By Simon Martin
Doug Poirier, who has Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and relies on a wheelchair, has been encountering accessibility issues around York Region. For example, justices of the peace and police officers have access to the closest parking spots at the Tannery Mall’s north parking lot in Newmarket, while Poirier has to park farther away.
Accessibility: Accessibility refers to the design of products, devices, services or environments for people who experience disabilities.
Barrier: A barrier is a circumstance or obstacle that keeps people apart. For people with disabilities, barriers can be attitudinal, communication, physical, policy, social and transportation.
Disability: A disability is a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses or activities.
Standard: Accessibility standards are laws that individuals, government, businesses, nonprofits and public sector organizations must follow to become more accessible. The accessibility standards contain timelines for the implementation of required measures and help organizations identify, remove and prevent barriers in order to improve accessibility.
Source: Accessibility Ontario, http://www.accessontario.com
The world looks different when you use a wheelchair. Just ask Doug Poirier. The Georgina resident was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009 and since that time accessibility has taken on new meaning. The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is supposed to make Ontario an accessible place to live by 2025, but Poirier says there is a lot of work to do to get there.
Inconveniences and difficulties lie around every corner. Like the gas station in East Gwillimbury that Poirier attempted to enter last week. He couldn’t get his wheelchair over the lip in the curb cut out. What made the matter worse for Poirier is the treatment he received from the gas station employee. “When I asked for help, he told me, ‘It’s not my problem.'”
Poirier spoke with the gas station owner and disputed her claim that the entrance to the store was up to code. “How am I supposed to get up here?” he asked.
That was just one incident. Poirier avoids others by simply turning around. “I look at a lot of places and say I’m not going to try and go in there,” he said.
The problems are often small and have easy solutions. Take the Tannery Mall in Newmarket. Accessible parking is limited to spots in the south and east parking lots.
Poirier has lobbied for accessible parking spots at the north side of the building where the provincial offences court entrance is located, which he regularly visits as part of his job with the Ministry of Natural Resources. A few years ago, the mall redid the rear parking lot but didn’t include any accessible parking spot.
“The closest parking spots to the door are reserved for justices of the peace, police officers and contractors,” Poirier said.
It seems Poirier’s concerns have been heard as commercial property manager Kelly Shinn said the Tannery intends to put in accessible parking spot in the rear lot this spring.
Vaughan resident and accessibility activist Randy McNeil said businesses need to be pushed to become more accessible. He thinks they are waiting because they know the accessibility act’s deadline for compliance isn’t until 2025.
Washrooms, ramps, door buttons, curb cut-outs, parking: the list of issues McNeil sees is long and widespread.
“You have to plan ahead and do your best to find a business that is accessible,” he said. “Get in the chair for a week and see how you do?”
Making buildings accessible is a challenge for many businesses, president of the Markham Board of Trade Richard Cunningham said. But it’s also the right thing to do, he said.
Some business owners, especially those operating small, independent stores or offices, are unaware of the regulations that are in the accessibility act, he said. Others are concerned about the financial impact of upgrading their buildings to meet the new rules.
“In a lot of cases it is not [financially feasible ]and thus comes the challenge,” Cunningham said.
A business owner undertaking renovations or constructing a new building must ensure it is accessible. There is a cost to the business for doing that, he said.
Ontario’s Building Code requires a barrier-free path of travel through most buildings. That means power door operators and tactile walking surface indicators at the top of stairs and at platform edges, which help alert pedestrians with low vision that they are entering an area of potential hazard.
Barrier-free access between all floors will be required for most new buildings, including public meeting places, such as theatres, community centres and places of worship, care buildings such as long-term care homes, and commercial/retail buildings like supermarkets and shops.
Other requirements include barrier-free washrooms to be provided in public areas of most buildings, with power door operators, as well as a fold-down grab bars design to allow for transfer space. At least one universal toilet room will be required in all buildings and, for multistorey buildings, at least one for every three floors. Space for an adult change table will have to be provided in all universal toilet rooms except in buildings under 300 square metres in building area.
The province’s goal is to have an accessible Ontario by 2025. For Poirier and McNeil, these changes can’t come soon enough
Simon Martin is a reporter with the East Gwillimbury Express and King Connection. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .