New legislation to be highlighted at Oct. 29 meeting
Oct 13, 2009 – 02:56 PM
By Chris Hall
SCUGOG — Scugog’s businesses will get a taste of what’s to come over the next two years when the Scugog Chamber of Commerce focuses on new accessibility standards at its next breakfast meeting.
Slated to be held Oct. 29 at the Scugog Community Centre, 1655 Reach St., the session will provide an overview of the first standard to be implemented under Ontario’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. The goal of the legislation is to make Ontario completely accessible by 2025.
The act features five standards, the first being accessible customer service which comes into effect on Jan. 1, 2010. Under the new legislation, the public sector, including municipalities, hospitals, school boards and other publicly funded services, must be able to provide acceptable service to those with disabilities.
That legislation will expand to include all public businesses by Jan. 1, 2012.
Under the first standard to be implemented, all staff must be trained on how to interact with customers who may suffer from a myriad of disabilities — from blindness, deafness or physical disability to cancer, anxiety, mental health, arthritis or asthma.
“We often think of disabilities as those in a wheelchair. But there are many, many kinds of disabilities out there,” said Edie Forsyth, chairwoman of Scugog’s accessibility advisory committee and corporate director with Accessibility Experts Ltd.
The new legislation will prompt businesses to be more user-friendly, said Ms. Forsyth. That includes providing information in a format available to everyone and being more accepting of service animals and assisted technology.
But the best way to overcome the hurdles of the new legislation, she stressed, is to provide the best customer service possible.
“Be polite and go that extra step,” suggested Ms. Forsyth. “Provide good, old, customer service and ask how you can help them — don’t stand there and try and figure out what disability they have, just how you can help them.”
And that can be as simple as selling products online, providing a delivery service or having a staff member on hand to provide one-on-one service, said Ms. Forsyth.
In Scugog, among the first to fall under the new legislation will be the municipality itself. Scugog “is really on board with it” and its staff has underwent some sensitivity training, said Ms. Forsyth.
But as for being prepared for Jan. 1, she added “I’m not sure if Scugog is ready or not.”
Those who do not comply with the new legislation face potentially stiff penalties: $100,000 per day, plus $50,000 per director.
“In the new year, someone will be made an example of,” predicted Ms. Forsyth.
The two-year window between when the public and private sectors must comply with the new standard will also give Scugog’s businesses a chance to see what must be done, she added.
In the minds of most people, continued Ms. Forsyth, new accessibility laws mean that stores will have to be completely accessible — an expensive cost for most shops in Port Perry’s downtown core due to the age of the heritage buildings. But the built-environment standards won’t kick in for another 13 to 15 years.
“There’s no need to freak out yet,” said Ms. Forsyth. “For right now, you just need to provide good customer service.”
And that little bit of extra work just might have a huge payoff, she added.
According to Ms. Forsyth, statistics have shown that about 15 per cent of all Canadians have some sort of disability, with that group having spending power estimated at as much as $25 billion per year.
“You’re missing a huge market if you’re not making your building accessible,” she said. “That’s another whole market you’re not tapping into because they can’t get in your door.”
The Oct. 24 breakfast meeting is being held by the Scugog Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the Accessibility Experts and Township of Scugog.
Registration begins at 7:30 a.m. and the breakfast and presentation starts at 7:45 a.m.
Tickets are $15 for chamber members, $18 for non-members.
Reservations are required by Oct. 27.
For more information or to reserve tickets, call 905-985-4971 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org .
Reproduced from http://newsdurhamregion.com/life/article/137555