Accessibility: Products that everyone can use

Each day, we perform tasks that we take for granted. Like climbing stairs, ordering food at a restaurant, or simply learning a new activity. Unfortunately, for people with disabilities, obstacles exist preventing them from performing tasks or enjoying the same activities that most of us can do easily. The Ministry of Community and Social Services defines these obstacles as “barriers to accessibility.”

Currently, 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability – which is approximately one in seven people. Breaking down barriers has great economic benefits for businesses. According to a 2005 study by the Royal Bank of Canada, people with disabilities have a combined purchasing power of over $25 billion in Canada. Over the next twenty years, as the population ages, this will gradually increase to one in five people – meaning either you, or someone you know, will face barriers to accessibility.

Too often a disability is automatically associated with the word permanent. However, it’s a misconception as the possibility of becoming disabled impacts all of us, whether temporary, permanent or due to the natural process of aging.

Ontario is working to remove all barriers to accessibility. Passed in 2005, the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is designed to address this inequality by making Ontario fully accessible by 2025. The Act makes Ontario the first jurisdiction in Canada to develop, implement and enforce mandatory accessibility standards.

The Martin Prosperity Institute’s report on the economic impacts of increased accessibility in Ontario, estimates over the next five years, the implementation of the AODA standards could stimulate between $400 million and 1.5 billion in new spending on tourism and generate an increase in retail sales ranging from 3.8 billion to 9.6 billion. Standards are being developed in key areas of every day life, including:

  • Customer service information and communications
  • Employment built environment
  • Transportation

The first of the five integral areas, Accessibility Standards for Customer Service, was enacted into law on January 1st, 2008 and currently applies to not-for-profit public organizations. For-profit private companies must be in compliance by January 1, 2012. Is your company ready for these new laws?

Incorporating accessibility into your products and services helps improve your product differentiation, increase your customer base and expand your bottom line. Customers with disabilities make up over 15% of Ontarians, a target market too vital to be ignored. Besides being socially responsible, reducing barriers makes good financial sense as well.

The Ministry has created a straightforward report for organizations to file to show they are in compliance. Click here for the list and tips on what you can do. I am also available to advise MaRS clients on how to best achieve compliance and set their organization apart.

Nii Sackey Sackeyfio

Nii is Project Coordinator of the EnAbling Change Partnership Program which is designed to improve accessibility in Ontario. He educates entrepreneurs about the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act. See more…