First Reference Talks: July blog

AODA: Why do I have to notify the public when there is a  disruption of services?

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, July 27th, 2011 at 09:00

 

thumbsupIn Ontario, under the Accessibility Standards  for Customer Service, as of January 1, 2012, organizations are required  to publicly notify customers of temporary disruptions of services or facilities  or if they are expected to be temporarily unavailable in the near future,  including the steps to take to access alternative methods.  This includes  planned as well as unplanned service disruptions. Any disruption of services or  facilities that people with disabilities need to access your products or  services requires proper notification. You will provide a description of  alternative facilities or services if they are available. This notice is  important to people with disabilities because they often go to a lot of trouble  to access your goods or services. For example, they may book accessible transit,  or arrange for someone to drive them.

First you want to identify the services you offer that people with  disabilities rely on. Examples of services people with disabilities rely on are  elevators and escalators. Notification must include reasons for the disruption  and the estimated duration. You will provide a description of alternative  facilities or services if they are available. Notice may be provided in easily  seen places on the organization’s premises, on a website if any, or by any  reasonable method. When posting your notice on the premises choose places that  rapidly provide information to the public.

One area you might not have considered is an accessible washroom or any  washroom. If you provide this amenity and customers rely on it, include this on  the list of things that require notification when disrupted. Feel free to take  this policy and extend it to benefit the general population. The notifications  you will post in an appropriate public place should not target people with  disabilities. You would just use words like Dear guest, patron, customer, etc.  Perhaps a notification for the general bathroom will also please all your  customers. Anyone who counts on this amenity can attest to the fact that a  disruption can be a huge inconvenience.

A best practice is to prepare the templates in advance and decide where you  want to post the notification. You may want specific templates prepared for  chronic problems or anything with a regular scheduled maintenance shutdown.  Allocate the responsibility to specific staff or departments and let them know  the notification has to answer all of these questions:

  • What is the reason for the disruption?
  • How long do you anticipate the disruption will last?
  • What alternative facilities, if any, are available?

If the disruption means the customer cannot access your services, you may  also inform them on your website, if you have one, and perhaps on the telephone.  Some organizations may decide to post the disruption notice on the pole by the  parking spots for people with disabilities. This tells a person with a  disability not to bother disembarking and proceed to find what they need  elsewhere. Do what you reasonably can to provide information that can reach your  customer as efficiently as possible.

Since you are obliged to provide a reason for the disruption you may want to  train staff to use specific words that do not cause alarm or provide unnecessary  visual details. Some reasons may just be regular maintenance or upgrades causing  a temporary disruption of service. Sometimes the problem is so simple you may  want to use words like “a broken pipe”.

Allocating responsibilities

Example: A staff person discovers a disruption and informs the staff person  in charge of calling maintenance. The second staff person is in charge of  placing the notice signs in conspicuous (public) places and informing the  persons in charge of websites and the main telephone switchboard about the  service disruption. The person at the switchboard may be taught to include a  message about the disruption on the automated telephone customer service system.  If you are aware the customer cannot gain access to your facilities, and you  expect the disruption to last a long time, you will want other methods to  continue to provide customer service. Prepare staff to offer alternatives and be  creative to keep customers satisfied.

Make your policy and procedures clear to everyone

Example: The only elevator to reach your organization is under repair for the  expected duration of three days. You post the notice of disruption of service on  your website, post a sign at the site of the disruption and post a notice at the  entrances. You offer a different method to reach the customer. You may offer  appointments to meet the customer at a mutually agreeable and accessible  location.

If you are an organization obligated to keep documentation, you will:

  • Record who is responsible for what action
  • Decide what level of detail about your organization you want to provide the  public and government
  • State in your policy that you will provide a notice of disruption of  services, and include the legal obligations
  • Decide if you want to include the departments responsible for providing  notification; you may not want to provide a specific name of a person  responsible, but you may want to include the title of the person or the  department in charge

Assess all the assistive devices and services you provide people with  disabilities and come up with a plausible case scenario in the event there is a  disruption of service. You know your minimum legal obligations and what work  needs to be done.

You may choose to provide more detail, for example, so when a disruption  occurs, the customer with a disability is aware you have a telephone sales  system or you are offering to meet the person with their order in another  location. You may want to communicate in your public policy what your general  alternatives are, to inform people with disabilities, reduce the number of  questions on simple topics and advance your customer service. If you are an  obligated organization with 20 or more employees, make legal documentation  requirements work in your favour to increase your effectiveness.

What if all of your services are disrupted?

Generally, disruptions to all of your services, such as during a power outage  or during a labour dispute, do not require this special notice. However, if the  disruption has a significant impact on people with disabilities, you should  provide notice of the disruption of service.

Why is this regulation just for people with  disabilities?

People with disabilities need this information in order to proceed with their  daily plans and change them when necessary. On the other hand, this is just good  customer service that really benefits everyone. Your clients will likely  appreciate the additional information. A parent with a baby carriage or anyone  using a cart benefits when they are informed the elevator or escalator is not  functioning. A person with a baby carriage or a few children has become used to  using the accessible washroom that often has a dual purpose of acting as a  family room. There are so many benefits everyone enjoys now because of laws  originally intended to aid people with disabilities. Thumbs up on the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, a great way  to say people with disabilities need something in order to have equal access,  when in reality we all benefit.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services o/b 623921  Ont. Ltd.

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June article: A global topic with some laws in Ontario – written for First Reference Inc.

Service animals and people with disabilities – AODA best practices

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Image: www.accessiblecustomerservicetraining.comImage: http://www.accessiblecustomer servicetraining.com

In Ontario there is a regulation called the Accessibility Standard for Customer Service. One of the requirements of this regulation is that persons with disabilities are allowed to enter your organization’s public premises with a service animal. A person should be able to remain with the animal unless otherwise excluded by law. If the animal is excluded by law, you must have another measure available to enable the person to obtain, use or benefit from your organization’s goods or services. Note, a service animal is not a pet; he or she is a working animal and must not be excluded under your no-pets policy.

Service animals are used by people with many different kinds of disabilities. Examples of service animals include dogs used by people who are Blind, hearing alert animals for people who are Deaf, deafened or hard of hearing, and animals trained to alert an individual to an oncoming seizure and lead them to safety. Believe it or not, you might see a bird, cat or other trained animals. These animals provide services to individuals helping them function with greater self-sufficiency; prevent injuries; and summon help in a crisis.

A service animal is specially trained to assist an individual with disabilities. If you can identify that the service animal is used by a person with a disability for reasons relating to a disability, in Ontario, the person cannot be asked to prove the animal is working. If it is not readily apparent that the animal is a service animal, then the Ontario regulation states that a letter may be requested from a physician or nurse practitioner confirming that the person requires the animal for reasons relating to a disability. Under no circumstances is the service provider allowed to ask about the nature of the disability.

Note that doctors and nurse practitioners do not use standardized letterhead, and you might have difficulty confirming a letter is real. Please note that people with disabilities may not be aware of the need for the letter. You may want to allow the person to enter your premises with a polite request to bring a letter the next time. In any case, the animal must be trained and under control of the person with a disability.

If there are any areas of your premises that are open to the public where animals are excluded by law they should be identified. You will need a solution so you have other measures to provide service to the person with a disability. You can decide to have your transactions take place in a separate area. You may provide a secure area to leave the animal, if the customer is comfortable doing so. In the latter case, you will have to provide support for the person who requires assistance.

Other situations may arise where there are health and safety reasons of another person by the presence of a service animal on premises open to the public, such as people with allergies to animals. Some of the options to consider may be creating distance between two individuals, eliminating in-person contact, changing the time the two receive service, and any other measures that would allow the person to use their service animal on the premises. The organization must consider all relevant factors and options in trying to find a solution that meets the needs of both individuals.

Customers might bring their household pet with the knowledge that it is difficult for you to identify a service animal. You should acknowledge this possibility in your policy. You may decide to allow on your premises any animal that is well-behaved. A detailed policy, practice and procedure will provide these rules and remedies. Below are some questions to consider when preparing your protocols:

  1. If staff cannot recognize the animal as working, do you want them to ask for a letter? Do you want to offer one visit with grace if the letter is not produced?
  2. Do you want to allow people to enter with an animal and presume they are service animals?
  3. Where an animal is excluded by law from your premises, you must still take steps to make sure that you can provide your goods or services to the person with a disability.
  4. Think of examples where conflict might occur between customers and staff who have different disabilities. Use examples in your training to help staff respond and serve customers appropriately.

Take the time necessary to make quality decisions on this topic. For international readers, your country may already have a similar law. In the global endeavour to remove barriers for people with disabilities, numerous other countries are moving forward with a comparable approach.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services
o/b 623921 Ont. Ltd.

Read more: http://blog.firstreference.com/2011/06/22/service-animals-and-people-with-disabilities-%e2%80%93-best-practices/#ixzz1Q33I37f5

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Increase Your Audience by being Accessible – Access to Digital Content

 

Attention Arts organizations – the information contained here may prove invaluable. Access (SCS) Consulting Services can help you solve your accessibility needs and increase your patronage.

 

Arts organizations have long been struggling financially; this in part has to do with cuts to arts funding and in part due to declining audiences. Making your venue accessible for people with disabilities, seniors, friends and family can increase your profitability.

 

People with disabilities make up 15.5% of the population, which is a significant number when you consider audience development.  Providing access to digital content, making exhibits and performances accessible could help to capture this market. People with disabilities, seniors and their companions have money to spend and want to enjoy the arts.

 

While Arts organizations are slowly beginning to make an effort to make events accessible with audio description, closed captioning and ASL, they consistently disregard one very important aspect of making their events fully accessible: access to digital content.  Potential patrons may not be able to interact with content on websites, PDF documents, forms, ticketing information, videos and other content.  As a result, your organization may not be attracting a large segment of the population that can make your events more profitable. These barriers need to be addressed if change is to happen.

 

The goal here is to make the arts accessible to all people – a goal that needs to be adopted both in the material universe as well as in policy-making circles. We must ensure that all people, artists and patrons, have the ability to participate in the arts with ease and dignity. This is a win/win situation for everyone!

 

What Is Digital Content?

Digital content is any information that is published or distributed in digital form, including; text, data, sound recordings, photographs and images, motion pictures and software.

What Needs To Be Made Accessible?

  • Web Design and Usability (including online ticketing)
  • Text and data
  • photographs, images
  • Audio/Video
  • PDF (including documents, applications and facility rental forms)
  • Word and PowerPoint documents
  • Events and Performances

 

As more information is transferred electronically, making digital content accessible becomes a social responsibility, especially if the content is meant for the public.

 

Making digital content accessible is neither a difficult nor an expensive task. Most common software applications like Adobe PDF maker and Microsoft Office have built-in tools for making documents accessible.

 

While providing accessibility benefits people with disabilities who are deemed a large minority group, it should not be forgotten that these same features are useful for seniors, people who have low internet bandwidth, and individuals accessing content through mobile devices. Making digital content simple to interact with is a priority when attracting a wide audience.

 

The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) outlines the following four basic principles in making websites accessible:

 

Perceivable — Information and user interface components must be presentable to users such that they can perceive the presented information, i.e. it can’t be invisible to all their senses.

 

Operable — Users must be able to operate interface components and navigate. The interface cannot require interaction that a user cannot perform.

 

Understandable— Users must be able to understand the information as well as the operation of the user interface.

 

Robust— Content must be robust enough that it can be interpreted reliably by a wide variety of user agents, including assistive technologies. Users must be able to access the content even as technologies advance.

 

ACCESS (SCS) CONSULTING SERVICES

What makes Access (SCS) Consulting Services Different?

We engage experienced arts practitioners with disabilities who understand the industry as well as accessibility compliance standards.

Website Audits

Ensure that your website is accessible. We can provide:

 

  • Evaluation of your site using WCAG 2.0 and W3C guidelines,U.S.section 508 of the rehabilitation act and AODA legislation
  • Explanation of what and where the problems are, including a ranking of priorities and specific instruction on what needs to be done to address each issue
  • Overall best practices, recommendations
  • A usability section provided by both screen magnifier and screen reader users

Document Conversion

  • Convert your documents into an accessible format that works with adaptive technologies.
  • Adapting document styles and formats in Word, PowerPoint and other formats
  • Creating accessible PDFs from documents in Word, PowerPoint and other formats
  • Modifying your existing PDFs with accessibility tags and alternative text for images
  • Converting your existing PDFs into other formats such as accessible HTML, Word and PowerPoint

Special Workshops and Seminars

  • Accessibility training
  • Accessible web design to reach a wider audience
  • Document Accessibility
  • Performance and Event accessibility:
    • Audio Description
    • Captions
    • TouchTours
    • ASL 

 

 

Leave the Accessibility to Us!

Need help making digital content accessible?  Contact Access (SCS) Consulting Services to try our NEW website design and PDF document conversion services. Our new associate, Wanda Fitzgerald, is an expert accessibility and digital content consultant with more than 15 years experience. We make existing documents, forms or other digital content accessible.  Our prices will make you smile. Our expert services will make you accessible! See www.access-scs-consulting.com or call 416-561-7942.

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AODA: Inappropriate words can bite – the customer service standard

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, May 25th, 2011 at 09:30

crocodile-biteThe Accessibility Standard for Customer Service Regulation obligates Ontario businesses and their employees to communicate with persons with disabilities in a manner that takes into account the person’s disability. Employers must train employees to interact and communicate with people that have various types of disabilities. Training should also cover appropriate terminology.

When I returned to university, the topic of disability and accessibility terminology and use of words was frustrating. I learned about the social model of disability and the medical model of disability. The medical model of disability has crept into the psyche of society so that many of us often refer to a person by their disability or disease as opposed to their name and positive attributes. This medical model of describing people has led to unnecessary discrimination and stigmatization.

People with disabilities are not alone in wanting terminology to convey their positive abilities as human beings, rather than the negative language of their conditions. A case in point is a memorable encounter I had many years ago. My partner and I were invited for an evening to the house of a friend who wanted us to meet another couple that were close friends of her. We arrived first, and, prior to the other couple’s arrival, the hostess felt it necessary to tell the story of how the woman had been violently assaulted. I knew it was wrong for my friend to have labelled this woman a “victim” prior to introduction. I immediately asked if she was telling the story because the woman was still in a state of recovery. My host said no, the incident was years ago. My friend had labelled this woman a victim without malicious intent, but the severity of the story certainly made the encounter less pleasant than it could have been. The “victim” had no idea when she walked in the door that her friend had conveyed a tragic story that had occurred years ago. The woman was a delightful person whose company I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy on more than one occasion. Had I not been informed prior to introduction, I certainly would have had no indication there was a traumatic incident in her past. However, another person in that situation might have spent the evening awkwardly waiting for the woman to manifest a mental disability.

How we use our words to perpetuate negative stereotypes is important, and how we refer to another person is vital. But how can we recognize simple terms that, when combined with other words, may convey the wrong message? What do we do when words like “normal” or “average” are common terms in science, statistics, government policy, education and medicine, and have become socially functional words that may simultaneously be insulting? While attending school, I don’t think any of us appreciated receiving marks that were categorized as “below average”. The method of grading students is to inform the student, parents and education system at what level that individual is performing in relation to others. A low grade may make the student work harder to attain a higher rating. A consistently low grade, even after hard work and perhaps tutoring, may indicate the student is not adept in a particular topic. It has taken a long time for educators to admit that perhaps this method of grading is not appropriate, and perhaps “below average” students would benefit from an alternative teaching method.

It is interesting to see that words like “crippled” and “lame” have been readily accepted as negative terms. Yet because all of us are used to being graded in relation to the average from infancy, we have difficulty letting go of some words to refer to a person with a particular disability. When describing a person with a specific disability, the words “disorder”, “disease”, “below average” and “dysfunction” flow off the tongue and pages. Audiences absorb the negative associations from repeated use of these words in reference to people with disabilities.

Today, our understanding and social treatment of people with disabilities attempts to focus on a person’s “differing abilities” rather than his or her disabilities. While many advocacy groups have accepted “disability” as a necessary label, they want to focus on the “ability” portion of the word. For example, now it is common to write “disAbility” to remind a reader persons with disabilities still have abilities.

The terminology associated with disability is fluid and a word that may have been accepted last year may have changed this year; thus making the learning curve a little difficult. Finding the right words can be a daunting experience, but if you aim to stay within the lexicon of positive social words, you are going in the right direction.

This strategy also works when it comes to training. Unless specific employees need to know medical terms, there is no reason to provide medical reasons for the variety of disabilities they may encounter. For example, at no time does a server have a right to ask about the nature of a customer’s disability. Training should be based on alternative methods to communicate and interact when the customer is not responsive to a specific method. Under the customer service standard, every organization commits itself (explicitly in a mission or policy statement) to the core principles of dignity, independence, integration and equality.

You may draw parallels with other groups that have required us to shift our way of thinking and expressing ourselves. Minority groups have had to fight for the right to be treated as equal and to stop being the target of discrimination. Everyone has had to learn preferable methods to refer to previously marginalized groups. If you are old enough, you will remember numerous words used to describe people of varying ethnicities and cultures that perpetuated negative stereotypes. You may also remember that the appropriate words kept changing until the specific target group found an acceptable English word we can use in our communication.

By the way, did you hear the great joke about the “midget”? It is still a good laugh if the word is replaced with “little person”.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services o/b 623921 Ont. Ltd.

http://www.access-scs-consulting.com

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AODA and the relationship with the Ontario Human Rights Code

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, April 27th, 2011 at 9:15 am

Boxing-GlovesWhile learning about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), organizations should be aware of the legal limitations of the Act in relation to the Ontario Human Rights Code. Many people are unaware that the Code takes precedent.

I’ve been reading the public responses to the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation. One submission that I find fascinating comes from the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The submission clearly states that specific topics in the proposed regulation are below the standard already set by the Code. Some of us may have presumed that the provincial government would harmonize AODA legal obligations with the Code. The AODA clearly recognizes existing legal obligations, stating that:

Nothing in this Act or in the regulations diminishes in any way the legal obligations of the Government of Ontario or of any person or organization with respect to persons with disabilities that are imposed under any other Act or otherwise imposed by law.

The most significant statement in the AODA is under the title Conflict: the law offering the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities prevails (2005, c. 11, s. 38). For example, the Ontario Human Rights Code prohibits organizations from discriminating against persons with disabilities in the provision of goods, services or facilities, accommodations, contracts, employment and education—now.

Are organizations likely to see a rise in litigation while fulfilling obligations under the AODA?

AODA regulations that obligate organizations to complete a specific accessibility accommodation are based on the number of employees in that organization. The Code, on the other hand, expects compliance unless your organization can prove undue hardship. Undue hardship is based on financial ability, health and safety requirements, and technical feasibility—not the size of the organization. As a result, many profitable organizations with few or no employees that demonstrate due diligence by complying with the AODA regulations, might later realize they are acting in conflict with the Code.

We would all benefit if the proposed regulations were written to work seamlessly with the Code. The commission’s submission on the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation, includes 12 pages of recommendations that should be considered. The last statement regarding compliance and enforcement initiatives should be taken seriously:

The purpose of the AODA is to address accessibility barriers systemically and avoid case-by-case litigation so individuals with disabilities need only bring a matter before the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal as a last resort.

This statement is a notification to all organizations that if the government does not upgrade sections of the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation, some of us may find ourselves in a courtroom.

So, imagine an organization with three employees reads the accessibility regulation and determines the company is off the hook from complying with specific accessibility requirements. A person with a disability complains about the company’s website and the policymakers state the organization is exempt. The person with a disability responds that you are not exempt under the Code and lodges a complaint, and it becomes a very messy situation for everyone involved.

The AODA was supposed to provide a viable road map to achieve accessibility and reduce time in courtrooms. Chances are that litigation will rise unless this problem is corrected.

Consider that some of the compliance dates in the proposed AODA regulation take away from the Code’s duty to accommodate unless it would cause undue hardship. Don’t be surprised if you thought you were following the law under the AODA, only later to realize you may lose in a courtroom because you could not prove an accessibility grievance would cause your organization undue hardship. Also, don’t be shocked when the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal is not amused when your legal representative tries to wave the AODA regulation as proof of the exemption. Mind you, a good legal representative will let you know that the Code is supreme and you need to qualify for undue hardship.

As we wait for the Proposed Integrated Accessibility Regulation to be finalized, there may be a chance this regulation will have sections that fall below the legal threshold of the Code’s duty to accommodate. My interest here is that you understand this factor when running your business. Below are two simple rules to avoid a legal entanglement:

  1. The Ontario Human Rights Code is supreme over the AODA.
  2. The law offering the highest level of accessibility for persons with disabilities prevails.

Hopefully, if we all keep these two rules in mind, we will avoid litigation. If the regulations released are below the thresholds of the Code, stick to the Code if your organization cannot claim undue hardship. If there is any other law in this country that better serves people with disabilities, then that law prevails.

I also recommend you include accessibility in your organization’s practices now.

My suggestion is not to wait for legislation to force you to comply by a certain date. If you are undergoing changes—for example, creating a new website—consider and include accessibility in the changes: make the website accessible now. This should reduce future expenses on upgrading or paying for a completely new site. Think accessible in all of your purchases, so when a future law states you must complete an action, you will be in control financially and may already meet your compliance obligations.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A., CEO
Access (SCS) Consulting Services

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AODA: Common misconceptions about proposed accessible built environment standard

It has been brought to my attention that there are some common misconceptions about the final proposed built environment standard under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). This post is dedicated to clarifying a few of these misunderstandings.

Misconception number 1: The final proposed accessible built environment standard is a regulation.

Answer: No, the final proposed accessible built environment standard is not yet a regulation.

Why the misconception? Because numerous organizations concerned with the accessible built environment have copies of the final proposed standard, and they are already using it in their decision making processes. There is nothing wrong in using the proposed standard for informational purposes remembering that current laws prevail until the standard becomes regulation in whole or in part.

Misconception number 2: The proposed standard includes the topic of retrofits.

Answer: No, the final proposed standard does not include the topic of retrofits.

Why the misconception? The word retrofitting is used to mean that existing buildings or structures will be legally forced to become accessible by a specific date. When the initial copy of the proposed accessible built environment standard was released for public review, retrofitting existing structures was a discussion topic. After public review, the provincial government decided the accessible built environment standard at this time would only affect the building of new structures and major renovations to existing buildings.

Misconception number 3: The proposed standard takes effect as of the year 2014.

Answer: No, a date cannot be presumed until the proposed standard becomes a regulation. The date this standard will take effect remains unclear. People can speculate on when they believe the accessible built environment standard will become a regulation but they are merely guesstimates.

Why are people guessing? Some builders, architects, engineers, organizations and accessible built environment consultants are eager to address the topic of accessibility as soon as possible. Again, there is nothing wrong with advance preparation; in fact, I admire those who are already moving toward remedying universal accessibility issues. It is just a mistake to emphatically state that a date is attached to the proposed standard.

So, as we learn about the proposed accessible built environment standard created under the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, it is vital to know when we or our experts are guessing as opposed to what information is confirmed. Until a proposed standard becomes a regulation, what we read is written by esteemed standards committees who provided their expertise. I have read many versions of draft proposed standards. I can attest to the numerous changes in draft standards and final proposed standards after public reviews. The best part of working with proposed standards is they often provide a best practice approach that your organization may decide to consider, regardless of impending laws.

If you have questions related to the proposed accessible built environment standard or any other proposed standard, feel free to ask.

Suzanne Share, M.A. C.E.O.

Read more: http://blog.firstreference.com/2011/03/15/aoda-common-misconceptions-about-proposed-accessible-built-environment-standard/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FirstReferenceTalks+%28First+Reference+Talks%29&utm_content=Yahoo%21+Mail#ixzz1GhjyKaBj

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First Reference Talks Blog:

Call for a national accessibility action plan to meet obligations to people with disabilities

Author: Suzanne Cohen Share

Posted on Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011 at 9:15 am

For years I have followed the work of advocacy groups in order to understand the needs of people with disabilities. One issue stands out among the research: the removal and prevention of barriers is vital to provide equal access to daily living. Two recognizable advocacy groups are asking the federal government to get on with a plan of action.

It was only a matter of time before Canadian advocates on behalf of people with disabilities would ask for a federal program or plan to meet Canada’s obligations to the United Nations. Canada signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which came into force on May 3, 2008. We joined 147 other countries that that have signed the convention, 95 of which have ratified it. On a global scale, each country that signed or ratified the convention is moving forward to achieve accessibility for people with disabilities. The convention clarifies how all categories of rights apply to persons with disabilities.

You may ask why there is not already a federal initiative that enforces a uniform method to achieve accessibility throughout Canada. Provinces are approaching the subject separately and a federal framework or plan seems to be common sense. To date, there is no indication that a federal program is forthcoming. Nonetheless, various disability advocacy groups are encouraging the federal government to take a leadership position. This month, the Council of Canadians with Disabilities (CCD) and Canadian Association for Community Living (CACL) released a Working Paper on the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to start a dialogue on this topic and propose actions for implementation.

The working paper calls for “national mechanisms for implementation, monitoring and reporting” to achieve the obligations of the convention. These advocacy groups are asking for the federal government to enact Article 4 of the convention. Article 4 states people with disabilities or their representatives will be consulted and involved in implementing the convention. A core call for action includes “a national framework for implementation”:

Design a National Framework for Implementation, or a National Action Plan, to ensure Canada meets its obligations in Article 33(2) and to provide the vision and overarching framework for successful implementation of the CRPD. A detailed implementation action plan would identify necessary mechanisms for collaboration, benchmarks for monitoring and reporting, and strategies for priority areas for action the disability community has identified, including:

  • Access to disability supports
  • Poverty alleviation
  • Labour force participation
  • Accessibility and inclusion
  • Canada’s international leadership

The authors have crafted an intelligent and reasonable plan to achieve the obligations in the convention—including actions that the federal government has already promised. They don’t demand the government fix the world this minute, but instead call for an advisory panel including people with disabilities as participants. It is important to note that these two advocacy groups stayed within the legal confines of the convention and the presently unsigned or ratified Optional Protocol. The Optional Protocol allows for a UN committee to be assembled that will review the progress of participating nations.

All Canadians will benefit from a national program of action that is transparent, accountable and measurable. Achieving accessibility for people with disabilities requires national leadership that does not leave individual communities with the task of identifying the work to be done.

There are many reasons for the general public to support this call to action. Organizations will benefit from a national plan that prescribes minimum requirements, timelines and guidelines. A comprehensive national plan of action will help Canadians to understand their commitments and identify priorities. Organizations can use a national plan as a baseline to educate staff, volunteers and third parties on expectations. With access to a broad bank of diverse information, national organizations will be able to rapidly understand their obligations and changes that require a financial remedy.

When I use the words minimum standards, I do not mean the federal government needs to have weak legislation that can be bettered by provinces, municipalities, regions or organizations. A strong federal framework will mean that everyone can relax about enacting additional legislation.

Disability advocacy groups understand that federal leadership means everyone in Canada can be on the same path. This call for action is a win-win situation for everyone. Perhaps we can all find out what is the best way to convince the federal government to act on this working paper or at least tell us if there is a plan in the works.

Suzanne Cohen Share, M.A.
Access (SCS) Consulting Services o/b 0623921 Ontario Ltd.

Read more: http://blog.firstreference.com/2011/02/23/call-for-a-national-action-plan-to-meet-obligations-to-people-with-disabilities/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+FirstReferenceTalks+%28First+Reference+Talks%29&utm_content=Yahoo%21+Mail#ixzz1Eon3guGL

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