Moving forward with transit
In 2011, the OHRC reached settlements with the cities of Hamilton, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay in three transit-based cases at the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario. We filed the complaints in 2009 to increase accessibility for riders with vision disabilities by ensuring the transit services called out all transit stops.
All three transit providers took action and now have automated call out systems that incorporate backup procedures should the systems malfunction. The transit providers monitor their systems regularly to make sure they are working properly, and provide training for all drivers. As part of the cities’ commitment to accessible service, they have also helped transit riders learn about the stop announcement systems, and provided ways for riders to raise any concerns or get more information.
We also continued to follow up with both Variety Village and the Toronto Transit Commission about the Variety Village bus stop. This new stop made Variety Village, in Scarborough, more accessible for people with disabilities who rely on transit.
Update on the AODA
We have suggested ways to improve a full range of accessibility standards being developed by the Ontario Government under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). A number of these have now become law under the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation. This Regulation sets out requirements for employment, information and communication, and transit that will help to prevent many new barriers. For example, similar to our transit settlements, we were successful in getting requirements to announce transit stops included in the Regulation.
Another positive change is that organizations must train their staff on the rights of people with disabilities under the Human Rights Code. This led to a partnership between the OHRC, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario and Curriculum Services Canada to develop an e-learning module about the relationship between the Code, the AODA and its regulations. The module will set out human rights principles for implementing AODA standards and will be released this year.
We continue to be concerned, however, that the regulations often do not require removing existing barriers. This may not meet the requirements of the Code and will be of particular concern for the built environment standards, which the Government of Ontario is expected to release this coming year.
In the first statutory review of the AODA, Charles Beer called for a provincial policy framework on accessibility so that other legislation, regulations, standards, policies, programs and services harmonize with the AODA and the Code. We supported this recommendation, and continue work to make this happen.
Urging government to meet international obligations
We celebrated International Human Rights Day in December, 2011, by calling for a policy framework approach to disability issues in a joint press release issued through the Canadian Association of Statutory Human Rights Agencies (CASHRA). We asked governments at all levels to meet their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).
In 2011, the OHRC and other commissions met with national disability organizations, including the Council of Canadians with Disabilities and the Canadian Association for Community Living, to discuss how we might work together to monitor implementation of the CRPD and report on results. With their input, the OHRC developed a brochure to promote the CRPD in Ontario and across Canada. The brochure is already being reprinted for distribution by the Council of Canadians with Disabilities, and others.
One of the requirements under the CRPD is to make sure people with disabilities can take an equal part in political and public life. This includes the right to vote by secret ballot, and to run for and hold office. Other requirements are accessible voting procedures, facilities and materials, and making it possible to use assistive technology (Article 29).
Working with the Law Commission on disability
The Law Commission of Ontario is developing a tool to guide government in drafting legislation, regulations, policies and programs so that they protect the rights of people with disabilities. The OHRC is a member of the Law Commission’s Disability Project Advisory Group, along with ARCH Disability Law Centre and other groups representing persons with disabilities.
Continuing to work on special diet allowances
We have also been promoting the rights of persons with disabilities in other areas of public policy. In 2008, we referred almost 200 individual complaints about the Ontario Government’s Special Diet Allowance Program to the Human Rights Tribunal. This program was designed to help people with the extra costs of therapeutic diets prescribed by their heath care professionals.
The Tribunal considered three “lead” complaints and in February 2010 found the program’s eligibility criteria violated the Human Rights Code because it excluded certain medical conditions or provided relatively unequal amounts for other conditions.
Together with community legal clinics, we continue to be involved at the Tribunal and in enforcing Tribunal orders, so that people with certain medical conditions, including persons with schizophrenia who are taking second generation medication, receive the support they need.
Disability – looking at the numbers
The OHRC is working on two projects with Statistics Canada and the Canadian Human Rights Commission. These projects look at data that reveal the level of inequality experienced by persons with disabilities across socio-economic indicators like income, housing, education and employment. One study focuses on people with mental health disabilities and the other on people with disabilities in general. We will report on the results over the coming year.
Seberras v. the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board
In Seberras v. the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board, we intervened at the Tribunal on the preliminary issue of the definition of services. The Tribunal ruled that providing WSIB benefits and the system used does constitute a service, but that individual eligibility decisions are not.
This case involves looking at whether the WSIB’s Traumatic Mental Stress policy and related provisions of the Workplace Safety and Insurance Act are discriminatory because they add arbitrary requirements that are not required for people with physical injuries. The Tribunal has not yet held a hearing on the merits of the case.
Tranchemontagne v. the Ministry of Community and Social Services
We intervened at the Ontario Court of Appeal in another critical case involving disability – in this case, severe alcohol addiction. The Court upheld the Divisional Court’s earlier decision that found denying disability benefits to people whose sole disability is addiction is discriminatory.