Dec 20, 2011 – 9:52 AM
Roger Bernicky would like more businesses to be accessible for him and his wheelchair. Laurie Weir Roger Bernicky says he used to be “one of them.”
As he sits in the patient lounge at the Great War Memorial Hospital after having his right leg amputated just below the knee, Bernicky says he used to view those in wheelchairs differently.
“I used to be one of them a person who would look down on someone in a wheelchair,” he said. “Now I’m in one and I want people to be aware that there aren’t a lot of places around town where I can get in to eat.”
He says he’s luckier than some people, though.
“I’m not in this thing forever. I am getting a new leg and I have started to live my life again, because I know what it feels like to be almost dead.”
Bernicky says he wants people to be aware that he is a person who wants to spend money in town, but it’s hard for him to get into many places due to lack of accessibility.
“Some of my favourite restaurants, I can’t get into them,” he said. “I think people need to help fix that.”
The Town of Perth adopted the accessibility plan last September, according to documents located on their website prepared for council by Jim Connell, the town’s chief building inspector. The document states in part that Perth is committed to enhancing accessibility and “to help people with disabilities live full and independent lives and contribute to the community.”
The Province of Ontario is helping businesses succeed in becoming more accessible to Ontarians with disabilities, John Milloy, minister of Community and Social Services said in a phone interview with The Perth Courier last week.
“In the next 20 years an aging population and people with disabilities will represent 40 per cent of total income in the province – or $536 billion. Making sure all Ontarians have accessible customer service is the right thing to do and it makes good business sense.”
That is why Ontario will see the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service come into play on Jan. 1.
“This customer service standard will help businesses better deal with the public and how they handle people with disabilities,” Milloy said. “By Jan. 1, every business has to have a plan in place. It’s about changing culture.”
The standard will help employees and employers better understand the needs of the disabled and how they can be more accommodating, he said.
“I liken it to dealing with a clothing store. It has a firm policy of no returns, but if their dressing rooms aren’t wheelchair accessible, then should disabled people waive their right to return clothing if it doesn’t fit once they get home?
Milloy says that the strategy is about thinking things through and coming up with better solutions to problems faced by those who are disabled.
“Businesses will see a value in wanting to make changes,” he said. “It can be a win-win situation for everyone. The legislature has some bite to it, but we are here to help not to fine people.”
The ‘bite’ the minister refers to could be a costly one if legislation is not followed. Failure to comply with guidelines and following a customer complaint, guilty parties could face fines of $200 to $15,000 that will be issued by a director.
If an organization continues to disregard the legislature, court-ordered fines could result in charges of $50,000 to $100,000 per day.
The ministry welcomes questions and directs those with queries to visit the website http://www.mcss.gov.on.ca/en/mcss/programs/accessibility/ for a reference