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Dining out accessibly: A review of audit results and commitments

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Objectives and overview

It has been more than twenty years since protection from discrimination on the ground of disability was introduced into the Ontario Human Rights Code. And, despite minimum accessibility standards set out in the Building Code, as well as decades of promoting public awareness, persons with disabilities in Ontario continue to face a multitude of physical, attitudinal and service-related barriers in all social areas of our society. This is no less true when it comes to the restaurant and hospitality industry.

Restaurants provide a popular means for Ontarians to participate in the life of their communities. They are more than just a convenience; they are also a venue for social interaction. Many Ontarians take for granted that they can dine out at a favourite local restaurant, bar or café of their choice. But, for persons with disabilities, accessing restaurants can mean confronting barriers that can either prevent access altogether or make the experience a difficult and undignified one.

The Ontario Human Rights Commission (the “Commission”) routinely receives inquiries and complaints from persons with disabilities pertaining to inaccessible premises and services. Similar concerns have been identified during Commission public consultations, at its education activities, through its research, and were highlighted in its 2002 submission on the Building Code to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (see Appendix I for an overview).

Section 29 of the Ontario Human Rights Code gives the Commission the power and discretion to inquire into and advise on human rights issues and encourage action to address barriers and differential treatment to help prevent such matters from becoming the subject of a formal complaint of discrimination to the Commission.

In the spring of 2001, the Commission began its efforts to engage the restaurant industry to promote the accessibility of its services and facilities for persons with disabilities in Ontario.

The objectives of the Commission’s inquiry into restaurant accessibility are two-fold:

  • To increase awareness and report back to restaurant industry leaders and the general public on the nature of existing barriers that prevent persons with disabilities from accessing restaurants in their community.
  • To work cooperatively with restaurant industry leaders and seek their commitment to voluntarily take steps to identify, remove and prevent barriers and accommodate the needs of customers with disabilities in order to meet their obligations under Ontario’s Human Rights Code.

This document, Dining Out Accessibly: A Review of Audit Results and Commitments (“Dining Out Accessibly”), has been prepared by the Commission subsequent to initiating an external audit of seven restaurant chains in Ontario. The audit was conducted on behalf of the Commission by Betty Dion Enterprises Limited. In alphabetical order and by their brand name the chains that were selected are: Country Style Donuts, McDonalds, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, Subway, Swiss Chalet and Tim Hortons.

The considerations in selecting the restaurant sites to audit included those: that have a large number of locations in a variety of large and small population centres across the province; that offered different fare; that were not owned by the same parent company; and that have some stand-alone locations. Sites were selected from a mix of downtown areas as well as restaurants outside a downtown core and efforts were made to select a mix of older and newer restaurants.

The results of the audit are set out in Appendix II of this Report. Four sites were audited per chain for the purpose of demonstrating the type of barriers customers with disabilities face in accessing restaurants and the need to plan and take steps to remove and prevent barriers. These results should not be used to rank the chains nor draw conclusions about the degree of accessibility across an entire restaurant chain.

Rather, the Commission is looking to the restaurant chains’ response to the results of the accessibility audit as the key indicator of their commitment to address accessibility issues for customers with disabilities.

The selection of these seven chains is not meant to infer that other chains are exemplary and not open to scrutiny. The Commission will continue to carry out its enforcement and promotion functions in this regard and will have the same expectations for the entire restaurant and hospitality industry.

The Code also provides the Commission with the option to initiate a formal complaint against facilities that do not take steps to comply with the Code. It is the Commission’s hope, however, that this initiative will help to achieve the aims and objectives of the Code through cooperation, rather than the use of formal enforcement functions.

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