In the third review of the AODA, the Honourable David Onley recommends needed improvements to the Act. One of these improvements is the need to help Ontarians become more mindful of accessibility. During public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees stated that the AODA alone cannot make Ontario accessible. Instead, people and organizations must understand that accommodating people with disabilities is an every-day part of serving the public. Organization staff should expect to be serving customers with disabilities and know more about what these customers’ needs are. This knowledge will help them prepare to meet those needs in advance, instead of as an afterthought. Therefore, the government needs to develop opportunities to grow awareness of every-day accessibility in Ontario.
More Awareness of Every-Day Accessibility in Ontario is Needed
During Onley’s review, attendees explain that the AODA is a vital part of creating full accessibility in Ontario. However, attendees believe the AODA alone will not give Ontarians enough awareness of how accessibility impacts citizens with disabilities. Instead, the province needs cultural change to foster understanding of how small actions can make life better or worse for citizens with disabilities.
For instance, the review describes an organization offering accessible parking but placing a ticket booth in an accessible-parking space. The organization has followed the Design of Public Spaces Standards by constructing accessible parking spaces. However, the ticket booth in the accessible space means that someone with a disability cannot use it. This set-up shows that the organization has not thought about how someone with a disability would access their services.
The organization may be happy to serve a customer with a disability once they realize such a customer exists. However, the misplaced ticket booth may give the false impression that the organization does not want to serve customers with disabilities. Furthermore, someone with a disability seeing this ticket booth may decide to find an organization that appears more welcoming.
Benefits of Cultural Change
Meeting attendees state that the framework of the AODA cannot resolve this type of barrier. For instance, the AODA should not need to include a rule preventing organizations from using accessible parking spaces for non-parking-related services. On the contrary, the fact that people rely on services like accessible parking should be common knowledge. Unfortunately, it is not, so organizations continue to create physical barriers that keep people away from their services. Similarly, constant technology changes create new information and technology barriers too quickly for the law to address them. In contrast, awareness about how people with various disabilities access information and technology would help organizations rapidly remove barriers.
In addition, people with disabilities have a wide variety of needs. Even people with the same disability may access buildings and services in different ways. For example, Onley’s review mentions that while automatic doors are helpful for some people, others cannot use them. As a result, Ontario Building Code mandates cannot ensure accessibility for everyone. Therefore, awareness about the many ways people with disabilities access the world around them will help improve that access.
Onley’s review states that people across Ontario must learn that accessibility is “the right thing to do”. Furthermore, the review recommends that the government become a role model showing people how to best serve and support citizens with disabilities.
In addition, the review lists other social concerns Ontarians have learned more about, such as recycling and impaired driving. Public education about these issues has helped people realize that they need to start behaving differently. Therefore, Onley’s review suggests that similar public education efforts would help people gain accessibility awareness at a basic level. For instance, attendees suggest that people with disabilities could help educate the public by visiting:
- Schools, colleges, and universities
Likewise, the media could support these efforts by creating programming about successful people with disabilities and accessible organizations.
In short, Onley’s review recommends that the government develop ways to teach the public about fellow citizens with disabilities. Moreover, both previous reviews of the AODA, in 2010 and 2014, have made a similar recommendation. In other words, Ontarians with disabilities have waited at least ten years for awareness of every-day accessibility in Ontario.