Accessibility rocks!

From left:  Ryan Vanderwal, Maureen Kang, Karla Gomez, Tracy Ford, Rob Housez, Colin McCarthy, Jill Brahimi, Amelia Duffy, Barbara Brunetti, Melissa MacMullin and Danny Freestone.

From left: Ryan Vanderwal, Maureen Kang, Karla Gomez, Tracy Ford, Rob Housez, Colin McCarthy, Jill Brahimi, Amelia Duffy, Barbara Brunetti, Melissa MacMullin and Danny Freestone.

style=”float: none; margin: 0px;”>

By Colleen Isherwood, Editor

The Chelsea Hotel, Toronto won the Tourism Industry Association of Ontario’s ‘Accessible Tourism Award’ at the annual Ontario Tourism Awards of Excellence Gala on Tuesday, Nov. 22 at The Westin Ottawa. Here are some of the measures they have implemented that ensure persons with disabilities have access to the same information as all guests, consistent with the principles of dignity, independence, integration and equal opportunity.

TORONTO — General manager Robert Housez smiled as he described the scene that takes place every time the Chelsea Toronto conducts accessibility training as part of its employee onboarding process.

“There’s someone on crutches, someone in a wheelchair, and someone wearing goggles, all wandering around the front lobby,” he said.

“We spend a good deal of time on this,” said Carrie Henderson, manager, talent acquisition and development at the Chelsea. “If they can experience this for a couple of minutes, it’s a real life experience. Using wheelchairs, walkers or white canes, they can step into somebody’s shoes and explore the hotel.”

Sitting in a wheelchair, the new hires do a couple of activities in the lobby, a guestroom and the banquet area. They try opening the doors and learn which elevator to use, since the red elevator to the pool has no stairs. They try using walkers; use ear muffs that take away their hearing; and goggles that simulate having cataracts or partial sight.  They have a partner as a support person, and they learn how to talk to guests with disabilities.

The hotel offers a “fidget kit” for guests who self-identify as being on the Autism spectrum. “My brother has Asberger’s,” Henderson said. “He gets nervous when there are lots of people around; he rocks and talks to himself. If he has something to grip, it calms him down.”

The new employees learn proper etiquette, e.g., to talk to the person with the disability rather than the support person.

Accessibility applies to recruitment as well, and how to handle interviews for people with disabilities, e.g., deafness or blindness. Some of the team members know sign language.

Henderson was trained by Accessibility Professionals of Ontario, a full-service accessibility consulting firm based in Toronto, which also designed the Chelsea’s Closing the GAP (Guest Accessibility Package) program. Designed to enhance the hospitality experience, it provides guests of the Chelsea Hotel with amenities and information to assist persons with disabilities. 

Accessibility Professionals’ principals have first-hand experience to offer: Kyle Rawn is blind and Colin McCarthy lost a leg to cancer.

The package helps minimize any potential accessibility barriers due to lack of communication and information.“Helping people in our communities is not just a nice thing to do, it is an expression of what it means to be a Chelsea Hotel employee,” says Housez. 

Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA) legislation began in 2005 and required all private sector organizations to meet their obligations under the Accessible Customer Service Standard. 

The second part of the legislation, the Integrated Accessibility Standard Regulation, addresses a variety of areas including accessible communication, transportation and involves a series of compliance deadlines. The Closing the GAP program is a simple way to bridge the ideals of accessible communications with advanced accessible customer service. 

The Chelsea also has an AODA Committee that includes both Henderson and Tracy Ford, director of public relations. The team members meet monthly. One of their initiatives was to plan Accessibility Week, which was held in January and included Mobility Monday, Vision Tuesday, Hearing Wednesday, Cognitive Thursday and Closing the GAP Friday.