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Chamber Hears About Accessibility Act

BY Laurie Watt, STAFF October 29, 2009 06:10

Barrie’s Accessibility Advisory Committee got into the business of teaching customer service to the Greater Barrie Chamber of Commerce and Downtown Barrie.

Thanks to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), municipalities have had to set up committees to help implement a series of provincial regulations that break down barriers for people with disabilities – be they physical (including vision and hearing losses), intellectual or mental health.

Last Thursday, Barrie’s committee outlined not only the new accessibility law, but also reminded local businesses of the basics of talking to people – whether they have a disability or not.

The keys are to take time to observe, ask questions, and listen to responses and suggestions on how to accommodate the customer.

“Sometimes it’s not as hard as you think it might be. It may be as simple as grinding down a front step or installing a portable ramp. Fifteen per cent of Canadians have some form of disability, and we have the spending power of $25 billion per year. It’s a huge market to be tapping into, especially in these times,” said accessibility advisory committee chairperson Kim Demberline.

Made law in 2005, the AODA sets out a series of targets to break down barriers: customer service, the built environment, employment, communication and transportation. Municipalities and public agencies must, by January, offer good customer service to all – regardless of ability or disability.

Stores and others in the business of customer service have until January 2012.

Just after that, information and communication must be accessible by 2013 in the private sector. All other compliance dates have yet to be determined.

And although the goal of the AODA is to make the province accessible by 2025, the first step of changing attitudes can seem like the biggest.

“It’s going to be a shock to people. The first part (of the changes) is attitudinal,” said Demberline. “We’ll get into (improving) the built environment later.”

All too often, clerks will talk to an able-bodied companion or support worker, rather than the customer who has a disability, a provincial awareness video showed.

Even worse are looks from clerks who are quick to judge. Accessibility advisory committee member Micheline Crocker, who has a hearing loss, said one saleslady asked her if she could help her.

“I didn’t know she was talking to me. She made a face,” Crocker recalled. “If I’m not paying attention, I couldn’t see if she was talking to me. (The saleslady) had to find another way to get my attention.”

Still, Margaretta Pap-Belayneh, who is visually impaired, said store layouts can add to the challenges.

“Sometimes the goods and racks are so close together, and I have difficulty navigating between them. A person in a wheelchair would have even more difficulty,” she said. “Glass and chrome and bright lights make for glare.”

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