furniture placement, workplace offices, cafeterias, libraries, courtrooms, stages, balconies, terraces, porches, mailboxes, amusement parks, fitness rooms, etc." I strongly agree with new standards for residential housing.  I have made suggestions to the AODA reviewer to consider VisitAbility as a minimum barrier-free design standard for new housing. Ample research proves that it is cost-effective and easy to implement if done properly during the planning stage of a new build. 
"The development of new standards should always be mindful to avoid creating new barriers or falling below minimum gains already achieved. New standards should make clear significant progress over the status quo. Standards should represent the current best-known practices and specifications, which inevitably will evolve, improve and need to be revisited and revised on a regular basis. This on the other hand should not become an excuse to avoid developing new standards into regulation in the first place."  Well said.

My experience in advocating for change is that very few developers and home builders care about VisitAbility or any other form of accessibility features for homes, and some actively resist them.  Part of it stems from fear that it is expensive or ugly, but my Facebook page shows a number of albums with photos and documents that suggest otherwise.

We need to move toward a more inclusive design approach in new housing, which will require a cultural shift in existing biases and myths.  Education is key.  Here is the website for the Canadian Centre on Disability Studies, and their national VisitAbility Project, if anyone would like to learn more.  I'm the coordinator for the Ottawa VisitAbility Task Force so please don't hesitate to forward any questions. I would be happy to forward information if your are interested.