The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) has long been concerned about the significant barriers that persons with disabilities face when attempting to access transportation services. The Commission has heard from the community about a range of persistent barriers, and has addressed transit accessibility issues through a number of initiatives, publications and human rights complaints.  The Commission’s 2002 consultation report, Human Rights and Public Transit in Ontario, outlines many of these concerns, and in particular identifies announcing all stops as an important inclusive design feature that provides access for persons with visual impairments.
In 2007, the Commission noted both progress and setbacks relating to accessibility in transit for persons with disabilities. In particular, two developments led the Commission’s decision to undertake the current initiative.
The Initial Proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard
In August 2007, the Commission made a submission to the Transportation Standards Review Committee on the Initial Proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard (the “proposed standard”). While the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (the “AODA”) has the potential to have a profound positive impact on the lives of Ontarians with disabilities, the Commission has major concerns about the proposed standard. In a number of areas, it falls far short of fundamental human rights standards. It fails to make progress towards equality for persons with disabilities, and it regresses on some gains previously made. For example, it does not require transportation providers to announce all stops until three to 18 years after the standard is adopted.
The Ontario Human Rights Code applies to all municipalities and organizations that fall under Ontario law, and takes precedence over all other provincial legislation, unless there is a specific exemption in that legislation. There is no such exemption in the AODA. In fact, the AODA explicitly states that, if there is a conflict between one of its provisions, a related standard or another regulation, and any other Act or regulation, the provision that provides the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities will prevail. 
In its submission, the Commission states that it is essential that the final transit standard be harmonized with the requirements of the Code. The Commission notes that the AODA and the Code share significant common purpose, and that failing to harmonize the standards with the Code leads to confusion, frustration and a greater likelihood of human rights violations and complaints. This has attendant costs for the responsible organizations and individuals, rights-seekers and society as a whole. To date, the final transit standard has yet to be released.
The Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario decision on stop announcements
In July 2007, the Human Rights Tribunal of Ontario (the “Tribunal”) released an important decision on the issue of stop announcements, Lepofsky v. Toronto Transit Commission (“Lepofsky”).  The Tribunal, which is a separate body from the Commission, found that the failure of the Toronto Transit Commission (the “TTC”) to ensure announcement of all stops on buses and streetcars violated the human rights of persons with disabilities. In particular, the Tribunal found that the TTC failed to establish that alleged risks associated with drivers verbally announcing stops would amount to undue hardship, while the costs associated with implementing such a program would be relatively minor. The Tribunal ordered the TTC to start announcements within 30 days of the decision.
One important element of this decision is that the Tribunal indicated that manual call-out of stops within weeks of the decision was required in order to address the immediate problem of accessibility for persons with visual impairments. This decision was made despite the fact that eventual implementation of automated audio-visual stop announcement systems may provide broader accessibility in the long term, and that the TTC would be bound by any forthcoming standards under the AODA. This aspect of the decision both reflects and supports the Commission’s policy position that interim accommodation should be offered in situations where implementing the most appropriate accommodation must be phased in over time. 
This decision was a very positive one for Ontarians with disabilities. It provides clarity about the importance of interim accomodation and inclusive design, offers a detailed blueprint for applying the duty to accommodate people with disability when providing transit services, and reflects how the Tribunal will address similar complaints in the future.
The Commission decided that, given these recent developments and the conflicts between the proposed standards and current interpretations of the Code, including Commission policy and the Lepofsky decision, it was important to communicate with transit providers to clarify their responsibilities and help them to prevent complaints.
 For example, in July, 1999, the Commission undertook a survey of Ontario’s public transit providers. In 2001, the Commission updated the survey, and launched a public consultation with the release of its Discussion Paper on Accessible Transit in Ontario. This led to the 2002 consultation report, Human Rights and Public Transit in Ontario. The Commission also released a 2006 Position Paper on para-transit services, and a 2007 submission on the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario’s Initial Proposed Transportation Accessibility Standard. These and all Commission publications can be viewed on the Commission’s web site at www.ohrc.on.ca.
 Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, S.O. 2005, c. 11, s. 38
Lepofsky v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2007 HRTO 23, (July 26, 2007) (“Lepofsky”). This decision followed a 2005 HRTO ruling in a similar case relating to the duty to accommodate visually impaired riders by announcing subway stops (see Ontario Human Rights Commission v. Toronto Transit Commission, 2005 HRTO 36, (September 29, 2005)).
Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate (the “Policy”), Ontario Human Rights Commission, November, 2000, s.4.4.9.