By Heather Travis
Thursday, September 24, 2009
The first step in a long, complex rollout of groundbreaking legislation to ensure accessibility for Ontarians with disabilities reaches The University of Western Ontario on Jan. 1.
Western, along with other public sector organizations in the province, is working towards a January deadline for instituting the first stage of compliance – new customer service standards – required by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) passed in 2005.
Ontario is the first jurisdiction in Canada to create comprehensive accessibility standards in all areas of daily life.
Fostering a culture of accessibility means ensuring everyone becomes “part of our social norm,” says Gitta Kulczycki, Vice-President (Resources & Operations).
“We need to deliver goods and services in a manner so that it’s invisible whether someone has some kind of a disability, or not, in terms of how they would access our services.”
Laura Hamilton, AODA project specialist at Western, says the customer service standard is the foundation of all other steps to follow.
Transportation, built environment, information and communications and employment standards are the other AODA standards in various stages of development and not yet under compliance.
The province would like all facets of the act to have been met by about 2025.
At Western the next phase includes consultation sessions in October (see times below) and leader training in November.
“The training and all of the work we are doing in terms of changing policies is based around the fact that we want to change people’s attitudes and it’s really doable to make Western more accessible,” says Hamilton.
“We just need to think and look at how we interact with people in a new, helpful way that allows people their independence and dignity.”
The act brings a new approach to ensuring accessibility. For example, the Human Rights Code currently requires persons with disabilities to be accommodated, which focuses on meeting the needs of an individual, which is a more reactive approach. By comparison, the new Ontario legislation focuses on making the overall environment accessible to the public, not just those with a disability.
“When we accommodate, we assume there is something with the individual that is challenging, as opposed to accessibility which has to do with the environment not being open, available and accessible to the public,” says Hamilton. “It’s the environment and the attitudes that need to shift.”
To meet the customer service standard, the university must establish polices, practices and procedures; enable the use of service animals and support persons; provide notice of temporary disruptions; offer training for staff; provide notice of availability of documents; and ensure the format of documents takes into account a disability.
Among the many measures Western is taking to comply, the university will provide training to leaders, faculty and staff who interact with the public about the expectations of the new legislation.
Hamilton says small changes can be made, such as the way you speak to a customer, making eye contact, having a pen and paper available at a desk for those unable to speak, etc.
Another way Western is meeting its customer service standard is through development of a website to notify the public of service disruptions, such as out-of-service elevators and internet disruptions. The law requires notifications be posted in advance so those affected can make other arrangements. Currently, it is up to the building to post a notice.
Training begins in November, starting with faculty and unit leaders, and includes anyone involved with customer service.
“All of us are in a role that requires we deliver a service,” says Hamilton. “We will have training to educate people on how to have good customer service interactions … that maintain peoples’ dignity and maintain their independence.”
Learn about Western’s plans to comply with disabilities accessibility legislation. Sessions will be held for students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the community. If you require information in advance or in another format contact Laura Hamilton at
- Tuesday, Sept. 29 – noon to 1 p.m., McKellar Room, University Community Centre
- Thursday, Oct. 1 – 4-5 p.m., Main Lounge, Elgin Hall
- Thursday, Oct. 1 – 7-8 p.m., London Hall
For more information contact Hamilton at 519-661-2111 ext. 86412.
View the Accessibility at Western website at