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Are you accessible? And, no, that doesn’t just mean having your BlackBerry on 24/7. Accessibility also means the extent to which your physical premises and your services are available to as many people as possible.

What it is

Accessibility involves office design, furnishings, communication systems, customer service, policies, and much more. Can people easily navigate your space? Do chairs have armrests to help people get in and out easily? Is your literature clearly readable? Do you and your staff know how to talk to people with disabilities? It’s much broader than the obvious architectural barriers, like lack of wheelchair accessibility.

Why you need it

According to Statistics Canada, about one in seven Canadians report having a disability (mobility, vision, hearing, speech, learning, etc.). Many, but not all, of these disabilities are age-related and seniors are the fastest-growing age group in Canada.

How it helps

Removing barriers puts the principle of fair and equal accommodation into play. But being accessible also is just good business, says Lauri Sue Robertson of Disability Awareness Consultants in Toronto. You open yourself up to the widest possible market, and develop positive word-of-mouth.

Good to know

Typically, the building owner is responsible for physical accessibility outside the doors of your offices, and you’re responsible for improving accessibility within. Check your lease. If the landlord balks at making a change, consider making it a condition of lease renewal, says Sandy Johnston of Effective Accessibility Consulting in Shanty Bay, Ont.

What you need

Start with a review by an accessibility consultant. A site audit will assess any barriers in your physical space (e.g. reception area, offices, floor finishes, corridors, doors, washroom, signage, etc.) and make recommendations for removing barriers. Equally important is a needs assessment, where a consultant reviews your policies and practices (e.g. your publications, Web site, service methods, etc.) to see if they’re accessible, and again recommends changes or training to address shortcomings.

How much

The cost of becoming more accessible can vary greatly. Some changes are free (e.g. changing the font on your forms, moving furniture to add space for a wheelchair or walker), some might cost hundreds (e.g. higher-wattage lighting), and still others could be several thousand (e.g. installing new low-pile carpet, slip-resistant flooring, or a ramp).

Who can help

The federal government offers information on accessible service and building standards.

The Ontario government provides info on accessible customer service

For barrier-free design tips, go to www.abilities.ca; search for “barriers.”

The Canadian hard of hearing association offers a communication accessibility checklist

The Canadian institute for the Blind offers tips on guide dog etiquette

Price Tag $3,750

  • $1,000 to $2,000 site audit of office space
  • $1,000 needs assessment
  • $750 staff training session on inclusive communications and customer service (15 or fewer participants)

Originally published in Advisor's Edge