Accessibility advocates have criticized the government’s weak response thus far Hamilton Spectator
By Laurie Monsebraaten
Luke Anderson uses a temporary wheelchair ramp outside a restaurant at Yonge and Wellesley streets in Toronto in November. Queen’s Park is unveiling an accessibility action plan to ensure Ontario’s 1.8 million people with disabilities can live, work and play to their potential by 2025.
Queen’s Park is beefing up compliance and enforcement measures in response to criticism that it has been treating accessibility scofflaws with kid gloves.
Starting next year, Ontario’s economic development ministry will move to double compliance audits to 4,000, or one per cent of Ontario’s 400,000 businesses.
Under the province’s Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, businesses with 20 or more employees were supposed to have filed customer service plans with the government by the end of 2012. But to date, only about 40 per cent have submitted the necessary reports on how they accommodate customers with disabilities, train staff and receive customer feedback.
Accessibility advocates have criticized the government’s weak response to businesses that continue to flout the law. A recent legislative review of the act also urged the government to step up enforcement.
The new enforcement measures are part of the Liberals’ 10-year accessibility action plan to be released Wednesday. It is aimed at ensuring the province’s 1.8 million people with disabilities can live, work and play to their full potential by 2025, as set out in Ontario’s groundbreaking 2005 accessibility act.
“Enforcement is part of our efforts to move towards greater compliance,” said Economic Development Minister Brad Duguid.
“We’re not here to pound on them. We’re here to work with them to actually build a stronger economy,” he said in an interview. “But we are going to enforce the regulations.”
To ensure the one per cent target is reached, the ministry will hire an outside audit company to work with government staff. If successful, all future audits will be conducted by a third-party firm on behalf of the government, a government spokesperson said.
As recommended in February’s legislative review, the ministry will begin releasing annual compliance reports next year with information on complaints, fines and other enforcement measures along with action plans for improvement. (Fines for noncompliance range from $200 to $2,000 for individuals and from $500 to $15,000 for corporations.)
The government is also simplifying its complaint hotline to make it easier for the public to give feedback. New monthly reports to the minister’s office on complaints will ensure systemic problems are addressed promptly, officials say.
In addition to tougher enforcement measures, the ministry is announcing new initiatives “to promote a cultural shift” toward accessibility. They include a $1.8-million pilot project with the Ontario Chamber of Commerce to promote accessibility in the business community. Another $9 million will help businesses hire workers with disabilities and adapt their workplaces.
“If you make your buildings and your businesses accessible, you are going to tap into a very talented group of under-represented folks in the labour market who are going to be able to drive productivity,” Duguid said. “And it will open your door to a new customer base that might otherwise not be able to access your business.”
- $25 billion annual untapped business market represented by people with disabilities and their families
- $500 average one-time cost of accommodating a person with a disability at work
- 40 percentage of Ontarians with disabilities with post-secondary credentials
- $9.6 billion potential new retail spending over the next five years by improving accessibility
- $1.6 billion potential new tourism spending through improved accessibility by 2020
- $7.9 billion annual increase in Ontario’s gross domestic product by 2025 if accessibility goals are met
Source: Province of Ontario