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The Business of Becoming Accessible in Whitby

Deadline for private and non-profit sectors to submit compliance report to Province is Dec. 31 Ryan Pfeiffer / Metroland

WHITBY — Victoria Regan, an ambassador for the Abilities Centre, used an accessible kiosk at the facility.

Local businesses are required to make accessibility improvements to meet provincial standards outlined in the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. December 2, 2014.

HOW THIS IMPACTS YOU

  • One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise with the aging population across the province.
  • Ontario is the first province in Canada to pass legislation to develop mandatory accessibility standards with the goal of identifying, removing, and preventing barriers for people with disabilities.
  • Standards made to date include accessible customer service, transportation, information and communications, the design of public spaces and employment.
  • The deadline for private and non-profit organizations with 20 or more employees to file an accessibility compliance report is Dec. 31, 2014.
  • Organizations that do not comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act could face financial penalties, court enforcement and prosecution.

Source: Ontario Ministry of Economic Development, Employment, and Infrastructure

Whitby This Week
By Parvaneh Pessian

WHITBY — With another deadline looming for organizations to adhere to Ontario’s accessibility law, the Whitby Chamber of Commerce is doing its part to keep local businesses up to date.

The chamber recently issued a notice to its members — specifically large organizations with 20 or more employees — reminding them to report their compliance to the government by the end of the month.

“I know that folks are aware of it but it’s just to make sure that if they haven’t had it on their radar, that they’ve got it on their radar,” said Tracy Hanson, CEO of the Whitby Chamber of Commerce, which is comprised of 780 members.

She added that the chamber previously had a committee in place to discuss ongoing efforts to meet provincial accessibility standards and how to reach out to those in need of guidance.

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was established in 2005 with a goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. All levels of government, non-profits, and private sector businesses with one or more employees are required to comply with the Act and all of its applicable standards, including customer service, transportation, information and communications, the design of public spaces and employment.

The accessible customer service standard, which ensures organizations offer goods, services or facilities in ways that take the needs of people with disabilities into account, was the first standard to come into effect in 2008. The Ontario government and other designated public sector organizations were required to comply by Jan. 1, 2010 while Ontario’s non-profits and businesses had to comply by Jan. 1, 2012.

This year, organizations with 20 or more employees will need to file a second report with the government confirming their continued compliance with the customer service standard. And as of this past January, organizations with 50 or more employees must comply with certain requirements, such as creating a multi-year plan to meet accessibility requirements, establishing policies to meet AODA requirements and informing their employees and customers, considering accessibility when purchasing or designing electronic kiosks, and making their websites accessible. The deadline to report compliance is Dec. 31.

On the public sector side, the Town of Whitby has undertaken several projects over the past five years to bring its facilities and public services up to accessibility standards. A notable example is Iroquois Park Sports Centre where enhancements in 2011 included installation of two elevators, larger family change areas, and an accessible entrance into Anne Ottenbrite Pool.

“It’s not just about facilities,” explained Peter LeBel, Whitby’s commissioner of community and marketing services.

“It’s about accessible customer service, policies and training that we’ve provided for our employees, establishment of accessibility policies — we’ve done that — we have a multi-year accessibility plan, we have an accessibility advisory committee that’s appointed by council to provide us with advice and review our plans going forward.”

Mr. LeBel said the changes were undertaken in part due to the legislation but also because “it was the right thing to do.”

The Whitby Chamber of Commerce is planning to hold a roundtable discussion in the new year to address any issues businesses may be facing and continue to highlight the importance of ensuring accessibility for all.

“What we’d like to do is establish a roundtable of those in the know and those who need to be in the know, not just around the new legislation and the new standards but how we look at promoting the hiring of employees of all abilities and those kinds of things,” said Ms. Hanson.

“Like we do with all our roundtables, we really want to get to the heart of the conversation and understand what really needs to be done so that we’re not just picking low-hanging fruit — that we’re really focused on that bigger, broader community perspective.”

Visit: http://www.Ontario.ca/AccessON

Reporter Parvaneh Pessian covers the town of Whitby for Metroland Media Group’s Durham

Reproduced from http://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/5202943-the-business-of-becoming-accessible-in-whitby/