OPC’s Fact Finding Trip to California – It is time for Ontario to Catch up with Accessibility?

Over the many years in which I have contributed ergonomic related articles to COS I have been trying to show employers, union representatives, Senior managers and employees how ergonomics is really about designing the workplace for all people from end users to employees, hourly workers to customers, maintenance workers to cleaning staff.
In a sense this definition of ergonomics is more about “barrier free design” with many tangible and important benefits. Companies who truly embrace ergonomic concepts and design toward minimizing barriers to access have quantified some of the following in direct benefits;
ergonomic and accessible design has become a means of opening up opportunities for employers to chose from a wider group of prospective employees ie. A larger talent pool
ergonomic design at the blue print phase of all projects has provided a means of limiting human error and workplace injury and accident
ergonomic and accessible design has become a key method for expediting the return to work of employees by accommodating employees with disabilities into the workplace so as to maximize their skills and knowledge along with productivity in the workplace
ergonomic design of equipment, tools, processes results in efficiencies in workforce use and overall productivity gains
What is interesting for the province of Ontario (and soon other provinces in Canada) is this expanded definition for ergonomics has now become law in Ontario via the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA); by this I mean that the barrier free component of ergonomics will be introduced in increments in the province such that the workplace will become accessible for all employees, customers, & visitors whether able bodied or disabled & irrespective of the nature of the disability.
Despite the fact the benefits of solid ergonomic design are being realized by more and more employers, the feedback from our own client base along with interview & survey results from with employers and union representatives we have found 2 very critical findings
A.     The Ministry of Community and Social Services has done an abysmal job of communicating the current AODA Customer Service requirements to private employers & small employers in Ontario and
B.     Employers in Ontario and in Canada for that matter do not yet see the tangible ROI opportunities available by embracing ergonomic barrier free design to improve accessibility to the workplace
To highlight this fact I thought for the purposes of this article it would be interesting to  report on a recent business trip I took to California as a means to study accessibility laws and practice in both LA and in Palm Springs.  What I have learned from this trip is the following; Ontario’s private employers, designers and architects, Human Resources and DM have a great deal to learn and apply in the area of Accessible, ergonomic design AND the government of Ontario has not taken a leadership role towards showing proviate business the ROI and business benefits in using accessible design. Further the province has not put any financial incentives in place to kick start the process for accessibility for any private employers in Ontario
California?  ADA and State Laws are Forward thinking

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is a civil rights law which requires that buildings and facilities that provide goods and services to the public must be accessible to individuals with disabilities.
The ADA was signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 & went into effect in 1992 with buildings & alterations constructed after 1992 having to comply with the requirements of the ADA. Buildings and facilities constructed prior to 1992, have been required to make changes to facilitate accessibility that are “readily achievable”, which is defined as, “easily accomplishable and able to be carried out without much difficulty or expense.”
The California Building Code
In addition to the ADA, California has its own requirements for accessibility compliance which are described into the California Building Code.  Current codes became effective in January of 2011.

Braille & textured map/model of the layout of the Getty Museum in LA California 2011. This model allows those visitors with visual impairments to understand the layout of the campus and where each type of art work is housed in each building. Accounts for congentical visual issues (Braille) and acquired visual impairments (tactile models and tactile lettering)
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More and more of the sidewalks in both major citis in California including Palm Springs have both sloped areas for wheelchairs & carts aloing with added textures and bright colours to assist the visually impaired; LA California 2011 (NOTE; These can be a bit of  a hazard when waering roller blades!)
http://www.signsnowsacramento.com/vsites/sacramento/user_files/imageGallery/ada_braille_signs/classroom_mrs._smith.jpg
Photo of University campus visit we took in LA April 2011. Signage Standards are in place in  California including the use of Braille placed in the standardized location on the sign; all signs to the left side of the entrancements; at standardized height for both visual use and tactile use
Photos of exterior “Way Finding” which has clearly been shown to improve Business and Customer Traffic in Downtown LA. This is case study which business and retailers in Ontario should review as this provides an excellent and documents ROI for LA and representes a large business opportunity for both cities nad towns in Ontario.
Downtown Los Angeles, California
 
Wayfinding signage system example 1Wayfinding signage system example 2Wayfinding signage system example 3
Wayfinding signage system example 4Wayfinding signage system example 5

The City of Los Angeles turned the ADA and the California Build Code and related acts into a business opportunity. During our fact finding trip we captured photographs of how Way Finding has helped drive human traffic  and customers to specific areas in downtown LA while at the same time expediting movement of vehicles through the downtown core.  The results are published in numerous papers and webstites whereby “Angelinos and tourists are better able to navigate its streets, sidewalks and the public transit system using what is now the US’s largest urban Way Finding program.
The $2 million project, known as the “Downtown LA Walks” involved developing pedestrian and vehicular signage to direct people to hundreds of destinations in the city’s busy downtown core—an area that encompasses 350 city blocks, 50 streets, more than 300 intersections, 30 freeway off-ramps and  8 transit stops.
Meanwhile Back in Ontario
It is a known that 1.85 million people in Ontario have a disability (Statistics Ministry of Community and Social Services Ontario, 2009) AND over the next 20 years as the population ages, the number will rise to one in five Ontarians. This presents both a huge challenge AND an enormous opportunity for businesses in much the same way that the green movement has turned into a multimillion dollar industry in Canada and in the way in which California is embracing the benefits of both the ADA and the California Build Code.
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Ontario based exhibition; I go where next?
The early adoption of ergonomic accessible design in businesses and retail presents an opportunity for business in Ontario to show they are open for business for customers, open to the hiring of all prospective employees, snd open to working with all potential clients and tenants.  This opens up the size and scope of the market for yoru businesses goods & services.
To illustrate how Ontario’s private businesses have not understood the potneitl in ensuring ergonomic and accessible design I will leave you with the photo above on way finding and the photos taken in vasroius locations in Ontario. Each of these photographs represents both the challenge and the huge opporitnty for all private businesses in Ontairo to benefit in creating fully barrier free and accessible design using ergonomic principles.  The early adopters who understna dhtis potential will stand to benefit in very tangible ways from improved profitability of your business to enhanced abilitiy to hire from a larger pool of qualified labour to good will within the community in which your business presides.
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Accessible Sidewalks?
More than 7 out of 10 Canadians will acquire some sort of disability by the time they reach age 75. Over the next 10 yerars the number of Canadians over 50 will increase by 40%.  62% of people with disabilities say in surveys (Witeck-Combs 2005) they are likely to do business with bompanies that have a committement to diversity and euqual treatment of employees.
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And I access your business how?
People with Disabilities in Canada have $22 Billion in descretionay spending power (source; Diversity Inc 2001)
An EU DuPont 30-year study showed that performance by workers with disabilities is equal to or better than nondisabled peers.  Employees with disabilities have a 90 percent above-average job performance, with safety and attendance records that were far about the norm”
“According to a 1999 survey of Society for Human Resource Management members, 73 percent of companies report no cost increases attributable to extending health, life and/or disability coverage to employees or dependants with disabilities.”
http://www.officesigncompany.com/images/office-door-signs-conference.jpg
My interview with HR is where?

Surveys show that people with a disability: on average, have a better attendance record (Lester & Caudill, 1987; Noel, 1990) have an average or better productivity rate than other workers (Lester & Caudill, 1987; Noel, 1990) have an average or better job retention rate (Lester & Caudill, 1987).

Olga Dosis is Senior Accessibility Consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants.  Olga holds a Masters Degree in Critical Disability Studies & is Sr AODA expert with George Brown College.  With more than 21 years experience working in this field, Olga analyzes & synthesizes cross disability issues & conducts AODA related audits to develop realistic strategic action plans for all types of organizations. Contact info@optimalperformance.ca
Jane Sleeth is Managing Director & Senior Ergonomic Design Consultant with Optimal Performance Consultants an Ergonomic Design, Accessibility & E Learning firm with locations across Canada. Jane and her team of consultants most recently completed a building & accessibility audit for the LCBO with recommendations which will ensure LCBO meets the Ontario standards for Communication and Building Design.  The ergonomic/design experts at OPC conduct audits of workplaces to determine the start point toward compliance with the AODA. Contact Jane.sleeth@optimalperformance.ca

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