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Town currently non-compliant with AODA rules: Staff

'With current capacity constraints, the amount of effort that will be required... is significant,' says staffer; budget requests for a full-time contract position to help bring town into compliance
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The Town of Collingwood is working away on the 2024 draft budget, and with the deadline for compliance with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) fast approaching, there are two items in the budget staff say are necessary to make sure the town reaches that milestone.

During discussions on the budget on Oct. 16, attention was drawn by Coun. Deb Doherty and Coun. Brandon Houston to two key items on the list for council consideration: a $130,000 request for a new town website and engagement portal, and a new staff hire to the tune of $95,424 to ensure the town reaches AODA compliance.

Doherty asked if staff would still accomplish the AODA work whether or not the two budget items were approved for 2024.

“We are currently not compliant,” said Amanda Pegg, executive director of customer and corporate services with the town. “We are doing the best we can. We have work plans in place to try to get us there.”

“With current capacity constraints, the amount of effort that will be required... is significant,” she added.

The AODA aims to identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. The AODA became law on June 13, 2005 and applies to all levels of government, non-profits, and private-sector businesses in Ontario that have one or more employees.

Under the AODA, the government is responsible for creating accessibility standards that organizations must follow, with the ultimate goal being to make Ontario more accessible and inclusive by 2025.

The deadline for governments, non-profits and private-sector businesses to be compliant with the AODA is Dec. 31, 2023.

“By not doing this in the 2024 budget, are there risks to not being AODA compliant by 2024?” asked Houston.

During Monday’s meeting, Pegg noted the town requested an extension to the deadline by the province, which was granted to Dec. 31, 2024.

The current town website was launched in the spring of 2019, and the town has extended the contract with companies Upanup and Granicus twice to update the platforms as non-standard purchases.

“A website redevelopment would include launching a brand-new site on a new platform that will assist us in not only meeting AODA compliance, but having better back-end user-friendly accessibility features to help all content creators ensure their uploaded content is accessible,” notes the budget request.

The new staff contract hire to assist with AODA compliance would cost $95,424, and the staffer would be responsible for working toward the completion of a compliance plan the town has been engaged with the province on since 2020. The position would be a full-time contract for a one-year term.

“This position will provide leadership across the organization and further update existing policies and procedures with an accessibility/inclusion lens,” notes the budget.

In response to Doherty’s questions, Pegg also noted that priorities would need to be shifted if the budget request for 2024 wasn’t approved.

“We can continue to do the AODA work...but we would have to re-prioritize other work because we just don’t have the capacity to do it all right now and it is a large bulk of work,” said Pegg.

Mayor Yvonne Hamlin asked if the town had a sense of whether other municipalities were in the same boat, struggling to meet compliance.

“If we don’t comply, are we within the majority of what’s happening, or do we really have to worry about what is getting enforced?” asked Hamlin.

Pegg said Collingwood does keep in contact with other municipalities who are moving toward compliance.

“A number of municipalities are struggling with the compliance portion of the AODA. Even if we were compliant today, if someone uploaded a document tomorrow that was non-complaint, we would be out of compliance,” said Pegg. “The challenge we have today is there is so much catch-up to do.”

At the end of discussion at their Oct. 16 meeting, councillors voted in favour of carrying the two AODA-related items through to the next draft of the 2024 budget.

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Jessica Owen

About the Author: Jessica Owen

Jessica Owen is an experienced journalist working for Village Media since 2018, primarily covering Collingwood and education.
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