Better service for disabled key goal of new policy

TheStar.com – news/canada/politics
Published On Sun Dec 04 2011.   Raveena Aulakh, Staff reporter

Businesses in Ontario will soon be required to provide better customer service to those with disabilities as the province rolls out a much-anticipated new policy.

“It’s a first step, a very positive step and it will help business just as much,” said John Milloy, the Minister of Community and Social Services in an interview on Sunday.

Under the new standards, it will be mandatory as of Jan. 1, 2012, for all businesses to have a plan to train employees to provide services to those with disabilities.

The accessibility standard for customer service is part of the Integrated Accessibility Standards Regulation under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, and applies to all organizations in the province that provide services and have one or more employees.

The core goal of the AODA, created in 2005, is to make the entire province accessible to the disabled by 2025.

Accessible customer service is not just about building ramps or installing automatic door openers, said Milloy. “It’s about making small changes to help make life easier for those with disabilities.”

For example:

Accommodating a customer’s service dog.

Writing answers to questions for someone who is deaf.

Using simple language and speaking slowly and in short sentences when helping someone with a developmental disability.

Accommodating those who accompany someone with a disability.

For businesses with fewer than 20 employees, it means creating a plan and training staff, while for larger organizations, it means also informing the ministry how the plan is being implemented.

The standard is a step in the right direction and a long time coming, said David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a disability consumer advocacy group that works to support the full and effective implementation of accessibility standards in Ontario.

“It doesn’t have as much detail as we would have liked but it takes (time for) organizations to tune their minds as to what they can do,” he said.

Making changes in how they deal with those with disabilities makes good business sense, Lepofsky pointed out. “Everyone eventually gets a disability. So good service for those with disabilities is ultimately good for everyone.”

One in seven Ontarians face barriers to accessing jobs, goods, services, education and community and social activities but that will increase to one in five within 20 years, says the ministry.

“Most businesses will want to find the best way to accommodate individuals who have disabilities and will have a plan in place,” said Milloy. “Providing accessible customer service is easy to do and means our businesses can attract the spending power of more customers.”

The new standard doesn’t mean businesses have to turn everything upside down, he added. “The idea is to be do things differently to accommodate. It’s about changing the culture a bit,”

But the standard is mandatory and while fines will be as last resort, they will be imposed.

Fines range from $200 as an administrative penalty to as much as $50,000 to $100,000 a day.

The four other components under Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act are transportation, information and communication, employment and environment construction. These have to be implemented by 2025.

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