Preparing for new accessibility laws

Oct 16, 2009 - 04:30 AM

In a dozen weeks or so, the Province will usher in sweeping new legislation that aims to make life a little easier for those with disabilities.

On Jan. 1, 2010, the Province rolls out the first phase of its new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act which will require those in the public sector -- municipalities, public transit, colleges and universities, hospitals and school boards -- to comply with new customer service standards.

Beginning in the new year, those with any of the myriad of disabilities must be dealt with in an appropriate manner by public sector staff. For example, under the legislation, there must be an avenue for those with sight or hearing challenges to get what they seek when they make contact with public sector institutions. Those with other disabilities, the majority of them unseen, must also be looked after attentively, professionally and appropriately.

And there's a harsh penalty for those who ignore, or are ignorant of, the new legislation: A maximum daily fine of $100,000, plus $50,000 per director.

This new legislation serves only as the starting line for the Province, which plans to roll out five new accessibility standards on its way to ensuring Ontario is completely accessible by 2025.

This first step is an important one toward that lofty goal. Here at home, residents living with disabilities will be ensured equal treatment when they have a planning question or business to do with the municipal clerk.

The legislation's long-term aims are equally ambitious and all-encompassing; the private sector is expected to meet the new standards in just over two years.

In its simplest form, however, the new Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act is a renewed effort by the Province to acknowledge outdated legislation while ensuring that those living with a seen or unseen disability have the same level of access to people and services.

For private sector businesses, they would be remiss in not embracing the new legislation and preparing for its arrival, and not because of the punitive fine-levying aspect of the legislation, but because they potentially miss out on a market estimated at $25 billion.

And aside from all of that, reaching out to and embracing fellow citizens who face physical or cognitive disabilities is just the right thing to do.

Local municipalities must take the time to educate the larger community about the legislation to encourage wider acceptance and adherence to the legislation. Bring residents together to learn about it, to share in its success locally and to inform the business community about the potential that it creates.