Nation Valley News
NORTH DUNDAS — Over the past few months there has been lots of buzz about the need for accessible businesses, specifically in North Dundas. But what is accessibility? What makes a store accessible?
Looming over the issue are new provincial accessibility standards set to take effect in 2025.
There is certainly a surge in the aging community in need of more accessible stores in the area, but a fix isn’t always as simple as erecting a ramp at the front door.
Winchester is known for its heritage and historical architecture, but sometimes keeping that history comes at a price.
For many Winchester businesses this is the case. Aside from moving their entire building back from the street, there is no possible way to put in a ramp.
“Having infrastructure in an older town and having a building that is basically on the township’s doorstep, makes it very hard to be able to even put in a portable ramp. The back door is not wide enough and there is not enough room to put a ramp inside either,” explained Owner of Barkley’s Shoes and Accessories, Kristie Barkley.
She isn’t the only one facing this issue or other similar issues.
Other owners feel as though their “hands are tied,” whether it be structurally impossible, the cost, or per their landlord’s discretion.
North Dundas entrepreneurs are empathetic for those who are unable to come inside their stores but many have found other ways of accommodation.
“As a small business owner of Barkley’s Shoes in Winchester, all I really want is to have every single person able to come through our doors. I know this is not always going to be possible but I work really hard to help the people that currently can’t access my store. I take products out to their car, I ship products to them, and I’ve even sent things home with someone, so they could try it. I know this isn’t the same as being able to come into the store and browse around, but we are doing everything in our power. Trust me, we want our stores to be accessible,” Barkley stated on behalf of herself and fellow proprietors.
According to the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), “Organizations are required to work with people with disabilities so they may receive accessible customer service (provision of goods services, or facilities). The standard provides flexibility for organizations to implement accessible customer service in a way that makes sense in individual circumstances.”
It goes on, “Organizations are required to exert best efforts to provide their goods, services or facilities in a way that people with disabilities can access them.”
Ramps aren’t mandated for older existing buildings and won’t be in 2025, either, says Matt Gloyd, Senior Media and Communications Advisor for the Ministry of Seniors and Accessibility.
Gloyd clarifies, “If a business does not have a ramp, employees could arrange to meet with a person with a disability at an accessible meeting place outside the business’s location. Or, a business could arrange to provide its goods or services at a different store location that is accessible.”
Not that the installation of ramps is being discouraged locally: The Township of North Dundas has already begun to take steps to help local entrepreneurs with this issue, especially on new building projects or renovations.
Director of Planning, Building and Enforcement Calvin Pol remarks, “We have had several innovative approaches in township where buildings have been made accessible, which previously were not.”
He points to the example of the former Foodland in Winchester, now turned into clinics and offices.
“The slope on the original ramp was too steep and did not meet the new code requirements. They reconstructed the entrance at the west end to fit the new accessibility standards, and added accessible parking. For the new east end entrance, they took the sidewalk bricks out, then sloped the sidewalk up to the new door,” said Pol.
“A particularly innovative approach was the O’Farrell Financial Services building, where they built into the building for a turning area for wheelchairs to get in. The township entered into an encroachment agreement with the owner for a small encroachment into the township sidewalk to allow for the concrete ramp. The sidewalk plows still had access around the ramp, despite the encroachment,” added Pol.
Pol also insisted that if there are any businesses looking into the possibility of constructing a ramp or making accessible improvements to their establishment they can apply for the Community Improvement Plan at both the Township level and the County level which offer financial assistance.
Although financial assistance is offered through this initiative, it is not a full grant. Business owners are required to make a contribution to the project.
“Through the Community Improvement Plan, grant and loan money will be made available in order to assist with exterior façade, signage and interior improvements,” says the CIP documentation provided on the township’s website.
The North Dundas Chamber of Commerce has also made plans to find out more information on improving accessibility.
“Before the COVID-19 crisis hit, we were looking at inviting a township official to present to the Chamber on this topic because it is a hot one,” says Chamber President Nelson Zandbergen.
Zandbergen says the issue is not unique to North Dundas as businesses across the province find themselves in older buildings that would be very expensive to upgrade.
“I know that our businesses in North Dundas strive to do the best for every customer no matter their situation.”
Gloyd encourages business clientele to voice their concerns with establishment owners.
“Should anyone have any concerns regarding the service that is being provided, they are encouraged to provide this feedback to the business and work directly with them as a first step to develop an accessible solution.”