Category Archives: Business

‘Running’ a Business in an Inaccessible Environment

Having run my own business and marketing consulting firm for decades, I knew when I started my accessibility firm, that there would be challenges. I expected, and have encountered, many of the expected challenges: raising capital, keeping up with technology, employee and human resource issues, time-management, the usual challenges for start-up businesses.

I knew that as a fledgling industry, I would have extra work to do educating potential clients about need. I knew I would have to overcome price objectives and the negativity surrounding ‘legislated compliance’. Businesses aren’t fond of spending money, especially when the government makes them, regardless of the purpose. They must first be educated about the huge return on investment that accessibility provides. The benefits accessibility has for all of their customers. Accessibility increases corporate perception, customer loyalty and sales, and unlike the mis-perceptions about cost that abound, do not have to cost a lot. And again, the return on investment is huge. I was just tweeting this evening with a gentleman about the many benefits of simply having a few chairs available for customers. Sit, stay, spend. For a multitude of reasons and for the benefit of many, particularly the bottom-line. There are numerous small things that can be done to remove barriers and increase accessibility, and they don’t have to cost very much. To paraphrase: If you build a ramp, they will come.

What I was not expecting was how many barriers to access would exist for my business and how affected it would be by inaccessibility.

I tried, for example, to join the local Chamber of Commerce, but couldn’t as I would have been completely unable to gain entry had I been using my wheelchair. Fortunately, I was able to use my cane to avoid a meeting in the parking lot where it was snowing quite hard at the time. But still, I cannot, as an accessibility firm, support a Chamber that is entirely inaccessible.

I have gone to an untold amount of business meetings where using my wheelchair would have been quite impossible in terms of accessibility. The latest came during a round of pre-event meetings for a local event I was to be speaking at. Despite my topic being about wheelchairs, I arrived with my walker to find the meetings being held on the second-floor of a Victorian-home converted to offices. Again, I am fortunate that I was able to return to my car and grab an alternate assistive device, my cane. I have to mention that the organizers were more than accommodating, offering to move the meeting to the main floor, etc. But that would have been way too much of an effort as everything was set up in the upstairs boardroom already, and I have already caused too much additional unwanted attention at this point.

Ironically, the event venue itself attempted to be accommodating providing a ramp for my sole-use, but this ramp proved completely inaccessible, even the cameraman had difficulty WALKING up the steep slope. Again, I resorted to using the cane I now keep attached to my wheelchair for such frequent occurances. I am fortunate that I have other options. I cannot image the added difficulties not having my additional assistive device options would pose for me and my business. Again, I note that both the organizers and the event tried to be accommodating and I am grateful for any accommodations, I just prefer accessibility and independence.

I encountered similar problems with every attempt to attend networking meetings. They were either entirely inaccessible (I myself have had difficulty finding accessible venues at which to host my own events), or I encountered what I call the ‘red-sea syndrome’ that occurs at most events, and makes networking in a wheelchair quite difficult. Many people are quite hesitant to approach someone sitting in a wheelchair, so I will usually be the one to approach others and introduce myself. I have found that approaching a small group of individuals and casually inserting myself into the group, and then conversation, quite impossible. Inevitably, someone will notice my chair approaching and a polite, ‘parting of the seas’ will occur as everyone re-adjusts to allow me to pass. This is nice of them. Unfortunately, at this point I find it quite difficult to casually insert myself into the conversation and will sheepishly, roll-on past, thanking them as I do. It may not be the chair, it could be me, but it’s easier on my self-esteem to blame the chair.

What does seem to work is finding another individual standing alone and approaching them with something along the lines of, “Hi, I’m Donna, I don’t like sitting alone at these events so thought I would come over and introduce myself”. Individual approaches seem to work better for networking, though can occasionally strike fear in the eyes of those being approached when they realized I have signaled them out. I don’t think this is a reaction to my disability in any way, but an innate, networking event reaction for most.

I have a feeling too, that many potential customers are hesitant to approach us for fear that they are not currently accessible. They are unaware of the many mobility options available to me. Plus, they are calling inquiring about accessibility, this positive fact outweighs the obvious fact that if they are looking to increase accessibility, they may not currently be so. But I am hesitant to ever play the D-card as an excuse for my business, and honestly, there are many other reasons that a potential customer might not call.

I am not sure why I was so surprised by that inaccessibility affected my business, inaccessibility affects my daily life, and I suppose, for us especially, success lies in literally being able to get our foot in the door.

5 Reasons to make your business more accessible (and more profitable)

1 ♦ Expands reach, improves corporate perception, customer satisfaction & consumer loyalty

2 ♦ Canadians with disabilities spend $25 billion / year and consumers seeking accessible environments,  products & services have $2 trillion dollars to spend

3 ♦ Impact of AODA implementation on the retail sector over the next 5 years from $3.8 – 9.6 billion in increased spending

4 ♦ Accessible societies are more innovative, productive, competitive, prosperous and healthy

5 ♦ It’s the law. Compliant businesses avoid fines for non-compliance up to $100 thousand /day

To learn more about the accessibility, visit

Accessibility. That’s how we roll.

Some facts from: The Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) & Adaptive Technology Rescource Centre (ARTC) at OCAD University & The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity (ICP), June 14, 2010, “Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Improved Accessibility in Ontario”. Retrieved April, 2012.

Business Accessibility – It’s Not About Having a Ramp

Ontario businesses must comply with new accessibility rules by January 2012. Under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AODA), five standards are being developed to improve accessibility by identifying, removing and preventing barriers in the key areas of: Customer Service; Information and Communications; Employment; Built Environment; and Transportation. The Customer Service Standard is the first to come into effect, and all businesses providing goods or services to the public or to third parties in Ontario are required to comply. While the physical structure of a building plays a large role in accessibility, it is not all about the building.

These upcoming requirements do not apply to the physical structure of a business but relate to customer service and the establishment of policies, practices and procedures identifying and outlining the accommodation of persons with disabilities. While business owners may be concerned about prospective costs of complying, accessibility does not have to be costly to implement.  There are simple, cost-effective solutions to ensure your business is accessible. For businesses with fewer than twenty employees, implementation of these new accessibility standards is primarily administrative and involves the establishment of customer service policies, practices and procedures that include: policies allowing persons with disabilities to be accompanied by their service animal, support person, and / or assistive devices, and, if applicable, whether an admission fee would be waived for that support person.

Feedback and complaint protocols must also be established and identify how complaints regarding access to products and services will be responded to. A procedure to notify customers in the event of a temporary service or facilities disruption may also be required. Customer service policy and procedure documents should be made available in an accessible format (i.e. larger print), upon request.

Training of staff is another valuable requirement of the standard and can significantly improve the overall accessibility of your business. Front-line staff, employees, and contractors should be aware of accessibility policies and procedures, and taught practical, adaptive skills to effectively communicate with clients and prospective customers on your behalf. Businesses with twenty or more employees and public sector organizations should already be in compliance and may have additional responsibilities under the standard.

As well, accessibility just makes good business sense. With one in seven Canadians having a disability, accessibility ensures your products and services are available to the entire marketplace. Canadians with disabilities spend $25 billion a year, and if customers can’t access your products or services, they can’t spend. Accommodation expands reach and improves corporate perception, customer satisfaction, and consumer loyalty.

In addition to the accessibility requirements outlined in the A.O.D.A., there are other cost-effective solutions to improve overall accessibility and ensure all areas of your business are barrier-free. Simply having a pen and paper available at customer interaction points, such as a retail cashier station, can be useful in aiding communication with a hard-of-hearing individual, or even through a language barrier, with a few written words or basic diagrams. Similarly, the strategic placement of chairs can go a long way towards accommodating customers with mobility, stamina or chronic pain concerns.

Accessibility doesn’t just assist people with disabilities; a conveniently placed chair might also help an expectant mother. Wide, obstruction-free aisles are necessary for wheelchairs, but also convenient for those with strollers or shopping carts. Accessibility assists the community as a whole, and by increasing awareness of issues; you can help to make this world more accessible for all.

Most barriers exist simply as the result of a lack of awareness. An increased understanding of disability issues can go a long way towards helping to effectively identify, communicate, accommodate and service people with various disabilities, thus ensuring all areas of your business are accessible.

~ For more information on accessibility compliance and accommodation ~

The Disabled Parking Perk

Accessible Parking Permits (APP) are perhaps the only “perk” persons with disabilities get. But it’s not the perk most people assume it is. For many, being out in the world only occurs on “good days” and even on a “good day”, a walk across a parking lot is equal to one lap around a big-box store, which may be all the stamina they have. A lot of mobility and chronic pain is about stamina and energy conservation, so if energy can be saved by not having to walk across the lot, that energy can be expended elsewhere and more efficiently. There are also practical considerations such as the accommodation of vehicles that may require more space, or the need for a curb-ramp to accommodate an assistive device such as a wheelchair.

I recently had a conversation with someone who argued that there were too many disabled parking spaces and based this logic on the argument that whenever they saw them, there were always empty disabled spaces. In fact, empty spaces can indicate the opposite, that there are an adequate number of spaces as there should always be at least one available for use. Always-full spaces illustrate that the current number of spaces is not meeting the demand for those dedicated spaces and more are needed. Indeed, many people I know who have an APP only use them when doing so is necessary, leaving the spaces for those who might need them more. As well, with one in seven Canadians having a disability, and the majority of those disabilities being related to mobility and / or pain, there really can never be too many spaces.

So what is the required ratio of disabled spaces to other parking spaces? A general rule to follow would be 5% of spaces* be designated as disabled spaces. Obviously, when determining the number of allocated spaces, the nature of the building should be taken into consideration. Senior’s centres, healthcare facilities would benefit from having a higher number of disabled parking spaces. For many, getting out is limited to necessities such as groceries, banking, and occasional shopping and so having additional available spaces would benefit persons with disabilities.

I also have to point out the need for signs to indicate these dedicated spaces. Paint symbols on the ground do work very well, however, we live in Canada and that means the paint is covered with snow for a large portion of the year. As a result, many people inadvertently park in these spaces illegally. Signage in addition to paint indicators, either on a post or hanging on the wall, ensure that dedicated spaces are properly indicated at all times.

And while we’re on the topic of snow, these spaces should not be used to pile snow from plowing. I encountered this twice last winter, once at a nearby hospital where the snowplow had not piled the snow in the actual space, but between the disabled spaces and the hospital entrance. This required going through the parking lot and back through the lot entrance, squeezing between the curb and the entrance-gate arm. The second time was at a local coffee-chain and the snow had actually been piled in the space after plowing the rest of the parking lot.

The location of these spaces is also of importance, obviously nearest the entrance to the facility is preferred. In my town, this means that for at least two of the downtown banks, the spaces are located behind the building, halfway down a very steep slope due to the riverbank.

Also – to those who truly believe that it is okay to “just stop for a minute” in disabled spaces as long as you remain in the vehicle, please stop. You may mistakenly believe that you will simply move your vehicle if someone needs the space, this doesn’t really work in the real world. You see, I have come along and needed the space, and I see you sitting behind the wheel, but I can’t see your windshield and so I assume you are permitted use of the space. So I park elsewhere. And even if I am aware there is no APP displayed, if you’re already arrogant and entitled enough to park in a disabled space you are not entitled to, I’m not about to confront you.

I have also, on at least two separate occasions, at two separate large retail chain stores, witnessed staff improperly using these spaces, once for a someone to drop off lunch to a staff member, and once by someone waiting to pick a staff member up. Please – if you don’t need the space, first, be thankful – I’d really rather be able to walk across the parking lot, and second, leave them for those of us who do.

~ For more information on accessibility compliance and accommodation ~

*not intended as legal advice, building codes and accessibility regulations vary by region

Barriers to Access

A barrier to access is anything inhibiting or preventing a person with a disability from access, including obstacles that inhibit performance of the day-to-day activities such as shopping, transportation, attending school, or going to work.Persons with disabilities face numerous and substantial barriers affecting all aspects of life.

All of the following types of barriers can impede access to: education, employment, healthcare, housing, transportation, products and services, and recreation for persons with disabilities.

Not all barriers are visible or apparent, and lack of awareness is the cause of almost all barriers.


Architectural & Physical Barriers

Structural features of buildings or spaces that inhibit, or prevent, access for people with disabilities.

Examples: Blocked aisles, narrow doorways, lack of ramps

Information & Communications Barriers

Unclear and inaccessible information and communications can seriously hinder understanding and comprehension for persons with disabilities.

Examples: Signs that are not clear or easily understood, Information that is unclear or unavailable in a variety of accessible formats

Attitudinal Barriers

The most pervasive and prevalent barrier of all, misconceptions, myths and stereotypes regarding persons with disabilities result in discriminatory or condescending treatment of persons with disabilities and prevent persons with disabilities from fully participating in society.

Examples: Belief that people with disabilities are inferior or incapable, Belief that a person with a speech impediment also has an intellectual disability

Technology Barriers

Occur when a technology can’t be modified to support various assistive devices or requirements

Examples: A website un-supportive of screen-reading software, voice-mail or telephone systems requiring voice response or numeric keypad entry

Systemic Barriers

Organizational policies, procedures, and practices that discriminate and inhibit access to goods, services or employment for people with disabilities.

Example: Non-accessible hiring processes, off-site job required attendance at non-accessible locations

For more information visit

5 Steps to Accessibility

Step 1: Initial Consultation

· Obtain an understanding of accessibility obligations and identify requirements under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005 (AO.D.A.)

Step 2: A.O.D.A. Audit

· Identifies compliance requirements and existing barriers to access and help ensure compliance with regulations and obligations under the A.O.D.A.

Step 3: Compliance Program

· Establishes and implements Customer Service Policies and Procedures related to Assistive Devices, Service Animals, Support Persons, Communications, Temporary Service Disruption Notification, and Customer Service Feedback

· Provision of documents in accessible formats as required

· Creation and submission of Accessibility Plans and Reports

· Accessibility Compliance Manual

Step 4: Staff Training

· Staff training tailored to your business model in accordance with the staff training requirements set out in the A.O.D.A.

· Learn about the A.O.D.A. and accessibility and gain a better understanding of barriers to access facing persons with disabilities

· Learn to identify, adapt and accommodate persons with a variety of disabilities

· Learn tips for implementing accessible customer service policies & other compliance items

· Staff with accessibility awareness improves corporate perception, customer satisfaction, and consumer loyalty and is a significant factor in ensuring your business is accessible

Step 5: ACCESS Audit

· With the Built Environment Standard currently in the proposal phase, the physical structure of a building will soon be addressed under the A.O.D.A. ACCESS Audits identify and evaluate the accessibility of a building or environment to determine how needs of persons with disabilities are met and provide a detailed report describing every non-compliance, barrier or inconvenience along with an outline of adaptations, both required and suggested.

· With the A.O.D.A.’s aim of an accessible Ontario by 2025, businesses need to plan for accessibility implementation. Our ACCES Audits provide an analysis of the impact of accommodation on business including complete implementation costings.

· Our Design-Build services provide complete project management including all architectural, engineering and multi-trade services required for implementation of all accessibility projects.

~ For more information on accessibility compliance and accommodation ~

How “Not Cargo” became Roll a Mile

I basically got into the accessibility business out of necessity. First-hand experiences during a decade spent as caregiver to a spouse with a disability, followed by a decade as a person with a disability, often left me frustrated with inaccessibility and the numerous barriers ‘out there’. I also came to quickly realize that most of these barriers were simply a result of people not being aware. Awareness, understanding and adaptability go a long way towards accommodation and accessibility for all.

The turning point came during a two-week vacation to Vancouver to visit with my brother and his wife over Christmas 2006. The legislative process surrounding the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, related Bills and accessibility standard development, was underway, and my brother and I spent much of the visit discussing barriers to access and accessibility issues.

Waiting for a return flight home from Vancouver with my mother and son, the airline announced Pre-boarding (it is much easier to board and manouvre without too many others around). Immediately one of the flight-attendants walked over, grabbed the back of my wheelchair and began pushing me towards the gate. She didn’t say a word. She just walked over and began pushing me away from my elderly mother and minor son. Imagine for a moment, if you were standing waiting to board an airplane and someone came over and just began pushing you… that would probably never happen, and if it did, could be considered assault. You can’t just walk up to a person, lay your hands on them and begin pushing them. But the flight-attendant didn’t see me as a person, she simply saw the chair, as if I was simply cargo. I politely explained I would prefer to wheel myself and needed my companions with me and she went back to the gate to assist someone who both wanted and required it. It was the realization that she hadn’t done this out of malice, but simply a lack of awareness and understanding. Somehow, I had to make the world a little more aware.

I wrote the business concept for Roll a Mile on the flight home.

In keeping with this dedication to promoting an awareness of issues surrounding disability and accessibility compliance and training, I hope to blog about issues related to disabilities and all things accessible.

Accessibility – One Revolution at a Time