3. Signal Vol. 3, AODA

In this Episode, Richard Hunt talks to David Lepofsky about AODA. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a law that sets out a process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards. Although the law in enforced for more than a decade there is still so much to be done, David Lepofskey is a Canadian lawyer and disability advocate who works hard for the enactment of AODA. Implementing and enforcing of AODA standards will help Ontario reaches the goal of an accessible province by 2025.

Richard Hunt and David Lepofsky on AODA!


This is Quantization!

Hi, we are Arezoo Talebzadeh and Kaveh Ashourinia and this is our podcast on inclusion.

Arezoo: Quantization is an independent project with support of Inclusive Design Research Centre at OCAD University.

[Music: Quantization (Theme-Guitars)]

Kaveh: After a short absence, we are back with a new episode on AODA, which stands for Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act.

Arezoo: In this episode of quantization, we are pleased to have Richard Hunt in conversation with David Lepofsky. Richard is our host of this episode.

Richard Hunt is a designer and Assistant Professor in the Department of Design at OCAD University. He has worked in the design field for over 30 years, specializing in typographical practices. He presented “Typography: a matter of life and death” at the Typecon in 2014, looking at the potential of current typographic technologies to optimize legibility in high-stakes medical situations.

His practice focuses on typography for architectural applications and communication design. Richard’s research interests include the functionality of typography in health contexts and issues of legibility and readability in traditional and new media in both single user and environmental contexts. He has been involved in the Safefont project alongside the University Health Network and OCAD University.

Kaveh: This is season one, called signal – episode 3, AODA

[Music: Quantization (Theme)]

Portrait of Richard Hunt

Richard Hunt: Hi my name is Richard Hunt. in this episode of Quantization we are talking to Toronto lawyer and disability activist David Lepofsky. Since being admitted to the Ontario bar in 1991 David has practiced law in the Ontario policy service in the areas of constitutional, civil, administrative and most recently criminal law. He has written a law book and many articles on legal subjects. He was invested as a member of the Order of Canada in 1995 and was awarded the order of Ontario in 2007, for his work on behalf of people with disabilities in Ontario which help lead to the Ontarian with disabilities act of 2001 and the AODA the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act 2005. This June he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the law society of upper Canada.

David is also the chair of the AODA alliance, a disability consumer advocacy group that works with a disability community and the government to support the fully effective implementation of AODA, accessibility standards in Ontario.


Richard: Welcome David!

David Lepofsky: Great to be here!

Richard: So, the Accessibility for Ontarian with Disabilities Act is accessibility legislation which passed in Ontario by the McGuinty government in 2005 with the promise of the province reaching full accessibility by 2025 here we are it is 2016 how’s that process going?

Portrait of David Lepofsky

David: Well, there is bad news, and then there is good news and then there is bad news and then there is good news. let me start with the first bad news. We are not on schedule, we are behind schedule and we are falling behind schedule for reaching full accessibility by 2025. Now, let me get to the good news. The good news is the law itself that we fought for from probably 1994 to 2005 it’s a good law it’s got a right bones to it sure we don’t want to weaken it anyway and the premier promises us that they would never do that, but when the government got started on implement it back in 2005 to 2011 they didn’t do bad job they did get right to work they picked the important to start working with rolled up their sleeve they have engaged the business community, the disability community, public sector and coming up with the first round of accessibility standards and they may not covered everything we need, they are certainly important helpful start. Then the next bad news! The next bad news is that since 2011 summer time the government has just absolutely kind of falling apart on this issue. They have just ground down to snail pace they are moving unacceptably slowly on developing new accessibility standards, they are doing a paltry and completely ineffective job of meeting their promise to effectively enforce the rules they have passed on accessibility and they don’t have a plan to get us from here to 2025. They got eight and half years left to get us on schedule and to get us to that destination which the legislation requires the government to lead us to. Then the good news, the good news is there is a road map. Part of it was mapped out by two independent reviews that government was required to the point to take a temperature and say how we are doing and what we need to do and part of it was mapped out by a membership and supporter of our coalition which we’ve put up a blue print forward to the government to how to get back on track we criticize them when they do poorly we command them when they do well but we always comfort with constructive ways of doing things better. So, I go back to where I start. The bad news is we are not on schedule. We’ve made some progress, but nowhere near the progress we need to make and we are loosing opportunities we are way behind untied States on accessibility on number of fronts, education, public transportation all sort of technology, whole wide range of variety, just behind the schedule and it works in disadvantage of all Ontarians.


Richard: So, what’s the problem, is that lack of will, is that you know, is that budgetary problems?

David: It is not budget, the fact is in term of effective enforcement, the government has an office the accessibility director which has a power to enforce. They have been giving budget to enforce, toward freedom of information applications we revealed that every single years since 2005 they’ve been under budget. They are not getting the political leadership that they need. And when this law passed in 2005 I was there at the privilege of reading the pre-predecessor of AODA Alliance, was called Ontarians with disabilities act community. We campaigned for ten years for this law from 1994 to 2005 and we lobbied one candidate at a time one MPP at the time, we are not partisan haven’t been to this day and we built some real momentum, we and our supporters around the province built some real exciting momentum. The day the legislation passed in 2005, I was there at Queen’s Park , and two amazing things happened. First the law passed unanimously and the members of the legislation all of them rose in unison to applaud! That does not happen in Queen’s Park very often!

Richard: Sure!

David: Those folks cannot even agree on what time of day it is; without getting into a fight with each other! But here they agreed on the outcome and they applauded it. But then right after the law passed a press conference was hold at Queen’s Park and we and government and there were three peoples speaking in support of this law one was the Minister who brought it in Doctor Marie Bountrogianni, she is now teaching at Ryesron, she was speaking for government’s perspective, highly surprisingly that she endorsed the law, and kudos to her, because she led a very good process. The second was me from the disability perspective and the third was the representative of retail councillor of Canada. So in that building at Queen’s park we had at the same time unanimity of support from liberal, conservative and NDP , Government, disability community and business. Again, that doesn’t happen very often, so when they got to work there was a real sense of mission it’s really falling of the rail side for couple of reasons. One which is, there has been a significant turn over at Queen’s Park many of the members of the legislator who were there with us when we were fighting for this law and who kept trying to put on the agenda of the government of the day, have left politics and they’d been replaced by people who are good people but they are people who this is past history. This is not a cause that they had any investment in it. And the second thing is that the government is just not showing the leadership we need and that’s been the view of two independent reviews the government appointed. They appointed they pick the reviewer they pick people who were respectable, and they said that the problem is the government celebrate the passage of the law, but since then just gone back to business as usual and all add kind of bureaucracy supersede action.

Richard: Aha!

DavidSo, let me give you an example we tried for, since really around year 2010, 2011 to get the government to develop new accessibility standard and two of those that we said that are really important. One that addresses barriers in healthcare and the other is the one that addresses barriers in our education system.

What can be more important than healthcare and education? Healthcare so you can survive and education to get learn, grow, get a job and succeed in society . They both are really important and both heavily publicly founded, or overwhelmingly publicly founded, so the government got the answer for them. For education we still can’t get any answers , they still haven’t agreed whether they will do an education accessibility standard or not! We are still labouring under the accessibility law; pardon me, under special education regulation and legislation that were passed on 1980!  36 years ago! It is antiquity legislation and it is outdated. I can tell you that I also serve as a volunteer chair of the special education advisory committee of the Toronto district school board, the largest school board in Canada. We have 46,000 kids with special education needs and I can tell you we are way behind. As such as question of founding, We have 334,000 students with special education needs in publicly founded school across Ontario that’s a third of million and our education system was not designed to meet their needs. They are kind of an after though, they are trying to fit in the system that wasn’t there with them in mind.

We have 550 schools in Toronto, buildings, school houses, only 85 of them are accessible, physically accessible! That is how out of date we are. We have got endorsement from education accessibility standard from the major organization who represent many of those who teach in the front line, The Ontario Secondary School Teacher Federation, The Elementary Teacher Federation Ontario, Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association, and the Ontario Confederation University Faculty Association. All of these folk are agreeing with us, we need an education accessible standard, six years later we can’t get the government to say yes! They don’t say no, they just don’t say, this still mired in internal study or bureaucracy. And let me turn to healthcare. So, we have a healthcare system full of barriers no body could dispute that so what’s the government has done? They didn’t answer until a year and half a go when the minister responsible for this legislation; Brad Duguid, at that time, to his credit, he finally announced that yes, we are going to do healthcare accessibility standard. But they haven’t take the next step needed to get started on it. They required by law and a pointed committee called Standards Development Committee with disability representative, healthcare representative to come up with ideas, what the standard could do!

A year and half later they haven’t even appointed the committee getting started to work, what is the government has done, get a look at this. This is the bureaucracy upon bureaucracy and none of this is mandated in legislation. First the government decided to do a pre-pre consultation, thats their name! They have decided to hire KPMG a private consulting firm, I don’t know what they know about disability in healthcare, I just don’t know; to go out and consult on what barriers might be addressed! But, guess who they talked to? They talked to the healthcare sector, but not people with disabilities! OK! So, they then used public money and that gobbled up and who knows how much time and then after that was done, the government is now holding (as the pre pre consultation is over), now they are doing a pre consultation. So, the civil services are now asking us, now that KPMG talked to us what are you saying that the barriers are? Now all of this before they appoint the standards development committee which under law is responsible for asking us what barriers do you face? So, you are asking why are we behind schedule? That anecdote tells you every thing! We agreed we need action, but this is how thing are getting mired in unnecessary bureaucracy. I mean thank god! I just wrap out long answer to your question with this:” Thank god the government didn’t do this pre pre consultation and pre consultation back in 2005 or we were got anything on the books by now”!


Richard: Ya, I see the problem there, but what’s the root of the problem? I mean how could we fix this problem?

David: How can we fix this problem? It is actually easy to fix! The first step is something that the 2014 independent review by former UofT law dean Mayo Moran  directed should be done! She said the Premier needs to show leadership on this file, so thats the first thing and I am not saying that Premier Wynne is agains it, but she needs to actually grab this file and says; look this thing is off the rails, we have to get this going! Now recently she appointed a new minister Tracy MacCharles gave her responsibility for issues about the 5th or 6th minister we dealt with in 10 years, I have to do the count, but we are rolling up our sleeve to see what we can do with her, but the second thing the Premier says. Something she promised to do but has not done! What we have found is this: we got a great promises from the government over the years both under Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, what they would do! When election come along we write them all the parties because we are non partisan here, we do what we need you to do and they have written great letters with great commitment, but then we found out after the elections over; too often, they don’t do it! So, what we later from our own research and investigation found out is this; after each election the Premier writes what it called Mandate Letters to each ministers and says here is your priorities and the commitment that the government has made to us at the election too often don’t end up in those Mandate Letters! To her credit; after 2014 election Premier Wynne finally actually made Mandate Letters public! First time in Ontario and that was a great move! We read them all, we are not exciting and if you go to our website which is aodaalliance.org you will see we post an analysis and found out the significant majority of promises they made to us aren’t in those letters!

In the 2014 election we anticipated this problem and we asked the Premier and all party leaders; “if you elected will you direct your ministers to keep your election promises to us and your duties on accessibilities?” and she said: Yes, I would! But then when she wrote the Mandate Letters she didn’t do it! So, guess what ? You don’t tell the ministers that these are priorities, they don’t become priorities! The prior minister responsible for this act the guy name Brad Duguid, from 2014 up to until couple of months a go! We said, Premier will you directed him to keep the commitment you promised on affectively enforcing these law, but his Mandate Letter didn’t say a word about enforcing this law and guess what Brad Duguid cut enforcement which was already low by over a third! So, to answer your question the first thing we need we really need that leadership and the second thing is we need the Premier to keep her word of her 2014 election and actually direct her ministers to keep the government commitment to us!


Richard: Clearly Premier Waynne is a politician, is she reacted to this, to the challenge that her Mandate Letters are not including the material she has promised?

David: We haven’t got the action we need. Bottom line is we haven’t got the action we need! So, let me tell you what we are doing about it, because we don’t just complain. We act! So, we did two things, one which is we come forward with government as non-partisan coalition, we are all volunteers, including me. I retire from the Ontario public service and I am teaching part time at Osgoode Hall Law School as visiting professor and the time I have outside of that I, and our supporters across the province, we are ramping up pressure to come from with practical ideas for the government and meeting with ministers and deputy ministers and try to do what we can do. But the other thing we are doing is that we are going also a little public! We launched a campaign last February which has recently gotten great media attention which is, we called it: “our picture our barriers” campaign, what we are encouraging people to do is; and if you listen to this Podcast please join in! We are encouraging people to take their smart phones and take pictures of barriers in our communities, they can be physical barriers they can be technological barriers that can be any kind of barrier, doesn’t have to be just for people with physical disability because we cover all disabilities. And we encourage people to tweet these. But we are suggesting a couple of things to make it easier, one of which is we have hashtag #AODAfail. These are tweets or pictures of AODA fails. That’s why we call it “picture our barriers” and we encourage people to also put words in the tweet to describe these tweets because people like me who are completely blind, we want to know what the barriers are too!

But, other thing that we are doing is, we are tweeting them or retweeting them to politicians to put the heat on them and to the media! So, if people listening to this, if you are on Twitter it would be great if you followed us at AODA alliance, if you go to search on the hashtag AODA fail if you can add your own tweets that be great but even if you can’t please just retweet the ones you see there if you see a tweet that says it is from us or from anyone to Kathleen Wynne or Patrick Brown or Andrea Horwath or any of the members telling them about the barriers we are facing, if you just click retweet. You don’t have to go take pictures of anything if you don’t have time just click retweet, you are adding your voice to ours, you are showing that this is a movement that you agree with and that would really help. If you want tips on how to do that we got resource on a website, we have an action kit with have all the MPP’s Twitter handles just go to the following link.


And it would be great if you titling it to  www.AODAalliance.org/2016, if you go there you’ll see all the resources you need to be making, even a one page sheet notes if you don’t want to read other stuff and look at it  in 30 seconds you’ll know what to do. It’s been really cool and really helpful in the Toronto Star wrote a great article describing some of the more glaring barriers that we have brought public attention.

Richard: I think that sounds great because you can bring out public attention, I mean we are talking about politicians here I imagine that (they just) it is not high enough in mind for them to to be concerned with.That’s what it sounds like!

David: And what was bizarre about our, about that is that they should be, because we are the minority of everyone. Everybody either has a disability now, it is 1.8 million Ontarians, or we will get one later because they are going to get older hopefully and as you get older you get disabilities.

Let’s talk about Education Accessibility Standards for a moment.How can any politician be against this? I can take the number tat I gave you before and  put in perspective, in Ontario publicly funded schools as Catholic Boards and Public Boards, there are two million students. 334,000 are known as students with Special Education needs. One out of every six students in any publicly funded school has Special Education needs and we are embarrassingly behind the United States.


Arezoo: Speaking of Americans; and not trying to compare

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, is a US labour law that prohibits unjustified discrimination based on disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. The ADA also establishes requirements for telecommunication services.

Under Title III of the ADA, all new construction, modification or alterations after the effective date of the ADA must be fully compliant with the Americans With Disabilities Act Accessibility Guidelines.

The 2010 ADA standards for accessible design is 280 pages guideline which set minimum requirements for newly designed and constructed or altered State and local government facilities, public accommodations, and commercial facilities to be readily accessible to and usable by individuals with disabilities.

Title III also has application to existing facilities. One of the definitions of “discrimination” under Title III of the ADA is a “failure to remove” architectural barriers in existing facilities.

President George W. Bush signed the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 into law On September 25th of the same year.


David: We get the feedbacks from the frustration that parents face, we don’t even have a standard for what a new school should look like to insurance accessible. Like if a school board sometimes has to tear down an old building and build a new one or build an addition, we got the out-of-date building code and the incomplete building code on accessibility but we don’t have a requirement for schools. So, each school board has to reinvent the wheel, which is crazy! Now, waiting for provincial action, I’m proud that the Toronto District School Board Special Education Advisory Committee which I have the privilege of serving as chair, we as volunteers are put forward an agenda for change and we are pressing the Toronto District School Board to adopt it, in areas like built environment and digital accessibility but we need provincial leadership on this. This is what the province should do they lead on everything else and educationally set the curriculum they said the class sizes at all sorts of other things that the province has to follow. The set the terms for all the things school board, but this one there are less willing to lead and leave it up to parents to have to fight these barriers one off against school boards and it is just not fair!


Richard: Another question I have is; do you think there is (I don’t want to sound cynical here) is the resistance from the basically to enforcement accessibility standards from the business side things?

David: I am going to tell you all the mythology and your question which is a totally fair one brings us to myth versus reality, the counterintuitive reality. Number one:

the Myth is: business would be lagging behind but government is the big leader, and the fact that the Ontario government says that we are going to lead by example but unfortunately too often they lead by a poor example. We found that there are instances where businesses are ahead of government. When it came to negotiating terms for the Internet and website accessibility we found that the corporate leaders in Information Technology were far ahead of the government leaders on Information Technology in Ontario. The second thing the second mythology is: you got to let the government do everything first because they need and business needs more time! The fact of the matter is the times that government needs more time and businesses need less. I’ve heard from people who are IT consultants on accessibility that it’s way easier to get a small business or medium-size business to change their web practices on accessibility than a huge organization like a government. Government has a gazillion webpages managed by a whole bunch of different people but a bit smaller business pages have all managed by a couple people and it is quicker to retrofit and it is quicker to get them doing the right thing for things on a go forward basis.

So,  the third mythology is that we folks with disabilities we love to regulate the heck out of everybody and businesses going to the governments and say please don’t regulate us, please don’t regulate us, and the poor government is in the middle getting pressure from both sides, what would they do? We actually heard in the independent review by Mayo Maron has heard that business wants standards too, they want to know what they have to do they don’t want to hire consultants.so, government want to drop the ball. Let’s tell us in the business sector, I give you a quick illustration! so to its credit in the accessibility standard passed just as the government was hitting it sort of paralysis mode, passed the end of 2012, the government set requirements for accessibility in some public spaces and one of the thing they said was if you have a public service area in a building – a new one –  you got to have at least one accessible counter height. That is great, but it doesn’t tell you what the height is? So, the government’s position was let’s leave it to businesses we don’t want to be too regulatory to prescriptive they won’t like that. Well businesses say  just tell us how height to make the counter why should the government dump on businesses the obligation to go hire; each hire, a consultant to reinvent the wheel.

The government in that standard set says to meet this penalties if you create a new playground, include an accessibility features for kids with disabilities but they don’t say what they are? So, that every municipality start having to reinvent the same wheel and run the risk to get it wrong. So, there are areas where they need to be more prescriptive and then enforce the law are ones that we in business and other obligated sectors will agree on and the government just letting us all down.

Let me give you the last counterintuitive or a myth I should say versus reality. The mythology is old buildings well they are not accessible but new buildings now we know better we get it right! Well the recent Toronto Star article we play all three buildings built with public money that have really unacceptable accessibility barriers that should’ve been caught. I can describe thermally fast. Number one: the brand-new women’s College Hospital, in the 10th of June the Premier the Prime Minister of Canada, big deal flow up ribbon-cutting to open it, what was behind them was a hospital using and built with our money was like some accessibility features and that’s always good, but that is  expected that a number of significant accessibility problems. I went on the main floor to go to the bathroom in the braille signage and it has room number, doesn’t say bathroom, doesn’t says men, it is a room number. And then there’s a tactile graphic supposedly the male symbol now some decent education, I have put my hand and I have no idea what it is and I challenge anyone who designed it to figure that one out! Many hospitals have an automatic door that opened, as you approach which makes since these are people coming who are sick or who are injured or family their older people are coming for healthcare, the Women’s College Hospital, you have to wave your hand in front of a opposed to decide which blind folks like me won’t know is there and won’t be able to easily find and people with motor disabilities won’t be able to do! So, in all the door open inside the walking route from the front door to the main elevator doesn’t have appropriate wayfinding for blind person to find it! Let me give you the last example, and this is a brand-new hospital, I can give you hundred examples!  It is a brand-new hospital the last example from the hospital is; they have accessible parking in a parking lot and they’ve taken some steps commendably to ensure that people with disability can park there. But when you are coming to the building, and you want to pay for your parking there is an electronic kiosk built in the wall when the screen is in a standing height. So person on wheelchair cannot operated! That by the way violates the accessibility standards that require accessibility features and electronic kiosk, and of course the government enforcing it less against their own public sector in an effective way.

Second building Ryerson has a new student learning centre right in the court of downtown Toronto. Lovely building, they have these things called hang out stairs. I didn’t know the term before I got into this issue, this part of this issue but what it is? It is like a socializing area where there steps of flight of stairs and steps that you can sit on and chat. So, it is a socializing area that might as well have a sign saying people with disabilities and mobility disabilities need not socialize here. If you a sign up saying that a particular or designed a socializing area for students and left out students of colour or whatever, that outrageous. It is no less outrageous to use the money to build a hangout area that is only for people who can climb stairs. And it’s not news in 2016 or 2010 the people using mobility devices can’t climb stairs.

Third example where I teach, Osgood Hall Law school, I went there 40 years ago and I have started four years ago this month. I was totally blind only been totally blind for couple of years, had little vision before that. I learn my way around that law school and a bond around it using my white cane no problem. And I was waiting to reach the blindness that I am now and it was not good on wheelchair access, but they at least was ability I could navigate there. They have since spent a huge chunk of money doing a major renovation of the whole inside the building. They have improved wheelchair accessible, and of course made it gorgeous the architects must have been very happy about focusing on visual design but they made a building which is now one of the most difficult buildings I’ve tried to navigate. I give you two quick examples and anybody in the design field should note this, the first is there’s a main corridor on the main thoroughfare. Like Yonge street, in the middle of the main floor, and as you walk down it, we blind folks would use one wall on one side or one wall on the other side to navigate. Well on one side there is soft seating every couple of meters, I cannot navigate that, unless I want my cane to whack students as they sitting and chatting. On the other wall which would be a perfect wall to navigate, every couple of meters there’s a pillar. But, it is not a pillar to support the ceiling, it is a decorative pillar. It is empty metal, but it is not just empty metal decorative pillar, they are angled! They don’t go straight up and down, they lean in to the path of traffic, so the white cane goes under and says: “David safe to walk” and then your head walked into it! I don’t know what kind of people would design this kind of thing they mustn’t know much about the needs of people with disabilities and it’s a safety issue, I am sure sighted people whacked their heads on it too, all you need to do is to turn your head and chat or look down at your phone or texting. Bottom line, three new buildings built no doubt with real public money that are lacking important accessibility features. So, the myth, older buildings have problems but new buildings don’t worry we get them right, well, we need to be worry!



Richard: Is that a problem with the standard do you think?

David: Absolutely! Absolutely because the whole idea of the AODA and we fought for this for decades, we know the story, some of the folks in power now don’t because they were’n there but the whole idea is that people; there were two problems: One is the law didn’t tell organizations what they gotta do. They want just to be told, they tell us what we got to do. Building code is always been out-of-date, and when the government refreshed in 2015 they brought it from the late 19th century to maybe the middle 20th session in terms of accuracy, but they have not properly updated it, and we don’t need and we were promised a comprehensive built environment accessibility standards but they haven’t delivered that. So, that’s the first problem in terms of this and the second problem is: we’re promised effective enforcement for people with disabilities won’t have to navigate these one at times, student shouldn’t have to suit Ryerson or a patient shouldn’t have to sue women’s College Hospital for spending our money to create these barriers.


2 thoughts on “3. Signal Vol. 3, AODA”

  1. Thanks for the transcript, but was this proof-read at all before being posted? Reads like something that was automatically transcribed, and poorly. Full of mistakes, no punctuation, wrong words, confusing sentences. On a website that it supposed to be all about accessibility. Not great for people who can’t hear the video.

    1. Thank you for visiting Quantization!
      1-We proof-read transcripts over and over before publishing. But there is always chance for some mistake.
      2-We try to have transcripts exactly as our guests communicate.
      3-We haven’t uploaded any video yet, all episodes on the website are audio files up to this point.
      4-Please comeback again and share your thoughtful comments.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top