When asked about the reasons why Ontario is such a great place to live, you probably think about the province’s diversity, natural beauty, and high standard of living—and all of these things are true! But one of Ontario’s biggest advantages is also largely invisible. In 2005, Ontario passed the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) intended to ensure that by 2025, every Ontarian—regardless of age or ability—will be able to count on full access to all goods, services, facilities, and buildings, in person and online. It’s an outcome that regions like Haliburton County, with our aging population, will surely embrace but it will also require accommodations from our local business owners.
At ACM Designs, we help business owners make this transition. In fact, Katie and I are two of only about 60 Canadians with formal training and certification in aging-in-place design. Here’s what you need to know, and plan for, with respect to AODA and your business.
What you need to know changing your business to conform with AODA
For the purposes of bringing your commercial space into AODA compliance, you’ll likely need to make at least a few changes. While most Ontarians are familiar with ramps and automatic doors for wheelchair users, true accessibility accommodates people with visual or audio impairment, developmental disabilities, and those who use service animals. As such, the legislation considers employees as well as customers, and your physical space, as well as your website, and other forms of communications.
The type and size of your business dictate what you need to do to be AODA compliant. What’s more, the requirements are being introduced in phases. For example, January 1st, 2018 was the deadline for businesses with 19 employees or fewer to have the parking lot, service counter and waiting area in conformance.
For most business owners, the idea of making your space completely accessible and code-compliant is overwhelming and daunting. We’re working with clients to tackle it in stages, rather than all at once. Consider starting with getting your customers in the front door and work from there.
Haliburton Chamber prepares for AODA
Take for example a recent renovation at the Haliburton Highlands Chamber of Commerce. The board of directors and staff desperately wanted to update the space but weren’t sure where to start. the steps involved, and what the outcome might be. In response, developed a thoughtful design plan that met many required elements of AODA but was also beautiful and relevant.
Initially, Chamber Manager Autumn Wilson had reservations about the project. “Andria walked me through everything and explained what she would be doing, why, and how,” she said. “I thought it would make the office look disjointed or out of place but it was actually the opposite. She designed the desk so the accessible side fits right in.”
Accessibility enhancements are now a matter of law, but they also make good business sense. After all, if you can’t invite people in the front door because they can’t get up the front stairs, you could be losing customers.
Autumn agrees. “I think it’s crucial for businesses to be accessible. It’s not only the law, but it’s also common courtesy. It tells people that you are open and accommodating.”
Many business owners see accessible washrooms as very important to have. This said, they aren’t required if you are in an existing building. Even in our ACM showroom, we have plans to construct a barrier-free washroom. It is part of our company’s values to serve people of all abilities and of course be gorgeous!
While avoiding costly penalties and improving customer experience are obvious reasons to become AODA compliant, it’s just as important to consider our community too.
The population here in the County is aging. We need to commit to this and do the best that we can.