Handicapped to get better accessibility
Tue Mar 1 2011
New provincial rules will require businesses to ensure handicapped customers get the same treatment as the able-bodied.
Business owners are being warned to get ready now for tough new accessibility rules that start taking effect next year.
The new rules, under the five-year-old Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, will require most businesses to meet new standards that ensure
handicapped customers get the same treatment as the able-bodied. The new customer service rules include having written policies for meeting the goals and ensuring staff are properly trained. They take effect Jan. 1.
While the new act will be enforced by new provincial inspectors, business operators were urged in a seminar yesterday to get ready because it’s good business and socially the right thing to do.
On the business side, former Ontario cabinet minister Marie Bountrogianni told the thinly attended seminar the background studies that went into creating the new Ontario law showed similar legislation in the United States brought an additional $12 billion in revenue into the hotel and restaurant industry from the new customers who gained access to buildings.
“That shows that people with disabilities have money and they want to spend it,” she said. “Businesses have wanted that business, but they didn’t know how to get it.”
Bountrogianni was Ontario’s minister of citizenship in 2005 when Premier Dalton McGuinty asked her to stickhandle the creation and passage of a new accessibility act “with teeth” and to have it ready within a year.
“For me, this was my single most fulfilling experience in politics,” she said. “We got the support of the business community because we were reasonable
and gave them a long lead-in time.”
A Royal Bank study in 2000 estimated Ontario has 1.8 million people who meet the definition of disabled — that’s about one in every seven, and the number is expected to grow to one in five by 2025. That population represents $25 billion in consumer spending.
Pieces of the new legislation, such as the customer service standard, started coming into effect in January 2010, affecting the public service. Now the
requirements are being extended to private businesses. Those with more than 20 employees must file regular reports on their compliance, while smaller firms and agencies must still meet the standard but are spared the reporting requirement.
Despite the term “customer service standard,” the new rules don’t apply just to stores. The definition used in the act also applies to clients, patients,
constituents and patrons.
Brad Spencer, executive director of PATH Employment Services in Hamilton, explained the customer service standard requires businesses to think about things such as doing business over the phone for customers who physically can’t get into a store, or amending “no return” policies for handicapped customers who can’t use in-store change rooms.
Other issues include whether people attending events to support a handicapped person should be charged full rate, and how to accommodate customers with guide or service dogs.
There’s also a requirement for written policies on how to handle those situations and records of staff training to be maintained.
Another standard being developed under the act will require businesses to ensure their websites are accessible to people with a broad range of handicaps.
Randy Bassett, of Hamilton-based DataCPR Inc., said the information and communications standard is designed to give everyone the same chance to use the Internet to enhance their lives — something that’s being denied to people who don’t have the physical dexterity to use a mouse or the vision to navigate a graphics-heavy site.
Making the changes needed to remove those barriers, Bassett said, will benefit everyone using a company’s website.
More information on these and other provincial standards is available at