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Access a Right, Says Commissioner

JIM KELLY
10/02/2009

The chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission says that while the Accessibility for Ontarians with a Disability Act (AODA) gives business owners and others until 2025 to comply, many have already made their facilities accessible.

“Many restaurants in Ontario have been made accessible because people have filed complaints and they have complied voluntarily or have been ordered by tribunals to do that,” said Barbara Hall.

Hall said the Human Rights Code should not be confused with the AODA.

The code deals with individual discrimination while the AODA is about transforming the whole province.

“There may be a whole pile of restaurants in Ontario that no one in a wheelchair has ever gone to,” said Hall, one of the guest speakers at the Recreation-Able Inclusive Recreation Forum in Thunder Bay.

“They will be made accessible by 2025. However, if tomorrow, somebody seeks access to a restaurant or another service provider and they‘re unable to get it, they can file complaints with the human rights tribunal.‘

“There are a lot of different pieces working which makes it confusing but the Human Rights Code says that you or I or any person in Ontario can file an application seeking accommodation if they face discrimination in employment, housing or provision of services,” said Hall.

She said if a complaint is filed against a business owner, they have to respond to it.

Hall said the only defence is undue hardship.

“This involves health and safety issues, and it involves undue costs, so if it‘s a very small mom and pop restaurant where the access costs more than the business was worth, then they do not have to (comply).”

Hall said making a building accessible isn‘t as costly as people fear. Often when owners are renovating their premises and include a ramp, for example, the cost is not that great.

She said businesses that have made themselves accessible have found that it‘s good for the bottom line because more clients come. And they‘re not all disabled.

“There are lots of parents who have kids in strollers who need a ramp as well and won‘t bother going to a place if they have to go up stairs,” Hall said.

“So, when people look at the whole picture they see there are benefits not just for the individuals who are kept out, but also for the businesses and organizations that make broader access,” she said.

In the area of human rights, Hall said progress has been made in the area of human rights in Ontario, but added there are still barriers that groups face every day. She mentioned the disabled, mentally ill and certain ethnic groups.

The new mandate of the commission is to no longer focus on individual complaints but to go out and educate the public.

“We‘re looking at the broader systemic issues because until we do that, the change will continue to be too slow for people who face barriers every day,” Hall said.

Reproduced from http://www.chroniclejournal.com/stories_local.php?id=215027

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