Francis knows they work harder than their colleagues at work, often putting in extra hours over lunch or in the evening. Despite this, Francis performs at the same level as their colleagues. Francis has dyslexia. It takes them considerably longer to read work documents than most others. The solution that will equip Francis to work as efficiently as their colleagues is relatively simple: a screen reading program that will equip them to listen to, rather than read, the large volume of documents at work. Yet there are two problems. First, to access this technology, Francis must disclose their disability to their employer. They, like hundreds of millions of others with invisible disabilities globally, know that doing so often leads to the perception they are less effective than their colleagues. This will work against their upward mobility. Second, even if Francis is provided with screen reading technology, most documents are poorly constructed for screen reader use. This is despite over 17 years of legislation promoting accessibility in Ontario. Francis thus avoids disclosing their disability, does not receive the technology that would allow them to meet or exceed the productivity of their peers, and struggles to have their extra effort for the same result rewarded in the workplace.
Francis is also an active consumer—and a voter. Every day, Francis spends the income earned from their career. Whether it be in stores or online, Francis constantly adapts to poor information design. Price displays. Signage and links for wayfinding. Product descriptions. Francis must actively manage these design failures. All day. Everywhere. Every day. Soul crushing.
Despite 17 years since the AODA has come into force, People with Disabilities (PWD) still consistently face barriers in their everyday experiences, from navigating city streets, to applying for jobs, to accessing public transit and government services. In the 10 months since launching the 4th review of the AODA, the Reviewer heard consistent stories of frustration, anger, resignation, and disappointment with the state of accessibility in Ontario. The assessment that the AODA has failed to achieve—or even come close to—its objective is not new or useful. Due to 17 years of inaction, any excuse to delay is laughable and wildly insulting. Boards of Directors, business owners and the Premier of Ontario must urgently demand better experiences for Ontario’s people with disabilities. To avoid a surge in anger—by a population group of 2.9 million—material action is needed. The Reviewer has asked for a dialogue on current state and rather than dwell on failure, asked questions focused on 1) why are we here? (2) what do you need to achieve success? The goal is not to shame, but to urgently act together.
The Reviewer emphasizes the significant risk in failing to meet AODA targets suggesting that not all failures in realizing a fully accessible Ontario lie with government alone. One of the most common forms of barrier PWD face in their day-to-day life are attitudinal. Until there is a greater societal shift in how people conceptualize and interact with People with Disabilities, barriers will remain. Government can, and needs to be, a leader. But it cannot lead alone.
As a conclusion, the Reviewer highlights that the Premier of Ontario and his Cabinet have yet to meet the basic needs of a group of people totaling over one fifth of its population and calls for the Cabinet of Ontario to act quickly or risk falling further, and publicly, behind.
The Reviewer emphasizes that there is an urgent need for action and has a simple question for the Premier of Ontario. Mr. Premier, do you care?
Excerpted from the Independent 4th Review of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA) published March 1, 2023 by Rich Donovan. www.aodareview4.com.
Photo: Brooke Cagle