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The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act: Ontario legislation sets new standards for ensuring accessibility for all

By Marilyn Goneau Farago |

In 2005 the Ontario government set out to ensure that accessibility was a legal right of all citizens when it passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), legislation that empowered the government to develop accessibility standards.

With four of the five standards now in place, all businesses, not-for-profit and public sector organizations must take steps to ensure compliance with these new laws as they are phased in.

The legislation is designed to "bring accessibility into the realm of the possible" for Ontarians, says the Honourable John Milloy, Minister of Community and Social Services, in an exclusive interview for CanadaOne.

"People are very interested in accessibility for (reasons such as) enlightened self-interest, customer service issues and improving the bottom-line of business," states Milloy.

Yet this interest, Milloy points out, is not enough to ensure accessibility for all.

"There needs to be a change in the culture and a change in the way people think (about the disabled) and the way accessibility issues are thought through," he says.

"The genius behind the AODA legislation is that a lot of people from the disabled community and from the business community came together to share ideas."

The input from these stakeholders resulted in "a step-by-step partnership" that is reflected in the legislation, says Milloy.

"The legislation is pro-active. From the outset, it set guidelines with a beginning, a mid- and an end-point," states Milloy.  The resulting Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act became law in 2005.

AODA guidelines take into account a broad range of disabilities, including: hearing, vision, speech, sensory, mental health, intellectual or learning disabilities. Conditions such as cancer, diabetes, asthma, arthritis and temporary disabilities are also considered in the legislation.

Edie Forsyth, founder of Accessibility Experts Ltd., states, "People entering accessibility training are amazed to learn that 95% of disabilities are not visible."

Currently 1 in 7 Ontarians currently live with a disability, which does not include those with disabilities due to age. By 2025, close to 1 in 5 Ontarians will be 65 years or older.

Forsyth's company offers training, accessibility planning, policy review and development as well as consulting services for accessible communication plans.

Her clients include Sobeys and Tim Hortons as well as several smaller businesses and non-profit organizations.

"The initial reaction of business owners is: 'I can't afford to put in ramps and accessible washrooms'.  Our answer is 'you can't afford not too'," says Forsyth. He points out that the spending power of persons with disabilities in Canada is $21 to $25 billion a year. 

Forsyth explains that providing accessibility does not have to be overly complicated.

"It can be as simple as providing flyers in a larger font, having a chair available for someone to sit in, an easy grip pen for someone with arthritis, having information available on your website so that it can be easily accessed using software programs, having a scent free policy and being able to make purchases on-line so individuals can buy from their home."
What may be confusing to many business owners is that the AODA itself does not create many specific obligations.

However, it does mandate the creation of standards development committees in five general areas: Customer Service, Transportation, Employment, Information and Communication and Built Environment.

Ontario's Accessibility Directorate assists organizations to help them meet requirements of accessibility standards through a variety of ways including: the Ministry's website, special events, newsletters and publications and the AODA Contact Centre (ServiceOntario) which answers enquiries about the AODA and accessibility standards.

The Customer Service Standards is one of the first standards to come into effect for all organizations. The government has an excellent online resource that will walk businesses through the process of understanding what they must do to comply with this new law, which can be found online at:

Other online resources are:

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