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Accessibility Finally Within Reach

PostedMay 19, 2010

If you can place one foot in front of another, then a flight of stairs isn’t a daunting obstacle. If you can see the challenges that lie ahead, then a narrow,
cluttered hallway isn’t a death trap. And if you can hear the birds chirp in the morning, then placing an order at a favourite restaurant isn’t often lost
in translation.

But for more than a million Ontarians, these simple day-to-day tasks are challenges requiring the three Ps — planning, persistence, and of course, patience.

Currently, 1.85 million Ontarians — or one in every seven residents — have a disability, according to the Ministry of Community and Social Services. But
the landscape of the province often doesn’t reflect this reality, as many shopping malls, restaurants and community halls lack accessible standards.

However, the provincial government has slowly been ramping out strategies to create a more accessible Ontario. Five years ago, it passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, becoming the first jurisdiction within the country to develop, implement and enforce mandatory accessibility standards.
It is now developing standards for employment, information and communications, buildings and even public transportation.

Most recently, the province passed a customer service accessibility standard. By January 2012, private sector and non-profit organizations will have to
“allow customers with disabilities to use their own personal assistive devices to access your goods and use your services,” according to the standard.

Locally, the hubs of community activity — the town’s ethnic halls — are shining examples of empowering the disabled. All four ethnic halls have procedures
in place, including ramps, and even a system of a chairlift and platforms. These hubs are also working diligently at ensuring their washrooms are up to

Many of these accessible initiatives have even turned into fundraising projects. Recently, the Delhi Belgian Club wrapped up its campaign to erect a wooden ramp on the west side of its facility. Shareholders and the Ladies’ Auxiliary chipped in for the upgrade. A similar story is echoed by the Delhi District Hungarian Hall that fundraised for its chairlift years ago.

This is a rather ironic, and sad, fact of establishing accessibility — that user-friendliness is simply not user friendly for the private and non-profit
sectors to implement into their establishments. Erecting ramps and installing elevators are costly endeavours. Perhaps the price tag can be shouldered
by Big Business, but it is often not within reach for small mom-and-pop shops and non-profit community groups. They are already often struggling to make ends meet.

That’s why day-to-day tasks remain a struggle for disabled residents. The costly venture of ensuring accessibility has fallen to the wayside when private
businesses and non-profit organizations are already struggling to balance books. A lack of accessibility especially appears nonsensically during this day and age.

Fortunately, the province is pushing for accessibility to become front and centre. However, what toll this will take on businesses and non-profits remains
to be seen.

Article ID# 2585595

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