In recent months I've become aware of our Accessibility Advisory Committee here in Meaford, a committee of mostly citizens who advise Council on matters pertaining to accessibility, or in other words, progress towards meeting the goals of 'AODA'. I've started learning about accessibility issues fast, and may even apply to be on this committee.
AODA is a remarkable piece of legislation I've just started learning about. Passed by the province in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) promised to make Ontario fully accessible by 2025, just over one year away now. The responsibility fell to everyone, including municipalities and the private sector as well as the province.
To make a long story short the proposed work was divided into several areas, not just physical access to buildings such as I need, but similar concerns with employment, training, education, transit and so on. Committees were to set standards in each area to guide agencies across the province in making the area of their own responsibility more accessible.
It has opened my eyes to the many different forms of disability, for most are invisible disabilities. Of about 2.9 million disabled in Ontario (20% of the population), only about 150,000 use wheelchairs, and a very small portion of those use power chairs such as mine.
What hit me most as I was thrown into learning about this legislative and program lens on being disabled, was the result of the most recent program review. This is the 4th legislative review, all conducted by external experts, in this case Rich Donovan.
What did this review show?
First, among all the voices at stakeholder meetings and in interviews, the reviewer heard: "consistent stories of frustration, anger, resignation and disappointment with the state of accessibility in Ontario". This reviewer described progress as 'soul-crushingly' slow, and the legislation as an abject failure.
There's lots of information and preamble in the report, but to summarize, the reviewer found that:
'Outcomes are poor,
Enforcement does not exist,
Research does not exist,
Leadership does not exist,
There is no accountability.'
I don't have to tell you that I was appalled when I read this!
I have no real idea how we're doing here in Meaford, though based on my conversations with the two staff responsible, we're doing pretty well. The new library is of course the big accomplishment here in Meaford. The circulation desk and the reading room in the old library were accessible, but the meeting rooms, the childrens library and above all the book stacks were not. The new library is totally accessible, and it's my favourite destination downtown.
And lest you think Meaford has two staff dedicated to these issues, they're certainly dedicated, but only for about 1% of their time!
I'm only beginning to be aware of all this context for me as I ramble through town, but I intend to continue learning. You can expect further posts on these issues in the future. How is accessibility treated in your community?