Published On Sat May 7 2011
Amy Dempsey/Toronto Star
Bijayj Shrestha, 45, hopes to see businesses make many improvements in customer service once the first stage of the Accessibility for Ontarian’s with Disabilities Act legislation is enforced in January, 2012. Shrestha, who is deaf, is seen here at The Annex HodgePodge on Dupont St. with counter attendant Sarah Delany.
Bijayj Shrestha has grown used to the daily disappointment that comes with being a paying customer who just so happens to be deaf.
Baristas are often baffled or annoyed when he types his coffee order on a cellphone. Pub managers have kicked up a fuss when he’s asked to have the closed captioning turned on during big hockey games. Flustered servers avoid eye contact.
“It becomes embarrassing for me,” Shrestha says. “I get this sick feeling in my gut and I think ‘oh god, here we go again.’”
Customer service woes have led the 45-year-old to steer clear of some local businesses.
By January 2012, losing patrons won’t be the only drawback for shops and restaurants that fail to improve customer service for people with disabilities.
Businesses could face fines of up to $100,000 per day under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) if they don’t meet standards for
accessible customer service by the new year.
The law requires businesses to develop accessible policies and procedures and to train staff, volunteers and contractors to serve customers with disabilities.
“Every organization should be stopping to think about how this applies to them and what they need to do,” said Frances Jewett, an AODA consultant with AccessAbility Advantage.
The cost of implementing changes will depend on the size of company, the policies they go with and the type of training they choose for their employees,
The staff training component is the most onerous requirement, with the price of educating employees ranging from free — for the government e-learning program — to $40 or $50 per employee for bringing in a trainer.
But it’s a venture that promises to pay off in the end, consultants say.
“There’s a tremendous return on investment,” said Wendy Bircher of proLearning Innovations, a company that offers AODA training programs for small and large businesses.
About one in seven Ontarians have a disability and the number will continue to grow as the population ages. According to the Royal Bank of Canada, people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada.
And research by the Martin Prosperity Institute has suggested that the impact of AODA regulations on Ontario’s economy over the next five years could boost revenues for retail and tourism establishments by $4 billion to $11 billion a year.
Bircher’s workshops begin with a question: How many people here have a disability or know someone who has one? Nearly everyone raises their hand.
That is her take-home point for managers and owners whose businesses depend on return clients.
“If you can make the experience as a customer a positive one then not only are you going to gain the loyalty of the person with a disability, you’re going
to gain the loyalty of the people that they tell,”’ Bircher said.
Managers at Toronto’s Metropolitan Hotel have long made accessibility a priority. That’s why they were shocked when after participating in an AODA workshop they realized they still had a lot left to do.
“It was one thing after another. We didn’t think about this, we didn’t think about that,” said general manager Ron Pellerine.
“Sitting back and looking at it, we realized there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Managers of the downtown hotel have had to reconsider everything from the way people are greeted at the door to restaurant menus to notices in rooms.
They are currently assessing the best way to go about training their 308 employees. Pellerine expects it will take about six more months and cost several thousand dollars for the hotel to meet its accessibility goals.
But with half a year to go before the deadline, the hotel is far ahead of many other companies.
“There are many businesses out there that still either don’t know about the AODA or don’t understand the first requirement very well,” Jewett said.
Some managers aren’t even aware that the legislation applies to them, Jewett said.
And there is a false perception that the January 2012 phase of the AODA legislation has to do with structural changes — altering hallways to accommodate
wheelchairs, for example. That is not so, Jewett cautions. The upcoming deadline only applies to customer service.
Shrestha is looking forward to the day when he can walk into a coffee shop or restaurant without worrying about what kind of service he’ll get.
“For me, I want to start my day and be able to go to any business or establishment I may choose to and be treated equally like any other customer walking through the doors.”
Accessibility Standards for Customer Service
The legislation applies to all businesses that have one or more employees in Ontario and provide goods or services either directly to the public or to other businesses or organizations. Businesses are required to:
- Develop customer service policies and procedures for serving people with disabilities.
- Make sure policies and procedures meet principles of independence, dignity, integration and equality of opportunity.
- Have a policy on allowing people to use their own assistive devices — like a wheelchair or cane — to access your goods and services.
- Communicate with customers in a manner that takes into account his or her disability.
- Allow customers with disabilities to be accompanied by their guide dog or service animal.
- Permit people with disabilities who rely on a support person to bring that person with them while accessing goods or services.
- Where admission fees are charged, post information about what fees, if any, are charged for support people.
- Let customers know when elevators or accessible washrooms are out of order.
- Train staff, volunteers and contractors to serve customers with disabilities.
- Let customers with disabilities provide feedback on how their needs were met and establish a process to respond and take action on any complaints.
Customer service regulations are law under Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005.
By the numbers
According to the Ontario government, about 1.85 million people have a disability.
That’s one in seven.
In the next 20 years as the population ages, that number will rise to one in five.
About 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability. That’s one in seven people. Over the next 20 years as the population ages, the number will rise
to one in five Ontarians.
Statistics Canada estimates about 10 per cent of Canadians are deaf or have significant hearing loss