Tyler Kula, The Observer
May 29, 2015
“According to the Martin Prosperity Institute, we’re talking about a $7.9-billion economic advantage to Ontario if we’re accessible,” said Brad Duguid, speaking outside the Imperial Theatre in Sarnia Friday.
That advantage is based, Duguid said, on opening doors to the one in seven Ontarians with a disability — expected to be one in five by 2035 — and their families.
“If you ask me, that’s an advantage we just cannot pass up,” he said.
But having doorways and washrooms inaccessible to wheelchairs, staff not trained in customer service for people with disabilities, or companies forgoing hiring people with disabilities, means missing out on that extra business, he said.
“I think it really is getting Ontarians and businesses and organizations to embrace accessibility that’s important,” Duguid said.
So to get more on board with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) — aiming to make the province fully accessible by 2025 — plans are to roll out a tiered, third-party certification system that recognizes efforts to become more accessible, Duguid said.
Similar to how Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification helped businesses buy into making buildings more green, it’s hoped this new certification program will help with that culture change when it comes to accessibility, Duguid said.
Most of the time it costs nothing to make the changes, he said, and when it does, the average is $500.
“Really what we want is effort,” he said. “And I think what we find is when businesses start to make that effort to open up their doors, to train their staff, to comply with the AODA — which really isn’t all that challenging — it opens up doors and opportunities for those businesses to open their doors to more customers, which improves their bottom line.”
Details are still in the works, Duguid said, and consultations with municipalities, businesses, disability advocates and others are planned.
Sarnia, where Duguid was also attending the city’s annual Accessibility Summit and where a Breaking Barriers to Business initiative has been in place for over a year, is a leader in the province when it comes to being an accessible community, Duguid said.
Beforehand, Duguid toured the Imperial theatre where manager Brian Austin Jr. showed off an accessible suite for wheelchairs at grade with the entrance, an infrared sound system that helps people with hearing impairments listen to the action on stage, and touted other initiatives such as accessible washrooms, staff training, and an automatic door opener for the box office.
Plans are to eventually put in more automatic door openers for the main entrance, and add elevator access to the theatre’s second floor, Austin said.
“We want to make people as comfortable as possible,” he said about the rationale for the estimated $10,000 to $20,000 investment over the last three years.
“We really can’t operate without patrons and we want as many patrons to come and take advantage of the theatre as possible,” Austin said.