Why improving accessibility should be a priority for every charity

Authored by Chris Hall, Manager, Human Resources

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FreeImages.com/Local Guy


A story of accessibility

A couple of weeks ago I watched my son ride a horse around the perimeter of an indoor riding arena.  I couldn’t get over how well he did given that it was only his second time riding.

I think what I’ll remember the most is seeing the smile on his face and hearing his laughter as the horse quickened its pace to a trot.  Suddenly his diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder and global developmental delay melted away.  In that moment he was just a kid who liked to ride horses.

You may be wondering how it would be possible for someone dealing with those kinds of challenges to ride a horse.  I must admit that I was somewhat apprehensive myself as my wife and I first explored this as a possible recreational activity for our son.

The service provider had taken an activity that would normally present many barriers for someone with a disability, and had adapted it in a way that allowed our son to participate.

My wife and I discussed our son’s particular needs with the service provider, and in response they ensured that:

  • In addition to someone leading the horse, a volunteer walked along each side of the horse to provide our son with greater stability
  • A ramp was made available to make mounting the horse easier
  • Consistency was provided in terms of the horse and volunteers that our son would interact with

The result of these accommodations had a near Disney like effect.  Our son had found an activity that he enjoyed doing and that allowed him to engage with others in a meaningful way.  Perhaps equally impressive was the relatively low cost of making this activity more accessible.

A growing demographic

In 2012 Statistics Canada estimated that 3.8 million adult Canadians reported being limited in their daily activities due to a disability, representing 13.7% of the adult population[i].  This is a significant demographic within Canada, and one that is expected to grow as our population ages.

Trend towards accessibility

A number of  provinces are taking steps to make their jurisdictions more accessible, and will likely look to the work that has been done in Ontario to inform and create their own legislation.  Several notable provincial commitments have been highlighted below:

  • The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act, 2005  (AODA) is a law in Ontario that sets out a process for developing accessibility standards, with the goal of an accessible Ontario by the year 2025.
  • The Accessibility for Manitobans Act became law in 2013[ii] and on November 1, 2015 Manitoba’s Customer Service Accessibility Standard, the first standard under this Act, will come into effect.  All Manitoba organizations with one or more employees will be required to comply with this standard, with private and non-profit organizations being required to comply by November 1, 2018.  For more information see the News Release from the Manitoba government.
  • In 2014 the Premier of British Columbia released Accessibility 2024: Making B.C. the most progressive province in Canada for people with disabilities by 2024[iii]. Accessibility 2024 is a 10-year action plan, designed around 12 building blocks that represent themes that emerged through the disability consultation process.
  • In Nova Scotia, the Ministry of Community Services is committed to introducing the province’s first Accessibility Legislation in 2016 and will be drafting the new legislation based on the thoughts, ideas and suggestions of Nova Scotians[iv].

The subject of my next blog post will be what Ontario charities need to know about the upcoming AODA requirements that are coming into effect on January 1, 2016.

Even if this legislation does not apply to your charity, Canadians are increasingly coming to expect that service providers will take reasonable steps to make their products and services more accessible when requested to do so.

Christian perspective on accessibility

Christian charities have an opportunity to really lead the way when it comes to accessibility and making their products and services more accessible.  Not because it’s legislatively mandated, but because it’s the right thing to do.

I am particularly reminded of the story of the paralytic man in the second chapter of the Gospel of Mark.  Given the barriers of his lack of mobility and the crowd that had gathered, the paralytic man was unable to reach Jesus.  The friends of this man were so desperate to get him to Jesus, that they lowered him through a hole that had been dug in the roof.  Upon seeing their faith, Jesus forgave the paralytic man of his sins and healed him.

Improving accessibility starts with you and me

Whether your charity is considering the design of its website, employment practices or customer service experience, there are many opportunities to improve accessibility for those with disabilities.  In many cases simply adopting a mindset of accessibility in how we engage with others can create goodwill and present opportunities to share the love of Jesus with others.

Thankfully improving accessibility does not need to be onerous, and many charities have already taken steps to ensure their programs and services remove barriers to accessibility wherever possible.

I remember when my son was having difficulty sitting through the first part of the service until the children were dismissed.  Sensing there was a need, our church family worked with us to come up with a solution that allowed my wife and I to participate in the service, and that provided our son with a much needed outlet for his energy.  I was incredibly moved that a church of less than 150 people was able to find a way to make that happen.

Lets keep the conversation going

Please take a moment to comment on this blog post or respond to one of the discussion points below:

  • How has your charity successfully removed barriers to accessibility in the way it delivers its programs and services?
  • What steps will you take to enhance the accessibility and inclusiveness of your charity when it comes to serving the unique needs of those with disabilities?
  • What concerns do you have about the potential challenges that come with making your ministry more accessible?

 

[i] http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-654-x/89-654-x2013002-eng.htm

[ii] http://www.gov.mb.ca/dio/

[iii] http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/governments/about-the-bc-government/accessibility/accessibility-2024

[iv] http://novascotia.ca/coms/accessibility/

Thoughts on Why improving accessibility should be a priority for every charity

  1. R Hall

    Chris, this was a tremendously encouraging blog and we all should realize the importance of making acessability a key priority and giving thought to those who do not have the same abilities. Thankyou for sharing the story of your sons horseback riding experience, and the blessing it was for you and your family to have such access to this great and memorable outing for your son

    Reply
  2. Cory

    Hi Chris,
    Well done. The combination of story and application is excellent. Very helpful in trying to sort out the “must” do from the “can do and should…”.

    Reply
  3. Shirley McCarthy

    Well written! Good read! Improving accessibility can only be an all around win for everyone. Respectfully recognizing & making the effort to include the disabled population, shows that the charity is one with compassion, empathy & willingness to embrace all. We cannot be afraid of change. It has been my experience that positive change often involves “outside the box” type thinking. The example you gave of how your church was able to accommodate – is a perfect example of creative thinking and is commendable! My charity is always looking for program adaptations that would better accommodate and include everyone. Awareness, education and self reminders have been key as well as obtaining feedback from disabled persons so that we can continue to improve accessibility for all.

    Reply
  4. Sarah J. A. Rowan

    An excellent post about a relevant topic, Chris! It’s important to remember that we can all take steps – even small ones – to help improve the lives of others, whether in our place of business or just in everyday life moments.

    By the way – you’re a great writer! And you know as an English teacher, I don’t hand that compliment out easily 🙂

    Reply
    1. Steven PlaumChris Hall Post author

      It’s great to hear from you Sarah and thank you for taking the time to comment. I completely agree that even small changes can make a big difference. I think some may be concerned at the financial cost in becoming more accessible, however its encouraging to know that many meaningful accommodations can be made at minimal cost to an organization.

      Reply

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