1981 FM photo by Myra Stephen (from Dusk Dances Haliburton 2014).

The real win 

By Sue Tiffin

Published Feb. 26 2019

Recently at a meeting held locally in which an engineer was describing the accessibility features in a new building he said the elevator linking two floors was “a win.” Soon after that at another public meeting it was noted that planning on the part of organizers would be “meeting the minimum accessibility requirements.”

Accessibility is actually a human right. Meeting accessibility standards in construction can be costly so when a facility or a public space or a store is accessible it’s true that that can feel like a win but it should simply feel as normal as it does for most people that doors are installed on a building. We should be wanting to ensure our public spaces are open to everyone to the best – not the minimum – of our abilities.

Last year after an announcement by the federal government of new accessibility legislation the Chief Commissioner of the Canadian Human Rights Commission said:

“Every person has the right equal with others to make for themselves the life they envision. But right now in Canada we know that not everyone is free to do so without barriers. Across Canada across jurisdictions the majority of discrimination complaints brought to human rights commissions are from persons with disabilities. Close to half of those complaints are about a lack of accessibility. These barriers exist in many forms in many places. They’re in our policies workplaces in our buildings and public spaces in our public and private transportation in our media and our broadcasting in our banks in our schools even in our attitudes – the very way people with disabilities are treated when seeking services or information. Accessibility is a human right that must be vigilantly protected. Accessibility legislation must work to remove barriers for all including women Indigenous persons racialized persons older persons and 2SLGBTQI folks with disabilities.”

Currently one in seven people in Ontario has a disability and by 2036 that number is expected to rise to one in five as people age. Right now people with disabilities represent two million people in our province. They eat they work they get outdoors they create they compete in sports they go to school they have families and despite the sometimes debilitating cost of mobility or medical equipment and services they spend money. People with disabilities – visible or not – contribute to our community.

As Anna Froebe of HR Access tells us province-wide AODA deadlines are passing each year leading up to 2025. Let’s make sure our policies are up to date and our employees are trained. Let’s talk to user groups. What is the need and what is the want in what we are offering in our town? Where are we lacking in our facilities our public spaces our businesses our services and our experiences? How can we go above and beyond as we do in this county in so many other ways and areas to make sure people – whether they be our employees our customers our residents our tourists or our family and friends – can live work and play in society – in our town – without barriers?

Let’s stop speaking about accessibility as if it’s a burden for whatever reason and start approaching it knowing that when we are inclusive our entire community thrives and is better for it. That’s the win.