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Customer Service a Mindset

Accessibility Act deadline fast-approaching
October 14, 2009
BY Lucy Hass

Providing customer service for people with disabilities is as much about mindset as it is about method.

Renfrew council recently received a primer on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act from one of only three trainers in Renfrew County.

Bonnechere Valley Township bylaw enforcement officer Steve Fiegen walked council through an hour-long presentation on the act, with a special focus on municipal responsibility.

The town must train staff on accessible customer service by Jan. 1, 2010, and Fiegen offered his services at a rate of $15 per person, a sizeable drop from the County of Renfrew rate of $65.

The goal of the provincial act is to create a 100 per cent fully-accessible Ontario by 2025.

Fiegen said a disabled person is defined as anyone who, through disease, illness, congenital condition or traumatic experience, is impaired in the functioning of daily life.

Fiegen said an estimated 15.5 per cent of Ontarians have a recognizable disability, which converts to about 1,216 people in the Town of Renfrew.

As the population gets older, that percentage is expected to increase to 16 per cent.

Special focus was given to standard one under the act – accessible customer service.

He said accessible customer service is, first and foremost, about a mindset. The focus, he said, must be on the person first, before considerations of cost and convenience.

Fiegen said all council departments, committees, volunteers, plus service clubs and companies acting on behalf of council, require the customer training by year’s end.

Council must also form and maintain an accessibility access committee and plan, the latter of which Renfrew already has.

Fines begin with $50,000 for a first offense and build to $100,000 for “blatant non-compliance.”

Fiegen encouraged municipal employees to take an active role in implementing the act and finding solutions.

“The solutions are going to come from your staff that deals with the public,” he told council.

Mayor Sandi Heins remained optimistic about the demands of the act.

“We have to be innovative and have to come up with something like Smart Serve; some little kind of little program we can implement,” she said. “A lot of it is common sense.”

“It’s not all that scary, really,” he said, stressing the importance of “due diligence.”

In the future elected officials will be required to ensure every municipal facility and every section of every facility is fully accessible, unless an area is identified as out of bounds to the public, he said.

“That is the part that is going to cost you money,” he said.

The employment standards section, Fiegen said, will be the last area addressed.

Meanwhile he encouraged council to move forward and tackle accessibility issues.

“There is no such thing as problems, only solutions waiting to be found,” said Fiegen, urging council to seek “low-tech solutions.”

Reproduced from