For the past year, the OHRC has been busy reviewing and commenting on areas where standards are being developed under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).
Disability continues to be one of the most cited grounds in discrimination complaints so this will continue to be a priority. People continue to face issues like getting a ramp so they can enter their apartment building, or being put on the end of the list in hospital emergency rooms because they have a mental health issue.
The OHRC thanked the development committees for the work on the new standards to date, and suggested options for improving the standards. Most of the suggestions reflect the OHRC’s view that these standards should be the floor, not a ceiling, for making Ontario accessible. Here are some highlights of our comments.
Proposed Accessible Built Environment Standard:
The OHRC recommended that the standard set out human rights principles to help organizations interpret the standards in accordance with the Code. Key points included:
- Recognizing that even if the standard sets a longer timeline, organizations still have an immediate and ongoing duty to accommodate individual requests, as much and as soon as possible, up to the point of undue hardship
- The duty to accommodate applies regardless of an organization’s size, and may require alternative or interim solutions depending on the circumstances
- The lack of harmony between the standard, the Building Code and the Human Rights Code, and requesting public consultation to harmonize them
- The Government’s role in providing resources and education, and monitoring compliance and impact to ensure the standard’s success
- Exemptions, especially relating to undue hardship for new construction, are serious concerns
- The first version of the standard should have provisions for retrofit and single family housing accessibility.
The OHRC also has concerns about other elements, including: the broader benefit of universal washrooms, captioning and descriptive video requirements for movie theatres that fall below the standards coming out of recent human rights decisions, and the lack of any retrofit requirements for restaurants.
Proposed Employment Accessibility Standard
The Employment Accessibility Standard will require employment policies, procedures and training to help employers take an accessible approach to recruiting, hiring, retaining and accommodating people with disabilities. In its submission to the committee working on this, the OHRC made many recommendations to enhance the standard, including:
- Adding key human rights principles, such as to design inclusively, create no new barriers, remove existing barriers, choose integration over segregation, provide interim accommodation when needed, and work with the person asking for accommodation in a way that promotes dignity and respect
- Expanding beyond paid employees to include volunteers, family members and other people who work without a salary to gain experience, such as someone on a student placement
- Having employers add accommodation procedures to accessible employment policies
- Clearly stating that when an accommodation is requested, employers have a duty to accommodate under the Code now, even though the Standard may only require system-wide accessibility at the end of a number of years. This includes when deciding essential job duties and offering application materials in alternate formats
- In terms of return to work processes, advising all employers that they have a duty to accommodate a disabled employee’s needs upon request, short of undue hardship, regardless of whether their disability was a result of a workplace injury.
AODA Statutory Review
The OHRC met with Charles Beer, who was appointed by the Government to lead the first statutory review of the AODA. We identified human rights principles that are core to developing standards, and called for a strong system to help implement and monitor compliance with each of the Standards. The OHRC also took part at public meetings and made a submission as part of the review process.
Our goal is to have the AODA standards make Ontario a truly accessible place for all who live here.