Practicality and Patience Key to AODA Implementation
6 Jan 2010
As most people know, or soon will, the Province of Ontario is moving towards the laudable goal of being fully accessible. The capacity to accommodate all people, no matter their abilities, is an important social responsibility and one that should be tackled enthusiastically as long as we temper our enthusiasm with a large dose of practicality and a little patience mixed in.
Through the enabling legislation of AODA (Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005), the government is developing accessibility standards in five areas: customer service; transportation; information and communications; employment; and built environment (physical surroundings).
Committees have been working in each of these five areas to develop standards for review by the public and the government. The Built environment is the final component to be made available for public review.
These proposed rules governing how businesses and organizations in Ontario should prevent and remove barriers for people with disabilities, in their physical surroundings, are far reaching and without question will have an impact on the bottom lines of businesses here in London and across the province.
They'll affect all new construction and extensive renovations and propose requirements for every aspect including:
Common access - entrances, doorways, ramps, stairs
Exteriors - curbs, crossings, street furniture
Plumbing - washrooms, showers, drinking fountains
Communication - signage, telephones
Buildings - air quality, acoustics, lighting.
Ontario's aggressive pursuit of accessibility has put it in the forefront across Canada and beyond our borders. And for its part, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce (OCC) has been actively engaged in these efforts through participation on the standard development committees since the legislation was passed in 2005.
There is no question that it's the appropriate thing to do to ensure that all people are treated equally no matter their abilities, but there must be a business case and some reasonable economic benefits if the Province expects Ontario businesses to get on board willingly.
Not to make light of the plight of the disabled but, Ontarians with disabilities represent a large untapped market. Nearly 1.85 million Ontarians currently live with some form of disability. In addition, our population is aging, creating more potential (dare I say it) customers. It is estimated that almost half of all people over the age of 65 have some form of disability including sight, hearing or mobility impairments. These are important potential customers and we ought to do everything in our power to accommodate them.
In time, the various tools and standards designed to reduce barriers will become second nature. Just imagine a world without automatic door openers or disabled parking spaces now. These courtesies have rightly become a common element of our daily lives.
Having said that, change will not happen overnight nor will it happen easily. Throughout the work on the Built Environment committee, this Chamber and the OCC have cautioned about the capacity to achieve full accessibility in existing buildings and single family homes, as well as the cost implications of such a move. A walk down Dundas Street in London or King Street in Hamilton or Brant Street in Burlington, or any established street in any Ontario community, will demonstrate the hurdles that will be faced when existing buildings are retrofitted to become fully accessible in every way. Building owners, many of them small business operators who are already working on slim margins, would have extreme difficulty paying for extensive retrofits.
For the present time, the government has wisely agreed to go more slowly when it comes to retrofitting existing buildings or new or existing single family houses. A lot more discussion and investigation will be needed before it is clear how to proceed with these properties in mind.
Meantime, the proposed rules for new construction and extensive renovations are available for public view. Business operators and those responsible for organizations like non-profits, charities, churches, municipalities etc., have a responsibility to consider how the rules may affect them.
Even though the Act doesn't call for full implementation until 2025, many if not most of the regulations and standard will be in place long before that. It is therefore vital that all Ontarians become informed about the accessibility standards that are being developed for our province. If done correctly, this will set us apart from other jurisdictions throughout the world and even give us a competitive advantage. If not done with patience and practicality - it may just break us. Our advice to the Premier of Ontario - press on but, slow down.
For a comprehensive guide for Removing Barriers - A Business Guide for Improving Accessibility businesses can paste this link into their browsers:
for more information on the governmentÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s website go to:
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