COMMUNITY CONVERSATIONS: The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a great step forward. But is it just words on paper?

Andrew Tutty

People with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world, approximately 10 per cent of the population. Over the last 60 years, people with disabilities have demanded access to the goods and services others take for granted. They have moved society to recognize that barriers exist and they must be removed. People with disabilities became “activists” and dealt with slow and immovable objects like governments to make change happen.

In the 1940s, there was societal acceptance that many physical and program barriers existed. Disability organizations began to lobby government with a collective, more effective voice for concrete changes. In the United States, a standard was established in 1981 with minimum requirements for barrier-free physical and program access. This policy soon spread to Europe, Asia, Japan, Australia, and Canada.

Fast-forward to June 13, 2005 when Ontarians saw their provincial government, guided by citizen consultation including persons with disabilities, enshrine into law the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), making a commitment of full access to goods and services by 2025. The legislation requires all communities of 10,000 persons or more to establish an Accessibility Advisory Committee composed of a municipal representative and citizens representing various disabilities, to provide advice on accessibility plans. Standards are set with firm implementation dates for the public sector, business and other organizations, affecting transportation, customer service, information and communications, employment, and the physical built environment.

Like any other legislation, the AODA should be enforced and provide penalties for non-compliance, discrimination or denial of access to goods and services based on a person’s disability. But this is not the case. Instead, an individual must make an application to the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal if they face such discrimination.
Why create the AODA if it is not enforced? If this is the law of the land, and it is, then it should not fall to the individual to ensure it is being upheld. Individuals don’t have to catch and prosecute other lawbreakers.

It is the responsibility of the government to have enforcement processes in place just like any other legislation. Changes to the Ontario Human Rights Code procedures faces insufficient funding for legal representation for low income, underrepresented or other groups contemplating redress. Many persons with disabilities fall within these categories making it financially burdensome to have cases heard. But individuals shouldn’t have to. This is where the AODA should come into force through fines or other legal remedies. After all, the government has given all sectors 20 years to comply with the legislation, with lowest cost components being initiated first.

How much longer must disabled persons wait to gain full access and protection under the law: 60 more years? More than 30 years ago, the United Nations designated 1981 as International Year of the Disabled. More recently, they enshrined disabled rights as human rights. This Convention entered into force in 2008. Canada ratified the treaty in 2010. Are these human rights and the AODA just words on paper? Laws need effective enforcement or they are only suggestions.

Andrew Tutty was diagnosed with Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP) at age 24. RP is a degenerative eye disease causing the degeneration of retinal cells. Since his diagnosis, he has utilized adaptive technologies to compensate for this lack of vision and is always interested in the leveling effect new technologies have. He currently has about three per cent of usable vision. Tutty sits on two municipal accessibility advisory committees and is a liaison for Safe Communities Halton Hills. He also writes a monthly article for a Georgetown community paper on disability related issues. Tutty moved to the K-W area after marrying his beautiful wife in 2011 and sees first hand the many positive efforts towards access and accommodation in this great municipality.