Life is more complicated when you have a disability.
Not simply because of the disability, but because our society is not built for people with disabilities. If it were, then half of all people with disabilities would not be unemployed, special education wouldn’t be so “special” and government programs and supports wouldn’t be so difficult to understand, navigate and secure.
In 2005, the Government of Ontario created The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). The purpose is to make services offered by private, public and non-profit organizations accessible for people with disabilities by 2025. Progress made to date has not been stellar. Businesses with more than 20 employees are supposed to self-report on their progress and yet tens of thousands of businesses have failed to report. 65% of businesses with more than 20 employees have failed to submit the online report for 2012 which was due by the end of 2014.
Instead of ramping up enforcement measures, the government announced they will be reducing the number of compliance audits. 2,000 compliance efforts were performed in 2014. The government plans on performing only 1,200 in 2015, states the Toronto Star article, “Ontario needs to boost accessibility efforts”. AODA has been in place for 10 years, thousands of businesses are not complying and the little enforcement we have had is being reduced, despite the province’s stated commitment to accessibility and inclusion.
Disappointing to say the least. This failure not only on the part of the government, but also in the hands of businesses that are supposed to comply, has me thinking about how we really increase accessibility and inclusion in our communities. Legislation and political will (or the lack thereof) is no silver bullet. The legislation is there, but it seems like it is just collecting dust on a shelf. So why would a business comply if they aren’t compelled to do so or taken to task when they don’t?
In the absence of enforced legislation, what else is there? I don’t claim to have solid answers. I do think acts of charity can only go so far. In some cases, I find charitable acts can promote exclusion and isolation.
I can speak from my own experience, though. I have built a business around serving people with disabilities and their families. I am not a charity. I have a profitable business that is tailored to service an often marginalized sector of society. Some people wonder how I can turn a profit, if I serve people with disabilities. So many believe people with disabilities have no resources, thinking they must be poor.
One barrier disability does recognize is the economic one. People with disabilities come from all walks of life, including economic standing. Yes, many people with disabilities and their families face serious financial challenges, but that does not mean they do not participate in the economy. Trust me, they do. I know from personal experience.
Businesses may not feel the legal or moral obligation to accommodate people with disabilities. They may not be held accountable for failing to do so. But what many companies are missing is the business case.
If you are a business owner, do you really know what it costs to improve accessibility? Have you thought about the possible return on investment? People with disabilities have resources and make choices. Their money will go to the businesses that serve them best and so will the money of their families and their friends.
Improving accessibility will attract more than just people with disabilities to your business; it will attract more people, period. It will attract their families, their friends and many others. Improving accessibility means improving service overall. Think beyond the cost. Look for the return on investment. It’s there.