It’s true that Ontario’s businesses will incur extra costs to comply with the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). It’s true that you will have to change the way you operate, expending more time, money and effort—at least initially. So maybe you’re afraid of that. But consider that most people have no idea what not accommodating disability already costs Ontarians through taxes, health care and social services. The province is betting that the systemic and institutional changes in the AODA and its associated standards will actually reduce the burden on government and business by allowing the many Ontarians with mild to severe disabilities to participate in the labour market and economy.
When persons with disabilities work—earn an income—they don’t need to collect social assistance—at least not at the same level. When people work, they can take part in workplace health insurance programs rather than government programs. When people work, they spend the money they earn, adding to the economy, rather than simply taking away from it. When people complete high school and post-secondary education, they earn more and contribute their advanced knowledge to society and the economy.
These statements seem obvious on the surface, but the Ontario government hired the Rotman Prosperity Institute to look deeper to find out whether they are actually true—and to what extent. The institute recently released Releasing Constraints: Projecting the Economic Impacts of Increased Accessibility in Ontario, which outlines the social and economic cases for accessibility in the province. The report finds that each of the statements is indeed true, and estimates (within broad ranges) just how much the AODA initiatives will benefit the province, its people and its businesses. Consider these findings:
- Increased access to retail and tourism opportunities would result in accelerated growth in these sectors
- A number of Ontario regions have the capacity to support significant clusters of accessibility-focused businesses able to serve global markets
- Our universities, colleges and other institutions can help educate the next generation of workers and develop new intellectual property that can prepare businesses to compete in the growing number of markets defined by accessibility requirements
- Reducing social exclusion would decrease demands on our health care and social security system and answer many “poverty-related social problems”
Also, remember that disability is a broad category that includes both permanent and temporary conditions; conditions brought on by age-related diseases, illnesses and injuries; the full range of mild to severe psychological conditions, from attention deficit disorder and depression to Alzheimer’s disease and Tourette’s syndrome; as well as drug and alcohol addictions. In other words, most people—and an increasing number, particularly toward the older side of the population spectrum. In 2006, five percent of Ontarians aged five to twenty-four had a disability; 21 percent of those aged 45–64; and 60 percent of those 75 or older.
Thus, according to the institute, because disability includes so many things, and affects so many people (not only persons with disabilities, but also their families, friends and caregivers), “The demand for accessible goods, services, buildings, and employment is not just large but growing, and will overtake the demand for their conventional counterparts.” (Emphasis added.)
If that’s true, then it’s a remarkable statement!
In other words, setting aside any moral duty we might feel to take care of our neighbours, if a business doesn’t take accessibility to heart, it will probably have trouble over the coming years. Of course, the law is the law, and all organizations in Ontario will have to comply, but as is the case with discrimination and related issues, many employers just don’t get it, and will intentionally or accidentally flout the law.
What do you think of the new law? Is it too intrusive? Too much of a burden? Do you believe the claims that breaking down accessibility barriers will lead to increased bottom lines for business and reduced pressures on the government? Have you taken any steps in your organization to improve accessibility?
For more information on the Access for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, visit the Ministry of Community and Social Services.
For up-to-date news on the Act and accessibility in general, visit www.aoda.ca.
First Reference Human Resources and Compliance Editor