A message from the Minister

As we mark the 11th year of the landmark Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (or AODA), our government remains as committed as ever to building an accessible province for people with disabilities by 2025.This year, Ontario made history by appointing the first-ever Minister Responsible for Accessibility. I’m proud to be serving in this role, and I am very pleased to be working withMarie-Lison Fougère, Ontario’s first DeputyMinister Responsible for Accessibility. These new appointments reaffirm our government’s dedication to accessibility. They have strengthened how we oversee the AODA and are helping us achieve greater accessibility and inclusion in Ontario communities and our economy. I’m happy to report that regular reviews of existing AODA standards continue to take place. We made amendments to the Customer Service Standard and saw the launch of the Transportation Standards Development Committee. In 2016, we also expanded our compliance footprint significantly, conducting more compliance activities than in 2015. Now more than ever, businesses are embracing accessibility and meeting their legislative requirements. To build on this momentum, we have also engaged in extensive outreach, including a marketing campaign and new EnAbling Change Program projects. These initiatives help inform businesses of their obligations under the AODA, increasing compliance and generating awareness of the importance of accessibility. Our government envisions a future where accessibility is ingrained in everything we do—and these programs and partnerships will help make this vision a reality. I look forward to continuing our journey together as we move closer to an accessible Ontario in 2025.

Tracy MacCharles
Minister Responsible for Accessibility
Minister Responsible for Women’s Issues

Ontario: An accessibility champion

When the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) became law in June 2005, Ontario set in motion the framework for a more diverse and inclusive society. The AODA mandates accessibility standards in key areas of daily living for every organization that provides goods, services or facilities—and sets a firm date for achieving that goal.

First to come into force was the Customer Service Standard.

It requires companies and organizations to provide accessible customer service to people with disabilities and train their staff on how to serve them.

Standards that govern accessible employment, information and communications, transportation and the design of public spaces have also come into effect. All five standards are now rolled into one Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation (IASR) to make it easier for organizations to understand their obligations.

Health pre-consultations—conducted both in-person and online—to inform the development of a new Health Care Standard were held over the summer. They involved stakeholders in the health and disability communities and their input was vital in identifying accessibility gaps and barriers in the delivery of health care.

Since the AODA was first introduced, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario has worked with people with disabilities, businesses of all sizes, not-for-profit organizations and the broader public sector to bring Ontario’s vision to life. In just a little over ten years, we have seen a dramatic shift in attitude, with more and more organizations going above and beyond the legal requirements.

But there is more work to be done.

To keep the momentum building, this year Ontario’s first-ever Minister and Deputy Minister Responsible for Accessibility were appointed. It was a clear indication of the government’s commitment to achieving the goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025.

We’re past the half-way mark: Important dates

January 1, 2016

All businesses and non-profit organizations with 1-49 employees must train staff and volunteers on accessibility laws and make it easy for people with disabilities to provide feedback when asked.

All public sector organizations with 1-49 employees must make public information accessible on request.

Businesses and non-profit organizations with 50+ employees must make public information accessible when asked and make employment practices accessible.

All public sector organizations with 1 or more employees must make new or redeveloped public spaces accessible.

January 1, 2017

All businesses and non-profit organizations with 1-49 employees must make public information accessible when asked and make employment practices accessible.

All businesses and non-profit organizations with 50+ employees must make new or redeveloped public spaces accessible.

December 31, 2017

All businesses and non-profit organizations with 20+ employees and all broader public sector and government organizations with at least one employee must file an accessibility compliance report.

Strengthening the AODA

The Ontario government is working hard to ensure that accessibility standards are working as intended. That’s why a regular review of every accessibility standard is written right into the AODA. Each standard is carefully reviewed every five years by a Standard Development Committee to determine whether it requires adjustments. At least 50% of a committee’s members are people with disabilities.

As a result of a comprehensive review of the Customer Service Standard—the first to come into force—a number of amendments were made in 2016.

Effective July 1st, 2017:

  • the Customer Service Standard—together with the other four accessibility standards—became part of the IASR, making it easier for organizations to understand their obligations and comply with them
  • all members of an organization—not just those who deal directly with the public—must be trained on accessible customer service
  • more types of regulated health professionals—including psychologists, psychotherapists, audiologists and optometrists—can provide documentation on the need for a service animal
  • in certain cases, an organization can require a support person to accompany someone with a disability for health or safety reasons but only after consulting with the person, and if a support person is required, their fee or fare—if one exists—must be waived
  • private sector and non-profit organizations with 20-49 employees no longer need to document their accessible customer service policies or make them public (compliance and reporting requirements remain in effect)

To help organizations meet their obligation to provide accessible customer service, the Accessibility Directorate has developed an accessible customer service policy template.

Also in 2016, the Transportation Standard Development Committee began its review. The Committee is made up of transit providers, municipalities, and individuals with disabilities and is supported by the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, the Ministry of Transportation and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs.

The Committee was asked by the Minister to discuss specific transportation focus areas including:

  • conventional transportation (e.g., buses, trains, subways)
  • specialized transit (e.g., paratransit services)
  • the duties of municipalities that license taxicabs
  • new and emerging technologies
  • shared economies
  • inter-jurisdictional transit issues

The Committee met six times in 2016 and submitted its first report to the Minister on November 25, 2016, outlining recommendations for changes to the standard. The initial report is posted on our website and we encourage constructive public comment.

There were also changes to the Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC). 2016 was Rich Donovan’s first year as Chair, and four new members were added to the Council. The Council provides high-level strategic advice to the Minister on matters related to implementing the AODA—and promoting a culture shift to move beyond it. ASAC met five times in 2016 and provided valuable input on upcoming standard development committee reviews. Members of the disability community and organizations that are required to comply with Ontario’s accessibility laws are encouraged to apply to sit on ASAC.

ASAC also provided advice on the development of the new Health Care Standard and a new Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities. Additionally, on December 5, 2016, Premier Kathleen Wynne made a public commitment to develop a new accessibility standard for education.

Promoting accessibility

Outreach and education initiatives

The Directorate is responsible for ensuring that businesses and organizations across the province understand the benefits of accessibility and their legal requirements under the law.

In 2016, we continued to reach out to employers through a wide range of initiatives, including:

  • 6 e-newsletters
  • 37 face-to-face presentations
  • 56 trade show exhibits
  • 27 webinars
  • 13,000+ telephone helpline inquiries
  • 3,400 emails
  • 11,688 engagements on Twitter and Facebook

We launched a new monthly newsletter called the AODA Toolbox. Distributed to more than 6,000 subscribers, it contains important accessibility information, including:

  • current and upcoming accessibility requirements and deadlines
  • tools and resources to help organizations comply
  • upcoming webinars and events

We also introduced a new quarterly newsletter, On the Path to an Accessible Ontario, which highlights our new accessibility initiatives.

Employment standard marketing campaign

We began a two-phase marketing campaign focused on the Employment Standard. Phase one, which ran from December 14, 2015 to March 31, 2016, targeted large businesses and non-profits with 50+ employees. Phase two began on October 31, 2016 and is directed at small and medium-sized businesses. The campaign, which uses direct mail, print, radio and online ads, and office elevator screens, reminds businesses of the deadlines for compliance. Phase one was highly successful in driving visitors to the government webpage for accessibility information, and encouraging businesses to take advantage of the free resources and templates.

Summer student outreach program

We ran a Summer Student Outreach Program. A team of three students travelled throughout Ontario attending conferences, community events and festivals, engaging employers and spreading the word about the January 1, 2017 compliance deadline for new requirements. Over 16 weeks, the students attended 22 events and interacted with over 9,000 people, including 100+ employers from organizations spanning a broad range of sectors and sizes. The employers received the students’ accessibility message with enthusiasm, many of them saying they were updating their accessibility policies to meet AODA requirements.

As well, the Directorate supported and participated in a number of events in 2016 -- both at home and abroad – reinforcing our leadership in building an inclusive society. These included:

The 4th annual Access Israel Conference$

The theme of the 2016 conference was accessible tourism, transport, culture and leisure. Seven hundred participants from around the world took part, including:  travel agents, tour guides, managers of museums and culture institutions, hoteliers, managers of airlines and transport companies, accessibility professionals, architects, designers and engineers and delegates of local and state authorities. Assistant Deputy Minister, Ann Hoy, was invited to speak about Ontario’s experience in building an accessible province. Other speakers included: Daniela Bas, Director of the UN Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD), Anna Grazia Laura, President of the European Network for Accessible Tourism (ENAT) and Victor Calise, New York City’s Accessibility Commissioner.

The Ontario Leaders in Accessible Employment Award

This award honours a business or organization that has created an accessible work environment, values the contribution of persons with disabilities, and promotes the development of an inclusive workplace culture. In 2016, Minister MacCharles presented the award to Hillside Haven Retirement Residence of Campbellford. The runner-up was the YMCA of Hamilton/Burlington/Brantford.

Disabilities Mentoring Day

Now in its sixth year, we also provided support for this one-day event, organized by Dolphin.

Digital Technologies and their local community partners, that aims to put job-ready candidates with disabilities together with potential employers and it is attracting more participants every year. In 2016, 102 mentors and their respective 102 mentees participated in six cities across the province, with a number of mentees securing employment.

Partnerships: EnAbling Change program

EnAbling Change is a strategic partnership program that provides funding and expertise to incorporated non-profit organizations that educate an industry or sector about accessibility requirements and promote accessibility.

2016 saw the launch of 22 new projects, with priority given to those that addressed:

  • compliance assistance
  • education and inclusion
  • the business case for accessibility
  • promotion/distribution of resources to help small and medium size businesses meet the 2017 reporting deadline

Among the projects funded in 2016 were:

Enabling Minds

Developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association of Ontario, Enabling Minds is a 45-minute, online training course on accessible customer service aimed at people who work in sports, fitness or recreation. The course includes information on how to recognize and remove barriers to physical activity programs for people with mental health disabilities and how to create a supportive and inclusive environment that promotes positive mental health for everyone.

ReelAbilities Film Festival

Held in Toronto May 12-19, 2016, the festival showcased the lives, stories and art of people with disabilities and deaf people. The first of its kind in Canada, it was accessible to audience members of all abilities. All films had open captioning/subtitles and selected screenings were sensory friendly (lower volume and dimmed theatre lights). Venues were wheelchair accessible, companion seating was available free of charge, and service animals were welcomed. Panel discussions were supported by American Sign Language and Computer Assisted Real Time Transcription (CART). Following the festival, the Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre incorporated its experiences of organizing an accessible film festival into a short guide, “ReelAccess: A Guide to Accessible Film Festivals and Screenings”. Available in English and

French, the guide offers tips and resources on accessibility for people with disabilities so the magic of cinema can be available to everyone.

AccessForward Customer Service Standard Training Module:

This online training module, developed by Learnography (formerly known as Curriculum Services Canada), covers everything an organization needs to know about providing accessible customer service—including their legal obligations and why it is important. It is offered free of charge.

StopGap Foundation

In 2016 the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario began a project with the StopGap Foundation to pilot a model in five Toronto elementary schools to raise awareness about accessibility and inclusion. StopGap will develop lesson plans and resources for teachers to assist students in reaching out to local business owners with single-stepped entryways to explain the importance of storefront that everyone can access. The project will enable each school group to provide up to five ramps in their community to interested business owners.

The Directorate thanks all of our 2016 partners for their contributions :

  • Bio-Talent Canada
  • Canadian Abilities Foundation
  • Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters
  • Canadian Marketing Association
  • Conference Board of Canada
  • Council of Ontario Universities
  • Design Exchange
  • Electricity HR Canada
  • Institute on Governance
  • Learnography
  • Miles Nadal Jewish Community Centre
  • OCAD University
  • Ontario Public School Boards Association
  • Ontario Restaurant, Hotel and Motel Association
  • Ontario Soccer Association
  • Retail Council of Canada
  • Ryerson University
  • Trucking HR Canada
  • StopGap Foundation
  • United Way Ottawa

Enforcing the standards

With five accessibility standards now in place, the Directorate is busier than ever, working with organizations across the province to ensure they meet their requirements under the law.

In 2016, with momentum continuing to build toward 2025, we expanded our compliance footprint, conducting more compliance activities than in 2015. These included 1,604 activities where we worked with organizations that either didn’t file an accessibility compliance report or reported that they were not in compliance, as well as auditing organizations that reported full compliance.

We also piloted a third-party compliance project, which ran between May and November 2016. It was very successful, with nearly 500 audits conducted. What we learned from the pilot will inform the Directorate’s internal compliance assurance work and potential future compliance projects.

An audit blitz targeted at the hospitality sector took place this year to complement our other compliance initiatives. It looked at two specific requirements of the Employment Standard for accessibility: both the need for notification of accommodations throughout the recruitment process, and during the hiring process. Through our call centre, we handled more than 13,000 calls, providing one-on-one assistance to thousands of organizations and followed up on compliance issues.

David C. Onley

In the second full year of his mandate as Special Advisor, Mr. Onley focused on three core priorities: helping to shift culture to create a more inclusive society, helping the private and public sector see the benefits of hiring more people with disabilities, and advising the government on how to be a leader in accessible policies and programs.

Mr. Onley was able to increase public awareness of accessibility and disability issues by participating in a number of conferences, public events and media appearances. He was also able to bring new voices into the government decision-making processes, as well as his own perspectives on a number of government policies that relate to accessibility.

Selected accomplishments include:

  • completing a media relations campaign that reached nearly six million Ontarians in 26 markets, detailing the benefits of hiring people with disabilities and debunking many myths and misperceptions that employers and the public sometimes have
  • providing keynote/guest speaker remarks at 12 conferences, reaching approximately 1,600 people in five cities
  • generating media coverage for the annual David C. Onley Awards for Leadership in Accessibility by providing guest speaker remarks at awards event and presenting awards to three individuals and eight organizations from across Ontario
  • consulting with 23 external organizations from private, public and not for profit sectors to hear concerns about accessibility issues
  • providing advice and report-back of stakeholder comments to both Minister Duguid and Minister MacCharles
  • participating in five all-day sessions as part of the joint working group establish an Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities
  • serving as Honorary Chair of the Champions League, coordinated by the Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN) and facilitating meetings of this group of business leaders committed to increasing employment for people with disabilities

Looking forward to 2017

In 2017 we will hit some important milestones on our path to an accessible Ontario by 2025.

On January 1, 2017, all organizations with 1-49 employees will be required to provide accessible formats and communications supports for information upon request, and make their employment practices accessible as well.

All organizations with 50+ employees will need to make new or redeveloped public spaces (e.g., trails, beach access routes, outdoor eating areas) accessible.

For the first time, organizations in all sectors will have to submit their accessibility compliance reports in the same year. By December 31, 2017, businesses and non-profits with 20+ employees, as well as all public and government sector organizations with at least 1 employee will need to file an accessibility compliance report.

To help organizations meet their obligations, the Directorate will:

  • enhance our education and outreach efforts to help employers understand and implement their accessibility requirements
  • introduce a new, simpler compliance reporting process in March 2017

We will also:

  • ask for public comment on the Transportation Standard Development Committee’s initial recommendations
  • support the development of a Health Care Standard
  • review the Employment Standard and the Information and Communications Standard
  • develop a new Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities
  • launch a survey to gather information for early work on an Accessible Standard for Education

And, finally, we will advance the business case for accessibility at every opportunity. Because accessibility is not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do, as thousands of organizations across Ontario have already discovered.

To succeed in the 21st century, Ontario is going to need to harness the talents of all of its citizens. People with disabilities represent a talented labour pool that can fuel growth across Ontario’s economic sectors.