Breaking down barriers across Canada is the goal of the Rick Hansen Foundation who, with help from the Canadian Government, is providing grants to Barrier Buster projects across the country. Take a look at the guidelines and eligibility requirements, and get inspired by some sample projects on the foundation’s website.
Many travel companies, packages, hotels and airlines claim to be “accessible” which is often a blanket term for “we try”. After all, nothing can be fully “accessible” as each disability is different, requiring varying levels of accommodation.
Travelling with a disability can be difficult, but with thorough planning it can be a wonderful experience. Our free E-Book on Accessible Travel is full of helpful information, tips and checklists to help you plan, pack and prepare for a fantastic getaway.
If you are not familiar, with the AODA this is Ontario’s way of making the province accessible by addressing the following key areas so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in their communities: customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation, and design of public spaces. This a catch-all legislation aimed to create a culture of acceptance for people of all abilities.
Learn more about how Occupational Therapists can help to make your organization more accessible in the following infographic:
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
For years the CNE has allowed people with disabilities and their attendants free admission. Last year they announced that the policy would end for 2016 in that those with disabilities would be required to pay. Attendants would remain “free”.
Recently the Toronto Star published an article confirming the change in policy. The CNE explains that the new policy will: respect “the dignity and independence of all of our guests, including those with disabilities.” However, advocates note that people with disabilities can struggle to earn competitive wages which limits both resources and opportunities, and can result in social and community isolation. Those advocates give this change a “thumbs down”.
As an occupational therapist and business owner, I think the CNE has made a few mistakes in making this change, and in articulating it. Here’s why…
I love this comic sent to me by Occupational Therapist Jacquelyn Bonneville:
So, if equality is about “sameness” then the CNE has wrongly lumped the community of people with disabilities into the “equal” category. Yet, it is easy to understand that people with disabilities can have increased difficulties making competitive wages and can be marginalized and secluded based on reduced resources and opportunities for participation in many aspects of daily life. So, by the CNE saying that the policy respects “the dignity and independence of all our guests” they have wrongly lumped “all guests together” when not “all guests” are equal. The previous policy was more equitable in that it leveled the playing field in a sense by allowing a more “equitable” experience for people of different means.
Essentially, then, the human issue is that the CNE may now be financially excluding a community who needs leisure more than the average person. Literature supports leisure participation for all, but even more so for people that have reduced options to take on other commonly productive roles like paid work, volunteering, or even school or parenting. The previous policy was compassionate and fair, the new policy is not.
From a business perspective, the CNE made another mistake. They failed to make a logical argument for the change and opened themselves to greater scrutiny. If they wanted to change the policy because that was a sound business decision (like expenses could no longer support it, they were having a hard time administering the policy, there were privacy and disclosure issues for customers in asking for the free admission, or felt the policy only met the needs of physically disabled people and not people with more “invisible disabilities” etc), then that is different. In that case, the CNE should have simply said “we have reviewed the policy and while we understand and apologize for the impact this change may have on certain members of our community, our board felt it was in the best interest of the operations and sustainability of the CNE to no longer offer free admission for some customers”. Or something. Then, they could have used the announcement as an opportunity to advertise that they will continue to offer the $6 after 5pm fare on Monday to Thursday to keep it financially accessible to a wide range of consumers and that attendants of people with disabilities would remain free.
Of course, they could have been more creative in the first place by developing a “middle ground” policy similar to Hamilton’s Affordable Transit Pass (supports people receiving ODSP or Ontario Works), or could have progressed the policy for a year to “voluntary pay” for people with disabilities to recognize that some can afford it, and may want to pay like “everyone else” at entry.
So, knowing that my readership includes people with disabilities, if the CNE is no longer in the cards for you, or you feel the need to boycott because of the policy change, here are some other “disability friendly” places to consider:
· Check out all the places that are included in the Easter Seals Access2 Card including: The Royal Botanical Gardens, The AGO, The ROM, Ontario Science Center, Ripley’s Aquarium, The CN Tower, Great Wolf Lodge and more.
· The Toronto Zoo offers 50% off admission for people with disabilities.
· This resource includes other Toronto Attractions that offer a discount for disabled persons.
I am sure there are others, and if you might qualify for discounts or attendant admissions, consider contacting any park or location before you go to inquire. I hope that these links will provide my readers with disabilities, or their friends and families, a good start for summer exploring.
The Rick Hansen Foundation, in partnership with the Government of Canada, has launched a great way to celebrate Canada’s 150th Birthday– creating a Canada that has Access4All. Learn more about this awesome initiative below. Together we can make a difference!
There is a greater awareness in society that our buildings and spaces must be more accessible to all. In Ontario, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is ensuring that all businesses are accessible by 2025 in many ways, including design of public spaces.
Today we focus on the physical environment. This is where barrier free design comes into focus. What is barrier free design? It involves designing spaces, both public and private, to allow access for the greatest majority of people.
Some common barriers include:
- Uneven sidewalks
- Heavy doors
- Absence of handrails
In the following video from our OT-V series we discuss these obstacles and how occupational therapists promote accessibility, and assist individuals and businesses with creating a barrier free environment.
As the Uber debate rages on, it’s time to stop and think about a sometimes unaddressed transportation issue: accessibility. Ensuring that there’s equitable and accessible on-demand public transportation, via taxi and driver services, in every Ontario city is a vital need. Learn more in the following from Spinal Cord Injury Ontario.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
As an occupational therapist, business owner, and MBA, I can’t help but to reflect on the colossal legislation that is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA. If you are not familiar, the AODA is Ontario’s way of making the province accessible by 2025 by addressing the following key areas so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in their communities: customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation, and design of public spaces.
Here are some real examples of poor service that demonstrate why such a legislation is needed:
- A few months back I was taking an ailing relative to an appointment at a lawyer’s office. We arrived and the building was poorly marked. We tried a couple of entrances and walked around the building a few times. We finally found the entrance and were met with three flights of long and windy stairs. We climbed these slowly and when greeted by the lawyer he said “you should have told me stairs were a problem and I could have met you at home”. My response was “how could we have known that your office was on the third floor of a commercial building that lacked and elevator, and if a home visit was an option, this was never explained to us”. NOT AODA compliant.
- The other day I was at the bank waiting for an appointment. A patron with a cane ventured in and promptly tripped on the scatter rug that was not lying flat on the floor. Two staff quickly ran to her side and started reefing on her shoulders to get her back into standing. The teller told me that people trip on those mats “all the time”. NOT AODA compliant.
- Or, the story of a client of mine who uses a wheelchair and ventures into a large department store where a “greeter” puts a sticker on him that says “I am special”. NOT AODA compliant.
Would you, or the people of your organization, make these mistakes? Do you even know what the mistakes are? Does your organization know how to manage these situations better, with tact, and preventatively?
My business hat tells me that business owners will respond to the AODA in one of three ways: “it won’t happen to me”, “tick the box” or “this is important”.
It Won’t Happen to Me
These are the group of owners that will ignore the legislation and not fear the result. They won’t care about the impression they leave on people that may try to access their services but can’t. Or the people that may try to get into their building and can’t. Or the people that will try to use their website and can’t. They won’t concern themselves with the comments lost consumers may spread about how they felt or how unfortunate it was to encounter such correctable barriers. These owners feel confident in the fact that not being able to meet the needs of a disabled customer will not impact their reputation or bottom line. They sleep well and don’t concern themselves morally or ethically with the possible ill experience of one lost consumer who really just wanted to have equal access.
Tick the Box
These owners will review the legislation and will make sure they do the bare minimum. They will send someone from HR, or one employee, to a one hour seminar on how to provide service to people with disabilities and that person will return and teach the rest of the team. They will “tick the box” that they did some AODA customer service training and will hope that this is enough. These owners do care about potential customers with disabilities and recognize that while 15% of people in Ontario have a disability, even more are caregivers, parents of a disabled child, or that the demographic shift with the aging population will make AODA even more important. While they care, they don’t care enough to actually ensure they get it right. They feel the bare minimum will be better than nothing, and will hope that their staff at the least don’t upset or hurt someone that may try to access their building, or their services.
This is Important
This is the group of concerned owners that want to hit the nail on the head. They don’t believe in doing the bare minimum because they are interested in providing amazing service to all customers. These owners are forward thinkers that recognize the growing number of disabled consumers, and see how the ripple effect from one person’s great experience can transfer to a story told to many. These owners want to have caring and compassionate staff that are comfortable helping a visually impaired client sign forms, or a client with a hearing impairment to get information over the phone. They embrace everyone that enters their building and know how to offer great service without saying the wrong thing or without the fear of coming across as condescending or ignorant.
I guess what box you fit into will ultimately depend on your:
1. Risk tolerance – can you tolerate a bad reputation, poor social media reviews or comments, or the threat of being sued over failure to comply?
2. Values – do you care about people with disabilities and the experience they get from your organization? Do you value being seen as caring, compassionate, and accommodating?
3. Resources – do you have the time, interest or resources to invest in thorough and proactive solutions? Will you take the time to explore the options and to provide your team with the most practical and useful training?
4. Goals – is one of your goals to provide exceptional service to all? Do you see a customer as a customer, all having equal value and an equal opportunity to not only benefit from your service, but to also benefit your bottom line? If your goal is business success then the AODA is nothing to ignore.
Let me demystify how my examples earlier could have been handled better:
- When we called the lawyer to book our appointment, his receptionist could have simply indicated “please be aware that we have three flights of stairs to our office and the building is not equipped with an elevator. If that may pose a challenge for you or your relative, please be aware that we can also meet you at home”.
- When the lady fell at the bank, the staff could have asked “do you need us to call 911 for help, are you okay to try and stand, or how can we help you”? Then, before lifting her by the arms they should have asked “how can we best help you back into standing, will holding your arms to help you rise be okay for you”?
- The “greeter” at the department store could have simply greeted my client in the wheelchair to say “I hope our store is easy for you to manage and that you can access all the things you are looking for. If you need any assistance, or would like to consider using one of our scooters, I am here to help”.
What kind of owner are you?
Have you ever been in that uncomfortable place of wondering what to say to someone with a disability? That cognitive and emotional process of wanting to offer support, but not wanting to offend? Or worrying about offending by offering support? Or worrying about offending by not offering support? It can be a conundrum. Check out the following from SCI Ontario that discusses disability word choices. And take a look at our previous post: “Mind Your Mouth—The Language of Disability” for even more tips.
Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)
One of my former clients was a teenager when he broke his neck falling out of a truck. As a result, he was required to use a wheelchair for all mobility. One day I arrived and he was wearing a t-shirt that said “I am in it for the parking”.
We are all aware of handicap parking spots. These wider spots are conveniently located at the front of a parking lot, near an entrance to the building, close to a sidewalk with a curb cut, and are typically marked with bright yellow and blue paint or a sign reminding you the spot has special use.
In the news this week I read two very different stories about these parking spaces:
The first was about a woman who parked in a handicap spot to enter Tim Horton’s. When she returned to her vehicle she was confronted by a man about her choice of parking spot. In the altercation she threw her coffee at him. He recorded the interaction and posted the video online and it went viral – over a million views in a few days. See the full story here.
The second describes the challenges a young woman frequently faces when using her handicap permit. Recently she returned to her vehicle to find a note saying “stupidity is not a disability” and has had other similar messages left on her car in the past. Yet in her case she has a condition that justifies her use of the pass, but the condition is not one that other people can see and thus understand. See the full story here.
As an occupational therapist that is frequently requested to complete Accessible Parking Permit Applications, let me explain how this works. To receive a permit, you must complete a Service Ontario application and this needs to be signed by a physician, occupational therapist, nurse, physiotherapist, chiropractor or chiropodist. The form outlines the types of disabilities that qualify including those that cause mobility, breathing or cardiac impairments, or poor vision. As some people with significant ailments like these can’t drive, they can still get a permit to be used as a “passenger”. The professional signing the form is asked to indicate if the condition is “permanent”, “subject to change” or “temporary”. This allows professionals to indicate that someone with a leg fracture, for example, may only need the pass for three months, or that is it “subject to change” if they have a condition that is likely to improve. If you are curious about this form, and how it works, you can access it here.
So what happens when you don’t have a permit and you park in a handicap spot? First of all, in the absence of an urgent situation, you are a jerk. If caught, the fine is steep at $450.00. In one article, The Toronto Star reported that the City had issued over 5,000 tickets since 2005 for one particular handicapped spot, totalling $1.9M. Second, you may be subject to comments, ridicule or confrontation by others who judge you harshly for what most would consider an ignorant decision. Third, you have just made life a little bit harder for someone that could use a break. These spots are designed to reduce the physical risk of prolonged walking for people that might not be able to walk far, that might struggle to manage a wheelchair or walker over uneven terrain or a curb, or for those that are at risk of injury or falls when walking outdoors. For people that struggle to leave the house and have difficulty managing in the community, being able to park close to a store may mean the difference between going out or not. Your ignorance may reduce their confidence to venture out again. Shame on you.
And what about the opposite? What happens when you judge and ridicule someone that has a permit when you, apparently an expert in disability, feels that this is not required? You are still being a jerk. Not only are you making someone who already struggles to feel worse about their condition, but you are also passing judgement on the process that is in place to qualify people, including the professional that decided they met the criteria in the first place. While I can appreciate that some people may feel they are being helpful to “police” these spots, it is important to trust the process and to respect that people may have these permits for reasons that are unseen. Instead of taking your time to write a degrading note, perhaps consider two other options:
1. Say nothing, do nothing, and don’t react emotionally. The situation is none of your business. If they stole their grandmother’s parking permit to try and skirt the drive-thru, well Karma is a bitch.
2. Have compassion. If someone went through the process of getting a pass, then they need it and have struggles that you don’t understand.
Have I ever turned down an application for a parking pass? Yes, because someone didn’t qualify. I trust my colleagues also do the same. And no, my experience is that people with mobility, vision, breathing or heart problems are not “in it for the parking”.