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Accessible Demands

By Jason Miller, The Intelligencer
Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Wade Watts, owner of Wheelchair Friendly Solutions, speaks to Louie DiPalma during a chamber of commerce event dealing with accessibility standards.

BELLEVILLE – In spite of new stringent accessibility regulations, roadblocks keep piling up for wheelchair users like Wade Watts, who says compliance moves at a snail’s pace across the Quinte region.

Watts, who lost the use of his legs following an incident in the Philippines a few years ago, made the scathing statements about property owners and even municipalities skirting around compliance criteria during a Belleville and District Chamber of Commerce breakfast speaking to what employers must do to make the things easier for employees and customers with accessibility issues.

“We’re going backwards and still building obstacles,” he said of new builds and infrastructure projects with new curbs and sidewalks still not being done with consideration for the disabled. “They’re still not involving disabled people in these discussions.”

Watts gives the Belleville downtown upgrades a failing grade, saying “they’re still putting in curbs, they don’t have ramps in the right places and the parking spots aren’t the right width, and I’ve tried this.”

And, even if the city was to fix all is concerns, Watts said “the businesses themselves aren’t accessible. I have to sit on a sidewalk while my wife goes in.”

“Why have all these accessible customer service standards if the person can’t even get in there?” Watts remarked at the meeting.

Watts started Wheelchair Friendly Solutions, which aims to do just what the name suggests, craft remedies for roadblocks not evident to the average citizen.

He talked about the needs to have portable ramps, install help buttons at entrance ways of buildings and in the aisles of grocery and big box stores. Training employees on how to aid people once they enter the store is a key area in need of improvement as well, he said.

John Kirkland, 70, said the average person wouldn’t notice or be fully aware of the barriers that exist. He got an alarming awakening after the debilitating effects of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) forced him to start depending on a mobility device about two years ago.

“Now I’m in a wheelchair, wow, I really am limited to where I’m allowed to go and what I can do,” Kirkland said.

As a small business owner himself, Kirkland said, “It’s scary when you think about what I have to do to make my business accessible, but as we learned today, the costs really aren’t that much and you have to confront that issue and take care of it.”

All the aforementioned concerns are why the chamber brought in, Louie DiPalma, of SME Programs & Global Growth Fund, who liaises with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA).

“Accessibility cannot be an afterthought,” DePalma said.

He noted 15 per cent or one in seven Ontarians struggle with some sort of disability. Among that group is 50,000 college and university students who aren’t being hired at the rate of their able bodied peers, even in cases of compatible skills.

New employment standards require businesses with 50 or more employees needed to be in compliance by last month, while those with less than 50 staff should comply by January 2017.

“They have to look at how they recruit employees and take a look at accommodation policies,” he said. “They have to have emergency response plans in place for those employees that have those needs.”

Employers are liable to audits.

“Businesses that have more than 20 employees must report,” DePalma said.

jason.miller@sunmedia.ca

Reproduced from http://www.intelligencer.ca/2016/02/24/accessible-demands