Momentum is building towards an accessible Ontario Public Service

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 is ground-breaking legislation that continues to improve life for people with disabilities. Under the act there are five accessibility standards that cover customer service, information and communications, employment, transportation and the design of public spaces. One of the requirements is for organizations in Ontario to develop multi-year accessibility plans that outline their strategy to prevent and remove barriers and help our province reach its accessibility goals.

A new chapter for accessibility in the Ontario Public Service began in 2017. The 2017-2021 Ontario Public Service Multi-Year Accessibility Plan is a roadmap outlining how we will continue to identify, remove and prevent accessibility barriers. It was developed with input from employees and accessibility stakeholders and includes 60 commitments organized around the standards in the act. Our path forward builds on the accomplishments of our first five-year plan in 2012 and provides a roadmap for our continuing accessibility journey.

In 2017 the Ontario Public Service developed and began to implement a robust new executive governance structure designed to drive the implementation of the Multi-Year Accessibility Plan over the next five years. The new governance structure will embed accessibility into existing leadership tables at the Deputy Minister, Assistant Deputy Minister, Director-Manager and staff levels, and create two new committees at the executive level.

  • A new Deputy Ministers’ Accessibility Sub-Committee to champion and provide direction on the delivery of Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 obligations and key Multi-Year Accessibility Plan commitments, as well as other accessibility-related initiatives, and ensure the Ontario Public Service continues to be a model employer and service provider.
  • A Web Accessibility Leadership Committee to focus on web & IT accessibility and lead the Ontario Public Service towards compliance with our legislated web requirements by January 1, 2020.

This is the first annual status report under the 2017-2021 plan and it demonstrates important progress that has been made in the first year of the new five-year period. We are dedicated to eliminating barriers in the Ontario Public Service for employees and Ontarians with disabilities.

Customer service at the forefront

As a service provider to the citizens of Ontario, the Ontario Public Service is proactively taking a leadership role in accessible customer service. In 2017, we continued to find ways to deliver high quality services and products to people with disabilities.


Staff completed mandatory training on how to provide accessible customer service, as required by the standards. Additional training opportunities are available to staff across the Ontario Public Service in a variety of formats, including in-person sessions. For example, the Treasury Board Secretariat offers monthly training sessions on creating accessible documents. In 2017, over 700 employees received this training.

A new customer service leadership forum composed of executives responsible for the government’s front-line customer services (including, but not limited to: ServiceOntario, Ministry of Transportation, and the Ministry of the Attorney General) was established in 2017 with a mandate to maintain excellence in accessible customer service delivery. The forum has initiated multiple projects that will result in continuous improvement and excellence in accessible customer service across all channels; in-person, telephone and online. For example, enhanced training resources will be developed to ensure that front-line staff are well prepared to deliver quality service to people with disabilities in a timely manner.

Reducing barriers

We are finding ways to eliminate potential barriers to accessibility wherever we serve the public. For example, as part of Ontario150 celebrations, a free ONtour concert series visited 24 communities across the province and included accessible and barrier-free venues. All concerts included American Sign Language and La Langue des Signes Québécoise services or live captioning.

The Ministry of the Attorney General has actively reduced or eliminated barriers to accessibility in many courthouses and other public areas within its responsibility. The ministry continues to offer Accessibility Coordinator services in all its courthouses. Various types of accommodations are provided upon request, including assistive listening devices, sign language interpreters, and real-time captioning. A courthouse expansion in Brampton includes accessible design features such as a slip-resistant exterior pedestrian path, accessible courtrooms, universal washrooms, tactile signage and elevators with audible floor announcements.

Accessibility has been improved in government offices in Thunder Bay, Sudbury and Timmins by providing accessible washrooms, accessible interview rooms, wheelchair-accessible floor space and braille signage.

The government is committed to moving more services online. The Family Responsibility Office in the former Ministry of Community and Social Services, now part of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, developed FRO Online to provide clients with a convenient way to access and send case-related information through an accessible, electronic channel. Enhancements to the service in 2017 mean that clients with visual impairments that use assistive devices, such as screen readers, can now use the system.

Notice of service disruption

All ministries provide notice to the public when there is a disruption in service in multiple ways. For example, the Family Responsibility Office notifies clients of service disruptions on their phone line, website, FRO Online (a client self-service option) and social media channels. The messages provide clients with the reason for the disruption, the expected length of time the disruption is expected to last and the availability of alternative facilities or services in the interim.

Clear and accessible communications

Technology can reduce barriers that people with disabilities encounter in their daily lives, including those they face when travelling, reading, writing and speaking. It can enable them to participate and enjoy the benefits of digital society, with the same access to information as everyone else. As part of the new accessibility governance structure to improve accessibility, a Web Accessibility Leadership Committee was established to champion and coordinate efforts at the executive level around Ontario Public Service web, information and communications technology, and digital accessibility.

The government created the Ontario Digital Service in 2017, headed by Ontario’s first Chief Digital Officer and Deputy Minister for Digital Government. The Ontario Digital Service leads efforts to modernize Ontario’s government and become a leading digital organization by making online services more convenient, intuitive and easy to use — anytime, anywhere and on any device.

The Ontario Digital Service launched the initial phase of the Digital Service Standard in 2017. Accessibility is one of the standard’s 14 key principles, to ensure that government services are accessible to all users regardless of their individual abilities, devices or environment.

To supplement the standard, the Ontario Digital Service also released an Inclusive Design Toolkit, which was recently featured in aPolitical’s Digital Government Atlas and OECD’s Toolkit Navigator.

More government services are moving towards digital accessibility. For example, in 2017 the Ministry of Transportation launched their first mobile app – Ontario Drive. This user-friendly, interactive app serves as a real-time drivers’ education resource that complements the Official Driver’s Handbook and driver education program. The app helps users assess their knowledge of the Official Driver’s Handbook and prepares them for the G1 written test. The app gives new drivers basic information about driving in Ontario, including road rules, safe driving practices and how to get a licence. The app provides alternative navigation methods and touch gestures for people with physical disabilities.

The web is just one way that Ontario is working to provide accessible information and communications to the public. For example, ServiceOntario centres provide consistent notices to the public to inform them that alternate formats and communications supports, for any Ontario government document or information, are available upon request.

Accessible employment

The Ontario Public Service is dedicated to an inclusive workplace where all employees are given the tools and supports needed to develop and advance in their careers.

The Ministry of Government and Consumer Services, in partnership with the former Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, now part of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, and other ministries, started working to increase the number of students with disabilities entering the Summer Experience Opportunities Program and the Ontario Internship Program.

In summer 2017, the former Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, now part of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility, partnered with the Discover Ability Network and Magnet, an online portal that connects 15,000 Ontario businesses directly to 120,000 job candidates with disabilities. Three webinars were hosted by the Ontario Public Service Accessibility Office, Discover Ability Network and Magnet for 130 people with disabilities to improve their job search techniques and networking skills.

The Ontario Public Service continues to leverage executive champions as mentors for staff to build a diverse talent pool, including people with disabilities. For example, the Diversity Career Champions Program offers guidance to employees of all abilities. In 2016-17, 38 participants in the program self-identified as having a disability.

The former Ministry of Municipal Affairs and the former Ministry of Housing, now part of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing continued to host Connexions, a program that provides support, mentoring and advice for college and university students, and recent graduates, with disabilities. Since the program was founded in 2009, approximately 400 students have participated to date in the annual one-day information session to learn about working in the public service. Work is underway to make Connexions a government-wide corporate initiative in 2018, to coincide with the program’s 10th anniversary.

In 2017, the Ontario Public Service launched the Diversity and Inclusion Blueprint, a new plan for advancing equity, inclusion and accessibility in government. The plan outlines three priorities: diversifying the talent pool, advancing inclusive leadership, and building capacity to deliver inclusive public services. Accessibility and employment for persons with disabilities is embedded in the Blueprint, and priority setting and implementation plans began in 2017.

The Ontario Public Service’s Mental Health Framework was launched in 2017. This important initiative provides a vision for the government as a workplace that values, protects and supports employee mental health and well-being. The Ontario Public Service is the second largest employer in Ontario. Our employees are our most valuable resource and this framework is the foundation that allows us to reduce stigma and support good mental health in the workplace by providing numerous mental health programs, training opportunities and tools.

Transportation made easy

The Government of Ontario continues to support municipalities in their efforts to remove barriers to transportation for people with disabilities across Ontario. Provincial transit funding programs continue to require that any transit vehicles purchased with provincial funding must be accessible.

Work began in 2017 to improve accessibility at the Amherst Island Ferry and Wolfe Island Ferry.

As part of the Remote Northern Airport Program, new concrete walkways were completed to provide safer access for passengers with mobility disabilities between airport terminals and aircraft.

Many rural, small and northern communities cannot support having their own public transit system. Through the initial Community Transportation Pilot Grant Program (2015-2017), the Ministry of Transportation provided funds to 22 communities across the province to improve transportation services for people with disabilities, youth, seniors and other residents. Fifty-nine percent of the projects targeted transportation services to people with disabilities. The ministry evaluated the program and found that community transportation is a useful service delivery model for people facing transportation barriers in underserved communities. The pilot program was extended to March 31, 2018.

Demonstrating accessible procurement

Supply Chain Ontario is a government division of the Ministry of Government and Consumer Services that develops and implements corporate procurement strategies. Supply Chain Ontario communicates to its service providers obligations to meet legal accessibility requirements during vendor outreach sessions for prospective bidders, including the consequences of non-compliance with accessibility legislation. In addition, accessibility criteria are embedded in procurement templates and guidelines. Vendors are continually monitored to ensure that they take accessibility into account in their delivery of goods and services.

The government’s Supply Chain Leadership Council, which includes executives with accessibility expertise, reviews, approves and makes recommendations on large government procurements. The council reviewed 140 procurement project submissions in 2017 and all accessibility requirements were addressed.

Social Enterprise is an approach to business and entrepreneurship that addresses social needs; for example, employment of people with disabilities. A social enterprise relies on revenue to sustain its social mission.

To support social enterprises in our community, the Ontario Public Service developed a number of resources and materials, including the Social Procurement in Catering Community of Practice Resource Guide. The guide includes a list of more than 50 social enterprise caterers across Ontario.

The province also participated in AnchorTO, the City of Toronto’s Social Procurement Community of Practice. It is made up of 18 public sector institutions that share best practices in social procurement and learn how to integrate social procurement methods into procurement practices.

Enhancing accessibility of public spaces

The province continues to create accessible public spaces at tourist destinations. In 2017, the province opened the Trillium Park and William G. Davis Trail, 7.5 acres of accessible public green space on Toronto’s waterfront that includes a braille site map. The Kings Wharf Theatre at Discovery Harbour in Penetaguishene was retrofitted to accommodate seating for eight wheelchairs and to provide an exterior ramp.

Ontario Parks offers a number of barrier-free trails, accommodation and campsites. 76% of operating provincial parks provide some form of barrier-free facilities, including showers, toilets, campsites and visitor centres. Some parks offer access mats and all-terrain wheelchairs to allow for accessibility at beaches.

Governance, policies and legislation

One of the key Multi-Year Accessibility Plan priorities for the Ontario Public Service Accessibility Office has been to design a new executive governance structure that will provide a senior management forum with executive oversight to drive the implementation of the plan over five years. A robust accessibility governance structure was established which will embed accessibility into existing leadership tables at the Deputy Minister, Assistant Deputy Minister, Director-Manager and staff levels.

A Deputy Ministers’ Accessibility Sub-Committee, chaired by the Deputy Minister Responsible for Accessibility, will be established to:

  • provide executive leadership and strategic direction to ensure the Ontario Public Service is a leader in accessibility
  • work towards achieving compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
  • deliver commitments in the 2017-2021 Multi-Year Accessibility Plan

A new Web Accessibility Leadership Committee, co-chaired by the Assistant Deputy Minister of the former Accessibility Directorate of Ontario, now part of the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility’s Accessibility Policy, Employment and Outreach Division, was created to lead and coordinate efforts at the executive level around Ontario Public Service web, information and communications technology and digital accessibility.

Additional oversight will come from several existing Assistant Deputy Minister committees that will embed accessibility into their agenda on a standing basis; senior executives from the Ministry for Seniors and Accessibility will participate in these committees.

Government legislation and policies must not contain barriers to accessibility. The Ontario Public Service is committed to ensuring that all employees have the tools and knowledge to prevent barriers to accessibility in their work, and to seek solutions to remove them when required. The Accessibility Review Tool and Guide has been redesigned and simplified to support legal and policy professionals in identifying and addressing accessibility barriers in legislation, policy and program development.

Above and beyond

In addition to improving accessible government services for people with disabilities, we are enhancing access in other areas of daily living. Investing in sport is a way to create new opportunities for people with disabilities to engage with their communities and live healthy, active lives. In celebration of Canada 150, the Ontario Parasport Strong program was created in 2017 to support the development of parasport programming and build capacity in Ontario.

The Ontario Public Service’s third Accessibility Innovation Showcase was an official event of the Invictus Games Toronto 2017 and profiled innovative accessibility technologies and assistive devices through interactive exhibits. Delivered as a series of events, this program brought together top innovators, investors, dignitaries, government representatives and the public to help improve the lives of Ontarians with disabilities.

For a fifth year, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs collaborated with the University of Guelph to deliver the Guelph Accessibility Conference 2017 – Becoming a Catalyst for Inclusion, bringing accessibility education to almost 400 participants. The conference included inspiring sessions on web, document and multimedia accessibility, inclusive design, adaptive technology and national and international accessibility issues.

To mark National Access Awareness Week, the Ontario Public Service Accessibility Office hosted AccessOPS: Today and Tomorrow on May 30, 2017. The accessible event attracted more than 150 attendees and put a spotlight on accessibility in the Ontario Public Service. Highlights included keynote speakers, parasport performers and exhibitors.

Moving forward together

We have made significant progress in the first year of the 2017-2021 Ontario Public Service Multi-Year Accessibility Plan, demonstrating our commitment to making the government a leader in accessibility. We have completed and implemented many of the commitments that are outlined in the plan, with many more in progress.

We know there is still a lot of work to do to make the Ontario Public Service a more accessible organization. However, exciting and meaningful activity is underway that will break down barriers to accessibility both within our organization and for the public we serve. Next year’s status report will highlight significant progress in preventing and removing barriers, including new ways to deliver goods and services to people with disabilities, more digital services, and improved opportunities for our employees with disabilities.