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National Access Awareness Week

June 3, 2010
Op-Ed from Honourable Madeleine Meilleur, Minister of Community and Social Services

Twenty-five years before he carried the Olympic torch in Vancouver, Rick Hansen inspired a nation by travelling 40,000 km around the world in his wheelchair. Rick shared a message that was the genesis of National Access Awareness Week – a message that is the foundation of our government’s plan for a stronger, accessible Ontario.  

It’s important for us to realize what accessibility means to our province – socially and economically. If people with disabilities cannot fully participate
in our communities, we are missing out on our own potential. 

Accessibility is also about making everyone in our communities feel welcome. The small activities that most take for granted – playing in a park, watching
a movie, dining in a restaurant – should be equally available for everyone. And don’t forget our seniors. Through the natural aging process they may begin to experience barriers to everyday activities that they once took for granted 

It pays to remember that people with disabilities are not a small group; in fact they represent almost $25 billion in annual spending power across Canada. Just about everyone knows a person who has a disability.  

So the question isn’t “why accessibility” but rather “why not?” 

Ontario is on a groundbreaking accessibility journey. Our government is making excellent progress in creating the accessibility standards that will make
our province an accessibility leader by 2025. 

Our accessibility standard for customer service is now in place for the broader public sector. By January 1, 2012, Ontario businesses will also have to
meet the standard. 

Because of this standard, and the training that comes with it, broader public sector employees can better interact with Ontarians with disabilities. Simply
asking a person with a disability “how can I help” can change an entire customer service experience. It’s about providing equivalent service that addresses the specific needs of each customer – whether he or she is paying taxes, accessing professional services, or visiting any government office.  
When you provide someone with good customer service – no matter who they are – you show them that they matter. 

We are currently developing four more accessibility standards: for information and communications, employment, transportation, and the built environment.

The first three of these standards will be integrated, making them more flexible for businesses, and responding to public feedback from the standards development process.   

As these standards come into force over the coming years, we will share information in a way that everyone can access. We will rethink employment practices to harness a broader and more diverse workforce. And we will modernize daily public transportation to make it easier for everyone to travel in Ontario.
Let’s continue our forward momentum on accessibility. To learn more, visit Ontario’s accessibility website at Together we can make our province a model for the world.  

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