AODA at 10 - Slow Progress, Questionable Buy-In
A couple of weeks ago, Jay looked at where we are halfway to the 2025 goal set by the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA). He asked me to weigh in on my personal experiences 10 years after its signing into law. And while there is progress, it is slow.
In 2005 when the AODA was signed into law, I was in my teens and really didn't pay attention to the potential of these types of laws -- at least not until family members with small businesses began AODA training.
Ten years on, with greater independence and keener interest in events around me, it has a much greater impact.
Most of my work is centered around digital accessibility and the Information and Communications section of the AODA, where access to information in alternate formats is discussed. In my daily life, all other sections: employment for accessible hiring practices; customer Service for equal access to assistance where needed; and transportation and design of public spaces, all apply.
There have definitely been improvements to accessibility in Ontario since 2005. Online accessibility has improved in many ways, especially for government websites. Buses and other public transport in many Ontario cities announce their stops audibly and visually. Most employers I've had have provided me with contracts, forms, and other paperwork in alternate formats without fuss. Most signage in buildings, at least for rest rooms, is in Braille or tactile print.
However, there is still room for improvement.
While many customer-service providers (such as receptionists or salespeople) are willing to be coached if uncertain about how to provide assistance, the fact remains that I still experience regular incidents of confusion or awkwardness. If they fail to acknowledge me with a greeting and are otherwise quiet, I could wait for minutes without being aware of anyone present. The same is true for employees who offer to guide me to another location, move from their original position and are silent thereafter, presumably unsure as to what to do next.
If I'm in a situation where paperwork must be completed, it is not only in hard-copy print without alternatives available, but is in small type which is unreadable to the low-vision family member who often acts as my guide.
Most signage has poor colour contrast. Most providers of services speak to my guide rather than to me directly. I can only imagine the challenges a person with mobility impairments faces, with so many arbitrary steps and randomly-placed door openers in public places.
The public visibility of AODA is also of some concern to me. Many people aren't aware of it at all.
I do know several people that have taken AODA training as part of their job, but I'm not convinced it's taken seriously sometimes. To me, it feels as if there's a "do we really have to?" or "is this really necessary?" attitude amongst some people. Even reading comments on news articles on the subject shows there are many Ontarians who believe such legislation is unnecessary and more effort than it's worth.
While I appreciate that further regulations can be seen as a hindrance to progress and just more red tape, when inaccessibility means lost revenue or employee potential for Ontario businesses, compliance where feasible seems the only logical choice.
There is also a question of enforcement. Stiff fines are in place for non-compliance, but the provincial government has come under fire in recent years for failing to inspect more businesses. Announcements pledging to do more and criticisms of those announcements are becoming familiar.
The AODA is fantastic in theory and progress is certainly happening. The next step is to put more of that fantastic theory into practice, to at least get Ontario in the direction of universal access.