Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Compliance with Regulation 429 (Accessible Customer Service) Helped by Fire Code

I’m writing this Blog to raise awareness about a new law that came into force on January 1, 2012. It is called Ontario Regulation 429, or the Accessibility Standards for Customer Service. The law is not new. It was released in January 2010 and applied to the public sector only, at first. Now, two years later, the law has been expanded to include the private sector as well. What it means is that, all those who have a business must make themselves more accessible to people who have a disability. This letter will provide a little education on what providing improved accommodation means under this law, and then illustrate that believe it or not, many of the requirements are not new and therefore shouldn’t be, a brand new added cost.

I’ll start by explaining what the new law is and how it will affect you. What the law basically says is that, if a customer with a disability comes into your business, they must have equal (or equitable) access to the goods and services that are being sold to everyone else. In some cases, this means the employees must be trained to know when, and how, to offer polite and respectful assistance on request to a person who has a disability.

In other cases it means that the store must be laid out in a way that will not create barriers to a person who uses an assistive device like a wheelchair, walker, or service animal. The key to accomplishing this goal is to know how best to lay out the goods and services on display in a way that has plenty of room for a person, cart, stroller, or a person using an assistive device, to pass between. If the displays and furnishings are placed too closely together making the aisles narrow, the business will not comply with the new law.

The good news is; there is a law already in place that will address this issue if it is read and then it is followed. It is called the Ontario Fire Code. If one were to read it, they would see it clearly outlines the measurement that is required between every aisle and display. It also identifies a maximum of how many pounds of force is needed to open a door.

In Subsection 2.7.1. Means of Egress in the Fire Code, you will see it requires that the width of aisles in public places be 1100 mm (43.3 inches) for a main aisle and 900 mm (35 inches) for a subsidiary aisle. The subsidiary aisle cannot branch off for a distance of more than 7.5 m (24 feet).

For curiousity sake, I phoned the Access Bus to find out how wide their lifts were, and if they ever had to turn a passenger away because their wheelchair was too wide. I found out the wheelchair lift is 31” and it has been sufficient to accommodate the needs of all their passengers. This means that, if one were to set the displays far enough apart to comply with the Fire Code, the needs of those using an assistive device will automatically be met with 4 inches of extra width to spare.

The fire code also states that the weight of a door should not to exceed 20 pounds of force to open it. A lot of doors weigh a lot more than that. I know this because, out of frustration of having to beg people to open the doors or let me out of an embarrassing place, like a washroom, I bought a fish scales and have been weighing the doors.

The results were not pretty. The majority of doors weighed between 35 – 50 pounds, and far exceeded this requirement. It is not only a safety hazard, but it was also a welcome relief to learn I am not as weak as I thought I was.

Again, curiousity got the better of me, so I read the proposed Built Environment Standard that will soon be released, and the ADA (American’s With Disabilities Act). I wanted to know what they considered was a reasonable. Would you believe the proposed new Built Environment Standard recommends 8.5 lbs of force to open an exterior door and 5 lbs of force to open an interior one? In the US, the maximum force is only 5 pounds. It was a welcome relief to see.

I know this law is coming out at a bad time, and it appears to be too costly at this time when austerity measures are needed, so here’s hoping this information will bring some welcome relief that, in this case, the requirement to accommodate the disabled, is not an extra cost.

It is an accommodation that will improve safety for all, while making the business easier for people with disabilities, seniors, parents with strollers, or someone who simply wants to push a shopping cart or bundle buggy, to shop.

I look forward to soon being able to freely and independently, shop again!!

Please Read my Other Blogs:
Transit: http://wheelchairdemon-transit.blogspot.com
Health: http://wheelchairdemon-health.blogspot.com


Anonymous said...

Who is going to pay for all the changes, though? It will cost some businesses a fortune. It just wouldn't be worth it for such a small minority of custormers.

wheelchairdemon said...

Compliance with the Fire Code will ensure safety for all AND accessibility for people with disabilities as well.

Do you not want to be guaranteed some safety by the enforcement of the Fire Code; a law that's been around, and unfortunately not been enforced, for years?