Friday, 27 February 2015

Understanding the AODA

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) is a comprehensive document to say the least. It includes a number of standards and even more requirements within those standards and sometimes it’s nice to be given the cliffs notes for these types of documents. When we were first introduced to the AODA it was a lot of information to process. We had to determine not only how it affected us as a company, but how it will affect our customers and what we can do to help them. To get a better understanding of the AODA we got in touch with Jane Sleeth, the Managing Director of Optimal Performance Consultants.

We were first introduced to Jane at an event put on by the Building Owners and Managers Association in Toronto. Jane was there to discuss how the AODA would be affecting property managers and what they needed to do meet the standards set in the act. Since then we have continued working with Jane as she is an expert in the accessibility industry and a great resource for not only ourselves but our customers as well.

We recently sent Jane some common questions regarding the AODA to help everyone gain a basic understanding of the act and all that it entails and as a way to introduce Jane and her company as a resource to our customers.

CD: What is the AODA and why is it so important?

JS: The purpose of the AODA (which is a type of legislation never before used in any jurisdiction in the world) is to ensure the province of Ontario is accessible to both people with disabilities as well as our aging population. The mandate of the Accessibility Directorate & the Ministry responsible for accessibility in Ontario is to develop, implement and enforce standards with respect to goods, services, facilities, accommodation, employment, buildings, structures and premises. The standards are being phased in such a way that our province becomes accessible in each of these ways by 2025. What businesses in Ontario need to know is the disabled and aging demographic represents a growing market segment. Businesses who adopt a framework based on the principles of the AODA will position themselves to both serve and capture the benefits of a growing market segment. Currently 17-20% of the Ontario population has a disability. Add to this the fact that Ontarians aged 65 and older will account for the larger share of the population than children under 14 by 2017, you can see how important the AODA is to our provincial economy and to each businesses individual “economy”.

CD: How do you recommend businesses prepare for upcoming compliancy deadlines?

JS: Businesses need to start to approach the AODA and each of the standards in a strategic way versus just seeing this as a Human Resources Department activity leading to the checking off of compliance boxes for the Ministry.  In taking a strategic approach, which includes all departments/managers in your organization, this will result in measurable returns on investments such as enhanced design and usability of products and or services provided; enhancing and streamlining customer interactions with your business through the development of accessible communication methods and feedback about products and services; increased ease in locating, understanding and purchasing your organization’s products and services online and via your built environments; improving ergonomic and human factors design (part of accessible design) of the workplace to ensure all employees regardless of ability and age remain highly productive members of your workforce.

CD: What resources/services do you have/offer to those that require assistance in become AODA compliant?

JS: Optimal Performance Consultants Inc is an ergonomic and accessible design firm who have been providing this expertise since 1991. OPC Inc.’s key areas of expertise are in:

Development of Strategic Policies, Programs and Procedures in the areas of ergonomic and accessible programs – compliance to best practice levels

Built Environment Audits & Design Standards – both Accessible Public Space (AODA requirements) and the Ontario Build Code’s ABES – delivered with our architects and interior designers certified in the Ontario Build Code

Web Based, E Learning and Onsite Training and Education about the Customer Service Standard (CSS), the AODA and the Integrated Accessibility Standard Requirements (IASR) mandatory training

Built Environment, Tools, Equipment and Furniture Design in tandem with architects, industrial engineers, interior designers and facility managers

CD: What are the penalties for not complying with the AODA and each of its phases from CSS to IASR and now the Ontario Build Code?

JS: Employers in Ontario have been made aware that non-compliance with the AODA’s Customer Service Standards and IASR will lead to penalties and fines. As of last review with the Directorate only 30% of employers had complied. As a result recent decisions from the Ontario License Appeal Tribunal dealt with employers who were fined. The levels of penalties and fines that employers will start to face going forward will increase to $15,000.00 per non-compliance in particular for employers who have been provided with notices about not filing their accessibility reports online. Corporations who are not compliant can receive penalties up to $100,000 per day!

For more information on Optimal Performance Consultants Inc. visit their website:

Friday, 30 January 2015

Accessibility in the City

Accessibility.  It’s on everyone’s minds these days and it is at the forefront of Classic Displays product development.  Over the last year we have spent a lot of time focusing on accessibility. With the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) gaining traction and a number of compliancy deadlines lined up for the coming years we wanted to ensure we understood the act, how it would affect our customers and what we could do to help them become compliant. 

A few years ago we began looking at the ergonomics of standard park benches and how they could be improved upon and in 2009 we introduced our first ergonomically correct bench, the Ergo.  Since then we have continued to add to what is now our line of accessible benches, this past year focusing on our standard line of benches and how we could modify them to make them accessible. 

One of the standards set in the AODA is for the design of public spaces, which as it currently stands, requires outdoor public eating areas to have a minimum of 20% of the tables be wheelchair accessible.  While we agree that wheelchair accessible tables should be mandatory we don’t think it should stop there. We also encourage our customer’s to consider adding accessible benches to their public spaces as well.

Fortunately, we are not the only ones that understand the importance of accessibility in public spaces and see the benefits. We have been working with the City of London for a number of years and manufacture the specified bench for their parks. In 2014 the city ordered 25 Accessible Riverside benches and will continue to order them on an as needed basis. 

Another City that has begun to embrace our accessible line of benches is the City of Toronto. Our standard Riverside bench has been the specified bench for the City for a couple of years now and it was the standard Riverside that we made some modifications to in order to make it accessible. This accessible version of the Riverside has begun to pop up alongside standard Riversides in various parks within the city. Other benches from the accessible line can also be found throughout the city, a number of Heritage benches sit outside of Metro Hall and Contour benches can be found in Nathan Phillips Square. To date the city has ordered 40 Accessible Riverside benches and over 50 other Accessible models. 

The City of Hamilton is currently working on a multiyear revitalization project of Gore Park. Another city we often work with, Hamilton took an early interest in the Heritage bench when it was first introduced to our product line. That bench has since become specified in the revitalization project.  They have also begun to introduce our Accessible Riverside line as well and to date, 23 benches have been purchased with more orders to come as the projects continue.

As accessibility continues to be our main focus in 2015, we look forward to continuing to work with the cities of London, Toronto, and Hamilton and we encourage other cities and towns to look to them as examples of how to start incorporating Accessible site furniture in outdoor public spaces. 

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

Helping you Become AODA Compliant

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) was implemented in 2005 and since then each part of the act is gradually becoming mandatory for any company that employs over 20 people. The act includes standards for information and communication, employment, transportation and design of public spaces.

Regulations for outdoor public eating areas fall under design of public spaces within the act and apply to tables that are found in public areas such as parks, hospital grounds and on university campuses that are intended for use by the public as a place to eat. The general requirements include the following:
  1. A minimum of 20% of tables that are provided must be accessible to persons using mobility aids by having knee and toe clearance underneath the table and in no case shall there be fewer than one table in an outdoor public use eating area that meets this requirement.
  2. The ground surface leading to and under tables that are accessible to persons using mobility aids must be level, firm and stable.
  3. Tables that are accessible to persons using mobility aids must have clear ground space around them that allows for a forward approach to the tables.

While we can’t assist you with becoming compliant with every requirement within the AODA, we can help you make your outdoor spaces accessible. Not only do we manufacture a variety of tables that meet the requirements of the AODA but we also have the installation crew that can assist with making the area around and under the tables also meet the requirements.

Accessible Tables

MODC Table
This table was designed and manufactured in partnership with the March of Dimes Canada using the standards set in the Accessible design for the built environment published by the Canadian Standards Association in 2004. With fixed seating on two sides of the table and an open area on two sides with proper knee and toe clearance for wheelchairs, this table is one of the most accessible on the market. Available in the same plastic lumber as our standard picnic tables, the MODC can easily be integrated into existing outdoor eating areas and compliment existing tables.

 Wheelchair Access 470/450 – One End or One Side
Part of the park series line of picnic tables the Wheelchair Access table comes in two different styles. The Wheelchair Access 470 is a six foot table that has a two foot table top extension on one end to allow for a wheelchair to wheel up to it with ease. The one side version of the Wheelchair Access table (450) is five feet long with seating on only one side of the table allowing a wheelchair to wheel up to the table on the other side.

Accessible Hex Table

From our standard line of picnic tables the Hex can be modified to meet the accessibility requirements. The standard table has three double seats surrounding the table; to make the table accessible to wheelchairs we replace one of the double seats with a single.  Perfect for eating areas where you want to maintain a consistent look. 

Accessible Benches

Although not a requirement within the AODA, with the push to increase accessibility and the possibility of amendments to the act, we have added a number of AODA compliant accessible benches to our existing site furniture line. Available in a variety of styles including heritage, modern and straight styles, these benches have varying accessible and ergonomic features to make them more user friendly to those wanting to transfer out of a wheelchair or someone who has back or knee problems. You can learn more about these benches in our previous blog Increase Accessibility with Accessible Seating.

When we created this line of accessible benches we were looking to the future, and we recommend our customer’s do the same. Currently, 1 in 7 people in Ontario have a disability (that’s 1.85 million Ontarians) and it’s estimated that by 2036 that number will rise to 1 in 5. With this number set to increase it only makes sense to add accessible benches to your public space so it is accessible to everyone, not just a select population. The City of Toronto as well as the City of London are acknowledging this change in the demographic and beginning to add accessible benches alongside their standard benches in their parks and on their city streets.

We advise our clients to not wait for something to become mandatory but to begin gradually making these changes over time. When a bench gets beyond repair, replace it with an accessible model or when planning a new public space add a couple of accessible benches as well. Making these changes over time will not only benefit the users of your public space but will also be much more cost effective than having to make these changes all at once.

Becoming AODA compliant may be a requirement but it’s the benefits of doing so that you should be focusing on. Making your park, commercial or retail property more accessible opens it up to a larger number of consumers which is always a good thing.