New Legislation Helps Improve Accessibility, Quality Of Life For Ontarians With Disabilities
If passed, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2004 would remove barriers and expand opportunities for Ontarians to learn, work and play to their fullest potential. It would replace the Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2001 and would make Ontario one of the world leaders in improving accessibility.
Its focus is on improving accessibility in areas such as buildings and spaces, employment, customer service, communications and transportation.
The Economics of Accessibility
According to Statistics Canada, there are approximately 1.5 million Ontarians with a disability -- or about 13 per cent of the population. By 2025, it's expected this number will increase to 20 per cent of the population -- or three million people.
Improving accessibility is essential to Ontario's economic growth.
A study published by the Conference Board of Canada in 2001 indicated that people with a disability in Canada have an estimated annual consumer spending power of $25 billion. Many Ontario businesses and organizations have recognized the economic benefits of becoming accessible and have developed their own plans to improve accessibility.
Beyond spending power, people with disabilities have skills and potential that can be developed to help build a stronger economy.
Improving access for people with disabilities will also generate significant new spending in important sectors like hospitality, retail and tourism.
Highlights of the Act
The scope of the proposed legislation would be much broader than the previous legislation. It would include the private sector for the first time, as well as government and the broader public sector. It would require demonstrated action, not just planning. It would also provide a clear vision with tangible standards to measure results.
The proposed act would include:
Mandatory standards -- Under the proposed act, people with disabilities, stakeholders and the provincial government would develop standards that could deal with the width of aisles in buildings, staff training in serving customers with disabilities, large print menus or adaptive technology in the workplace. These standards would also address the full range of disabilities and barriers including physical, mental, sensory, developmental and learning disabilities.
Timelines -- To ensure progress, mandatory standards and real results would be achieved every five years or less, moving towards an accessible Ontario in 20 years. The timelines would incorporate business and capital planning cycles to help manage the cost impacts.
Enforcement -- Efficient enforcement tools would ensure compliance among the estimated 350,000 public and private organizations affected by the proposed legislation. All organizations covered by the proposed act would be required to demonstrate their compliance by filing accessibility reports and making them public. The government would review the accessibility reports, conduct inspections and spot audits.
Incentives -- To encourage compliance, the minister could provide benefits like an exemption from filing and reporting to an organization that exceeded the minimum standards.