Tag Archive for: Accessibility


The A to Z of OT: U is For… Universal Design

Universal design is defined as, “the design of buildings, products or environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability or other factors.”  One major factor in achieving universal design is to create buildings and environments that are “barrier-free” and physically accessible for all.  Occupational Therapists work with businesses and individuals to help design spaces, both public and private, that allow access for the greatest majority of people.  Learn more in our post, A Practical Guide to Barrier Free Design.


October is Occupational Therapy Month and to celebrate we will be sharing a new series called the A to Z of OT.  In our attempts to further educate the public about what Occupational Therapists do we will be highlighting twenty-six of the awesome ways OTs provide Solutions for Living.  

We encourage you to follow along and to add to the discussion by highlighting other awesome things OTs help with for each corresponding letter!


Being an Advocate – Prompting Change as an OT

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

As Occupational Therapists, we spend a significant amount of time with people in their homes and in the community.  In this role, we witness daily injustices, challenges or problems that our clients unnecessarily or unfortunately experience due to vendors, landlords, or business owners / operators failing to understand, care, or address the needs of people with disabilities. 

Recently, a student I was supervising on placement experienced an accessibility challenge with a client as they attended a local coffee shop.  We blogged about this in our post, Accessibility Issues in Our Daily Lives.  As her mentor, I discussed with her the need to advocate for change and to send the owner a letter about the problems that client experienced.

That situation made me reflect on my history of advocacy as a person and an OT.  I remember as a teen writing a letter to a restaurant who would not book us a reservation on the “main floor” such that my two disabled grandparents could attend my birthday dinner.  As a young adult, I wrote a letter to an Alaskan cruise line about the challenges my grandfather experienced using his scooter around the boat and on the gangways.   Then I became an OT and the advocacy continued.  I have written, and continue to write, letters to equipment vendors, drug and department stores, public and private places, major banks, landlords, the CCAC, and fast food restaurants.  Sometimes my letters are specific and highlight an “incident”, while others speak more to general accessibility or service problems.  My advocacy initiatives even resulted in me building a training program aimed at helping the “average Joe” best service people with disabilities.  I personally feel that advocacy is how I will make my mark on the world, regardless of how small, with the hope of leaving this world in better shape than how I found it.

For this blog, I wanted to take the spirit of advocacy further, and to embrace our human responsibility to try and be catalysts of social, environmental and institutional change, by sharing a guide of sorts that could be used by other therapists, clients, caregivers or really anyone who wants or needs to bring an issue to someone’s attention.  Give this a try and keep us posted on your outcomes:


Name of Person / Establishment


Dear Representative/Manager/Person:

I am X.  On DATE (I, my family member, client etc) experienced the following problems (when accessing your establishment, using your services, interacting with your staff, etc):

In bullet or paragraph format, list the problems you had.  Be factual, truthful and professional.  Avoid judgement, anger or threats as these will not result in change.

Provide some input on how you feel the problems you had might be impacting their service, business, etc.  Try to hit home with how the issues you experienced will turn people away, or jeopardize their reputation. 

Next, explain what you feel the solutions are or how it can be better for you next time. Help them to know what to do.  You don’t have to be prescriptive or specific, but maybe they need to consider some building modifications, better trained staff, to understand disability codes or acts, an easier to navigate website, consultation with someone who can develop solutions with them etc.  This is where you can really try to be helpful.

End the letter by thanking them for considering your feedback and provide your contact information.  Be prepared to have a discussion with them about it.  Some might ignore your letter, but I hope most will not.  Either way, if your letter stays friendly and is perceived as helpful, they may want to thank you for your time or seek more input.

Of course, add a final sign off like “sincerely” and your name.

I hope this format / suggestion will be helpful as you venture forward and try to educate, share and advocate for the change you hope to see in the world.


Accessibility Issues in Our Daily Lives

Guest Blogger: Carolyn Rocca, Occupational Therapist

As I stroll into my favourite coffee shop to start my morning, I am reminded that this is a part of my day that I take for granted. Particularly, I am reminded of an observed experience that I encountered with a client who had a personal goal around using his walker to go into his favourite local coffee shop, something he had not been able to do since his brain injury.

After weeks of working up to this goal, it was finally time to assess his mobility in the community. As soon as we arrived at the coffee shop’s parking lot I could tell that this was going to be much more challenging than I had anticipated, as it quickly became apparent that there were several accessibility issues we would need to navigate.

Although the accessible parking spots provided us enough room to safely transfer out of the vehicle, and the ramp onto the side walk was graded appropriately, once up on the sidewalk, the client could sense a shallow slant in the pavement causing him to panic as he felt he was going to fall over. What became even more challenging was that there were no automatic doors at either entrance, and that the front entrance had a tightly-spaced vestibule with two sequential, single-passageway doors. On top of all of these challenges, there was about a 2-inch difference in the threshold of the door meaning the client had to lift his walker while already feeling nervous about the slanted pavement. Ultimately, the inaccessible nature of this establishment meant that it took over four people to safely get the client into the coffee shop, which not only increased his nervousness but also completely decreased his level of independence.

Although this experience was largely a success and the client was incredibly proud of what he had accomplished, it also brought to light some issues in our society. It was shocking that a well-established company (who shall remain nameless) had not yet invested in making all of their franchises accessible.

According to the updated accessibility requirements of the Ontario Building Code, buildings are required to have a barrier-free path of travel by having powered door operators at their entrances, meeting minimum requirements for doorway widths and ramp dimensions, and having adequate turning space (Ministry of Municipal Affairs, 2015). The unfortunate part is that these requirements do not affect existing buildings, and are only applied to newly constructed buildings or those undergoing extensive renovations.

What this means is that the current level of accessibility of this coffee shop will not be improved until this franchise decides to undergo major renovations. As a result, this franchise is not only impacting those who use gait aids or wheelchairs, it is also impacting individuals who have mobility challenges, low vision, and parents with strollers, to simply name a few. Additionally, according to the Royal Bank of Canada, people with disabilities have an estimated spending power of about $25 billion annually across Canada (Accessibility Ontario, 2017), meaning this franchise is also losing valuable business from a population who happens to love their coffee.

In being reminded of this experience, it also brings to light the impact that the profession of occupational therapy can have in terms of advocating for their clients needs and promoting equal access for all. Occupational Therapists (OTs) have a unique skill set in terms of assessing the needs of individuals, and identifying barriers in their environments that prevent their access or ability to engage in occupations that are important to them, such as grabbing a coffee. OTs teach people how to be proactive in their own lives, but bigger than this, also have the ability to communicate their clients’ / societies needs to others, and to offer solutions to barriers by involving appropriate stakeholders.

As such, I have written a letter to the coffee shop to bring awareness and attention to the challenges my client experienced while at their establishment. Moreover, in the future, I plan to examine buildings and public spaces beforehand to make sure I am helping my clients to be familiar with, and access, places that have the appropriate supports in place to maximize their level of safety and independence.  In doing so, I will increase my clients’ future independence as they venture out without me, while also supporting businesses that have dedicated their time, effort, and resources to creating welcoming and barrier-free environments.



Accessibility Ontario (2017). About the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). Retrieved from

Ministry of Municipal Affairs (2015). Overview of updated accessibility requirements. Retrieved from


Vacation Plans? Consult our Accessible Travel Guide

Are you travelling this summer?   Be prepared with our guide to travelling with a disability.

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.

Solutions for Living:  Accessible Travel E-Book

Also check out our OT-V episode:  Travelling with a Disability for more tips for planning a memorable vacation.



Accessible Travel 101

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.

Solutions for Living:  Accessible Travel E-Book


What is The AODA?

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:


The CNE Disability Policy Change – What the CNE Did Wrong

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.

·        Canada’s Wonderland also has disability-friendly policies, contact them directly for discount information.

·        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!

Rick Hansen Foundation:   Celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday by giving the gift of accessibility!



A Practical Guide to Barrier Free Design

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:

  •  Curbs
  •  Uneven sidewalks
  •  Stairs
  •  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.