A message from the Minister

Accessibility means many things to many different people. It touches every aspect of our day-to-day lives. In 2017, we continued to encourage open conversations, and inclusive attitudes that remove barriers and allow people with disabilities to make valuable contributions to our economy and society.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was passed into law in 2005 with a goal of achieving an accessible Ontario by 2025. We are now beyond the midpoint towards that goal and made significant strides in 2017.

As Ontario’s first Minister Responsible for Accessibility, I am committed to my mandate, along with Deputy Minister Responsible for Accessibility Marie-Lison Fougère, to oversee the implementation of the AODA and help people with disabilities realize their full potential. With a new, expanded mandate, the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario is undertaking more work than ever to ensure advancement towards an accessible province by 2025.

The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council continues to advise me on progress made by the current standards development committees. In addition to ongoing reviews of the existing five standards, I’m pleased to report that work on developing new accessibility standards for health care and education took place in 2017.

We saw great work regarding compliance activities. Businesses and not-for-profit organizations with 20 or more employees in Ontario were required to file a compliance report to help track accessibility progress and identify areas of increased support. As a result of strong outreach and collaboration with employers across the province and a new, simplified reporting system, we received more reports than we had seen in any previous year.

We engaged with businesses by launching Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities. This comprehensive plan is focused on connecting more people with disabilities to jobs and more employers to this largely untapped talent pool. As part of Access Talent, an Employers’ Partnership Table and an online portal called the Discover Ability Network were established in 2017 to help advance the strategy.

As we reflect on 2017, I want to thank the Honourable David C. Onley for his passionate work while serving as Special Advisor on Accessibility. I know he will bring that same passion and expertise to his new role as the AODA’s third legislative reviewer, and trust that we will receive valuable and insightful recommendations from his review. I am confident that 2018 will provide us with even more opportunities to strengthen accessibility in our province.

We are at a milestone moment in the evolution of the AODA and I look forward to advancing towards an Ontario in which everyone can actively and equally participate.

Tracy MacCharles

Accessibility Directorate of Ontario: an expanded mandate

We had another busy and exciting year for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario. Our mandate grew in 2017 as we move ever closer to our goal of an inclusive Ontario.

The directorate’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Division continued to oversee the development, review and enforcement of the accessibility standards.

A new division was formed to carry out the government’s sweeping new employment plan for people with disabilities: Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilitiesfootnote 1

The new Accessibility Policy, Employment Strategy and Outreach Division focuses on providing programs and supports to help people with disabilities find jobs. It also works closely with ministries to see that accessibility is embedded in policy decisions, and that the Ontario Public Service becomes a role model in hiring, accommodating and supporting people with disabilities.

The directorate’s expanded mandate and realignment is a clear sign of the government’s commitment to deliver on its accessibility agenda by improving access and participation in all areas of life for Ontarians with disabilities.

Moving forward, both divisions will step up their efforts to encourage businesses, not-for-profits and the public sector to go above and beyond what is required of them in legislation. We want them to ask themselves: “what does accessibility mean to my organization?” and “what can we do to ensure accessibility in everything we do?”

Improving accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities legislation

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is an evolving piece of legislation that currently covers five areas of daily living: customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and design of public spaces.

The Accessibility Standards Advisory Council (ASAC) advises the Minister on improving accessibility for people with disabilities through the implementation of the AODA. In 2017, ASAC heard from multiple Standards Development Committees (SDCs) on the progress made in the development of proposed accessibility standards, and the review of existing standards in achieving the purpose of the AODA, as well as other accessibility initiatives. Thank you to everyone who served on ASAC in 2017.

To ensure that the AODA continues to break down barriers for people with disabilities, each standard is carefully reviewed five years after it is enacted by an SDC. People with disabilities and industry representatives work together with the government to review the standards. Minutes of all committee meetings are available to the public on the government’s website.

In 2017, committees were in various stages of reviewing:

  • The Information and Communications Standards, which ensure that organizations make their information accessible to people with disabilities. The committee met six times during the year. Its review focused on requirements that have been in effect for 24 months and looked at any gaps in the standards. The committee was also encouraged to explore the impact of new and emerging technologies. Its initial recommendations for revisions to the standard will be delivered to the minister in 2018 and posted for public review on ontario.ca.footnote 2
  • The Employment Standards, which ensure that organizations make their hiring and employee support practices accessible. The committee made nine initial recommendations to the minister. These will be posted for public review and feedback in 2018. footnote 3
  • The Transportation Standards, which make it easier for people to travel throughout Ontario. The committee focused on three areas identified through research and stakeholder consultations: conventional transit, specialized transit, and the duties of municipalities that licence taxicabs. It looked at the impacts of new technologies, emerging shared economies and transit coordination among jurisdictions. Its report outlining its final recommendations for a proposed new standard will be presented in 2018.footnote 4

As we move toward our goal of an accessible Ontario by 2025, new standards are being developed. In 2017:

  • A Health Care SDC was created to look at ways to prevent, reduce and remove barriers in the areas of information and communications, administration and the provision of accommodations in health care starting with hospitals. The committee met four times during the year. Their work on developing and bringing forward initial recommendations will continue throughout 2018.footnote 5
  • Two SDC chairs were appointed to help develop new accessible Education Standards. One committee will focus on removing accessibility barriers for students in K-12. The other will focus on students in publicly funded colleges and universities. Priority areas were determined following wide consultation across the education and disability sectors. footnote 6

Accessibility compliance reporting

On our journey to an accessible Ontario by 2025 we marked an important milestone in 2017. It was the first year in which organizations in all sectors were required to file an accessibility compliance report. That meant 56,000 organizations needed to file.

To raise awareness about accessibility requirements and the reporting deadline the directorate used a wide range of methods.

Throughout the year, we:

  • sent more than 37,000 reminder emails
  • mailed 20,000 reminder letters
  • made more than 14,000 reminder phone calls
  • delivered 37 webinars
  • participated in more than 90 events across the province, including trade shows and business conferences
  • worked with 35 organizations to place articles in trade publications and newsletters
  • issued our own newsletters that reach 7,200 subscribers

Our dedicated help desk fielded thousands of calls, providing one-on-one assistance.

In the fall, we launched a marketing campaign targeted at businesses. The campaign ran from mid-September to mid-December. It used a media mix that included search engine marketing, digital ads on business-oriented websites and social media ads. Businesses were encouraged to visit the government webpage for information on submitting an accessibility compliance report.

We also introduced a new and simplified reporting system in 2017. Its accessible smart form requires just three steps. Organizations complete the form offline and submit it electronically whenever they are ready. The system has been successful in helping many first-time filers submit their form without help from the directorate.

For more information about the directorate’s compliance enforcement activities in 2017, please find the annual Accessibility Compliance and Enforcement Report at about accessibility laws.

Community accessibility forums

While businesses, not-for-profits and public sector organizations have specific responsibilities under the AODA, we know that accessibility champions play a vital role in working towards an accessible Ontario by 2025.

To inform and inspire local champions, the directorate has held regular community accessibility forums across Ontario since 2009. As part of Ontario’s 150th anniversary celebrations, the directorate hosted nine forums in 2017. Hundreds of people attended, including members of municipal Accessibility Advisory Committees (AACs), municipal staff who work with and support these committees, organizations and agencies that support people with disabilities, and the general public.

Each one-day forum included a keynote speech and panel discussions around the theme “Accessibility: Honouring the Past, Showcasing the Present and Inspiring the Future,” which was inspired by Ontario 150.

The forums were an opportunity for accessibility champions to network and learn from each other. They also gave the directorate a chance to:

  • provide AACs with an update on Ontario’s progress in accessibility
  • motivate AACs by sharing information, best practices and resources
  • showcase the evolution of accessibility over time in Ontario

From venue selection to registration, meeting room layout, audio/visual components, speakers’ presentations and catering, the forums were a model of accessibility.

The forums reinforced the participants’ commitment to advancing Ontario’s accessibility agenda. For its part, the directorate learned more about accessibility successes, as well as ongoing challenges, future trends and needs facing accessibility champions. We also learned how to make future forums even more valuable.

Ontario 150

Ontario celebrated a historic year in 2017. We marked the 150th anniversary of Confederation by recognizing and celebrating the qualities and values that define our province.

More than 2,000 events were held across Ontario, including many that celebrated our leadership in accessibility. Signature events included:

  • Invictus Games and the Accessibility Innovation Showcase. From September 23 to 30, 2017, Ontario played host to the third Invictus Games. Launched by Prince Harry in 2014, the games use the power of sport to help wounded service people on their journey to recovery. Some 550 competitors from 17 nations met in Ontario to compete in 12 parasports. More than 75,000 people attended the games, which were seen in 111 countries and garnered more than two billion media impressions. This made them the largest and most successful to date. footnote 7An official event of the games, the directorate’s Accessibility Innovation Showcase was a unique opportunity for 48 Ontario innovators to showcase and pitch new assistive technologies and devices to investors. It was also a chance for employers to learn about the resources available around hiring people with disabilities. The showcase also included an accessibility-focused speaker series, an investor program and an ask-the-expert program. footnote 8
  • VISTA Conference, which saw more than 350 sports scientists and researchers from 41 countries head to Toronto. The four-day conference was the largest to date and provided a forum for exchanging current information and expertise on paralympic sport science and medicine. On the final day, billed as “Ontario Day,” Minister MacCharles spoke about accessibility in Ontario and the efforts the province has made to remove barriers for people with disabilities and enable opportunities for their participation in physical activity and sport.footnote 9

In 2017, we also:

  • Developed a children’s book series in partnership with the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work, featuring characters with disabilities who have diverse talents and strengths. The three stories promote accessibility, inclusion and diversity as key Ontario values. The books were designed to empower children with disabilities and instill in them employment and career aspirations. Published in print and digital, accessible formats, English, French and Braille, the books are available at no cost through Publications Ontario. They have been distributed to all 379 library systems across Ontario and promoted through school boards.
  • Held our 7th annual summer student outreach program. From May 15 to August 25, 2017, a team of four postsecondary students travelled throughout Ontario promoting the importance and value of accessibility. At 33 events, including Accessible History Weekend at Upper Canada Village in Morrisburg, Ontario, the students interacted with more than 16,000 people, many of them in areas where accessibility compliance has been below average.

Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities

In 2016, Ontario announced its commitment to develop a provincial employment strategy to help people with disabilities connect to the labour market. This commitment was reaffirmed in the 2017 Budget and included in the Mandate Letters to the Minister Responsible for Accessibility, the Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development, and the Minister of Community and Social Services.

Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities was launched on June 5, 2017.footnote 11 Access Talent serves as the provincial framework for increasing employment for people with disabilities and connecting more employers to a rich talent pool that will help grow their businesses.

The strategy calls on employers with 20 or more employees to hire at least one more person with a disability. The strategy also commits to strengthening a range of education, skills development, and employment programs to help people with disabilities succeed.

The strategy takes a collaborative approach, calling on employers, governments, and individuals to come together to break down barriers in workplaces and communities across the province. This approach is based on four key pillars:

  • Start Early – inspire and support youth and students with disabilities
  • Engage – support and encourage employers as champions and partners
  • Integrate – create seamless, person-centred employment and training services
  • Trail Blaze – establish the Ontario Government as a leading employer and change agent

An Employers’ Partnership Table was established in 2017 as a key strategy commitment under Access Talent.footnote 12 The table is comprised of 17 business and not-for-profit leaders from across Ontario and represents a cross-section of small, medium and large public and private sector employers as well as representatives from business associations and educational services.footnote 13

The table was established to provide the minister with employers’ perspectives and advice on implementing Access Talent; provide insights on strengthening employment services and opportunities for youth and students with disabilities; and help shift attitudes and business culture by championing the benefits of employing people with disabilities.

The Discover Ability Network was established to support businesses’ talent needs.footnote 14 Discover Ability is an online portal that assists employers with practical, easy-to-follow resources on how to hire, retain and accommodate people with disabilities. The portal links to the Magnet job matching site that connects people with disabilities with employers.

EnAbling Change Program

The EnAbling Change Program is a strategic partnership between the directorate and leading umbrella organizations. The program helps to build awareness of accessibility standards and organizations’ obligations. Partners work together with the directorate to develop education campaigns, tools and templates to assist with compliance and accessibility.

In 2017, some of our key EnAbling Change initiatives were:

  • Camps Committed to Inclusion: Camp provides important lessons in community, character-building and skills development, especially for young people. In July 2017, the Ontario Camps Association began a year-long project to teach its more than 400 accredited camps footnote 17 how to be more inclusive, welcoming and responsive to campers, employees and families with disabilities. The project uses webinars, workshops and case studies to provide information on the AODA and the tools and resources available to camps across Ontario.
  • ReelAbilities ReelTalk: Launched in 2016, the ReelAbilities Toronto Film Festival showcases disability and Deaf cultures through film shorts, features and documentaries. It also promotes the art and talent of people from both groups. In 2017, the festival introduced ReelTalk, a series of post-film talks, panel discussions and workshops on film and disability culture. The week-long event included a hands-on technical workshop on captioning and audio descriptions and a Family Film Day that was so successful it may lead to a specific education program in schools.
  • StreamAble: StreamAble is a website that raises awareness about Ontario’s Employment Standards and workplace accessibility. Using video case studies, StreamAble shows how businesses from trucking to biotech are embracing accessibility. In the process, they are revolutionizing their industries, improving their bottom lines and building a brighter future for everyone.footnote 18
  • Disabilities Mentoring Day: This event brings together people with disabilities with employers in a one-day mentor mentee engagement. Since 2011, the Mentoring Day has provided an experiential learning opportunity for people with disabilities while providing employers with first-hand exposure to the skill sets, talents and potential of an underrepresented talent pool. In 2017, 172 participants were matched with 172 mentors in nine cities throughout Ontario. Some of the cities included Hamilton, Brantford and Kingston. This represents a 68% growth in successful matches compared to the previous year’s event.footnote 19

Ontario on the international stage

When the government passed the AODA in June 2005, it was heralded as landmark legislation. Ontario became the first province in Canada, and one of the first jurisdictions in the world, to legislate accessibility and set out a clear goal and timeframe for achieving it.

Since then, we have shared our message of accessibility and inclusion, as well as our experiences as we move toward it, with audiences at home and abroad.

In 2017, we continued to work with other Canadian jurisdictions on accessibility policy.

In February 2017, the Ministers Responsible for Social Services at the federal, provincial and territorial levels met in Toronto to discuss ways to ensure all Canadians can contribute to and benefit from an inclusive and prosperous society. Accessibility was a priority on the agenda and Minister MacCharles was present to speak about Ontario’s experience and leadership. The minister also expressed interest in participating in future federal and provincial collaboration.

The directorate also shared what we’ve learned on the world stage, first in Belgium, then Austria and finally Switzerland.

In early February, ADM Hoy attended a two-day accessibility workshop in Brussels that was hosted by the European Commission’s Directorate General on Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion. The workshop, which brought together policymakers, accessibility experts, people with disabilities and representatives from industry on both sides of the Atlantic, looked at areas covered by the proposed European Accessibility Act. ADM Hoy chaired a session called “Making accessibility a reality through market opportunities and legislation.”

In late February, the directorate also represented Ontario at the Zero Project Conference in Vienna. Funded by the Austrian-based Essl Foundation, the Zero Project’s mission is to help create a world with no barriers. The theme of 2017’s conference was “Employment, Work and Vocational Education and Training: Innovative Practices and Policies for Persons with Disabilities.” A directorate representative was one of 500 innovators and leaders from more than 50 countries at the conference and outlined Ontario’s new employment strategy for people with disabilities.

Finally, the directorate appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Geneva, Switzerland on April 3 and 4, 2017. This was a first for Canada and Ontario, which was part of the Canadian delegation. It was an unprecedented opportunity for the directorate to present Ontario’s many achievements in accessibility since 2005, and outline the work that lies ahead.

Office of the Special Advisor on accessibility

The Honourable David C. Onley was appointed as the first Special Advisor on Accessibility in October 2014 to promote accessibility in the province, and champion opportunities for people with disabilities in the public, private and non-profit sectors.

The Special Advisor on Accessibility used his wealth of knowledge and unique experience to explore ways to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities, enhancing organizations’ understanding of their accessibility obligations, and promoting further progress towards an accessible Ontario.

In his role as Special Advisor on Accessibility, Mr. Onley has worked tirelessly to dispel myths and misconceptions about people with disabilities, and promote the economic benefits of inclusion and employment of people with disabilities. Mr. Onley also played an integral role in the launch and promotion of Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities which aims to improve employment outcomes for people with disabilities.

Looking forward to 2018

With the home stretch in sight, 2018 promises to be another busy year for the directorate as we continue to fulfil our expanded mandate and implement the government’s vision of an accessible, inclusive Ontario.

Specifically, we will:

  • continue to develop accessible Education and Health Care Standards
  • receive public feedback on initial recommendations to both the accessible Information and Communications Standards and the accessible Employment Standards
  • continue to provide advice to government on the Transportation Standards Development Committee’s final recommendations on the proposed standards for transportation
  • look forward to the third legislative review of the AODA
  • continue to enforce compliance with the standards while encouraging organizations to enhance their accessibility efforts
  • implement Access Talent: Ontario’s Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities by:
    • promoting the business case for accessibility
    • connecting businesses with qualified persons with disabilities
    • ensuring that government leads by example in recruiting, hiring and supporting employees with disabilities
    • inspiring and supporting youth and students with disabilities from kindergarten to post-secondary education