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Whitby Adopts Three-Year Accessibility Plan to Continue Removing Barriers

Town-wide service delivery review finds municipality is ‘one of the leaders in AODA compliance in the GTA’

WHITBY — Barb Borchuk (front) and Sandra Sufrin led a group of women up the accessible ramp to leave the Anne Ottenbrite Pool following an aquafit class. The Town of Whitby completed extensive renovations at Iroquois Park in 2011, including additions and accessibility improvements to the arena complex and the reconstruction of the pool. Photo originally taken December 2, 2014.

Whitby This Week
By Parvaneh Pessian

WHITBY — “Accessibility benefits everyone.”

That’s the basis of a three-year plan adopted by Whitby council in an effort to continue identifying and removing barriers to local programs, services and facilities. The Town of Whitby’s Accessibility Plan 2016-2018 outlines initiatives that the Town intends to achieve to ensure compliance with the Province’s accessibility legislation.

“Within the legislation, it requires that we do an annual update to our municipal council and highlight what we have accomplished, acknowledge what we have not been able to accomplish and put a plan in place to make sure that the next year it’s going to be accomplished,” said Michele Cotton, accessibility co-ordinator for the Town of Whitby at a recent public meeting.

The plan covers a variety of barriers to accessibility from physical obstacles to limitations in communicating information to the public. Actions noted in the plan include training staff on accessibility standards, enhancing partnerships with the Town’s accessibility advisory committee and other groups, as well as continuing to develop and retrofit parks and playgrounds.

“The 2016 projects are mostly underway and we’re just going to continue to move year by year and take them as time allows and resources allow,” said Cotton.

One in seven people in Ontario has a disability and that number is anticipated to rise with the aging population across the province. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act 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.

“Accessibility has been an integral part of the Town of Whitby in all departments since 2003,” according to a staff report presented to the planning and development committee last month.

“Whether we are serving our internal or external customers, accessibility must be thought of before we implement or adjust anything that we do.”

The report discusses ways that the Town has made local facilities, services and programs more accessible over the past decade — even before the provincial legislation was enacted. One project undertaken by the Town to improve accessibility in recent years was at the Iroquois Park Sports Centre where several enhancements were made in 2011, including installation of two elevators, larger family change areas, and an accessible entrance into Anne Ottenbrite Pool.

“Through this commitment, the Town has dedicated funds and staff resources to build a more inclusive community,” the report said.

“It is important to keep this momentum, as the changes have gone from being the ‘nice thing to do’ to be legislated requirements with compliance dates and penalties.”

Whitby’s long-standing commitment to improving accessibility was highlighted in a recent Town-wide service delivery review. The review — launched this past spring in conjunction with consulting firm KPMG — found that “similar to most municipalities, the Town has been unable to meet all the requirements of the AODA and associated regulations; however, in comparison to other municipalities, the Town is one of the leaders in AODA compliance in the GTA.”

The Town of Whitby’s Accessibility Plan 2016-2018 is available online at http://www.whitby.ca .

Parvaneh Pessian is a reporter for Metroland Media Group’s Durham Region Division. She can be reached at ppessian@durhamregion.com .

Original at http://www.durhamregion.com/news-story/6928605-whitby-adopts-three-year-accessibility-plan-to-continue-removing-barriers/