Providers of restaurant services must comply with the requirements of both the Building Code and the Human Rights Code. Those who do not may pay a high price in terms of loss of a significant client base and damaged reputations.
Accessibility also makes good business sense, particularly in light of our aging population and the greater numbers of Ontarians exhibiting varying degrees of ability, as well as families with small children. All of these groups can benefit from accessibility features such as ramps, automatic doors and unobstructed passageways.
The Commission does recognize the difficulty that businesses sometimes face in achieving accessibility, particularly those that own or operate older facilities. Renovations may seem too costly or not worth pursuing if a location is not very profitable or if there are plans to relocate in the future. Businesses that complied with older building codes that did not require barrier-free design can be understandably frustrated to learn the Human Rights Code can still require them to take steps and achieve accessibility in these premises, subject only to the undue hardship standard.
At the same time, a business or organization that has no plan or intention to renovate inaccessible facilities is leaving itself vulnerable to the possibility of a complaint under the Human Rights Code. Rather than addressing barriers simply on the basis of one human rights complaint at a time, the Commission would much prefer that businesses make commitments to achieve an inclusive and accessible restaurant and hospitality industry voluntarily and cooperatively.
Planning and taking steps are key components to achieving full accessibility and preventing human rights complaints. This must involve a commitment to refrain from creating new barriers for persons with disabilities and to identify and remove existing ones.
To this end, the Commission initiated the Accessibility Audit of select chains to demonstrate the nature of barriers that exist in the restaurant industry. Detailed results of the Accessibility Audit were shared with each of the seven restaurant chains in June 2003. The Commission then sought meetings with senior representatives of the chains in the Fall of 2003 to hear their reaction to the results of the Audit. The chains were asked to commit to the following five steps identified together by the Commission as critical for the restaurant industry to undertake towards meeting its obligations under Ontario’s Human Rights Code:
- Develop an accessibility policy and customer complaints procedure. Create no new barriers to access. Accommodate needs where barriers exist, short of undue hardship.
- Review and identify accessibility barriers across corporate-owned and franchisee facilities.
- Develop a standardized accessibility plan for future locations that is based not just on the current Ontario Building Code, but also in respect of the requirements for accessibility under the Ontario Human Rights Code and the Commission’s Policy and Guidelines on Disability and the Duty to Accommodate, as well as upon current standards and best practices in barrier-free design. This standardized plan should be mandated for all new locations and part of all franchisee agreements, and should clearly stipulate that the requirements of the accessibility plan must be met as a condition of the agreement. Avoid opening new restaurants in inaccessible premises.
- For existing facilities, develop a plan, and remove barriers to achieve accessibility. Immediately take steps to fix problems that can be easily addressed and/or are relatively inexpensive. For more complex barriers, implement interim solutions and phase in remaining changes that are needed to achieve full accessibility. Prioritize the changes, set specific deadlines, and assign responsibilities.
- Monitor progress toward achieving accessibility and report back to the Commission in one year’s time on achievements.
On the whole, the Commission is pleased with the positive and enthusiastic response received from the chains. All seven chains have committed, for the most part, to the five (see Appendix IV for a complete list of commitments made).
Some of the chains also reported on additional related activities or expressed broader views (also see Appendix IV).
The Commission would like to recognize and commend these chains for making important commitments and undertaking activities to address accessibility barriers for customers with disabilities.
Appendix V of this Report lists a number of resources available to businesses and organizations to assist with the barrier-free design of their facilities and services. The accessibility checklist used in the Commission’s audit of select restaurant locations is also included in Appendix III.
For its part, the Commission is committed to the following actions:
- The Commission will continue a multi-faceted and systemic approach to pursuing the issue of restaurant accessibility by engaging the restaurant industry through professional associations, as well as raising concerns with government in regards to the Building Code and the Government’s initiative to review the scope of the Ontarians with Disabilities Act.
- The Commission will continue to receive, mediate and investigate complaints involving inaccessible restaurants and other services, and where appropriate, will refer unresolved cases to a Human Rights Tribunal.
- The Commission will report back in 2005 on the status of activities and advancements made in all these areas.
- The Commission will disseminate these findings to other major restaurant chains and will also ask them to report back on the accessibility of their chains as well as seek their commitment to the five steps listed above.