The COAAC is Working Towards a More Accessible Ontario

The COAAC website is a moderated forum where subscribing Accessibility Advisory Committees can post their successes, experiences and challenges in a permanent searchable data base. Subscribers will be able to use this database to enhance the pace and effectiveness of the work in their own communities and workplaces by benefiting from the experiences of other AACs.

The COAAC website is a knowledge resource for researchers as well as a permanent historical record of the accomplishments of AACs across Ontario. Over time it will make a significant contribution to implementing the enforcement requirements of the five standards being developed under the Accessibility
for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and provide guidelines for coping with issues that appear contradictory in other provincial legislation.

History

The Coalition of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees (COAAC) was formed at the Access Ontario II conference in Burlington, ON, June 13 and 14, 2005. The concept behind the coalition is to electronically connect people serving on accessibility advisory committees all over Ontario so we may share best practices, what doesn’t work, ideas and concerns.

The COAAC is a province-wide, not-for-profit, non-governmental organization comprised of Accessibility Advisory Committees (AACs) across Ontario, and includes related organizations and interested individuals who are also committed to serving and meeting the needs of persons with disabilities.

The Coalition was established to provide a connection between the AACs, and to share experiences, achievements and problem solving. It also allows for the development of a consensus on matters of primary concern and the opportunity to reflect to the legislators what is really required at the grass
roots level to serve and meet the needs of persons with disabilities. The Coalition, in other words, is a clearinghouse and an instrument for action.

The Beginning

The AACs came into existence following the passage of Bill 125, the “Ontarians With Disabilities Act” [ODA] of 2001. Communities with populations greater than 10,000 were obliged to establish AAC’s which were required to prepare, publish and file annual Accessibility Plans. The
ODA dealt only with the public sector buildings, facilities and services under the authority of the municipal governments and had no provisions for enforceability.

Bill 118, the “Accessibility for Ontarians With Disabilities Act” [AODA] came into force in 2005. It pledged to engage the private as well as the public sector in achieving accessibility for all persons with disabilities. It also committed the provincial government to create methods of enforceability. The function of the established AACs was continued, but, in neither act is there provision of financial support to the communities for the operation of their AACs.

Problems

Neither of the Acts addresses the outdated and wholly inadequate provisions of the Ontario Building Code which is, in fact, the only practical means of enforcing real accessibility for persons with disabilities in both the public and private sectors. Moreover, while both acts address the need for standards, neither describes or set forth those standards. The new act does establish a 20 year timeline during which standards related to accessibility would eventually be established. The issue of standards goes well beyond matters of accessibility, however.

The government needs to set its own standards for its engagement in matters of accessibility and for what it expects AACs to achieve and for what form it requires for the annual reports. It also needs to establish a standard for the involvement of AACs in dealing with the private sector, in particular the private residential construction industry. There is a growing impression that AACs may have nothing to do with the involvement of the private sector when it comes to issues of accessibility for persons with disabilities. As for the government’s relationship with the municipalities, it needs to re-think its approach to downloading the costs and to set a standard for recompensing the communities that bear the cost of the legislation.

AACs, operating in virtual isolation from each other and having no coordinated focus, will fail to have an effective presence at Queen’s Park. Yet the AACs are the “grass roots” of the efforts to accomplish complete access for persons with disabilities. The government needs to understand that and to respond accordingly. As to the government’s intention to establish standards for access, to all intents and purposes they already exist. Both London and Guelph, to mention just two AACs, have already produced comprehensive accessibility standards premised on Universal Design.

Action

Trav Coleman, Chair of the Guelph AAC from its inception and Chair of Guelph Barrier Free Committees Inc. had participated in several regional assemblies devoted to accessibility issues and had the opportunity of participating in discussions about matters in common with many other AACs. They voiced the same concerns. There was the impression that the government in general and the ministry in particular was all but ignoring the AACs and failed to appreciate that these organizations are the vital backbone of the accessibility initiatives of the government.

Work on forming a coalition of Ontario AACs began at a conference organized by the London AAC about a year ago. Trav had been talking to Tracey Roetman of Sault Ste Marie who had organized and hosted Access I a year earlier. She encouraged the idea of a coalition. He had produced a short paper outlining the idea of the coalition and a sample of the eNewsletter that would be published. It was made available during that conference. The response was encouraging.

In preparation for Access II at Burlington earlier this year, Trav had been in touch with Linda Crabtree, a journalist who serves on two AACs and writes a regular newspaper column in the Niagara Region and offered to become one of the three driving forces behind the idea of the coalition. The draft eNewsletter and promotion paper were re-introduced at Burlington and a sign-up sheet was available. On several occasions the proposal of the coalition was referenced during working sessions. By the time the two-day conference concluded there were about 75 signatures of subscribers committed to the idea.

End Note

The Coalition of Ontario Accessibility Advisory Committees is a cooperative, voluntary undertaking with no ties to the provincial government. Its sole purpose is to share information and to keep the participants in touch with current events and the issues of concern regarding the needs and interests of persons with disabilities. To be successful and to remain relevant, the Coalition must be a participatory venture with regular input from the AACs. Critical comments and observations about the content of the periodic eNewsletters are as important as the flow of information from the communities they represent. Keep in touch and help spur the growth and effectiveness of this important and no-cost undertaking.