Big Idea for March 23, 2017
By Debbie Kirwin
MUSKOKA In 2001, each municipality in the province was mandated by the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (ODA) 2001 to prepare an annual Accessibility Plan, in which barriers preventing people with disabilities from participating in community life must be identified and removed. It was up to the town to decide how and when, given budget restraints. This act did not apply to the business community.
In 2005, each municipality and business in the province was mandated by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) to prepare a five-year Accessibility Plan to do exactly what ODA had previously mandated. The new and improved act now included time limits for the removal of those barriers.
The AODA laid out a comprehensive road map to make Ontario accessible to all people through the development, implementation and enforcement of new, mandatory accessibility standards for some of the most important aspects of people’s lives.
The road map laid out standards that addressed accessibility within the areas of customer service, transportation, employment, information and communication, and the design of public spaces. The government continues to develop other standards such as an education standard. Requirements within these regulations and methods of addressing these requirements have been identified within the Town of Huntsville’s Annual Accessibility Plan.
The content of an accessibility plan must include these five requirements: a report on the measures taken to identify, remove and prevent barriers to people with disabilities; a description of the measures in place to ensure that the organization assesses its acts and bylaws, regulations, policies, programs, practices and services to determine their effect on accessibility for people with disabilities; a list of the policies, programs, practices and services that the municipality intends to review in the coming year to identify barriers for people with disabilities; a description of the measures the municipality intends to take in the coming year to identify, remove and prevent barriers for people with disabilities; and to make the accessibility plan available to the public.
The Accessibility Plan must also be a multi-year document, be posted on the town website, be provided in an accessible format upon request, and be reviewed and updated at minimum once every five years.
The Town of Huntsville has been submitting a plan annually since 2001. One would think that after 16 years, we should be a barrier-free community. Our plan is a work in progress dependent on budget, but we are breaking down barriers each and every year.
70 per cent of all disabilities are invisible, such as a hearing loss, autism, mental health issues, heart or lung disease, and diabetes, just to name a few.
The No. 1 barrier is attitudinal the attitude that if one has a disability, they cannot participate in life to its fullest. Quite the contrary, we simply go about it differently. However, if access to the local bowling alley, hairdresser, restaurant washroom, community hall, church, wedding reception hall, theatre, council chambers, dentist’s office or curling rink is a set of stairs, has a back entrance through the kitchen or a narrow door width, then yes, I cannot participate or be included in events or services physically or with any decorum of dignity. With the combined weight of myself and my chair in excess of 400 pounds, I cannot be safely lifted. Safety to those well-meaning volunteers who could find out the hard way that it isn’t possible. If the local transit, taxi service or subway cannot accompany a wheelchair, and one cannot afford the cost of a wheelchair van, then access to those events and services is out of reach before I even leave the house. As Dr. Seuss once wrote, “Oh, think of the places I could go. Think of the things I could do.”
The town’s Annual Accessibility Plan has identified barriers in obtaining access to the collection of town-owned buildings, barriers in their programs at the Summit Centre and Algonquin Theatre, attitudinal barriers with staff and council affecting customer service, transit barriers, and barriers to information affecting those with a hearing or vision loss, to name a few.
Aspdin Hall, for instance, had barriers identified in 2006 and was finally rectified 10 years later.
The town has purchased assistive listening devices, created policies in customer service and human resources to improve accessible opportunities, improved access to leisure programs, improved access to transit, improved their website, and created practices and procedures to eliminate and prevent barriers.
Find out what the town is working on and read what has been accomplished since 2001. Go to the town website, http://www.huntsville.ca and click on accessibility. We have come a long way, folks.
Debbie Kirwin, a retired professor of business, math, statistics and finance, is the chair of the accessibility advisory committee for the Town of Huntsville and a member of the accessibility advisory committee for the District of Muskoka.