Still Work to Do in Meeting Accessibility Standards

By Sue Tiffin
Published Feb. 26, 2019

When Anna Froebe, an independent HR consultant who works with business owners in this community, is asked how many businesses are likely not compliant with the rules and deadlines they must follow to meet provincial accessibility standards under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, she doesn’t hesitate to offer a guess.

“Ninety-nine per cent,” she estimates. “Or even more. Ninety-nine point nine. It’s one thing being aware of the act, there’s another thing having the policies in place, the training, and then the other aspect is now acting on that.”

According to Access Ontario, the AODA became law in June 2005, and aims to identify, remove, and prevent barriers for people with disabilities. It applies to all levels of government, non-profits and private sector businesses in Ontario that have one or more employees, regardless of whether they be working full-time, part-time, seasonally or on contract.

Although many businesses and organizations are aware they need to be compliant with the accessibility standards by 2025, Froebe said many don’t realize the deadlines for compliance began years ago, in 2010, depending on the size and scope of the business.

She carries with her what she calls her AODA “bible,” documents which outline what public sector organizations municipalities, education and library or businesses and non-profits must do to meet the standards, depending on whether they have one to 19 employees, 20 to 49 employees or upwards of 50 employees. This includes creating accessibility policies, training staff on Ontario’s accessibility laws, making public information including emergency and public safety information accessible when asked, making websites accessible and filing accessibility compliance reports. The deadlines for changes leading up to 2025 occur almost annually.

“They have to have had this done,” she said of some points listed in her documents. “They don’t even have until 2025.”

And besides missed deadlines causing organizations and businesses to be inaccessible for employees or customers, the financial penalties for not being AODA-compliant can be steep.

“The penalty is that an auditor could come out … and assess your business based on a complaint,” she said. “In Toronto, auditors I think do more random checks, but I think a community like this it would be more so because someone has filed a complaint.”

Froebe has read of corporations and organizations, or directors and officers of a corporation or organization, receiving an auditor’s order to meet accessibility standards with a deadline of 10 days, or two weeks or a month, with failure to become compliant in that time resulting in fines of $50,000 per day, $100,000 per day, or even jail time. Froebe notes this is case law and won’t always be the result of an auditor’s assessment, but that it’s important to at least have a plan in place.

“Part of the act also stipulates that you should be doing this, or have a plan in place, so to have a policy in place that you’re working on it,” she said.

Improved accessibility through the removal of barriers in five key areas of life customer service, information and communication, employment, transportation and design of public spaces is expected.

The customer service standard states that organizations must provide customer service that allows people with disabilities to access goods, services, information, and facilities, with trained staff and an option for a support person at all times.

The public transportation standard notes specialized transit services should be available at the same time as other public transit, rates must be the same as for people without disabilities, vehicle registration and driver identification must appear in an accessible format and guide dogs or service animals must be allowed to ride alongside a user.

In the employment standard, candidates for jobs must be able to access application forms in a variety of formats, of their choice, and have accommodations for interviews, tests, and during the period of employment.

The Ontario Building Code covers most requirements for making new buildings accessible, and Ontario’s Design of Public Spaces Standards detail accessibility requirements for service counters, waiting areas with fixed seating and outdoor spaces, such as sidewalks and parking lots while municipalities and businesses must consult with the public prior to building or rebuilding outdoor public spaces like recreational trails, new or redeveloped outdoor public eating areas, playgrounds and outdoor play spaces, service counters, and parking lots.

The AODA standards are part of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation, which require that businesses and organizations provide training to staff and volunteers, develop an accessibility policy, create a multi-year accessibility plan and update it every five years, and consider accessibility in procurement and when designing or purchasing self-service kiosks.

Making changes and understanding policy doesn’t have to be overwhelming, according to Froebe. She said she has worked with local business owners to determine what their priorities are and what their policies and procedures already look like, so she can assess if something is missing or outdated based on new legislation in order to help businesses meet AODA requirements and be fully accessible.

“There’s different steps: understanding this, working with me or whomever to start putting in policies that are specific to their business and their business size, having the staff training and then implementing the changes that need to be made, even little ones,” said Froebe. “Like, how much does it take to put on the bottom of your website, a small disclaimer, if you need this website information in a different format.”

Froebe said she has noticed employment ads in the newspaper that don’t make note of different formats of the advertisement available, and how potential candidates might access information about the job offered.

“You need to do this … every time, any catalogues you produce, any brochures, any flyers, any pamphlets, your websites you need to say somewhere, even if it’s at the very back in small letters, on the ads you produce, you have to put, if you want this in a different format, please contact [us],” she said.

In many cases, Froebe has said business owners might understand the basics of accessibility but don’t have all the other parts, including updated training of new employees.

Froebe said that almost two million people with disabilities live in Ontario.

“That’s huge in terms of customer base, or lost customer base, or lost employee base,” she said. “[It could be] $536 billion in income that’s lost from people who have disabilities. That’s huge. This could be huge for a town like this … there’s potential there for employment, business productivity, business profit, if [people] look at some of these issues.”

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Understanding Service Animals

Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers’ policies must state that they welcome service animals. The Standard discusses how service providers must allow service animals in almost all public places. It also outlines what providers must do to accommodate customers who need to go to places where their service animals are excluded by law. However, service providers committed to obeying these laws may still have many questions about service animals, such as what they do and how to behave around them. Here we offer some best practices for understanding service animals that service providers should follow.

Understanding Service Animals

What do service animals do?

Providers know that service animals help their handlers maintain their independence, but might still wonder what, exactly, service animals do. Service animals help people with disabilities or conditions such as:

  • Visual impairments
  • Diabetes
  • Epilepsy
  • Autism
  • Hearing disabilities
  • physical disabilities

Moreover, they perform tasks, such as:

  • Guiding a person around obstacles
  • Alerting a person about low blood sugar levels
  • Protecting a person during seizures
  • Calming a person in an environment with too much sensory stimulation and preventing behavioural outbursts
  • Retrieving out-of-reach objects
  • Alerting a person to sounds

Furthermore, service animals assist their handlers everywhere in their communities, including places and events such as:

  • Stores
  • Restaurants
  • Buses, taxis, trains, and planes
  • Hotels
  • Government buildings
  • Schools, colleges, and universities
  • Places of Worship
  • Movie theatres, concerts, and sports games
  • Amusement parks

Training for Service Animals

Service animals are working animals. They are not pets. Instead, they are assistants or guides for people with a variety of disabilities. Since they must learn to perform different tasks depending on their handlers’ needs, each animal’s training is often individualized. Guide dogs for people who are blind or visually impaired receive their training from programs approved under the Blind Persons’ Rights Act. However, there are no legal requirements prescribing specific kinds of training for service animals assisting people with other disabilities. Handlers may train their own service animals or work with professional trainers. Nevertheless, training always includes how to behave appropriately in public places. For instance, good service animal behaviour includes:

  • Focusing on the handler’s needs
  • Avoiding distractions
  • Never barking, growling, or jumping

Dos and don’ts when encountering service animals

What does it really mean to welcome customers with service animals? Once customers and their service animals are on the premises, what should providers do? What shouldn’t they do? Here is a list with some suggestions.

For instance, do:

  • Pay attention to the owner, not the animal
  • Ask what tasks the animal assists with, not what the handler’s diagnosis is

On the other hand, don’t:

  • Ask that the animal be left elsewhere
  • Pet the animal, unless its handler gives permission
  • Call the animal
  • Feed the animal
  • Entice the animal with toys
  • Disturb the animal if it is sleeping

Handlers understand that people are curious about their animals and are often happy to answer a few questions about them. In addition, some handlers may also be willing to talk briefly about their disabilities. However, others may be busy or prefer to talk about something else.

Interacting with service animals

Furthermore, many animals are trained to find help if their handlers need human assistance. Therefore, if a service animal approaches without its handler in sight, the handler may need help, so service providers should interact with the animal. Providers should use simple commands, for example:

  • Where is your handler?
  • What’s wrong?
  • Where’s the trouble?
  • Do you need help?

If service providers follow these best practices for understanding service animals, they can truly welcome all customers.

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Okanagan Parent Voices Concern Over Technology Accessibility

By Jules Knox
Reporter/Anchor Global News

In the midst of a digital revolution with smartphones and apps, there are some people who are fighting a battle so they don’t get left behind. A blind Okanagan parent is speaking out after School District 23 introduced an app that he says makes it difficult for him to report his daughters’ absences from class.

When School District 23 recently introduced a new app for parents to report their child’s absence from class, not everybody was able to fully use it.

Derek Wilson is blind. The app the school district chose is inaccessible, he said.

“I think that the school district, if they’re going to use public funds to provide a service, then as a parent, I have a right to expect to use that service, and the truth is that I can’t,” Wilson said.

“And it’s impacting the safety of my children.”

Wilson uses a screen reader on his phone, which is software that converts text to speech.

When he initially signed on to use the app, Wilson said he wasn’t surprised that it wasn’t fully accessible to him.

“I deal with this every day, multiple times a day,” he said. “It wasn’t a surprise, but it was a disappointment because it hit close to home.”

Wilson has two young daughters in the school district.

“I’m starting to feel like a valued member of the community, and when things like this happen, it just reminds me: ‘Oh yeah, I’m different,’ he said. “And I need to advocate for my rights.”

Why an app is needed

The school district said the School Messenger app was introduced to help improve student safety.

“A few years back, if we were to have an emergency happen at a school or across the district, we had no great way of, in a timely way, contacting all our families,” Jordan Kleckner, the district principal of learning technology, said.

So the school district introduced the School Messenger system, which allows it to contact families quickly, he said.

It also has a feature called “Safe Arrival,” which allows schools to collect absences and communicate with parents quickly, Kleckner said.

“In the past, parents would call the school, say their child was absent, and the school would collect all that, try to figure out who is unaccounted for, and then call those parents,” he said. “And that manual process could take hours.”

The system has been slowly rolled out across the district, Kleckner said.

Kevin Kardaal, the school district’s superintendent, emphasized that accessibility is a priority and said the app gives users different ways to communicate.

“There are three options to ensure inclusivity. One is a web-based app, then you have the mobile app, which [Wilson] is talking about, but we also have a voice-call app so that anyone can call a toll-free number,” he said.

“The solution itself was very accessible,” Kleckner said, adding that there weren’t any parents that weren’t able to use at least one of the options offered by the new system.

The school district tries to also accommodate parents who might not have access to smartphones or technology, as well as those with disabilities, he added.

“No matter what, when you put any system in place when you’re talking 50,000-plus parents, you’re going to have some parents with unique needs,” Kleckner said.

The school district said since hearing from Wilson, it has asked the developer to improve app accessibility.

“We’ve made a client request, and we suggest that the gentleman actually use the voice call-in option, which makes the [program] accessible,” Kardaal said.

“It’s about providing accessibility through choices, and we provided that accessibility,” he added.

Wilson said he was pleased that the school district is working towards a more accessible solution for the app.

He noted that there were several comments about the School Messenger app’s inaccessibility in its reviews.

“The vendor, what do you know, they were already aware that accessibility was an issue because there are comments about it in the app store. This wasn’t news to them,” Wilson said. “But the fact that they’re going to need to address it if they want to scale out their product across the province, that is news to them.”

“They didn’t realize the school district was going to actually stand behind me and make this a priority,” Wilson said. “And to be honest, I was a little bit shocked by that because I don’t often get that kind of support. This is a success story in the making.”

By sharing his story, Wilson is hoping to raise awareness that it’s not just accessibility in the physical world that should be a priority: it’s needed in the digital world too.

“It’s the same conversation that’s been happening for decades now, and now we’re into a digital revolution where I’m talking about an app, but it’s really a new chapter in an old book,” he said.

Software needs to be designed with accessibility in mind from the beginning of a project, Wilson said.

“Accessibility is not just about blind people accessing information,” Wilson said. “It’s about people with motor impairments, dyslexia, learning disabilities, cognitive or episodic disabilities.”

Little recourse

Wilson is concerned that unlike every other provincial jurisdiction in Canada, B.C. does not currently have a human rights commission that reports to the legislature but a tribunal that reports to the attorney general.

“We live in a world where digital-accessibility compliance is less enforceable than the speed limit,” Wilson said. “If you break the speed limit, you can get a ticket. There’s a financial penalty. There is no financial penalty for creating an inaccessible website or app or digital product.”

“And this is creating very real barriers in the workforce,” Wilson said.

While there are hundreds of lawsuits filed against private-sector companies for inaccessible websites in the U.S., Wilson said he isn’t aware of any in Canada.

“Because we don’t have legislation that forces companies to comply.”

The province’s former commission was dismantled in 2002.

However, the provincial government announced in August that it would re-establish an independent human rights commissioner who reports to the legislative assembly.

It passed the amendments during the fall legislative session, and ministry staff are currently working on establishing some of the preliminary aspects of the commission, according to the Ministry of the Attorney General.

The provincial government said it expects the commissioner to be in place by the summer of 2019.

The commissioner would be responsible for examining and addressing discrimination issues, as well as educating people about human rights.

The proposed legislation followed an eight-week public engagement conducted in the fall of 2017.

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Service Animal Laws for Ontario Workplaces

Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers’ policies must state that they welcome service animals. Service animals are animals, typically dogs, trained to help people with disabilities maintain independence. Here we outline service animal laws that service providers must follow.

Service Animal Laws in Ontario

All service providers that operate premises open to the public, or to third parties that serve the public, must welcome service animals. They must allow customers with disabilities to keep their service animals with them anywhere they need to go, except in places where the law excludes service animals.


There are two ways that service providers can tell whether or not a customer’s animal is a service animal:

  1.  It is visibly apparent that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to disability; or
  2. the customer provides an identification card, or a letter from a healthcare practitioner, confirming that the customer requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability

Service animals and support animals

Service animals have training to perform specific tasks for people with disabilities. Emotional support animals provide comfort and security. However, they do not have training for specific tasks. Therefore, emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals under the AODA. Service providers are not required to allow support animals on their premises. Providers may ask for proof that a customer’s animal is a service animal, unless it is visibly obvious that the person has a disability and is relying on the animal. For instance, if a dog is clearly guiding a customer who is blind, providers should know without asking that this animal is a guide dog.

Limitations and exceptions

All service providers must welcome service animals, with a few food-related exceptions. Some places, such as food manufacturers, may be exempt from allowing service animals in certain areas. However, sometimes a customer who uses a service animal may want or need to access a location that the public can enter but where service animals are not legally permitted. In these instances, service providers must offer alternative accommodations so that the customer can access the service usually offered in that location. Providers may serve the customer in a location open to the animal. Alternatively, providers may serve the customer in the location where the animal is not allowed. In this situation, the animal may rest in a different area while a staff member performs the animal’s usual tasks.

Service providers must follow the above service animal laws. Otherwise, they are obstructing the law and penalties may occur. By welcoming service animals, providers are also showing their commitment to serving all customers.

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Communicating with Customers with Disabilities

Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers’ accessibility policies must outline how providers will communicate with customers who have disabilities. Communicating with customers with disabilities involves knowing that people sometimes give, understand, and receive information in different ways. Providers can start by making any written or multi-media information available using accessible formats or communication supports. Examples of this information include:

  • Signs
  • Advertisements
  • websites
  • Menus
  • Programs
  • Forms
  • Bills and receipts

In addition to giving all customers access to information, providers must also ensure that all customers have positive and productive interactions with staff. In cases where a provider cannot make information available through the format or support a customer needs, staff must work with the customer to find a solution.

Communicating with Customers with Disabilities

The Customer Service Standard states that staff must take customers’ disabilities into account when they communicate with them. Providers taking customers’ disabilities into account realize that customers with different disabilities may need to use certain communication methods and avoid others. For instance, if a customer enters with a white cane or guide dog, providers should know that this customer may not see which way they are pointing when they explain that something is “over there”. Instead, providers should use other communication strategies that take a visual disability into account. Providers can audibly tap items so that the customer can hear where they are, or verbally describe their location. Similarly, if a customer identifies as Deaf, providers should realize that this customer may not hear their speech, even if they speak more loudly. Better strategies include writing, or speaking naturally in a space where the customer can clearly see the provider.

Moreover, customers with the same disability may use different communication methods. For example, one customer with a speech disability may type their words into an alternative communication device while another customer may speak slowly in a quiet location. Customers will let providers know the best ways to communicate with them.

Customers with Invisible Disabilities

Providers may sometimes know that customers have disabilities before they serve them because the customers use assistive devices or service animals. In contrast, other customers’ disabilities are invisible. Customers with speech, learning, intellectual, mental health, or invisible physical disabilities may also need to communicate accessibly. For instance, a customer with a learning disability may need a service provider to read something aloud. Likewise, a customer with an intellectual disability may need a service provider to rephrase something using plain language. In other words, any customer may need accessible service.

Informing Customers about Accessible Features

Furthermore, providers should inform all customers about any assistive arrangements or devices on-site, such as:

  • Wheelchairs or other mobility aids
  • Assistive listening systems or other hearing devices
  • Sign language interpretation
  • Closed captioning or real-time captioning
  • Documents in Braille or large print
  • Video description
  • Teletypewriters
  • Computers with accessible features, such as:
    • Screen readers or magnifiers
    • Braille displays or embossers
    • Speech recognition software

Providers should be aware that some of these devices are useful for people with particular disabilities. For instance, someone with a hearing aid may find an assistive listening system helpful, while someone identifying as Deaf may prefer to know about Sign Language Interpretation. Customers with either disability may use captioning. Some customers with white canes may use Braille or video description, while others may use large print or magnifiers. Customers with visual impairments or learning disabilities may use screen readers.

In addition, some customers who do not look disabled may find one or more of these devices useful. For instance, a customer who can walk short distances but not long ones may sometimes benefit from a wheelchair. Therefore, communicating with customers with disabilities means that providers should let the public know whenever their organizations have assistive devices or accessible structural features, like ramps or automatic doors. Additionally, they should use multiple communication strategies, such as signs, web advertising, and in-person alerts. Since the disability population is growing, accessibility will attract more customers with disabilities and their loved ones.

General Communication Tips

Although customers use many different communication methods, there are some general best practices service providers should use to communicate with all customers. Providers should always look at and speak directly to a customer with a disability, rather than to that customer’s companion, support person, or interpreter, or to another customer nearby. Furthermore, providers should not assume that a customer needs help simply because the providers notice the customer’s disability. Instead, providers should approach the customer and say that they are willing to offer assistance in the same way they would greet any customer. The customer can then request assistance or explain the best way for the provider to help. Providers that are communicating with customers with disabilities can offer high-quality, courteous service to all customers.


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Accessible Customer Service Policies in Ontario

Under the Customer Service Standard of the AODA, service providers must create, implement, and maintain accessible customer service policies. These policies must outline how providers will serve customers with disabilities in accessible ways. Moreover, private businesses with fifty or more workers and all public sector organizations must put their policies in writing. Furthermore, they must give copies of their accessible customer service policies to any people who ask for them, and make the public aware that these copies are available upon request.

Accessible Customer Service Policies

Each service provider can choose what its policy should cover based on the goods and services it provides. However, providers must base the contents of their policies on four accessibility principles:

• Dignity
• Independence
• Integration
• Equal opportunity

These four principles ensure that providers offer customers with disabilities the same quality of service as other customers receive. Dignity means that providers treat customers with equal levels of respect. For instance, service providers treat customers with dignity when they look at and speak to them directly, instead of asking the people near them questions about them.

Independence means that customers are responsible for themselves. For instance, customers act independently when they explain the kinds of help they need and providers follow these instructions instead of trying to help in a different or inappropriate way.

Integration means that customers with disabilities can receive service in the same way as customers without disabilities. For example, providers integrate customers with disabilities when they do not ask them to wait for service until the building is less busy.

Equal opportunity means that customers with disabilities receive the same benefits as non-disabled customers, sometimes through small policy changes. For instance, providers ensure equal opportunity when they allow customers who find their websites inaccessible to benefit from in-person discounts instead of the online discounts available to all customers who can access the websites.

Providers who want to make sure their policies are most helpful should consult people with disabilities to talk about useful elements they could include.

Assistive Devices

In addition, providers should outline in their policies how they will welcome customers who use assistive devices. Some of the assistive devices that customers may bring with them include:

  • Mobility aids, such as wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, crutches, or support canes.
  • Hearing devices, such as hearing aids or assistive listening systems
  • Vision devices, such as white canes, magnifiers, or monoculars
  • Communication aids, such as communication boards or alternative communication devices

In best practice, providers should recognize many of these devices. Moreover, providers may offer additional assistive devices or services on-site that customers might find helpful, such as:

  • Wheelchairs or assistive listening devices on loan for events
  • Real-time captioning
  • Braille or large-print menus or programs
  • Staff available to reach products or guide patrons

Providers that possess such aids should make the public aware of their availability, so that anyone who wishes to borrow one will know about the possibility in advance. Moreover, providers should post this information in multiple formats, such as online, on signs, in print, and over the phone, so that customers can access it in ways that work best for them.

Accessible Customer Service Policies Help Everyone

Accessible customer service policies ensure that all customers receive high-quality service. In addition, they help service providers gain understanding of disability and learn how to behave appropriately toward patrons with disabilities.

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What is the Customer Service Standard?

The customer service standard under the AODA outlines requirements for service providers to make their goods, services, and facilities accessible for customers or patrons with disabilities.

What is the Customer Service Standard?

Accessibility Barriers

The Customer Service Standard mandates that service providers must find ways to break down barriers that prevent customers with disabilities from accessing the services they need. Barriers may be due to:

  • Physical obstacles
  • Technology
  • Information and communication
  • An organization’s practices or procedures
  • Attitudes of staff

Physical or architectural barriers

Physical or architectural barriers are features of buildings or spaces that limit people’s access to services. For example, buildings without ramps, automatic doors, or accessible washrooms are physical or architectural barriers.

Technological barriers

Technological barriers happen when service providers use technology that is not accessible to customers with disabilities. An example of a technological barrier is a website where customers can only submit information by clicking a mouse. This kind of website creates a barrier for customers who use computers in different ways, such as with keyboard commands or head-pointing devices, instead of mice.

Information or communication barriers

Information or communication barriers exist when information is not provided in formats all customers can access. An example of an information barrier is an audio announcement without visual display of the same information. This situation creates a barrier for customers who can process information visually but not audibly.

Organizational barriers

Organizational barriers are policies, practices or procedures that discriminate against people with disabilities. An example of an organizational barrier is a strict no refund policy in clothing stores. This policy discriminates against customers using mobility devices because they may be unable to use fitting rooms and try on clothing before purchasing.

Attitudinal barriers

Attitudinal barriers happen when service providers do not understand how certain disabilities affect customers’ lives. For example, a service provider may feel uncomfortable serving someone with a speech impairment and assume that the customer cannot understand speech or hold a conversation. In reality, this customer will likely have a way of communicating easily, such as speaking slowly, writing, or using an alternative communication device that the customer can show the service provider how to operate.

Removing Barriers

Service providers can begin to remove such barriers by following the guidelines of the Standard. These guidelines mandate that providers must:

  • Create, implement, and maintain customer service policies
  • Welcome service animals and support persons
  • Maintain accessibility when accessible services are disrupted
  • Train their staff to interact appropriately with customers who have disabilities and use accessible equipment
  • Implement processes for receiving and responding to feedback about their accessibility
  • Provide information using accessible formats and communication supports upon request and in a timely manner

Why do we Need the Customer Service Standard?

All people deserve to access goods, services, and facilities in ways that respect their independence and their dignity. Just as people with disabilities deserve equal opportunities to serve their communities through equal employment, they should also have equal opportunities to be served in ways that respect their needs and wishes.


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Accessible Public Spaces in Ontario

Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, organizations must make new and redeveloped public spaces accessible. Accessible public spaces include:

Similarly, under the Ontario Building Code, all new and redeveloped buildings open to the public, businesses, and apartment buildings must follow accessibility standards. These standards include:

  • Ramps, lifts or elevators whenever there are stairs
  • Automatic doors and wide doorways at entrances to buildings and common areas
  • Accessible public washrooms
  • Barrier-free paths of travel into and through buildings
  • Accessible seating and auditoriums
  • Visual fire alarms in auditoriums and hallways

More Accessible Public Spaces Needed

Currently, the Code and Standard do not have guidelines for several aspects of structures. However, many cities, such as Toronto, Brantford, and London, have addressed this gap by developing municipal guidelines for accessible public spaces and features including:

  • Offices
  • Places of worship
  • Courthouses
  • Swimming pools
  • Balconies, porches, and terraces
  • Windows

Toronto and Brantford outline more accessibility guidelines for places like:

  • Libraries
  • Cafeterias
  • Residential kitchens

Toronto’s guidelines include additional provisions for accessible:

  • Restaurants
  • Snow removal
  • Mail boxes
  • Traffic islands

The need for a stronger provincial code and standard

A stronger provincial code and standard would mean that cities need not duplicate each other’s efforts to create accessible public spaces.

In addition, the Code and Standard only mandate accessibility in buildings and spaces that are new or redeveloped. These legal limitations mean that older buildings and spaces are closed or unwelcoming to people with certain disabilities, including people who:

  • Use mobility aids
  • Have heart or lung conditions
  • Have limited upper-body movement

Organizations responsible for buildings and public spaces may feel that they do not need to worry about making older spaces accessible because the standard does not require them to do so. They may also fear that installing accessible features will be costly, time-consuming, or inconvenient. However, grants for structural accessibility may offset costs. In addition, some changes are less costly and easier to put in place. While renovating for accessibility may take time and construction is inconvenient, inaccessibility is just as time-consuming and inconvenient for people with disabilities when they must leave an inaccessible location and do business or activities elsewhere. Finally, there are important reasons for people to choose accessible public spaces.

Fifteen percent (15%) of people in Ontario have disabilities. This number will rise as people age. More and more people will soon want to live and do business in accessible locations. If building owners, and people in charge of public spaces, make those spaces as accessible as they can, their actions may later help someone they know. Moreover, accessibility also affects non-disabled family, friends, and colleagues. Groups travelling on family trips, friendly outings, or company social events will include people with disabilities. These potential clients will choose to go to accessible places.

Small Steps Toward Accessibility

If building owners cannot make large changes, they can still make small ones. Even if a building cannot immediately follow every best practice, they can still choose to implement some. For instance, ramps and elevators are both important items that help people with mobility disabilities access buildings. If a building owner cannot install an elevator but can install a ramp, this effort will make part of the building accessible.

Furthermore, some businesses can offer services that help people access their offerings even when there are physical barriers. For example, a restaurant with a delivery charge and without a ramp may wave the delivery charge for a person who cannot enter the building to eat or pick up food, so that this customer would not need to pay more for accessing the service in the only way possible. Organizations wishing to make their spaces more accessible should consult people with disabilities to find out what changes would be most helpful.

Access Helps Everyone

Organizations in charge of buildings and public spaces who make as many accessibility improvements as they can will show that they welcome tenants, customers, and workers who have disabilities. Moreover, accessible buildings and public spaces are also helpful for other groups of people. Ramps, elevators, and accessible fixed-queuing guides are useful for families with babies in strollers. Wide sidewalks and hallways benefit families with small children who can hold hands while they travel. Automatic doors are useful for people with their hands full of groceries or supplies.

Not all accessibility is mandatory under the AODA. Some of it can be costly or need careful planning. However, some accessible features are easier to put in place than others. People who own buildings or are responsible for public spaces can make one change at a time. Many of these changes will make the world more welcoming to people of all abilities and at every stage of their lives.


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Cost, Demand for DARTS Accessible Transit Service Continues to Grow

Executive director Mark Mindorff said eligibility requirements and service area are behind the rise News Feb 12, 2019
by Natalie Paddon The Hamilton Spectator

Mayor Fred Eisenberger wants to see city staff compare the cost of DARTS to accessible transit services in other municipalities.

The request followed a presentation by the DARTS’ CEO and executive director at Monday’s general issues committee meeting where he said the budget and demand for the door-to-door transportation service continue to rise.

“Every year we demand that you reduce your cost and we full well know that the demand for the service is going up,” Eisenberger said during the operating budget meeting. “What’s wrong with that picture?”

DARTS’ 2019 budget ask is $23 million a $4.3 million hike compared to the year prior. There were 773,000 rides completed last year compared to the 720,000 budgeted. Based on 2018 passenger registration information, the non-profit charitable organization believes it should plan for between 820,000 and 850,000 rides in 2019.

Mark Mindorff, head of the transportation service, said they are a unique system for a number of reasons, including their offering of several types of vehicles like vans and MVs (a purpose-built accessible vehicle) and serving a larger service area that includes rural communities.

Their demand for service really started to grow in 2012 when, to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), DARTS’ eligibility expanded to all passengers unable to use the HSR, he said. Eligibility is assessed by the HSR.

According to Mindorff’s presentation, this caused an increase in “frail” and “elderly” people who previously were not eligible for DARTs.

Previously, DARTs was available to people who used a wheelchair, walker or scooter, had Alzheimer’s or were on dialysis. With the change, existing users were grandfathered in.

Coun. Lloyd Ferguson questioned DARTS’ cost per trip, which is $3 like the HSR, and questioned how Hamilton has close to three times the number of passengers as Durham, Peel and York.

“We must be doing something wrong,” he said.

Some municipalities re-assess passengers on a regular basis, which is something Hamilton doesn’t do, Mindorff said. He also pointed to DARTS’ conditional eligibility, meaning some passengers are registered to use the service during bad weather only.

Ferguson also asked if riders should be allowed to go to places like Flamboro Downs, which Mindorff said is one of their more popular drop-off spots.

“We’re not policing transit,” Mindorff said.

Earlier in the meeting, DARTS user Paula Kilburn told councillors the value she sees in the service, noting she would like to see its budget increased.

“How can you measure the cost of a person’s independence and dignity?” she asked.

Mohawk College student Jordan Verner has been using DARTS since 2014.

He expressed concerns around wages paid to drivers working for DARTS’ subcontractors. Because they are paid per trip, he worried about drivers missing pickups because they are in a rush.

He asked councillors to consider the implications of a paratransit system that doesn’t receive adequate funding.

“Anybody in this room could become a DARTS user tomorrow,” he said.

Mindorff said that while DARTS is currently sitting at two complaints per 1,000 rides, there is an incentive to rush passengers when drivers are paid on a per-trip basis.

The biggest complaint they receive is for late rides, he noted.

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Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas

Under the Design of Public Spaces Standard of the AODA, cities and other organizations building or redeveloping outdoor public use eating areas must make those areas accessible to visitors with disabilities. Rules for accessible outdoor public use eating areas apply to private organizations with fifty or more workers and to all public sector organizations.

Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas

Outdoor public use eating areas include picnic grounds and outdoor tables in public parks, hospitals, and universities. Outdoor food courts in resorts and amusement parks also need to be accessible. Organizations that build outdoor eating areas for public use must make at least twenty percent of their tables accessible. Furthermore, organizations with nine or fewer tables must make at least one table accessible.

Minimum Requirements for Accessible Tables

The ground surface on the way to accessible tables must be firm and stable so that canes, crutches, or the wheels of mobility devices will not sink into it. Surfaces must also be level, without slopes. The same rules apply to the ground surface under accessible tables. Moreover, there must be room around tables for visitors using mobility devices to travel forward to their tables, instead of having to approach them without facing them. In addition, tables must have knee and toe clearance so that visitors using mobility devices such as wheelchairs or scooters can sit comfortably at the tables.

More can be Done

These rules are the minimum guidelines organizations must follow to provide accessible eating areas. However, organizations may increase the accessibility of their eating areas if they wish to do so. They can start by applying the surface rules to their entire areas, not just accessible sections. Additionally, they may also want to invest in more accessible tables. If they later choose to expand their eating areas, the number of accessible tables they need will increase. Finally, organizations may wish to install tables at heights that are most convenient for visitors using mobility devices.

Why do we Need Accessible Outdoor Public Use Eating Areas?

Accessible outdoor public use eating areas make organizations from hospitals to theme parks more inclusive to visitors with disabilities. Likewise, organizations making accessibility a priority become more welcoming to families, friends, and colleagues of visitors with disabilities. Inclusiveness means that people can all eat together.

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