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 increase public awareness about the AODA and accessibility. During public meetings Onley held while preparing his review, attendees stated that many people are unaware of the AODA. Alternatively, people may know that the AODA exists but may not understand why they need to comply with it. In addition, Ontario people and organizations need to understand that accommodating people with disabilities is an every-day part of serving the public and doing business. Therefore, the government needs to develop a public education campaign on the business case for accessibility.
A Public Education Campaign on the Business Case for Accessibility is Needed
Meeting attendees state that members of the public, and staff of businesses and other organizations, should know more about the AODA. Furthermore, they should know that offering accessible venues and services is a business advantage. Businesses should know that any money they use to fund their accessibility efforts will be well-spent.
Accessible Buildings and Websites Benefit Everyone
For instance, businesses should know that accessible spaces help not only people with disabilities, but a variety of others. For example, ramps and elevators 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 carrying groceries or supplies. As a result, buildings or spaces that are physically accessible can do much more business than buildings or spaces that are not.
Likewise, businesses offering service online should know that accessible websites benefit people with and without disabilities. For instance, speech recognition software makes computers accessible for people with mobility disabilities. In addition, people who are multi-tasking also find it useful. Furthermore, websites people can operate without using a mouse are easier for search engines to find. As a result, people who create websites accessibly also make it more likely that visitors will notice and browse them.
Accessibility is Not Always Expensive
Similarly, businesses should know that many methods of offering accessibility are not expensive. For instance, staff can ask customers if they need assistance, and provide help in ways that respect customers’ dignity. Moreover, businesses can create new documents using accessible formats, such as Word files. In addition, businesses can partner with organizations that enhance accessibility, such as the Stop Gap Foundation. This foundation provides ramps for businesses with one step leading to their front doors. Furthermore, businesses can make changes to their policies that reduce any organizational barriers customers encounter. Finally, businesses can apply for federal, provincial, or local funding to support more costly accessibility efforts, such as building renovations.
Welcoming Workers with Disabilities
Furthermore, accessible businesses can also welcome workers with disabilities. Under the AODA’s Employment Standards, businesses are required to accommodate workers with disabilities. However, businesses that already have accessible features will be able to accommodate more easily than businesses that do not have such features. Therefore, they can have access to a larger pool of qualified people eager to share their skills in the workplace.
Creating Customer Loyalty
Moreover, businesses should know that accessible features and services will allow them to welcome loyal customers with disabilities. These customers will tell others about the positive experience they have in accessible businesses. In contrast, the same customers will encourage others not to visit businesses where they have felt unwelcome. Therefore, businesses committed to accessibility will be able to serve many more customers with and without disabilities.
Campaigning for Business Accessibility
Onley’s review suggests several ways to make businesses and the public more aware of all these accessibility benefits. For example, attendees suggest that people already running accessible businesses could use the media to educate others. Likewise, the media could also develop programming about what accessibility means for people with different types of disabilities. Similarly, social media can also help to reduce attitudinal barriers and publicize accessible businesses. Moreover, human resources professionals could create job postings requesting that applicants know about and can help promote accessible business practices. In this way, businesses would start to hire workers already aware of and committed to accessibility. In addition, federal, provincial, and city officials could also encourage businesses to offer accessible features and services. Finally, cities could remind businesses that accessible spaces and services are also more welcoming to the growing number of older adults.
In short, Onley’s review recommends that the government develop ways to teach the public about the benefits of doing business accessibly. 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 a public education campaign on the business case for accessibility.