Access ON paves way for physically disabled

Amarjeet Chhabra has a problem with the lack of accessibility at city hall. As a person with polio, she has trouble getting to certain places.

“I find the doors very heavy and for a person like myself, I have trouble with it. For a person in a wheelchair, it’s problematic, especially since the handicap button is hard to see.”

The Government of Ontario has unveiled a new advertising campaign for people with physical disabilities, called Access ON. The campaign encourages business owners and employers to provide more access space, so anyone with a physical disability can move around.

Erika Botond, the director of the new campaign, has been a part of this since it started back in 2007.

“It’s to focus on what the public can do to make Ontario accessible,” Botond said. The Ontarians with Disabilities Act was passed in June 2005. It makes Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to create accessibility standard.

“Most businesses know that accessibility standards are good for business,” Botond said. “People with disabilities account for an estimated $25 million a year in consumer spending.”

Ontario’s March of Dimes charity assists people with physical disabilities. Drawing on more than 55 years of experience, the organization is the largest rehab centre in Ontario. Services are given to over 40,000 people annually in 70 communities.

Chhabra said she experienced a physical challenge last year at a critical time.

“When I was working on last year’s election campaign, the office I was working from was not wheelchair accessible.”

“We believe that many businesses will be accessible long before our target date,” Botond said. That way, they can secure an earlier share of the significant spending of Canadians with disabilities.”

The Access ON campaign was triggered by the Standard Development committee, which has members with physical disabilities.

“They drafted the first accessible customer service standard,” Botond said “and played an important role in determining the new requirements of the new standards.”

Ontario’s first accessibility standard customer service is now the law. It came into effect Jan. 1 2008, meaning businesses are now legally required to take steps, to make their premises accessible for people with disabilities.

“I have seen the ads on the buses and subways and I think it’s a good way to raise awareness,” Chhabra said. “People do care, but sometimes you need to play into their attitudes. I think their policy needs to reflect on attitudes of people who may not know, or might not care.”

For Chhabra, who also teaches at the University of Toronto, there are times when the elevators aren’t working and she ends up using the stairs.

“I don’t have a problem using the stairs,” said Chhabra, but I’d rather not. I let the maintenance people know and the problem is fixed.”

“The ads are an opener, but it’s not a complete solution,” Chhabra said. “I’m conscious when I see those ads, like, disability doesn’t mean invisibility.”

According to Statistics Canada, the Canada Participation and activity survey, done in 2006 showed that, 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability, which is 15.5 per cent of Ontario’s population.

“The real question is,” Botond said, “with an aging population and more and more people acquiring disabilities, can Ontario afford to ignore not to do this, both socially and economically?”