Accessibility for our time!

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My legs don’t work as well as they used to. I’m very conscious of this predicament every single morning as I hobble down my stairs; and every single morning I sigh and resign myself to the fact that this is part of my aging process. I am aware that I must remain active and vigilant. And so one of the things about which I have again become vigilant has to do with approaches to ‘accessibility.’

I’ve known about the term accessibility for some time—twenty-eight years in fact! That was when the United Nations proclaimed 1981 the International Year of Disabled Persons (IYDP), marked each year on the 3rd of December. It was that year a new director was appointed to my division at work. He had been involved in the IYDP—and he was in a wheel-chair. Those of us who knew him had an instant appreciation for this accomplished, caring man who had contracted polio at an early age. To no one’s surprise, he continued to remain a staunch activist. Almost immediately after his arrival, the issue of physical accessibility in the workplace began to be addressed within my department. A substantial ramp was constructed outside our building and wider doors were fitted to washrooms. We quickly became aware that accessibility issues were also being dealt with at the community level. Financial resource incentives were being offered for renovations which would permit better access to private residences and public buildings including churches.

One might feel that we have come a long way since then. We almost take for granted the push-button safety doors in public buildings. Most parking lots have several designated spots for use by those with mobility challenges. Work continues to be carried out with respect to other aspects of accessibility such as improved speech, text, audio and visual interactive devices.

The reality, however, is that ongoing education is required both from the perspective of awareness raising and attitude adjustment. A friend recently pointed out that some businesses in Cornwall have steep staircases inside their facilities, which are difficult to manage. I was pleased to find, therefore, that the Ontario Government’s Ministry of Social Services is promoting accessibility to the business community. “About 1.85 million people in Ontario (that’s 15.5% of the population) have a disability. And 47.2% of people over the age of 65 have disabilities.... Loyal customers and their families and relatives are the best customers you can have and the ones you want to keep. As our population ages, think about the fact that more of your existing loyal customers and potential new customers will be people with disabilities, their families, their friends and their caregivers. Smart businesses will recognize the need for accessibility and make sure that consumers who shop, work or do business with them are satisfied. They will ensure that the barriers that may prevent customers from enjoying access to products, services and employment are eliminated and removed.” (www.mcss.gov.on.ca/mcss/english/pillars/accessibilityOntario/accesson/compliance/good)

Over the years I have worked with a number of remarkable people with various types and degrees of physical disability. A colleague whom I remember in particular had a personal policy. When we were going out for dinner as a group, he would call around to find a restaurant that was wheelchair accessible. Those he identified as non-accessible, he would point out to their manager why we were choosing not to go there. At the time, I’m not sure how comfortable I felt about his approach. Today, I get it!

Organizations: International Year of Disabled Persons, United Nations, Ministry of Social Services

Geographic location: Ontario, Cornwall

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