The Business of AODA

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

As an occupational therapist, business owner, and MBA, I can’t help but to reflect on the colossal legislation that is the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, or AODA.  If you are not familiar, the AODA is Ontario’s way of making the province accessible by 2025 by addressing the following key areas so that people with disabilities can more fully participate in their communities:  customer service, employment, information and communication, transportation, and design of public spaces.

Here are some real examples of poor service that demonstrate why such a legislation is needed:

  • A few months back I was taking an ailing relative to an appointment at a lawyer’s office.  We arrived and the building was poorly marked.  We tried a couple of entrances and walked around the building a few times.  We finally found the entrance and were met with three flights of long and windy stairs.  We climbed these slowly and when greeted by the lawyer he said “you should have told me stairs were a problem and I could have met you at home”.  My response was “how could we have known that your office was on the third floor of a commercial building that lacked and elevator, and if a home visit was an option, this was never explained to us”.  NOT AODA compliant.
  • The other day I was at the bank waiting for an appointment.  A patron with a cane ventured in and promptly tripped on the scatter rug that was not lying flat on the floor.  Two staff quickly ran to her side and started reefing on her shoulders to get her back into standing.  The teller told me that people trip on those mats “all the time”.  NOT AODA compliant.
  • Or, the story of a client of mine who uses a wheelchair and ventures into a large department store where a “greeter” puts a sticker on him that says “I am special”.  NOT AODA compliant.

Would you, or the people of your organization, make these mistakes?  Do you even know what the mistakes are?  Does your organization know how to manage these situations better, with tact, and preventatively?

My business hat tells me that business owners will respond to the AODA in one of three ways: “it won’t happen to me”, “tick the box” or “this is important”.

It Won’t Happen to Me

These are the group of owners that will ignore the legislation and not fear the result.  They won’t care about the impression they leave on people that may try to access their services but can’t.  Or the people that may try to get into their building and can’t.  Or the people that will try to use their website and can’t.  They won’t concern themselves with the comments lost consumers may spread about how they felt or how unfortunate it was to encounter such correctable barriers.   These owners feel confident in the fact that not being able to meet the needs of a disabled customer will not impact their reputation or bottom line.  They sleep well and don’t concern themselves morally or ethically with the possible ill experience of one lost consumer who really just wanted to have equal access.

Tick the Box

These owners will review the legislation and will make sure they do the bare minimum.  They will send someone from HR, or one employee, to a one hour seminar on how to provide service to people with disabilities and that person will return and teach the rest of the team.  They will “tick the box” that they did some AODA customer service training and will hope that this is enough.  These owners do care about potential customers with disabilities and recognize that while 15% of people in Ontario have a disability, even more are caregivers, parents of a disabled child, or that the demographic shift with the aging population will make AODA even more important.  While they care, they don’t care enough to actually ensure they get it right.  They feel the bare minimum will be better than nothing, and will hope that their staff at the least don’t upset or hurt someone that may try to access their building, or their services.

This is Important

This is the group of concerned owners that want to hit the nail on the head.  They don’t believe in doing the bare minimum because they are interested in providing amazing service to all customers.  These owners are forward thinkers that recognize the growing number of disabled consumers, and see how the ripple effect from one person’s great experience can transfer to a story told to many.  These owners want to have caring and compassionate staff that are comfortable helping a visually impaired client sign forms, or a client with a hearing impairment to get information over the phone.  They embrace everyone that enters their building and know how to offer great service without saying the wrong thing or without the fear of coming across as condescending or ignorant.

I guess what box you fit into will ultimately depend on your:

1. Risk tolerance – can you tolerate a bad reputation, poor social media reviews or comments, or the threat of being sued over failure to comply?

2.  Values – do you care about people with disabilities and the experience they get from your organization?  Do you value being seen as caring, compassionate, and accommodating?

3.  Resources – do you have the time, interest or resources to invest in thorough and proactive solutions?  Will you take the time to explore the options and to provide your team with the most practical and useful training?

4.  Goals – is one of your goals to provide exceptional service to all?  Do you see a customer as a customer, all having equal value and an equal opportunity to not only benefit from your service, but to also benefit your bottom line?  If your goal is business success then the AODA is nothing to ignore.

Let me demystify how my examples earlier could have been handled better:

  • When we called the lawyer to book our appointment, his receptionist could have simply indicated “please be aware that we have three flights of stairs to our office and the building is not equipped with an elevator.  If that may pose a challenge for you or your relative, please be aware that we can also meet you at home”.
  • When the lady fell at the bank, the staff could have asked “do you need us to call 911 for help, are you okay to try and stand, or how can we help you”?  Then, before lifting her by the arms they should have asked “how can we best help you back into standing, will holding your arms to help you rise be okay for you”?
  • The “greeter” at the department store could have simply greeted my client in the wheelchair to say “I hope our store is easy for you to manage and that you can access all the things you are looking for.  If you need any assistance, or would like to consider using one of our scooters, I am here to help”.

What kind of owner are you?