Thursday, August 20, 2015

AODA: A Decade in the Making


The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was created to develop, implement and enforce accessibility standards for goods and services across the province. Read more about the ins and outs here, but in short the Act ensures that businesses and public spaces allow appropriate accommodations for people with disabilities to participate fully in society like everyone else. 


Imagine yourself in a wheelchair going about your day. That 10 cm lip going into the elevator and heightened doorknobs and buttons would prevent you from fully accessing support, resulting in an AODA violation to your condo building or workplace.


In July, my good friend Andrea Haefele was shocked when her family was not welcomed into a popular Toronto restaurant because of her daughter's Autism service dog. They were told by employees that animals were not allowed in the restaurant, even after the family presented documentation on the service dog's eligibility in public spaces. The Lion's Foundation of Canada are no strangers to educating the public on the acceptance of service animals as an accommodation, no, necessity for those with special needs, and helped Andrea to spread awareness about the importance of AODA guidelines in her community.
"If a person with a disability is accompanied by a guide dog or other service animal, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that the person is permitted to enter the premises with the animal and to keep the animal with him or her unless the animal is otherwise excluded by law from the premises. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 4."

In August, another Toronto family was outraged when their wheelchair-bound son was denied access to an amusement park ride because he couldn't stand next to the height measurement. His parents were appalled when an employee suggested they lift him from his wheelchair and hold him up to the measurement instead of using a measuring tape. Both of the above stories demonstrate AODA violations that unfortunately target our most vulnerable population.


A picture of the Centreville Amusement Park bumper car height restrictions sign located inside the bumper car area.
"The policies must deal with the use of assistive devices by persons with disabilities to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s goods or services or the availability, if any, of other measures which enable them to do so. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 3 (3)."
Toronto's ParaPanam Games brought thousands of tourists to our city, and its council was sure to create a thorough accessibility guide that was put into place. However, the games did not appear to practice the strategy as seamlessly as participants and audience members complained about the barriers for blind persons to access a lot of the games' material. Having said that, however, the Toronto 2015 Panam and Parapanam games are said to be the "most accessible games yet." Meaning, we are improving but aren't there yet.

Why aren't we there yet?

The first two stories came from companies and businesses who swear by their AODA standards, and yet it was obvious that their employees were uneducated and untrained to properly maintain them. Even with incentives for those who do comply and penalties who those who don't, the proper training of employees is critical. The AODA states that training must include...
1. How to interact and communicate with persons with various types of disability. 
2. How to interact with persons with disabilities who use an assistive device or require the assistance of a guide dog or other service animal or the assistance of a support person. 
3. How to use equipment or devices available on the provider’s premises or otherwise provided by the provider that may help with the provision of goods or services to a person with a disability. 
4. What to do if a person with a particular type of disability is having difficulty accessing the provider’s goods or services. O. Reg. 429/07, s. 6 (2).
When will we get there? 

The AODA's goal is long term, and they hope to make Ontario fully accessible by January 1, 2025, meaning we are over 9 years away from everyone being able to access public spaces equally in our province.

What can you do?

1. Share the AODA with your fellow Ontarians, especially those with disabilities so they are aware of the rights they are entitled to.

2. Take a look at the public spaces in your neighbourhood - parks, playgrounds, shopping centers, business etc. to see if they are meeting accessibility standards.

3. Provide both positive and critical feedback to businesses and providers on things they are doing and can do to make their space more accessible. 

4. Share this post with a business owner you know to ensure the proper training of employees and that all businesses are striving towards the goal of the AODA.


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