UPDATED: MINISTER’S RESPONSE
September 10, 2012
The Honourable John Milloy, Minister
Ministry of Community & Social Services
6th Floor, Hepburn Block
80 Grosvenor Street
Re: Endorsement of Accessibility Firms
Dear Honourable Minister:
As the Minister in charge of the Ministry overseeing the AODA, I am writing to address the warning on your Ministry’s website advising that the Ministry does not endorse accessibility firms, and in fact warns using such firms “at your own risk”.
Interestingly, it was only this week that the Financial Post featured an article on the World Economic Forum’s annual report which “ranks a country’s competitiveness according to factors such as the state of its infrastructure and its ability to foster innovation” and said “Canada’s economic competitiveness on the world stage is being pulled down by — among other things — government handling of the innovation file”. The non-support of your Ministry of an innovative industry, and an industry that supports and implements your accessibility regulations, is a perfect example of how, “too often, Canada fails to commercialize its good ideas into marketable products and services or capture the value from growth” as the article outlines.
In “Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Improved Accessibility in Ontario”, The Martin Prosperity Institute (MPI) & Adaptive Technology Resource Centre (ARTC) at OCAD University & The Institute for Competitiveness & Prosperity (ICP) report that the improved educational attainment, workforce participation and societal access combined with the curb-cut effect and reduction on reliance of social programs, community and family resources that result from the implementation of accessibility leads to more innovative, productive and healthier societies.
With inclusion and diversity driving growth, and the combined purchasing power of persons desiring accessible products and services estimated at $2 trillion dollars, the increase in spending in the next five years in the Tourism Sector projected to increase up to $1.5 million dollars and Consumer Retail Sector up to $9.6 billion dollars, the assistance of accessibility firms that improve accessibility seems like a positive thing to be encouraged, not publicly discouraged.
Accessibility firms, in addition to having extensive experience implementing accessibility programs and having expansive knowledge of the A.O.D.A., its Standards and compliance requirements as well as Federal and Provincial Building Codes, accessibility firms know accessibility. And we don’t just advise on legislated accessibility, we focus on actual accessibility. No legislation is ever going to advise big box stores to wash the wheel handrails on their courtesy wheelchairs, but such small, cost-effective solutions demonstrate the difference between legislated and actual accessibility.
We train staff and businesses to provide adaptive, accommodating service to all customers. We modify website layouts and programming to ensure they are accessible and compatible with assisstive technologies. We go ‘Beyond the Building Code’ and explain the rationale behind the regulations, providing practical strategies and solutions for accommodation. We improve accessibility by increasing awareness with informative seminars, speaking engagements, training sessions, workshops, and marketing and publicity efforts to explain obligations and compliance requirements. In addition, as a fledgling industry, we also have to spread awareness and demonstrate the need for, and benefits of, accessibility. Since most barriers to access exist simply as a result of lack of awareness, accessibility awareness is key to accessibility and can greatly improve understanding and accommodation.
And accessibility firms are comprised of teams including: professional trainers; architects, engineers and designers; disability specialists, project managers, technical specialists, and persons with disabilities. Certainly there may be a few bad apples in the bunch, and businesses can implement the AODA without assistance, however many businesses recognize the opportunities and benefits of accessibility and choose to hire accessibility professionals with practical experience to advise them and help ensure their business is accessible to everyone.
We are not looking to exploit the law and make a quick buck, we are just looking to make Ontario accessible for all. We are also employees with disabilities looking to earn a living at an accommodating, adaptable career in accessibility that highlights our unique skill-sets, and quite frankly, feel it is unfair of the overseeing government body to try and limit the ability of it’s citizens, particularly those with disabilities, from the ability to earn a living.
Accessibility firms aren’t actually expecting your endorsement, but does any other government website warn against a person, product, business or industry sector? Perhaps it is time to read up on Human and Charter Rights. It should also be noted that while your Ministry does not endorse private accessibility firms, it does endorse Accessibility Works, an arm of the government entity Industry Canada. In addition, many Human Resources firms are also assisting businesses to implement accessibility, yet you do not warn against these, or any other firms on your site. Rather than supporting private accessibility firms advocating for, and assisting with making Ontario accessible to all, firms that employ and improve conditions for persons with disabilities, you specifically discourage businesses from using such firms.
The possibilities and opportunities accessibility and inclusion provide are immeasurable and benefit everyone, not just persons with disabilities. Accessibility addresses the core principles of independence, dignity, integration, and equality of opportunity so encouraging and enabling participation and integration for all citizens in all aspects of society including employment, consumerism, and recreation, accessibility is becoming increasingly important as our population ages. For businesses, accessibility expands the reach of their product or service to the entire market resulting in improved and repeat sales while improving corporate perception, customer satisfaction and consumer loyalty. Accessibility firms are working to achieve all of this for Ontario.
And while accessibility firms recognize and appreciate the benefits of the AODA and any efforts the Ministry makes in increasing awareness and improving accessibility, we also understand that the true accessibility involves more than just the implementation of your regulations. Under the regulations currently required, businesses have to provide accessible customer service. Quite frankly, accessible customer service doesn’t help those of us still stuck in the parking lot and lip-service doesn’t get us in the door.
So it’s okay that your Ministry doesn’t endorse accessibility firms, because here at Roll a Mile, we endorse ourselves. We pride ourselves on the fact that in addition to our professional designations, all of our consultants and accessibility professionals have first-hand knowledge of disabilities providing a unique ability to advise clients on barriers to access, adaptation, accommodation and accessibility from a unique perspective. In the words of one of our consultants, “You have to live it to know it”, and this unique perspective is incorporated into all of our accessibility efforts. And really, who better to advise on accessibility than those who encounter barriers to access on a daily basis?
At Roll a Mile, we don’t need government endorsement, we have our PwD’s.
Donna M. Jack
President, Roll a Mile
Accessibility ~ That’s how we roll
UPDATED: MINISTER’S RESPONSE