United Way briefs Smiths Falls council on accessibility concerns

Posted on: September 18, 2017

Chris Must

The United Way of Lanark County is investing in outreach efforts on behalf of disabled members of the community, with considerable success.

United Way Regional Director Fraser Scantlebury and Partnership Coordinator Amy Elsner attended a special meeting of Smiths Falls Town Council on Monday, Sept.18 to provide an overview of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) and the agency’s local efforts to persuade businesses to consider hiring people with disabilities.

Scantlebury said Elsner has already reached out to over 1,000 businesses in Smiths Falls and Lanark County, and identified 25 local organizations interested in joining the Employment Accessibility Resource Network (EARN).
EARN is a network of employers and stakeholders with the goal of increasing employment opportunities for people with disabilities and promoting inclusive and accessible workplaces.

AODA sets out the process for developing and enforcing accessibility standards, with the goal of making Ontario accessible by 2025. The act sets out five standards of accessibility based on customer service, information and communication, employment, transportation, and design of public spaces.

Accessibility is becoming more important due to an aging population, said Elsner. Greater accessibility is good for the economy, makes Eastern Ontario a more attractive tourist destination, and is good for employers, she added.
In 2017, one person in seven has some form of disability. By 2031, people with disabilities and seniors 55 and over will have a total income of $536 billion. Given this reality, said Elsner, it is in every business’s best interests to promote accessibility.

It is also possible to make a strong case that hiring people with disabilities makes good business sense, said Elsner. When they are hired, people with disabilities usually make local employees who stay in the same workplace longer than average, which reduces the costs of retraining.

“It’s hard to find employees,” said Scantlebury. “Someone with a disability might be the perfect person.”
“We need to focus not on people’s disabilities, but on their abilities,” commented Councillor Dawn Quinn.

“We have a big job to do,” said Mayor Shawn Pankow, adding that the town will look to local resources such as the United Way’s awareness campaign to help accomplish the task of meeting the requirements of the AODA.