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Accessibility Lessons Ontario Can Learn From the West

Written by Jane Sleeth
29 June 2011

For many years I have been trying to show employers, union representatives, senior managers and employees how ergonomics is really about designing the workplace for all people — from employees to clients.

In a sense, this definition of ergonomics is more about “barrier-free design” with many tangible and important benefits. What is interesting for the province of Ontario (and soon, other provinces in Canada) is that this expanded definition for ergonomics has now become law through the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The barrier-free component of ergonomics will be introduced in increments in the province so workplaces will become accessible for all employees, customers and visitors, whether able-bodied or disabled, whatever the nature of the disability.

Despite the fact that the benefits of solid ergonomic design are being realized by more and more employers, feedback from our own client base, as well
as interviews and surveys done with employers and union representatives have told us that: a.) the Ministry of Community and Social Services has done an abysmal job of communicating the current AODA customer service requirements to private employers in Ontario; and b.) employers in Ontario — and in Canada for that matter — have yet to see the ROI opportunities from embracing ergonomic barrier-free design to improve workplace accessibility.

On a recent business trip to California — studying accessibility laws and practices there — I realized two things: Ontario’s private employers, designers
and architects, and human resource professionals have a great deal to learn and apply in the area of accessible, ergonomic design; and that the government of Ontario has not taken a leadership role in showing private businesses the ROI and business benefits of using accessible design. Furthermore, the province has not put in place any financial incentives to kick-start the accessibility process for any private employer in Ontario.

California example

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law that requires that buildings and facilities that provide goods and services to the public
must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The ADA was signed into law in 1990 and went into effect in 1992. Buildings and facilities constructed prior to 1992, have been required to make changes
to facilitate accessibility that are “readily achievable”— defined as “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”

In addition to the ADA, California has its own requirements for accessibility compliance, which are described in the California Building Code.

The City of Los Angeles turned the ADA and the California Building Code and related acts into a business opportunity. During our fact-finding trip we captured photographs of how Way Finding has helped direct human traffic and customers to specific areas in downtown L.A., while expediting the movement of vehicles through the downtown core. 

As one article explains, “Angelinos and tourists are better able to navigate its streets, sidewalks and the public transit system using what is now the
US’s largest urban Way Finding program.”

The $2 million project, known as the Downtown LA Walks involved developing pedestrian and vehicular signage to direct people to hundreds of destinations in the city’s busy downtown core.

Back in Ontario

According to 2009 statistics from the Ministry of Community and Social Services Ontario, 1.85 million people in Ontario are living with a disability, and
over the next 20 years as the population ages, the number will rise to one in five Ontarians. This presents both a huge challenge and an enormous opportunity for businesses, in much the same way that the green movement has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry in Canada, and in the way in which California is embracing the benefits of both the ADA and the California Building Code.

The early adoption of ergonomic accessible design presents an opportunity for businesses in Ontario to show they are open for customers, open to the hiring of all prospective employees, and open to working with all potential clients and tenants.  This opens up the size and scope of the market for any company’s goods and services.

Consider these statistics: In a Witeck-Combs 2005 survey, 62 per cent of people with disabilities say they are likely to do business with companies that
have a commitment to diversity and equal treatment of employees. People with disabilities in Canada have $22 billion in discretionary spending. An EU-DuPont 30-year study showed that performance by workers with disabilities is equal to or better than non-disabled peers.

Employees with disabilities have a 90 per cent above-average job performance, with safety and attendance records that were far above the norm. The early adopters who understand this potential will stand to benefit in very tangible ways, from improved profitability of your business to enhanced ability to hire from a larger pool of qualified labour, and ultimately create goodwill within the community in which your business operates.

Jane Sleeth is managing director and senior ergonomic design consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants, an ergonomic design, accessibility and e-learning firm. Contact Jane at

Olga Dosis is senior accessibility consultant with Optimal
Performance Consultants. You may contact her at

Last modified on Wednesday, 29 June 2011 15:00

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