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True Accessibility is All About Attitude

Cyndie Sproul, seen here with her service animal at last year’s accessibility meeting, continues to have problems with local businesses. She is starring in a new video made by the City of Oshawa on the rules and regulations regarding service animals.
By Geoff Zochodne/The Oshawa Express

You can build the finest buildings and draft the cleverest policies, but the prevailing view from accessibility advocates is if attitudes aren’t changed the world will never truly be open to everyone.

City council’s special accessibility meeting is part celebration, part airing of grievances. This year, changing attitudes was one of the main topics of discussion at the meeting.

“I think it’s safe to say we’ve all benefited,” from the annual accessibility gathering, says Derek Giberson, chair of the Oshawa Accessibility Advisory Committee.

Giberson, in his last term as chair, presented an update of the Oshawa Accessibility Plan to council, outlining all the successes and work to be done on accessibility issues.
Progress has been made on making the City’s website and electronic documents accessible, as well as on dozens of upgrades to City streets, parks and facilities.

“Our city has a great team…that are working towards a more accessible community,” says Giberson, but “fundamentally, it is our attitude that will shape all the other things.”
Several examples of this were given during the meeting.

Cyndie Sproul appeared at last year’s accessibility meeting to let council know about the difficulties she deals with daily.
Being legally blind, she has a service animal. Even with the proper identification for Sproul and her dog, she told council she was confronted with incessant hassling when entering stores, restaurants and other businesses.
She still faces those same problems. On a weekly basis Sproul and her service dog are asked to leave buildings.
“Just this weekend I was approached twice in a major store,” she says, and given a “not polite” reception.

The City of Oshawa appears to have given her a much politer one.

“Last year I came to this very meeting with a huge concern about service animals,” says Sproul. “What I was given was a really good reception.”
That response included a visit from Mayor John Henry and an invite to appear in a video produced by the City of Oshawa to educate people about service animals. The four-minute video goes over proper behaviour when a person with a service animal is present.

“It’s giving the correct verbiage and the understanding that I’m human being and I want to be included,” says Sproul.
The video can be found on the City of Oshawa’s YouTube channel.

Other problems are tougher to remedy.

Steve Leitner told council he has multiple sclerosis and must take his daughter to school every day. Yet in the winter, when snow begins building up and is not shovelled, or is plowed back onto sidewalks, his mobility is restricted. On one trip back from the school, he flipped his scooter and had to be helped back up by passing motorists. Other times the snow was piled so high he and his daughter didn’t even bother with the trip

“We decided school was not in the cards,” says Leitner.
Sometimes the snow flies too fast and furious for the City to deal with it all, explains Councillor Doug Sanders. “We’re trying, but I’m glad you’re bringing it to our attention.”

“It is important when people have problems to let us know,” says Councillor Bob Chapman.

Darren Cooney, the manager of public education and partnerships for the Accessibility Directorate of Ontario (ADO), says over 15 per cent of Ontario’s population has a disability. The ADO, operating under the mandate of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), is working to make the province completely accessible by 2025.
To do so, ADO is trying to assist in the attitude adjustment. There is “limited” funding for accessibility projects, explains Cooney, so the changes are being made through policy.

“It’s the attitude that people with disabilities need to be supported rather than empowered,” that’s the biggest problem, he says “The policies and the way the AODA is structured is it impacts employers across the province.”

The act the ADO administers sets accessibility standards for businesses and employers, landlords and municipalities. Under the accessibility act, inspectors can be used to ensure the standards are being met and fines of up to $100,000 a day can be issued if they are not.

The AODA has a set of customer service standards for staff training and the treatment of service animals and support persons. There are also employment standards for the hiring of people with accessibility needs.

“The City of Oshawa appears to be out in front of your deadlines in terms of employment standards,” praises Cooney, citing the Adobe document training Oshawa City staff has received as one example.

People with disabilities are an enormous “untapped source” of productivity, creativity and innovation, he adds.
And in tough economic times, “we need all the talent we can get,” notes Cooney.

  • An animal is considered a service animal if it is obvious the animal is being used to assist a person with a disability; or if the person provides a letter from a physician or nurse confirming they need the animal for reasons relating to the disability.
  • 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.
  • If a service animal is excluded by law from the premises, the provider of goods or services shall ensure that other measures are available to enable the person with a disability to obtain, use or benefit from the provider’s
    goods or services.

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