Moving Forward

The restaurants that have reached voluntary agreements with the OHRC have become leaders in planning for, and moving towards accessible services for all Ontarians. They have demonstrated that accessibility can be achieved, and in a way that is positive both for business owners and operators, and for their customers.

Many of the restaurant owners and managers with whom the OHRC has met over the past few years have emphasized the importance of a “level playing field” – that is, that the restaurant industry must move forward towards accessibility as a whole. The OHRC hopes that others in the restaurant industry will follow in the steps of these restaurants, both as a “best business practice” and in recognition of their legal responsibilities under the Code.

Given these concerns, and the OHRC’s experience with the restaurant industry, it is our belief that this sector will benefit from the development of accessibility standards under the AODA that will build on the work that has been done, and will ensure that the industry moves forward together as a whole.

Restaurant owners and operators who have premises in leased buildings emphasized the difficulties that they face in obtaining cooperation from their landlords in removing accessibility barriers in the landlords’ areas of responsibility and control. This, in their view, creates a significant obstacle in any attempt to achieve full accessibility. Landlords, as providers of services and facilities, have a duty under section 1 of the Code not to discriminate on the basis of disability, and are therefore required to provide barrier-free premises, unless to do so would cause them undue hardship. Landlords who have failed to take a proactive approach to accessibility, and especially those who have been alerted to barriers in their premises and have failed to take steps to assess and remove them, may be in violation of the Code.

The achievement of full accessibility requires a cooperative approach from a number of actors: restaurant owners and franchisees, landlords, architects, the construction industry, and government, including the OHRC.

Restaurant Owners and Operators must follow the lead of these 26 restaurant chains by:

  • Setting as a goal full accessibility for their services;
  • Developing accessibility policies and plans;
  • Identifying barriers to accessibility;
  • Developing and implementing plans for removing barriers; and
  • Monitoring progress towards full accessibility.

Commercial Landlords must also take responsibility for meeting their obligations under the Code by:

  • Setting as a goal full accessibility for their premises;
  • Developing accessibility policies and plans;
  • Identifying barriers to accessibility,
  • Developing and implementing plans for removing barriers; and
  • Monitoring progress towards full accessibility.

Government must:

  • Provide guidance and assistance for the restaurant and commercial leasing industry in setting standards for the achievement of accessibility, through the mechanisms established under the AODA;
  • Ensure that the minimum accessibility standards set by the OBC support the achievement of full accessibility for persons with disabilities, and that these provisions of the OBC are interpreted in harmony with the Code; and
  • Ensure that the barrier-free provisions of the OBC are adequately communicated and enforced.

The OHRC will:

  • Continue to raise concerns with government regarding the OBC, and the importance of harmonizing the various laws currently governing accessibility issues;
  • Continue to receive, mediate, investigate and where appropriate initiate complaints involving inaccessible restaurants and other services, and where appropriate, refer unresolved cases to a Human Rights Tribunal; and
  • Disseminate these findings to the restaurant industry and commercial landlords, as well as to architects and those who provide training to architects.

In closing, the OHRC wishes to extend its thanks to the restaurant service providers that have partnered with us in improving the accessibility of the restaurant industry. The OHRC has appreciated their cooperative and positive approach to improving the accessibility of their services for customers with disabilities. These have provided positive examples of the type of policies progressive organizations can adopt to promote the equality of persons with disabilities, and improve their customer service.